This stage is as closely related to Confession as Confession is to Confidence. It may come simultaneously with, or it may precede confession, but that confession of sin is not conviction of sin anyone who has worked among Indian students can testify. Some measure of a sense of sin is almost universal. Says K. J. Saunders: "We cannot see life steadily without being oppressed with the awfulness of the burden of sin—our own and that of the world. We cannot think of human nature without being staggered by the terrible contradictions it contains; capable of soaring to God-like acts and emotions, man is capable no less of devilish lust and cruelty: and no one who knows himself dare tell all he knows."* To the Christian, conviction of sin means more than this: it means a vision of the hideousness of his own personal guilt in the light of the revelation of God's holy love in Christ. It is the point where a man cries out to God with the Psalmist, "Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned and done that which is evil in Thy sight." It speaks in the penitent voice of the Prodigal, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son." It is the recognition that sin—in the graphic, personal terms Dr. Joseph Parker used to employ—is striking God in the face. As Dr. Glover brings out in the chapter, "Jesus' Teaching upon Sin," in his Jesus of History,† John the Baptist thought of sin in relation to the Jaw of God; Jesus, in relation to the love of God—a far different thing. This work of bringing conviction of sin to a human heart no man can accomplish. It is the work of the Spirit of God, of whom Jesus prophesized: "When He is come He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness and of judgment" (John 16: 8). Is our part, then, to be that of mere passive waiting, when we arrive at the blaming point where there is confession of sin with no deep sense of conviction, leading to a new birth? By no means, there is much that we can do.
* Saunders: Adventure of the Christian Soul, p. 98 Cambridge University Press.
† Glover: The Jesus of History. p. 57.
In the first place, we can try to help the man to see himself as God sees him, to view his own Iife, as We would have him view sin, sub specie aeternitatis, from the standpoint of eternity, as the old divines used to put it. Here Drummond's masterly analysis will help us again. "A well-known American essayist and poet has told us that the difficulty of analysing our neighbour's character arises from the fact that every man is in reality a threefold man. When two persons are in conversation, there are really six persons in conversation. Thus, to put the paradox into the shape of an example, suppose that John and Tom are in conversation, there are three Johns and three Toms, who are accounted for in this way,
1. The real John; known only to his Maker.
2. John's ideal John; John, i.e., as he thinks himself; never the real John, and often very unlike him.
3. Tom's ideal John; i.e. John as Tom thinks him; never the real John; nor John's John, but often very unlike either.
1. The real Tom.
2. Tom's ideal Tom.
3. John's ideal Tom.
In this way when I talk to another it is not I whom he hears talking, but his ideal of me: nor do I talk to him as he defines himself, but to my ideal of him. Now that ideal will, without almost inconceivable care and penetration on my part, be quite different also from his real self as God only knows him, so that instead of speaking to his real soul, I may possibly be speaking to his ideal of his own soul or, more likely, to my ideal of it.
"From this it will be seen at a glance that the power of soul analysis is a hard thing to possess oneself of. It requires intense discrimination and knowledge of human nature—much and deep study of human life and character. The man with whom you speak being made up of two ideals—his own and yours, and one real—God's, it is one of the hardest possible tasks to abandon your ideal of him and get to know the real—God's. Then, having known it so far as possible to man, there remains the greatest difficulty of all—to introduce him to himself. You have created a new man for him, and he will not recognise him at first. He can see no resemblance to his ideal self; the new creature is not such a lovely picture as he would like to own: the lines are harshly drawn, and there is little grace and no poetry in it. But he must be told that none of us are what we seem; and if he would deal faithfully with himself, he must try to see himself differently from what he seems. Then he must be led with much delicacy to make a little introspection of himself; and with the mirror lifted to his own soul you read off together some of the indications which are defining themselves vaguely upon its surface. Even in social and domestic circles the difficulty of performing this apparently simple operation upon human nature is so keenly felt that scarce one friend will be found with a friendship true enough to perform it to another. And in religious matters it will be at once conceded that the complexity of the difficulties increases the problem a hundredfold."*
*Drummond: The New Evangelism, pp. 270-273.
A second service we may render at this stage is to help a man not only to see himself as God sees him, but also to understand, if he is young and inexperienced, the terrible consequences of the sin that is not checked, perhaps through the medium of a painful surgical operation. It was one who knew sin in its farthest reaches who used the uncompromising language of Matthew 5:28, and the verses following: "And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish than that thy whole bod, should be cast into hell." Try to make the sinner realise.
