I WILL ask you to turn tonight to the 16th chapter of the Gospel of John—7th to 11th verses.
"Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you. And when He is come, He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they believe not on Me; of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see Me no more; of judgment because the prince of this world is judged."
We have here succinctly depicted for us by our Lord Himself the special mission of the Holy Spirit to a lost world. Observe that the Spirit's presence on earth during the present dispensation is declared by Christ to be more important than His remaining here. He says, "It is expedient for you that I go away." We might naturally have thought that it would have been far better if He, the divine Man, could have remained in this scene, going about teaching and instructing men, making known to them the love of God, and declaring the righteousness that men are responsible to render in response to that love. But in this we would be wrong, for our Lord Jesus did not come to this world simply as a Teacher. He did not come merely to be the great Exemplar. He does not save men by His life before the cross; He saves by His death.
Our Saviour came into this world to die. He was made a little lower than the angels with a view to the suffering of death. He made this very clear when He said to Nicodemus, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Elsewhere He declared He came "to give His life a ransom for many." And yet death had no claim on Him. We are told that, "Sin when it is finished bringeth forth death," but He was the absolutely sinless One.
He was therefore not naturally subject to death. Had He so elected He might have lived on as the Prince of Life—the deathless One. In one sense it was as great a miracle for Him to die as to be raised from the dead. He says, "No man taketh my life from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received from my Father." And so it was expedient that He should go away; and He must go by the way of the cross—there to give His life a ransom for many.
But even apart from this, it was expedient that He should go away that the Comforter might come. If He had remained on earth as He was before His death and resurrection, He must necessarily have been localized. As man He could not have been in more than one place at one time. When Lazarus lay so ill in Bethany, and the sorrowing sisters yearned for Christ's presence, He was away in the north of the land. They sent a message to Him saying, "He whom Thou lovest is sick." But days elapsed ere Jesus reached Bethany, and before He arrived Lazarus had died. Thus, if He had remained on earth He could not have been in Palestine and in America at the same time. He might have gone from place to place all through the years, but millions never would have seen His face nor heard His voice. Therefore it was expedient that He should go away, that He should return to that heaven from whence He came. Upon His ascension to the right hand of the Father He sent down the Holy Spirit, another divine Person, one of the Eternal Trinity, to carry on the work that Christ began. And because the Holy Spirit never became incarnate, never took a human body, He can be in every place at one time.
Notice that this does not in the slightest degree dim the truth of His personality. Our Lord in speaking of Him uses the masculine pronoun. He constantly refers to "Him" as a divine Person, who as a living Person could do the things that Jesus said He would do. Now what was His special mission to be? Jesus says, "When He is come He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment." This is the purpose for which He came into the world.
This word here rendered "reprove" is variously translated. The reading given in the margin of our Authorized Version is "convince," and in other translations "convict" is used. It is the special mission of the Holy Spirit to convict, convince, or to reprove the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.
I think that many, when they use the word "convict," have in their minds the producing of a deep emotional experience, intense sorrow and anguish because of sin. In fact, I believe this is the way it is generally used. A man attends a gospel meeting, and as his sins are brought before him, he is moved to tears of penitence, and at last to confession and a complete breakdown before God. The sorrow accompanying this experience is generally spoken of as "conviction," and some people are troubled because they have never passed through just such an experience as this; and they even question the reality of their conversion to God, although trusting Christ, because they have not known a period of poignant grief and anguish because of sin.
Far be it from me to make light of such an experience. Yea, I would be thankful indeed to see people break down and weep bitterly over their neglect of Christ and their cold-hearted indifference to the gospel? and over their selfishness and wickedness. But there may be grief and tears without the conviction of which our Lord speaks here, On the other hand this conviction may be thoroughly genuine where no tear is shed, and where little real anguish of spirit is known. All are not constituted alike, nor do all express their exercises in the same way. It would be a mistake therefore to limit conviction to an emotional breakdown.
The word is really a legal term. It has to do with the presentation of evidence that conveys with it the proof of wrong-doing. The Spirit of God comes to bring to bear upon the minds and consciences of men the great wrong they are doing to God by sinning against Him. Now when this wrong is brought home to a man's conscience and he is really convinced of the evil of his way, he will be affected largely according to his disposition, or make-up, as we say. Some men are exceedingly sensitive and easily moved to tears. Others are calm, cool, logical, and while perhaps even more deeply convinced than their emotional brethren, do not manifest it in the same way. God speaks to the spirit—to man's intelligence; He does not address Himself merely to his heart, his soul, his emotional nature. Sentimentality as such has no real place in New Testament evangelism.
