1. AN UMPIRE IN OUR BREAST!
The ancients used to talk of a gold ring that had the appearance of any other ring yet differed in at least this quality - the wearer, should he brood over an evil thought or contemplate an evil deed, would feel the ring pressing hard upon his finger.
Each of us has within us a thing still more wonderful that registers the approach of moral danger, or the transgression of known standards of uprightness. This is conscience. Milton wrote his famous Paradise Lost after he was married, and penned Paradise Regained after his wife died. (I leave you, gentle reader, to find out whether or not there is any connection there.) But in Paradise Lost you might recall that Milton put these words into the mouth of the Creator concerning His creation, "I will put mine umpire in his breast." That is probably the best and the shortest definite of conscience ever made. An umpire, the dictionary says, is "the one called upon to decide, to choose, to enforce rules." Isn't that just the ministry of conscience within us?
2. CONSCIENCE - AN AWESOME PART
In his clever book, The Critique of Pure Reason, Immanuel Kant says that two things filled him with awe: one, the starry heavens; two, conscience in the breast of us mortals. Unquestionably conscience is our trustworthy teacher, our faithful friend, and our careful counselor.
William Shakespeare recites in Hamlet (Act III),
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all.
Then in King Richard (Act V) Shakespeare says,
My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
And every tongue brings in a several tale;
And every tale condemns me for a villain.
And Shelley called it,
Conscience - that undying serpent.
3. DOES CONSCIENCE EVER DIE? AND A SILLY HUMAN INVENTION CALLED LIE-DETECTOR!
This gets to a debatable point. Does conscience ever die? I think not. We may ill-treat it, dull it, sear it, or drown it; but it kicks back. Times are when this thing within the breast is eloquent. One day it seems to excuse, but the next day, with murderous accuracy, it accuses.
If you talked of conscience in certain circles today, men would lift an eyebrow. They think of it as a spare part, like the appendix. Some want to believe that at last men have "grown up," and therefore have outgrown this primary instinct. Howbeit, the generation that "looks down its nose" at an old-fashioned thing like the conscience has itself invented a lie detector. That is almost too funny for words.
Millions of people in thousands of churches have repeated hundreds of times "suffered under Pontius Pilate" that commemorating that great battle with his conscience that that proud embarrassed Roman had.
What made Adam say, "I was afraid"? Conscience did it! What made Ahab say, "Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?" Conscience did it! What made David cry, "Have mercy upon me, O God"? Conscience did it! What made Pilate's wife write, "Have nothing to do with this just man?" Conscience did it! What made Felix tremble? Conscience did it! What made Judas wail, "I have betrayed innocent blood"? Conscience did it!
4. CONSCIENCE, THE INWARD MONITOR
Today, too, men still battle with this inward monitor. They put it to sleep with some slick drug, but it wakes with a louder cry. They slay it, only to find it has a resurrection. They laugh and joke at it in the crowd, but in the secret of their hearts they shrink before its relentless justice.
The Bible acknowledges that the conscience can be cluttered up with "dead works" (Heb. 9:14). It recognizes too that conscience may be a constant accuser (Rom. 2:15). But since the blood of Christ can purge the conscience, the Bible also offers cleansing (Heb. 9:14).
In one of the great eastern universities, the President sent for a student and charged him with misconduct.
The young man responded to the charge with "But sir, there are not ten men in this great university who would not have done as I have done!"
"Has it ever occurred to you," replied the President, "that you could have been one of those ten?"
We try to excuse conscience very often, but we are caught. This much is sure: when the Spirit of God begins to work within the heart, and conscience writhes like a serpent within, the cleansing blood of Christ alone can give it peace!
5. MODERN THINKING, NOT SO MODERN?
The reason history repeats itself is that human nature is ever the same. Thus the one thing we learn from history is that we don't learn from history! I am just old enough to remember with an effort the 1920's, their sky glowing, so I am told, with the dawn of a new world order. Strange, isn't it that this phrase about a new world order, shouted from the housetops after both world wars, has suddenly been dropped? More than that, as a child they guaranteed me a war-free world, and one secular prophet of that day (shunning religion - indeed he mocked it) talked about the inevitability of progress, the adequacy of materialism, and the sufficiency of man.
