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fecting proof. The state of mind which he experienced, and which this passage of Scripture describes, it is the design of this Discourse to exhibit under the following heads :
I. The cause.
II. The nature,
III. The consequences of conviction of sin.
I. The peculiar cause of this conviction is the law of God. By the law,' saith St. Paul, is the knowledge of sin.' As sin is merely a transgression of the law;' and as, 'where no law is, there is no transgression;' it is clear beyond a question that all knowledge of sin must be derived from the law. To discern that we are sinful, we must of course know the rule of obedience; and comparing our conduct with that rule, must see in this manner, that our conduct is not conformed to the rule. In this way all knowledge of sin is obtained.
This, however, is not an account of the knowledge of sin, intended by conviction, as that word is customarily used by divines. The great body of sinners under the Gospel have, in some degree at least, this knowledge; and yet are not justly said to be convinced.
Conviction of sin denotes something beyond the common views of the mind concerning its sins; and is always a serious, solemn, heart-felt sense of their reality, greatness, guilt, and danger. This all sinners under the Gospel have not; as every man knows, who possesses a spirit of common observation; and peculiarly every man who becomes a subject of this conviction. Every such man knows that in his former, ordinary state he had no such sense of sin.
To explain this subject it is necessary to observe, that there is a total difference between merely seeing or understanding a subject, and feeling it. A man may contemplate, as a mere object of speculation and intellect, the downward progress of his own affairs towards bankruptcy and ruin, and have clea views of its nature and certainty; and still regard it as an object of mere speculation. Should he afterwards become a bankrupt, and thus be actually ruined, he will experience a state of mind entirely new, and altogether unlike any thing, which he experienced before. He now feels the subject: before he only thought on it with cool contemplation; and, however clear his views were, they had no effect on his heart.
His former views never moved him to a single effort for the prevention of his ruin; those which he now possesses would have engaged him, had they existed at the proper time for this purpose, in the most vigorous exertions. Just such is the difference between the common views of sin, and those which are experienced under religious conviction. What before was only seen, is now realized and felt.
This also is accomplished by the law, felt as well as understood; brought home to the heart, and strongly realized by the sinner. This fact is thus forcibly described by St. Paul: For I was alive without the law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.' He was alive,' that is, in his own feelings, while he was 'without the law;' or while the law was no more realized than it is by mankind in their ordinary state; while it is acknowledged to be the law of God, but not seriously regarded, applied to themselves, nor felt to be a rule of duty, obliging them indispensably to obey.
'But when the commandment came.'-The commandment was before at a distance, scarcely seen, and scarcely regarded; but now came home to him, to his sober thoughts, his realizing apprehensions.
'Sin revived.'-Sin began then first to be perceived to be his true and distressing character. It arose out of the torpid state in which it had seemed to exist before, and assumed new life, strength, and terror. Of consequence, he who had hitherto considered himself, while he was inattentive to the nature and extent of the divine law, as a just man, safe, and acceptable to God, now died;' now perceived himself to be a great and guilty sinner, condemned and perishing; and all his former safety, righteousness, and life vanished in a
Under conviction of sin, the law is applied by the sinner to himself, and considered as the rule of his own duty; the rule by which his character is hereafter to be tried, and the rule by which he himself is now to try it. Before this, no such views of the law had entered his mind; no such trial had ever been made. In this trial the law is often, solemnly, critically, and effectually examined. Both its precepts and penalties are brought home irresistibly to the heart. Before, they were things with which the sinner hath little or no concern. Now,
he finds them to be things with which he is more deeply concerned than with any other.
II. The nature of this conviction may be unfolded in the following manner :~
In the ordinary circumstances of the mind it is usually disposed to acknowledge that there is such a thing as sin; that it is in itself wrong, odious, mischievous to mankind dishonourable to God, and deserving in some degree of punishment. It is usually ready to acknowledge also, that itself is sinful, and of course exposed to the anger of God. With regard to sin, as with regard to the law, its views are often, perhaps generally, just in a certain degree; but are loose, careless, and inefficacious; having no other effect on the mind than to produce at seasons rare and solitary some reproaches of conscience, and a degree of regret and fear, feeble, momentary, and easily forgotten.
But when the man becomes a subject of religious conviction, he feels for the first time that sin is a real and dreadful evil. For the first time the law of God is seen to be a righteous and reasonable law, demanding nothing but what ought to be demanded, and forbidding nothing but what ought to be forbidden. Its precepts and its penalties are both yielded to, as just; and God is acknowledged to be righteous in prescribing the former and inflicting the latter.
