Conviction of Sin
Robert Murray M'Cheyne (1813-1843)
"He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment!" John 16:8
1. Conviction of sin, by the Holy Spirit, issuing in conversion—is not the mere smiting of the natural conscience. Although man is utterly fallen—yet God has left natural conscience behind in every heart to speak for Him. Some men, by continual sinning, sear even the conscience as with a hot iron, so that it becomes past feeling; but most men have so much natural conscience remaining that they cannot commit heinous sin, without their conscience smiting them. When a man commits murder or theft, no eye may have seen him, and yet conscience makes a coward of him. He trembles, fearing that God will take vengeance. Now that is a natural work which takes place in every heart—but conviction of sin is a supernatural work of the Spirit of God. If you have had nothing more than the ordinary smiting of conscience—then you have never been truly convicted of sin.
2. Conviction of sin, by the Holy Spirit, issuing in conversion—is not any impression upon the imagination. Sometimes, when men have committed great sin, they have awful impressions of God's vengeance made upon their imaginations. In the night-time, they almost imagine that they see the flames of Hell burning beneath them; or they seem to hear doleful cries in their ears telling of coming woe; or they have terrible dreams, when they sleep, of coming vengeance. Now this is not the conviction of sin which the Spirit gives: it is altogether a natural work upon the natural faculties.
3. Conviction of sin, by the Holy Spirit, issuing in conversion—is not a mere head knowledge of what the Bible says against sin. Many unconverted men read their Bibles, and have a clear knowledge that their case is laid down there. They know very well that they are in sin, and they know just as well that the wages of sin is death. One man lives a swearer, and he reads the words, and understands them perfectly: "The Lord will not hold him guiltless—who takes his name in vain" (Exodus 20:7; Deu 5:11). Another man lives in the lusts of the flesh, and he reads the Bible and understands those words perfectly: "No immoral person has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God" (Ephesians 5:5). Another man lives in habitual forgetfulness of God—never thinks of Him, and yet he reads: "The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God" (Psalm 9:17). Now in this way, most men have a head knowledge of their sin and of its wages—yet this is far from true conviction of sin.
What—then, is this conviction of sin?
It is to feel the loathsomeness of sin. A child of God has seen the beauty and excellency of God; and therefore, sin is loathsome in his eyes. But no unconverted person has seen the beauty and excellency of God; and therefore, sin cannot appear dark and loathsome in his eyes.
It is a just sense of the dreadfulness of sin. It is not mere knowledge that we have many sins and that God's anger is revealed against them all; but it is a heart-feeling that we are under sin. It is a sense of the dishonor it does to God, and of the wrath to which it exposes the soul.
Conviction of sin is no slight natural work upon the heart. It is all in vain that you read your Bibles and hear us preach, unless the Spirit uses the words to give feeling to your dead hearts. If we could prove to you with the plainness of arithmetic, that the wrath of God is abiding on you—still, you would sit unmoved. The Spirit alone can impress your heart.