Copyright
Horace Bushnell.

Select works (Volume 1) online

. (page 8 of 29)
Online LibraryHorace BushnellSelect works (Volume 1) → online text (page 8 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


and happy, and true ; and that, if I am right, is the
only kind of life at all worthy of you. And then, at
the end, it will be yours to say, in the sublime confi-
dence also of your Master — ''I have glorified thee on
the earth, I have finished the work which thou ga^^esl
me to do."



VI.

CONVICTION OF SIN BY THE CROSS.



"O/* sin^ because they believe not on me. Of righteous-
ness^ because I go to the Father^ and ye see me no more.
Of judgment^ because the prince of this luorld is judged^ —
John, xvi. 9-11.

In the CO nvin cement of sin, the Holy Spirit is to be
the agent, and Christ rejected, the argument — so Christ
himself conceives the promise of the Spirit which he is
here giving. The convincing work is to be wrought by
no absolute method of force, but by truths and reasons
drawn from Christ's person, and the treatment he re-
ceived from the world. " Of sin," he says, "because
they believe not on me." The two other points that he
adds — " Of righteousness, because I go to the Father
and ye see me no more; Of judgment, because the
prince of this world is judged;" — appear to be only
amplifications of the first, or points in which the guilty
convictions of his rejectors will be raised to a higher
pitch. Thus when he is gone out of the world to be
seen here no more, gone up to the Father in visible
divine majesty, they will begin to conceive who he
was — the Son of God, the righteousness itself of God.
He will be no more the man or the prophet, poorly
apprehended, doubtfully conceived; all their opinions



CONVICTION OF SIN, ETC. 117

of him will undergo a revision, and their minds be
quickened to a new sense even of what righteousness
is ; so, to a deeper, more condemning, more appalling
sense of their sin. Then again this conviction will be
set home with a still heavier emphasis, by the fact made
visible in his death and resurrection, that the "prince
of this world is judged," and forever cast down. For
if evil, when triumphant by conspiracy, still can not
tiiumph, but falls inevitably doomed, how certainly
doomed is every soul that meets the Just One it rejected,
on its final day. When the bad empire called the
world, is itself cloven down, visibl}^, by the rising and
the over-mastering kingship of God's Messiah, the con-
viction of sin will be as much more appalling, as the
general defeat and overthrow requires it to be.

It is then a fixed expectation of Christ himself, and
that is the truth to which I am now going to call your
attention — that his mission to the world will have a consid-
erahle j^art of its va.lue, in raising a higher moral sense in
mankind, and producing a more appalling conviction of
their guilt or guiltiness, before God.

A widely different, or even contrary, impression
appears to be generally derived from certain things
said in the scripture, concerning the law ; taken as they
are, in a less qualified manner than they should be, or
the facts of the gospel require them to be. Thus it is
declared that, "by the law is the knowledge of sin."
It is also described in its relation to the gospel, as " the
letter that killeth," " the ministration of death," "the



118 CONVICTION OF SIN

ministration of condemnation;" that, on the other band,
being "the Spirit that giveth life," "the ministration
of righteousness." On the ground of such repre«^ntii,.
tions, an impression is received, that conviction of siu
is distinctively "a law work." As such it is specially
magnified, and it is even abundantly insisted on, that
the eflPective preaching of the law is the prime condition
of all genuine success in preaching. The conception ia
that what is called " the law " is a certain battery side
of government, before which guilty minds are to be
shot through with deadly pangs, and then that the min-
istration of life, in Jesus and his cross, coming on the
gentle side opposite, does a work of pure healing and
life. On that side, all is condemnation. On this side,
all is forgiveness. There is guilt, here is peace. Bond-
age only is there, liberty only is here.

Now this impression is so far true, that conviction
of sin doubtless supposes the fact of some rule or law,
broken by sin ; and that, when such law is broken, it
can, as law, do nothing more than condemn — can not
help, or save. God only can do that, and that he does
in Christ.

But, in a certain other view, there is more law iu
Christ, more, that is, in his character and life and doc-
trine, then there is in all statutes beside. The law of
Eden is to the law of the sermon on the mount, as u
jewsharp to an organ. The ten commandments, mostlj^
negative, or laws of not doing, are not, all together, as
weighty and broad upon the conscience, as Christ's one
positive law, "Do ye unto others as ye would that



BY THE CROSS. 119

others sliould do unto you.'* Not even the thun-
ders of Sinai are any match for the silent thunders of
Calvary.

