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But let the Spirit once reveal their own hearts to them and they will see that they do not believe in God as they believe in their fellow-men, and that instead of having confidence in God and resting on His words of promise as they do on men's promises, they do not rest on God at all, but are full of anxiety lest God should fail to fulfill His own words. They see that instead of being childlike and trustful, they are full of trouble, and solicitude, and in fact of unbelief. And they see, also, that this is a horribly guilty state of heart. They see the guilt of not resting in His promises -- the horrible guilt of not believing with the heart every word God ever uttered.
Now this change is the work of the Spirit. Our Savior mentions it as one of the effects wrought by the Spirit, that He shall reprove the world of sin, because they believe not on me. And in fact we find that this is one of the characteristic works of the Spirit. In conversing recently with a man who has been for many years a professor of religion, but living in the seventh chapter to the Romans, he remarked I have been thinking of this truth, that God cares for me and loves me, and has through Jesus Christ offered me eternal life; and now I deserve to be damned if I do not believe. Stretching out his pale hand, he said with great energy, I ought to go to hell if I will not believe. Now all this is the work of the Spirit -- this making a man see the guilt and hello desert of unbelief -- this making a sinner see that everything else is only straw compared with the eternal rock of God's truth.
Again, the Spirit makes men see the danger of dying in their sins. Said a young man, I am afraid to go to sleep at night, lest I should awake in hell. Sinners often know what this feeling is. I recollect having this thought once impressed upon my mind, and so much agonized was I, that I almost thought myself to be dying on the spot! O, I can never express the terror and the agony of my soul in that hour! Sinner, if you have these feelings, it is a solemn time with you.
Moreover, the Spirit makes sinners feel the danger of being given up of God. Often does it happen that sinners, convicted by the Spirit, are made to feel that if they are not given up already, they are in the most imminent peril of it, and must rush for the gate of life now or never. They see that they have so sinned and have done so much to provoke God to give them over, that their last hope of being accepted is fast dying away. Sinners, have any of you ever felt thus? Have you ever trembled in your very soul lest you should be given over to a reprobate mind before another Sabbath, or perhaps before another morning? If so, you may ascribe this to the Spirit of God.
Now this is really the natural state of the sinner, but he is not sensible of it until enlightened by the Spirit of God. When thus enlightened, he begins to appreciate his own exceeding great blindness. He now becomes aware that the Bible is a sealed book to him -- for he finds that though he reads it, its meaning is involved in impenetrable darkness.
Have not some of you been conscious of such an experience as this? Have you not read the Bible with the distressing consciousness that your mind was by no means suitably affected by its truth -- indeed, with the conviction that you did not get hold of its truth to any good purpose at all? Thus are men enlightened by the Spirit to see the real state of their case.
Again, the Spirit shows sinners their total alienation from God. I have seen sinners so strongly convicted of this, that they would say right out: I know that I have not the least disposition to return to God -- I am conscious that I don't care whether I have any religion or not.
Often have I seen professed Christians in this state, conscious that their hearts are utterly alienated from God and from all sympathy with His character or government. Their deep backslidings, or their utter want of all religion, has been so revealed to their minds by the Spirit, as to become a matter of most distinct and impressive consciousness.
Sinners thus made to see themselves by the Spirit, often find that when they pour out their words before God for prayer, their heart won't go. I once said to a sinner, Come, now, give up your heart to God. I will, said he; but in a moment he broke out, My heart won't go. Have not some of you been compelled to say the same, My heart won'tgo? Then you know by experience one of the fruits of the Spirit's convicting power.
When the Spirit of God is not with men, they can dole out their long prayers before God and never think or seem to care how prayerless their hearts are all the time, and how utterly far from God. But when the Spirit sheds His light on the soul, the sinner sees how black a hypocrite he is. Oh, then he cannot pray so smoothly, so loosely, so self-complacently.
