Master Sermon List
Conviction of Sin
by Arthur W. Pink
Conviction is an embryo of the new creature: if it come to a perfect birth, it brings forth salvation to your souls; if it fails, you are finally lost. It is of infinite moment, therefore, to everyone, to be tender of those convictions of conscience. It is true that conviction and conversion are two things: there may be conviction without conversion, though there cannot be conversion without conviction. The blossoms on the trees in the spring of the year cannot properly be called fruit, but are rather the rudiments of fruit, or something in order to fruit. If they open kindly and knit or set firmly, proper fruit follows them; but if blight or a frosty morning kill them, no fruit is to be expected. Thus it is here. Great care, therefore, ought to be taken about the preservation and success of convictions, both by the soul itself that is under them, and by all others who are concerned about them.
1. What care the soul itself should have on whom convictions are wrought. Beware, friends, how you quench them or hinder their operations, lest you hinder as much as in you lies, the formation of Christ in your souls. The life of your souls is bound up in the life of your convictions. I know it is hard for men to dwell with their own convictions: guilt and wrath are sad subjects for men's thoughts to dwell upon; but it is far better to dwell with the thoughts of sin and wrath here, than to lie under them in Hell forever. You may be freed from your convictions and your salvation together. Be not too eager for peace-a good trouble is better than a false peace. And on the other hand, beware that your convictions turn not into discouragements to faith: this will cross the proper intention of them; they are Christ's knockings for entrance, and were never intended to be bars or stumblingblocks, but steps in your way to Christ.
2. Let all that are concerned about convicted souls beware what counsels they give and what rules they prescribe, lest you destroy all in the bud. There are two errors too commonly committed: one is excess, persuading souls under trouble of conscience that there is no coming to Christ for them unless they are so and so prepared, humbled just to such a degree: this is dangerous counsel; it overheats the troubled conscience, and keeps the soul from its proper present duty and remedy. I am sure Paul and Silas took no such course with the convicted jailer (Acts 16:31), nor Peter with the three thousand wounded consciences (Acts 2:38). Nor do I find where God has stated the time and degree of spiritual troubles, so that there must be no approaches to Christ in the way of faith, until they have suffered them so long and to such a height. If they have embittered sin to the soul, and made it see the necessity of a Saviour, it cannot move too soon after Christ in the way of faith. Let no man set bounds where God sets none.
There is another error committed in defect: when promises and comfort are applied before the nature of faith is known, or one act of reliance put forth towards Christ. These hasty comforts come to nothing; they will not, they cannot stand. It is a dangerous thing to apply Gospel cordials, and pour out the precious ointments of the promises upon those who were never heart-sick for sin-address to such persons upon every slight trouble, which is but as an early dew, the peculiar consolations of penitent and believing souls. How many such empirics (quacks) are there in every place! Such as the prophet Jeremiah complains of, "They have healed also the hurt of My people slightly, saying Peace; when there is no peace" (6:14). Remember, that the foundation is now laying for eternity, and that this is the time of deep consideration; men must ponder the terms and count the cost, and deliberately accept and close this with Christ, before the consolations of the promises can properly be administered to them.
What a blessing is a rousing and faithful ministry among a people! By such a ministry Christ knocks powerfully, this is one of the greatest blessings God can bestow upon a people, when He sends among them powerful and judicious preachers of the Gospel, under whose ministry their conscience cannot sleep quietly. These are the instruments by which Christ knocks at men's hearts; and as for those who sew pillows for drowsy sinners, to sleep quietly upon (Eze. 3:8), the Lord owns them not as His: "Thy prophets have seen vain and foolish things for thee, and they have not discovered (exposed) thine iniquity" (Lam. 2:14). It is true that those ministers that give men no rest and quietness in their sins, must expect but little rest and quietness themselves. What is it for ministers to preach home to the consciences of others, but to pull down the rage of the world upon their own heads? But certainly you will have cause to bless God through eternity, for casting your lot under such a ministry; and the Lord accounts such a mercy sufficient to recompense any outward affliction that may lie heavy upon you.
