Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. Afterward David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe (1 Sam 24:4b-5).
We all have a conscience, and whether we acknowledge it or not, we also all have an afterward. David certainly did, not just in the incident of cutting off a piece of Saul’s robe, but also in the incident of the census taking (2 Sam. 24:10).
Only the Holy Spirit can so direct the conscience of a person that after accusing him, that person can be led by Him to the comfort of confession, peace and knowledge of forgiveness. David is a prime example of being conscience-stricken by the Holy Spirit, giving way to an amazing confession and experiencing the peace of being forgiven. Just read Psalm 51 written after his infamous adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah the Hittite.
And examples of the Holy Spirit nudging consciences are found throughout history.
A command often repeated in the Old Testament, the command to honor the Sabbath, is one about which God is very particular. And yet there is no longer a great deal of respect for the Sabbath, for the Sunday. It used to be that when my family drove to church in the late 1950s in Toronto, that the streets would be bereft of most vehicles and that the stores we passed were closed. It was a quiet drive and you could sense it was the Lord’s Day. Sad to say, that is no longer the case.
There is the story of a gravestone cutter who resided in Wakefield, Yorkshire. An amiable and jolly fellow, he was a pleasant man, one who had been born and raised in the area. Well known and well-liked for his endearing character, he also held the post of sexton, taking care of the church premises and faithfully ringing the church bell to call people to worship each Sunday service. A lettered man, he served as clerk for the area as well, keeping records and undertaking administrative duties. A practical man, he was not at all superstitious and much enjoyed inscribing words and texts on tombstones.
It was on a Saturday evening in March of 1790, that Peter Priestley, for that was his name, kissed his wife goodbye and set off for some unfinished work, the work being the touching up of an epitaph on a gravestone. Intent upon being done sooner rather than later, he walked briskly, whistling as he strode through the dark. He carried a lantern and had his bag of tools slung over his shoulder. It was rather late and the church clock struck eleven as he traveled on. He should have begun his work earlier, but he reasoned that there were only a few letters in the epitaph which remained to be chiseled out and he was quite confident it would be done quickly and easily.
Arriving inside the church, which place he had been using to give him shelter in the still chilly March weather, Peter Priestley put down the lantern and lit his candle which was set inside a hollow potato. Placing the potato-candle on the tombstone, he began work. However, as he bent over the flat gravestone, hammer and chisel in his hand, a noise stopped him short. It was a strange sound – more like a hiss actually – and one he had never heard before. He straightened up, gazed about, but all was silent. Neither seeing nor hearing anything untoward in the next minute, he concluded that he must have imagined that he heard something
“I am a little deaf,” he grinned to himself, “as my wife often tells me.”
Shrugging lightheartedly, he picked up the mallet and chisel once more, bending over again with great care to concentrate on the matter at hand. But, although not immediately, the noise returned.
It was very marked. Not only that, there was a smell which accompanied the sound – a rather unpleasant smell. Peter straightened up slowly and peered around. He walked over to his lantern, relit it and began a search of the premises. But he could find nothing – nothing unnatural, nothing strange – all was as it should be. Nevertheless, strange thoughts began to huddle about in his mind, and uncertainty hovered over his shoulder. Sighing, he contemplated the stone. There were only a few letters left to be touched up. He could do it quickly. Setting down the lantern once more, he returned to the table where the stone lay. Once more, chisel and mallet in hand, he bent over.
Peter’s body jerked upright even as the clock in the church steeple began to strike twelve. Then the awful truth hit him and fear took over. He had almost profaned the Sabbath; he had almost broken one of the Ten Commandments. He dare not waste any more time. Blowing out his potato-candle, and throwing his instruments into his bag, he picked up his lantern with a trembling hand. Heart beating wildly, he left the church premises and trotted home in what resembled a gallop.
Bursting through the door, Peter was sufficiently disoriented for his wife to be concerned.
“What is wrong, Peter?”
He would not tell her for he could not speak to her of a matter so troubling his conscience. His wife coaxed sweetly by making him a hot toddy, rubbing his back and stroking his cheek, but he offered no explanation. Eventually they retired to bed, Peter tossing and turning most of the night. When first morning light dawned, Peter’s wife happened to glance over at the chair where Peter had cast his wig.
“Why, Peter!” she exclaimed, “What have you been doing to burn all the hair off one side of your wig?”
“What did you say, woman?”
“I said,” repeated his wife, “what have you been doing to burn all the hair off one side of your wig?”
It is an amusing and supposedly true story. The fact is that God uses all sorts of means to probe and sear consciences.
Conscience stories abound and we should learn from them and praise God for them.
In January of 2018 a man by the name of Brian Hawkins walked into a KRCR-TV station in Redding, California startling the crew by saying that he wanted to confess to a murder. The station agreed to tape and air his conversion on the condition that he turn himself in at the police station. A conscience-stricken man, he confessed:
“God and Christ and these things that have happened over the course of twenty-five years have pushed me and pushed me to do the right thing. I know the wrong can’t be changed but this is the closest I can come to doing the right thing.”
In 1993, Hawkins and two accomplices murdered a twenty-year-old young man by the name of Frank McAlister, after robbing him of his money. Stabbing him to death, they left his body in a wood, and dumped his car in a Costco parking lot. Police had never been able to solve the murder.
Calvin once said, and rightly so: “The torture of a bad conscience is the hell of a living soul.” Hawkins confirmed this statement when he added this to his confession:
“Horrible, horrible, horrible, absolute horror, absolutely horrible since that day. Every minute of every day has been a nightmare. It’s kind of weird, Frank never got to have a life, but we were teenagers and now I’m forty-four and still haven’t even had a life and now most likely won’t anyway. I’ve been through hell my whole life because of this. There hasn’t been a moment that I have not been remorseful for what I have done.”
Centuries before, Athanasius, (328-373), said, “The Saviour is working mightily among men. Every day He is invisibly persuading numbers of people all over the world, both within and beyond the Greek-speaking world, to accept His faith and be obedient to His teaching. Can anyone, in face of this, still doubt that He has risen and lives, or rather that He is Himself the Life? Does a dead man prick the consciences of men…?”
There is a hopeful afterward for Brian Hawkins; there is a hopeful afterward for all of us. But only if we repent and are baptized, every one of us, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins (Acts 2:38).
Christine Farenhorst is the author of many books, her latest being Katherina, Katherina, a novel taking place in the time of Martin Luther. You can read a review here, and buy it at www.sola-scriptura.ca/store/shop.