Great Texts of the Bible
The Spirit and the World
And he, when he is come, will convict the world in respect of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness, because I go to the Father, and ye behold me no more; of judgment, because the prince of this world hath been judged.—John 16:8-11.
1. Sin, righteousness, judgment, are three of the greatest terms in the vocabulary of men. And they stand for tremendous spiritual realities by which our state is conditioned and our destiny determined. The words that stand for these realities are to be found in all languages; and in some languages (and particularly in the language of the New Testament) the terms are characterized by intellectual precision and beauty. Yet in the time of Christ they had come to stand for lost ideas. The terms were there, but the meaning had faded out of them. They had been lowered and belittled; they had suffered deterioration generation after generation; they had received into themselves foreign and alien significations by which their meaning had been still more obscured and perverted; and though they were still in the speech they failed to convey to the understanding and to the conscience of men the tremendous realities for which they stood. And nothing could have arrested the decline of these terms; nothing could have prevented their gravitating into the region of dead speech, speech from which true vitality had gone; nothing could have prevented that consummated deterioration but the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and the mission of the Holy Ghost. It was by Christ that sin was reproved and righteousness revealed and judgment assured; and it is by the Holy Ghost that sin, righteousness, and judgment are continually revealed, attested, and brought home to the hearts and consciences of men.
2. Did Jesus Christ, then, come to give the world a new thought about sin? Did He come to reveal to men a different pattern of righteousness? Did He come to say a new thing concerning judgment? No. It is remarkable that Jesus said very little that was new. Every truth He uttered we may find in the Old Covenant; but He picked up the truths that were partially seen and imperfectly understood, shrouded in the mists and mysteries of man’s finite conception. He put them into simplicity, into plainness, into proportion and perspective, and He gave us a fair and perfect temple of truth. This is what He has done for the race concerning these three great thoughts which break in upon a man when he is awakening to spiritual being. The message of Christianity to the world is this: that sin has now a new centre, righteousness a new possibility, and that judgment is wholly altered by this new sin centre and this new possibility of righteousness: “of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness, because I go to the Father.”
3. Let us take the three together before we examine them singly.
(1) To know what sin is we must know what righteousness is. To be quite sure of righteousness, we must be sure how it will stand at the end in relation to sin. It must stand over sin, and judge it, and destroy it. Judgment is not primarily punishment, nor is it a mere declaration of the state of the law, but it is the actual final establishment of righteousness upon the wreck of sin. The stroke of sin upon sanctity can only evoke judgment, which by the grace of Christ becomes salvation. In the world it is sin that judges righteousness, and does with it what it will. In the Kingdom of God it is righteousness that judges sin, and does with it the will of God—it destroys it.
(2) With the awakening of the spiritual consciousness in man there always comes a threefold conviction, conviction concerning sin, concerning righteousness, and concerning judgment. When the earliest consciousness of a man’s spiritual nature breaks in upon him, the three facts that he faces, immediately and necessarily, are those referred to in the text,—sin, righteousness, judgment,—and the consciousness concerning each is a double consciousness of the spiritual realm that lies beyond, and of his own personal relationship to that spiritual realm.
The words suggest to us the three moral ingredients of healthy public opinion in a Christian country. Every society, every nation, has its public opinion, its common stock of hopes, fears, prejudices, likings, enthusiasms, repugnances, tastes, points of view,—the common stock to which all contribute something, and by which in turn all are influenced. The old-world cities, each of them had a public opinion of its own—Rome, and Athens, and Jerusalem; and now too, wherever men meet and exchange thoughts, and know themselves to be bound to each other by the ties of race, or of common interests, or of historical associations, there grows up inevitably a common fund of thoughts and phrases which may be barbarous or enlightened, as the case may be, but which is always influential. Like the smoke and vapours which hang visibly in the air over every large centre of human life, to which every hearth contributes something, and by which every window is more or less shaded, so in the world of public thought and feeling there is a like common product of all the minds which think and feel at all, which in turn influences more or less all the contributors to it. And what I am now insisting upon is, that this inevitable product and accompaniment of human society,—public opinion,—if it is Christian, must contain a recognition of the three solemn facts—sin, righteousness, judgment.1 [Note: H. P. Liddon, Sermons on Some Words of Christ, 351.]
“He will convict the world in respect of sin.” Now the world as such knows nothing of sin; and yet it is the root of all that from which it suffers. It is the root, it is the explanation of all the numberless forms of damage and deterioration that human character suffers. Sin is the source whence all the ills of human life and human society arise. Many terms are needed to describe the manifestations or results of sin. The world is well aware, for example, of defects of human character, and it can describe them in detail. It says of a man that he is unjust, or that he is cruel, or proud, or sensual, or covetous; and yet these are but minor terms to specify this or the other manifestation of a deep, central, fundamental evil of the world, the very existence of which, as a fundamental evil, the world has never understood. It is very touching and very pathetic to observe that while the world had large, immense experience of sin it had little or no sense of sin.