3. "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness" (Rom. 1:18). Then let me exhort and persuade you by all the regard and love you have for your souls, by all the fears you have of incensed wrath of the great and terrible God, that you forthwith set your convictions at liberty, and loose all the Lord's prisoners that lie bound within you: "Because there is wrath, beware lest He take thee away with His stroke" (Job 36:18). O stifle the voice of conscience no more, slight not the softest whisper or least intimation of conscience; reverence and obey its voice.
1. Till you set free your convictions Satan will not let you go: he binds you, while you bind them. Here is the command of God and the command of Satan in competition. Let My truths go free, which thou holdest in unrighteousness, says Jehovah; bind and suppress them, says Satan, or they will deprive thee of the liberty and pleasures of thy life. While thou slightest the voice of God and conscience, dost thou not avowedly declare thyself the bondslave of Satan? "Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom you obey?" (Rom. 6:16). Dare not to take one step further in the way of known sin, says conscience; continue not at thy peril in such a dangerous state, after I have so clearly convinced and warned thee of it. Fear not, says Satan, if it be ill with thee, it will be with millions. Now, I say, thy obedience to Satan's commands declares thee, all this while, to be a poor enslaved captive to him, acted on and carried according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit now worketh in the children of disobedience.
2. Until you obey your convictions, you are confederates with Satan in a desperate plot against your own souls; you join with Christ's great and avowed enemy to dishonour Him. Two things make you confederates with Satan against your own souls. First, your consent to this project for your damnation; for so your own conscience out of Scripture informs you it is: consent makes you a party. Second, your concealment of this plot brings you in as a party with him. Confess thy sin and bewail it, says conscience: not so, says pride and shame; how shall I look men in the face if I do so? Do not you, in all this, believe Satan and make God a liar? Do not you act as men who hate their own souls and love death? "But he that sinneth against Me wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate Me love death" (Prov. 8:36). O it is a dreadful thing for men to be accessory to their own eternal ruin, and that after fair warning and notice given them by their own conscience. Satan, be his power what it will, cannot destroy you without your own consent.
3. While you go on stifling convictions and turning away your ears from calls to righteousness, you cannot be pardoned; you are yet in your sins, and the guilt of them lies at your door. You see what the terms of remission are: "Let the wicked forsake his ways, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon" (Isa. 55:7). And again, "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy" (Prov. 28:13). You see by these, and many more plain Scripture testimonies, that there can be no hope of remission, while you go on in the path of rebellion, concealing, yea, and persisting in known wickedness. There is a necessary and inseparable connection between repentance and remission: "Him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins" (Acts 5:31); "That repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name" (Luke 24:47).
4. You can never have peace of conscience while you keep convictions prisoners. A man's conscience is his best friend or his worst enemy; thence are the sweetest comforts, and thence are the bitterest sorrows. It is a dreadful thing for a man to lie with a cold sweating horror upon his panting bosom. And this, or which is worse, obduracy and stupidity must be the case of them who hold the truth in unrighteousness. As Israel could have no peace till Achan was destroyed, so thou shalt have no peace while thy sin is covered and hid. Deliver up thyself, if thou lovest peace, into the hand of thy own convictions, and then thou art in the true way to peace.
Do not some of you stand convicted by your own consciences this day, that your hearts and practices are vastly different from those of the true people of God among whom you live, and whose character you read in Scripture? Do not your consciences tell you, that you never took the pains for your salvation which you see them take; that there are some in your families, nay, possibly in your bosoms, who are serious and holy while you are vain and earthly-who are on their knees wrestling with God, while you are about the things of the world? And does not your conscience sometimes whisper thus into thine ear: Soul, thou art not right, something is wanting, to make thee a Christian.
If it be so, let me advise thee to hearken diligently to that voice of conscience; do not venture to the judgment seat of God in such a case. Ponder that verse, "For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him" (Matt. 21:32). Let the disparity your conscience shows you between your own course and that of others, awaken you to more diligence and seriousness about your own salvation. How canst thou come from thy vain recreations, and find a wife or child in prayer, and thy conscience not smite thee? It may be they have been mourning for thy sins, whilst thou hast been committing them.
1. Fail not to put every conviction into speedy execution. Do not delay; it is a critical hour, and delays are exceedingly hazardous. Convictions are fixed and secured in men's souls four ways.
First, by deep and serious consideration: "I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto Thy testimonies" (Psa. 119:59).