In many quarters various kinds of efforts are made to move people to tears and to arouse the emotions through the use perhaps of music, sentimental solos and pathetic stories, and when people break down because of such tactics and make a religious confession they are registered as converts. But one might secure exactly the same results by having them witness a pathetic moving picture or attend a worldly concert where sentimental songs were beautifully rendered.
What is intended here is that the judgment of the man should be convinced; and so God says, "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." Now, if God is going to reason with men in a matter of this kind, He must of necessity show them what provision He has made to bring about this great end. His word elsewhere is, "I speak as unto wise men, judge ye what I say." And the Holy Spirit's special work is to bring the word of the living God to bear upon the minds and consciences of men to convince them of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.
An important point is, Of what sins does the Holy Spirit seek to convict men? Are we to understand that He came from heaven to convict them of the injustice Of over-reaching their neighbors; of trespassing upon the rights of others; or of the sinfulness of living immorally, in an unclean, vile manner; or of the wickedness of transgressing against the well-being of society and violating human law? Is it of these sins that the Spirit of God came to convict men? Undoubtedly He will deepen the realization of the exceeding sinfulness of every sin; but primarily His work has not to do with matters of this kind. Every man's natural conscience convicts him of such sins as I have mentioned. Men may pretend to excuse acts like these, but they know in their own hearts that they are doing wrong when they commit them. And in addition to conscience, man has the "fiery law" given at Sinai with its stern, "Thou shalt," and "Thou shalt not." This law, which is holy, just and good, makes sin exceedingly sinful, and thus convicts the wrong-doer of his wickedness in violating its precepts.
What then is the sin that the Holy Spirit principally brings before the mind of men? Our Lord tells us, "Of sin, because they believe not on Me." This is the one great damning sin—the one sin which, if unrepented of, shuts the door of heaven in a man's face. Listen, my friend, your sins and iniquities, however great, or how many they may have been, do not of themselves shut heaven's door to you. And for this reason; when Christ gave Himself a ransom on Calvary's tree, "Jehovah laid on Him the iniquity of us all." There He made a full and complete satisfaction to the righteous claims of the throne of God—made a perfect propitiation to Divine Justice for all the sins of which men could possibly be guilty. Christ thereby becomes an available propitiation for the whole world. And if you are ever shut away from the presence of God it will not be because you came into this world a sinner, nor will it be because Adam sinned and you inherited certain evil tendencies. It will be, not only because you have yourself transgressed, or been guilty of grave offences against the laws of God and man, but because, though God had provided a way of salvation for you, you deliberately turned away from it and refused the Saviour who died that you might live.
Hear His own words in regard to this as recorded in the 3d chapter of John's Gospel, verses 17 and 18:
"For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved. He that believeth in Him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."
This then is the condemnation: God has provided a ransom, but men, alas! refuse His mercy, and thus go down to eternal woe—"loving darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil." In thus refusing Christ they must in the final day of judgment give an account to God each for his own individual sins. They shall be judged "every man according to his works." On the other hand if they believe in the Saviour whom God has provided, their sins are put away, and they can look forward with perfect confidence to the day when God will judge the world in righteousness, knowing that their judgment is already passed, for Christ has answered for them.
The work of the Holy Spirit, then, is primarily to show men the enormity of their sin in rejecting the Lord Jesus Christ. A man may be guilty of breaking every commandment in the decalogue, but if he comes to God in repentance and puts his trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, he will find that all his sins have been covered by the atoning work of the Cross, and he may be saved for eternity by simple faith in the One who died for his offences and lives again for his justification. He thus becomes a new creature in Christ Jesus, because born of God, and created unto good works, as the natural result of the new life communicated to him.
On the other hand the man's life may be outwardly respectable; he may be rated as a good, moral citizen; he may refuse to stoop to things despicable, dishonorable, or unclean, yet he cannot escape the fact that he has sinned over and over again, and is therefore unfit for the presence of God. But He, against whom he has sinned, has provided a Saviour for him, and if he lives and dies rejecting that Saviour then there is no forgiveness, either in this world or in that which is to come. The worst sin that any man or woman can be guilty of is to reject the Lord Jesus Christ.