Mr. Gladstone once spoke of the absence of the sense of sin as perhaps the greatest peril of modern society. And I think it is not too much to say that, apart from the person of Christ and the mission of the Holy Ghost, we not only have no guarantee that the sense of sin would be maintained, but we have every reason to believe that it would again die out; and that while men would be irritated and angered by this and the other evil and wrong in society, their conscience concerning the mystic and root evil would as before show itself utterly inadequate to the exigencies of the case.1 [Note: F. W. Macdonald.]
1. The world must be convinced of sin. Let us take 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 crisis of excited fear, technically prescribed as a matter to be suffered in the way of conversion, we cannot 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 obtained by philosophic reflection, but a more certain, more immediate sensing of ourselves by consciousness; just the same as that which the criminal has, when he hides 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.
(1) It is not easy to convince men of sin.—Confucius is said to have once exclaimed, in an outburst of despondency, “It is all over! I have not yet seen one who could perceive his fault and inwardly accuse himself.” Confucius is not alone in that verdict upon human nature. The lament is suggestive. It implies the enormous difficulty of bringing an average man to admit his fault. It implies also that, with his many virtues and excellences, Confucius did not achieve a character of such ideal perfection that his contemporaries felt themselves smitten with shame by his transcendent example. And it implies that the common conscience needs to be reinforced with supernatural influence and vitality before it can assert itself and compel confession and repentance.
A friend told me this tale, a few years ago, as we paced together the deck of a steamship on the Mediterranean, and talked of the things unseen. The chaplain of a prison, intimate with the narrator, had to deal with a man condemned to death. He found the man anxious, as he well might be—nay, he seemed more than anxious; convicted, spiritually alarmed. The chaplain’s instructions all bore upon the power of the Redeemer to save to the uttermost; and it seemed as if the message were received, and the man were a believer. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the chaplain had come to think that there was ground for appeal from the death-sentence; he placed the matter before the proper authorities, and with success. On his next visit, very cautiously and by way of mere suggestions and surmises, he led the apparently resigned criminal towards the possibility of a commutation. What would he say, how would his repentance stand, if his life were granted him? The answer soon came. Instantly the prisoner divined the position; asked a few decisive questions; then threw his Bible across the cell, and, civilly thanking the chaplain for his attentions, told him that he had no further need of him, nor of his Book.1 [Note: Bishop Moule, From Sunday to Sunday, 190.]
(2) Conviction of sin is necessary.—“He shall convince the world of sin.” The first outstanding characteristic of the whole Gospel message is the new gravity which it attaches to the fact of sin, the deeper meaning which it gives to the word, and the larger scope which it shows its blighting influences to have had in humanity. Apart from the conviction of sin by the Spirit using the Word proclaimed by disciples, the world has scarcely a notion of what sin is, its inwardness, its universality, the awfulness of it as a fact affecting man’s whole being and all his relations to God. All these conceptions are especially the product of Christian truth. Without it, what does the world know about the poison of sin? And what does it care about the poison until the conviction has been driven home to the reluctant consciousness of mankind by the Spirit wielding the Word? This conviction comes first in the Divine order.
I do not say that the process of turning a man of the world into a member of Christ’s Church always begins, as a matter of fact, with the conviction of sin. I believe it most generally does; but without insisting upon a pedantic adherence to a sequence, and without saying a word about the depth and intensity of such a conviction, I am ready to assert that a Christianity which is not based upon the conviction of sin is an impotent Christianity, and will be of very little use to the men who profess it, and have no power to propagate itself in the world.1 [Note: A. Maclaren, The Holy of Holies, 274.]
I remember seeing, in my early childhood, the dear and beautiful subject of the following incident, the aged widow of a farmer in my father’s parish. My mother took me to visit Mrs. E. one day in her farm-kitchen. It was, I think, in 1849. I still see the brightness, the sweet radiance, of that venerable face; it shone, as I now know, with Jesus Christ. At the age of about eighty-one, after a life of blameless kindliness, so that to say she had “never done harm to any one” was from her no unmeaning utterance, she was, through the Holy Scriptures, convinced of sin. “I have lived eighty years in the world,” was her cry, “and never done anything for God.” Deep went the Divine work in the still active nature, and long was the spiritual darkness. Then “the word of the Cross” found its own way in her soul, and “believing, she rejoiced with joy unspeakable.” Three or four years of life were yet given her. They were illuminated by faith, hope, and love in a wonderful degree. To every visitor she bore witness of her Lord. Nights, wakeful with pain, were spent in living over the beloved scenes of His earthly ministry: “I was at the well of Samaria last night”; “Ah, I was all last night upon Mount Calvary.” In extreme suffering an opiate was offered, and she declined it; for “when I lose the pain I lose the thought of my Saviour too.” At last she slept in the Lord, gently murmuring, almost singing, “Rock of Ages,” with her latest breath.2 [Note: Bishop Moule, From Sunday to Sunday, 191.]