Second, by earnest prayer: thus Saul, after his first convictions, fell on his knees: "Behold, he prayeth" (Acts 9:11). The breath of prayer forments and nourishes the sparks of conviction, that they be not extinct.
Third, by diligent attendance on the Word. The Word begets conviction, and the Word can, through God's blessing, preserve it.
Fourth, by performing, without delay, the duty thou are commanded of: "For if any be a hearer of the Word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straight-way forgetteth what manner of man he was" (James 1:23, 24).
Take the sense thus: a man looks into the glass in the morning, and perhaps he sees a spot on his face, or a disorder in his hair or clothes, and thinks within himself, I will rectify it; but being gone from the place, one thing or other diverts his mind, he forgets what he saw, and goes all the day with a spot on his face, never thinking of it more. O brethren, delays are dangerous, sin is deceitful (Heb. 3:13), Satan is subtle (2 Cor. 11:3), and in this way he gains his point. This motto may be written on the tomb of most that perish, "Herein lies one that was destroyed by delays."
Your life is uncertain, so are the strivings of the Spirit. Besides there is a mighty advantage in the first impulse of the soul. When thy heart is once up in warm affections and resolutions, the work may be easily done, see 2 Chronicles 29:36, for what advantage there is in a present warm frame. Besides, the nature of these things is too serious and weighty to be postponed and delayed. You cannot get out of the danger of Hell, or into Christ, too soon. Moreover, every repetition of sin after conviction greatly aggravates it. For it is in sinning as in numbering: if the first be one, the second is ten, the third a hundred. You can never have a fitter season than the present.
2. If you would be clear from this great wickedness of holding the truth in unrighteousness, see that you reverence the voice and authority of your conscience, and resolve with Job, "My heart shall not reproach me so long as I live" (27:6). There are two considerations fitted to beget reverence to the voice of conscience.
(a) Conscience obeyed and kept pure and inviolate is thy best friend on earth. "For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience" (2 Cor. 1:12). What comforted Hezekiah on his supposed deathbed, but the testimony his conscience gave of his integrity?-"I beseech Thee, O Lord, remember now how I have walked before Thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done good in Thy sight" (2 Kings 20:3). Solomon says, "The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways, and a good man shall be satisfied from himself" (Prov. 14:14). Mark the opposition: conscience gives the backslider a heart full of sorrow, while the heart of the upright man is full of peace. He is satisfied from himself; that is, from his own conscience, which though it be not the original spring, yet is the conduct at which he drinks peace, joy, and satisfaction.
(b) Conscience wounded and abused will be our worst enemy: "The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit, who can bear?" (Prov. 18:14). Could Judas bear it? What is the torment of Hell, but the worm that dies not; and what is the worm, but the remorse of conscience?-"Where their worm dieth not, and (in addition A.W.P.) the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:44). The primitive Christians would rather be cast to the lions than into the power of an enraged conscience. O if men did but fear and reverence their own consciences; if they exercised themselves to have always a conscience void of offence, as Paul did, (Acts 24:16), then would they be clear of this great sin of holding the truth in unrighteousness.
3. If you would escape the guilt and danger of holding God's truth in unrighteousness, keep your hearts under the awful sense of the Day of Judgment, when every secret thing will be brought to light, and conscience like a register-book will be opened and examined. The due consideration of that Day gives the conscience a sevenfold defense against sin.
First, it incites every man to get real, solid grace, and not rest in an empty profession; and this secures us from formal hypocrisy, that we should not be found foolish virgins (Matt. 25:3).
Second, it excites us to the diligent improvement of our talents, that we be not found slothful servants, neglecting any duty to which God and conscience calls us (Matt. 25:21).
Third, it confirms and establishes us in the ways of God, that we wound not conscience by apostasy (1 John 2:28).
Fourth, it is a loud call to every man to repentance, and not to lie stupid and senseless under guilt (Acts 17:30, 31).
Fifth, it is a powerful antidote against formality in religion, the general and dangerous disease of professors (Matt. 7:22, 23).
Sixth, it excites holy fear and watchfulness in the whole course of life (1 Peter 1:17).
Seventh, it puts us not only on our watch, but on our knees in fervent prayer (1 Peter 4:7).-John Flavel, 1689.