Besides, it is not so much the question, where most
law is given, as by what means the sense of law may
be most effectually quickened, where before it slept
And here it is that Christ's great expectation hinges,
when he says, "of sin," "of righteousness," "of judg-
ment." For in him, the law is more than a rule, or
than all rules — a person, clothed in God's righteousness,
bearing Grod's authority, filling and permeating all
human relations with an exact well-doing, and with all
most loving ministries, such as never before had been
even conceived in these relations. How much then
will it signify, when guilty minds are so painfully dazed
by the glories of right in his person, that they can not
endure the sight; conspiring even his death, and falling
upon him in their implacable malice, to thrust him out
of the world! Why, simply to have had such a being
living in the world, doing his work, suffering his pains
at the hands of his enemies and breathing out his pure
untainted breath upon the poisoned air, changes it to a
place of holy conviction, where sin must be ever know
ing itself, and scorching itself in its own guilty fires!

Thus much it was necessary to say, in a way of
general statement, or adjustment, as respects the rela-
tive agency of Christ and the law in the convincement
of guilty minds. That Christianity was to have, and
has had, a considerable part of its value, in this con-
vincing, as well as in a forgiving and restoring agency,



1'20 CONVICTION OF SIN

I will now proceed to show, bj arguments more special
and positive. And —

1. Make due account of the fact, that conviction of
sin is a profoundly intelligent matter, and worthy, in
that view, to engage the counsel of God in the gift of his
Son. If we have any such thought as that what is
called conviction of sin is only a blind torment, or ciisis
of excited fear, technically prescribed as a matter to be
suffered in the way of conversion, we can not too soon
rid ourselves of the mistake. It is neither more nor
less than a due self-knowledge — not a knowledge of the
mere understanding, or such as may be gotten by phi
losophic reflection, but a more certain, more immediate
sensing of ourselves by consciousness ; just the same
which the criminal has, when he hies himself away from
justice; fleeing, it may be, when no man pursueth. He
has a most invincible, most real knowledge of himself;
not by any cognitive process of reflection, but by his
immediate consciousness — he is consciously a guilty
man. All men are consciously guilty before God, and
the standards of God, in the same manner. They do
not approve, but invariably condemn themselves ; only
they become so used to the fact that they make nothing
of it, but take it even as the normal condition of their
life. Their sin gets to be themselves, and they only
think as thinking of themselves. Living always in the
bad element, they think it is only their nature to be as
they are. Their consciousness is frozen over, so to
speak, and they see no river underneath, but only the ice



BY THE CROSS. 121

that covers it. The motions of sins they do not ob-
serve, because the standards they have always violated
are blunted and blurred by custom. They are on]y
conscious, it may be, of a certain shyness of God, and
they come to regard even that as being somehow nat-
ural. Hence it comes to be a very great point, in the
recovery of men to God, to unmask them to themselves,
to uncover the standards and reopen their conscious-
ness to them ; exactly what is done by Christ and his
rejected Messiahship, inwardly applied b}^ the Spirit
of God. The result is conviction of sin ; which is only
a state of moral self-knowledge revived. Doubtless
there is a pain in this kind of self-knowledge, but it is
none the less intelligent on that account. The sense
of guilt is itself a pain of the mind, just as light is pain
to a diseased eye; but light is none the less truly light,
and guilt is none the less truly intelligent, on that ac-
count. This returning of guilty conviction is, in fact,
the dawning, or may be, of an everlasting and complete
intelligence, in just that highest, moral side of the na-
ture, that was going down out of intelligence, into stupor
and blindness. Is it then a severity in Christ that he is
counting on a result of his ministry and death, so essen-
tially great and beneficent?

