Conscience (Moral Responsibility)
Because of the sin of Adam man now had the knowledge of good and evil written upon his heart, and with it conscience. Under this dispensation man has a responsibilty to do good (as guided by his conscience) and to abstain from all evil (as guided by his conscience). This new knowledge should in itself be a strong deterrent to prevent a person from sinning.
However, shortly after the beginning of this dispensation we find that "Cain rose up against Abel, his brother, and slew him" (Gen. 4: 8). Near the end of the dispensation of conscience, "God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Gen. 6: 5). Because the earth was "filled with violence" we see that God must destroy all mankind by a flood, except Noah and his family.
This dispensation of conscience "shows what man will do when guided only by his conscience?Conscience may produce fear and remorse, but it will not keep men from doing wrong, for conscience imparts no ?power? " (Larkin, The Greatest Book on Dispensational Truth in the World, 1920, p. 34).
Although the dispensation of conscience ended at the flood, conscience (or moral responsibility) continues as an abiding truth in human life (2 Cor. 1: 12; Ro. 2: 1).
Due to the violence and murder that had existed under the dispensation of conscience, God now put into place the "dispensation of human government". The basis of this new stewardship is found in the Divine order:" Whosoever sheddeth man?s blood, by man shall his blood be shed" (Gen. 9: 6). The most important function of government is the protection of human life, and capital punishment acts as a deterrant to murder.
Even though man's moral responsibility (under conscience) to God continued ("Render unto God the things that are God's"), God delegated to him certain areas of His authority, in which he was to obey God through submission to his fellow man ("Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's", Mt. 22: 21). In the previous "dispensation of conscience" the only restraint upon man was internal, but now the power of civil government exerted an external restraint.
Noah was also told by the Lord, "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth" (Gen. 9:1).
Clarence Larkin writes, "God commanded Noah and his sons to be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth, but instead of scattering, the posterity kept together, and sought to build a capital city and ?make themselves a name? by building a Tower to heaven " (Ibid, p. 37). Man became self centered instead of God centered and willfully disobeyed God. As a result the Lord destroyed the very thing that binded these people together, their common language and then He scattered them:
"And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be witheld from them, which they have imagined to do. Come, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they ceased building the city" (Gen. 11: 6-8).
Although the dispensation of human government ended with the scattering of the people and the confusion of the common language man?s responsibility for government did not end. Paul tells us that "the powers that be are ordained of God" (Ro. 13: 1).