One of my predecessors at Tenth Presbyterian Church, Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse, used to compare the conscience to a sundial. A sundial gives a good approximation of time when the sun is shining on it. But, if the sun is not shining on it, it does not give good time at all. If you go out in the garden at night and look at a sundial when the moon is shining on it, it might say, 7 a.m., but it is not 7 a.m.; it is the middle of the night. Unless our conscience has the Word of God shining on it, the contrast is between the world’s wisdom and God’s wisdom, between our natural ability to figure things out and biblical revelation. Unless we examine our conscience by God’s Word, we can make our conscience say anything we want.
For example, a couple can be out in the garden and the girl can say to the fellow, “My mother said I’m supposed to be home at eleven o’clock. What time is it?” He says, “I’ll look at the sun dial.” They go over and look at the sundial. She is not quite satisfied. It says it is only nine o’clock. She says, “I think it is later than that.” He says, “Well, let me strike a match.” So, he strikes a match and holds it over the sundial. He can make it say any time that he wishes. This is what our conscience is like unless the sure light of the Word of God is shining on it.
Our conscience is not something that we can shout down. When we do something wrong our conscience says, “You mustn’t do that. That is wrong.” But then we reason, “That may be true, but let me think about it a little bit.” We might mull it over and come up with a reason why our action is right. But a conscience illuminated by the Word of God–by what God has to say about personal integrity–that kind of conscience is valuable. What Paul says in response to his accusers is that he has examined himself before Scripture and found that he had conducted himself in holiness and sincerity. We need to do that too.
Secondly, when God changes plans, we have to relate the change of plans to God’s sovereignty. This is what Paul does, and he discusses his surrender to the sovereignty of God in verses 15 through 20. He explains that when God speaks, he speaks surely and directly. When God acts in our lives it is always the best course and the shortest distance to the destiny to which God wants to bring us.
So, if we really are serious about following his will and going in the way he wants us to go, then we will surrender to his change of plans in our lives. We might say to God, “God, your way does not look like the shortest way. My way appears shorter. But if you attempt to do things your way, it will create a detour. God knows that you cannot see the path ahead. You do not know what is coming. But when he changes your path, it is because he knows that doing so is really the quickest way to get you where you are going. Paul had learned to follow God’s leading, even when it did not look like the right way to go. Paul knew that if God’s way did not look right to him, the trouble was his own perception.