A Study in Conscience
St. Mark VI. 1-30.
"Their conscience bearing witness."
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
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
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
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
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.