Again, the Spirit of God often convinces men that they are ashamed of Christ,and that in truth they do not wish for religion. It sometimes happens that sinners do not feel ashamed of being thought seriously disposed, until they come to be convicted. Such was the case with myself. I bought my first Bible as a law-book, and laid it by the side of my Blackstone. I studied it as I would any other law-book, my sole object being to find in it the great principles of law. Then I never once thought of being ashamed of reading it. I read it as freely and as openly as I read any other book. But as soon as I became awakened to the concerns of my soul, I put my Bible out of sight. If it were lying on my table when persons came into my office, I was careful to throw a newspaper over it. Ere long, however, the conviction that I was ashamed of God and of His word came over me with overwhelming force, and served to show me the horrible state of my mind toward God. And I suppose that the general course of my experience is by no means uncommon among unrepentant sinners.
The Spirit also convicts men of worldly-mindedness. Sinners are always in this state of mind; but are often not fully aware of the fact until the Spirit of God makes them see it. I have often seen men pushing their worldly projects most intensely, but when addressed on the subject they would say, I don't care much about the world; I am pursuing this business just now chiefly because I want to be doing something; but when the Spirit shows them their own hearts, they are in agony lest they should never be able to break away from the dreadful power of the world upon their souls. Now they see that they have been the veriest slaves on earth- slaves to the passion for worldly good.
Again, the Holy Spirit often makes such a personal application of the truth as to fasten the impression that the preacher is personal and intends to describe the case and character of him who is the subject of his influence. The individual thus convinced of sin may think that the preacher has, in some way, come to a knowledge of his character, and intends to describe it, that the preacher means him, and is preaching to him. He wonders who has told the preacher so much about him. All this often takes place when the preacher perhaps does not know that such an one is in the assembly, and is altogether ignorant of his history. Thus the Holy Spirit who knows his heart and his entire history becomes very personal in the application of truth.
Have any of you this experience? Has it at present or at any other time appeared to you as if the preacher meant you,and that he was describing your case? Then the Spirit of the living God is upon you. I have often seen individuals drop their heads under preaching almost as if they were shot through. They were, perhaps, unable to look up again during the whole service. Afterwards I have often heard that they thought I meant them, and that others thought so too, and perhaps imagined that many eyes were turned on them, and that therefore they did not look up, when in fact neither myself nor any one in the congregation, in all probability, so much as thought of them.
Again, the Holy Spirit often convinces sinners of the of their hearts against God.Most unrepentant sinners, and perhaps all deceived professors, unless convinced to the contrary by the Holy Spirit, imagine that they are on the whole friendly to God. They are far from believing that this carnal mind is enmity against God. They think they do not hate, but, on the contrary, that they love God. Now this delusion must be torn away or they must be lost. To do this, the Spirit so orders it that some truths are presented which develop their real enmity against God. The moralist who has been the almost Christian, or the deceived professor, begins to cavil, to find fault, finally to rail, to oppose the preaching and the meetings and the measures and the men. The man perhaps who has a pious wife and who has thought himself and has been thought by her to be almost a Christian, begins by caviling at the truth, finds fault with the measures and with the manners; then refuses to go to meeting, and finally forbids his wife and family going, and not infrequently his enmity of heart will boil over in a horrible manner. He perhaps has no thought that this boiling up of hell within him is occasioned by the Holy Spirit revealing to him the true state of his heart. His Christian friends also may mistake his case and be ready to conclude that something is wrong in the matter or manners or measures of the preacher that is doing this man a great injury, But beware what you say or do, In many such cases which have come under my own observation, it has turned out that the Holy Spirit was at work in those hearts, revealing to them their real enmity against God. This He does by presenting truth in such a manner and under such circumstances as to produce these results. He pushes this process until He compels the soul to see that it is filled with enmity to God, and to what is right; that yet it is not man, but God to whom he is opposed; that it is not error, but truth; not the manner, but the matter; not the measures, but the God of truth which it hates.
The Spirit, moreover, often convicts sinners powerfully of the deceitfulness of their ownhearts. Sometimes this conviction becomes really appalling. They see they have been deluding themselves in matters too plain to justify any mistake, and too momentous to admit of any apology for willful blindness. They are confounded with what they see in themselves.
