Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. And I said, What shall I do, Lord? And the Lord said unto me, Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do.
~ Acts 2:37, Acts 9:6, Acts 22:10
By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.
~ Hebrews 11:7
To execute judgment upon all, and to 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.
~ Jude 1:15
Conviction of Righteousness, by Robert Murray M’Cheyne. 1837.
And when he [the Comforter] is come, he will convince the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.”–John xvi. 8.
In my last discourse from this passage we saw that the first work of the Spirit on the heart of a sinner is to convince of sin-to give him a sense of the dreadfulness of his and to make him feel how surely he is a lost sinner. And from that I drew an argument, that it is the duty of all faithful ministers to do the same; that if the Spirit of gentleness and love begins his work on the soul by awakening in it a deep sense of sin and coming wrath, we are not to be called cruel, or harsh, or too plain and outspoken, if we begin in the very same way-by convincing you of sin, and showing every unconverted soul among you how utterly undone you are.
But I now come to the second work of the Spirit, from which he is properly called the Comforter: “He will convince the world of righteousness.” When he has first broken the bones under a sense of sin, then he reveals the good Physician, and makes the very bones which he hath broken to rejoice. When he has first revealed the coming storm of wrath, so that the sinner knows not where to flee, then he opens the secret chamber, and whispers: Come in hither; it may be thou shalt be hid in the day of the Lord’s anger. When he has cast light into the sinner’s bosom, and let him see how every action of his life condemns him, and how vain it is to seek for any righteousness there, he then casts light upon the risen Saviour, and says: Look there. He shows the Saviour’s finished sufferings and finished obedience, and says: All this is thine, if thou wilt believe on Jesus. Thus does the Spirit lead the soul to accept and close with Christ, freely offered in the Gospel. The first was the awakening work of the Spirit-this is the comforting work of the Spirit. And this shows you plainly that the second work of the faithful minister is to do the very same–to lead weary souls to Christ-to stand pointing not only to the coming deluge, but to the freely offered ark-pointing not only to the threatening storm, but to the strong tower of safety-directing the sinner’s eye not only inwards to his sin, and misery, but outwards also, to the bleeding, dying, rising, reigning Saviour.
Brethren, he is no minister of Christ who only terrifies and awakens you-who only aims at the first work of the Spirit, to convince you of sin, and aims not at the second work of the Spirit, to convince you of righteousness. He would be like a surgeon who should tear off the bandages of your wounds, and lay open their deepest recesses, and then leave you like Israel with your sores not closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment. He would be like a man who should awake you when your house was all on fire, and yet leave you without showing you any way of escape.
Brethren, let us rather be taught to follow in the footsteps of the blessed Spirit, the Comforter. He first convinces of sin, and then convinces of righteousness. And so brethren, bear with us, when we first awaken you to a sense of the dreadfulness of your sins, and then open the refuge and say: Come in hither-“hide thee as it were for a little moment, till the indignation be overpast.”
I know there may be many of you quite offended because we preach Christ to the vilest of sinners. It was so with the Pharisees; and doubtless there are many Pharisees among us. When we enter into the haunts of wickedness and profligacy, and, in accents of tenderness, proclaim the simple message of redeeming love-that the wrath of God is abiding on sinners, but that Christ is a Saviour freely offered to them, just as they are; or when a child of sin and misery comes before us, and the minister of Christ first plainly tells of God’s wrath against his sin, and then as plainly, and with all affection, of Christ’s compassion, and freely offered righteousness – oh! how often the decent moral men of the world are affronted. The very imagination that the same Saviour is offered as freely to the veriest offscourings of vice as to themselves-this is more than they can bear. What! they cry; do you offer these wretches a Saviour before they have reformed their lives-before they have changed their character? I answer, Yes. The whole need not a physician, but they that are sick: and I beseech you to mark that this is the very way of the Spirit of God.
He is the Holy Spirit-of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. He is the Sanctifier of all that are in Jesus; and yet, when he has convinced a sinner of sin, his next work is to speak peace-to convince that sinner of righteousness. If you ask me, then, why I do not say to the child of sin and shame, Go and reform your self- become honest and pure, and then I will invite you to the Saviour? I answer, Because even the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier, does not do this. He first leads the soul into the wilderness, and then he allures it to come to Christ. He first shuts up the soul in prison under a sense of guilt, and then opens a door-reveals Christ an open refuge for the chief of sinners.