Such optimism as this swept into politics so that in the British Parliament Lord C. said that the long dark night of barbarism had passed. We were led to believe that the millennium (man-made) was just around the corner. Then about 1937 a lady of international stature, the leader of a famous religious group, dared to prophesy that for a hundred years there would be no world war. But there was one in two years!
6. IS PROGRESS A MATTER OF EDUCATION? IS SCIENCE THE NEW MESSIAH?
Somebody also ventured the theory that progress in any shape or form was all a matter of education! In another half century, so the tale ran, all men would write like Shakespeare, paint like Raphael, think like Einstein, and invent like Edison. Poverty would soon be a bad memory. The humanists would pull down the hills of wealth and fill in the valleys of poverty.
Science, those past optimists told me, was the new messiah. With their ductless glands, they got both me and the rest confused. Human love, they said, depended on the interstitial growth upon the pituitary, intelligence upon the thyroid, charity and kindliness upon the suprarenal. I was bamboozled, for it was plain to see that I was a cosmic accident, a mere bagful of chemicals held together by a skin. Strange, isn't it, that for almost half a century their glandular extracts have been on the market, and yet no new race of Christ-like men have appeared. Now, to my horror, I know that I live in a shrinking world and an expanding universe. I know that while science has spent billions of dollars perfecting death rays and putting the death certificate for millions in one single bomb, it has not yet learned to put human kindness into a pill, nor has it a shot that can end human bitterness and clean the heart of man.
7. AND THE PSYCHOLOGISTS!
The next disturbers of my peace were the psychologists. Some of these said that we were all the creatures of our environment. Tough, then, on the child of the slums. After reflection, however, I remembered that some of the very best men, whom I knew, had come from the worst environment. Out of this human jungle, a Guiding Hand had brought miracles. So I forgot the view of those men who tried to interpret the race as a bundle.
Just then I met men on stilts confidently talking of Freud, Jung, and psychiatry; of Shaw's Christ and Einstein's finite universe; of time and space and the fourth dimension; of theosophy, hypnotism, repression of the memory, super-normal facilities, the subconscious mind, and finally crystal gazing. These were all offered as ways of peace, as escapes from the burden and heat of the day, but alas, they were as tuneless as a cracked bell.
8. HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET . . .
In my workshop in those days I heard of the failure of the churches, of hypocrisy, etc. But then I remembered men who, having gone to savage tribes, always refused to carry arms for their own defense. And what of those who entered areas famed for the jungle scourge? For a wageless job in the steaming jungles, had not scores left fame and fortune to offer men Christ?
Then I reflected on the brilliant men with whom I had worked. They had for years been treading the intellectual treadmill but gathering only husks. Two of them while quite young committed suicide. These men had creature comfort, well-stocked brains, confident philosophies, but with all their scorn of religion, they were crippled with immoral living.
9. SETTLING THE ISSUE ONCE FOR ALL
Once and for all I settled the issue. "Life will work only one way-God's way." So I took my Bible to my workshop and read it. Some sneered, others enquired, a few commended. I found that Christ could and did change my life! And He could change other lives! Often I have been ashamed of the Church. Sometimes I've been ashamed of those who profess Christ's name. But never have I been ashamed of Christ!
Christianity has been weighed in the balances and found difficult, but not wanting. In the main, it has been rejected. But for my part, I'm tired of clever men. The simple Gospel believed-works!
10. THIS SIDE OF ETERNITY
This side of eternity there is no finality to Christian experience. While we tread this terrestrial ball, none can say in matters of spiritual travel that he has "arrived," for our horizons are ever receding. Yet in the light of Jesus' glory and grace, the things of God become strangely clear. Glorious peaks of revelation can be scaled by the ardent soul, even though there are many adversaries. Certainly, if we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word what a glory He sheds on our way! But heaven has not yet issued credit cards for grace. There is a price to be paid for spiritual growth.
