Soul Surgery: Part 7
Part 7 of a 9-part series by Pastor Alan Redpath given over the course of 1959.
Conviction In Soul Winning
Conviction may come simultaneously with confession, but confession of sin is not in itself conviction of sin. We cannot see life in reality 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. It is capable of soaring to Christ-like acts and emotions, and at the same time capable of descending to devilish lust and cruelty. The person who knows himself will rarely dare to tell all he knows.
To the Christian, conviction of sin 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” (Psalm 51:4). It is the recognition that sin, in the graphic phrase of Dr. Joseph Parker, is “striking God in the face.”
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 the Lord Jesus said, “When He is come (to you), He will convict the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgment” (John 16:8).
Are we to wait passively when the one we are seeking to help arrives at the baffling point where there is confession of sin with no sense of conviction, and thus no new birth? By no means; there is much that we can do.
I. Help the person to see himself as God sees him. The difficulty of analyzing a person’s character arises from the fact that everybody is in reality three people. When two persons are in conversation there are really six! To put the paradox into shape, suppose that John and Bill are conversing together, there are really three Johns and three Bills who are accounted for in this way:
(1) The real John (and Bill), known only to the Lord Himself;
(2) John’s ideal John—that is, John as he thinks himself to be, but never the real John and often very unlike him (and the same applies to Bill);
(3) Bill’s ideal John—that is, John as Bill thinks of him, never the real John, nor John’s John, but often very unlike either of them (that again applies to Bill).
You see the intense discrimination that is needed in the study of human life and character. The man with whom you speak, being made up of two ideals—his own and yours—is at the same time one real person, God’s. It is one of the hardest possible tasks to abandon your ideal of him, and get to know the real man as he is in God’s sight.
Now that you have known him so far as is possible, there remains the greatest difficult to all to introduce him to himself. You have created a new man for him in his thinking when you seek to present him with himself as God sees him, and he just won’t recognize himself at first. God’s real man, as he is in God’s sight, appears to be very crude and rough. But he must know 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 to be. In other words, he must come out from behind every pretense and camouflage.
He has then to be led with much delicacy to make a thorough introspection of himself, and with the mirror lifted to his own soul in the light of the Word of God, you can read off some of the indications which are defining themselves vaguely to him upon the surface.
II. Help him to understand the experience of the awful consequences of sin that is not checked. The Lord Jesus, who knew sin in its furthest reaches and effects, used the awesome language of Matthew 5:29. “If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out; it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish than that thy whole body should be cast into hell.” Therefore, try to make the sinner realize:
(1) Sin’s binding power. The normal man at one time or another feels constrained to cry out with Paul, “I am unspiritual, the slave bought and sold of sin” (Romans 7:14). Or with the psalmist, “My sins are mightier than I” (Psalm 65:3). As one has said, “Oh! What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”
There is the familiar truth 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 habits he is forming, he may be arrested and permanently helped. At the beginning sin always comes disguised as freedom. Its lure is the liberty which it promises from the binding of conscience and the authority of law. But every man who has ever yet accepted sin’s offer of a free unfettered life discovered that it was a lie. 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!
(2) Sin’s blinding power. The last phase of sin’s deadly effect, the sin against the Holy Spirit, is present to some extent in those who consciously or unconsciously say, “Sin is really for my good.” It was this confusion of standard in the Pharisees that laid them open to the stinging rebukes of the Lord Jesus, who said, in effect, that the Pharisees were never quite sure whether the creature they were looking at was a camel or a mosquito (Matthew 23:24). They strained at gnats and swallowed camels! They were living in a world that was not real—highly artificial, picturesque and charming perhaps, but dangerous.
Blindness that is partial and uneven lands a man in peril whenever he tries to come downstairs or across the street. So it is in the realm of sin. The beginning of a man’s doom is that vision is withdrawn from him: “thou blind Pharisee” (Matthew 25:26). The cup is clean enough on the outside, but inside it is poisonous; and from which side of it do you drink, outside or in? (Matthew 23:25). As we study the teaching of the Lord Jesus in that connection we see the tremendous profoundness of His statement in John 8:32. “The truth shall make you free.” The man who is half-blind must get glasses that will show him the real world, and then he is safe and free to come and go.
(3) Sin’s deadening power. Not only does sin bring confusion to a man’s standard of right and wrong, but it brings callousness of heart in the presence of sin and the suffering of others. A good touchstone of a man’s integrity of character is his capacity for true moral indignation, which is more the suffering of disapproving love than the anger of an offended virtue. That is to say, he is hurt not because of the damage that has been done to himself, but by the harm that has been caused to others. Jesus was moved with compassion (Matthew 9:36–38). Paul says, “Who is led astray into sin, and I am not aflame with indignation? (2 Corinthians 11:29, Weymouth translation). Sin has such a deadening effect that it is possible for a man to permit in his own life practices which once grieved his spirit when he saw them in other people. If that is the case, he must come to see that he needs a surgical operation.
(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 some may suffer, and others will be led to sin. This holds true not only in the grosser sins, but in such as are no less deadly and deadening in society as unkind criticism of others, uncontrolled temper and untruthful language.
Sin is essentially selfishness. The sinful mind is unsocial and anti-social, and to find the real climax of sin you do not linger much in your thinking over a man who swears or sneers at religion, or denies the mystery of the Trinity; you put your hand on groups of people who have made themselves rich at the expense of bleeding other people. The fundamentalist can be blind to that sort of thing altogether, just as the liberal theologian is quite blind to the fundamental truth of the cross.
III. Help him by the contagious power of your own example. Someone has said that character is caught rather than taught, and before you can get Christianity into anybody else, you must have a contagious case of it yourself. It is not only disease but health that is contagious, and in our presence a sin-haunted soul should feel the spell of a radiant, victorious life, the very life of Christ.
Men become conscious of the blackness of sin when there is present the white holiness of the character of the Lord Jesus and His redemptive love. Our lives as well as our lips must show forth this spirit, otherwise, as we have often heard said, “Our lives speak so loud in denial that men will not hear what we say in affirmation of the Christian Gospel.”
Of how many of us is it true that the resolving of doubt and conviction of sin, and a new challenge to a new life, came through a Christ-filled personality whose contagion was irresistible? Henry Drummond used to say that he became a part of every man whom he met, and every man he met became a part of him. That is a statement worth thinking about. The power to witness for the Lord Jesus depends upon being like Him. Men will always learn of Christ from those whom they see living with Christ-like simplicity for their sake.
In the same way a man who has a genuine experience of the power of Christ to save and keep from sin, to comfort in affliction, to equip for unselfish service, is certain to quicken that same principle in others, and create a desire to possess that power and enthusiasm.
IV. Help him by a life soaked in prayer, and a judicious use of the Word of God. We must not only pray for a man, but be able naturally and persuasively to pray with him, and to get him to pray for himself. It is usually in prayer that the great revelation comes by which a man begins to feel both his own incompleteness and God’s greatness, and His ability to give rest and victory.
Try to pray for some person committed to your shepherd care for half and hour or one hour, and you will begin to love that person. It is quite worthwhile to take a day off and force yourself to pray for someone you dislike, or someone who seems to be difficult. It will be the best day’s work you have ever done in your life!
The records of history and of Bible societies and missionary work are full of instances of conviction of sin brought about by reading the Word of God without any human agency. Christ Himself is the great convictor of sin, and His own words given in the New Testament are the most powerful weapons in the world to pierce the armor of self-righteousness and self-satisfaction.