A young woman came up to me at the close of an address some time ago and said, "I do not like the way you put things. You made me feel very uncomfortable tonight. I have never knowingly done a wicked thing. I am respected by all my friends. No one can say a word against my character. The only thing that you yourself could object to is that I do not belong to any church, or care anything about Jesus Christ; and yet you class me with people who are living wickedly." I said, "Suppose you came and told me something like this: 'I have always been good and respectable. Nobody can say anything against me, except that, though I have the best mother in the world, I do not care anything about her. I am utterly indifferent to her.' What would you expect me to think of you?" Oh!" she exclaimed, "I could not be a good girl and not love my mother!" "Well," I replied, "I told you tonight of One who has loved you with a love such as no earthly mother ever knew; One who for your sake gave His life to ransom you from a danger which your finite mind cannot realize, and who now asks your trust and confidence, and you boldly say you care nothing about Him! What do you suppose God thinks of such indifference to His Son?" She hung her head and said, "I never thought of it like that." And I had the joy a few nights later of seeing her humbly confess the Lord Jesus Christ as her own Saviour.
But after all, where is the ideal character I have sketched? Where is the man who has never done anything vile or unclean? Who would dare say he has never stooped to aught that is debasing or dishonorable? Moody used to say, "Character is what a man is in the dark." My friend, if the record of all you have said or thought or done in the dark were suddenly flashed upon this wall, how long would you sit here facing it? Remember, sins of the mind are as evil in the sight of God as sins of the flesh. And as to all men He has declared, "There is none righteous, no, not one. There is none that doeth good... they have all gone out of the way, they have all together become unprofitable" (Rom. 3:10, 12).
But it is for sinners such as these that Jesus died. How fearful the guilt then of the one who rejects Him, or neglects Him, and rushes headlong to the doom that sin deserves!
And so, my hearer, the great question that the Spirit of God would now bring home to you is this: What relationship do you bear to Him who died on the cross? We read in the Word, "If any man love not our Lord Jesus Christ let him be Anathema, Maranatha." These two untranslated words (one from the Hebrew and the other from the Syriac) are evidently put into the text by the Spirit of God to challenge attention and inquiry. The first means "devoted to judgment," and the other means, "The Lord cometh." If you persist in refusing to trust the Saviour, you must be devoted to judgment at the coming of the Lord.
In the second place we read that the Holy Spirit has come to convict of righteousness. Here we have something that is perhaps a little more difficult to make clear. When a man realizes his sins, naturally the next thing of which he thinks is, "How can my sins be put away, and I obtain a righteousness in which I can stand without fear in the presence of a holy God?" This is what is made plain in the gospel. "Therein is the righteousness of God revealed." It was sin that brought Christ to the cross; but having made full atonement there, having satisfied every righteous claim of the throne of God, righteousness itself demands that He who thus died shall be raised from the dead, and by resurrection vindicated of every charge. And so He, the righteous One, having suffered once for all for sins upon the cross, has been raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, triumphant over death, and in righteousness has been seated as Man at God's right hand in heaven. "Of righteousness, because I go to my Father and ye see Me no more." My sin put Christ, the Son of God, on the cross, but God's righteousness raised Him from the dead and placed Him, the risen Man, beside the Father in heaven. I have no righteousness in myself, but believing in Jesus as my Saviour, the Spirit of God points me to that exalted Man on the throne of the Universe, and says to me, as it were, "On the cross it was your sin He bore; on the Throne He is your righteousness." He who knew no sin was made sin-offering for us, "that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him."
In my judgment, the finest experience hymn in the English language is "Jehovah Tsidkenu." It tells of God's dealings with Robert Murray McCheyne—one of the most spiritual Scotch preachers of the last century. Though he died a comparatively young man he left a name that is today held in reverence in thousands of Scotch homes because of his devotion to Christ. He was a well-brought up and carefully trained youth, whose outward life was without blame; in every way respectable, conscientious and well-informed; he knew his Bible, said his prayers, went to church, and was well-satisfied with his own righteousness, forgetting that Scripture has declared, "All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags" in God's sight.
While he was away at school a message came telling him of the sudden death of a very godly elder brother. He went home to the funeral, and upon reaching the house of mourning asked to be permitted to go alone into the room where lay the body of his dearly loved brother. As he stood there gazing upon the still, silent form he asked himself the question, "If it were I, where would my soul be?" The answer to his own question honestly given was, "Lost forever." There and then he broke down, gave up all pretension to a righteousness of his own, and found in Christ risen and glorified that righteousness which he celebrates in this little hymn. It is perhaps hardly necessary to say that "Jehovah Tsidkenu" means, "The Lord our Righteousness." This is how he tells the story:
"I once was a stranger to grace and to God;
I knew not my danger, I felt not my load;
Though friends spoke in rapture of Christ on the tree,
'Jehovah Tsidkenu' was nothing to me.
