The spiritual truths of God’s holy Word are often paradoxical to our natural reasoning. For example, Jesus declared that it is only the man who is willing to lose his life for Christ’s sake who will save it.
The subject of the human conscience is also contains a truth that is a paradox. In eternity, every person’s conscience will either be a source of everlasting bliss or a place of unending agony. That indeed is the irony, that the same God-given faculty should produce such contrasting states of existence. Depending upon one’s eternal destiny, one’s conscience will be either the source of his joy or misery.
This author recently read a bumper sticker that said, “Blast guilt!” In actuality, the epithet lodged against guilt was an unrepeatable vulgarity. I wondered aloud, “What sort of grudge did this motorist bear against his own guilt?”
Few would contest the fact that a guilty conscience can ruin an otherwise pleasant experience. Apparently the motorist viewed guilt as an irritant that interfered with his happiness. Perhaps he viewed guilt as a cultural vestige left over from the Victorian era or maybe an unfortunate remnant of childhood training. At any rate, his message was clear, if he could eradicate all the guilt in his life, his freedom would soar to new heights.
Like most moderns, the motorist chose not to define himself by God’s revelation in the Holy Scriptures. Instead, he fancied a form of liberty that issued from self-determination. For him, cutting the moorings of divine law would set free the vessel of self.
According to Romans 1, what the motorist chose to suppress was
the knowledge of God as his Creator. God as the fashioner of man, planted within him a region of moral sensibility, the conscience -- a thriving testament to God’s moral government.
The desire to eradicate the conscience is a tacit wish to escape God’s jurisdiction. Conscience is a divinely created restraint upon evil. Those who kick at the restraint demonstrate a spirit of moral anarchy.
When the promptings of conscience are viewed merely as an annoyance, efforts will be made to silence them entirely. The motorist failed to consider the origin of his soul’s constitution. Every blow struck at his conscience is a hammer blow against his true identity. Efforts to muffle the conscience are destructive because they reveal a desire to tear ourselves loose from God.
Only our omniscient Creator knows how far we have fallen from the original perfect image of God. The human conscience is a ubiquitous manifestation of God’s image stamped upon man. God’s moral mark rests upon Adam’s race. Humans cannot sin away that mark. They cannot by rebellion tear free from it nor alter their created purpose.
The conscience, though muffled by moral rebellion is an abiding internal witness to the righteousness of the Creator. It also bears witness to man’s responsibility to reflect his Creator’s righteousness. The God of the universe who created the conscience is Lawgiver, Judge and Redeemer. All creation is under His jurisdiction. This is His universe. His laws are not arbitrary mores, but precise safeguards of love to God and neighbor. God rules the universe, thus it is a moral universe. Moral laws of cause and effect, sowing and reaping, reflect His moral government. Humans are moral agents accountable to God.
Conscience therefore, is a most precious gift. When it is issuing warnings or is troubled, its speaking is of utmost significance. It is a daily reminder that God is moral governor over His creatures. Every time the conscience holds court, it is a tiny harbinger of the ultimate court appearance yet to come.
Conscience is a blessed reminder of unseen moral realities that are prosecuted by the Holy One. Conscience attests to the fixity of God’s laws. God’s commands shall last as long as He does. His laws are forever settled in heaven. They are inexorable. They abide forever, enforced by Him who is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent.
No greater self-deception exists than to imagine that the requirements of God’s laws can be reduced, removed or unrequited.
Sinners may dream of a land where the Ten Commandments are not enforced, but no such territory exists. God’s holy character is immutable. There does not exist now, nor shall there ever exist a corner of the universe where God’s laws have been “dumbed-down” for impenitent sinners. Conscience tells men that this is so.
Conscience reminds men how unlike God they are. It ought to drive men to cry for mercy as they consider how impossible it will be for them to dwell in the presence God’s burning purity.
Conscience should move men to esteem divine forgiveness as the greatest of all blessings. For God to bring about a change in a man so that he becomes a partaker of divine holiness is a gift of infinite value. To be made like God morally is the joy of heaven. To realize the restored image of God so as to live out one’s created purpose is unfathomable wealth. All of these measureless blessings pertain to the conscience.
The motorist regarded the motions of his conscience to be intrusions that spoiled his favorite pastimes. But the Scriptures set forth the conscience as a most necessary barometer of one’s relationship to God’s moral rule.
