Conviction of Sin

Richard Baxter, 1650


Conviction of sin, comprehends both knowledge and assent.

It comprehends the knowledge of what the Scripture speaks against sin and sinners, and that the Scripture so speaks is the Word of God.

It comprehends a sincere assent to the verity of Scripture, and some knowledge of ourselves, particularly, of our guilt and its consequences.

This conviction comprehends not only knowledge and assent, but sensibility. God works on the heart, as well as on the head. Both were corrupted and out of order. The principle of new life, therefore, quickens both. The knowledge which is merely theoretical never suitably moves the affections. The doctrines of religion produce in the understanding of an unrenewed soul, but a superficial apprehension, and therefore, can produce in the heart but small sensibility. As hypocrites may know many things, but nothing with the clear apprehensions of an experienced man so may they be slightly affected.

To view in the map of the Gospel, the precious things of Christ and His kingdom may slightly affect us but to thirst for and drink of the living waters and to be heir of that kingdom, must needs work another kind of sensibility. The great realities of sin, of grace, and Christ, and eternity, which are of weight one would think to move a rock do not shake the heart of the carnal professor.

It is true, some soft and passionate natures may have tears at command when one who is truly gracious has none. Yet is this Christian with dry eyes more solidly apprehensive and more deeply affected than the other is in the midst of his tears. The weeping hypocrite will be drawn to his sin again by a trifle, which the groaning Christian would not be hired to commit by crowns and kingdoms.

The following are some of the things of which sinners are convinced by the Spirit of God.

1. They are convinced of the EVIL OF SIN. The sinner is made to know and feel that sin, which was once his delight is indeed a loathsome thing. He sees sin as a breach of the righteous law of the Most High God, dishonorable to Him, and destructive to the soul. He used to marvel that Christians raised such an outcry against sin or that there was any harm for a man to take a little forbidden pleasure. He saw no such heinousness in sin, that Christ must needs die for it and most of the would be eternally tormented in Hell on account of it. He thought this was a hard measure and greater punishment than could possibly be deserved by a little fleshly liberty or worldly delight, by the neglect of Christ, His Word, or worship, by a wanton thought, a vain word, a dull duty, or a cold affection.

But now his views are changed. God has opened his eyes to see the inexpressible vileness of sin!

2. They are convinced of THEIR MISERY. He who before read the threatenings of God's law, as men do the stories of foreign wars, or as they behold the wounds and the blood in a picture which never makes him smart or fear now finds it is his own story. He perceives that it is his own doom, as if he found his name written in the curse, or heard that law say, as Nathan, "You are the man" (2 Samuel 12:7).

The wrath of God seemed to be but as a storm to a man in a dry house, or as the pains of the sick to the healthy bystander but now he finds the disease is his own and feels the smart of the wounds of his own soul.

In a word, he finds himself a condemned man, that he is dead and damned in point of law and that nothing was lacking but the mere execution to make him absolutely and irrecoverably miserable.

Whether you call this a work of the law or Gospel yet sure I am it is a work of the Spirit wrought, in some measure, in all the regenerate. And though some judge it to be unnecessary bondage yet it is beyond my conception how he could come to Christ for pardon who did not first find himself guilty and condemned; or for life who never felt himself dead. "Those who are whole need not a physician but they that are sick" (Mark 2:17).

Yet I do not deny that some gracious souls may scarcely perceive, and others scarcely remember, this work of humiliation. The discovery of the remedy, as soon as the misery must needs prevent a great part of the trouble and make the distinct effect on the soul to be with much more difficulty discerned. Nay, the actings of the soul are so quick and often so confused, that the distinct order of these workings may not be apprehended or remembered at all. And perhaps, the joyful apprehensions of mercy, may make the sense of misery the sooner forgotten.

3. They are convinced of the vanity and insufficiency of the creature. Every man is naturally an idolater. Our hearts turned from God in our first fall and ever since the creature has been our God. When God should guide us we guide ourselves. When He should be our sovereign we rule ourselves. The laws which He gives us we would correct; and if we had the making of them we would have made them otherwise. When we should depend on Him for our daily mercies we would rather keep our stock ourselves and have our fortune in our own hands. When we should stand at His disposal we would be at our own. When we should submit to His providence we usually quarrel with it, as if we knew better what is good for us than He and how to dispose of all things more wisely. Thus we are naturally our own idols.

But down falls this Dagon when God once renews the soul. It is the great business of that great work to bring the heart back to God Himself.

He convinces the sinner that the creature of itself can neither be his God to make him happy nor yet his Christ to recover him from his misery and restore him to God, who is his happiness. This God does not only by His Word, but by His providence also because words seem but wind and will hardly take off the raging senses. He therefore makes His rod to speak, and continue speaking until the sinner hears and learns by it this great lesson.