Himself he readily pronounces to be a sinner, universally debased, utterly blamable, justly condemned, and justly to be punished. Instead of self-justification and self-flattery, he is now more ready to pronounce the sentence of condemnation on himself, than on any other person; and is hardly brought to admit the pleas advanced by others in palliation of his guilt, or in the defence of his moral character. Sin, and his own sins especially, now appear as things new, strange, and wonderful; as evils awfully serious and alarming. The law of God is now applied to himself as his own rule of duty; and obedience to it is confessed to be reasonable, indispensable, and immensely important. Every violation of its precepts, therefore, is regarded by him as a sore and dreadful evil; as guilt which he perceives no means of wiping away, and as danger which he finds no opportunity of escaping. An accumulation of crimes innumerable and of guilt incomprehensible
is thus seen to have been formed by the conduct of his whole life, which, to the anxious and terrified eye of the criminal, has already swollen to the size of mountains, and ascended to the height of heaven.
These views, it is to be remembered, are wholly new to the sinner. Their novelty, of course, greatly enhances in his eye the terrifying and oppressive magnitude of the subject. All new things affect us more when new, than when by frequent repetition they have become familiar. Before he never in sober earnest believed himself to be a sinner. To find himself, therefore, to be not only a sinner, but a sinner of so guilty and blamable a character, naturally overwhelms him with anguish and dismay.
His mind also is now exceedingly alarmed and distressed by this afflicting discovery. On an agitated mind all things with which it is concerned make deep impressions, deeper far than when it is at ease; and especially those things, which produced the agitation. Such, particularly, is the fact in this state of religious agitation. For both these reasons, as well as from the real greatness and nature of his guilt, the convinced man is often ready to believe that no sinner was ever so guilty as himself.
It is not uncommon to hear persons of no singular depravity declare, that they are doubtful whether Judas was equally a transgressor with themselves. I have heard doubts expressed by persons of more than common decency and amiableness, whether Satan was not less odious to God than they were: and this reason has been alleged for the doubt, that he had never sinned against forgiving and redeeming love. It is not to be wondered at that the soul to which these awful subjects are thus new, and which is thus terrified by its first views of them, should be even excessive in its self-condemnation.
With the greatness of its guilt, the greatness of its danger keeps an equal pace. Scarcely any thing more naturally or more commonly occurs to the mind in this situation, than doubts whether such guilt as itself has accumulated can be, forgiven. The mercy of God', which is declared in the Scriptures to be greater than our sins,' to be above the heavens,' 'to extend to all generations,' and to endure for ever,' is often doubted, so far as the sinner himself is concerned; admitted easily with regard to others, and with regard to all or
almost all others, it is still doubted so far as he is concerned, and is easily believed to be incapable of extending to him. Often he is strongly tempted to believe that he has committed the unpardonable sin; and often and much is he busied in examining what is the nature of that sin. Instead of self-flattery, the only employment which he was formerly willing to pursue with respect to his spiritual concerns, and which he indulged in every foolish and excessive degree, he is now wholly engaged in the opposite career of self-condemnation; and not unfrequently pursues it to an excess equally unwarranted by the Scriptures. Nor is he at all prone to feel that he is now equally guilty of new sin in limiting the mercy of God, and in forming new kinds of unpardonable sins, as before, in presuming without warrant on the exercise of divine mercy towards his hardened heart.
All these emotions are also greatly heightened by the remembrance of his former stupidity, unbelief, and hardness of heart, his light-mindedness and self-justification, his deafness to instruction, his insensibility to the calls of mercy, the reproofs of guilt, and the warnings of future woe. What before were his favourite pursuits he now considers as the means of his ruin; what before was the object of his delight is now the object of his abhorrence. That which was once his support is now his terror; that which he accounted and boasted of, as his wisdom, he now considers as the mere madness of bedlam. Nor can he explain to himself how much sottishness could ever have been his conduct or his character.
The Bible now, its threatenings and promises, its doctrines, precepts, and ordinances, assume an aspect wholly new; for the first time real, solemn, important; the only ground of his distress, and the only source of his possible comfort. The same truth and reality, the same solemnity and importance, at once invest the prayers, sermons, and other religious instructions which he has heard from his parents, and ministers, and from other persons of piety. Why they did not always and of course wear these characteristics, is now his astonishment; why he did not covet them, listen to them, and obey them. 'Madness,' entire and dreadful, he now readily acknowledges was in his heart' from the beginning, and has hitherto constituted his only moral character.
It is not here to be supposed, that this is in form an exact