And when He comes, He will convict the world in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment:
I. THE SIN OF WHICH THE SPIRIT CONVICTS THE WORLD. By the world we understand humanity at large, as alienated from God, and as in rebellion against him. Our race has been the prey of sin. However the form of sin has varied, the principle has remained the same. But the most striking and the most awful proof of the presence and the power of sin in the world is its rejection of Christ. "They believe not on me." For Christ was goodness incarnate; a greater sin it was not within the power of man to commit than to reject the Holy One and the Righteous. Jesus foresaw how he was about to be treated by his fellow-countrymen the Jews, and by the Romans.
II. THE MANNER IN WHICH THE SPIRIT CONVICTS THE WORLD OF SIN. In the Mosaic dispensation very much was done to introduce into men's minds the Divine estimate, the Divine abhorrence, of sin. The Law and the prophets ever kept this in view, and their work was doubtless that of the Spirit. But in the later and completer dispensation the Spirit has made manifest in many ways the exceeding sinfulness of sin. We may instance the emphatic condemnation of sin in our Lord's words, in which it is come, red to darkness, to bondage, to death; and yet more in the contrast presented to a sinful world by the spotless character and perfect moral example of the Son of man. Yet to the Christian mind the world's sin is brought home most effectively by the provision of redemption. Jesus was the Sin Offering; he condemned sin in the flesh; he redeemed the sinner at the priceless cost and ransom of his life. The Spirit, accompanying the gospel which conveys these tidings, has rendered sin obviously and flagrantly such in the view of all who are capable of judging. Especially the sin of unbelief, of willfully rejecting the Savior, has been charged upon the human conscience in such a manner as to lead multitudes to contrition and repentance.
III. THE RESULTS WHICH HAVE FOLLOWED THE CONVICTION OF THE SINFUL WORLD BY THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST. There is something paradoxical in attributing such a result as conviction of sin to the Paraclete, the Comforter. Yet it is not to be questioned that the consciousness of sinfulness is essential in order to its forgiveness. It is the Spirit of God who renders the sinner not merely aware of his state and of his danger, but contrite and penitent; whilst contrition and penitence are necessary and indispensable in order to pardon and acceptance. There is for the sinner no true consolation which does not come by way of conviction. - T.
And when He is come, He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.
I. AWAKENING THE SENSE OF SIN.
1. The ground on which the charge of sin is founded — "because they believe not on Me." This may seem strange at first sight. But on examination we shall see that no charge but this can awaken a real deep sense of sin. Take the other grounds on which men have attempted to bring home the conviction.(1) The innate depravity of man. Of its awful truth, indeed, there can be no question. But in what does the enforcing of this issue? Do not the questions rise — Who made me thus? Why was I born in sin? Am I responsible?(2) The evil of a man's actions may be felt by him, and yet he may say, "It is not I that do those things. There are two powers in me, 'For that which I do I allow not,'" &c.(3) Or you may awaken simply a confession of self-reproach: "I have erred, and played the fool exceedingly," but you have not made the man feel that he — the personal self — has deliberately endorsed the action as his own.(4) Still further, you may preach the doctrine of everlasting condemnation, and you produce either a cowardly confusion of suffering with sin, defiant unbelief, or abject despair.
2. Take now unbelief in Christ, and see what the rejection of Him implies. Whatever excuses a man may make for committing sin, he knows that it creates an alienation from God, that its effects on the soul are devastating. Now the Cross stands as the sign of reconciliation with God, and therefore of healing and blessedness. But by unbelief, refusing Christ's deliverance, I affirm my antagonism to the Divine. There is the revelation of sin. Man defying the supremest love.
II. THE CONVICTION OF RIGHTEOUSNESS IN THE ASCENDED SAVIOUR. The first deep glance into life's evil overcomes a man with hopeless sorrow. It is vain to tell him "to let the dead past bury its dead." Forgetfulness would not destroy, but only cover with a thin veil the evil He has found — a veil that death would rend in twain. It is useless to say, "Obey conscience, and become righteous." Conscience has no power to raise; it can only point out the right and condemn the wrong. It is a flaming terror until a man finds Christ. Thus awakened, the great cry of the heart is this, Can I ever be cleansed? Can those memories be banished into eternal forgetfulness by the forgiveness of God? Unless these cries are answered, it were a cruel punishment to convince man of his evil. But the Comforter does answer them. "There is righteousness because Christ is gone to the Father, and ye see Him no more." It is not, therefore, Christ crucified only, but Christ risen and ascended, who reveals a righteousness for man, Why is this so? and how does the Comforter inspire this conviction? There are three requisites which must be fulfilled before man, as a sinner, can feel the possibility of His righteousness. And these are all met by the truth that Christ has gone to the Father.
