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CONVICTION OF SIN BY THE CROSS.
“Of sin, because they believe not on me. Of righteousness, because I go to the Father, and ye see me no more. Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.”—John, xvi. 9-11.
In the convincement of sin, the Holy Spirit is to be the agent, and Christ rejected the argument—so Christ himself conceives the promise of the Spirit which he is here giving. The convincing work is to be wrought by no absolute method of force, but by truths and reasons drawn from Christ’s person, and the treatment he received from the world. “Of sin,” he says, “because they believe not on me.” The two other points that he adds—“Of righteousness because I go to the Father and ye see me no more; Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged;”—appear to be only amplifications of the first, or points in which the guilty convictions of his rejectors will be raised to a higher pitch. Thus when he is gone out of the world to be seen here no more, gone up to the Father in visible divine majesty, they will begin to conceive who he was—the Son of God, the righteousness itself of God. He will be no more the man or the prophet, poorly apprehended, doubtfully conceived; all their. opinions 117 of him will undergo a revision, and their minds be quickened to a new sense even of what righteousness is; so, to a deeper more condemning, more appalling sense of their sin. Then again this conviction will be set home with a still heavier emphasis, by the fact made visible in his death and resurrection, that the “prince of this world is judged,” and forever cast down. For if evil, when triumphant by conspiracy, still can not triumph, but falls inevitably doomed, how certainly doomed is every soul that meets the Just One it rejected, on its final day. When the bad empire called the world, is itself cloven down, visibly, by the rising and the over-mastering kingship of God’s Messiah, the conviction of sin will be as much more appalling, as the general defeat and overthrow requires it to be.
It is then a fixed expectation of Christ himself, and that is the truth to which I am now going to call your attention—that his mission to the world will have a considerable part of its value, in raising a higher moral sense in mankind, and producing a more appalling conviction of their guilt or guiltiness, before God.
A widely different, or even contrary, impression appears to be generally derived from certain things said in the scripture, concerning the law; taken as they are, in a less qualified manner than they should be, or the facts of the gospel require them to be. Thus it is declared that, “by the law is the knowledge of sin.” It is also described in its relation to the gospel, as the letter that killeth,” “the ministration of death,” “the 118 ministration of condemnation;” that on the other hand, being “the Spirit that giveth life,” “the ministration of righteousness.” On the ground of such representations, an impression is received, that conviction of sin is distinctively “a law work.” As such it is specially magnified, and it is even abundantly insisted on, that the effective preaching of the law is the prime condition of all genuine success in preaching. The conception is that what is called “the law” is a certain battery side of government, before which guilty minds are to be shot through with deadly pangs, and then that the ministration of life, in Jesus and his cross, coming on the gentle side opposite, does a work of pure healing and life. On that side, all is condemnation. On this side, all is forgiveness. There is guilt, here is peace. Bondage only is there, liberty only is here.
Now this impression is so far true, that conviction of sin doubtless supposes the fact of some. rule or law, broken by sin; and that, when such law is broken, it can, as law, do nothing more than condemn—can not help, or save. God only can do that, and that he does in Christ.
But, in a certain other view, there is more law in Christ, more, that is, in his character and life and doctrine, then there is in all statutes beside. The law of Eden is to the law of the sermon on the mount, as a jewsharp to an organ. The ten commandments, mostly negative, or laws of not doing, are not, all together, as weighty and broad upon the conscience, as Christ’s one positive law, “Do ye unto others as ye would that 119 others should do unto you.” Not even the thunders of Sinai are any match for the silent thunders of Calvary.