Brethren! do not forget it-he is the Comforter before he is the Sanctifier. Ah, then, do not blame us, if, as messengers of Christ, we tread in the very footsteps of that blessed Spirit. If even he, the holy sanctifying Spirit, whose very breath is all purity-if even he invites the vilest sinner to put on these beautiful garments-the divine righteousness of Jesus-do not say that we are favouring sin-that we are the enemies of morality, if we carry this message to the vilest of sinners: “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved.”
I. What is this righteousness?
I answer, It is the righteousness of Christ, wrought out in behalf of sinners. Now righteousness means righteousness with respect to the law. When a person has never broken the law, but has rendered complete obedience to it, that person is righteous. Righteousness consists of two parts-first, freedom from guilt; and second, worthiness in the sight of God.
1. In the case of an unfallen angel, for example, he may be called righteous in two ways. (1) He is negatively righteous, because he has never broken the law of God-he has never loved anything which God would not have him love-never done anything which God would not have him do-he has acquired no stain of guilt upon his snow-white garments. But, (2) He is positively righteous, because he has fulfilled the law of God. He has obeyed in all things his all-holy will. He has spread his ready wings on every errand which the Father commanded-ministering night and day to the heirs of salvation. In all things he has made it his meat and drink to do the will of his heavenly Father. So, then, he has not only kept his snowy garments clean, but he has gained the laurel wreath of obedience-he is worthy in the sight of God- God smiles on him as he approaches. Now, brethren, both of these put together make up a righteousness in the sight of God.
2. In the case of unfallen Adam. (1) He was negatively righteous. He was made free from all guilt. Innocent and pure he came from the hands of his Maker. Not more truly did the calm rivers of Paradise reflect the blue heaven from their untroubled bosom, than did the tranquil bosom of unfallen Adam reflect the blessed image of God. His soul was spotless as the white robes of angels. His thoughts were all directed heavenward. He had not once broken the law of God, in thought, word, or deed. His will was even with God’s will. He had no conscience of sin. But, (2) Adam did not acquire a positive righteousness; that is, the righteousness of one who has obeyed the law-who has done the will of God. He was put into Paradise in order to acquire that righteousness. He was put there in pure and holy garments, to acquire the laurel wreath of obedience-like the holy angels. But man fell without acquiring this meritorious righteousness in the sight of God. Now, brethren, both these put together-both freedom from guilt and perfect obedience-make up a perfect righteousness in the sight of God.
3. I come, then, to show that the righteousness of Christ, freely offered to sinners, includes both of these. There is freedom from guilt in Christ, because he is gone to the Father. When he came to this world, he was not free from guilt. He had no sin of his own. Even in his mother’s womb he was called “That holy thing;” but yet he did not breathe one moment in this world, but under the load of guilt. When he was an infant in the manger, he was under guilt; when he was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, he was under guilt; when he sat down wearied at the well, he was under guilt; when he was in that dreadful agony in the garden, when his sweat was as it were great drops of blood, he was under guilt; when he was in his last agony on the cross, he was under guilt. He had no sin of his own, and yet these are his words: “Innumerable evils; have compassed me about: mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of mine head; therefore my heart faileth me.”
Inquiry. How do you know that Christ was under guilt?
Answer. (1) Because he was under pain. He suffered the pain of infancy in the manger—he suffered weariness, and hunger, and thirst, and great agonies in the garden and on the cross. But God has eternally connected guilt and pain. If there were no guilt, there could be no pain. (2) Because God hid his face from him: “My God, my God.” Now, God hides his face from nothing but guilt; therefore Christ was bearing the sins of many. He was all over with guilt. He was as guilty in the sight of God as if he had committed all the sins of his people. What wonder, then, that God hid his face even from his own Son?
But Christ is now free from guilt. He is risen and gone to the Father. When a man is lying under a debt-if he pays it, then he is free from the debt. So Christ was lying under our sins, but he suffered all the punishment, and now is free; he rose, and we see him no more. When a man is banished for so many years, it is unlawful for him to return to his country till the time has expired, and the punishment is home; but when the time is expired, then he is free from guilt in the eye of the law. He may come back to his home and his country once more. So Christ was banished from the bosom of the Father for a time. God hid his face from him; but when he had home all that God saw fit to lay on him, then he was free from guilt-he was free to return; and so he did- he rose, and went back to the bosom of the Father, from which he came. Do you not see, then, trembling sinner, that there is freedom from all guilt in Christ? He is quite free-he never shall suffer any more. He is now without sin, and when he comes again, he is coming without sin. If you will become one with him, you, too, are free from guilt-you are as free as Christ is-you are as safe from being punished as if you were in heaven with Christ. If you believe on Christ, you are one with him-a member of his body; and as sure as Christ your Head is now passed from the darkness of God’s anger into the light of his countenance, so surely are you, O believer, passed from darkness into God’s marvellous light. O what a blessed word was that of Christ, just before he ascended: I go to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God! God is now as much ours as he is Christ’s.
