By Daniel Steele
THE PARACLETE'S CONVICTION OF SIN.
"AND he, when he is come, will convict the world of sin." Of what form of sin? Not of those social offences called crimes, violations of the precepts and prohibitions of the decalogue, the basis of the criminal code in all civilized countries. Human courts are competent to convict of crime. Nor does the Spirit convict of those injuries to ourselves known as vices, moral delinquencies not named in the Ten Commandments. Conscience is sufficient to convict of these, aided by self-love and self-respect. But human law and conscience combined cannot eradicate evil from the heart. Philosophy has tried it and failed. Poetry, especially comedy and satire, have ineffectually attempted to convict the world of sin in all past ages. They have chastised cutaneous sins, denouncing the drunkard, the glutton, the opium user, the fornicator. All these were self-condemned before the shaft of ridicule was hurled at them. Each of them could say:
But is not God's law thundering from Sinai a sufficient witness to convict of sin? No, it never did convince the world that sin is evil per se, a thing to be abominated, to be abhorred and shunned because of its inherent hatefulness and unspeakable vileness. The divine law is effectual only as it causes sin to be dreaded and avoided merely because of the punishment which will surely visit it. There is needed more than an accuser and punisher of sin, a power which can not only probe and search the heart and turn it inside out, exposing to the sunlight all its loathsome leprosies, but a power which can effect a radical cure. The sinful heart needs a surgeon so sharp-sighted as to detect this deadly disease under all its disguises of euphonious names, and a physician so skilful as to apply an effectual remedy. That healer of the sinful soul is the divine Comforter, mercifully sent, not to torment the world by forbidding its pleasures, but to bless the world by turning it away from its iniquities. Sins of every kind are the fruit of an invisible root to which they bear no outward resemblance. This root is too subtile for human laws and courts to see. It requires anointed eyes. No human philosophy had ever found the sum and substance, the poisonous essence of sin, in unbelief. How can this be the all-inclusive sin? Is not historic doubt respecting persons and events innocent and even commendable? To such questions of a shallow rationalism we answer that unbelief in respect to Christ is more than withholding intellectual assent to a historic record. It is ingratitude towards a Benefactor and Saviour, and rebellion against a rightful Ruler, a refusal to bow the knee to the personal revelation of God. The cause of this unbelief is not intellectual, arising from a lack of evidences, but moral, arising from a lack of willingness. Christ is rejected because He lays the axe at the root sin, plants a hedge of thorns across the path of sinful pleasure, and kindles a consuming flame in the house of the worldling's idols. The Holy Spirit convicts unbelievers of a lie when they pretend that their unbelief toward Christ is merely honest doubt. It is because faith in Him draws after it what is conceived to be the unpleasant obligation to obey Him, that they are unbelieving. In fact, the Greek Testament has but one word for unbelief and disobedience. In truth and verity, however boldly and persistently the world may deny it, the fact is that unbelief in respect to Christ lies in the will so corrupt that it hugs sin and will not let it be taken away by the Son of God, who came into the world and submitted to the shame and agony of the cross for this very purpose. Not all unbelievers are as honest as the African chief, Sekeletu, with whom David Livingstone met in his explorations. Says that great missionary: "Sekeletu pressed me to name anything I desired, and it should be given. I explained that my object was to elevate him and his people to be Christians. He replied, 'I do not wish to learn to read the Book, for I am afraid it might change my heart and make me content with one wife, like Sechele [a converted chief]. No, no, I want always to have five wives at least.'" Here is a frank admission that the difficulty in believing in Christ does not lie in defective evidence of His right to rule the heart and life, but in the purpose of the sinner to have his own way. Equally frank vas that son of Abrahan, a Pole, who, when asked by an American Christian whether the Jews' rejection of Jesus, the Messiah, was because they would not believe or because they could not, spitefully replied, "Ve vill not believe, ve vill not believe." But gospel-hardened sinners do not have such candor. Instead of acknowledging the real obstacle in their own will, they devise some pretext, some intellectual difficulty in the way of faith, with which they sophisticate conscience and excuse their godlessness.
The Spirit of inspiration teaches that the sin of unbelief denies God's moral attribute of truth. "He that believeth not God's witness concerning his. Son, that eternal life is in him [and in Him only], hath made him a liar" (I John v. 9-12).
It is a favorite plea of those who reject Christ as their personal Saviour that faith is not in the province of the will, and that consequently we are not accountable for it as the pivot of destiny. But this falsehood is shown up by the Holy Ghost, who ever insists that the culpability of unbelief lies in the fact that it is a wilful, obstinate and persistent aversion to Christ's requirements. It is this activity of the Spirit in demonstrating the truth to every mind and conscience by showing the things of Christ, His divinity, His sinlessness, His condescending love evinced by His self-sacrificing life and atoning death, that renders every hearer of the gospel accountable to the Judge of the quick and the dead for his .acceptance or his rejection of Jesus Christ as his rightful King. "He that believeth shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned." The convicting debate which the Spirit carries on with the world has this surprising peculiarity: The momentous question of eternal destiny does not turn upon man's treatment of God the Father, but rather his disposition towards His Son. This is the sin which towers above all and comprises all. "Because they believe not on ME." That is to say, the world did not believe in Him as God manifest in the flesh in the person of His only begotten Son, the appointed King and Redeemer of mankind. "For God, as He is in Himself, in the mystery of His own unapproachable being, as He dwells in the bright abyss of His own timeless eternity, before the glory of whose face the archangels veil their eyes, whom no one has known or can know except the only begotten Son and the Spirit who is one with the Father and the Son, can hardly become a distinct object even of faith to man." It is only when He vouchsafes to come forth out of His absolute Godhood, in the person of His Son and of His Spirit, that He is pleased to make Himself known to men by these two divine witnesses, the representatives of His glory, without whom no creature could know anything or believe anything about God.