1. The assurance of forgiveness for the past. Explain it how we may, there is no conviction more profound and universal than that sin is death, and that its pardon necessitates the death of a pure and unstained life. The world's altars, laden often with human victims, bear witness to this. There is in conscience an inner witness to the rectitude of the law that condemns, and it gives man no peace till he feels that a Holy Being, who was yet one with Him, has "become obedient unto death," and thus manifested the sanctity of the commandment. But suppose Christ had vanished in death, who would have known that He had finished the work He had undertaken? But He rises and ascends to "His Father and our Father," and becomes the eternal Priest, dispensing forgiveness to the world. This is the truth revealed by the Comforter. Touched by the Spirit's power, we accept Christ's sacrifice as our sacrifice, and find pardon.
2. The removal of the terrors of the future. It is the double curse of sin that, while it narrows our range of vision, it clothes immortality with terror. We feel sin is barring our entrance into those bright abodes. We need a Deliverer who shall open for us those barred and everlasting doors. Christ ascended to heaven to be our Brother and Intercessor there. The grand assertion, "In My Father's house are many mansions," &c., falls like music from the sky that received Him. This, then, is the truth revealed by the Comforter, which, by removing the terrors of the future, deepens the conviction of righteousness.
3. The creation of a new manhood in the present. When the past is forgiven and the future brightened, we want to become righteous men. And here we approach the doctrine of imputed righteous-ness — a righteousness not our's, but Christ's. But the idea of a transference of spiritual states is only a figurative expression of a great truth. We become righteous only when we feel that we are nothing, have nothing, can do nothing, and trusting solely on Christ, yield ourselves to Him. Then the old forces of sin die. The love of Christ possessing us recreates us, and God, seeing in that life of faith the first beginnings of a purity which shall become perfect and everlasting, regards us as righteous in Christ Jesus.
III. The belief which completes and renders perfect the new nature — THE BELIEF IN JUDGMENT THROUGH THE CONQUEST OF THE "PRINCE OF THIS WORLD." This passage is frequently interpreted as though it referred to the final judgment. But this destroys the connection between the three convictions, and the words have a present meaning — "is judged." The judgment, therefore (see John 12:31), is that conquest which Christ should gain on His cross. Taking it in that sense, we perceive at once why the belief in judgement must follow the belief in righteousness. For when we have been freed from sin, and made righteous in Christ, we find that we have entered on a life-long struggle with evil; and as the one thing to keep us true, we need the assurance of final victory. These words present two thoughts:
1. Christ's conquest over the kingdom of evil.(1) The kingdom of evil as opposed to the Saviour. The "prince of this world" suggests the majesty of the power that He overcame for man. "This world" expresses the collective forces that are opposed to God; "Prince" manifestly implies that evil forces are not separated, but combined, and form a great living power, a kingdom of wrong. But the phrase points to a personal evil spirit as lord of that evil kingdom. This was the kingdom that opposed itself to the Son of man. Evil spirits confronted Him constantly. It seemed as if the dark spiritual world were stirred through all its depths by the appearance of the Perfect Man. The whole world was groaning in the throes of spiritual death. The light of Divine revelation was dying out. All the evil influences that touch the human soul gathered themselves against the Perfect Soul to turn Him aside and tear Him from His self-chosen path of dedication for the world.(2) The Saviour's conquest. For this two things were requisite —(a) Christ must overcome the essence of evil by a means common to humanity. Now, the essence of evil is self-will. Its first expression was the "I will" of man opposing itself to the "Thou shalt not" of God. Christ must conquer sin through the might of a Divine obedience, and yet occupy a battle-ground common to humanity. And where was this so perfectly accomplished as in His life and death?(b) Christ must show by His conquest that the facts which seem to prove the perpetuity of evil are really signs of its overthrow. The darkest lie of the evil one is this — that evil is an eternal power. Before the advent of the gospel, the world was beginning to believe in the omnipotence of wrong, and men were losing faith in anything which could conquer evil. Just note the two great facts which, as the results of sin, lay at the root of this state. First, Suffering. It seemed to belie the goodness of God and prove sin to be irresistible. Now suffering, in all its deepest dreadfulness, Christ endured. "He was perfected through sufferings," and thus revealed it to man as the education of a Father. Secondly, Death — the sign-manual of sin's dominion. Christ became subject to its power. It seemed to conquer Him. But, rising from the grave, He ascended to the heavens, thus consecrating death for all men as a pathway to the Father's home. Such was Christ's conquest. It was the crisis of earth's history — the judgment and overthrow of the "prince of this world."
2. Christ's conquest as a pledge of victory for man. There are three ways in which this is revealed by the Comforter.(1) The fact itself is a power. We are strengthened by the belief that some one has known our difficulties and subdued them. On this deep principle of human nature Christ's conquest lays hold. Like us He fought. By a strength which we may share He conquered. Look at the early Church, when the meaning of this fact was revealed by the descending Comforter. Men awoke with new power. The old tyranny of evil was broken; and hoary apostolic men, kindling with the energies of youth, went forth to do battle with it in the world which had so long groaned under its sway.(2) Christ is God's promise. Through His life God's voice speaks to us now. If we conflict like Him, like Him we shall conquer. We must copy His instant resistance to temptation, and His prayerful submission in suffering, if we would share the glory of His victory.(3) Christ a present friend. We do not always realize His presence, but sometimes amid the pauses of the battle, we feel Him near in that "peace which passeth understanding," and hear Him saying, "Be faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life."