Inquiry. What good is it to me that Christ is free from guilt?
Answer. Christ is offered to you as your Saviour. There is perfect obedience in Christ, because he hath gone to the Father, and we see him no more. When he came to this world, he came not only to suffer, but to do-not only to be a dying Saviour, but also a doing Saviour-not only to suffer the curse which the first Adam had brought upon the world, but to render the obedience which the first Adam had left undone. From the cradle to the cross he obeyed the will of God from the heart. When he came into the world, his word was: “Lo! I come; in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O God; yea, thy law is within my heart.” When he was in the midst of his obedience, still he did not change his mind. He says: “I have meat to eat that ye know not of: my meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.” And when he was going out of the world, still his word was: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” So that it is true what an apostle says-that he was “obedient even unto death.” The whole law is summed up in these two commands-That we love God and our neighbour. Christ did both. (1) He loved God perfectly, as God says in the 91st Psalm: “Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him; I will set him on high.” (2) He loved his neighbour as himself. It was out of love to men that he came into the world at all; and everything he did and everything he suffered in the world, was out of love to his neighbour. It was out of love to men that he performed the greatest part of his obedience, namely, the laying down his life. This was the principal errand upon which he came into the world. This was the most dreadful and difficult command which God laid upon him; and yet he obeyed. But a short while before he was betrayed, God gave him an awful view of his coming wrath, in the garden of Gethsemane. He set down the cup before him, and showed that it was a cup without any mixture of mercy in it; and yet Christ obeyed: his human nature shrunk back from it, and he prayed: ” If it be possible, let this cup pass from me;” but he did not waver one moment from complete obedience, for he adds: “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.”
Now this is the obedience of Christ, and we know that it is perfect. (1) Because he was the Son of God, and all that he did must be perfect. (2) Because he has gone to the Father. He is ascended into the presence of God. And how did the Father receive him? We are told in the 110th Psalm. A door is opened in heaven, and we are suffered to hear the very words with which God receives his Son: “The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool.”
So, then, God did not send him back, as one who had not obeyed perfectly enough. God did not forbid him his presence, as one unworthy to be accepted; but God highly exalted him-looked upon him as worthy of much honour-worthy of a seat on the throne at his right hand. Oh! how plain that Christ is accepted with the Father!-how plain that his righteousness is most lovely and all divine in the sight of God the Father!
Hearken, then, trembling sinner!-this righteousness is offered to you. It was wrought just for sinners like you, and for none else; it is for no other use but just to cover naked sinners. This is the clothing of wrought gold, and the raiment of needlework. This is the wedding-garment-the fine linen, white and clean. Oh! put ye on the Lord Jesus. Why should ye refuse your own mercies? Become one with Christ, by believing, and you are not only pardoned, as I showed before, but you are righteous in the sight of God; not only shall you never be cast into bell, but you shall surely be carried into heaven-as surely as Christ is now there. Become one with Christ, and even this moment you are lovely in the sight of God comely, through his comeliness put upon you. You are as much accepted in the sight of God as is the Son of Man, the Beloved, that sits on his right hand. The Spirit shall be given you, as surely as he is given to Christ. He is given to Christ as the oil of gladness, wherewith he is anointed above his fellows. You are as sure to wear a crown of glory, as that Christ is now wearing his. You are as sure to sit upon Christ’s throne, as that Christ is now sitting on his Father’s throne. O weep for joy, happy believer! O sing for gladness of heart: “For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
II. What is conviction of righteousness?
Let us show what it is not.
1. It is not any impression on the imagination. Just as men have often imaginary terrors, so men have also imaginary views of Christ, and of the glory of being in Christ. Sometimes they think they see Christ with the bodily eye; or sometimes they think they hear words borne in upon their mind, telling of the beauty of Christ. Now this is not conviction of righteousness. Indeed, such things may accompany true conversion. There is no impossibility in it. Stephen and Paul both saw Christ, and most of you remember a very singular example of something similar in more modern times. (Alluding to a recent occurrence). But, however this may be, one thing is certain, that conviction of righteousness is very different from this. It is a far higher and nobler thing – given only by the Spirit of God. Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed.