Underlying the Spirit's argument in the inmost depths of the soul where character originates from free choice, is the doctrine of the supreme Godhood (corrupted into Godhead) of Jesus Christ. For if He were a creature, the highest in the universe next to the throne of God (Channing), it would be a sin to trust in Him rather than solely in the Creator. The Spirit recognizes the supreme divinity and not the creaturehood of the Son of man, the Son of God. For this reason orthodoxy in all the Christian ages has emphasized and exalted that primary truth which Luther, after the theological errors of the dark ages, so fully apprehended and so lucidly proclaimed, that evangelical, saving faith is the ground of all good in man, and the want of it is the source of all evil. This truth the Spirit's convincing agency always implies when He gives a clear perception of the deformity and damnableness of the absence of faith in Christ as the chosen state of heart. The Spirit demolishes all the subterfuges and excuses by which depravity endeavors to palliate unbelief and to whitewash the vileness of his ingratitude to Jesus Christ, his best friend and benefactor.
Another truth implied in the Spirit's conviction of the world is that present salvation and eternal life depend solely on faith in Christ for which there can be no substitute. By this declaration the pious, God-fearing pagan living up to his best light is not excluded from salvation. He evinces that he has the spirit of faith and the purpose of righteousness which are accepted in the involuntary absence of a knowledge of the historic Christ. He has engraven on his own character, through co-operation with the universal activity of the Holy Spirit, the imperfect outlines of the image of Christ, styled by Joseph Cook "the essential Christ." When the apostles demonstrated to the conscience of the Jews that there was salvation in no other name, not even in Abraham their father nor in Moses their lawgiver, they were convicted of the most stupendous crime possible, but not beyond the forgiving grace of their disowned and crucified Messiah. Great as was their first crime of murdering their King, their second offence of rejecting His claims did not place them individually beyond His pardoning mercy, if they would repent and believe, although it sealed their national doom. Their unbelief vitiated all their fancied righteousness sought from the law and rendered it detestable and all their sacrifices abominable to the searcher of hearts. They were preeminently guilty of unbelief. The temporal consequences to their nation manifestly confirm the assertion that it was the most heinous of all sins. The Spirit not only convicts unbelievers of wilful sin, but He also convicts the regenerate of "sin improperly so called" (Wesley), a wrong state of the sensibilities lying back of the will. Even after the will has, through the new birth, been brought into the attitude of submission to Christ, there remain tendencies and propensities perilous to the spiritual life and antagonistic to the new principle of love to God which is now enthroned within. This rendered many of the Corinthians " carnal," so that Paul hesitated to call them "spiritual," though they were, " as babes in Christ," possessing a feeble spiritual life instead of that more abundant life which Christ came to impart. This lingering carnality, "the easily besetting" or closely clinging sin, styled by Delitzsch "the indwelling evil," was the force which was impelling many of the Galatians downward instead of upward; for, having begun in the Spirit, they were ending in the flesh. We must ascribe to the same cause that lack of perfect loyalty and perfect devotion to Christ in all of Paul's band of missionary helpers in Rome, Timothy excepted, of whom the sorrowful apostle says, "For they all seek their own, not the things of Jesus Christ." By such a remark as this the apostle to the Gentiles does not de-Christianize those members of Christ's body who are still actuated by selfishness. Rather he represents them as weak and defective believers who have not yet submitted to a total self-crucifixion as a prerequisite to perfect love to Christ. Paul does not include himself and Timothy in this class (Phil. ii. 19-21).
A light estimate of sin is the bane of modern Christian thought.1 It is attended by a depreciation of the moral law. Since the law underlies the atonement, whatever lessens the majesty of the law detracts from the necessity and value of the atonement. Thus these fundamentals all suffer loss when one of them, sin, law, atonement, is discounted. To these three vital doctrines we may add the pardon of sin and sanctification, together with eternal retribution. When one of these doctrines is undervalued, all are soon weakened. Says Principal Moule: "A full, strong current of opinion in the professing Church of Christ runs at the present day directly against a grave, thoroughgoing doctrine of sin and its correlative truths of eternal judgment and of the unspeakable need of the atoning blood and of a living personal faith in the crucified and risen One. One would think that some earnest teachers had learned, by some other path surely than that of the Word of God, to look with temperate eyes upon sin as a phenomenon sure at last to disappear under long processes of divine order." The final evanescence of moral evil is a pleasing delusion of liberalism which cannot endure the idea of sin as an eternal blot on the face of the universe. A careful, candid study of the parables of Christ shows the human family in the day of judgment separated and sentenced to the opposite destinies of punishment and reward with no hint of an ultimate reunion. Moral evil as a finality under the government of omnipotent goodness is a problem of less difficulty than the permission of sin by absolute holiness. The argument which justifies the arbitrary non-prevention of sin will justify its sovereign non-extinction. But we need no such argument. God has only one way for the extinction of sin, the blood of His Son presented by penitent faith. He will never crush sin with an almighty trip hammer, as Universalists desire; nor will He crush the sinner into nonentity to suit annihilationism. Hence final impenitence can have no other sequence than everlasting misery. Without any revelation Plato comes to this conclusion. His moral reason demanded it. Hence it is not unreasonable. What is the remedy for inadequate and superficial views of sin as a transient, cutaneous disease soon to be outgrown by the soul? Preach earnestly and persistently the office of the Paraclete as the convincer of the stupendous sin of unbelief toward Christ, of righteousness and of judgment to come. Liberalism can be cured only by the awakening truths of Christ's gospel. No office of the Comforter can be neglected without moral disaster, which always overtakes those who advance beyond the New Testament in their fancied progress. "Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ hath not God" (II John 9, Revised Version).