But, if the consciousness of sin is to be produced, the law of God must be proclaimed in the lives of Christian people, as well as in word. It is quite useless for the preacher to breathe out fire and brimstone from the pulpit if, at the same time, the occupants of the pews go on taking sin very lightly and being content with the moral standards of the world. The rank and file of the church must do their part in so proclaiming the law of God by their lives that the secrets of men’s hearts shall be revealed.
All these things, however, are, in themselves, quite insufficient to produce the consciousness of sin. The more one observes the condition of the church, the more one feels obliged to confess that the conviction of sin is a great mystery which can be produced only by the Spirit of God. Proclamation of the law, in word and in deed, can prepare for the experience, but the experience itself comes from God. When a man has that experience, when a man comes under the conviction of sin, his whole attitude toward life is transformed. He wonders at his former blindness, and the message of the gospel, which, formerly, seemed to be an idle tale becomes, now, instinct with light. But, it is God, alone, who can produce the change.
Only, let us not try to do without the Spirit of God. The fundamental fault of the modern church is that she is busily engaged in an absolutely impossible task – she is busily engaged in calling the righteous to repentance. Modern preachers are trying to bring men into the church without requiring them to relinquish their pride. They are trying to help men avoid the conviction of sin. The preacher gets up into the pulpit, opens the Bible, and addresses the congregation somewhat as follows: “You people are very good,” he says. “You respond to every appeal that looks toward the welfare of the community. Now, we have, in the Bible – especially in the life of Jesus – something so good that we believe it is good enough even for you good people.” Such is modern preaching. It is heard every Sunday in thousands of pulpits. But, it is entirely futile. Even our Lord did not call the righteous to repentance and, probably, we shall be no more successful than He.
From: Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen (New York: Macmillan, 1923), pp. 67-68.