Besides, it is not so much the question, where most law is given, as by what means the sense of law may be most effectually quickened, where before it slept. And here it is that Christ’s great expectation hinges, when he says, “of sin,” “of righteousness,” “of judgment.” For in him, the law is more than a rule, or than all rules—a person, clothed in God’s righteousness, bearing God’s authority, filling and permeating all human relations with an exact well doing, and with all most loving ministries, such as never before had been even conceived in these relations. How much then will it signify, when guilty minds are so painfully dazed by the glories of right in his person, that they. can not endure the sight; conspiring even his death, and falling upon him in their implacable malice, to thrust him out of the world! Why, simply to have had such a being living in the world, doing his work, suffering his pains at the hands of his enemies and breathing out his pure untainted breath upon the poisoned air, changes it to a place of holy conviction, where sin must be ever knowing itself, and scorching itself in its own guilty fires!
Thus much it was necessary to say, in a way of general statement, or adjustment, as respects the relative agency of Christ and the law in the convincement of guilty minds. That Christianity was to have, and has had, a considerable part of its value, in this convincing, as well as in a forgiving and restoring agency, 120 I will now proceed to show, by arguments more special and positive. And—
1. Make due account of the fact, that conviction of sin is a profoundly intelligent matter, and worthy, in that view, to engage the counsel of God in the gift of his Son. If we have any such thought as that what is called conviction of sin is only a blind torment, or crisis of excited fear, technically prescribed as a matter to be suffered in the way of conversion, we can not too soon rid ourselves of the mistake. It is neither more nor less than a due self-knowledge—not a knowledge of the mere understanding, or such as may be gotten by philosophic reflection, but a more certain, more immediate sensing of ourselves by consciousness; just the same which the criminal has, when he hies himself away from justice; fleeing, it may be, when no man pursueth. He has a most invincible, most real, knowledge of himself; not by any cognitive process of reflection, but by his immediate consciousness—he is consciously a guilty man. All men are consciously guilty before God, and the standards of God, in the same manner. They do not approve, but invariably condemn themselves; only they become so used to the fact that they make nothing of it, but take it even as the normal condition of their life. Their sin gets to be themselves, and they only think as thinking of themselves. Living always in the bad element, they think it is only their nature to be as they are. Their consciousness is frozen over, so to speak, and they see no river underneath, but only the ice 121 that covers it. The motions of sins they do not observe, because the standards they have always violated are blunted and blurred by custom. They are only conscious, it may be, of a certain shyness of God, and they come to regard even that as being somehow natural. Hence it comes to be a very great point, in the recovery of men to God, to unmask them to themselves, to uncover the standards and reopen their consciousness to them; exactly what is done by Christ and his rejected Messiahship, inwardly applied by the Spirit of God. The result is conviction of sin; which is only a state of moral self-knowledge revived. Doubtless there is a pain in this kind of self-knowledge, but it is none the less intelligent on that account. The sense of guilt is itself a pain of the mind, just as light is pain to a diseased eye; but light is none the less truly light, and guilt is none the less truly intelligent, on that account. This returning of guilty conviction is, in fact, the dawning, or may be, of an everlasting and complete intelligence, in just that highest, moral, side of the nature, that was going down out of intelligence, into stupor and blindness. Is it then a severity in Christ that he is counting on a result of his ministry and death, so essentially great and beneficent?
2. It is quite evident that such a being as Christ could not come into the world and pass through it, and out of it, in such a manner, without stirring the profoundest possible convictions of character. If the divine glory and spotless love of God are by him incarnated into the world, the revelation must be one that 122 raises a great inward commotion. It should not surprise us that even the bad spirits were rallied, in that day, to a pitch of unwonted disturbance and malign activity, much more the bad mind of the race. The great standards of holiness, so fatally blurred as rules, will be all brought forth again, speaking in the doctrine, shining out in the perfect life. Every guilty mind will feel itself arraigned, and brought to know itself, that beholds, or looks into the perfect glass of history that describes this life. And above all when it is ended by such a death, inflicted by a world in wrong, who that knows himself to be a man, will not be visited by silent pangs, not easy to be stifled.
