Chapter 6 – Joy of a Good Conscience
My little followers of Jesus, though you have everything else that you may desire, if you have not a good conscience you cannot feel really happy. You may have plenty of money; you may enjoy the best of health; you may be honored and esteemed by your fellow-men; you may have all the sensual pleasures you can wish for: if you have a bad conscience, if the secret worm of guilt is gnawing in your heart—this alone is enough to spoil all your joy and peace.
The sinner is blinded. He wilfully ties his own eyes, that he may not see the miserable, dangerous condition his is in. But as much as he may try to deceive himself, he will frequently feel the sting of his bad conscience, which fill him with alarm and uneasiness. Oh, if the sinner would only look earnestly at himself, and examine the most pitiable, dangerous state in which he is on account of his sin, most certainly he would be frightened; and he would not tarry one moment to free himself from such a condition.
Here is a picture for us all to study; it represents to us the misery of those who live in the state of mortal sin.
A farmer in Italy was very expert in catching vipers. You know, the viper is a poisonous snake; its bite causes death in a very short time. The farmer would bring his vipers to the apothecary, who would buy them at a good price, for the purpose of making theriac, a certain kind of medicine.
One day the farmer had extraordinary success; he caught one hundred and fifty vipers; and he put them into a box which he always carried with him for that purpose. He was very tired when he got home. He took only a little supper, after which he lay down to rest. The box of vipers he set down on the floor, in one corner of the bedroom. What happened? While he was sleeping the vipers became restless: they began to move in the box and to press upwards. Thus it came that the lid of the box was forced open, and the reptiles crept out into the room. The warmth of the bed in which the farmer was sleeping attracted them. They, therefore, crept up into it, got under the covers, and wound themselves around the man’s legs and arms, and even around his body and neck.
Late next morning the farmer wakes up. Lucky for him that he awakes without making any motion. He forthwith realizes his condition, and he nearly dies with fright. Most horrifying, isn’t it? The vipers encircling his arms, legs and neck! One little motion, and they will be aroused; they will bite him, and the poison will be his death in less than an hour!
This is a picture of the sinner. Mortal sin, worse than a hundred vipers, has wound itself around the sinner’s soul. Already the soul is dead; and it takes but a sign from God, in whose dread hand the poor, ungrateful sinner is, and the soul falls and is dragged into hell, there to be tortured forever. This the sinner knows, and he must believe it, and does believe it. How can he, therefore, be happy as long as he is in such a state?
Ah, yes! Like Adam, every sinner must say: “I heard Thy voice, and I was afraid.” And with Jeremiah, the Prophet: “We looked for peace, and no good came: for a time of healing, and behold, fear.” “Know thou, and see,” thus admonishes the same prophet, Jeremiah, “that it is an evil and a bitter thing for thee, to have left the Lord thy God!”
Do you see now, my dear children, and understand why we should always strive to have a good conscience? “Have a good conscience,” says The Following of Christ, “and thou shalt always have joy.” Though everything and everybody should be against you in this world, have a good conscience, and you will live contented. If God is with you, if He is your friend, then you are all right. Serve God with a good conscience, and fear nothing else.
But I must finish the story of the farmer. What did he do to rid himself of the vipers? For quite a while he lay immovable in his bed. At last he hears his son approaching the door of his room. He calls to him to be careful, and tells him, in a few words, what a terrible condition he is in. Then he orders him to bring a vessel of fresh warm milk and set it down in the middle of the floor.
This is done immediately. No sooner do the vipers smell the milk than they begin to untwist themselves from the man’s limbs. They crawl down form the bed, and make for the vessel f of milk on the floor. Now the farmer is free. He gets up from his bed quietly, takes the box which is standing in the corner, and puts it over the vipers around the milk. Thus the reptiles are caught once more, and secured.
First, he kneels down and humbly thanks God for having saved him from the death bringing bite of the vipers. Then he managed, by the use of a pair of tongs, to draw the vipers, one by one, out of the vessel of milk, and killed them by cutting their heads off.
Let us not forget this: If we wish to live in peace and joy, let us keep a good conscience. If we have committed mortal sin, let us forthwith rid ourselves of the deadly viper twisting about our souls, by making a good confession. Cut off the viper’s head by avoiding the old occasion of sin. Let us not fall back into sin again, and we may experience the truth of what Thomas a Kempis says: “Easily will he be content and at peace whose conscience is undefiled.”