THE PARACLETE'S CONVICTION OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.
The Spirit's conviction of righteousness — His exhibition of a perfect model of righteous human character — was as necessary for the moral recovery of fallen men as the conviction of sin. By the dark picture of what the sinner is, must be suspended the bright ideal of what he ought to be. This ideal no fallen man is able, without the Spirit's aid, correctly to portray. He alone can photograph it upon the prepared tablet of the soul. Conviction of sin prepares the tablet. In the normal unfolding of the child there arises the ability to discover the distinction between right and wrong. But this moral sense is so drugged from childhood upward with the threefold opiates, selfishness, worldliness and fleshly-mindedness, that the soul has no conception of the high moral attainments for which it was created, and comes to look upon it as becoming and inevitable to desire sensual pleasures, to seek after them and indulge in them with only such limitation as self-love may suggest. The ordinary course of education in all pagan families, and in many homes nominally Christian, is such as tends more and more to inflame the worldly and fleshly stimulants of action, more and more to draw the youth out of quiet meditation into the race-course of intellectual emulation, athletic strife, business, competition, or the whirlpool of sensual pleasure. The world is full of false notions of honor and false estimates of interest. Hence the natural man knows nothing of a perfect attainable righteousness. Study the moral character of the pagan gods of the most cultured nations; for here, if anywhere, we may find among the gods worshipped by these nations an expression of their highest ideals of righteousness. But we find on Mount Olympus among the gods of Grecian and Roman mythology only deified lust, deified hatred, deified theft, deified jealousy and deified bloodthirstiness.
Nor is there anything in the best human philosophies in heathenism that can be safely held up as the pattern of perfect righteousness. Ignoring the fact that man at his climax reflects the image of his Creator, philosophy denudes Him of all the human virtues, piles up a lot of abstractions and negations powerless to purify and elevate human society, and then wonders that it is steadily sinking into the depths of hopeless moral degeneracy.
Study the pagan poets, their epics and tragedies, their satires and comedies, and their lyrics also, and you will no longer express your surprise at Plato's exclusion of the poet's from his ideal republic. Instead of delineating the portrait of spotless righteousness, they glorify human vices, and with all the splendors of genius they so adorn the contentions and debasing passions of men as to incite to their imitation.
Even in Christian lands some modern writers who reject Christ have gone back to paganism, and have raised from the dead the idea that might is right, a monstrous idea which was laid in its grave by Socrates more than twenty-two hundred years ago. But what is the Comforter's irrefutable proof of the perfect righteousness of Christ? He Himself answers, "Because I go to the Father, and ye see me no more." The world placed Him between two thieves; but God, who cannot err, has set Him between Himself and the Holy Spirit, far above all principality and power. Never was the righteousness of the world so contradicted as when He to whom Barabbas was preferred, was received by the Father amid the acclamations of all the holy orders of intelligences around His throne. The pure and perfect righteousness of Jesus is now forever vindicated. "Despised and rejected of men," yea, of all men, – for what the Jews, the best nation did, all other nations would have done, – He has been received and adored by all the heavenly world. This is a sufficient proof of His righteousness.
But how do we know that He has been thus received? It is true that no human eye saw Him after the cloud received Him from the sight of His upward-gazing disciples. It is also true that no angelic witness of the reception and coronation has come down to this world and made oath to this glorious fact. But a greater witness has come down, and is now testifying to every human conscience that Jesus sits enthroned with His Father. This testimony is twofold: first, in the inspired gospel record where the fact stands undisputed; and, secondly, in the heart of every hearer of the gospel, where the duty of penitent faith in Him is urged upon the conscience as the first and greatest duty. It may be that "the fulness of time" for which God waited before He "sent forth his Son" ( Gal. iv. 4 ) was the period required for the demonstration of the world's utter inability to originate those moral ideals which could turn men from sin to righteousness. He waited till the Greeks, the most aesthetic nation, had reached the perfection of art in painting, sculpture and architecture; till the greatest orators had uttered their matchless speeches; till the greatest poets had been laurel crowned; till the greatest philosophers had uttered their "divine peradventures," and till all the leading ethnic religions had set up moral monstrosities to be worshipped in their temples; till Greece amid the splendors of art was rotting in licentiousness, and till all-conquering Rome, on her seven hills burning the incense of her adoration to Might, was pouring contempt on all the passive virtues, meekness, patience, forgiveness and philanthropy. Then God permitted His well-beloved Son to unite Himself with humanity, to present to all men the perfect model of character, and to teach every man the duty of reproducing that sinless character in himself, Then, as a crowning gift, to render the gift of His Son available in the highest degree, He sent down the divine Paraclete to assist man's wandering eye to gaze steadfastly upon this divine and human model of holiness, and to steady his hand to copy the matchless beauties of that heavenly pattern. This was the second work of the Comforter, to convince the world of righteousness, because this too was a work which He alone could accomplish.