Saturday, October 13, 2007
Older than dirt, Max Mercury has served as mentor to many of the modern speedsters. He is perhaps most notable for the theory of the "speed force." I would love to find out why the comic creators came up with that idea (too much Star Wars, I think) but Max is the speedster equivalent to Yoda.
I think, and this is a purely personal theory mind you, the whole speed force thing was cooked up to account for the lighting bolts that surround the Flash in the image below. I mean, you have to admit, they look pretty doggone cool and they only started showing up in the '90's, so this being comics and all, they had to be explained.
Anyway, Max is an inveterate time traveller and has therefore adopted any number of guises through the decades, reflected in the images you see here. It can get pretty confusing, kind of like trying to make sense out of the book of Revelations.
All I can say is as long as Max does not pick up the shattered syntax of the little green guy, he is kinda cool, and I hope they keep him around for the foreseeable future.
Friday, October 12, 2007
What DO We Need?
To be the church in this way, it is also going to have to find in the coming generation, leaders who exemplify this hope for its future and who will devote themselves to seeing it realized. To lead the church in the way that it needs to be led, they will have to rise above the internal politics of the evangelical world and refuse to accept the status quo where that no longer serves the vital interest of the kingdom of God. They will have to decline to spend themselves in the building of their own private kingdoms and refuse to be intimidated into giving the church less and other than what it needs. Instead, they will have to begin to build afresh, in cogently biblical ways, among the decaying structures that now clutter the evangelical landscape. To succeed, they will have to be people of large vision, people of courage, people who have learned again what it means to live by the Word of God, and, most importantly, what it means to live before the Holy God of that Word.This seems to ask, "What does the church need?" and then answers it by saying "leaders." I think both the question and the answer are vital, but I wonder if there is not a missing component, and that is that God has a radically different vision for leadership than the world, and that is where I think the rub really develops.
Consider, Christ exercised no institutional leadership at all. The apostles did to varying degrees, but they all exercised it to martyrdom. It seems to me that the first radically different leadership concept here is a devotion to the mission of the church and not the church itself.
Most people do not realize it, but the best toolmakers in the world are not in the tool-making business. No, the best toolmakers in the world work in factories that make other things. A hammer, for example, is quite prozaic and unimaginative in the world of tools. But they guy that built the tool to drive a given rivet at a given angle on the forward frame of a 1932 coupe at a rate of 18/minute - now that guy is a creative and imaginative toolmaker.
Let's try a different example. Years ago I build a device called a diaelectric spectrometer. I will not bother you with the details of what that is - it tests the electrical properties of material. I cobbled it together out of spare parts I found around where I worked at the time and controlled it all with a state-of-the-art Apple II computer (yes, I am that old). The computer also did the data acquisition and analysis. I did this thing to solve a problem I had in my lab at the time - I loved it, it was great fun.
Well, it was innovative enough that I got hired by a firm the develop software for the chemical laboratory. You know, the generic, one-size-fits-all kind of software that causes the user to learn how to use it instead of actually solves the user's problem. I lasted less than a year.
Real leadership, specifically leadership that takes people in directions not already heavily traveled, generally arises outside of the box and in response to a specific problem. There is a business cliche if I ever heard one - but that does not take away from it's essential truth.
My point? The church does not need leaders that are interested in developing things to make the church grow, or to plant new churches. The church needs leaders that are interested making deeply committed, transformed souls that are in turn interested in making other deeply committed, transformed souls. The church, the tool for organizing those souls, will arise in the wake of that interested and commitment, but it is NOT that cause, or the driver of it.
We have to remember, we are not building for this world....
Friday Humor - Somewhat Tasteless, but Very Funny Edition
The man does look very good in the black suit he is already wearing.
The widow however, says that she always thought her husband looked his best in blue, and that she wants him in a blue suit. She gives Bubba a blank check and says, "I don't care what it costs, but please have my
Husband in a blue suit for the viewing."