2. The sin of which the world has to be convinced is the sin of unbelief. The Spirit convinces men of sin “because they believe not on me.” He shows them that unbelief is sin. It is the root of sin. The greatest sin that men can commit is the rejection of Christ. The message of the Gospel is so framed that no apology shall be able to extenuate the act of refusing it. Men shall never say that it is too hard to be understood; for its sublimest revelations have in them a simplicity that makes them intelligible even to illiterate persons, and appreciated by children. They shall never say that the doctrines of the Gospel are unreasonable; for the light which it throws upon intricate social problems, the complete and unanswerable replies that it gives to questions unsettled before, the plain and sober goodness and the eminent reasonableness that lie at the root of its laws, all of which qualities men can understand, shall prove to them that they ought to accept those supernatural features which are beyond their comprehension. They shall never say that its purpose is unnecessary; their own hearts and life shall tell them, and the condition of the world around shall cry aloud in their ears, that sin is an unconquerable power; that the sources of crime, disorder, and social debility are as prevailing as they are pestilent; that no remedy of human preparation has ever succeeded in effectually checking them; and that it is the business of all men, unitedly, personally, and constantly, to endeavour to remove them; when, therefore, the Gospel of Jesus presents itself to a despairing world as another hope of deliverance, a last hope, men shall never be able to object to it as unnecessary. Finally, they shall not decline to accept it because it can point to no witnesses or examples of its power. These shall always be at hand, comprising a mighty and ever-accumulating argument, a vast “cloud of witnesses,” spreading themselves over the world, not like distinct and eccentric meteors to dazzle and perplex, but like a dawn coming from that quarter of the horizon where men expect the day—a mild, genial, useful glory, the luminous ordinance of God Himself. So convincing did the Holy Ghost make the Gospel, and does still make it, defending it by every proof that can tell upon the convictions of men. Wherever Christ is preached, hearers shall be condemned because they believe not on Him. Possibly they may not be convinced, certainly they shall be convicted.
Men say they understand that cruelty, treachery, and lust bring their punishment sooner or later. But what they cannot understand is that the mere fact of refusing to believe is the sin of sins. A typical writer of the period says: “Science is but a new way of applying the mind to everything. It has affirmed the right and duty of investigation and verification. It has set up a new kind of intellectual morality, which has substituted the duty of inquiry for the duty of belief. The immediate result has been in England a sudden and amazing diminution of intolerance, a wonderful and wholly unexpected increase of mental freedom.” In other words, conscience may speak about other sin, but in the case of unbelief the thing forbidden does not appear to be in its own nature wrong, and “Don Worm” refuses to bite.
The appeal must be to what is elemental in human nature and experience. Content to be judged by that appeal, we maintain that the conscience bears witness that unbelief is the sin of sins. If ever conscience speaks out it is when this sin is committed on the levels of human life. As Bunyan puts it, they shut up Mr. Conscience, they blind his windows, they barricade his door, they cut the rope of the great bell on the housetop which he is wont to ring, that the town of Mansoul may not be disturbed. But sometimes Mr. Conscience escapes and rings his bell. For the sin of all sins to which the conscience bears witness is the sin of mistrusting and despising love. There is so little love in this world, and there is such a hard need of it. Multitudes have to go through life famished for lack of love. Even the most favoured have very few really to love them. If we have no love, human or Divine, then indeed life ceases to be worth living. “I would rather,” said one, “be condemned to be led out and hung if I knew one human soul would love me for a week beforehand and honour me afterwards, than live half a century and be nothing to any living creature.”1 [Note: W. Robertson Nicoll, Sunday Evening, 21.]
3. Unbelief is always seen at last to be want of belief in Christ. The Spirit, says Jesus, will convince the world of sin, “in that they believe not on me.” He will show the real nature of sin. “How shall we work the works of God?” it was asked; and it was answered by Christ, “This is the work of God, to believe on him whom he hath sent.” Sin is not measured by a law, or a nation, or a society of any kind, but by a Person. The righteousness of God was not in a requirement, system, book, or Church, but in a Person, and sin is defined by relation to Him. He came to reveal not only God but sin. The essence of sin is exposed by the touchstone of His presence, by our attitude to Him. He makes explicit what the sinfulness of sin is; He even aggravates it. He rouses the worst as well as the best of human nature. There is nothing that human nature hates like holy God. All the world’s sin receives its sharpest expression when in contact with Christ; when, in face of His moral beauty, goodness, power, and claim, He is first ignored, then discarded, denounced, called the agent of Beelzebub, and hustled out of the world in the name of God.