Scripture not only educates and sensitizes the conscience, it also reveals how a man treats his conscience. Does the man listen to it, respect it, heed it? Or, does he sin against it, bribe it, defile it, and sear it?
An unfeeling, cauterized conscience that has been lied to and silenced shall one day begin an unending declamation. Jesus warned that a day is coming when the secrets of the heart will be revealed. On that day, the courtroom of conscience will admit no dishonest judges or jurors. Every false witness and corrupt counselor shall be ejected. On that day, the courtroom of conscience and the courtroom of God shall be in full agreement.
For the eternally condemned, God’s law, justice and sentence will be met with silence and an internal confirmation that justice must be done. When God’s sentence is pronounced, no person will attempt to utter an alibi. Every mouth will be closed in dumbfounded silence as God unfolds His justice in each case (Rom. 3:19).
Apart from the study of God’s Word, sinful human nature tends to settle into a state of spiritual complacency. Scripture drives home the gravity of the situation; calling upon men to awaken from their spiritual slumber before it is too late. There is a dire necessity that men recognize that the spurning of conscience is spiritual suicide.
Under the dispensation of Mosaic Law, the greatest imaginable terror was excommunication from the covenant people of God. In the present New Covenant era, there is a greater potential terror. Scripture refers to this dread condition as being given over to a depraved mind (Romans 1:28). Under this judgment, the restraints of God’s common grace are removed. The individual who consistently abused his conscience will be permitted to follow his sinful course with complete abandon.
Upon entering this state, the conscience becomes so benumbed as to be nearly useless. Those who did not see fit to acknowledge God in their thoughts will be given their wish. But they shall lose their moral mind in the process and enter an irrecoverable state. When the gift of reason and intellect are joined to a seared conscience, the mind becomes so radically altered that it becomes depraved, or “spiritually insane.” That is, it is only able to will its own rapid destruction. It has moved beyond the horizon of rational moral thought.
In summary, the worst thing that can happen to you is the withdrawal of God’s restraining Spirit. When God gives a man over to a depraved mind, He leaves the man alone, allowing him to pursue his immoral pleasures and thoughts with abandon.
The conscience that once guarded the mind from moral fallacies is no longer able to warn or restrain. The depraved mind has forever lost the ability to think with any rationality about God, righteousness and moral laws. To be given over by God to this condition is to reside at the mouth of hell. It is a state infinitely more catastrophic than any mortal can imagine.
On the last day, men shall discover to their horror, that the faculty silenced for the sake of sinful expression shall rise up to its full stature and begin to take eternal revenge against its ungrateful owner. The conscience beating one to bits in the name of God is hell indeed. A number of the Scriptural word pictures used to describe the agonies of hell include the torment generated by the conscience (see Mark 9:48).
When moderns depict the God of fundamentalist Christianity as petulant, vindictive, and retaliatory, they fail to understand just how much misery is already latent within sin. God does not have to think up judgments for sin. Transgression has built into it unending pain and misery. For sin contains in large measure its own judicial punishment.
Can men deny their created purpose and violate their consciences without expecting eternal consequences? It is an incalculable tragedy when men live as if they possess an unconquerable soul. (Natural men express this presumption concerning their souls by internally saying, “Thou wilt not require it,” – Ps. 10:11-13).
Man was created in the image of God and he was created for God. The fact that man has sold out to iniquity is what makes the agonies of perdition what they are.
Every soul that has ever existed shall forever experience God’s settled disposition towards them (grace toward the believer and wrath toward the unbeliever). The wicked will be sent out of God’s glorious presence, but shall be endlessly under His wrath and justice. These divine expressions of fury and vengeance shall terminate upon the conscience. Thus, an examination of the conscience provides a window through which to view the crushing suffering reserved for the ungodly.
By contrast, the righteous will eternally enjoy a conscience cleansed and sanctified and rightly adjusted to God. For them, the conscience will resonate with joy and bliss at the sight of God’s holiness.
Men grossly underestimate the potential the conscience possesses for lasting joy or pain. The great irony is this, that the conscience shall be the chief place of eternal bliss or eternal agony.
An appeal to God for a clean conscience through Jesus Christ is man’s only hope of right standing before Him (Acts 23:1; 24:16; Heb. 9:14; 10:22; 1 Pet. 3:21).
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Ryle, J. C. Holiness. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979.
Watson, Thomas. A Body of Divinity. Carlisle: The Banner of Truth