The woman returns the next day for the viewing. To her delight she finds her husband dressed in a gorgeous blue suit with a subtle chalk stripe, the suit fits him perfectly. She says to Bubba, "Whatever the cost, I'm
Very satisfied. You did an excellent job and I'm very grateful. How much did you spend?" To her astonishment, Bubba presents her with the blank
Check. "There's no charge," he says.
"No, really, I must pay you for the cost of that exquisite blue suit!"
She says. "Honestly, ma'am," Bubba says, "it didn't cost me a thing. You see,a deceased gentleman of about your husband's size was brought in shortly after you left yesterday, and he was wearing an attractive blue suit.
I asked his missus if she minded him going to his grave wearing a black suit instead, and she said it made no difference as long as he looked nice." "So, I just switched the heads."
Thursday, October 11, 2007
The Fairness Doctrine
Paul Spears at Scriptorum Daily hits on a real pet peeve of mine.
As children mature we expect that they will outgrow this incorrect view of the world. We anticipate that they will rise above the pettiness that is part of adolescence. What we discover is that adults still have a view of the world that is largely driven an incorrect view of fairness.Fairness, measured as equality, IS NOT justice. And Paul is absolutely right, the desire for fairness reflects OUR desires. Conversely, desiring justice, as differentiated from fairness, is a desire for something higher.
Today, fairness is not thought of in terms of an overarching concept of justice, but in terms of equality. Mostly, fairness turns out to be understood in light of quantifiable methods—that is to say something is “fair” is to say that both parties have received equal amounts of a physical good. Fairness is no longer seen as a conceptual thing that falls under the purview of a transcendent ethic. Fairness is more often understood as an economic concept that has to do with the equal (measurable) distribution of property (wealth).
What is most insidious about this modern demand for fairness is that often it is just a front for our own envy and jealousy. Envy happens when we are unable to celebrate the successes of others, and often wish they were not successful at all. Jealousy wants what others have.
Paul concludes his post this way:
It is our duty as adults to model contentment and happiness to the next generation. We need to be aware of the insidious nature of our consumer culture that attempts to create a false desire for goods we don’t need. It is the pursuit of this false form of happiness that creates a life that is empty and seemingly unfair. For humanity to be truly happy God must be the object of our pursuit and service. To pursue anything else is to enslave ourselves to a system that only leads to envy, jealousy and discontentment.He is right, but I think the problem he has described goes much deeper. Think about the theological shifts wrought by many modern church trends. We no longer have a God of justice, we have a God of fairness, measured not just in materiality, but in eternity. Hell is disappearing from common view, as are substitutionary views of the atonement. We discuss "judgement" as if it were a bad thing. We substitute doctrine as a measure of fidelity to the Lord, when He looks to behavior.
In the wake of those changes, as is seen vividly in the mainlines, comes a lack of distinction between right and wrong, good and evil.
Is God fair? Frankly, I have no idea - BUT HE IS JUST. In that I rely and that I will accept. I cannot help but think that with the proper perspective, God's justice would appear fair to me, but that perspective is not at my disposal, for it is His alone.
My goal is not to count coup, but instead to come to understand His justice. God grant me the wisdom and strength to do so.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
From Whence Ministry
Something in my hypocritical sermon reminded me that it matters what you do. Sometimes what you do matters more than what you say. Sometimes it matters just as much as what you believe—because if you believe, you will do. If you love me, says Jesus, you will keep my commandments. You won’t have to for salvation, you won’t have to to gain God’s love, but you will keep them nonetheless. You will act as a lover of Jesus. Not just think, not just speak, not just believe, but act....Being a Christian in the world today is all about tension - a tension between what we are and what we should be. In ministry, whether it be as preacher, or teacher, or bottle-washer, we tend to want to present the "what we should be" instead of the tension. And yet, the "what we should be" in unattainable in this life, and unattainable in any life absent the direct action of the Holy Spirit. Is it any wonder that so many people end up disillusioned with the church? We "sell" them one thing and deliver another.
...The embarrassing ironies of preaching reminded me that what you do can be as important as what you say. And Tennent reminded me that, well, we’re all unconverted preachers.