3. Christ was a being who perfectly knew the pure standards of character and duty, knowing, as well, just what sin is in the breach of them, and what man is in the sin. He also knows of course, exactly what is necessary to stir up the guilty consciousness of men; sometimes doing it by instruction, sometimes by acts of unwonted patience and beneficence, sometimes by terrible rebukes and lifted rods of chastisement, and more than once by a divine skill of silence—as when stooping down, once and again, he drew mystic figures on the ground; sending out thus one by one, condemned and guilt-stricken, the pretentious accusers of the woman; or when, scarcely speaking and urging no defense, he so visibly shook with concern, the guilty mind of Pilate, by the dumb innocence only of his manner. He knew exactly what to do on all occasions, and with all different classes of men, to put the sense of guilt upon them, and 123 we can see ourselves, that he has it for one of the great objects of his ministry; even as it was a great expectation, in the matter of his death, that all enemies and rejecters would discover, in bitter pangs of conviction, that, in what they have done upon him, they have only let their sin reveal its own madness. Let us turn now
4. To the scriptures and gather up some few of the tokens that Christ, before his coming, was expected to come in this character; and also of the declarations, by himself and his followers afterward, that he had, especially in his death, accomplished such a result.
“They shall look on me whom they have pierced,” says the prophet, “and they shall mourn.” Other expressions of the prophets correspond. Accordingly when the infant Jesus was brought to Simeon, by his mother, he said to her, “Behold this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be spoken against, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” His rejection was to reveal the heart of his rejectors. John the Baptist conceives, in the same manner, that he is coining with “the axe” of conviction, to be laid to the root of all sin, and “the fan” of separation, to winnow out the chaffiness of all pretense, so to unmask the secrecy of guilt and place it in the open light of conviction.
Christ himself also testifies that he has done it, saying to Nicodemus, “He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this the condemnation (how deeply shall the sting of it some time pierce 124 the heart of my rejecters,)—this is the condemnation, “that light is come into the world and men have loved darkness rather then light, because their deeds were evil.” On another occasion, he says, to the same effect,—“If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin, but now they have no cloak for their sin;”—they see now, by what they reject and hate, precisely what they are—“If I had not done among them the work which none other man did, they had not had sin, but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father;” intimating clearly that their hatred of him, they will sometime see, is, at bottom, a hatred of goodness itself. On still another occasion, he brings out the same truth more argumentatively saying—“If God were your Father, ye would love me; for I proceeded forth and came from God. He that is of God heareth my words, ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.” Your rejection of me is nothing but an exhibition, without, of that rejection of God in which you inwardly live. The bitterness of their reply you know.
Take the trial scene of Jesus next, noting first, the bad spirit out of which it comes, and then the guilty conviction that follows it. What injury had Christ done to Caiphas and the managers of his party, that they should be so bitterly exasperated against him? There was never a more inoffensive being, save as goodness is itself an offense to sin. Hence the violence of their animosity; for no man is so violent and brutish in his animosities, as he that is storming against goodness, to drown the disturbance, and redress the guilty pangs it 125 creates in an evil conscience. Hence the barbarous insults put upon the Saviour’s person. If these great people of Jerusalem—high-priests, rabbis, scribes, and others—had been a tribe of Osages, or Dyaks, their treatment of Jesus would have been exactly in character. The slap in the face, the crown of thorns, the mock cries, the scourging, the spitting, the wagging of the heads, and the jeer “let him come down,” connected with a visibly conscious disrespect to evidence and justice, and with outcries raised to stifle even the sense of justice; the malignity and spite of the punishment itself, a slave’s punishment, a crucifixion put upon a man whose dignity and the power of whose words,—“speaking as never man spake”—had been a principal part of his offense—what does it mean that gentlemen, Jewish leaders of the highest standing and culture, are found instigating these low barbarities of spite and cruelty? What has he done to transform civilized men, into savages in this manner? O it is the offense of his character! He has raised up demons of remorse in the conscience of these men, by the luster simply of his goodness. This it is that rankles in their hatred, and hate, as against goodness, is a feeling too weak to suffer the assumption even of dignity. Hence the simply diabolical frenzy of their conduct.