What is the belief that saves? We are asking the question in order that we may discover the unbelief that is sin. The belief that saves is that conviction which produces the abandonment of the whole life to the King. When I have believed that He is able to do all that I want, and I have ceded to Him all my life, then have I believed. A man does not believe the truth he holds, to borrow a very popular phrase, but he believes the truth that holds him. You have never yet believed on Jesus until you have abandoned your whole life to His Lordship, and trusted your soul to His Saviourhood, and never a man so believed but He “broke the power of cancelled sin, and set the prisoner free.”1 [Note: G. Campbell Morgan.]
4. What means does the Holy Spirit use in order to convince the world of the sin of unbelief in Christ?
(1) He puts an environment of new ideals before the mind.—He testifies of Christ, and in so doing makes us see how in His humanity all Divine excellences have come down into the midst of men and made themselves a new law to the conscience. We are not, after all, in a universe dominated by avarice, envy, falsehood, animalism, but by unselfishness, sanctity, truth, spiritual principle.
Some little time ago I was passing through a country lane, and saw a flock of sheep feeding on the hillside. They seemed to be milk-white, justifying the Scriptural metaphor, “He scattereth the hoarfrost like wool,” and fit to be welcomed as pets into a drawing-room. In comparison with the green pastures in which they were feeding, their fleeces seemed bleached into spotlessness. Not long after, a snowstorm came, and I had occasion to pass by the same field. But the sheep did not seem to be the same creatures at all. The background had changed as if by magic, and they were in a new world, the conditions of which served to bring out their griminess. They looked speckled, dingy, piebald, and anything but clean in comparison with the glittering snows in which they were nestling. The collier, rising out of the pit into the sunshine after a night of toil, scarcely looked grimier than those spotless sheep of yesterday. The stainless and dazzling snow served to bring into view all the dust from the roadside, all the bits of blackthorn from the hedges, all the carbon flakes ejected from the chimneys of the adjoining town that had been caught in their fleeces.1 [Note: T. G. Selby, The Holy Spirit and Christian Privilege, 53.]
(2) The Spirit comes with a new atmosphere of sympathy and graciousness, unlike that which exists in the world and provokes to ingenuous self-justification. He who comes under this ministry feels almost instinctively His right to search the heart and bring every delinquency before a Divine tribunal. It is useless to attempt concealment, for the Spirit knows us more thoroughly than we know ourselves, and can constrain the most reluctant natures into a consciousness of their own evil. Indeed, the desire to cloak or dissemble silently disappears, for we instinctively recognize that His revelations, however unwelcome, are benevolent in motive. Whilst the full revelation of Divine love cannot be vouchsafed at this stage, we see at once that the attempt to convict us is not that of some competitor who is trying to smite us down. He acts upon us, not like the angry storm which leads men to bar their doors and close their shutters, but like the soft south wind, which opens every labyrinth of the heart and life to the light. It is no treachery or ill-will or unrelenting antagonism that is bringing home to us the unwelcome facts of the past, but helping and healing beneficence. In the most vivid revival of the half-forgotten sin there is no malicious exaggeration. His enforcement of the fact of our guilt is recognized as a gentle and tender effort to teach us those forgotten realities of law with which we have to reckon, and to put us into a better position for dealing with them. Whatever pain He inflicts, it is inseparable from the cure of a dire disease, and from the process of arousing faculties marked hitherto by ominous numbness and dormancy. He brings the hard rebel world, ever on the alert to justify itself, into an atmosphere that is something more wonderful than even the essence of compassionate fatherhood.
(3) A new power of moral discernment is aroused.—In what is called Christendom, there has been a manifest uplifting of the moral standards, and a correspondent quickening of the moral sensibilities, both of individual men and of whole races and peoples. In the people of the old dispensation and of the great pagan empires long ago converted to the Cross, moral ideas have now taken the place, to a great extent, of force; the coarse blank apathy of sin is broken up; the sense of duty is more piercing; and it is even as if a new conscience had been given respecting the soul in its relations to God. It is as if men had seen their state of sin glassed before them, and made visible in the rejection of Christ and His cross. Jews and pagans had before been made conscious at times of particular sins; we are made conscious, in a deeper and more appalling way, of the state of sin itself, the damning evil that infects our humanity at the root—that which rejected and crucified the Son of God, and is in fact the general madness and lost condition of the race.
Immediately after the departure of Christ from the world, that is, on the day of Pentecost, there broke out a new demonstration of sensibility to sin, such as was never before seen. In the days of the Law, men had their visitations of guilt and remorse, respecting this or that wrong act; but I do not recollect, even under the prophets, those great preachers of the Law and sharpest and most terrible sifters of transgression, a single instance where a soul is so broken or distressed by the conviction of its own bad state under sin as to ask what it must do to be saved—the very thing which many thousands did, on the day of Pentecost, and in the weeks that followed, and have been doing even till now.1 [Note: Horace Bushnell, Christ and His Salvation, 115.]
