Conscience Sermon Illustrations

Conscience Sermon Illustrations

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In his extraordinary Confessions Rousseau tells us how, in order to protect himself, he falsely charged a lady in waiting at a castle in Italy with the theft of a ribbon, and how to the end of his days he was haunted by the pained expression upon the face of that innocent maid.

In Dickens' powerful tale Barnaby Rudge, you have the confession of the evildoer that for eight and twenty years the man whom he had slain has never changed. He is always there before him—in the dark night and in the sunshine, in the twilight and the moonlight, in the light of the fire and the lamp and the candle, in the gloom of winter, in company and in solitude, on sea and on land, on the quays and in the market places, in the center of the busy crowd. Always he has been conscious of that terrible form, towering above him with upliltcd and avenging hand.


One of the most powerful verses in English poetry is Thomas Hood's "The Dream of Eugene Aram"—a poem based on historic fact. It is the tale of an usher at a boy's school in England who has committed a terrible crime. In charge of the boys on the playing field, he sees one of them reading a book under a tree and asks him what he is reading. He answers, "It is 'The Death of Abel.' " The usher sits down by his side and tells the boy of a dream that he has had—how he murdered an innocent old man and robbed him of his gold, how he flung the body into the river, how some strange urge in the night made him go back and look on the body lying in the bed of the stream, and how he took it out of the river bed and quickly buried it under the leaves in the forest, only to see the wind uncover it by sweeping the leaves away. The frightened boy listens to the usher in amazement. And that very night Eugene Aram is carried off to prison.

Before he talked to the boy he had sat reading a book as he watched the boys at play. As he shut the ponderous tome, strained the dusky covers close, and fixed the brazen clasp, he exclaimed:

"Oh, God! could I so close my mind,
And clasp it with a clasp!"

But that is impossible. You cannot close the mind and "clasp it with a clasp," as you can close and clasp a book. You can no more keep thought from returning to transgression than you can keep the sea when it is gone out from returning to the shore. In the sea we call that the tide; in that deeper and mysterious sea, the soul of man, we call it conscience.


Oh, strange, mysterious, indefinable, inescapable conscience! If, even in the busy arena of this life, conscience has been able to bring you into a corner, if in spite of all the pleasure and business and occupations which divert or amuse you here, conscience has been able to give you a most unpleasant moment, then how will it be in that great day when you stand before the judgment seat of Christ—and every word comes back, every deed is reproduced, and every secret thought is called forth? What will you do then, when there is no business, and no occupation, and no pleasure, to divert you, or to anesthetize the thorn of conscience? Oh, in that hour you will need—and thank God you can have—the protection and refuge of your Redeemer and Advocate, who takes your place, and in whom you have put your trust, and concerning whom you can say, "I . . . am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day" (II Tim. 1:12).


"A man must live," the world said to Daniel when he read the proclamation of the king, Darius, that for thirty days no prayer should be offered save to Darius himself. "You need not pray at the open window where your enemies will see you; you can say your prayers, Daniel, in your secret chamber. Thus you will escape the lion's den." Such was the worldly counsel.

But Daniel said, "The man of faith and prayer must live within me"; and three times, as his wont was, Daniel opened his window toward Jerusalem and knelt down and prayed to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

"A man must live," the world might have said to John the Baptist when he was confronted with the enormous transgression of Herod and Herodias. "Limit your strictures on immoral conduct to vague general principles," the world might have advised John. But John invaded the king's palace and, standing before Herod and Herodias, said to him, "It is not lawful for thee to have her!" (Matt. 14:4.)

"A man must live," said the world to John the Baptist.

But John answered, "No, a man must not live. A man may have to die in order that the true, the high, the spiritual, in him—the man of God—shall live."

And here on a silver charger is John's head—to please the whim of a half-naked dancing girl, to satisfy the vengeance of a bad woman! John died; yet in the highest sense John lived—and lives—and the mention of his name today is like an army with banners.

"A man must live," the world said to John Bunyan when he was arrested under Charles II. If John Bunyan had signed a paper saying he would not preach in public he could have escaped prison; and if at any time during his twelve years' imprisonment he had been willing to say that, he would have been released.

"A man must live," the world said to Bunyan, "especially a man with a dependent wife and little children, and especially when one of those children is blind, like your poor girl, Mary." In the dungeon, Bunyan thought of that. He said that his heart was like to break when he thought of his poor family, and especially when he thought of his poor blind girl. "Oh, my poor blind one," he would say to himself, "what sorrows thou art likely to have in this life! How thou must go naked and hungry, and beg on the streets, and be beaten and starved; and now I cannot so much as endure the thought that the winds should blow upon thee!" Yes, a man must live, and a man's family must live; but John Bunyan remained in the dungeon, and gave over his concerns, blind Mary and all, to the keeping of God. Toward the end of his imprisonment he wrote that glorious passage in which he said, "Unless I am willing to make of my conscience a continual slaughter shop and butchery; unless I am willing to pluck out my eyes and let the blind lead me, then God Almighty being my witness and my defense—if it shall please him to let frail life last that long—the moss shall grow upon these eyebrows before I surrender my principles or violate my conscience."


Robert Southey has a poem about the Inchcape Bell. This was a bell buoy off a dangerous shore of Scotland. In a drunken spree a wild sea captain, to injure the folk in the harbor, cut the bell from its mooring; and it sank into the depths of the sea. Months afterward that same captain's ship was driven before the storm. His men listened in vain for the sound of the bell buoy which would guide them to port. Missing the channel, the ship drove on the rocks—and all perished.

This is a parable of piercing truth. He who muffles conscience may live to see that day when conscience will not speak. In the words of the prophet, "Ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh." (Prov. 1:25-26)

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