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quired before that tribunal, whether a man has been honorable or whether he has been moral, than it will be asked whether he has been respectable or whether he has been fashionable. The great question there will be, Has he followed holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord?" To decide this question, the infinitely holy law will be produced; that law which says, "thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength, and thy neighbor as thyself." This will wake up thought in the sinner's bosom. He will at once compare with it his life—–his heart. His full conviction will then be, By this holy law I am damned for ever.
III. Another source of conviction in the day of judgment is the manifest preparation for the immediate execution of justice. When a judicial process is going on, if the criminal supposes that he may possibly escape punishment, or that a temporary respite at least will be granted, he finds a slight relief. The least hope of impunity enfeebles the convictions of a guilty mind, and the delay of punishment exerts, in some degree, a similar influence. But suppose his trial is to take place this hour, and his execution the next. Suppose, that while the criminal faces the court, and the testimony is condemning him, he sees before him the fatal block, and a grim executioner sitting upon it with his axe in his hand, waiting to do his office; do you not see that this prospect of the immediate execution of justice must tend strongly to fix his mind upon his guilt, and to give him a lively sense of ill-desert?
Precisely like this is the condition of the sinner before the bar of God. Mercy has been spurned before the judgment arrives. All hope of pardon is extinguished. Not the least respite is expected. The execution and conviction are simultaneous. "The Lord cometh with ten thousand of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly,"
Our Savior also represents himself as seated upon his throne, assembling the whole race before him and dividing them into two great classes, calling the one immediately to heaven, and commanding the other to depart at once into everlasting fire.
The sinner at the judgment bar, therefore, expects nothing else but the im mediate execution of justice. As he comes up near the gates of the New Jerusalem, and sees its glories, and hears its songs, and casts his eye oyer the shining hosts just entering upon its endless joys, he looks down also into the eternal prison. Its billows of fire rise before him: its filthy society is seen : its wailing and its blasphemy fall upon his ear, and all its unutterable torments rush upon his view. How can he possibly avoid the most perfect conviction of sin? Nothing can sustain him under such circumstances. He has no hope of impunity—no expectation of a respite. He sees that his "judgment lin gereth not and his damnation slumbereth not." His heart must sink under a full and overwhelming conviction of his guilt,
We have only to suppose the principles of the human mind to remain unchanged, and it is easy to see that the judgment will place the sinner in such circumstances, and exhibit such scenes, and hold forth such prospects, as must produce a full conviction of sin,
Sensual pleasures and earthly attachments cease to divert his mind from moral consideration. Scenes of the most solemn and impressive nature awaken his attention and fix it upon himself. A knowledge of the fact that his character must be disclosed, and his destiny settled for eternity, leads him to an impartial examination and an unbiassed decision. Every false standard of conduct is thrown aside, and the pure and simple law of God is produced as the rule upon which the judgment shall pass. Added to all this, the last call of mercy has been heard and spurned, and the execution of justice only waits for the sinner's doom to be pronounced.
Surely, when "the Lord cometh with ten thousand of his saints to execute judgment upon all," he will convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”—Thus the ungodly will be fully convicted in the day of judgment.
1. We learn from our subject, first, that conviction of sin is no evidence of conversion. A mere sense of guilt does not imply any thing like a filial grief for having offended, nor any desire for amendment. The wicked will experience a more full and perfect conviction at the day of judgment than any ever feel in this world, yet they will not be converted to God, but will remain his enemies for ever. Judas and Simon Magus were convicted of sin, but instead of being converted, their conviction was, like the convictions of the judgment, succeeded by the desperation of hell.
Very many of the most remarkable instances of apostacy at the present day have been preceded by deep convictions. There is a disposition in many to look back to distressing emotions, once felt in view of guilt, as an evidence of conversion to God. If their distress was great, and the relief which they experienced striking, they are satisfied that they have been born again and possess a title to eternal life. No reasoning can be more fallacious. Mere conviction furnishes no evidence of an humbled subdued temper.
If your religious principles and feelings do not possess such a vitality as to lead to an implicit obedience and to a living faith, and to a daily communion with God, no amount of conviction can furnish evidence of your good estate. Convictions which do not lead to a life of humble piety, are but premonitions of the judgment and foretastes of damnation.