Being a witness to the glorious Kingdom of God means more than just being authentic, it means proclaiming the unseen truth, the faith in things not visible. There is hypocrisy in us all, and by God’s grace there is the eternal possibility of full redemption for us all. Keep pressing toward the vision of Christ’s kingdom. Keep preaching as one redeemed, but not perfect. And keep listening to your preachers. They might not be the embodiment of truth, but if you look behind them you might see the only One who is; the One a good preacher wants you to hear from anyway; the One who said I am the Truth; the One who still speaks directly to us today. [emphasis added]
The key question facing the church today is how to live in that tension and remain "attractive." The answer, I think, lies is redefining what is attractive. Much of what we think is attractive in the world today is a very poor substitute for what is actually attractive. Fame substitutes for significance. Wealth substitutes for satisfaction. Emotional stimulation substitutes for spiritual peace.
The seductiveness of the substitutes seems overwhelming, so we think we have to include elements of them in our work. But what makes the substitutes so apparently attractive is not their actual value, but their immediacy - they skip the tension and the time it takes to resolve that tension.
But part of our living in the tension is the tension created by the patience required to let people grow to understand that such things do not ultimately satisfy. Yes, we have to learn to be patient too.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
But that said, are we really supposed to "shift gears" through our lives and relationships that much? I am not attempting to say that our familial relationships are qualitatively different than our business relationships, but should we not be pretty much the same people all the time? Our character should not change - Our values should not change - Our Lord should not change.
Too often people condone off their work environment as a place where they are less thoughtful, gruffer, less kind.... When I read the Mahaney quotation I was less worried about what gear he was trying to shift into when going home than what gear he was shifting out of. I found that idea especially troubling for someone in professional Christian ministry.
I have always thought that if someone in professional ministry was radically different in private than in public that they were somehow lying. The gospel is not about achieving some state, but struggling for it. The best thing a pastor can model is not some sort of ideal, but a reaching for the ideal. Christians need to see thier leaders, blemsihes and all.
I just cannot imagine that God calls us to be different kinds of people in different settings. I think Christians could transform a workplace simply by remembering the basic acts of human kindness. Simply treating your co-workers as humans instead of another gear in the machinery would not only be consistent with the gospel, it would likely make your work easier too.
If the genuine call to Christ is a call to transformation, then I have to think it is a call to wholeness in personality. We cannot have persona's that we put on and take off like a suit of clothing. Consistency witnesses truth in the gospel.
Monday, October 08, 2007
Shuffling The Deck Chairs
For all the money, time, and effort we’ve spent on cultural relevance—and that includes culturally relevant worship—it seems we came through the last 15 years with a significant net loss in churchgoers, proliferation of megachurches and all.That may be the single most damning statement ever uttered about the church at large, and it is so deserved. What it implies is that the church has conducted itself in these last years to a limited, niche market. We have assumed that the marketplace is only so big and we have gone about capturing as much of that market as possible, and in doing so we have actually decreased the size of the market generally. So what's up?
- We fight to preserve the institution rather than the mission to which the institution is dedicated.
This talks about pastors fighting to maintain or create jobs instead of fighting to build disciples. If the market place for soda is assumed to be X worldwide and you are now in all available world markets, what is Coke to do? Why start poaching customers from Pepsi, of course!
Now, that is just free market economy at work, and I have no stomach for mainliners that complain about the independent churches poaching. If the mainliners were doing their job, stealing their customers would not be so easy, but it does say that the independents are not so successful as they think they are.
- We lack vision!
Do you think Christ intended for us to compete over a limited market. I believe the Great Commission says something about ALL.
- We lack faith!
Do you think that maybe if we really understood that we had the actual power of God at our disposal we might be a little bolder? Maybe instead of worrying about our jobs, we'd worry about our mission? Maybe we'd learn to define success on God's terms instead of our own limited terms.
Where is the angst? Where is the rage over a statement like this, and especially its truth? Whoa! - am I going all "Elijah at Horeb" here?