2. It is quite evident that such a being as Christ
could not come into the world and pass through it, and
out of it, in such a manner, without stirring the pro-
ton ndest ])ossible convictions of character. If the
divine glory and spotless love of God are by him incar-
nated into the w^orld, the revelation must be one that

11



122 CONVICTION OF SIN

raises a great inward commotion. It should not s\ir-
prise ns that even the bad spirits were rallied, in that day,
to a pitch of unwonted disturbance and malign activity,
much more the bad mind of the race. The great stand-
ards of holiness, so fatally blurred as rules, will be all
brought forth again, speaking in the doctrine, shining
out in the perfect life. Every guilty mind will feel
itself arraigned, and brought to know itself, that be-
holds, or looks into, the perfect glass of history that
describes this life. And above all when it is ended by
such a death, inflicted by a world in wrong, who that
knows himself to be a man, will not be visited by silent
pangs, not easy to be stifled.

3. Christ was a being who perfectly knew the pure
standards of character and duty, knowing, as well, just
what sin is in the breach of them, and what man is in the
sin. He also knows of course, exactly what is neces-
sary to stir up the guilty consciousness of men ; some-
times doing it by instruction, sometimes by acts of un-
wonted patience and beneficence, sometimes by terrible
rebukes and lifted rods of chastisement, and more than
once by a divine skill of silence — as when stooping do vn,
once and again, he drew mystic figures on the ground ;
sending out thus one by one, condemned and guilt-
stricken, the pretentious accusers of the woman; or
when, scarcely speaking and urging no defense, he so vis-
ibly shook with concern, the guilty mind of Pilate, by
the dumb innocence only of his manner. He knew ex-
actly what to do on all occasions, and with all different
classes of men, to put the sense of guilt upon them, and



BY THE CROSS. 123

we can see ourselves, that be has it for one of the great
objects of his ministry, even as it was a great expecta-
tion, in the matter of his death, that all enemies and
rejecters would discover, in bitter pangs of conviction,
that, in what they have done upon him, they have only
let their sin reveal its own madness. Let us turn now

4. To the scriptures and gather up some few of the
tokens that Christ, before his coming, was expected to
come in this character; and also of the declarations, by
himself and his followers afterward, that he had, es-
pecially in his death, accomplished such a result.

"They shall look on me whom they have pierced,"
says the prophet, " and they shall mourn." Other ex-
pressions of the prophets correspond. Accordingly
when the infant Jesus was brought to Simeon, by his
mother, he said to her, " Behold this child is set for the
fall and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sign
which shall be spokv.n against, that the thoughts of
many hearts may be revealed." His rejection was to
reveal the heart of his rejectors. John the Baptist con-
ceives, in the same manner, that he is coming with
''the axe" of conviction, to be laid to the root of all
sin, and " the fan " of separation, to winnow out the
chaflfiness of all pretense, so to unmask the secrecy of
guilt and place it in the open light of conviction.

Christ himself also testifies that he has done it, say-
ing to Nicodemus, " He that believeth not is condemned
already, because he hath not believed in the name of
the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condem-
nation (how deeply shall the sting of it some time pierce



124 CONVICTIOX (3F Sm

the heart of my rejecters,) — this is the condemnation,
that liglit is come into the world and men have loved
darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil."
On another occasion, he says, to the same effect, — "If I
had not come and spoken unto them, they had not
liad sin, but now they have no cloak for their sin;" —
they see now, by what they reject and hate, precisely
what they are — "If I had not done among them the
work which none other man did, they had not had sin,
but now have they both seen and hated both me and
my Father ;" intimating clearly that their hatred of him,
they will sometime see, is, at bottom, a hatred of good-
ness itself On still another occasion, he brings ont the
same truth more argumentatively, saying — "If God
were your Father, ye wonld love me ; for I proceeded
forth and came from God. He that is of God heareth
my words, ye therefore hear them not, because ye are
not of God." Your rejection of me is nothing but an
exhibition without, of that rejection of God in which you
inwardly live. The bitterness of their reply you know.
Take the trial scene of Jesus next, noting first, the
bad spirit out of which it comes, and then the guilty
conviction that follows it. What injury had Christ done
to Caiaphas and the managers of his party, that they
should be so bitterly exasperated against him? There
was never a more inoffensive being, save as goodness
is itself an offense to sin. Hence the violence of their
animosity ; for no man is so violent and brutish in his
animosities, as he that is storming against goodness, to
drown the disturbance, and redress the guilty pangs it