“He will convict the world in respect of righteousness.” The Gospel of the Son of God is not the Gospel of forgiveness merely. It is also the Gospel of life and power, a great message, declaring that to the man who believes on Him, the living Lord, there comes new life-force, a new dynamic of virtue; and therefore the sin that ruins is the sin of unbelief. Merging into that first statement is necessarily the second statement of the text. “Of righteousness,” said Jesus, “because I go to the Father.” Who else could have uttered these words? If we can say that we shall go to the Father, our going is through the merit and for the sake of another, but none introduced the Man of Nazareth to the Father. He asked no mercy; when He ascended on high He did not appear in Heaven’s court in virtue of what another had done, but stood unafraid in Heaven’s light, in the perfect light of His victorious manhood. He says, “I go to the Father,” and in His going to the Father He has vindicated the possibility of the perfection of righteousness as an ideal life. And yet He did infinitely more by going to the Father. He received that Spirit which, poured out, becomes the life-force for others.
1. The Spirit convinces the world of the existence of righteousness.—The world as a world has but dim and inadequate conceptions of what righteousness is. A Pharisee is its type, or a man that keeps a clean life in respect of great transgressions—a whited sepulchre of some sort or other. The world apart from Christ has but languid desires after even the poor righteousness that it understands, and the world apart from Christ is afflicted by a despairing scepticism as to the possibility of ever being righteous at all.
Those who know this earth only can make nothing of righteousness. They try various definitions of it, such as equality of exchange or of condition and what is good for the greater number; but these accounts, besides failing to satisfy the idea of justice, carry no constraining authority to the individual conscience. In the New Testament age, whilst there was a strong tradition amongst the Romans in favour of orderly administration, thinking men were at a loss how to understand justice or righteousness in itself, and the general mind was not dominated by any clear conception of its nature or its authority. What was justice? What was a just man? Why was any one bound to be just? To such questions no answer was found. Our Lord says, the Spirit will bring the world to the knowledge of righteousness, because I go to the Father, and ye behold Me no more.1 [Note: J. Ll. Davies, Spiritual Apprehension, 47.]
2. The Spirit convinces the world of the righteousness of Christ.—Jesus Christ, the Son of God, took on Him our flesh, and in the flesh condemned sin. Every thought, and word, and deed of His life was, in the highest sense, right. He lived amidst the ordinary surroundings of men, exposed to the same temptations, corruption, and weakness, a thoroughly Divine life, which could not fail to heighten the standard of the world. He was God manifest in the flesh. Of Him, alone, of all those born of woman, it could be said in the fullest meaning of the words: “He hath done all things well.” Here, then, was the world’s need supplied by the living Model of a perfectly holy life. But the world was by no means willing to receive and act upon the heaven-sent Light which penetrated its darkness. Just as a person long accustomed to the foul atmosphere of a dirty, unhealthy room, will resent with indignation any attempt to let in a breath of purifying air, so the degraded human race arose with one accord to reject the example of righteousness God had sent into their midst. This was the condemnation that light had come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. Jesus Christ never thought of Himself: their whole thoughts were centred on self. His heart was set on things above: theirs on the gratification of their own needs, desires, and pleasures. They were covetous and filled with worldliness: He had no earthly possessions, not even a place where to lay His head. They were proud and self-willed: He was meek and lowly, and His daily endeavour was to do His Father’s will. So, because it was clear that one or other of these standards must be wrong, it seemed an easier plan for mankind, instead of reforming its own habits, to determine that the Lord Jesus was an impostor.
Accordingly, they banded themselves together and agreed that He was blaspheming God when He declared that He was the Divine Life—that He, the friend of publicans and sinners, was indeed the Son of the Most High, the heaven-sent Pattern of eternal righteousness. On this pretext they condemned Him to death, and nailed Him to the Cross; and then, when they had laid a great stone at the mouth of the sepulchre, sealed it, and set a watch, they trusted His witness was silenced for ever. But God’s voice is not so easily silenced as sinful men desire. Jesus Christ was content to be led as a lamb to the slaughter because it was part of the eternal counsel that His blood must thus be shed for the sins of the world; but He declared most clearly, alike to friend and to foe, that His life was the only one with which God was well pleased. He set forth also most emphatically the test to which His words were to be subjected: “If I rise from the dead on the third day, and after showing unmistakable proofs of having been nailed to the cross, I ascend into heaven, then you must acknowledge that My record is true. If I thus go to My Father and you see Me no more, then you will be compelled to admit that I have spoken truth, that you have failed in convincing Me of sin, and that I am indeed the Holy One of God.”
The world that had slain Christ as unrighteous would own His righteousness when He had gone to the Father and they had seen Him no more. In all the literature of love and sorrow—and the two are never disjoined—we have this interpreted to us. It is in the withdrawal, in the departure to eternity, in the time of the lost vision that we know the righteousness we denied, or imperfectly recognized, when it was with us in its human dress. In Browning’s great poem he tells us how the murderer and ruffian husband, Guido, whose cruelty and malignity to the pure and trustful Pompilia passed all bounds, discerned her at last when she was with God. The procession entered his cell to lead him away to death, and he called out in an agony of fear—
Pompilia! Will you let them murder me?