The bottom line is he same one it has always been. We need to spend less time worrying about how to build the church and more time worrying about how to be better Christians. Read Acts again. Yeah, they had strategy meetings, but not a lot, and most of their success was seemingly accidental. They spent their time learning how to be God's people, and let God worry about the bigger things.
Sunday, October 07, 2007
Sermons and Lessons
Samuel Marinus Zwemer, field secretary of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Reformed church in America. Born in Vriesland, Mich., 1867; graduated Hope College, Holland, Mich., 1887; New Brunswick (N. J.) Theological Seminary, 1890; ordained clergyman, Reformed church in America, 1890; missionary at Busrah, Bahrein, and other stations in Arabia, 1891-1905; D.D., Hope College, 1904; author of “Arabia, the Cradle of Islam,” “Topsy-Turvy Land,” “Raymond Lull,” “Moslem Doctrine of God,” “Islam, a Challenge to Faith.”
And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men - Acts 24: 16.
The Bible stands unique among all the other so-called sacred books of the East in that it reveals the fact of the conscience and addresses itself to the conscience. The Koran has not even a word to express the idea, and the idea itself is strangely absent from Moslem thought. Doctor Duff, if we are not mistaken, was the first to make the statement that the primary work of a missionary is to create a conscience; and this has been repeated often since by other thinkers and observers in India and the East. How rare is the blush of childhood, that first indication of a live conscience, seen in heathen lands; how weak is the moral sense among many in Christian lands!
A revival of conscience and of right views regarding its authority is one of the crying needs of the world today. A revival of conscience would be a revival of piety in the Church and would lead to deeper knowledge of sin and, consequently, higher ideas and ideals of holiness.
The apostle Paul in his defense before Felix gives us the keynote of Bible teaching regarding the Christian conscience and those words may well introduce our study of the subject. “Herein,” he says, “do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offense toward God, and toward men.” Paul was always a conscientious man but Paul did not always have the same conscience. He was conscientious as a Pharisee and lived up to his moral light. He makes much of conscience in his preaching as an apostle; and, long after his conversion, he says that he exerts himself, trains himself, exercises himself (the word is very strong in the Greek), “ to have a conscience void of offense.”
Man by creation was possessed of threefold powers of soul, generally called the intellect, the affections, and the will. He was also created in holiness and righteousness. That is, his moral sense was enlightened so as to know God and know right perfectly. All his moral affections were inclined to the good and the pure. And his will was to obey God and His law. Adam’s conscience in Paradise was void of offense, pure, good, and holy, as were all the other powers of his soul.
Even as from the ruins of Pompeii the historian can reconstruct an exact picture of the pomp and pride of Roman society, so from the universal testimony of fallen man in all ages it is possible to a degree to learn what a glorious gift conscience was before the fall - before the earthquake of sin overwhelmed its authority and integrity. The supreme place assigned to conscience by even heathen philos¬ophers and sensual poets is remarkable. Byron calls it “the very oracle of God.” Cicero described it as “God ruling in the human soul.” And all the philosophers of modern times, the they may reject the authority of a divine revelation, can not away with that which their great leader, Kant, calls “ the categorical imperative “ and “ the eternal ought.” The very terms used for conscience in Latin, Greek and other languages indicate something (con science; co-knowledge; the Greek, suneidesis has similar significance. The same idea occurs in the Teutonic languages, e. g., the Dutch, geweten) of what unfallen man once knew with God. The ruined remnants of this knowledge of the right still bear witness to the grandeur of the human conscience before the fall. Paul refers to it when he writes: “For when the Gentiles which have not the law do by nature the things contained in the law, these having not the law are a law unto themselves; which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another.”
Not only was conscience intended to be a cowitness of God and an unerring guide to truth and right, but also to be a strong bulwark against temptations. The power of moral restraint which it still exercises must have been infinitely stronger and more authoritative at the first. The joy of an approving conscience must have been a powerful incentive to righteousness even in Paradise.