2. It is not a revelation of any new truths not contained in the Bible. When the Spirit revealed Christ to the apostles and prophets of old, he revealed new truths concerning Christ. But when he convinces a sinner of the righteousness of Christ, he does it by opening up the truths contained in the Bible. If he revealed new truths, then we might put away the Bible, and sit alone, waiting for the Spirit to come down on us. But this is contrary to the Bible and experience. David prays: Open thou mine eyes, that I may see wonders.” Where? Not in heaven above nor earth beneath, but, “out of thy law.” It is through the truth that the Spirit always works in our hearts: “Sanctify them through thy truth; thy Word is truth.” Therefore, when you look for conviction of righteousness, you are not to look for new truths not in the Bible, but for divine light cast upon old truths already in the Bible.
3. It is not mere head knowledge of what the Bible says of Christ and his righteousness. Most unconverted men read their Bibles, and many of them understand very wonderfully the doctrine of imputed righteousness; yet these have no conviction of righteousness. All awakened souls read their Bibles very anxiously, with much prayer and weeping; and many of them seem to understand very clearly the truth that Christ is an all- sufficient righteousness; yet they tell us they cannot close with Christ-they cannot apply him to their own case. Again: the devils believe and tremble. The devil has plainly much knowledge of the Bible; and from the quotations he made to Christ, it is plain that he understood much of the work of redemption; and yet he is none the better for it-be only trembles and gnashes his teeth the more. Ah, my friends! if you have no more than head knowledge of Christ and his righteousness, you have no more than devils have-you have never been convinced of righteousness.
What is it?
Answer. It is a sense of the preciousness and fitness of Christ, as he is revealed in the Gospel.
1. I have said it is a sense of the preciousness of Christ, that you may see plainly that it is no imaginary feeling of Christ’s beauty; that it is no seeing of Christ with the bodily eyes; that it is no mere knowledge of Christ and of his righteousness in the head-but a feeling of his preciousness in the heart. I before showed you that there is all the difference in the world between knowing a thing and feeling a thing-between having a knowledge of a thing, and having a sense of it. There is all the difference in the world between knowing that honey is sweet, and tasting that it is sweet, so as to have a sense of its sweetness. There is a great difference between knowing that a person is beautiful, and actually seeing, so as to have a present sense of the beauty of the person. There is a great difference between knowing that a glove will fit the hand, and putting it on, so as to have a sense of its fitness. Just so, brethren, there is all the difference in the world between having a head knowledge of Christ and of his righteousness, and having a heart feeling of his fitness and preciousness. The first may be acquired from flesh and blood, or from books; the second must come from the Spirit of God.
2. Again, it is a sense of the fitness of Christ. It is conceivable that a person may have a sense of Christ’s preciousness, without having a sense of his fitness. Some awakened souls appear to feel that Christ is very precious; and yet they dare not put on Christ: they seem to want a sense of his fitness to their case. They cry out: “O how precious a Saviour he is to all his people!” – “O that I were one of his people! O that I were hidden in his bleeding side!” And yet they have no sense of his fitness to be their Saviour; they do not cry out: “He just fits my case!-he is the very Saviour for me!” For, if they felt this, they would beat peace-their lips. would overflow with joy. But no; they dare not appropriate Christ. Now, then, conviction of righteousness is to have such a serve of Christ as leads us, without hesitation, to put on Christ; and that I have called a sense of his fitness.
It gives me no comfort to know that Christ is a precious Saviour to others, unless I know that he if; a precious Saviour to me. If the deluge is coming on-the windows of heaven opening, and the fountains of the great deep broken up-it gives me no peace to know that there is an ark for others, unless you tell me that it is an ark for me. You may tell me of Christ’s righteousness for ever, and of the safety of all that are in him; but if you would comfort me by the news, you must convince me that that righteousness answers me, and is offered to me. Now, this is what the Spirit does when he convinces of righteousness. This, and this only, is conviction of righteousness.
O brethren! it is no slight work of nature to persuade a soul, even an anxious soul, to put on Christ. If it were a natural work, then natural means might do it; but it is a supernatural work, and the hand of the Spirit must do it. Flesh and blood cannot reveal Christ unto you, but my Father which is in heaven. No man can call Jesus Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.
Let me speak a word to three classes.