2. The most pungent conviction does not necessarily lead to conversion.
If the ungodly will be convicted at the judgment, certainly there can be nothing morally good in conviction. We never count it meritorious in the murderer, that his conscience remonstrated loudly while he was plunging the knife into the bosom of his fellow-man; nor do we commend him for the remorse which follows the awful perpetration. On the contrary, we say, that such an one is more guilty, because the voice of God within him has remonstrated in vain. Neither can it be counted a virtue in the transgressor of God's law, that he is distressed and even overwhelmed with a sense of guilt. If he has not been reconciled to God through our Lord Jesus Christ, however deep his convictions, he stands as really in the attitude of a rebel against his Maker, as the convicted sinner at the judgment or in hell. There
is nothing, therefore, in conviction which can commend the sinner to God, and induce him to change his heart.
Indeed this distress could not exist for a moment under the gospel, if the sinner were not obstinately maintaining his opposition against God. Let him only yield to the gospel, and that distressing conviction would be exchanged for joyful hope. Let him only yield to the gospel, and that law which is now a ministration of death, would be delighted in as the rule of cheerful obedience. That gospel which at once promises life everlasting to those who embrace it, and denounces a double curse upon those who reject it, would become the theme of his glorying. The hard impenitent heart, which grew still harder under a discovery of its own vileness, would break and melt, and the soul would turn to God with confidence, crying, "Abba-Father."
But can a conviction which involves opposition to the gospel necessarily lead to the acceptance of it? It is true that conviction is important to sinners, as it is plainly impossible that they should be converted without it. A man cannot repent of sin while unconscious of guilt. But it by no means follows, that if he be convinced he will repent. Facts teach us abundantly that conviction of sin may be deep, distressing, and long-continued, and yet the soul may remain in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.
Look, then, convicted sinner, to your real condition. All your tears are unavailing-all your distress arises from sin which you will not forsake-all your trouble of mind arises from your unwillingness to go with an humble heart to your Savior, and accept his freely offered grace. Nurture that conviction to ever so great a degree, and it will by no means secure your preparation for heaven. It may rise to the agonies of death-yea, the terrors of hell may take hold of you, and still your conviction may be only an introduction to the convictions of the judgment. If then would make you salvation sure, your put no trust in your convictions. Repent and "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved."
3. Sinners may become convicted of sin if they desire it. Though conviction does not necessarily lead to conversion, it is nevertheless of great importance to the impenitent sinner. With it he may indeed be lost, but without it he can never be saved. He may be the subject of deep conviction for years, and neglect to repent, but without it repentance is impossible. Under this view of the importance of conviction, the impenitent often flatter themselves that they desire to be convinced of sin. But to show that this conviction may be attained, let me call your attention again to the condition of a condemned criminal. While he is pressing on in the career of crime, he drives the convictions of guilt from his bosom by mingling with dissipated company and filling his mind with other thoughts and other emotions. Think of him now that he has advanced another step in crime, and imbrued his hands in blood. The intoxicating cup, the merry company, the jovial song, and the loud laugh are resorted to, to drive from the mind all thoughts of guilt, and law, and justice.
But now the scene is changed. His songs of revelry are stopped by the arrest of an officer; the flow of sensual pleasure has ebbed away within the
solitary dungeon. You see him grow pale at the sight of well-known witnesses, and upright jurors, and an impartial judge. When he comes into court his loins are loosed, his knees smite together, and he is only just able to stammer out a plea of "not guilty.”
But what is the matter? Is it the fear of suffering? No: he has stood in the imminent deadly breach, and faced death without a shudder. What then is the matter? Why, his circumstances compel him to reflect. Things with which he was formerly engrossed are taken from him. The solemn trial, the violated law, and the prospect of the execution of justice awaken his attention, and fix it upon his character, and deprive him of every motive to estimate that character falsely. As his sentence is pronounced, he sinks under the sense of conscious guilt.
