Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Unbeliever's Battle against Conscience

"Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders... And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself."
- Matthew 27:3, 5

Presbyterian Rev. Robert Rollock says of this: "Of all the torments in the world, the worst is the torment of the conscience, driving thee before the terrible tribunal, to consume thy soul, and dry it up with the fire of the wrath of God. No peace for the wicked; sleep on as they will, they shall be wakened." And the Irish Anglican Archbishop James Ussher, a few years later, repeated this theme: "The tormentor within you is far more heavy, painful, and grievous; it is that never-dying worm within, the sting of a guilty and wounded conscience. This, like a sharp dagger, is still stabbing you in the heart... A man needs no other fire, no other worm to torment him, than what is within him. As worms do on a carcass, this gnaws on a wretched soul."

Conscience is that internal spark that separates the true believer from the unbeliever or the hypocritical believer. We can see in the passage above from Matthew what happens to the hypocritical believer, without hope to pacify his conscience.

But, in contrast, look at the actions of King David, after his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, in Psalm 51. In verses 3 and 4 he makes honest assessment of his sin: "For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You may be justified in Your words and blameless in Your judgment." His conscience is burning hard within him, but his response contrasts sharply with that of Judas. Verses 9 and 10: "Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." David confesses his sin, pleads for God's forgiveness, and trusts in His cleansing power in his heart.

Like David, we have the promise of God to relieve a grieving conscience. Hebrew 9:14, "How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, purify our consciences from dead works to serve the living God."

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