Pompilia, the sweet child, saint, martyr, was, in the man’s thought, exalted even above God in the power to save. In all the paths of life, even the highest, the same holds true. The background of death is needed to bring out the full meaning and force of life. The highest we have known may indeed shine upon us through the semi-opaque routine of daily duties. But we feel as if we had never known them when they go to the Father, and the thought clutches the heart that we shall see them no more. One illustration is in every reader’s mind. Queen Victoria was loved and reverenced as perhaps no monarch ever was before her death, with a love and reverence that grew with time. But how infinitely the devotion of her people was enhanced when she went to the Father and they saw her no more! In what a new way the nation perceived how she had given them all her strength and tenderness through these long, brave, faithful, constant years!1 [Note: W. Robertson Nicoll, Sunday Evening, 208.]
3. The Spirit convinces the world that only in Christ is righteousness to be found.—There are three requisites which must be fulfilled before man, as a sinner, can feel the possibility of his righteousness. The sins of the past haunt and terrify him; they bind him with cords of fear and self-condemnation, which prevent his rising;—here, then, the sense of forgiveness is the first requisite. But the sense of sin awakens the sense of immortality, and clothes it with fear. He dare not look onward, for his sin has peopled the worlds of the future with terrors, and for his justification he needs a Deliverer who shall have explored the future worlds, and illuminated their mystery; here is the second requisite. But he needs yet more. It is not enough for the past to be forgiven, and the future brightened; he himself must possess the germ of a new, righteous, God-like life; he must be a new man, rising into that revealed immortality. These three necessities: the assurance of forgiveness of the past; the removal of the terrors of the future; the creation of a new manhood in the present, are all met by the truth that Christ has gone to the Father; and when that is revealed by the Comforter, we have the conviction of righteousness.
Newman, in a very remarkable passage, says of the saints that their lingering imperfections surely make us love them more without leading us to reverence them less, and act as a relief to the discouragement and despondency which may come over those who in the midst of error and sin are striving to imitate them. That is to say, if their lives were beautiful before God we do not ask that they should be stainless, for even the stains show us that we, too, though we fall, may rise again. But let us ask how it would have been if any speck had fallen on the life of our Lord Jesus? How would it have been with us if He had spoken one rash word, if He had cherished in His mind one single unjust thought, if one arrow of the enemy had pierced His armour? If that had been, the prince of this world would be still in power, and all our hope were dead. But He kept innocency and took heed to the thing that was right from the beginning to the end. Wherefore God hath highly exalted Him and given Him a Name which is above every name, even the saving Name. By His righteousness so dearly wrought out, we too may be made righteous. His righteousness is our beauty, our glorious dress, proof against the fires of the Last Day. We are redeemed by that voluntary substitution of the Innocent for the guilty with which the Father is well pleased.1 [Note: W. Robertson Nicoll, Sunday Evening, 214.]
(1) “Because I go to my Father.” What is the meaning of “because”? It is this: If He had not been right in the claims He made He could not have gone to the Father when He died. If He went to the Father, if His Spirit convinced men that He was there and was acting from there, then He had been right in the claims He made about His relations to the Father and about His judgment of the world, and especially of Israel’s sin. The apostolic fact of His resurrection was proof that Israel’s God confirmed the claim of Christ, and gave judgment for Him against Israel. That was what settled the matter for St. Paul. As soon as He was convinced that God had raised up Christ and set Him at His right hand in glory, the whole fabric of his Judaism gave way. God would not raise a fanatic, impostor, or blasphemer. The Spirit convinced St. Paul that Jesus was the Holy One and the Just—nay, the very Righteousness of God; that the sin of sins lay with the people who thought themselves the best of the good.
(2) “And ye see me no more.” We are often like His disciples among these deep mysteries—we cannot tell what He saith. And yet the Holy Spirit makes the meaning as clear as it can be made to mortals. We are to lose the earthly vision that we may gain the heavenly. We are to lose the vision after the flesh that we may win the vision after the Spirit. Even in the highways of earthly love this may be understood—the more excellent glory of the spiritual love. “Love,” says our greatest poet, “is not time’s fool,” and perhaps the finest love-line in our language was written by another poet, hardly less great, to his wife:—
To you who are seventy-seven.
