Gateway to the Classics: St. Mark by J. Paterson Smyth
St. Mark by  J. Paterson Smyth


A Study in Conscience

St. Mark VI. 1-30.

"Their conscience bearing witness."

T HERE are three subjects in this section:—The Carpenter, The Mission of the Twelve, The Story of Herod. It seems best to choose one for special  emphasis, so we take the last. It will require a good deal of thought and care and sympathy to teach this Lesson. First get the class in touch with subject. Question out of them their own experience of conscience pleading, approving, condemning. Don't be afraid that subject is too deep for them. They probably know more about it than many of their seniors. Read Lesson in Joshua on Achan.

(1) First section (vv.  1-6) is about "The Carpenter." Where was this scene? Synagogue at Nazareth; own country. People assembled in church. A strange preacher to-day. Yet not strange; they recognise Him as He speaks. But so wonderful a sermon never preached there before. Such wisdom; such powerful speaking; such sweet, loving words. What did congregation say about sermon? about preacher? Yes; astonished, but jealous and prejudiced. He was not a gentleman; never been to colleges of Rabbis. They remember Him as a young carpenter, making benches and tables for their houses and yokes for their cattle. True, He was very good and kind and brave and self-sacrificing. He had worked to support the poor widowed mother when Joseph died. But He was only a common carpenter, and it was impertinent of Him to set up to teach His betters. They would not listen. They were offended in Him.

Teach here briefly that "rank is but the guinea stamp." " 'Tis only noble to be good." Teach the nobleness of all honest work. Christ teaches us how grand a workman's life can be. He teaches that all work may be religious, even a boy's or girl's learning lessons. He was learning His lessons one day from the doctors and teachers (Luke ii. 46), and He called it "my Father's business." So all children's lessons may be. St. Paul speaks of servants' or slaves' work. It must be done well, he says, "for ye serve the Lord Christ." (Colossians iii. 24).

Question briefly on next section (vv.  6-13); but as the Apostles and their work have been referred to in earlier Lesson it may be lightly touched on here.

(2) Now comes a "study in conscience." After getting class to realize conscience in themselves, as already suggested, read from v.  14 on. Here is Herod, a Sadducee. Not believing in angel, or spirit, or resurrection—yet terrified at the new Teacher's coming. What does he think? Friends say that it is Elijah, or one of the prophets. "No," cries this terrified unbeliever, "it is John, whom," etc. How could he think that? Ah, it was the torture of conscience within him. It was God's judgment already begun in his soul. Did you ever feel any pain of conscience? Even if nobody knew or could punish? How awfully solemn. Who put this conscience in us? What does it do? It judges every action; it gives approval or condemnation, makes happy or miserable. It warns of God's punishments hereafter. What an awful thing. Yet what a blessed thing. God's gift to keep us doing right—to frighten us from doing wrong. Why Herod frightened? (vv.  16-20). Herod had committed a great sin. Put away own wife, and took brother's wife to be his. Do you think his conscience told him he ought not? Yes: even in the worst and most ignorant it does that. Some people think that Herod when a boy had good teaching from a religious foster-mother. They read in Acts xiii. 1, of a good, holy man, his foster-brother; and they think, and probably rightly, of a godly home, a good foster mother, two boys growing up side by side—one, to be a tyrant and murderer—the other, to be a teacher of the Gospel of Christ. At any rate, whether he had this help or not, be sure conscience pressed him not to do this sin. But he would not obey, and so he injured and weakened his conscience, and got his own way. Show the evil of resisting conscience. Every time that conscience says, "you ought," and you reply, "I will not," it makes conscience much weaker for next fight with sin. Every time you obey it grows stronger. Was it not good of God to make Herod's conscience hurt him?

Did God give him up now? No. A brave, true man felt it was his duty towards God and towards Herod to speak out boldly. Who? Never mind if he should die for it; he must do the right. And so he did a very brave and dangerous act. What? (v.  18). He wanted to save Herod, and make him stop his sin. God was giving Herod's conscience another chance. Did John touch his conscience? Yes (v.  20). He feared him. Kept him safe  (R.V). from Herodias. Heard him gladly. Did many things of what John advised. Reformed in many ways. See how, in God's mercy, his conscience was striving again with him. It seemed as if God would conquer and Herod repent. Did he? No. He "did many things." Would not do the great thing that God wanted—give up his awful sin. So conscience again defeated, again weakened and wounded. Herod made a worse man. Whose fault was this? God's or Herod's?

Steadily worse and worse grew Herod. Constantly defeating and trampling on conscience, till it lost its power. Now the awful scene in the banquet-hall. What a horrible birth-day! Picture the scene vividly in all its details. Half-drunken king. Shameless dancing girl. White, set face and gory head on the table. That noble, fearless prophet, who had tried to save him. What an awful pass to come to through always resisting conscience, and, therefore, resisting God.

Now nothing remains but agony and remorse. Never more will Herod have a happy birth-day. Look at his terror (v.  14). Day or night, working or sleeping, he was never safe from the horrid vision. The dead face, the gory head, horrible, ghastly, threatening. Awful power of conscience to venge itself. Illustrate Dream of Eugene Aram,  etc. Conscience no longer power to lead him right, only to torture him. Lower and lower he fell. This is first connection with Christ—terrified. Next time, he wanted to kill Him (Luke xxiii. 7-13). Third and last time, with his men of war, he mocked the Lord, and set Him at nought.

Learn the power of conscience. Given through God's love to keep us right. Danger of resisting it. Duty of obeying it, and praying to God to make it see His standard more clearly, and keep us to it more firmly.

If during this week conscience has to strive with you, say, "It is God's love trying to save me and keep me back." Lift up heart to Him to help you.

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