1. To the unawakened. See how far you are from salvation. Many of you may be saying just now in your heart: “It is quite true I am not at present a saved person; but I am not very far from the kingdom of God. I have just to repent and believe on Jesus, and then I am saved. And since this is so short and simple a matter, I may do it any time. I may enjoy the world and its pleasures a little longer; and then, when death or disease threatens me, it may be good time to become anxious.” Now, all this argument proceeds upon a falsehood. You think you are not far off from salvation; but, ah! my friend, you are as far from salvation as any one can be that is in the land of the living. There is only one case in which you could be farther from salvation, and that is in hell. You are as far from salvation as any one that is out of hell. (1) In my last discourse, I showed you that there must be a divine work upon your heart before you can repent. You may have much head knowledge of sin without the Spirit, but he only can convince you of sin. That Spirit is a sovereign Spirit. He is given to the children of God as often as they ask him; but he is not at the bidding of unconverted men. You cannot bid him come when you fall sick, or when you are going to die; or if you should bid him, he has nowhere promised to obey. (2) And now, I wish you to see that there is a second divine work needful on your heart before you can believe. The Spirit must convince you of Christ’s righteousness. Flesh and blood cannot reveal Christ unto you, but my Father which is in heaven. God is a sovereign God. He hath mercy upon whom he will have mercy. He is not at the bidding of unconverted men. He has nowhere promised to bring to Christ all whom he awakens. Oh! how plain that you are as far from salvation as any soul can be that is out of hell. And can you be easy when you are at such a distance from salvation? Can you go now, and sit down to a game of chance-to while away the time between this and judgment? Can you go and laugh and be merry in your sins? How truly, then, did Solomon say: “The laughter of fools is like the crackling of thorns under a pot”-a loud noise for a moment, then everlasting silences short blaze, and a dark eternity.
2. To the awakened.
(1) Remember, unless you attain to conviction of righteousness, your conviction of sin will be all in vain. Remember, anxiety for the soul does not save the soul. Sailors in a shipwreck are very anxious. They cry much to God in prayers and tears; and yet, though they are anxious men, they are not saved men-the vessel goes to pieces, and all are drowned. Travellers in a wilderness may be very anxious-their hearts may die within them; yet that does not show that they are safe-they may perish in the burning sands. So you are much afraid of the wrath of God, and it may be God has, in mercy, stirred up these anxieties in your bosom: but you are not yet saved-unless you come to Christ all will be in vain. Many are convinced who are never converted. Many are now in hell who were once as anxious to escape as you.
(2) Remember, God only can give you this conviction. The Spirit convinces of righteousness. It is not flesh and blood that can give you a sense of the preciousness of Christ. It is true, the Bible and preaching are the means through which God works this conviction. He always works through the truth-never without the truth. If you be truly awakened, I know how anxiously you will wait on these means-how you will search the Scriptures with tears, and lose no opportunity of hearing the preached Word. But still, the Bible and preaching are only means of themselves, they can only make natural impressions on your mind. God only can make supernatural impressions. Cry, then, to God.
(3) But remember, God is a sovereign God. Do not cry to him to convert you, as if it were a debt he owed you. There is only one thing you can claim from God as a right, and that is a place in hell. If you think you have any claim on God, you are deceiving yourself. You are not yet convinced of sin. Lie at the feet of God as a sovereign God-a God who owes you nothing but punishment at his feet as the God who alone can reveal Christ unto you. Cry night and day that he would reveal Christ unto you-that he would shine into your darkness, and give you the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. One glimpse of that face will give you peace. It may be you shall be hid in the day of the Lord’s anger.
3. To those of you who have come to Christ. Oh, what miracles of grace you are! Twice over you are saved by grace. When you were loathsome in your sins, and yet asleep, the Spirit awakened you. Thousands were sleeping beside you. He left thousands to perish, but awakened you.
Again: though awakened, you were as loathsome as ever: you were as vile in the sight of God as ever, only you dreaded hell. In some respects you were more wicked than the unawakened world around you. They would not come to Christ, because they felt no need. But you felt your need, yet would not come. You made God a liar more than they, yet God had mercy on you. He led you to Christ-convinced you of righteousness. So you are twice over saved by grace. “O to grace how great a debtor!” “What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits?” Will you not love him with all your heart? Will you not serve him with all you have? And when he says: Feed this poor orphan for my sake, will you not say: Lord, when I give for thee, it is more blessed to give than to receive?