(E. L. Hull, B. A.)
1. Conscience. But it fails to do so with any sensible results. No man sins without hearing the remonstrances of that solemn monitor; but you have defied it, mastered it, bribed it, and now it has become more or less stupefied. Or if not it has recourse to the only other expedient to those atoning efficacies said to be in all the relics and prescriptions of an absurd superstition.
2. Public opinion. But while this reproves some sins, it connives at others.
3. The law of Sinai. This commands, in the accents of thunder, the duties which it reveals by the lighting's flash; but that law only speaks of outward acts; it lops off branches, it cuts off a main stem — but as soon as it has done so, a thousand shoots start from the root. The only being, then, that can convince of sin savingly, really, deeply, is the Holy Spirit. He shall convince the world —
I. OF SIN: of one special sin; not intemperance, avarice, or selfishness. These are of flagrant enormity, but there is one which outweighs them all in its guilt — a sin that lies too at every man's door — at the door of philanthropist and of the felon, a sin that ties to us all sins, and prevents their forgiveness; unbelief in Christ. This is just the sin of which we have no conception, except by the teaching of the Holy Spirit. Conscience does not accuse you of it; society will not denounce you for it.
1. How this can be so heinous a sin? Because it is rejecting the great remedy for all sin; it is suspecting the love, doubting the mercy, disputing the sufficiency of the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not a sin merely against God as a judge, but against God as a Saviour. And those persons approach more or less to the guilt of this sin, who have doubts whether Christ will have mercy on them that appeal to Him; lest His blood be not adequate to cleanse them; that He would thrust them away if they were to make the experiment. If there be a single obstruction between the greatest sinner and the bosom of God, it is not in God — it is in your hearts alone.
2. "What is it to believe in Christ?" It is to feel that if God were to sink you to the very depths of hopeless ruin, He would not inflict a punishment greater than your sins have deserved; but, on the other hand, it is to feel that if, in the name and through the righteousness of Christ, He were to raise you to a glory too brilliant for mortal eye to look on, God would not bestow upon you a greater boon than Christ's merits entitle you to.
II. OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. He opens our ears, that we may hear the curse, but He opens our ears, that we may hear the music of the blessing also. "Sin shall not have dominion over you:" "Be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee." "And when the Spirit convinces of righteousness, it is not that Christ is simply a righteous man"; that would be no comfort to me, but He was righteous for us. Hence our justifying righteousness is not a faint imitation of what Christ is, but an acceptance of what Christ has bequeathed. Imitate what Christ is, and there is your model; but to be justified you must believe on and embrace by faith what Christ has done, and that alone, as your title and your righteousness in the sight of God. Just as Christ was condemned for my sin, so I am justified because of Christ's righteousness.
III. OF JUDGMENT. The first promise was, "The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head"; the Spirit of God convinces His people that this process of bruising goes on — that the earth now, while under grace, is also partly under judgment, and that those things which the world cannot explain by what is called the law of nature, are the judgments of God. For instance, disease, decay, and death, the world calls the laws of nature: the Christian calls them the judgments of God. Death does not belong to nature; it is a disruption of nature. It is sin that is the cause of all the head-aches and the heart-aches which our mortality is heir to. And therefore the Spirit of God and He only will convince that they are the judgments and decrees of God. Wherever you see a Christian happy amid oppression, there you have an evidence that "the prince of this world is judged." And is it not still becoming more and more true that humility is dignity, and that holiness is strength? And the time is coming more and more, I trust, when "the prince of this world," being "judged," shall be cast forth from the cabinets of queens and from the councils of statesmen, from the press and from the pulpit, from all men's hearts and from all men's homes — and the joy and holiness and happiness of God shall, overflow the world, like a mighty and deepening river, Oh! that the Spirit of God may then convince us of this!
(J. Cumming, D. D.)
(C. H. Spurgeon.)I. OF SIN — "in that they believe not on Me."
1. The world's conduct towards Christ is the decisive proof of its sinfulness. His Cross manifests, as nothing else, what "the bad element in human nature" is capable of. So it must needs be. When the Holy One comes into a world of sinners they must either renounce their sins or contradict Him. And if He endures their contradiction they must hate Him; and if He still braves their hatred it is but another step to slay Him. "If I had not come they had not had sin," &c. In conflict with the light darkness is known for darkness indeed.
2. Therefore, the gist of the Spirit's charge lies simply in this: that the world does not believe in Christ. All the rest, the insolence and outrage, &c., was nothing more than the logical outcome of unbelief. Here is the root of the matter. For the rest Christ could say, "Father, forgive them," &c.
3. On this point the Paraclete has to convince the world. The rejection of Jesus was virtually the act of the race. Herod, &c., were not fiends but men. We can understand them because we are so much like them. All the vices that culminated in the Crucifixion are those of every generation, nay, of ourselves.
4. The present world thinks that it would have acted differently. Let it not be too sure: "Your fathers killed the prophets," &c., and so the ungodly world may be garnishing the sepulchre of Him whom it treats as a dead Christ, in so far as it does not believe in Him.