1. Sin's Binding Power. The normal man, at one time or another, feels constrained to cry out with the Apostle Paul, "I am unspiritual, the slave bought and sold, of sin" (Romans 7: 14, Weymouth trt.) ; or, with the Psalmist, "My sins are mightier than I" (Psalm 65: 3). Not only of deceit, but of every other sin are the poet's words true:
"Oh what a tangled web we weave
When first we practice to deceive."
Some one has graphically stated in the following familiar sentence the sequence which is psychologically and Scripturally accurate, "Sow a thought, reap an act; sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny." Often if a man can be led to see the chain he is forging, link by link, in the habits he is forming, he may be arrested temporarily and may then be permanently helped. Says Fosdick, in The Meaning of Faith: "At the beginning sin always comes disguised as liberty. Its lure is the seductive freedom which it promises from the trammels of conscience and the authority of law. But every man who ever yet accepted sin's offer of a free, unfettered life, discovered the cheat. Free to do the evil thing, to indulge the baser moods—so men begin, but they end not free to stop, bound as slaves to the thing that they were free to do. They have been at liberty to play with a cuttle-fish, and now that the first long arm with its suckers grasps them, and the second arm is waving near, they are not at liberty to get away."*
*Fosdick: The Meaning of Faith, p. 253.
2. Sin's blinding power. The last phrase of moral turpitude, the sin against the Holy Ghost, is present to some extent in those who, consciously or unconsciously say, "Evil, be thou my good," who, beholding Satan masquerading as an angel of light, follow after him and reflect that unholy light in their lives. All sin, we must point out, is a step toward moral myopia. It was this confusion of standards in the Pharisees that laid them open to the stinging rebukes of Jesus. Dr. Glover has described their condition in language that is worth quoting at length, for its apt characterization of a condition that it all about us:
"Jesus said that the Pharisee was never quite sure whether the creature he was looking at was a camel or a mosquito—he got them mixed (Matt, 23: 24). Once we realise what this tremendous irony means, we are better able to grasp his thought. The Pharisee was living in a world that was not the real one—it was a highly artificial one, picturesque and charming no doubt, but dangerous. For, after all, we do live in the real world—there is only one world, however many we may invent: and to live in any other is danger. Blindness, that is partial and uneven, lands a man in peril whenever he tries to come downstairs or to cross the streets—he steps on the doorstep that is not there and misses the real one. He is involved in false appearances at every turn. And so it is in the moral world—there is one real, however many unreals there are, and to trust to the unreal is to come to grief on the real. 'The beginning of a mans doom,' wrote Carlyle, 'is that vision be withdrawn from him,' 'Thou blind Pharisee' (Matt. 23: 26). The cup is clean enough without; it is septic and poisonous within, and from which side of it do you drink, outside or inside? Matt. 23: 25). As we study the teaching of Jesus here, we see anew the profundity of the saying attributed to Him in the Fourth Gospel, 'The truth shall make you free' (John 8: 32). The man with astigmatism, or myopia, or whatever else it is, must get the glasses that will show him the real world, and he is safe, and free to go and come as he pleases. See the real in the moral sphere, and the first great peril is gone."*
This gradual, tragic perversion of the moral vision, accompanied by a steady lowering of the standards of right and wrong, has never been more trenchantly depicted than in Pope's lines:
"Vice is a monster of such frightful mien
That to be hated needs but to be seen:
But, seen too often, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace."
3. Sin's Deadening Power. Not only does sin bring confusion to a man's standards of right and wrong, but it brings callousness of heart in the presence of the sin and suffering of others. A good touchstone of a man's integrity of character is his capacity for true moral indignation (which is rather the suffering of disapproving love than the anger of offended virtue) in the presence of the sin and wrong round about him. Can he say with St. Paul, "Who is led astray into sin and I am not aflame with indignation?" (2 Cor. 11: 29, Weymouth tr.). Or, does he now easily permit in his own life practices which once grieved his spirit when he witnessed them in others? If the latter is the case he must come to see that he needs, though for deeper reasons, the surgical operation to which Stevenson alludes:
* Glover: The Jesus of History, p. 163.
"If I have faltered more or less
In my great task of cheerfulness;
If beams from happy human eyes
Have moved me rot, if morning skies,
Books, and my food, and summer rain,
Knock on my sullen heart in vain:
Lord, Thy most pointed Pleasure take,
And stab my spirit broad awake."