The Spirit also not infrequently strips the sinner of his excuses, and shows him clearly their great folly and absurdity.I recollect this was one of the first things in my experience in the process of conviction. I lost all confidence in any of my excuses, for I found them to be so foolish and futile that I could not endure them. This was my state of mind before I had ever heard of the work of the Spirit, or knew at all how to judge whether my own mind was under its influence or not. I found that whereas I had been very strong in my excuses and objections, I was now utterly weak, and it seemed to me that any child could overthrow me. In fact, I did not need to be overthrown by anybody, for my excuses and cavils had sunk to nothing of themselves, and I was deeply ashamed of them. I had effectually worked myself out of all their mazes, so that they could bewilder me no longer. I have since seen multitudes in the same condition -- weak as to their excuses, their old defensive armor all torn off, and their hearts laid naked to the shafts of God's truth.
Now, sinners, have any of you known what this is -- to have all your excuses and apologies failing you -- to feel that you have no courage and no defensible reasons for pushing forward in a course of sin? If so, then you know what it is to be under the convicting power of the Spirit.
The Spirit convicts men of the folly of seeking salvation in any otherway than through Christ alone. Often, without being aware of it, a sinner will be really seeking salvation in some other way than through Christ, and he will be looking to his good deeds -- to his own prayers, or the prayers of some Christian friends; but if the Spirit ever saves him, He will tear away these delusive schemes and show him the utter vanity of every other way than through Christ alone. The Spirit will show him that there is but this one way in which it is naturally possible for a sinner to be saved, and that all attempts toward any other way are forever vain and worse than worthless. All self-righteousness must be rejected entirely, and Christ be sought alone.
Have you ever been made to see this? You, who are professed Christians, is this your experience?
Again, the Spirit convinces men of the great folly and madness of clinging to an unsanctifying hope. The Bible teaches that every one who has the genuine Gospel hope purifies himself, even as Christ is pure. In this passage, the apostle John plainly means to affirm a universal proposition. He states a universal characteristic of the Christian hope. Whoever has a Christian hope should ask -- Do I purify myself even as Christ is pure? If not, then mine is not the true Gospel hope.
But let thousands of professed Christians have a most inefficient hope. What is it? Does it really lead them to purify themselves as Christ is pure? Nothing like it. It is not a hope that they shall see Christ as He is, and be forever with Him, and altogether like Him too, but it is mainly a hope that they shall escape hell, and go as an alternative to some unknown heaven.
Such professed Christians can not but know that their experience lacks the witness of their own consciences that they are living for God and bearing His image. If such are ever saved, they must first be convinced of the folly of a hope that leaves them unsanctified.
Ye professors of religion who have lived a worldly life so long, are you not ashamed of your hope? Have you not good reason to be ashamed of a hope that has no more power than yours has had? Are there not many in this house who in the honesty of their hearts must say, Either there is no power in the Gospel, or I don't know anything about it? For the Gospel affirms as a universal fact of all those who are not under the law, but under grace, sin shall not have dominion over you. Now will you go before God and say, Lord, Thou hast said, `Sin shall not have dominion over you;' but, Lord, that is all false, for I believe the Gospel and am under grace, but sin still has dominion over me! No doubt in this case there is a mistake somewhere; and it becomes you to ask solemnly -- Shall I charge this mistake and falsehood upon God, or shall I admit that it must be in myself alone?
He has also said, Being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Do you know this by your own experience? He adds also that we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also; knowing that tribulation worketh patience. and patience, experience: and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed: because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.
Is all this in accordance with your experience, professed Christian? Is it true that your hope makes not ashamed? Does it produce such glorious fruits unto holiness as are here described? If you were to try your experience by the word of the living God, and open your heart to be searched by the Spirit, would not you be convinced that you do not embrace the Gospel in reality?
