A Good Judgment

Arthur W. Pink

In certain respects, a good judgment and a good conscience may be said to be handmaids to each other, for a good conscience is one that is illumined by the understanding, and the understanding becomes further clarified as conscience properly performs her office. The intellectual and moral powers are reciprocal, for while the understanding provides light for the conscience the conscience tends to strengthen the understanding. It is a well-established fact that becoming conversant with divine things imparts vigor and breadth to the intellect.

A good conscience is instructed by the Word, and therefore discerns between truth and error, so that "the voice of a stranger" (John 10:5) will not be followed. There is, therefore, clearness of vision, and if a person has a good conscience, it will cause him to act rightly.

Thus, a good judgment is something more than a well-informed and balanced mind, which produces discretion in connection with practical matters though that is certainly included, for we could not predicate it of an ignoramus. It is more a moral quality than a mental one the capacity to estimate ethical values and not be imposed upon by shams. There is such a thing as moral judgment, which is vastly superior to what men term "common sense," namely, a moral taste which savors the propriety or impropriety of things and persons.

"The understanding is the pilot and guide of the whole man that faculty which sits at the stern of the soul; but as the most expert guide may mistake in the darkness so may the understanding when it lacks the light of knowledge" (from the Introduction to the Westminster Confession).

Such indeed is now the case with the natural man, for the fall has so ruined his judgment and deranged his mind that he mistakes darkness for light, and calls bitter sweet (Isa 5:20). Rightly did Bernard (1091-1153) say, "He who is his own teacher, has a fool for his master!" Man cannot teach himself what he does not know and of God and His will, he knows nothing by nature. Therefore, the dawn of wisdom is a consciousness of our natural ignorance and imbecility, so that we are made to distrust reason, and the heart-felt prayer goes forth, "Give me understanding" (Psalm 119:34).

That dawning of wisdom is one of the effects of the new birth, for the unregenerate are "wise in their own conceits" (Proverbs 26:16), and have no perception of their dire need of divine teaching. So far from inheriting from Adam a good understanding his descendants are utter fools, as the Scriptures plainly and repeatedly testify. And when God declares man to be a fool, we may be sure that he is so.

How low has sin brought us, for without a good understanding, we are quite unable to apprehend the things of God. We are in a state of complicated ruin, from which nothing but manifold grace will deliver us. God has to bestow upon us at least a measure of understanding, before we are made conscious of our crass stupidity. But regenerated people soon become aware of this. A sense of their ignorance and a sight of their errors, makes them teachable. They are afraid to lean unto their own understanding, and, therefore, seek wisdom from above, from Him who gives liberally to the poor in spirit, and upbraids not (Jam 1:5).

Hence it is that we find David asking over and over again, "Give me understanding" (Psalm 119:34, 73, 144, 169). That was what Solomon made request for (1 Kings 3:9), and his counsel to us is, "with all your getting, get understanding" (Proverbs 4:7). Whatever else you fail to obtain, make sure of that. Spare no pains and use all legitimate means, and wait at Wisdom's gates for it. Other gettings are for your body this is for your soul. They are only temporal this is eternal.

Thomas Manton (1620-1677) defined the uses of a good judgment as threefold:

1. To distinguish and judge aright between things that differ, so that we mistake not error for truth, evil for good, things indifferent for things necessary. Many things are lawful, which are not expedient. If it be important for our bodily good that we distinguish between wholesome food and harmful diet (however attractively served) then much more is it for the soul to discriminate between what is profitable and what is injurious.

2. To determine and resolve. After duty has been discerned, there must be determination of mind to perform the same, and to swerve not from it. In Acts 11:23, this is called "purpose of heart." He who would please God has to set the bent and bias of his heart strongly upon so doing, "I said, I will take heed to my ways" (Psalm 39:1). It is a firm and settled decision which sets the soul a-working. It is not so much men's knowledge, as their considered judgments which issue decrees to their wills.

3. To direct or guide us in all our affairs. Many are comparatively wise in the generals, who err sadly in particulars. Something more than a knowledge of God's will is required, namely, wisdom to apply that knowledge in detail to all the varied circumstances of our lives.

