To thine ownself be true

When prompting people to follow their conscience on matters, the oft-touted “To thine own self be true” is occasionally cited as a Biblical recommendation. In truth, this saying originates in the Shakespearean tragedy Hamlet. Polonius, the older counselor of Prince Hamlet’s uncle, King Claudius, is in the midst of dispensing advice to his son Laertes (who was about to leave Denmark and return to France) when he speaks forth the famous line: “This above all things: to thine own self be true” (Hamlet, 3.1.81). Among his platitudes, he also says, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be” (3.1.78) — another saying occasionally mistaken for Scripture.

But really how good is Polonius’s advice? Scripturally, we can only trust our conscience to guide us as far as it is being informed by the Spirit of God. Men, of their natural selves, are entirely corrupted; and so, to hold true to themselves would be to choose poorly indeed. Rather, we should seek God in prayer and ask Him to guide us in the paths of righteousness (cf. Psalm 23:3).

Published in Scripture