Again, the Spirit convinces men that all their goodness is selfish; and that self is the end of all their efforts, of all their prayers and religious exercises. I once spent a little time in the family of a man who was a leading member in a Presbyterian Church. He said to me, What should you think of a man who is praying for the Spirit every day, but does not get the blessing? I answered, I should presume that he is praying selfishly. But suppose, replied he, that he is praying for the sake of promoting his own happiness? He may be purely selfish in that, I replied; the devil might do as much, and would, perhaps, do just the same if he supposed he could make himself happier by it. I then cited the prayer of David: Take not Thy Holy Spirit from me: restore unto me the joys of Thy salvation: then will I teach transgressors Thy ways, and sinners shall be converted unto Thee. This seemed to be new doctrine to him, and he turned away, as I found afterwards, in great anger and trouble. In the first gush of feeling he prayed that God would cut him down and send him to hell, lest he should have to confess his sin and shame before all the people. He saw that, in fact, his past religion had been all selfish; but the dread of confessing this was at first appalling. He saw, however, the possibility of mistake, that his hopes had been all delusive, and that be had been working his self-deceived course fast down toward the depths of hell.
Finally, it is the Spirit's work to make self-deceived men feel that they are now having their last call from the Spirit.When this impression is made, let it by all means be heeded. It is God's own voice to the soul. Out of a great multitude of cases under my observation in which God has distinctly made sinners feel that the present was their last call, I do not recollect one in which it did not prove to be so. This is a truth of solemn moment to the sinner, and ought to make the warning voice of God ring in his ear like the forewarning knell of the second death.
V. What is intended by the Spirit's not striving always?
The meaning I take to be, not that He will at some period withdraw from among mankind, but that He will withdraw from the individual in question. or perhaps as in the text from a whole generation of sinners. In its general application now, the principle seems to be that the Spirit will not follow the sinner onward down to his grave -- that there will be a limit to His efforts in the case of each sinner, and that this limit is perhaps ordinarily reached a longer or a shorter time before death. At some uncertain, awful point, he will reach and pass it; and it therefore becomes every sinner to understand his peril of grieving the Spirit forever away.
VI. We, are next to inquire, WHY God's Spirit will not strive always.
I answer, not because God is not compassionate forbearing, slow to anger and great in mercy; not because He gets out of patience and acts unreasonably -- by no means; nothing of this at all. But the reasons are
1. Because longer striving will do the sinner no good. For by the very laws of mind, conversion must be effected through the influence of truth. But it is a known law of mind that truth once and again resisted, loses its power upon the mind that resists it. Every successive instance of resistance weakens its power. If the truth does not take hold with energy when fresh, it is not likely to do so ever after. Hence when the Spirit reveals truth to the sinner, and he hardens himself against it, and resists the Spirit, there remains little hope for him. We may expect God to give him up for lost. So the Bible teaches.
2. If again we ask, Why does God cease to strive with sinners? The answer may be, Because to strive longer not onlydoes the sinner no good, but positive evil. For guilt is graduated by light. The more light the greater guilt. Hence more light revealed by the Spirit and longer striving might serve only to augment the sinner's guilt, and of course his final woe. It is better then for the sinner himself, after all hope of his repentance is gone, that the Spirit should leave him, than that his efforts should be prolonged in vain, to no other result than to increase the sinner's light and guilt, and consequently his endless curse. It is in this case a real mercy to the sinner, that God should withdraw His Spirit and let him alone.
3. Because sinners sin willfully when they resist the Holy Ghost. It is the very work of the Spirit to throw light before their minds. Of course in resisting the Spirit they must sin against light. Hence their dreadful guilt.
We are often greatly shocked with the bold and daring sins of men who may not after all have much illumination of the Spirit, and of course comparatively little guilt. But when God's ministers come to the souls of men with His messages of truth, and men despise or neglect them; when God's providence also enforces His truth, and still men resist, they are greatly guilty. How much more so when God comes by His Spirit, and they resist God under the blazing light of His Spirit's illuminations! How infinitely aggravated is their guilt now!