Mark the result. The very moment after Jesus has commended his spirit to the Father and ceased to breathe, the conviction of crime begins to break through the enmity of his crucifiers. Their malignity is discovered, they could hate a living enemy, but the helpless 126 body of a dead one over-masters their violence. Immediately the centurion himself glorified God, saying, “certainly this was a righteous man.” “And all the people that came together to that sight, beholding the things which were done, smote their breasts and returned.” This is the sign that was “to be-spoken against,” and now “the thoughts of many hearts” begin to be “revealed.” “They look on him whom they have pierced,” and they are pierced themselves.
Next we see the great principle of conviction—“of sin because they believe not on me,”—beginning to be wielded with overwhelming energy, by the apostles. This very truth charged home—you have rejected and crucified Christ—is the arrow of the day of Pentecost. “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly,” says Peter in his sermon on that occasion, “that God hath made that same Jesus whom ye crucified both Lord and Christ—he hath shed forth this which you now see and hear. Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and cried—‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’”
And the very next sermon of Peter hangs upon the same bitter truth of conviction. “Ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you, and killed the Prince of Life, whom God hath raised from the dead, whereof we are witnesses.”
And again, in the third sermon of the same apostle, he hurls the same arrow. For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and thy people 127 Israel, were gathered together.”—all orders and nations, because all alike are sinners—“and now behold their threatenings and grant unto thy servants that with all boldness they may speak thy word.” Whereupon the place is shaken again a third time. Under the first sermon, three thousand souls have the thoughts of their hearts revealed, and turn to seek salvation in Jesus Christ. Under the second, the number is swelled to five thousand. Under the third, the count ceases and the number becomes a multitude—“the multitude of them that believed.”
So it was that Peter, in his preaching, charged home upon his hearers everywhere the rejecting and denying of Jesus the Saviour.
Paul too was traveling over all seas, and through all lands, telling the story of his remarkable conversion—how at first he disbelieved and hated the very name of Jesus, how he was exceedingly mad against his followers, and went about dragging them to prison, till, at last, on his way to Damascus, he was met by that word of irresistible conviction, which had been so powerful many times before—“I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.” O what depths were opened now in the persecutor’s heart! All his bitter wrongs and fiery inflictions flame back in that word—“I am Jesus whom thou persecutest!” showing him the madness that reigns within. Thus begins the life in Christ of this great apostle—itself an illustration how sublime of the Saviour’s thought! “Of sin because they believe not in me.” But there is a reason—128
5. Back of this great fact, in the scheme of the gospel, in which it is grounded; viz., that a very bad act often brings out the show of a bad spirit within and becomes, in that manner, a most appalling argument of conviction. Hence the immense convincing power to be exerted on mankind through the crucifixion of Christ by his enemies. Even as a profligate, unfilial son, discovers himself as he is, and receives the true impression, for the first time, of his own dire wickedness and passion, when he looks upon the murdered form of his father, and washes the stains of parricide from his hands. In like manner Joseph’s brethren, when he stood revealed before them, as the brother whom they cruelly sold, were struck dumb with guilt, and could not so much as speak to ask his forgiveness. So also Herod, haunted by the sense of his crime in the murder of John, imagined, in the wild tumult of his guilty brain, that Christ must be the prophet’s ghost, returning to be avenged of his wrong.
