The trial of Vernon Hershberger for selling unpasteurized milk to friends and neighbors brings before us the role of conscience, particularly when its operation has a public implication. Conscience is a “self-reflecting judicial power, that noble excellent ability whereby we can take cognizance of ourselves, of our spirits, our dispositions, and actions, and accordingly pass a judgment upon our state towards God.”
So Matthew Henry speaks of the “power of moral self-consciousness” in remarks on 1 John 3:20-22, in which John discusses how God sits behind the conscience, and that when a right conscience acquits one of an accusation, God acquits one, as well.
Conscience often controls the actions of defiant and principled Christian people who end up being challenged by authorities.
Mr. Hershberger, married and the father of 10, was tried by a Sauk County, Wisc., circuit court jury on four charges connected with his good faith work as a dairyman. After a five-day trial the operator of Grazin’ Acres members-only food club was acquitted on three charges that he violated Wisconsin’s statute. He was cleared of accusations he sold raw milk illegally, operated an unlicensed retail store selling raw milk and other products, operating a dairy farm and dairy processing facility without a license.
He was convicted on a charge that he violated a “hold” order from a state official by peeling tape from refrigerators containing disputed dairy products, an act to which he admitted.
His case is an important victory for the food freedom movement, which seeks to unshackle local economy from control of business interests. Wisconsin has a powerful dairy industry and one of the most stringent laws controls keeping families away from natural farm goods such as unprocessed milk.
Conscience is ‘candle of the Lord’
Mr. Hershberger, who has an Amish background and appears to be a man of Christian conviction, acted on principle against state harassment because he has a clean conscience.
Conscience is that internal guide that God places into each breast, as every person is made in God’s image and is required to govern himself according to God’s law, which is a template for human ethics and cultural mores, to one degree or another.
This power can be witness, judge and executioner of judgment, conscience either accusing or excusing, either condemning or justifying. “It is set and placed in this office by God himself: the spirit of man, thus capacitated and empowered, is the candle of the Lord, a luminary lighted and set up by the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the belly, taking into scrutiny and viewing the penetralia — the private recesses and secret transactions of the inner man. Conscience is God’s vicegerent, calls the court in his name, and acts for him.”
We are guided by conscience which the scriptures encourage us to nourish with the Word of God.
If conscience accuse us, we should look to see if God is behind the accusation. “God is a greater witness than our conscience, and knoweth more against us than it does: he knoweth all things; he is a greater Judge than conscience; for, as he is supreme, so his judgment shall stand, and shall be fully and finally executed. This seems to be the design of another apostle when he says, For I know nothing by myself, that is, in the case wherein I am censured by some. “I am not conscious of any guile, or allowed unfaithfulness, in my stewardship and ministry. Yet I am hereby justified; it is not by my own conscience that I must ultimately stand or fall; the justification or justifying sentence of my conscience, or self-consciousness, will not determine the controversy between you and me; as you do not appeal to its sentence, so neither will you be determined by its decision; but he that judgeth me (supremely and finally judgeth me), and by whose judgment you and I must be determined, is the Lord,’’ 1 Cor. 4:4.
On the other hand, if conscience acquit us, we can have the same sense of approval the apostle has. But what about mistakes of conscience, if perchance we are misinformed, or have our view distorted by our fallen natures?
“But let such know that the errors of the witness are not here reckoned as the acts of the court; ignorance, error, prejudice, partiality, and presumption, may be said to be faults of the officers of the court, or of the attendants of the judge (as the mind, the will, appetite, passion, sensual disposition, or disordered brain), or of the jury, who give a false verdict, not of the judge itself; conscience — syneidesis, is properly self-consciousness. Acts of ignorance and error are not acts of self-consciousness, but of some mistaken power; and the court of conscience is here described in its process, according to the original constitution of it by God himself, according to which process what is bound in conscience is bound in heaven; let conscience therefore be heard, be well-informed, and diligently attended to.”
Secret friend in administration?
We’ve been hearing horror stories this month about government attacks on the private sector and on local economy— the FBI’s demanding meetings with pro-life center directors, the IRS’ demanding pro-lifers swear they would not protest in front of any Planned Parenthood facility, harassment left and right.
We remember Obadiah, the faithful Christian in the administration of the wicked king of Israel, Ahab. We await blessings from such ones as he, whose conscience informs their virtue and thwarts the hand of the king.
Sources: Pete Kennedy, “Vernon Hershberger Trial Verdict Acquitted on Three of Four Charges,” Farmtoconsumer.org, May 25, 2013
David Gumpert, “Hersberger Victory for Private Food Rights Sends Message That People Can, and Will, Fight Overbearing Regulators,” Lewrockwell.com, May 29, 2013
Daniel McAdams, “Orwell Reigns Over Raw Milk Trial,” May 24, 2013, Ron Paul Institute website May 24, 2013
Matthew Henry’s commentary is online at Biblestudytools.com. The passage quoted above is here, pertaining to 1 John 3, verses 20 to 22. No son should leave the house without a copy of Matthew Henry; no man leading family worship or asked to pray publicly at church should have a library without this important reformed commentary.
Great article! Here in Wisconsin we’ve met many farmers willing to sell raw milk quietly under the table. Anyone who attempts to do it legally is crushed by the state by any means necessary. We watched it happen to a good friend, who was accused of causing a disease outbreak when they tried to sell farm shares. They were assured by the state that their operation was legal, and they invested a lot of money in making sure they were following all the rules. When there was a campylobacter outbreak, it was blamed on the dairy, even though many people who were sick had not drank the milk. We drank three gallons from the tank they claimed was contaminated and had no illness. The level of corruption and lies was shocking. This is definitely an area for me where I follow my conscience and ignore the state. When authorities are corrupt, we are obligated to judge for ourselves what is right or wrong. Romans 13 says that rulers hold no terror for those who do what is right. If rulers are terrorizing people who are doing good, it becomes necessary to obey conscience instead.