BY THE CliOSS. 125

creates in an evil conscience. Hence tlie barbarous
insults put upon the Saviour's person. If these gieat
people of Jerusalem — high-priests, rabbis, scribes, aud
others — had been a tribe of Osages, or Dyaks, their
treatment of Jesus would have been exactly in charac-
\(ir. The slap in the face, the crown of thorns, the
mockeries, the scourging, the spitting, the wagging
of the heads, and the jeer "let him come down," con-
nected with a visibly conscious disrespect to evidence
and justice, and with outcries raised to stifle even the
sense of justice; the malignity and spite of the punish-
ment itself, a slave's punishment, a crucifixion put upon
a man whose dignity and the power of whose words,
— " speaking as never man spake" — had been a principal
part of his offense — what does it mean that gentlemen,
Jewish leaders of the highest standing and culture, are
found instigating these low barbarities of spite and cru-
elty ? What has he done to transform civilized men inte
savages in this manner? O it is the offense of his char-
acter! He has raised up demons of remorse in the con-
science of these men, by the luster simply of his good-
ness. This it is that rankles in their hatred and hate,
as against goodness, is a feeling too weak to suffer the
assumption even of dignity. Hence the simply diabol-
ical frenz}^ of their conduct.

Mark the result. The very moment after Jesus has
commended his spirit to the Father and ceased to
breathe, the conviction of crime begins to break through
the enmity of his crucifiers. Their malignity is discov-
ered, they could hate a living enemy, but the helpless

11*



126 CONVICTION OF SIN

body of a dead one over- r/i asters their violence. Trxv
mediately the centurion hitnself glorified God, saying.
"certainly this was a righteous man." "And all the
people that came together to that sight, beholding the
things which were done, smote their breasts and re-
turned." This is the sign that was "to be spf>ken
against," and now "the thoughts of many hearts'"
begin to be " revealed." " They look on him whom
they have pierced," and they are pierced themselves.

ISIext we see the great principle of conviction — "of
sin because they believe not on me," — beginning to be
wielded with overwhelming energy, by the apostles.
This very truth charged home — you have rejected and
crucified Christ — is the arrow of the day of Pentecost.
" Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly,"
says Peter in his sermon on that occasion, " that God
hath made that same Jesus whom yc crucified both Lord
and Christ — he hath shed forth this which you now see
and hear. Now when they heard this, they were
pricked in their heart, and cried — ' Men and brethren,
what shall we do?' "

And the very next sermon of Peter hangs upon the
same bitter truth of conviction. " Ye denied the Holy
One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted
unto you, and killed the Prince of Life, whom God
hath raised from the dead, whereof we are witnesses."

And again, in the third sermon of the same apostle,
he hurls the same arrow. " For of a truth against thy
holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod
and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and thy people



BY THE CROSS. 127

Israel, were gathered together." — all orders and nations,
because all alike are sinners — " and now behold their
threatenings and grant unto thy servants that with all
boldness they may speak thy word." Whereupon tho
place is shaken again a third time. Under the first ser-
mon, three thousand souls have the thoughts of their
hearts revealed, and turn to seek salvation in Jesus
Christ. Under the second, the number is swelled to
five thousand. Under the third, the count ceases and
the number becomes a multitude — " the multitude of
them that believed."

So it was that Peter, in his preaching, charged home
upon his hearers everywhere the rejecting and denying
of Jesus the Saviour.

Paul too was traveling over all seas, and through all
lands, telling the story of his remarkable conversion —
how at first he disbelieved and hated the very name of
Jesus, how he was exceedingly mad against his follow-
ers, and went about dragging them to prison, till, at
last, on his way to Damascus, he was met by that word
of irresistible conviction, which had been so powerful
many times before — "I am Jesus whom thou perse-
cutest." O what depths were opened now in the perse-
cutor's heart ! All his bitter wrongs and fiery inflictions
flame back in that word — " I am Jesus whom thou per-
secutest!" showing him the madness that reigns within.
Thus begins the life in Christ of this great apostle — it-
self an illustration how sublime of the Saviour's thought I
*' Of sin because they believe not in me." But there is
a reason —



128 CONVICTION OF SIN

5. Back of this great fact, in the scheme of the gos-
pel, ill which it is grounded ; viz., that a very bad ac;
often brings out the show of a bad spirit within and
becomes, in that manner, a most appalling argument of
conviction. Hence the immense convincing power to
bo exerted on mankind through the crucifixion of Christ
"by his enemies. Even as a profligate, unfilial son, dis-
covers himself as he is, and receives the true impress-
ion, for the first time, of his own dire wickedness and
passion, when he looks upon the murdered form of his
father, and washes the stains of parricide from his hands.
In like manner Joseph's brethren, when he stood re-
vealed before them, as the brother whom they cruelly
sold, were struck dumb with guilt, and could not so
much as speak to ask his forgiveness. So also Herod,
haunted by the sense of his crime in the murder of
John, imagined, in the wild tumult of his guilty brain,
that Christ must be the prophet's ghost, returning to be
avenged of his wrong.