“He will convict the world in respect of judgment.” We miss the note of judgment in our day. Our convictions do not start from a sense that we are convicted. We want to be convinced by evidence where we should be convicted by the Spirit. This is an element that has dropped out of our view of the Cross, and therefore out of much Christian life; Christ crucified, we think, took the pain of sin but not its penalty, its sorrow but not its curse. We have of late done justice to the idea of sacrifice in connexion with the Cross; but in the same proportion we have lost the idea of judgment. We have revived the ethical idea of the Kingdom of God, but we have not grasped the idea, which fills both Old Testament and New Testament, that it could be set up only by a decisive act of holy judgment upon the kingdom of the world. The Cross was indeed the Divine sacrifice, but sacrifice is not a final idea without judgment. It is not an end in itself,—except to the ascetics,—it is a means. But judgment is an end, it is final in its nature, because it is the actual vindication of holiness and the establishment of righteousness, and beyond holiness and its victory we cannot go.
1. He will convince the world that there is judgment in the earth.—It is evident that if by the enlightening operation of the Holy Spirit sin is known, and righteousness is known, the ground is then laid for judgment, because judgment is only the just, and proper, and true estimate of righteous men and wicked men. The Holy Spirit, therefore, convinces the world of judgment—that is to say, He brings out in prominent and living characters the whole idea of judgment; of there being a division in the world; of there being two kinds of people in the world, good and bad, righteous and wicked.
There stands up everywhere in Scripture the pillar of fire and of cloud, and it comes between the camp of Israel and the camp of the Egyptians, and gives light by night to the one, but cloud and darkness to the other. The Gospel is especially penetrated by this idea of judgment; it declares the enmity of the world to God, and distinguishes between the world and those who are not of the world; it separates the followers of Christ from the world; it announces that Christ will manifest Himself to His disciples and not unto the world. It says, “Woe unto the world because of offences”; it says that “we cannot serve two masters”; that we cannot have the treasure of our heart in earth and in heaven at the same time. Our Lord Jesus Christ is Himself described as the Judge who thus separates between the righteous and the wicked, who places the sheep on the right hand, and the goats on the left; “Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”1 [Note: J. B. Mozley, Sermons, Parochial and Occasional, 164.]
(1) Judgment is yet to come.—It is very hard on the lower planes of life to convince the world of judgment, to persuade men that there is an infallible reckoning for all transgression, that no sin can be permanently concealed, that in the end the hidden things of darkness will come to light, and will receive their just reward. It is hard to bring this home even in the case of offences that come within the province of criminal law. A man will commit a murder and believe that he will never be found out, that the blood will not speak. He will cover over the body with sand, not thinking that one day the skeleton arm will push itself through and appeal to the sky. And yet the vast majority of people have been so convinced of judgment in the realm of criminal law that they never put themselves within its reach. How are they convinced of judgment? There is only one way. They are convinced by the judgment of an actual transgressor, by the manifested sin of a criminal. People read in the newspapers day by day of the strange ways in which the dead are avenged, and they are convinced of judgment. And yet there is always an obstinate remnant that fixes its eyes on the crimes not yet expiated, and thinks that it may sin and escape.
(2) Judgment is now.—It is evident that Christ referred to a judgment that had then and there commenced, for the words have a present meaning. “The prince of this world has been judged.” We can most easily understand this by referring to a precisely similar utterance in the 31st verse of the 12th chapter: “Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the prince of this world be cast out.” The Saviour had just declared that by His death He should give life to the world. He had just glanced into the awful struggle that was approaching, and His soul was troubled. He had just received from heaven the assurance of final victory, and then He declared, with the glory of the triumph already brightening, “Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the prince of this world be cast out.” The judgment, therefore, to which He pointed was that conquest which He had already commenced of the dominion of evil, and the final victory over it which He should gain on His Cross. And the same meaning must be attached to the word “world” here, so that the verse may be rendered thus: “He shall convince the world that evil is conquered, overthrown, and shall finally pass away.”
“The last judgment” is a phrase which we have almost robbed of its effect because we have used it chiefly for a remote and pictorial future. We have dwelt on the final date of judgment, and lost sense of a state of judgment, a judgment always there, and always final in its nature. We have pictured it in ways which have emptied it of spiritual awe, and reduced it to little more than physical terror and moral impotence. We do not realize that the prince of this world has been finally judged, and that we live in a saved world only because we live in a judged world. Either with the orthodox we have made judgment a cosmic catastrophe (and astronomy is full of them, and geology has made them too familiar), or we have reduced it, with the liberals, to the historic process on its ethical side, with its moral crises, and jail-deliveries, and fresh starts, from time to time. We have lost the note of judgment from the Cross, and so from our moral world. And we have lost it, with the orthodox, in a distant judgment scene, or with the liberals, who made it the mere Nemesis of history, which is too slow and subtle to curb the pushing hour. “The world’s history is the world’s judgment,” says Schiller. He wished to recall the last judgment from its remoteness to be a power in the heart of present things and living conduct. But there is something more true than Schiller’s famous phrase. It is not the world’s history, but Christ’s history that is the world’s judgment. And especially is it Christ’s Cross.1 [Note: P. T. Forsyth, Missions in State and Church, 72.]