Today, an itch for t-h-i-n-g-s has spread a foul restlessness among believers. We are victims of competitive living. There is more anxiety about how to make a living than how to live. But suppose that John Jones does get a Cadillac as long as a city block, and then suppose his aunt dies and leaves him a half million dollars so that he can live in Florida and have a "super"-home with servants in attendance. Has that added a cubic foot to his spiritual stature? In the categories of the spiritual, does he rate higher because of his social climb? Does the extra tithe that he may give assure him of a back-door access to divine favor? Can "gifts" of the Spirit be received with the gold of Ophir? Will the mayor's chain about his neck means that spiritual resources are open to him that are denied to Jimmy James, who at that moment is sweating at a furnace in a Pittsburgh steel mill? My heart replies, "Be it far from Thee, Lord, to do this thing."
11. THIS TREADMILL EXISTENCE CALLED MODERN LIFE!
If then, pearls, power, and prestige do not inch me nearer the secrets of the most High, why not treat them but dung so that I may win Christ? I am almost terrified at the thought of the judgment bar of God for the modern close-to-earth Christians. (Not that the writer or anyone else has received a free "pass" for that great day.)
Everywhere folk are crying out against this treadmill existence of so-called modern life, for too often those who do not bear the brand of Cain bear the brand of boredom. Yet God is longing-let me repeat, God is longing to sweep rivers of grace through the deserts of our parched spirituality.
12. THE ACID TEST, AND PRAYERFUL OBEDIENCE
We said at the beginning of this section that there is no finality to spiritual living this side of eternity. There may have been a complete yielding to Christ many years ago, and not a thing taken from the altar since that day. But the acid test is: What have I brought to the altar since then? In the things of the kingdom, progress is not automatic.
A man may be only fifty weeks old in grace, even though he was saved fifty years ago. Maturity in grace has nothing to do with years, but rather with prayerful obedience to the revealed will of God. In a day when the cry of "Grace! Grace! Free grace!" has been overdone, we sound like a heretic to say that in the spiritual life there are things that can be bought.
13. HOW DO WE FOLLOW JESUS?
But listen to the Lord Jesus Himself speak, "I counsel thee to buy of me . . ." (Rev. 3:18); and Paul agrees by saying, "Buy up the opportunity" (Eph. 5:16 R.V.). But how?
Tonight I go to a friend's house and sit in pleasant fellowship and edifying conversation. "I shall not stay long," I say. But how the time slips by! It's getting near midnight. Now at least I'm home, tired and sleepy. I pause to reflect for a moment: I gave my friend four hours of my time, yet my devotions took less than one hour; therefore I prefer time with godly people more than time with God Himself.
Or again, look at that courting couple. They leave the comfort and warmth of home and walk down a lane in biting frost. Why? Well obviously because they are in love, and want each other far more than creature comforts. Is human love greater than divine love? In matters of the Spirit, is fellowship about the father better than fellowship with the Father?
14. CLIMB DYING!
To go to the Cross for life (in regeneration) and for death (in sanctification) is fine. But in these Christian experiences there is no finality - I mean that daily there is dying. If I today deny myself something that I want (or even feel that I need), I have not thereby merited heaven; but, by denying myself some thing and by channeling that money for the cause of lost souls, I have proven that my actions are related to my theology. If God is going to increase in my life, then somebody is going to decreast in it. If I am bent on spiritual maturity, then I must see God more and that means I am going to see others less. If I am not going to be "ashamed at His appearing"-I John 2:28-(the very tone of this text suggests that some will want to hide), then I must pursue my high calling of God in Christ with diligence. There is no escalator to the beckoning peaks of spiritual vision.
And now in conclusion, let each of us pray, "Lord, it is a good stiff climb but 'plenteous grace with Thee is found.' Yet Lord, can two walk together unless they be agreed" (Amos 3:3)? "LORD, I AGREE; HELP THOU ME TO-DIE CLIMBING."