5. Just as all good works are at the bottom acts of faith, so every kind of evil doing runs up into unbelief. The first sin began here, "Hath God said?" And so the ripened form of human sin reproduces naturally the seed from which it sprang. And this is the condemnation of the whole world: "They have not believed Me."
6. One day this conviction of sin will have penetrated to the world's very heart. It will "look on Him whom it has pierced and mourn," as it confesses that it has not yet believed on Him.
II. OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. In the thought of sin, man is the central subject, as himself sinful; in the thought of righteousness, Christ as alone righteous.
1. The personal righteousness of Christ was at stake in the controversy between Himself and the world, and everything depended on clearing that first of all. Only as it appreciated that could the world understand righteousness. Of this the world is now convinced. But Christ could not have waited for this vindication, which without other proof would never have been brought about. And besides, the Father was concerned to vindicate Himself and the Son of His good pleasure by some immediate and unanswerable demonstration. This was seen in His going to the Father. So He says, "If ye loved Me ye would rejoice," &c. — because He would be glorified and the world put to shame, convinced of His righteousness, convicted of its sin.
2. By the death of Christ the case as between Him and the world was transferred to the final court of appeal, "After death, judgment." His accusers had said, "This Man is a sinner," and by crucifying Him they invited the Divine judgment. And thither with His dying breath He made His own appeal, "Into Thy hands I commit My spirit." Those appeals were answered, and in three days Jesus lived again, and in due time went where He was before; and all the angels worshipped Him, and the Father set Him at His own right hand where every word He said is justified, every claim He made established, and where heaven and earth combine to adore Him as "Jesus Christ the Righteous."
3. And if righteous, then Divine. It is no discrepancy that the Evangelist should report the officer as saying, "This Man was righteous," and "He was Son of God." Every one knew that this was the capital charge against Him; and, indeed, if He was a righteous man He was Son of God; if He was not Son of God, He was not even a righteous Man. Therefore He was "declared Son of God with power by the resurrection of the dead," and His righteousness is not simply that of the righteous man, but a manifestation of that of the "righteous Father" whom the world had not known, but of which it had to be convinced.
4. And if tie is righteous, then the great ideal has been realized, the hunger after righteousness may be assuaged; for righteousness has appeared in concrete human form. There is hope of righteousness for the sinful world. "He died the just for the unjust," &c. "He goes to the Father, and so we have an Advocate with the Father," &c. Well may we then, through the Spirit, wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.
III. OF JUDGMENT. "Because the prince," &c. The death of Christ caused a judgment to be passed on Satan, which he and his kingdom felt to be a virtual overthrow. Christ saw again and again behind all human forces another antagonist guiltier and mightier. He who knew what was in man recognized lurking behind Judas, Peter, the Pharisees, &c., him whom He thrice called the prince of this world. It was his "works" that He came to destroy, and His "death-fearing" subjects He meant to deliver. And the "strong man armed" knows who it is that has entered his domain. Calvary is to be the decisive battle-field. He was allowed to reach the height of his apostasy in his lying temptation, and failing that, in his murder of the Incarnate Son, and from this height he fell instantly, utterly, as lightning from heaven. He is judged, has failed, is doomed. Henceforth he waits with fearful expectation till the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our God, &c. Slowly, yet surely, this sentence is taking effect. After dispossession comes punishment. What else meant the terror of demons at the voice of Christ, and the dreadful words (Matthew 25:41) re-echoed in the Apocalypse (John 20:10)? He is judged already, but the day shall declare that judgment. But, alas! he is not the only subject. The judgment that fell upon him cannot but strike those who choose "their part" with him (Revelation 21:8).
(Geo. G. Findlay, B. A.)
I. TO REPROVE MEN. By this is meant, not so much to save them as to silence them. Another advocate appears in court, whose pleadings would make it hard for men to resist the truth. Observe how this reproof was given with regard to —
1. Sin. On the day of Pentecost when Peter stood up to preach to the assembled multitude, the signs and wonders wrought by the Spirit in the name of Jesus were a witness which they could not refute. The evidence was brought home to them that they had with wicked hands crucified the Lord of glory: and so they stood reproved. All the subsequent miracles went to prove the same thing.
2. Righteousness. Jesus was gone, and His Divine example no longer reproved their darkness, but the Holy Spirit attested that righteousness, and compelled them to feel it. A fresh standard of morals was set up, and it has never been taken down; it stands in its place to rebuke, if not to improve.
3. Judgment.(1) They were made to feel that somehow the life and the death of Jesus of Nazareth had made a crisis in the world's history, and condemned the way and manner of the ungodly. All historians must confess that the turningpoint of the race is the cross of Christ. It would be impossible to fix any other hinge of history. From that moment the power of evil received its mortal wound. It dies hard, but from that hour it was doomed. Systems of false worship, so firmly rooted in prejudice and custom, that it seemed impossible that they should ever be overthrown, were torn up by their roots by the breath of the Lord.(2) Moreover, the thought flashed upon humanity more clearly than ever it had done before — that there would be a day of judgment. The dim forms of Rhadamanthus on a cloudy judgment seat, and of the assembly before his throne, and of the crowds divided according to their lives, now began to assume another and far more definite shape. The Holy Spirit attested the teaching of the apostles. Henceforth man is accused and rebuked by the great Advocate. He who rejects human testimony when it is true is foolish; but he who despises the witness of the Holy Ghost is profane. Let him beware lest he so sin against the Holy Ghost as to never have forgiveness.
