From Princeton Sermons by Charles Hodge D.D.
Conviction of Sin [February 3rd, 1861]
What is sin? Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of the Law of God. The Law of God is the eternal rule of rectitude. It is a revelation of what is right, of what rational creatures should be and do. It has supreme excellence and supreme authority.
It is not merely a revelation of what is right and reasonable, but what we are bound to be conformed to. All sin has reference to God. It is contrary to His will, and therefore includes the ideas of guilt and of defilement. Of course, as sin has relation to law, our views of sin will be determined by our views of the law. If the law is only the law of reason, sin is simply unreasonable. If the law is limited, so is sin. If the law is perfect, then all want of perfection is want of conformity to law.
II. Conviction of sin is therefore a conviction of want of conformity to law.
This includes, 1. the want of conformity of the heart; 2. of conscious states of the mind; 3. of particular acts. Conviction of sin under the gospel is specially of unbelief, as a sin against Christ. Conviction includes the consciousness of this as guilt, i.e., as justly exposing us to the condemnation of the law. This includes the conviction that we can never make atonement for our guilt. This is constantly attempted, but never with success even to the satisfaction of conscience.
Conviction, again, regards this want of conformity, as not only guilt, but also defilement, as that which renders us morally offensive, the objects of disapprobation, of disgust, and of abhorrence. This stands opposed to self-complacency, or self-approbation. It may go a great way and yet be ineffectual.
III. The necessity of this conviction arises out of the fact that the gospel is a plan for the salvation of sinners. It is designed for sinners. If we are not sinners, we do not need the gospel. If we do not feel that we are sinners, we do not feel our need of the gospel and will not embrace it. If we do not feel ourselves guilty, we will not look to Christ for pardon. If we do not feel ourselves to be polluted, we will not look for
nor desire cleansing. We must therefore be convinced of sin in order to be saved.
IV. But what kind of degree of conviction is necessary? Or, what are the evidences of genuine conviction?
1. Every human being is convinced of sin, in a certain sense and measure. But only in such measure as is consistent with indifference or carelessness.
2. Others are so convinced as to create great anxiety and to lead to long, continued and painful efforts to save themselves.
3. Others are so convinced as to be thoroughly persuaded that they can neither atone for their guilt nor deliver themselves from defilement, or make themselves holy. This is the result to be desired.
This may be attained at once, or it may be long delayed. It is not determined by mere pungency or depth of feeling or terrors of conscience. There may be much or little of all this. The main thing is, 1. That we should be led to renounce ourselves, self-justification, or excuse, and self-righteousness. 2. That we shall be made ready to fall at the feet of Jesus and say, Lord, if thou wilt thou canst make me clean; Lord, save me, or I perish.
Conviction of Sin [November 18th, 1855.]
I. Its nature. It includes,
1. Knowledge of what sin is. Paul says he had not known sin, but by the law, and had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet; and that by the law is the knowledge of sin. So long as ignorance continues and so far as it extends, there can be no conviction. Multitudes live in sin, without knowing it. What they really do is sin, though not so in their consciousness. So Paul indulged concupiscence, and persecuted the Christians. Such is generally the case with heathen, such with men of the world. The first necessity therefore is that the mind should be enlightened by the law.
2. It includes the sense of sin, the conviction that we are personally chargeable with it. This includes a sense of guilt or sense of just exposure to punishment; with which is connected more or less an apprehension of the righteous judgment of God, and also a sense of pollution or unworthiness which is the opposite of self-approbation and complacency. Remorse and self-loathing are included in this sense of sin.
3. It includes a sense of helplessness. There is an intimate persuasion, a. That we can never atone for our sins, or free ourselves from guilt, b. That we can never cleanse ourselves from pollution. The deaf, the blind, and leprous were thus convinced of their deplorable and helpless condition before they applied to Christ for relief.
These are all natural feelings. They may and often do precede regeneration. They are often experienced by those who never are renewed. They are nothing more than a higher measure of what every sinner from the constitution of his nature more or less experiences.
II. Conviction of sin, though no evidence of conversion, is necessary to it.
1. Because the gospel being a provision for the relief of the guilty, it cannot be embraced by those who do not feel their guilt. The degree to which this is to be felt is not to be determined by liveliness of emotion but by its effects. It must destroy the disposition to self-justification. It must destroy reliance upon our own works or modes of satisfaction. It must convince us that without the righteousness of Christ we perish.
2. Because the gospel, being a provision for sanctifying the unholy, those who are not sensible of pollution will not apply to this source of relief. Here again, it is not the liveliness of the feelings of remorse or self-loathing, but the effect, the persuasion that we need to be cleansed by the power of the Spirit.
3. Because the gospel being a provision for the helpless, those who think they can help themselves will not come to Christ, and cannot accept him.
