Studies in John's Gospel -- Part 11
Conscience Concepts Contrasts (I)
By: A.J. Higgins, M.D.
Passage: John 8
History records that on Nov. 27, 1895 Alfred Bernhard Nobel wrote a brief handmade but legal will leaving his fortune to reward annually "those persons who have contributed most materially to the benefit of mankind during the year immediately preceding." Alfred Nobel was the inventor of dynamite. His will was his invention to relieve a troubled conscience.
While the essence of conscience may escape easy definition, it’s existence may not so easily be denied. Several years ago the treasury department of the U. S. government established a fund and labeled it the "conscience fund." It was established after an individual left money at his death to repay the government for money that he had failed to report on his income tax. Since its inception, the fund has grown to almost seven million dollars.
Great literary minds have utilized conscience dramatically in their works. Poe’s "Tell Tale Heart" comes readily to mind. The Shakespearian genius that created Lady Macbeth is familiar to every high school student. Who can ever forget her walking in her sleep at night, rubbing her hands to remove the dread spot of guilt, that "great perturbation of nature" as the doctor called it? And what of Coleridges’ "Ancient Mariner"?
History, observation, and literature all give eloquent testimony to the reality of conscience. The clearest testimony however is that of experience. Who among us has not known the prick and pain of conscience? Who has not experienced remorse over that which can never be undone?
Yet conscience, finely tuned and balanced, is perhaps one of our greatest assets. It puts us in touch with an imprinted and inescapable sense of right and wrong. It compels us, at times dragging us against our will, to face the moral character of our deeds. It
"Yet conscience...is perhaps one of our greatest assets."
intrudes truth as an unwelcome visitor to our thinking. The offspring it conceives is known as guilt. Our response to that guilt is critical.
The eighth chapter of John shows us conscience at work. The scene is the outer temple in Jerusalem. The Lord Jesus is surrounded by a crowd as He is teaching. Onto the stage walk a group of men leading a woman, her head hanging limp in embarrassment. They have brought her for Him to pronounce judgment upon her. She is guilty of adultery. The law of Moses demanded her death. What was His pronouncement? After repeated questioning by them, the Lord Jesus instructed them: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." The words of Christ were like a blinding burst of light that flooded their consciences. The inspired record tells us that "they being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one
"The words of Christ were like a blinding burst of light that flooded their consciences."
beginning with the eldest even unto the youngest." Each one had been guilty of the same sin in his own life and was not morally capable of judging. Christ alone, in moral perfection was left with the woman. Conscience had been awakened, had condemned, and left them morally defenseless.
In John 8 men exposed to the light chose to return to moral darkness. Only the convicted woman chose to remain, though she could have left. Her accusers had fled the light. Judge and jury were dismissed. While they fled to hide their guilt, she remained to learn that the God Who exposes sin, forgives sin. Only the one who faced her guilt heard His words "neither do I condemn thee."
When the gospel is heralded it trumpets loud the unpopular message of sin and guilt. Our natural reaction is to escape to a more palatable message. Who needs another guilt trip? But if the guilt is deserved and justified, if the pronouncer of guilt does so to prepare you for the path to forgiveness, why flee? Since Eden’s garden God has been seeking men, looking for those who will own their sin and guilt. Since Eden’s garden God has been saving guilty men by pointing away to the sin atoning sacrifice of His Son upon Calvary.