II. TO CONVINCE MEN —
1. Of sin.(1) He comes on purpose to convince men that they are so guilty that they are lost and ruined; to remind them of their enmity to the God of love. He does not come to make sinners comfortable in their sins, but to cause them to grieve over them. He comes to wound so that no human balm can heal; to kill so that no earthly power can make us live.(2) This work is most necessary, because without it there is no leading men to receive the gospel. We cannot make headway with certain people who profess faith very readily, but are convinced of nothing. But get near a real sinner, the man who mourns in his inmost soul that he is so, and you find one who will welcome the Saviour. To him the news of pardon will be as cold water to a thirsty soul.(3) The Spirit comes to convince men of sin, because they never will be convinced of sin apart from His Divine advocacy. A natural conscience may show a man his faults, make him uneasy, and may bring about reformation; but it is only the Spirit of God that to the full extent convinces a man of sin so as to bring forth repentance, self-despair, and faith in Jesus.(4) The Holy Spirit dwells upon one point in particular, "They believe not on Me." None see the sin of unbelief except by His light. For a man thinks, "Well, if I have not believed in Christ, that is a pity, perhaps; but still, I was never a thief, or a liar, &c. Unbelief is a matter of little consequence; I can met that square at any time." But the Holy Spirit makes a man see that not to believe in Christ is a crowning sin, since it makes God a liar. He who believes not on Christ has rejected God's mercy, and has done despite to the grandest display of God's love. In this he has dishonoured God on a very tender point: His only begotten Son.
2. Of righteousness — that is to show them that they have no righteousness of their own, and no means of working it, and are condemned. Thus He leads them to value the righteousness of God which is upon all them that believe.(1) Among men, if a person is convicted of wrong-doing, the next step is judgment. A young man has embezzled money: he is convicted by process of law, and found guilty. Then judgment is pronounced, and he must suffer. But observe how God interpolates another process. Truly, His ways are not our ways! "He shall convince of sin — " The next step would be judgment; but no, the Lord inserts a hitherto unknown middle term, and convinces "of righteousness." Be amazed at this. The Lord takes a man, even when he is conscious of sin, and makes him righteous on the spot, by putting away his sin and justifying him by a righteousness which comes to him by the worthiness of another. This seems to be a thing so impossible that it needs the Spirit of God to convince men of it.(2) Note well the great point of the Spirit's argument, "Because I go to My Father, and ye see Me no more." Our Lord was sent into the world to work out a righteousness, but He would not go till He had fulfilled His covenant engagements. Behold, then, Christ has finished a righteousness which is freely given to all them theft believe, and all those who trust in Christ are for His sake regarded as righteous before God, and are in fact righteous, so that, "Who is He that condemneth?" It is Christ that died, &c.
3. Of judgment. "The Father hath committed all judgment unto the Son." The true penitent feels that the great enemy of his soul must be dethroned, or else forgiveness itself will afford him no rest. He must be rescued from the power as well as from the guilt of sin, or else he abides in bondage. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil; and on the cross our Redeemer judged Satan, and cast him down. He is now a condemned criminal, a vanquished rebel. His reigning power over all believers is broken. Though it will cost you many a conflict, the Lord shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly, for He has already bruised him under His own feet on your behalf.
III. TO CONVICT MAN.
1. The world stands a prisoner at the bar, and the charge is that it is and has been full of sin. In courts of law you are often surprised with what comes out. The prisoner seems to be a respectable person, and you say, "I should not think he is guilty." But, as the evidence proceeds, you say to yourself, "That is a villain." Now hear the Spirit of God. The Spirit came into the world to make all men know that Jesus is the Christ, and He attested that fact by miracles, and by the conversion of myriads. But this wicked world nailed Christ to a cross. By this the world is convicted, its guilt is proven beyond question. The wrath of God abideth on it.
2. What follows? The trial is viewed from another point. The world has declared that the gospel is not righteous, that the system which our Lord has come to establish is not true. But, by sanctifying men through the gospel so that they lead gracious lives, the Holy Spirit proves that the gospel is righteous. This process grows more and more complete as time rolls on. Were not the world unrighteous it would long ago have yielded to the holy message and its holy Messenger. But it will be forced to own the truth one day.
3. When the world shall see Jesus enthroned at last on the clouds of heaven, what conviction will seize on every mind! Not a sceptic will be found in that day! Christ seen at the Father's right hand will end all unbelief.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)I. THE SPIRIT'S CONVICTION OF SIN. And first, the Spirit's conviction of sin — "Of sin, because they believe not on Me."