The death, or public execution of Socrates affords, in
some respects, a more striking illustration. His pure
morality of life, his sublime doctrine of virtue, the dis-
i^.redit reflected on the gods of his country, by his be-
lief in a supreme, all-perfect God and governor of the
world, worthy of a better worship, raised up enemies
and accusers, who indicted him as a corrupter of the
youth, and a denier of the gods of his country. The
people, artfully wrought upon, voted his death. Shortly
after, the dead teacher rose upon them mightier even
than the living, and a wave of conviction rolling back



BY THE CROSS. 129

upon their consciences, filled them with bitter distress
They voted his innocence; tliey acknowledged the pub-
lic misfortunes just then coming upon the stale to bo
judgments of heaven upon their crime; they put to
deaih Miletus his principal accuser, banished the oth-
er conspirators, and erected a brazen statue to his mem-
ory. So the Saviour says, " of sin because they believe
not on me;" only the reaction of his cross begins more
immediately and extends through all the coming ages
of time. No sooner is he dead, than all the multitude
present, not his accusers only and his executioners, but
the lookers-on, were pricked with heavy compunctions
of feeling, and went home smiting their breasts, for an-
guish they could not repress. And with better reason
than the}^ can distinctly know ; for it is the Holy one
and the Just, the Perfect Son of God, whom they have
seen put to death ; nay worse, who has not been permit-
ted even to die respectably, but has been publicly
stripped, gibbeted, exposed to shame, compelled to die
slowly, like a slave, nailed fast upon a cross. He had
come into the world on a mission of love from the
world above, a perfect character, clothed in the essential
glory of a divine nature, a being whom all the right-
eous spirits — angels, archangels, and seraphim — had
been wont to magnify and adore — such was the visitant
who lighted, for once, on the earth, and the race of man-
kind could not suffer him to live, tore him away in
their spite, from his acts of healing, and his gentle mer-
cies even to themselves, and thrust him out of the world.,
in mockeries that forgot even the appearance of dignity



130 CONVICTION OF SIN

I have spoken of this act, as the act of the human
race, and such, in some true sense, it was ; and as such
has been ringing ever since in the guilty conscience of
the race ; for it is, in fact, a proof by experiment, of
what is in all human hearts. Thus, if there should
come down from the upper sky some pure dove that
has his home in that pure element, and the birds of the
lower air should be heard screaming at all points, and
seen pitching upon the unwelcome visitant and striking
their beaks into his body, we should have no doubt of
8ome radical unlikeness, or repugnance, between the
creatures of the two elements. And this exactly is the
feeling that has been forced upon the world's guilty
mind, ever since, by the crucifixion of Jesus. It rolls
back on our thought in a kind of silent horror, that will
not always be repelled, that the manifested love of God;
impartial and broad as the world, a grace for every hu-
man creature, is yet gnashed upon by the world and
crucified. If we say that this act of crucifixion was
not ours, it certainly was not in the particular sense
intended, and yet in another and much deeper sense, it
was ; viz., in the sense that what it signifies was ours.
It was done by mankind, as Christ was a Saviour for
mankind, and we are men. It proves for one age all
that it proves for another ; proves for the lookers-on all
which it proves for the doers. In this manner it id
yours, it is mine. I think it quite certain, sometimes,
that I should have had no part it, and it may be that I
should not. But again I sometimes shudder privately
over the question, whether if such a being were to come



BY THE CROSS. 131

upon tlie earth now, in my own day, one so peculiar, so
little subject to the respectabilities and conventionali-
tiei^- of religion, doing such miracles, becoming an



Online LibraryHorace BushnellSelect works (Volume 1) → online text (page 8 of 29)