Man‘s conscience at creation was like a perfectly adjusted and compensated standard compass by which to direct his voyage of life. Or, to change the figure, his conscience resembled a delicate and costly barometer hanging in the chamber of his soul ready to warn him of the storms of the tempter. And yet that warning was unheeded; the voice of con¬science was drowned in the tumult of appetite and desire; Adam fell. All his posterity shared in the awful heritage of moral ruin and moral corruption.
What effect had Adam’s fall upon his conscience and that of his posterity? When a costly mercurial barometer falls from its support, be it ever so short a distance, no scientist longer trusts its indications of atmospheric pressure. It is still a barometer and still responds in a measure to the weight of an approaching storm; but for accurate and scientific use that barometer is ruined. It is a fallen barometer and cannot under all circumstances be relied upon. It is no longer standard. Even so with conscience. The fall of Adam was the fall of his whole soul with all its powers. Conscience of shame and guilt was awakened by the voice of God. “Who told thee that thou wast naked?” and “Where art thou? “These two questions of the Almighty showed Adam whence he bad fallen. In the New Testament the fallen conscience or the conscience of the natural man is described by four adjectives which indicate at once the character and the degrees of ruin that came to conscience whether in individuals or in the mass of humanity.
In the eighth chapter of First Corinthians Paul speaks of a weak conscience. He tells of men among the Corinthians whose consciences were no longer strong and steadfast but weak and wavering; men whose consciences stumbled at things which in themselves were not wrong, and yet for whose sake those harmless things were to be avoided by stronger Christians. Now a weak conscience is not a healthy conscience. It is a troublesome guest and a more troublesome neighbor. Men and women with weak consciences should not attempt to set the standard for others. They are not only to be pitied but are blameworthy. Such a conscience may not perhaps call evil, good; but it comes under condemnation for calling good, evil. The Pharisees were so conscientious about the letter of the law that they trampled upon its spirit. They were afraid to break the ceremonial Sabbath laws but did not hesitate with perjured witnesses to condemn the Prince of Life before Pilate’s judgment seat. What crimes have been committed in the name of religion by the power of “a weak conscience! “ All the weight and the curse of ceremonialism and sacerdotalism may be traced back to weak consciences which did not distinguish between the shell and the core of religion and confounded the shadow with the substance. A weak conscience often “vaunteth itself, is easily provoked,” and thinketh evil continually. It is scrupulous where it should be discriminating, and upright when it should be pliable. Paul did not have a weak conscience, and when Peter showed signs of one he withstood him to the face because he was to be blamed.
A stronger word for the fallen conscience is that used in the Epistle to the Hebrews. In the tenth chapter and twenty-second verse the conscience of the natural man is called evil. “Having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience.” It is the same Greek word else¬where used to describe fallen angels as evil spirits. In the case of conscience too the perversion of the best is the worst. When the compass has become evil there is little hope for the ship in a storm. The evil conscience no longer is guided by the infallible law of God but by the evil inclinations of its own imagination and desires. The scales of justice no longer hang even but moral judgment is perverted and the crooked is called straight.
The familiar picture of Gulliver, fiat on his back and unable to rise, because of the hundreds of tiny cords with which the Lilliputians have bound him, contains an allegory. Gulliver is conscience and the tiny strands are evil habits, inherited or acquired, that prevent conscience from exerting its authority. The giant has been overcome by the dwarfs. An evil conscience, alas, is the inheritance of every son of Adam.
In Titus 1:15 we read of a third stage in the downward path of conscience. “Unto the pure all things are pure but unto the. that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure but even their mind and conscience is defiled. They profess that they know God but in works they deny Him being abominable and disobedient and unto every good work reprobate.” “Evil” refers to the general character and tendency of our conscience; “defiled“ to some particular spot and blemish in our moral nature which, like an indelible stain on costly fabric, ruins the whole garment. How many there are whose con¬sciences are defiled in some particular; men whose moral integrity is respected and their judgment upright in all points of the law, save one; and that one point proves how deep is the stain of a defiled conscience. Right here environment acts upon each one of us, while education or habit emphasizes its influence for good or ill. How hard it is for one to keep a pure and a sensitive conscience regarding the holy Sabbath day in an environment where everything relating to that day is lax and worldly. The insinuating power of the presence of moral leprosy on a pure conscience is described by Pope in these lines:
That to be hated needs but to be seen;
But, seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.”