"I oft read with pleasure, to soothe or engage,
Isaiah's wild measure or John's simple page;
But e'en when they pictured the blood-sprinkled tree,
'Jehovah Tsidkenu' seemed nothing to me.
"Like tears from the daughters of Zion that roll,
I wept when the waters went over His soul;
Yet thought not that my sins had nailed to the tree
'Jehovah Tsidkenu'—'twas nothing to me.
"When free grace awoke me by light from on high,
Then legal fears shook me—I trembled to die;
No refuge, no safety, in self could I see:
'Jehovah Tsidkenu' my Saviour must be.
"My terrors all vanished before that sweet name;
My guilty fears banished, with boldness I came
To drink at the fountain, life-giving and free:
'Jehovah Tsidkenu' is all things to me."
Have you learned this lesson? Have you, through the Spirit's teaching, seen that you have no righteousness of your own?—that all your best deeds are stained with the corruption of your own heart? Has the Spirit of God then directed your eyes to that risen glorified Man at the Father's right hand? Do you realize that He could not be there if He had not completely settled the sin question to God's satisfaction? He made Himself responsible for our sins on the cross, and He could not be in heaven tonight if He had not put them all away forever! But, blessed be His name, there He sits in highest glory, enthroned above all created intelligences, and He is Himself the righteousness of all who put their trust in Him. This is the righteousness which is of God through faith in Christ Jesus. It is of this that Paul speaks when he cries, "That I might be found in Him, not having my own righteousness which is of the law, but the righteousness which is of God by faith in Christ Jesus."
Now, what about practical righteousness as you go through this world? There is no power for it like heart-occupation with the risen Christ. Beholding Him changes us into the same image, from glory to glory. As He fills the soul's vision we live to please Him. For He who is my righteousness is also my life from the moment I believe in Him; and this life will be manifested in holy living. I do not go back to the law's demands for practical righteousness, for that law is "the strength of sin," but Christ risen is the strength of holiness; and as I learn to know Him where He now is, I grow in His likeness from day to day. It is the Holy Spirit's constant aim to occupy me with Christ there, that I may walk in the Spirit and not fulfil the lusts of the flesh.
But now there is something more. The Holy Spirit convicts not only of sin and of righteousness, but of judgment. People often misquote, because they misunderstand, this verse. They say, "Of judgment to come." But that is not it. That expression is used by Paul as he reasoned with Felix of righteousness, of temperance, and of judgment to come; and Felix trembled, as well he might. That is very proper in its place, but here the point is, that the Holy Spirit convinces of present judgment, for it says, "Because the prince of this world is judged." The world judged Christ as unfit to live, and cried, "Away with Him, crucify Him." But by so doing it has condemned itself. The prince of this world did his utmost to circumvent God Himself by stirring up his dupes to demand that Christ be hanged on a tree. It was there that the Seed of the woman had His heel bruised by the serpent; but there the serpent's head was bruised, for by His death Christ made void Satan's power, and "delivered those who for fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage."
"His be the Victor's name,
Who fought the fight alone!
Triumphant saints no honor claim—
His conquest was their own.
"By weakness and defeat
He won the meed and crown;
Trod all our foes beneath His feet
By being trodden down.
"Bless, bless, the Conqueror slain—
Slain in His victory.
He lived, He died; He lives again,
For thee, His Church, for thee!"
And so now that God has vindicated Christ, He has declared the whole world to be under judgment. This judgment is not yet executed, but it may soon be. It shall be when He is revealed from heaven in flaming fire. Meantime the blessed gospel of the grace of God is sent into all the world, and when men receive it in faith they are brought out from under judgment, having passed from death unto life, and from the power of Satan unto God.
The man of faith sees the whole world with all its pleasures and follies as a judged scene. He learns to look at it all as Lot looked at Sodom of old—a scene exposed to the wrath of God, though not yet executed; and faith enables him to say with Paul, "God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world."
It is blessed to see that we have not only found life through believing in Christ, but faith takes in the fact that we have died with Him to the world that crucified Him, and so we are no longer of the world, though in it, even as He is not of the world.
A young man in the ardor of his first love said to an aged brother one day, "I am glad to tell you I have accepted life through Christ." "That is very good," replied the other; "now I trust you will also accept death with Him." This was a new thought to the young convert, but as the blessedness of identification with Christ in His rejection was opened up to him, he cried, as the tears filled his eyes, "Yes, I see it now; His death was mine, and I have died with Him to all the pleasures and follies of earth; and now I am to live for Him alone in this scene." May the Lord grant that all our hearts may enter into this, for His name's sake!