“According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper” (Hebrews 9:9, ESV)
In Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, Macbeth murders Duncan. Following the murder Macbeth makes this statement.
“Whence is that knocking? How is’t with me, when every noise appalls me? What hands are here! Ha, they pluck out mine eyes. Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood csean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather The multitudinous seas incarnadine, Making the green one red.
In this quote, the verb “incarnadine” means to redden. Macbeth after killing Duncan realizes that all the water in the great seas would not be able to wash away the blood which has stained his hands. In fact, the stain of the blood would turn the seas red and the stains would still be found on his hands. He is not speaking of washing away the blood physically, but how the blood stained his conscience.
God has endowed every person with a conscience. It gives man an ability to make moral decisions. It works to bear witness in regards to right and wrong to accuse or excuse a person according to his or her thoughts, intents, and actions (Rom 2:15-16). The conscience works in accordance with the intellect’s understanding of right and wrong. Thus, it is imperative that the person is properly educated regarding the standard of moral truth.
Herein lies one problem. Many people are poorly educated regarding moral standards. In our society, many see moral standards as relative and not absolute, that they can change over time due to cultural shifts, government regulations, personal preferences, etc. The big problem is that any man-made moral standard is prone to wander from the standard of holiness prescribed by God, as revealed in His word. God alone is the Supreme Law Giver, and His righteous standards never change.
Now, the recipients of the letter to the Hebrews, did not have a problem of moral relativism as we do. They had the Mosaic Law. They understood the moral standards of God. It would seem rare for any adult to have misunderstood these moral standards. It was possible for one to have his or her conscience seared towards God’s standard of holiness (1 Tim 4:1-2). Nothing else could explain their departure into gross idolatry as seen under some of their evil kings. Yet, the author here is not writing in regards to Jews who have seared their consciences, but those devout Jews who have transgressed and were seeking to clear their consciences through the ministry of the earthly Tabernacle.
The author points out that the system of gifts and sacrifices, according to the law, could never clear the conscience of the worshipper. The cleansing of the conscience provided through the first Tabernacle was imperfect. Perfect cleansing for sin was only possible through the New Covenant, in the sacrifice of Jesus who is the great high priest seated in the true Tabernacle in Heaven.
Perhaps you are carrying the guilt born by your conscience today. You have tried everything to remove it, but nothing works. All the water in the seas cannot cleanse your guilt away. Yet there is a way to be cleansed. John wrote, “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7, KJV 1900) The way to perfecting the conscience is to trust in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation. He died for your sins, and offers cleansing to those who come to Him by faith.