The death, or public execution of Socrates affords, in some respects, a more striking illustration. His pure morality of life, his sublime doctrine of virtue, the discredit reflected on the gods of his country, by his belief in a supreme, all-perfect God and governor of the world, worthy of a better worship, raised up enemies and accusers, who indicted him as a corrupter of the youth, and a denier of the gods of his country. The people, artfully wrought upon, voted his death. Shortly after, the dead teacher rose upon them mightier even than the living, and a wave of conviction rolling back 129 upon their consciences, filled them with bitter distress. They voted his innocence; they acknowledged the public misfortunes just then coming upon the state to be judgments of heaven upon their crime; they put to death Miletus his principal accuser, drove his subordinates into exile, and erected a brazen statue to his memory. So the Saviour says, “of sin because they believe not on me;” only the reaction of his cross begins more immediately and extends through all the coming ages of time. No sooner is he dead, than all the multitude present, not his accusers only and his executioners, but the lookers on, were pricked with heavy compunctions of feeling, and went home smiting their breasts, for anguish they could not repress. And with better reason than they can distinctly know; for it is the Holy one and the Just, the Perfect Son of God, whom they have seen put to death; nay worse who has not been permitted even to die respectably, but has been publicly stripped, gibbeted, exposed to shame, compelled to die slowly, like a slave, nailed fast upon a cross. He had come into the world on a mission of love from the world above, a perfect character, clothed in the essential glory of a divine nature, a being whom all the righteous spirits—angels, archangels, and seraphim—had been wont to magnify and adore—such was the visitant who lighted, for once, on the earth and the race of mankind could not suffer him to live, tore him away in their spite, from his acts of healing, and his gentle mercies even to themselves, and thrust him out of the world, in mockeries that forgot even the appearance of dignity.130
I have spoken of this act, as the act of the human race, and such, in some true sense, it was; and as such has been ringing ever sense in the guilty conscience of the race; for it is, in fact, a proof by experiment, of what is in all human hearts. Thus, if there should come down from the upper sky some pure dove that has his home in that pure element, and the birds of the lower air should be heard screaming at all points, and seen pitching upon the unwelcome visitant and striking their beaks into his body, we should have no doubt of some radical unlikeness, or repugnance, between the creatures of the two elements. And this exactly is the feeling that has been forced upon the world’s guilty mind, ever since, by the crucifixion of Jesus. It rolls back on our thought in a kind of silent horror, that will not always be repelled, that the manifested love of God, impartial and broad as the world, a grace for every human creature, is yet gnashed upon by the world and crucified. If we say that this act of crucifixion was not ours, it certainly was not in the particular sense intended, and yet in another and much deeper sense, it was; viz., in the sense that what it signifies was ours. It was done by mankind, as Christ was a Saviour for mankind, and we are men. It proves for one age all that it proves for another; proves for the lookers on all which it proves for the doers. In this manner it is yours, it is mine. I think it quite certain, sometimes, that I should have had no part it, and it may be that I should not. But again I sometimes shudder privately over the question, whether if such a being were to come 131 upon the earth now, in my own day, one so peculiar, so little subject to the respectabilities and conventionalities of religion, doing such miracles, becoming an offense to so many religious schools and rabbis, charged so inevitably with being a wild impostor, I should not be quite turned away from him. Perhaps I should not join his crucifiers, but should I not as truly reject him as they? O shame to say it, but it fills me with pain, or even with a kind of horror, to conceive the possibility. Were not his enemies religious men in their habit, serious, thoughtful men, exact in the observances of their religion, many of them even sanctimonious in their lives? Had they not religious pretexts for all that they did? At any rate they had human hearts, and so have you and I. And will not what they show for their own heart, be as good a proof for us? So felt the multitude of spectators; and the feeling of the world has been the same.
