Bad Conscience

For the arrows of the Almighty are within me, the poison whereof drinketh up my spirit: the terrors of God do set themselves in array against me.
~ Job 6:4

Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me, and horror hath overwhelmed me.
~ Psalm 55:5

For I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded within me.
~ Psalm 109:22

Thou shalt make them as a fiery oven in the time of thine anger: the LORD shall swallow them up in his wrath, and the fire shall devour them.
~ Psalm 21:9

Let us swallow them up alive as the grave; and whole, as those that go down into the pit:
~ Proverbs 1:12

Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?
~ Romans 9:19-20

But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way; the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment.
~ Isaiah 28:7

Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us.
~ Luke 23:30

But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden.
~ Revelation 2:24

A Damned Conscience, by John Flavel.

The spirit of man is a most tender, sensible, and apprehensive creature: the eye of the body is not so sensible of a touch, a nerve of the body is not so sensible when pricked, as the spirit of man is by the least touch of God’s indignation upon it. “A wounded spirit who can bear?” (Pro 18:14). Other external wounds upon the body inflicted either by man or God are tolerable, but that which immediately touches the spirit of man is insufferable. Who can bear or endure it?

And as the spirit of man hath the most delicate and exquisite sense of misery, so it hath a vast capacity to receive and let in the fulness of anguish and misery into it. It is a large vessel, called a vessel of wrath “fitted to destruction” (Rom 9:22). The large capacity of the soul is seen in this: it is not in the power of all the creatures in the world to satisfy and fill it! It can drink up, as we say, all the rivers of created good, and its thirst is not quenched by such a draught; but after all, it cries, “Give, give” (Pro 30:15). Nothing but an infinite God can quiet and satisfy its appetite and raging thirst.

And as it is capable and receptive of more good than is found in all creatures, so it is capable of more misery and anguish than all the creatures can inflict upon it. Let all the elements, all men on earth, yea, all the devils and damned in hell, conspire and unite in a design to torment man, yet when they have done all, his spirit is capable of a farther degree of torment—a torment as much beyond it as a rack is beyond a hard bed or the sword in his bowels is beyond the scratch of a pin. The devils indeed are the executioners and tormentors of the damned; but if that were all they were capable to suffer, the torment of the damned would be comparatively mild and gentle to what they are. Oh, the largeness of the understanding of man—what will it not take into its vast capacity!

But add to this that the damned souls have all those affections laid in a deep and everlasting sleep, the exercises whereof would be relieving by emptying their souls of any part of their misery; and all those passions thoroughly and everlastingly awakened, which increase their torments. The affections of joy, delight, and hope are benumbed in them and laid fast asleep, never to be awakened into act anymore. In Scripture, their hope is said to perish, i.e., it so perisheth that after death it shall never exert another act to all eternity. The activity of any of those affections would be like a cooling gale or refreshing spring amidst their torments…And as these affections are laid asleep, so their passions are roused and thoroughly awakened to torment them—so awakened as never to sleep any more. The souls of men are sometimes jogged and startled in this world by the works or rods of God, but presently they sleep again and forget all; but hereafter, the eyes of their souls will be continually held waking to behold and consider their misery; their understandings will be clear and most apprehensive; their thoughts fixed and determined;their consciences active and efficacious; and by all this, their capacity to take in the fullest of their misery will be enlarged to the uttermost.

The wrath, indignation, and revenge of God poured out as the just reward of sin upon the capacious souls of the damned are the principal part of their misery in hell…The souls of the damned can hold more misery than all the creatures can inflict upon them. When the soul suffers from the hand of man, its sufferings are either by way of sympathy with the body, or if immediately, yet it is but a light stroke the hand of a creature can give. But when it hath to do with a sin-revenging God, and that immediately, this stroke cuts off the spirit of man, as it is expressed (Psa 88:16).

The body is the clothing of the soul. Most of the arrows shot at the soul in this world do but stick in the clothes, i.e., reach the outward man; but in hell, the spirit of man is the white at which God Himself shoots. All His envenomed arrows strike the soul, which is, after death, laid bare and naked to be wounded by His hand. At death, the soul of every wicked man immediately falls into the hands of the living God. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,” as the apostle speaks (Heb 10:31). Their punishment is “from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power” (2Th 1:9). They are not put over to their fellow-creatures to be punished, but God will do it Himself and glorify His power as well as His justice in their punishment. The wrath of God lies immediately upon their spirits, and this is the fiery indignation which devoureth their adversaries (Heb 10:27)—a fire that licks up the very spirit of man. Who knoweth the power of His anger (Psa 90:11)? How insupportable it is, you may a little guess by that expression of the prophet Nahum: “The mountains quake at him, and the hills melt, and the earth is burned at his presence, yes, the world, and all that dwell therein. Who can stand before his indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger? his fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by him” (Nah 1:5-6).

And, as if anger and wrath were not words of a sufficient edge and sharpness, it is called fiery indignation and vengeance, words denoting the most intense degree of divine wrath. For indeed His power is to be glorified in the destruction of His enemies, and therefore now He will do it to purpose. He takes them now into His own hands. No creature can come at the soul immediately: that is God’s prerogative. And now He hath to deal with it in fury, and revenge is poured out. “Can thine heart endure, or can thine hands be strong, in the days that I shall deal with thee?” (Eze 22:14). Alas! The spirit quails and dies under it. This is the hell of hells.