1. This is not society's definition of sin: according to society, sin means crime, vice, immorality. Neither is it the philosopher's definition of sin: according to the philosopher, sin means misdirection, abuse, disease. Neither is it the theologian's definition of sin: according to the theologian, sin means transgression of God's law, coming short of God's glory, hereditary guilt. But it is Christ's definition of sin: according to Christ, sin means unbelief on Himself, unbelief in Jesus as the Christ. and Son and Image and Revealer of the Father. To disbelieve on Jesus, then, is to disbelieve on Deity Himself. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father (1 John 2:23). Christlessness in a Christian land is atheism. Sin, therefore, became a new thing when Jesus came into the world (John 15:22).
2. Observe now that of this sin of sins the Spirit is the sole convicter. When He is come, He will convict the world in respect of sin, because they believe not on Jesus. And no other power can. The preacher cannot do it; conscience cannot do it; even holy scripture cannot do it. Remember the difference between sins and sin. A jury may convict me of crimes: conscience may convict me of sins. But no power less than the Holy Spirit can convict me of sin. No barb but His can pierce to the root of my nature; no flash but His can show me to myself as a ruined sinner. And the argument he wields in convicting me of sin is this very fact that I do not believe on Jesus. Calvary, not Sinai, is the Spirit's mightiest artillery. But what avails it to be convicted of sin, unless at the same time we are also convicted that there is somewhere righteousness, and that this righteousness can be made available to ourselves?
II. THE SPIRIT'S CONVICTION OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.
1. "Of righteousness." What is this righteousness of which our Lord here speaks? Whose righteousness is it?(1) Certainly not the world's. For the world is quite swift enough to detect its own merits. No Holy Spirit does it need to convince it of its own virtues. A very Narcissus it is, seeing everywhere the reflection of its own beauties and worshipping itself. But let us look at this matter a little more deeply, noting what the world's conception of righteousness really is. True, we admire and value righteousness. But why do we admire it? Because it is righteousness? Or because, in a civilized, well-ordered community, righteousness is one of the conditions of success? Do we not, practically speaking, secretly feel that Thomas Carlyle has hit the truth when, in his "Heroes and Hero-worship," he virtually tells us, Success is virtue; might makes right? Let righteousness but stand in the way of success, and let the choice lie between the two; and then see which the world will choose. Yes, the world crucified, and, were He to return, would virtually crucify again, the only absolutely righteous One the world has ever seen.(2) Whose then is the righteousness the conviction of which the Spirit is to bring to the world? Evidently Christ's righteousness, But what part or element of Christ's righteousness is the righteousness of Which He here speaks? Evidently, righteousness in the general, complete sense of the word; the sum total of all that God requires; the righteousness of a perfect character. In other words, the righteousness of which the Lord here speaks is the righteousness which was incarnated in His own blessed person and career and character and work. And of this righteousness Christ's departure and present invisibility are both the illustration and the proof: "Of righteousness, because I go to the Father, and ye behold Me no more."
2. "Because I go to the Father." This going to the Father involves several profound things. First, it involves Christ's own death. And why did Jesus Christ die, and so go home? Just because He was righteous, and lived in a world which did not believe on Him. His very righteousness crucified Him. Again: This going to the Father involves Christ's resurrection. And why was Jesus Christ raised from the dead? Just because He was righteous: He was declared to be the Son of God with power by His resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4). Once more: This going to the Father involves Christ's ascension and heavenly enthronement. And why was Jesus Christ exalted to the right hand of the Majesty on high? Just because He was righteous; His exaltation being the reward of His incarnate obedience. His going to the father was both a revelation and a demonstration of Christ's righteousness.
3. "And ye no longer behold Me." Why did not the risen Lord remain on earth? Why is He not here now, to be a terror to His foes, a comfort to His friends? We behold Him no more in order that we may the better understand what righteousness truly is. For righteousness is not a bulk — so many inches cubic; not a weight — so many pounds avoirdupois. Righteousness is a quality, a character.
4. And of this righteousness the Holy Spirit is the sole concictor: "When He is come, He will convict the world in respect of righteousness." It may also be admitted that the world does in a certain sense admire Christ's character. Few eulogies are more eloquent, so far as language goes, than the eulogies which eminent unbelievers have pronounced on the Nazarene. But admiration is one thing: loyalty is another thing. There is a tremendous difference between aesthetic admiration and practical devotion; between assent to Christ's teaching and consent with Christ's character. And what the world needs is to have such a profound conviction of Christ's personal, conspicuous, distinctive righteousness as to yearn for it, crying, O Jehovah, be Thou my righteousness (Jeremiah 22:6). And this conviction no power but the Paraclete can effect.
III. THE SPIRIT'S CONVICTION OF JUDGMENT. But what avails it to be convicted of righteousness, unless at the same time we are convicted that righteousness will be victorious?