Yet that same criminal, before he was arrested, perhaps felt no more conviction than the most thoughtless sinner does for his sins against God. Other objects diverted his mind; the law had little place in his thoughts; and the hope of impunity stayed up his soul. But could not he have felt the pangs of conviction? Might he not have brought voluntarily all those considerations to bear upon his mind which the court of justice has compelled him to think upon? Every one must see that he might, and that he ought to have felt a sense of his guilt.
Just so may sinners, before they are arrested for the judgment, bring the very truths to bear upon their minds which that day will compel them to dwell upon. Indeed they may do this at any period. They may now voluntarily lay aside those engrossing cares and interests by which their minds are perpetually diverted from the consideration of their guilt. They may throw away their low standards of conduct, and compare their heart and life with the holy law of God. They may contemplate the awful penalty of that law. They may dwell upon the provisions of mercy and the aggravated doom of those who despise it. In short, they may resort to the Scriptures, and bring upon their character such a flood of light, that they cannot help discovering their guilt.
It is the greatest folly imaginable for men to pretend, that they want conviction, but cannot obtain it. The truth is precisely the reverse. The Gospel presses upon their minds considerations which would overwhelm them, if they would only reflect.
Indeed, the criminal never resorted to his merry companions and his song of mirth more surely to drown the admonitions of conscience, than the impenitent sinner does to his worldly associations and interests to stifle the conviction of sin against God. Instead of seeking for conviction without finding it, " he loves darkness rather than light because his deeds are evil; for every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light lest his deeds should be reproved."
4. We learn from this subject, that the character of God will appear glorious in the final condemnation of the wicked. Should an eminent lawgiver arise among men, and frame a system of criminal jurisprudence which should render absolutely certain the detection and the punishment of every crime; and
should this system be adopted all over the world, and its operation secure the approbation of every friend of good order, such a man would be looked upon as a great benefactor of the human race. Every detection and every punishment of crime would reflect honor upon that lawgiver. But suppose, now, that he has not only secured the detection and punishment of every crime, but the operation of his law is such, that every criminal becomes convicted of his own guilt, and bears his dying testimony in favor of the law under which he suffers. Do you not see that this universal moral approbation, this hearty consent of the good, and this full concession of the wicked, reflect honor on the character of that lawgiver?
But just such a lawgiver is God. He has introduced a system which secures the detection and punishment of every unreclaimed offender. The principles of this system commend it at once to all holy beings; its operation produces a full conviction in the minds of sinners. While heaven breaks forth in a song of admiration on discovering the perfect vindication of the divine character in the execution of justice; while ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands of voices swell the anthem of "salvation, and glory, and honor, and power unto the Lord our God, for true and righteous are his judgments," hell responds by its deep, eternal wail, and its loud laments, "The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good." While all heaven shouts "Alleluia," hell responds "Amen." All the holy see the justice of God, and all the wicked feel it. As often as the one look down, and see the justice of God, and shout "Alleluia," the groans of the other, as a responsive "Amen," are borne upward upon the smoke of their torment. O, what an unspeakable lustre will be thrown over the divine character when the whole universe, righteous and wicked, friends and enemies, shall consent together in bearing testimony to the wisdom and goodness of God in the vindication of his law.
How much better is it, dying sinner, that you should see your guilt and repent, before you are compelled to stand before the bar of God. Then conviction will be unavoidable. The soul-stirring scenes of that day will awaken the most careless. The law of God will be exhibited in its simplicity. It will make its resistless appeal to your conscience, and its tremendous penalty, just ready to fall upon your head, will awaken your mind to the enormity of your guilt. But then, alas, conviction will do no good. It will only be as the commencement of the pangs of death eternal. The time is drawing near. "Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousand of his saints to execute judgment, and to convince all that are ungodly." O what a throng! Are you among them? Their faces gather paleness-they are speechless-conviction -conviction, deep, despairing, and eternal-seizes upon their souls, and they are damned for ever. O sinner, would you now turn, your fainting soul might look up to Christ and live. Though covered with shame, you might accept a pardon, and be adopted into the family of God. Think now. Take a full view of yourself as a sinner against God, a transgressor of his law, and a despiser of his mercy. Come, come to the refuge provided for the guilty.