Happy is the young man who has not ex¬perienced this awful truth in his own life. A morbid desire to know the taste of forbidden fruit is sure to lead on to a defiled conscience and a defiled life.
The last New Testament adjective used to describe the conscience of the unregenerate is the terrible word used by the apostle in 1 Tim. 4: 1, 2. “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their conscience seared with a hot iron.” A cauterized conscience; that is the word in the original. First weak, then evil, then defiled and finally dead, past feeling, seared with a hot iron, cauterized; such is the awful end of a conscience in a heart of unbelief and an environment of sin and hypocrisy. The compass is not only inaccurate and unreliable in this case, but it has ceased to be a compass. The magnetic needle that once responded to the pole and oscillated at the slightest touch is now rusted fast to the pivot. The whole sense is gone. A man without a conscience is a man without a character. He can no longer be pricked in his conscience; it is cauterized. Such there are even in the bounds of the Christian Church and we call them gospel-hardened. Not hardened by the gospel but hardened against the gospel, because their consciences have ceased to respond to its appeals. Such there are among the Gentiles “having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness to work all uncleanness with greediness.” What missionary, what physi¬cian of souls, has not met with cases of cauterized consciences?
So far we have considered the effect of the fall on the individual conscience. Every natural conscience is imperfect and no two consciences are exactly alike. Each partakes of environment and heredity and education. A national conscience can only exist where the individual conscience is active and has authority; and its character depends on the con¬science of individuals for its elements good or bad. By remembering this we understand how for example Spain and Scotland differ in their view of bull fights and how public morals are better in the twentieth than in the tenth century? The reason for this great contrast and change can only be the fact that conscience, however much fallen, can be regenerated and renewed by the Holy Spirit. There is no regeneration of the soul without a regeneration of the conscience.
This brings us to our third question. What should conscience be in a Christian? Paul’s own life is the best illustration of the vast change regeneration makes in the conscience. The deeds of violence in persecuting the Church, which he once did conscientiously, he now abhors. His conscience is no longer weak, clinging to the beggarly elements of Judaism, but strong and manly.
A regenerate conscience is described in the New Testament by the words “good” (1 Tim. 1:5, 19), “pure” (1 Tim. 3:9), and “purged” (Heb. 9:14; 10:22). Although in the Old Testament the word “conscience“ does not appear in the English version there is little doubt that the word translated reins “ would better be rendered “ con¬science.” For example Ps. 73:21, “Thus my heart was grieved and I was pricked in my (reins) conscience.” The same word translated “reins,” in reference to the seat of the affections or the moral nature of man, is rendered “kidneys“ in the account of the ceremonial offerings of the Pentateuch. A careful comparison of these passages leads me to conclude that because the kidneys were considered the seat of the moral sense in man, that part of the sacrificial victim was always put on the altar as pure (Exod. 29:13, 22; Lev. 3:4, 10, 15:9 :10, 19, etc.).
According to New Testament teaching the only power and instrument adequate to cleanse the conscience and renew it is the blood of Christ. “Having your hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience “ (Heb. 10:11). “How much more shall the blood of Christ purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God“ (Heb. 9 : 14).
The idea is often held that man‘s conscience both before and after conversion is identical; and that to be conscientious is to be possessed of true piety. But both Scripture and experience teach the contrary. When the miracle of the new birth takes place conscience is aroused, enlightened, and once more given the throne of authority in the heart. How important is it then to have a good conscience, “a conscience void of offense toward God and man! “To this end Paul exercised himself daily. He put his conscience in training in the school of Christ. Notice the importance attached to conscience in Scripture.
In Heb. 13:18 a good conscience is made the subjective condition for intercessory prayer. “Pray for us; for we trust we have a good conscience; in all things willing to live honestly.” You must be willing to live and act yourself, as you ask men to pray that you may live and act. Sincerity is the fruit of a good conscience.