Without good judgment, we are unable to make proper use of our intelligence and apply aright our knowledge to useful ends. Without it, non-essentials will be mistaken for fundamentals, and things indifferent for things unlawful. Without good judgment, we are incapable of discerning the design of God's providential dealings with us, supposing He is treating us hardly and sternly when in reality, He is seeking to turn us from folly. We have to be better instructed, if we are not to misjudge the chastening hand of our heavenly Father. Without good judgment, we cannot distinguish between . . .
the promptings of our own spirits,
the leadings of the Holy Spirit,
or the beguilements of Satan.

There is a vast variety of circumstances in our lives which call for prudence to deal with them properly. If our ways are to be suitably directed, we need not only a knowledge of God's will, but also a spirit of discernment. A good judgment is essential if we are to recognize what best befits the occasion, the place, the company we are in so that we may know what is good, what is better, and what is best in all situations. There is . . .
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to keep and a time to cast away,
a time to keep silence and a time to speak (Ecc 3),
but through folly we often act untimely.

A good judgment is indispensable because there is a subtle serpent and a deceitful heart ever seeking to ensnare us in the course of duty. The subtle serpent by plausible temptations, suiting his baits to each of our appetites; the deceitful heart by representing evil under the notion of good, and good under the notion of evil. Hence it is that we are bidden to understand what the will of the Lord is (Eph 5:17).

All our sin is from ignorance and folly (Ti 3:3 and cf. 2 Samuel 24:10). Without good judgment, we can never obtain the mastery over our corruptions or know how to mortify our lusts for the appetites need to be regulated by right reason, and good works performed in their proper place and manner.

What harm has been done in Christian enterprises and in local churches because the leaders of the one and the officers of the other conducted themselves indiscreetly! How many sincere and warm-hearted believers are guilty of mischievous mistakes, and of following foolish courses because they allow their emotions to run away with them. Hence, the apostle prayed, "That your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment" (Phi 1:9) that our affections may be intelligently directed and our zeal be a prudent one.

How real, then, how great, is the need for each of us to pray daily, "Teach me good judgment" (Psalm 119:66). That may be rendered "good taste," as in "O taste and see that the LORD is good" (Psalm 34:8). As foods are savored by their taste, so things are savored by the judgment. A good taste in natural things appears in having the capacity to appreciate the excellence of style, the beauty of a poem, the harmony and melody of good music, the lights and shadows of a master painting. In connection with moral and spiritual things, a good taste is the ability to admire and relish, enabling us to discern their excellence. The Hebrew word in Psalm 119:66 is rendered "behavior" in the heading to Psalm 34, for a man is "tasted" by his deportment.

This is the great work of judgment to reduce all our knowledge to practice to order our behavior properly, to carry ourselves well in all relations, so that we . . .
are respectful to superiors,
converse profitably with equals,
have compassion on inferiors,
and do good unto all men.

Love must not be exercised indiscriminately; justice is to be tempered with mercy; patience must not degenerate into sloth, nor temperance be pushed to the extent of self-injury.

Then, "Lift up your voice for understanding" (Proverbs 2:3), for it comes not at the first call. But though this is God's gift, yes, we are exhorted, "Apply your heart to understanding" (Proverbs 2:2). He bestows it only on those who labor for it, on those who employ themselves on the acquirement of the same.

In Psalm 111:10, a "good understanding" is preceded by "the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom," for he who is influenced by that fear is moved to watchfulness and conscientious obedience.

Again, we are told, "The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way" (Psalm 25:9). It is those who are docile and tractable, who realize their need of being divinely instructed and directed, and, therefore, they submit their reason to the divine will. The meek are such as lie at His feet and say, "Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening" (1 Samuel 3:10). A good judgment is formed by heeding the teachings of the Scriptures, which makes wise the simple (Psalm 19:7). Therefore, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom" (Col 3:16).

Hosea 6:3 also applies here, "Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the LORD." Hebrews 5:14 intimates that it is the result of having our senses (conscience and mind) "exercised."