Deliverance: the Conviction of Sin

Luke 5:8.---' When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.'

When Simeon, the infant Jesus in his arms, uttered his parting hymn within the Temple, he told Mary that by that Child 'the thoughts of many hearts should be revealed.' Never was prophecy more true; never, perhaps, was the mission of the Christian religion more faithfully defined. For wherever it has spread, it has operated like a new and Diviner conscience to the world; imparting to the human mind a profounder insight into itself; opening to its consciousness fresh powers and better aspirations; and penetrating it with a sense of imperfection, a concern for the moral frailties of the will, characteristic of no earlier age. The spirit of religious penitence, the solemn confession of unfaithfulness, the prayer for mercy, are the growth of our nature trained in the school of Christ. The pure image of His mind, as it has passed from land to land, has taught men more of their own hearts than have all the ancient aphorisms of self-knowledge; has inspired more sadness at the evil, more noble hope for the good that is hidden there, and has placed within reach of even the ignorant, and the neglected, severed principles of self-scrutiny than philosophy has ever attained. The radiance of so great a sanctity has deepened the shades of conscious sin. The savage convert, who before knew nothing more sacred than revenge and war, is brought to Jesus, and, as he listens to that voice, he feels the stain of blood growing distinct upon his soul. The one who's chief interest is luxury and the gratification of sensual appetites, never before disturbed in his self-indulgence, comes within the atmosphere of Christ's spirit, and it is as if a gale of heaven fanned his fevered bow. The ambitious priest, revolving plans for using men's passions as tools of his aggrandizement, starts to find himself the disciple of One who, when the people would have made Him king, fled direct to solitude and prayer.

So deep and overwhelming did the sense of guilt become under the influence of Christian thought that at length the overburdened heart of fervent times could endure the weight no longer: the Confessional arose to relieve it and restore a periodic peace. It became the chief object of the widest sacerdotal order which the world has ever seen, to listen to the whispered record of human penitence. Cities, as if conscious of their corruption, bade the silent minister rise amid their streets, where, instead of the short daily or Sabbath service, unceasing orisons might be said for sin; where the door might open to the touch all day, and the lamp be seen beneath the vault by night, and the passer-by, caught by the low chant, might be tempted to exchange the chase of vanity without for the peace of prayer within. And so, in every ancient village church of Europe there is a corner that is moistened with the tears of many generations; and the cathedral aisle, emblem of the mighty heart of Christendom, has for centuries swelled with the plaint of penitential music. In private dwellings, too, each morning and evening has for ages past seen many sad and lowly prayers ascend. Everywhere the Christian mind proclaims the need of mercy, and bends beneath the oppression of its guilt; and since Jesus began to 'reveal the thoughts of many hearts.' Christendom, with clasped hands, has fallen at His feet and cried, 'We are sinful men, O Lord.'

The more we realize God as ever present, almighty and omniscient, holy, full of compassion, and deserving both our fear and love, the more we learn to hate and mourn over sins that we have done to His dishonor. But of such sorrow there must be outward evidence. Confession, then, becomes an imperative necessity. The inward grief must have an outlet. We confess, because we could not do otherwise. and we feel that, although the past cannot be undone, there is some slight reparation to the wounded love of a heavenly Father, when we enumerate the details of our offence, by thought, word and deed.

Peter was to rise to an exalted position in the Kingdom of God, but the law of the Kingdom must needs be fulfilled in him: 'He that humbleth himself shall be exalted.' This closer communion could be only with a heart less full of self. This higher position could be obtained only by one who would first sink lower. The more honorable service would be granted only to one who was prepared by a deep inward experience. And this essential experience, which was as the door of his future, which was indispensable for the character he must possess and for the work he was to do, was that conviction of sin and unworthiness which caused him to cry out, 'Depart from me; for I am a sinful man.'

Yet it was not the teaching of the Master that wrought this conviction in Simon. In his heart, doubtless, there lay slumbering this sense of unworthiness, there dwelt, but bound and voiceless, this conviction of sinfulness. Yet it was not by the words of the Redeemer that this slumbering sense was wakened, this dumb consciousness endowed with speech. Of all that throng probably none had a wider acquaintance with Christ's teaching than Simon. He was present, too, in the boat which served the Redeemer for a pulpit, able to mark every tone and gesture of the Divine Teacher. Yet he remained unconvicted. And He who 'knew what was in man' was content to stoop that He might raise up; and, as if confessing the failure of His own utterance, wrought a miracle for the fisherman's conversion, and one, too, a fisherman could understand---a miracle concerned with boats and nets and fish.

Nor was it the resent commission of some sinful act that awakened this sense of sinfulness. The very act which preceded the awakening was one of faith and obedience. Though the night's toil had proved fruitless, yet, upon the Master's command to let down the net, faith and obedience prompted these tried and disappointed men to fulfil His command. It was not the self-reproach of a tardy obedience that made Simon Peter conscious of sin. Neither does the gospel narrative suggest that our Lord showed the disciple the follies, errors, and sins of his by-gone life. But rather, in one moment, startled out of slumber, endowed with speech after long silence, the sense of sin sprang into activity and he cried, 'I am a sinful man, O Lord.'

What causes this intense conviction which compelled confession? Luke points out the least side of the explanation: 'for he was astonished.' Startled men speak their feeling unhampered by considerations of expediency. In the moment of astonishment we cast off deceits by which we have been bound, perhaps willingly bound for years. An unlooked-for meeting, an unexpected face or voice, will with many so awaken memories that, startled thereby, they, appear the men they are, not the men they feign to be.

But helpful as is this power of surprise, it was something mightier that brought about this conviction in Simon. Behind the unexpected lay the miraculous; behind that which was merely startling there was something not of this sphere, but supernatural and Divine. In the miracle there was manifest Divine knowledge of 'whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas,' power to guide the inhabitants of the deep into the net let down at His command.

But more than this, through the veil of Divine knowledge and power there beamed forth the Divine sanctity. In the person of Him who wrought the miracle there dwelt that which was Divine---almighty power, unsearchable wisdom---and that also which with the Israelite always accompanied the Divine----sanctity. And in the out-beaming of that sanctity, as brightest lights cast deepest shadows so this startled man saw the real character of his heart, saw that in him sin abode, and cried out, 'Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.'

It was a moment of intense struggle in the heart of Simon. There was the sense of sin making him conscious of his unbecoming nearness to the Holy One of God. There was the sense of demerit making him feel the immeasurable distance, the profound gulf between himself and the All Holy. This made him cry, 'Depart from me.' But, on the other hand, there was the sense of need that would not let the sinner leave the Savior whom he bade depart. There was the craving for something better that made him fall at Christ's feet, suppliant for a blessing. Within him there went on that conflict between conscious demerit and the yearning for purity.

To Simon it was the hour of crisis; he had fallen low, but he was to be raised up. In his service of Christ he had lent the boat for the Master's pulpit, now he was to catch men. He had begun the day a disciple and auditor; he was to end it an apostle elect. He had 'humbled himself,' had learnt the lesson of his own sinfulness, and had learnt it in the out-beaming of Christ's holiness; he had been shown his unworthiness, not only for Christ's service, but even to stand in His presence; and out of that humiliation there came to him exaltation; the 'broken and contrite heart' Christ did not despise.

In Christ, timothy. Maranatha