The Anguish of an Awakened Conscience

From “Sermon 73: Of Hell” (1746)

The first thing intended by the “worm that never dies,” seems to be a guilty conscience, including self-condemnation, sorrow, shame, remorse, and a sense of the wrath of God. Do we not have some conception of this, by what is sometimes felt even in the present world? Is it not of this, chiefly, that Solomon speaks, when he says, “The spirit of a man may bear his infirmities… but a wounded spirit who can bear?”

Who can bear the anguish of an awakened conscience, penetrated with a sense of guilt, and the arrows of the Almighty sticking in the soul, and drinking up the spirit? How many of the stout-hearted have sunk under it and chose strangling rather than life! And yet what are these wounds, what is all this anguish of a soul while in this present world, in comparison of those they must suffer when their souls are wholly awakened to feel the wrath of an offended God!

Add to these all unholy passions: fear, horror, rage; evil desires; desires that can never be satisfied. Add all unholy tempers: envy, jealousy, malice, and revenge; all of which will incessantly gnaw the soul, as the vulture was supposed to do the liver of Titus. To these if we add hatred of God, and of all his creatures. All these united together may serve to give us some little, imperfect idea of the worm that never dies… Let us fly for refuge to the hope that is set before us, and give a thousand thanks to the divine mercy.

John Wesley (1703-1791) was an Anglican priest and evangelist, and the founder of the Methodist movement. After experiencing a profound conversion in 1738, he began a ministry of itinerant evangelistic preaching, travelling an average of 8000 miles a year and making thousands of converts. He sparked a renewal in preaching and discipleship that swept across the Anglo-American world and is one of the fathers of evangelicalism. He is commemorated on March 3 on the liturgical calendars of several Anglican churches. The text is adapted for contemporary readers.


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