This is the great reason why afflictions so ordinarily concur in the great work of conversion.

When a sinner makes honor his idol then God shall cast him into lowest disgrace, or bring him who idolized his riches into a condition wherein they cannot help him. What a powerful help is here to this conviction!

When a man who made pleasure his God whether ease or sports, or mirth or company, or gluttony or drunkenness or whatsoever a ranging eye, a curious ear, a raging appetite, or a lustful heart to desire, and God should take these from him, or turn them all into gall and wormwood what a help is here to this conviction! When God shall cast a man into a languishing sickness and inflict wounds and anguish on his heart and stir up against him his own conscience and then, as it were, take him by the hand and lead him to honor, to riches, to pleasure, to company, to sports, or whatever was dearest to him, and say, "Now see if these can help you. Can these heal your wounded conscience? Can they support your tottering frame? Can they keep your departing soul in your body? Will they prove to you eternal pleasures, or redeem your soul from eternal flames? Cry aloud to them and see whether these will now be unto you instead of God and His Christ."

O how this works with the sinner, when sense itself acknowledges the truth and even the flesh is convinced of the creature's vanity and our very deceiver is now undeceived. Now he despises his former idols and calls them all miserable comforters. He chides himself for his former folly and pities those who have no higher happiness.

4. They are convinced of the absolute necessity, the full sufficiency, and the perfect excellency of Jesus Christ. This conviction is not by mere argumentation, but also by the sense of our desperate misery, as a man in famine is convinced of the necessity of food; or as a man who has heard his sentence of condemnation is convinced of the necessity of pardon; or as a man who lies in prison for a debt is convinced of the necessity of a surety to discharge it.

Now the sinner finds himself in another case than ever he was aware of. He feels an insupportable burden upon him, and sees that there is none but Christ who can take it off. He perceives that he is under the wrath of God, and that the law proclaims him to be a rebel and an outlaw and that none but Christ can make his peace with God. He feels the curse lie upon him and upon all he has and that Christ alone can make him blessed. He is now brought to this dilemma: either he must have Christ to justify him or be eternally condemned. He must have Christ to bring him to God or be eternally shut out from His presence. And now no wonder if he cries as the martyr Lambert, "None but Christ, none but Christ!"

It is not gold but bread, which will satisfy the hungry; and nothing but pardon will comfort the condemned. All things are now but "dross and dung," and what he counted gain is now "but loss in comparison of Christ." See Philippians 3:8.

For as the sinner sees his utter misery, and the inability of himself and all things to relieve him so he perceives that there is no saving mercy out of Christ. And as the soul is convinced of the necessity of Christ so also of His full sufficiency. He sees that though the fig leaves of our own righteousness are too small to cover our nakedness yet the righteousness of Christ is large enough. He sees that though our righteousness is disproportioned to the justice of the law yet Christ's righteousness extends to every tittle. His sufferings being a perfect satisfaction to the law, and all power in Heaven and in earth being given to Him He is able to supply all our wants and "to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him" (Heb 7:25).

The sinner is also convinced of the perfect excellency of Jesus Christ, both as He is considered in Himself, and as considered in relation to us both as He is the only way to the Father, and as He is the end, being one with the Father. Before, he knew Christ's excellency as a blind man knows of the sun but now he knows it as one who beholds His glory. After this sensible conviction, the will also discovers its change, and that in regard to all the four objects mentioned.

(1) The sin which the understanding pronounces evil the will accordingly turns from with abhorrence. Not that the sensitive appetite is changed, or any way made to abhor its object but when it would prevail against the conclusions of reason, and carry us to sin against God Scripture becomes the rule, and reason the master, and sense the servant.

(2) The misery which sin has produced he not only discerns, but bewails. It is impossible that the convinced soul should look either on its trespass against God, or yet on its own self-procured calamity without compunction and contrition. He who truly discerns that he has crucified Christ, and destroyed himself will surely in some measure be "pricked at the heart" See Act 2:37. If he cannot weep he can heartily groan, and his heart feel what his understanding sees.

(3) The creature he now renounces as vain, and turns it out of his heart with disdain. Not that he undervalues it or disclaims its use, but only its idolatrous abuse and its unjust usurpation.

(4) He turns to God as his Father and to Christ as his Savior. Having before been convinced that nothing else can be his happiness he now finds it is in God, and therefore looks toward it. But yet it is rather with desire and hope, for the sinner has already found himself to be a stranger and an enemy to God, under the guilt of sin and the curse of the law, and knows there is no coming to Him in peace until his state is changed. And therefore having before been convinced that only Christ is able and willing to do this, and having heard this mercy in the Gospel freely offered his next act is to accept of Christ Jesus as his Savior and Lord. For in both relations will He be received or not at all. It is not only to acknowledge His sufferings and accept of pardon and glory but to acknowledge His sovereignty and submit to His government.