2. “Because the prince of this world hath been judged.” Who is the prince of this world? The phrase “this world” is frequently used in the New Testament to express the collective forces that are on this earth opposed to God; and in speaking of a Prince, Christ manifestly implies that evil forces are not separated, but combined and connected things; that they form a great living power, a kingdom of wrong. But the phrase means more than this; it points to a personal Evil Spirit as lord of that evil kingdom. Not in the sense that he is the cause of it all, but that he is representative of it, as being the greatest and the first. According to the teaching of Christ and the Apostles, evil began far back in the spiritual world, and came from thence to man. Interpreting the phrase thus, we have the idea of evil as a power mysteriously connected with the invisible world, and of an Evil Spirit as its representative.
Do you think of the prince of this world as one who holds in his tyranny a world of victims who are miserable because they struggle in his yoke? That is not the conception here at all. He represents here all that is most congenial to the world’s way. He is the personalized spirit of a willing and admiring world. He is the organ of a world proud of its representative. He has its confidence. He is the agent of methods which the world thinks essential to its prosperity and stability, which make its notion of eternal life. The world he represents has no idea that its moral methods can be bettered or its principles overthrown. To its mind the moral is an impertinence and the spiritual is a superstition—feeble, but capable of becoming dangerous. It must therefore be fought. And its antagonist is just as sensible of the antagonism. There is no compromise possible. They were destined to meet in a struggle which is inevitable and a judgment which is final—and that meeting was in the Cross.1 [Note: P. T. Forsyth, Missions in State and Church, 71.]
(1) The Spirit will convince the world that the prince of this world has been judged by showing that Christ has conquered sin through obedience to the will of God. And where was this so perfectly accomplished as in His life and death? All forces were in action to turn Him from submission. From first to last He was perpetually tempted to forsake Him chosen path of obedience. The cold, the hunger, and the lonely temptation of the wilderness formed but the prelude to the long struggle with the Evil One, which culminated on Calvary. It was the same temptation throughout to assert His own will against His Father’s will. It opened with the challenge in the wilderness, “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread”; “If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down”; and closed with the last taunt, “If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.” But the cry, “It is finished,” was the herald of conquest—the proclamation to the world that one Man had stemmed the tide of evil and broken its force. The moment of seeming defeat was the moment of mightiest victory.
(2) The Spirit will show that by this victory the perpetuity of evil is shattered. The darkest lie of the Evil One is this—that evil is an eternal power. Before the advent of the Gospel, the world was beginning to believe in the omnipotence of wrong. The slavery wrought by sin was so complete that men were losing faith in anything that could conquer evil, and were sinking into a dreary and hopeless fatalism. Just note the two great facts which, as the results of sin, lay at the root of this state: (a) Suffering. Men felt the pressure of its mystery. It seemed to belie the goodness of God, to darken the heaven of His love, and prove sin to be irresistible. Its shadow rested on the ages of the past, and projected itself with a grim certainty into the future. Now suffering, in all its deepest dreadfulness, Christ endured. He became the High Priest of sorrow. He grew glorious through it. “He was perfected through sufferings,” and thus revealed it to man as the education of a Father. (b) Death. The great mystery, the spoiler of human hopes, the divider of friend from friend, the sign-manual of sin’s dominion. He became subject to its power. It seemed to conquer Him. It seemed to divide Him from the Father, but really it was the pledge of their eternal union. Rising from the grave, He ascended to the heavens, thus consecrating death for all men as a pathway to the Father’s home. Such was Christ’s conquest. It was the crisis of earth’s history, the judgment and overthrow of the “prince of this world.”
All hail! dear Conqueror! all hail!
Oh what a victory is Thine!
How beautiful Thy strength appears!
Thy crimson wounds, how bright they shine!
Thou camest at the dawn of day;
Armies of souls around Thee were,
Blest spirits, thronging to adore
Thy flesh, so marvellous, so fair.
Ye heavens, how sang they in your courts,
How sang the angelic choirs that day,
When from His tomb the imprisoned God,
Like the strong sunrise, broke away!1 [Note: F. W. Faber.]
The Spirit and the World
Bushnell (H.), Christ and His Salvation, 98.
Davies (J. Ll.), Spiritual Apprehension, 40.
Forsyth (P. T.), Missions in State and Church, 51.
Hull (E. L.), Sermons preached at King’s Lynn, 2nd Ser., 14, 29.
Jenkins (E. E.), Life and Christ, 143.
Liddon (H. P.), Sermons on Some Words of Christ, 342.
Maclaren (A.), The Holy of Holies, 279.
Moule (H. C. G.), From Sunday to Sunday, 188.
Mozley (J. B.), Sermons Parochial and Occasional, 160.
Nicoll (W. R.), Sunday Evening, 3, 21.
Selby (T. G.), The Holy Spirit and Christian Privilege, 43.
Wilkinson (G. H.), The Invisible Glory, 233.
Christian World Pulpit, lvi. 120 (Macdonald); lxii. 395 (Campbell Morgan).