A certain king had a magic ring. The ring sat on his linger as any other ring, yet it had mystic qualities. Whenever an evil thought came into the mind of the prince, or he was tempted to do an evil deed, or had done a wrong thing, the ring pressed painfully upon his finger. Such a ring, by virtue of his creation, belongs to every man, prince or peasant; and the name of it is Conscience.
Here is John Ruskin's interpretation of Holman Hunt's "Light of the World": The light from the lantern in Christ's hand is the light of conscience; its red light falls only on the closed door. But the light from the head is that of hope and salvation. Conscience condemns. Christ delivers and forgives.
Jesus said to the woman at the well, 'Go call thy husband." To another he may say, "Go call thy wife, whom thou hast wronged." To another, "Go call thy child, whom thou hast neglected." To another, "Go call thy father and mother." To another he says, "Go bring thy bank book." To another, "Go call the record of that business transaction." To another, "Go call that slander which you uttered against another's name." To another, "Go call that hatred or enmity which you treasure up in your heart." To another, "Go call that secret habit which stains and defiles thy soul." Can you meet these tests?
The raven that came in the darkness into the chamber of Poe and perched upon a bust of Pallas just above his chamber door, whose only word was "Nevermore," seems to be a metaphor, a symbol of remorse. Poe beseeches the raven to take his beak from out his heart, and his form from off his door, but all the raven answers is, "Nevermore."
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!
Yes, the shadow that conscience casts upon the soul—because of evil done, because of sin—is a shadow which man is not able to lift. Only God in Christ can lift that shadow.
During a session of the legislature of Illinois at Springfield, a Chicago businessman had prepared for passage in the legislature a measure which would bring profit to him and others, but which was not just, honest, or right. All things having been arranged for the successful introduction and passage of the bill, and having a few hours to spend before his train left for Chicago, he went out to Oak Hill Cemetery to visit the tomb of Lincoln. As he walked in the soft twilight about the monument and looked upon the statue of Lincoln, a feeling of great discomfort came over him with regard to the bill which was to be passed in the legislature. The image of Lincoln and the thought of his noble character made the man uneasy and unhappy. He canceled his reservation on the night train to Chicago; and, after spending a sleepless night tossing on his bed at the hotel, he sent for his attorneys and had the bill withdrawn.
What caused this action? It was conscience, awakened by the memory of Abraham Lincoln, warning the man to restrain his hand from doing evil.
How was it possible for guilty David to have missed the point of the parable and not to have known who was meant by the rich man and the poor man and the ewe lamb? His conscience had been dulled by sin. Not until the sword was a hairbreadth from the heart did he know that it was meant for him.
When Mr. Honest received his summons to present himself at his Father's house, and addressed himself to go over the river, the river at that time overflowed its banks. "But Mr. Honest, in his lifetime, had spoken to one Good-conscience to meet him there, the which he also did, and lent him his hand, and so helped him over.'
In Victor Hugo's great Les Miserables Jean Valjean, the ex-convict, under a new name, had buried his past and become the prosperous mayor of a provincial town. But one day he learned that in a neighboring village an old man arrested for stealing apples had been identified as the notorious and long-sought ex-convict, Jean Valjean. That news precipitated a crisis in the soul of the real Jean Valjean. Should he keep silent, or should he reveal his identity and he sent back to the gallows? Should he remain in paradise and become a demon, or go to hell and become an angel?
His first impulse was to say nothing and do nothing. Out of a secret closet in the wall he drew a blue linen blouse, an old pair of trousers, an old knapsack, and a huge cudgel shod with iron at both entls. These were the last ties which attached him to the old Jean Valjean. He threw them into the fire, and then seized the candlesticks which the Bishop had given him and flung them into the flame. But a voice said, "Jean Valjean, there will be many voices around you which will bless you, and only one which will curse you in the dark. All those benedictions will fall back before they ascend to God." This made him take the candlesticks out of the fire and replace them on the mantel. All through the night he fought his awlul battle, until, in the morning, his servant told him that the carriage he had ordered to take him to the town where the old man was on trial waited at the door.
The next day as the president of the court was about to pronounce sentence, the true convict stood up before the court and said, "I am Jean Valjcan." Some thought that he was mad, and others pitied him for the sacrifice he had made. As he left the courtroom, he said: "All of you consider me worthy of pity, do you not? When I think what I was on the point of doing, I consider that I am to be envied. God, who is on high, looks down on what I am doing at this moment, and that sufficess."
The airship has a radio beam in the shape of a V, which guides the plane like a path of light. At its widest portion, five miles, the sounds can still be heard. When the ship veers off the course to the right the pilot gets the signal N, or dash and dot. When he veers to the left he gets the signal A, or dot and dash. When he is directly on the beam he hears a constant hum. Thus the ship is guided unerringly to its destination, and when it is immediately over the field there is a zone of silence.
A wonderful triumph of man's inventive genius, a marvelous conquest of the laws of nature! But there is something within man which is more wonderful and more mysterious than that radio beam. It is that divine beam of truth and light—man's conscience—showing him the path of safety. To obey that voice means safety and happiness; to disobey it means disaster and sorrow.
One of the old manuscripts of John's Gospel has an interesting and striking addendum to the text of John 8:6 as most of us know it. Our Bible reads, "Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground." The old manuscript adds these words: ". . . the sin of each one of them." Those added words help us to see the scribes and Pharisees looking over the shoulder of Jesus as he wrote, each man blanching at one of the words written there, at one of the sins—profane swearing, dishonor of parents, extortion, bribe taking, wife beating, theft, lying, adultery. No wonder, then, that each man, convicted in his own conscience, turned and with lowered countenance walked silently away.
However true to the original text may be that sentence ". . . and with his finger wrote on the ground the sin of each one of them," it is at least true to the spirit of this interview; for nothing is plainer than that each man felt his own sin. Christ wrote out each man's guilt, and then let each man condemn himself.