Baptism, according to the apostle, is not only the sign and seal of regeneration in a general sense, but of a renewed conscience. “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh but the answer of a good conscience toward God) by the resurrection of Jesus Chris “ (1 Peter 3:21). A renewed life according to all the commandments of God is impossible unless we have a renewed conscience to respond gladly to all demands of holiness and an enlightened conscience to teach us the principles that underlie the moral law.
A good conscience is considered so important a gift and grace that it is repeatedly linked with love and faith. “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart and of a good conscience and of faith unfeigned.” Yet where we hear a hundred prayers for increase in love, and more strength of faith, we scarcely ever hear one offered for a better conscience; such a conscience as is the exact opposite of that weak, evil, defiled, and deadened thing which only the power of Christ can restore and purify. The prayerful education of one‘s conscience by exercise and by the study of Christ’s character, is the only road to piety.
Most striking of all, it is the teaching of Paul that without a good conscience, faith is vain and the Christian may suffer shipwreck when in sight of the harbor if he throws overboard this goodly compass. “War the good warfare; holding faith and a good conscience, which some having thrust from them made shipwreck concerning the faith “ (1 Tim. 1:19 R.V.) A hypocrite sails not only under false colors but he sails on life‘s sea and into eternity without compass. “Why call ye me Lord, and do not the things which I say? “ Why are ye so much religious and so little conscientious?
There is no power on earth equal to a sincere Christian character, a man who, like Paul, daily trains himself “to have a conscience void of offense toward God and toward men.” Too often the world applies to the Church with truth the words of Emerson: “What you are is talking so loud that I cannot hear what you say.” The Church needs a revival of conscience and that revival will come if we study the teaching of God’s word on the subject.
From this teaching three things are very evident:
An unregenerate conscience is an unsafe guide. To live conscientiously is not to be saved. The words “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me “ were addressed to a very conscientious man; but also to one whose conscience was blind and evil.
Even the regenerate conscience needs education. Like all the gifts and graces of the spirit it must grow more and more as we grow in knowledge. The standard of morals must become ever higher and purer as the years go by until we come “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” A firm grasp on this truth is the best antidote to an easy-going and unbiblical perfectionism. The command “Be ye perfect“ means more and more according as our consciences become more tender, more holy, more like Christ. The growth in grace and in the knowledge of what God requires of us, are like the two sides of a parabolic curve, ever approaching but never meeting. Those who are living nearest to God see their own imperfections the more distinctly in the blinding light of His holy glory.
The kind of preaching that leads to conviction of sin, must be aimed at the conscience. Here it is, that even a bow drawn at a venture by a man in simplicity will send an arrow of conviction between the joints of the har¬ness. Preaching to the intellect may be edify¬ing but it never hits the bull‘s-eye nor makes sinners cry out, “What shall I do to be saved? “ Preaching to the affections without reaching the conscience is like sowing on unplowed soil. But he who reaches a man‘s conscience has broken through to the very citadel and can demand an unconditional surrender. This was Paul’s method. “Not handling the Word of God deceitfully but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man‘s conscience in the sight of God.” “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ . . . knowing therefore the terror of the Lord we persuade men. But we are made manifest unto God and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences.” This kind of preaching made even Felix tremble when his conscience was put face to face with righteousness and judgment. It was the method of all the Old Testament prophets. David in royal purple and awful guilt was not proof against that one arrow of Nathan aimed at the conscience: “Thou art the man.” The Fifty-first Psalm. and the One Hundred and Thirty-ninth Psalm give us David‘s idea of an awakened conscience when the searchlight of God‘s eye lays bare every secret of his heart.
Christ’s words to that sensual, self-righteous group of Pharisees, surrounding the woman who was a sinner, were so well aimed at the only vulnerable point of their proud panoply of hypocrisy that we read: “They when they heard it, being convicted by conscience went out one by one beginning at the eldest, even unto the last."