4. Sin's Propagating Power. Perhaps the most terrible consequence of sin is its deadly power of passing on its taint to others in the family, the community, and even in the next generation. Because of my sin others must suffer and others will be led to sin. In the case of sexual immorality these social consequences of sin are most conspicuous, and here such a little book as the one, entitled Life's Clinic,* in which the suffering of the innocent is portrayed with ghastly fidelity to the hideous truth, may be used of God in bringing about real conviction of sin. Here it is quite evident that not only do we reap what we sow, but others must reap the sorrowful harvest of our "wild oats." But this holds true not only in those sins we are accustomed to call the grosser sins, but in such no less deadly and deadening society sins as unkind criticism, uncontrolled temper and untruthful language.
* E. H. Hooker: Life's Clinic. Association Press, Calcutta 1918.
Moreover, it may well be that the sin for which others than ourselves must suffer is neither of the gutter nor of the drawing-room, but of the business office, the bank, the factory. It seems as though such a book as Prof. E. A. Ross' Sins of Society must bring conviction of sin to many a snug elder in the Church who has made a fortune at the expense of the suffering and privation of others. Prof. Walter Rauschenbusch considers this type of "social sin" to be "'the climax of sin," the heart of man's rebellion against God. In his most recent book, he writes:
"Sin is essentially selfishness. That definition is more in harmony with the social gospel than with any individualistic type of religion. The sinful mind, then, is the un-social and anti-social mind. To find the climax of sin we must not linger over a man who swears, or sneers at religion, or denies the mystery of the Trinity, but put our hands on social groups who have turned the patrimony of a nation into the private property of a small class, or have left the peasant labourers cowed, degraded, demoralized, and without rights in the land. When we find such in history, or in present-day life, we shall know we have struck real rebellion against God on the higher levels of sin."*
In the next place, besides trying to help a man to see himself and his sins as they are, rather than through such deceptive "white logic" as Jack London writes of in John Barleycorn, we shall be able to help him toward a decision by the contagious power of our own example. Indeed, this should be our first contribution. "Character is caught not taught," as Pres. King, of Oberlin, so often says. Dr. Henry Sloane Coffin puts it more incisively: "Before you can get religion into anyone else you must have a contagious case of it yourself." Health is contagious as well as disease. In our presence this sin-haunted soul should feel the spell of a radiant, victorious life, the very life of Christ.
* Quotation from Rauschenbusch: "A Theology for the Social Gospel" (Macmillan, in Current Opinion, March, 1918, p. 199).
Men become conscious of the blackness of sin when there is present the contrast of the white holiness of the character of Christ and His redemptive love. Our lives, as well as our lips, must show forth this spirit. Otherwise as Emerson would say, our lives will speak so loud (in denial) that men will not hear what we say (in affirmation) of the principles of Christ. Lady Stanley has presented to the Missionary Education Movement in New York a letter written by the late Sir Henry M. Stanley, in which the great explorer tells how the beginning of his real Christian experience dated from his brief meeting with Livingstone in the heart of Africa. No man, he said, could be the same after a few days passed in the company of such a character.
Of how many of us is it true that the resolving of doubt and conviction of sin and a new challenge to higher living came through a Christ-filled personality whose contagion we could not resist. Tennyson said that we are a part of all that we have met, and Drummond used to say that he became a part of every man he met, and every man he met became a part of him. The worth of what we give depends upon what we are. The greatness of our gifts to others is in proportion to the fulness of our appropriation of the unsearchable riches of Christ. How great was Drummond's gift to every man he met. He himself said: "What the cause of Christ needs is not so much more of us as a better brand of us."* The message of the Lambeth Conference of 1908 contained these words: "The power to witness for Christ depends on being like Him. Men will always learn of Christ from those whom they see living with Christlike simplicity for their sake."†
*Quoted in H. A. Johnson's Studies for Personal Workers, p.20.
† Quoted in E. S. Wood's Modern Discipleship, p. 117. Association Press, New York.
It is worth remembering that it is through the contagious interest of some one else that we enter into most of the rewarding experiences of life. I may meet a man whose major enthusiasm is astronomy, and soon I am looking through his telescope with such interest in the stars as I have never conceived before. I may hear a lecture on geology, and I look with new eyes upon the curious rock formations near my home, which before had seemed commonplace and unworthy of special notice. Or I may hear an address by a missionary recently returned from Japan, and something of the speaker's love for that marvellous race and his enthusiastic desire that the West shall give to them also its best—the religion of Jesus—enters into my own breast. Interest stimulates interest. Enthusiasm awakens enthusiasm. So it is that a man who has had a genuine experience of the power of Christ to save and keep from sin, to comfort in affliction, to arouse and equip for unselfish service, is certain to quicken in others, wherever he goes, an interest in things religious and a desire to possess the same power and enthusiasm.