Lastly there is another and more direct kind of argument, that I mean which we get from our own consciousness. I think I may assert, with confidence, that there is no man living, who is not made conscious, at times, of sin, as in no other manner, by the simple fact of his own rejection of Christ. Nor does it make any great difference,. if his belief appears to be hindered by speculative difficulties. He may imagine, or distinctly maintain, that he rejects, or does not believe, on the ground of sufficient evidence. Still Christ is Christ, and the cross is the cross, and he can not so much as think of himself, before the merely conceived image of 132 a goodness so divine—be it really historic or not—without a feeling of disturbance, in the not cleaving to the profound reality of the truth discovered in him. No matter what may be reasoned by infidels and Christian speculatists about, against, or for, the historic person of Christ; if he is a fiction only, or a myth, a romance of character gotten up by three or four of the most unromantic writers of the world, still he is the greatest, solidest, most real, truth ever known to man. The mere conception of such a life and character is inherently eternal—more indestructible, and so far more real than a mountain of rock. It affirms itself eternally as light, by its own self-evidence, and the soul of guilt trembles inwardly before it—trembles even the more certainly that it is a good approved, but not welcomed, or embraced. Enough that the Christ of the New Testament is the want, consciously or unconsciously, of every human heart, and that aching secretly for him, it aches the more that it has him not, and still the more that it will not have him. Who of you could ever think of him rejected without a pang?
But the most of you are troubled by no such speculative doubts; you are only selfish and earthly, want your pleasures, want other objects more, that must be renounced to receive him—meaning still, at some time, to do it, and become his disciples. Living in this feeble and consciously false key, your courage wavers, and self-rebuking thoughts are, ever and anon, making their troublesome irruptions upon you. When the Saviour says—“Of sin because they believe not on 133 me,” the very words sharpen guilty pangs in your bosom. Sometimes the question rises, distinctly why is it, that beholding this love, I still do not embrace it? why do I so profoundly admire this wonderful excellence and still suppress the longings I so consciously feel? And then the goodness rejected becomes a fire of Hinnom in your uneasy convictions. It is not any particular sins that trouble you thus; consciously it is sin—nothing else explains you to yourself. The conviction of it runs quivering along your feeling in sharp pangs of remorse, and you half expect to hear—“I am Jesus of Nazareth whom thou rejectest.” Even his tenderest call comes to you, more as an arrow, than as a balm, and your heart is inwardly stung, pricked through and through, with the rankle of thoughts that are being revealed. How many have passed, or now are passing through just this struggle of experience. To many too it will have been, I trust, the gate of heaven.
But I must not close my argument on this great subject, without noting a common objection; viz., that all such phases of mental disturbance called conviction of sin, in the New Testament, are too weak for respect, and should not be indulged, even if they are felt. But if they are according to truth, if they are so far intelligent as to be modes of sensibility accurately squared by the fact of character within, then they are only a kind of weakness that is stronger to be allowed than stifled. They are however, in some sense, moods of weakness I must still admit; for they belong to sin and sin itself is weak. Nothing in fact is weaker. Courage, 134 repose, equilibrium, strength of will, firmness of confidence—all these receive a shock under sin, and are more or less fatally broken. Were not all those Athenians weak who wept the death of Socrates, when they saw his place made vacant by themselves? But that weakness it was even honorable to suffer, because it was the very best thing left, after they had been weak enough to vote his death. So, when the Son of God is crucified and expelled to be seen no more, not the spectators only of the scene, but all we that pierced him by our sin were to be visited with guilty, soul-humbling pains in like manner—how much more that he is gone up visibly, as the wonderful Greek was not, to be stated in the eternal majesty of righteousness and judgment. All sin is weak, and the convincing cross must needs bring out the revelation of weakness, even as it did at the first. When the marshal’s band, sent out to make the arrest, were shaken out of courage and strength enough even to stand, they fitly opened the scene that followed, by their backward fall and prostration. Was not. Peter weak when he wept bitterly? Was not Judas weak when he cast down the money for which he sold him? Were not the priests and elders weak when they said “he stirreth up the people?” Was not Pilate weak when he was “the more afraid?” Were not the multitude when they went home smiting their breasts? Nay, were not the rocks themselves weak when they shook, and the tomb when it opened, and the stone when it rolled back? O, it was a mighty judgment day, that day of the cross; token visible, to 135 you and to me, of that other, higher, judgment which our righteous Lord has gone up to assume! Hence the distress which rises in so many hearts before the cross, and which some can think of only with disrespect. Could they learn to disrespect the sin that makes it necessary, they might even honor it rather, as the sign, or beginning, of a return to righteousness and reason.