What doleful cries and lamentings have we heard from God’s dearest children when but some few drops of His anger have been sprinkled upon their souls here in this world! But alas, there is no comparison betwixt the anger or fatherly discipline of God over the spirits of His children, and the indignation poured out from the beginning of revenges upon His enemies.

The separate spirit of a damned man becomes a tormentor to itself by the various and efficacious actings of its own conscience, which are a special part of its torment in the other world. Conscience, which should have been the sinner’s curb on earth, becomes the whip that must lash his soul in hell. Neither is there any faculty or power belonging to the soul of man so fit and able to do it as his own conscience. That which was the seat and center of all guilt now becomes the seat and center of all torments. The suspension of its tormenting power in this world is a mystery and wonder to all that duly consider it. For certainly, should the Lord let a sinner’s conscience fly upon him with rage amid his sins and pleasures, it would put him into a hell upon earth, as we see in the doleful instances of Judas, Spira, etc. But, generally, He keeps a hand of restraint upon them in this life and suffers them to sleep quietly by a grumbling or seared conscience, which couches by them as a sleepy lion and lets them alone.

But no sooner is the Christless soul turned out of the body and cast (into hell) for eternity at the bar of God, but conscience is roused and put into a rage never to be appeased anymore. It now racks and tortures the miserable soul with its utmost efficacy and activity. The mere presages and forebodings of wrath by the consciences of sinners in this world have made them lie with a ghastly paleness in their faces, universal trembling in all their members, a cold sweating horror upon their panting bosoms like men already in hell. But this, all this, is but as the sweating of the stones before the great rain falls. The activities of conscience (especially in hell) are various, vigorous, and dreadful to consider, such are its recognitions, accusations, condemnations, upbraidings, shamings, and fearful expectations.

1. The consciences of the damned will recognize and bring back the sins committed in this world fresh to their mind. For what is conscience but a register, or book of records, wherein every sin is ranked in its proper place and order! This act of conscience is fundamental to all its other acts: for it cannot accuse, condemn, upbraid, or shame us for what it hath lost out of its memory and hath no sense of. “Son, remember,” said Abraham to Dives, amid his torments. This remembrance of sins past, mercies past, opportunities past, but especially of hope past and gone with them, never to be recovered anymore, is like that fire not blown (of which Zophar speaks), which consumes him, or the glittering sword coming out of his gall (Job 20:24).

2. It chargeth and accuseth the damned soul. Its charges are home, positive, and self-evident charges. A thousand legal and unexceptionable witnesses cannot confirm any point more than one witness in a man’s bosom can do (1Jo 2:15). It convicts and stops their mouths, leaving them without any excuse or apology. Just and righteous are the judgments of God upon thee, saith conscience. In all this ocean of misery, there is not one drop of injury or wrong. The judgment of God is according to truth.

3. It condemns as well as chargeth and witnesseth, and that with a dreadful sentence. Backing and approving the sentence and judgment of God (1Jo 3:21), every self-destroyer will be a self-condemner. This is a prime part of their misery.

4. The upbraidings of conscience in hell are terrible and insufferable things. (If we do not repent, we will) be continually hit in the teeth and twitted with our madness, willfulness, and obstinacy as the cause of all that eternal misery that we have pulled down upon our own heads! What is it but the rubbing of the wound with salt and vinegar? Of this torment, holy Job was afraid and therefore resolved what in him lay to prevent it, when he saith, “My heart (i.e., conscience) shall not reproach me so long as I live” (Job 27:6). Oh, the twits and taunts of conscience are cruel cuts and lashes to the soul!

5. The shamings of conscience are insufferable torments. Shame ariseth from the turpitude of discovered actions. If some men’s secret filthinesses were but published in this world, it would confound them. What, then, will it be when all shall lie open, as it will, after this life, and their own consciences shall cast the shame of all upon them? They shall not only be derided by God (Pro 1:26) but by their own consciences.

We should not sin in hope of concealment. What if thou conceal it from all others: canst thou conceal (it from) thy own conscience? As one saith well, “What good is it for thee that none knows what is done when thou knowest it thyself? What profit is it for him who hath a conscience that will accuse him that he hath no man to accuse him but himself? He is a thousand witnesses to himself.” Conscience is not a private witness. It is a thousand witnesses. Therefore, never sin in hope to have it concealed. It is better that all men should know it than that thyself should know it. All will be one day written in thy forehead. Conscience will be a blab. If it cannot speak the truth now, though it be bribed in this life, it will have power and efficacy in the life to come. Never sin, therefore, in hope of concealment. Conscience is a witness. We have the witness in us; and as Isaiah saith, “Our sins testify against us” (Isa 59:12). It is in vain to look for secrecy. Conscience will discover all.
—Richard Sibbes

Conscience is a private Judgment Day before the public Day of Judgment; and it is a (bad sign) that most people will never stand upright in the court of heaven because they stand accused and condemned in the court of conscience.
—Edmund Calamy