1. "The prince of this world." If you ask me why Satan was allowed to enter this world and usurp its throne, my only answer is this: I do not know. Here is one of those secret things which belong to Jehovah our God (Deuteronomy 29:29). Of one thing, however, I am only too sure. Satan is the prince of this world. A usurped principality though it is, the principality is nevertheless his. See how he lords it over man's moral nature, as disclosed in the various religions of the world. Look, for example, at the world's idolatries: at its Apis, its Baal, its Dagon, its Mithras, its Siva. Look at the Greek and Roman mythologies. Or, to keep within our own land, look at the idolatry of second causes, the worship of antecedent and consequent, the adoration of the powers of nature. What is materialism but a sort of sublimated fetichism? Again: See how Satan lords it over man's psychical nature — over the capacities and affections and desires of men, instigating to all passions of pride and selfishness and ambition and hate and lust. Once more: See how Satan lords it over man's bodily nature, driving his thorns in the flesh to buffet us; bringing disease and pain and death and grave. In fine, look at this world as it actually is; its crimes, frauds, robberies, hates, falsehoods, perfidies, oppressions, cruelties, sensualities, blasphemies; its griefs and woes and deaths: look at all these and similar instigations and works of the devil, and tell me, Is not Satan the prince of this world?
2. But is this to be so always? God be praised, no! for the prince of this world hath been judged. To us indeed Christ's judgment of Satan seems to be a process still going on. But this is only because we are finite: for this idea of process, or succession in time, is one of the tokens of human weakness. But to the eye of the Son of God the overthrow of Satan was a single act, and an act already accomplished (Luke 10:17). But how was this judgment on Satan affected?(1) To answer, first, in a general way: it was effected by the Incarnation. To this end was the Son of God manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). The Incarnation itself was a judgment(2) But to give a more particular answer: Satan was judged by Christ's own death. Accordingly, a few days before, Jesus exclaimed: "The hour is come, that the Son of Man should be glorified Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the prince of this world be cast out: and I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Myself. This He said, signifying by what manner of death He should die" (John 12:28-33).
3. And this judgment on Satan is a judgment of which the world needs to be convicted: and this, not merely in way of intellectual apprehension, but, especially and emphatically, in way of moral conviction.(1) Thus each Christian needs this conviction for himself. For he is exposed to a thousand discouragements: for example, the sense of infirmity, the enigma of delays and disappointments and adversities, the prevalence of iniquity, the enmity of Satan himself. Verily he does not yet see all things subjected to Jesus Christ (Hebrews 2:8). Hence he needs the saving power of hope (Romans 8:24). He needs the conviction that Christ's grace within him is omnipotent; that the life in Jesus will not be a failure; that the Christian's victory, if he holds steadfast, is a matter of certainty. What he needs is to be sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is an earnest of our inheritance unto the redemption of God's own possession, unto the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:14).(2) And as each Christian needs this conviction for himself in order to his own salvation and victory, so does the Church of the Lamb need it in order to her own going forth and battling under inspiration of assured triumph. What she needs is the certain conviction that the Church's triumph is a foregone conclusion in the Divine mind; that in virtue of her joint-heirship with Jesus Christ (Romans 8:17), the appointed heir of all things (Hebrews 1:3): she will share His sovereignty, even already owning this world by a sort of reversionary right.
4. But how shall this conviction be wrought? By no power less than the Holy Spirit. When He is come, He will convict the world concerning judgment, because the prince of this world has been judged. Conscience cannot work this conviction: all that conscience can do is to make us aware that we are under Satan's power. Neither can philosophy work this conviction: all that philosophy does is to try to make us believe that there is not, and never has been, any Satan at all; that hell is only the obverse side of heaven, or "heaven seen in a side-light." The philosopher does, indeed, talk of a golden age. But what kind of a golden age is it? An age when all that is now anomalous and discordant and monstrous shall give way to universal law and order and beauty; in brief, when the world shall develop into a godless paradise, from which Satan and Jesus shall be alike aliens.
(G. D. Boardman, D. D.)
3. And that in chastisement (1 Timothy 5:20; Titus 1:9; Titus 2:15; cf. Ephesians 5:11); or with a distinct view to the restoration of him who is in the wrong (Revelation 3:19; Hebrews 12:5; Titus 1:13). The Gospel of St. John itself is a monument of the Spirit's conviction of the world concerning —
I. THE REJECTION OF CHRIST AS THE CLIMAX OF THE WORLD'S SIN.
1. This is the most striking instance of the gigantic self-assertion of our Lord's. The world is full of all manner of evils, but Christ passes them all by and points to a mere negative thing, and says, "There is the worst of all sins."
2. And some of us do not think it is sin at all; that man is no more responsible for his belief than he is for the colour of his hair. Well, what is it that a man turns away from when he turns away from Christ? And what does such an attitude indicate as to the rejecter? He stands in the presence of the loveliest revelation of the Divine nature, and he sees no light in it. Why but because he is incapable of seeing God manifest in the flesh he loves the darkness rather than the light. He turns away from the revelation of the most self-sacrificing love. Why but because he bears a heart cased with selfishness? He turns away from the offered hands heaped with the blessing that he needs. Why but because he does not care for the gifts that are offered? Forgiveness, cleansing, purity, a heaven which consists in the perfecting of all these has no attractions for him. The man who is blind to the first, who has no stirrings of responsive gratitude for the second and who does not care for the third, in turning away, manifests and commits a true sin.
