By contemplating Adam and Eve in their innocence and later guilt, we can see in the facts of their case the nature of a good conscience and an evil one. When they rejoiced in “the answer of a good conscience” they were free of shame and fear. They could stand naked in God’s presence unashamed, and instead of trembling at His voice they rejoiced and heard it as a messenger of good things. Their lives were pure and undefiled then and devoid of all awareness of sin. They were “of the Truth” then and lived in the obedience expressed in the law. Therefore, their hearts were confident before God. No doubts and fears oppressed them then. But observe the change that came over them afterward. When they lost their good conscience, terror seized them at hearing God’s voice. Shame possessed their souls and they sought to get out of God’s sight and remove themselves as far as possible.

What caused this? The only answer that can be given is: SIN. Thus, sin takes away “the answer of a good conscience toward God” and converts it into an evil conscience that can clearly be seen when its subject is ashamed of the Truth and harassed by “doubt and fears.” Those who were once enlightened become ashamed of the Truth and feel condemned because they have stopped believing or realize they have a “dead faith.” They do well to be ashamed and afraid, for to be ashamed of God’s Truth is to be ashamed of His wisdom and power.

People like this claim all conversation about the Truth is unfashionable, vulgar, and calculated to disturb the peace of the family circle. Some make a great outcry against controversy as being dangerous to religion. Do they imagine God’s Truth can be planted in human hearts already possessed by God’s enemy without controversy? Others who are subject to timidity because of sin reduce every issue to opinion and speak of the need for “charity.” (“Kindness,” “Gentleness,” and “Love”) It is not that they are more liberal and loving than other people, but that they fear their own nakedness may be seen along with their shame. Another class of bashful ones cry out: “Do not disturb that which is quiet,” which is a prime saying for a rotten cause, especially when to speak the Truth would break up all their “vested interests” and opportunities for monetary compensation. So it is said: “The righteous are bold as a lion, but the wicked flee when no one is in pursuit.” However “pious” sinners are thought to be, they are invariably cowards. They are ashamed to take a bold stand for their own profession (the Truth) and also afraid of an independent and impartial examination of the law and testimony of God. So with the understanding that sin (or the transgression of God’s law) accompanied by doubts, fears, and shame of face is the unholy principle of an evil conscience, we ask what can be done to remove it? The answer is: blot out the sin and the conscience of the patient will be cured. The unholy phenomena will disappear and “the answer of a good conscience toward God” will remain. (1 Pet. 3:21).

From the nature of things it is obvious the sinner cannot cure himself, though superstition teaches him to attempt it by fasting, penance, and all “the voluntary humility and vain deceit” initiated by “the blind.” Adam and Eve vainly imagined they could cover their own sin and hide it from divine scrutiny, but the very clumsy device they contrived betrayed the defilement of their consciences. Their descendants have not learned wisdom by the failure of their attempt. To this day they are as industriously engaged in inventing cloaks for their evil consciences as were their first parents who stitched fig-leaves together to cover their shame. So true is it that though God made humans upright, they have sought out many inventions. (Eccl. 7:29) But after all the patching, altering, and scouring they are just like “the filthy garments” taken from Joshua the high priest, to which all the iniquity laid upon him adhered with the tenacity of a leprous plague (Zech. 3:3-4). Humans have not yet learned the lesson that all they are called upon by God to do is believe His word and obey His laws. He requires nothing more at their hands than this. If they do not believe and do (or believe but do not obey) they are evildoers and opposed to God. He asks people for action, not words. And He will judge them “according to their works” in light of His law, not according to their personal feelings and traditions

The reason He will not allow people to prescribe for their own moral evils is because He is the Physician and they are the lepers. He is their ruler and they are the rebels against His law. It is His privilege, and His alone, to dictate the terms of reconciliation. Humanity has offended God. Thus, it is their duty to surrender unconditionally and receive with open hearts, grateful feelings, and humble attitude of a child whatever in wisdom, justice, and benevolence God may prescribe. Until they do this, they may preach in His name (Mt. 7:21-23) make broad their phylacteries (Mt. 23:5-7) sound trumpets in the synagogues and streets (Mt. 6:1-4) make long prayers in public (Mt. 6:5-7; 23:14) disfigure their countenances with a grimace so they appear to be fasting (Mt. 6:16-18) build ecclesias (churches) and compass sea and land to make converts (Mt. 23:15) establish hospitals and fill the world with their benevolence, but it can all be reduced to mere fig-leaf inventions as substitutes for “the righteousness of God.”

“Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.” (Rom. 4:7) But this blessedness did not come upon Adam or any of his posterity by garments of their own making. The Lord’s covering for sin is “a change of raiment,” even the “white raiment” He counsels people to buy so “they are clothed and the shame of their nakedness does not appear.” (Rev. 3:18). He alone can furnish it, and the only cost is that we believe and put on His covering.

John Thomas

(Elpis Israel)