A striking illustration of this truth is given in the autobiographical pamphlet, The Life that Wins, by Chas. Gallaudet Trumbull, obtainable from the Sunday School Times Company, Philadelphia. In it the son of Dr. H. C. Trumbull tells of how the experience of a new life of real victory over sin came to him only after years of unsatisfied search, which covered the period of his earlier editorship of the S. S. Times, of his writing a book on Personal Work, and engaging in various other Christian enterprises. In the presence of certain people he felt that they possessed something that he lacked, and somehow his testimony did not carry conviction or bring results. After the change came, partly through a visit to Keswick, England, he tells how one after another of his old friends were won to Christ, how everywhere he went the victory that he had found in his own life proved to be a contagious, compelling influence in the lives of others.
Finally, our main reliance at this point must be prayer and a judicious use of the Christian Scriptures. We must not only pray for a man, but we must be able naturally and persuasively to pray with our man and to get him to pray for himself. It is usually in prayer that the great illumination comes by which a man begins to feel both his own incompleteness and God's greatness, flowing around his incompleteness, round his restlessness, the divine rest.
Let us heed the advice of Forbes-Robinson in Letters to His Friends
"Just try to pray for some one person committed to your charge—say for half an hour or an hour—and you will begin really to love him. . . . It is quite worth your while to take practically a day off sometimes and force yourself to pray. It will be the best day's work you have ever done in your life."
With regard to the Scriptures, the records of the various Bible societies and missionary organizations teem with instances of conviction of sin brought about by reading the Bible, without any human agency or interpreter. Christ Himself is the great Convictor of sin and His Own words, as given in the New Testament, are the most powerful weapons in the world to pierce the armour of self-righteousness and self-satisfaction. Two quotations, from The Vital Forces of Christianity and Islam,* illustrate the application of this truth to the Muhammadan world, and it is no less true of sinful humanity everywhere.
Dr. W. A. Shedd, of Urumia, Persia, writes: "So also anything that will lead Moslems to read the Scriptures is of great value. They, at least, will have many misconceptions corrected and may be led to deeper inquiry. The greatest attractive force is Christ Himself. No Moslem can speak of Him with anything but reverence, and we can let Him speak in His words in the Gospels. The most uncompromising claims of Christianity are in those words. Just so far as we can base His claims on His own words, we make them strong. We must present Him, as He offered Himself, as the Light and Truth of the world and as the Saviour and King of men."
* Oxford University Press, 1915, pp. 67, 235.
We may well conclude this section with a quotation from the letter of a missionary in China for whom many of these truths regarding personal work have recently begun to live in his life and work. It is one of a number that are quoted in Bulletin No. 11, on Personal Evangelism, of the China Continuation Committee's Special Committee on a Forward Evangelistic Movement:
"As to individual work, I realise how far I have travelled in personal dealing, especially with erring Christians, when I recall how amazed I was that Mr. Buchman could induce men to tell him their secret sins. My experiences of this sort had been very much the reverse of confession. Indignant denial was usually followed by a demand to know the culprit who had accused them. Also I had not been able to get alongside of men, and share with them my spiritual experiences, in order to enter the deeper places of their soul, and help where help was needed.
"It has been my privilege and joy recently, in life after life, to break through to the bedrock facts of the heart and life. This ability has not come easily, but such progress as I have made has come from the exercise of the Christian virtues of courage and love. Here is a man who has fallen. His life is empty of Christ, and he has a resentment against the Church for looking askance at him. In approaching him I must believe that God can speak quite distinctly to him, and that he will realise that he is dealing with God; also that God's most direct way of speaking to a man is through another man. I am eager to be that man. I go to that man, convinced that God is going to speak to him through me. I even dare to say, "'God wishes to say this to you through me." In many cases I have the absolute confidence that the man will be won, and he usually is.
"To get his confidence, I have been taught that the only way is to take my place as a fellow sinner. He has to realise that I am seeking his truest well-being, and will not be satisfied till I get to the facts. The interview, of course, must be private, and often the wrestle comes after we get down on our knees together. I have done what I have never done in my life before, and what is foreign to my instincts—put my arm around a man's shoulder as we prayed together on our knees, until the guilt was confessed and the burden lifted. The actual touch sometimes makes all the difference.
"The reward has been a response in real affection from these men, and the joy of seeing the welcome break on the prodigal's face. One feels that one is having a great time of it. It also multiplies one's usefulness more quickly than any other way."