There is no point as to which souls are more distressed than this. They feel that they have never been sufficiently convinced. The difficulty arises from assuming a wrong standard; viz., feeling instead of the effect upon the life.
III. Means of obtaining conviction. 1. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. Even in the unconverted it is the effect of His common grace. He is sent to convince the world of sin. The reprobate, those whom God has abandoned, have the conscience seared. They therefore commit sin without restraint.
2. The Spirit convinces of sin through the law. Therefore we must bring ourselves to that standard and not judge ourselves among ourselves, or compare ourselves with ourselves.
3. It is specially by the revelation of the holiness of God, by the glory of God in Jesus Christ, by the manifestation of the love of God in Christ, that this conviction is produced.
Whatever tends to darken the mind, as false theories of the nature of sin, false views of the divine law, false doctrines as to man’s responsibilities, tends to hinder genuine conviction. So also whatever tends to harden the conscience, to render the heart callous, as the commission of sin, self-palliation, etc., has the same effect.
IV. This conviction should he permanent. It is not felt once for all. All our experience is modified and determined by our sense of sin. Hence the difference between Christians and churches.
Repentance [February 26th, 1865.]
This in a religious sense is the turning from sin unto God. When genuine it is a fruit of regeneration, and a gift of the Spirit. In the wide
sense in which it is used it includes the whole process of conversion. That is, it includes the exercises or acts of the soul which have sin for their object, and those which have Christ for their object. It is in this sense it is used in our Catechism, where it is defined to be a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavour after, new obedience. The essential act is turning from sin to God. This turning is characterized, first, by its attending circumstances; secondly, by its motives; thirdly, by its effects.
I. Its means. It is,
I. From a due sense of sin. This includes, a. a knowledge of sin; b. a conviction of our own sinfulness. c. A proper sense of our own guilt and pollution. The knowledge of sin supposes proper views of the holiness of God, of His justice, and therefore of the greatness of the evil of sin. A conviction of our own sinfulness includes, a. a conviction that we are guilty, b. that we are polluted, c. that we are helpless, or absolutely at God’s mercy.
2. It is with apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ.
Repentance is not possible as long as we think we are without hope. For despair precludes repentance. We must apprehend, i.e., believe,
a. That God is merciful, b. That He can consistently exercise His mercy, c. That we are or may be its objects. d. That this is through Christ, because out of Christ, conscience and Scripture teach that He is a consuming fire.
II. The attending circumstances are grief and hatred of our sins.
1. Grief, i.e., sincere sorrow for having committed them. This includes, a. Remorse, b. Self-abhorrence, c. Self-condemnation. d. Shame. All arising out of a due sense of the evil of sin.
2. Hatred includes disapprobation and disgust.
III. The act itself. Turning from sin. Turning from the approbation, from the indulgence, from the promotion of sin. Turning to God, a. As an object of excellence, b. As an object of enjoyment.
IV. The effects of Repentance are purpose and endeavour.
Purpose, a decision of the will to obey God in all things. Endeavour to do so, continued, sincere and effective.
Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven Mau. 18.3. [November 19th, 1865.]
I. The occasion of this remark was the manifestation of a desire of pre-eminence. As to this principle or desire, it is universal; it is powerful; it is productive of great good, apparently, as well as great evil; it is generally recognized as laudable, or at least, as lawful.
Nevertheless, it is evil. I . Because it is selfish. Self, and not Christ, is the end.
2. Because it is an inferior motive to the love of God. 3. Because Christ always condemns it. 4. Because we feel that it would degrade our idea of Christ, had He acted from this principle. 5. Because we instinctively exalt the man who is free from it, over the man who is governed by it.
It is to be distinguished; 1. from the desire of excellence; 2. from the desire of honour.
II. The nature of conversion. Â— It is evidently a change not of outward conduct merely, nor of mere acts of the mind, but of the character, i.e; of the inward principles which control the inward and outward life. This change is declared to be necessary.
III. The evidence of it is the disposition of a child.
1. A disposition which is the opposite of an ambitious spirit. The children of the rich and poor, of bond and free, if left to themselves, play together as equals. The stronger, the brighter, the superior are recognized as such independently of their external distinctions. Children are humble.
2. A child is confiding. It trusts its parents.
3. A child is submissive. We must submit our understanding, our circumstances and destiny to the hands of God. A child led by the hand of its parent in the dark, follows him without hesitation or doubt.
IV. Why this change is necessary. Because the disposition of a child is the only one that agrees with our relation to God. This will apply, 1. to our ignorance, 2. to our weakness, 3. to our guilt and pollution.
V. The blessedness of this disposition.
1. The peace it gives.
2. The security it affords. God cares for us.
3. It places us in our normal relation to God.
4. It secures our admission into the kingdom of God, of which Christ is the head and the centre.