In what manner Christ was to convince of sin we have now seen, and no farther argument appears to be needed. But the subject can not be fitly concluded without noting a remarkable effect that has followed the cross as a convincing power on the world; viz., the fact that, in what is called Christendom, there has been a manifest uplifting of the moral standards, and a correspondent quickening of the moral sensibilities, both of individual men, and of whole races and people. In the people of the old dispensation and of the great Pagan empires long ago converted to the cross, moral ideas have now taken the place, to a great extent, of force; the coarse blank apathy of sin is broken up; the sense of duty is more piercing; and it is even as if a new conscience had been given respecting the soul in its relations to God. It is as if men had seen their state of sin glassed before them, and made visible in the rejection of Christ and his cross. Jews and Pagans had before been made conscious at times of particular sins; we are made conscious, in a deeper and more appalling way, of the state of sin itself, the damning evil that infects our humanity at the root—that which 136 rejected and crucified the Son of God, and is in fact, the general madness and lost condition of the race. Thus, immediately after the departure of Christ from the world, that is on the day of Pentecost, there broke out a new demonstration of sensibility to sin, such as was never before seen. In the days of the law, men had their visitations of guilt and remorse, respecting this or that wrong act; but I do not recollect even under the prophets, those great preachers of the law, and sharpest and most terrible sifters of transgression, a single instance, where a soul is so broken, or distressed, by the conviction of its own bad state under sin, as to ask what it must do to be saved—the very thing which many thousands did, on the day of Pentecost, and in the weeks that followed, and have been doing even till now. So different a matter is it to have rules in a book, or rules in the conscience, from having them bodied into power, through a person, or personal character; that character, hated, persecuted, murdered, by the public will and voice; that murdered one rising again to be glorified in the triumphant righteousness, of his life; that righteousness, after having cast down principalities and powers, installed in the judgment bench of the world. Hence an amazing accession of strength, in the moral standards and convictions of all Christian peoples. It is all from the cross; which has raised the sense of guilt in human bosoms to such a pitch, that even strong men weep, and groan, and tremble for their sin. Every sensibility that lies about the standards of the soul, and its fallen possibilities in defection from 137 them, is amazingly quickened. And it is just this to which the apostle refers, when speaking to the Hebrews of “the word of God”—he means the new word of Christianity, that which we have now, and not the old word of the law—“For the word of God, is quick and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Having this penetrating and convincing efficacy, the word of the cross is capable of a most faithful and deep work in the character; no gospel therefore of temporizing mercy, and slight healing, but a downright, thorough-going, radical, life-renewing energy—a power of God unto salvation. It bends to no false principle, deals in no mock sentiment, hides no point of exactness, spares no necessary pain. It applies to sin a surgery deep as the malady, it cuts the cancer clean out by conviction, that a genuine, true healing may follow. Just so much worthier is it of our confidence and respect. And what shall we do but open our heart to it, counting it even good to be condemned before a salvation so thorough, so deeply grounded in the unsparing severities of truth. But this condemnation, these unsparing severities, it behooves us to remember, will be not less piercing, when they cease to come in the hopeful guise of a salvation. Doubtless Christ rejected, will have a convincing power always, even in the future life. Moral ideas and standards will be raised, and moral sensibilities quickened still by the cross remembered. And the pangs of guilt will of 138 course be sharpened still farther, by the barren regrets and the hopeless future of that undone state. O, that desert of guilt—to one that has journeyed long ages in its fiery and thirsty sands, how dreadful the words of the rejected Saviour still ringing and forever in his memory. “Of sin because they believe not on me.”139
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