3. Then our Lord here presents this fact of man's unbelief as a "typical sin." In all other acts of sin you get the poison manipulated into various forms, associated with other elements, disguised more or less. However unlike they may be to one another — the lust of the sensualist, the craft of the cheat, &c. — all of them have this one common root: a diseased and bloated regard to self. The definition of sin is, living to myself and making myself my own centre. The definition of faith is, making Christ my centre and living for Him. And so, if you want to know what is the sinfulness of sin, there it is; it is all packed away in its purest form in the act of rejecting Christ. When you have summoned up the ugliest forms of man's sins, this one overtops them all, because it presents in the simplest form the mother-tincture of all sin, which, variously coloured and perfumed and combined, makes the poison of them all. A heap of rotting, poisonous matter is offensive to many senses, but the colourless, scentless, tasteless drop has the poison in its most virulent form, and is not a bit less virulent though it has been learnedly distilled and christened with a scientific name, and put into a dainty jewelled flask.
II. THE ASCENSION OF CHRIST AS THE PLEDGE AND THE CHANNEL OF THE WORLD'S RIGHTEOUSNESS. Christ speaks as if the process of departure were already commenced. It had three stages — death, resurrection, ascension; but these three are all parts of the one departure.
1. The fact of an ascended Christ is the guarantee of His own complete fulfilment of the ideal of a righteous man. Suppose Jesus Christ never rose from the grave, would it be possible to believe that, however beautiful these records of His life, and however lovely the character they reveal, there was really in Him no sin at all? A dead Christ means a Christ who, like the rest of us, had His limitations and His faults. But if it be true that He sprang from the grave because " it was not possible that He should be holden of it," and because in His nature there was no proclivity to death, since there had been no indulgence in sin; and if it be true that He ascended up on high because that was His native sphere, as naturally as the water in the valley will rise to the height of the hill from which it has descended, then we can see that God has set His seal upon that life by that resurrection and ascension.
2. And further, with this supernatural fact, stands or falls the possibility of His communicating any of His righteousness to sinful men. If there be no such possibility, what does Jesus Christ's beauty of character matter to me? I shall have to stumble on as best I can, sometimes ashamed and rebuked, sometimes stimulated and sometimes reduced to despair, by looking at the record of His life. But there can come nothing other in kind, though, perhaps a little more in degree than comes from any other beautiful soul that has lived. But if He hath ascended up on high, then His righteousness is not a solitary, uncommunicative perfectness for Himself, but like a sun in the heavens, which streams out vivifying and enlightening rays to all that seek His face. If Christ be risen, His righteousness may be the world's; if Christ be not risen, His righteousness is useless to any but to Himself.
III. THE JUDGMENT OF THE WORLD'S PRINCE AS THE PROPHECY OF THE JUDGEMENT OF THE WORLD.
1. The world has a prince. That chaotic agglomeration of diverse forms of evil has yet a kind of anarchic order in it, and, like the fabled serpent's locks on the Gorgon head, they intertwine and sting one another, and yet they are a unity. We hear very little about the prince of the world in Scripture. Mercifully the existence of such a being is not plainly revealed until the fact of Christ's victory over him is revealed.
2. That prince is judged. The Cross did that, as Jesus Christ over and over again indicates. Since that Cross, the power of evil in the world has been broken in its centre; God has been disclosed, and new forces have been lodged in the heart of humanity, which only need to be developed in order to overcome the evil. Since that auspicious day when "He spoiled the principalities and powers," &c., the history of the world has been the judgment of the world. Hoary iniquities have toppled into the ceaseless washing sea of Divine love which has struck against their bases. Ancient evils have vanished, and more are on the point of vanishing. A loftier morality, a deeper conception of sin, new hopes for the world and for men, have all dawned upon mankind; and the prince of the world is led bound, as it were, at the victorious chariot wheels. The central fortress has been captured and the rest is an affair of outposts.
3. A final judgment is coming and that it is, is manifested by the fact that Christ, when He came in the form of a servant and died upon the Cross, judged the prince. When He comes in the form of a King on the great white throne He will judge the world which He has delivered from the prince.(1) That thought ought to be a hope to us all. Are you glad when you realize the fact that the righteousness which is in the heavens is going to conquer and coerce and clap under the hatches the sin that is riding rampant through the world? Men who did not know half as much of the Divine love and righteousness as we do, called upon the rocks and the hills, &c., to rejoice before the Lord, "for He cometh to judge the world."(2) It ought to be a hope; it is a fear. And there are some of us that do not like to have the conviction driven home to us.(3) But hope or fear, it is a fact, as certain in the future as the Cross is sure in the past, or the Throne in the present. Have you learned your sin; have you opened your heart to Christ's righteousness? Then, if you have, when men's hearts are failing them for fear, and they call on the rocks and the hills to cover them from the face of Him that sitteth upon the throne, we shall lift up our heads, for our re. demption draweth nigh. "Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness before Him in the day of judgment."
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
(J. Stoughton, D. D.)
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