Guilt -- By: William R. Newell

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 110:439 (Jul 1953)
Article: Guilt
Author: William R. Newell


William R. Newell

Guilt is the basis and measure of divine judgment: therefore it is infinitely important to bear in mind just what guilt is.

I. Guilt Defined

(1) Guilt is that effect of disobedience to authority which renders the disobeyer obnoxious to law and liable to punishment. Guilt is not sin, but in the Scriptural view that state of liability to punishment into which sin brings the creature. Sin is the creature’s act: guilt has to do with the righteous processes of the Throne sinned against. We read in God’s Word of “him that is laden with guilt’“ “a people laden with iniquity,” “silly women laden with sins,” and even of those who have gone down to death “with their iniquities upon their bones.”

(2) In the nature of the case the guilty one cannot remove his own guilt. This only the offended authority can do. Harmful results accruing to the disobedient do not remove his guilt. Nor can the offended authority dismiss the case with a mere wave of the hand, lest he overthrow his own authority. Law cannot pardon: it can only command and condemn. If there is to be a pardon, it must be preceded by the honoring of the law in meeting its claims in full. If these claims are not thus met by the infractor, law is despised.

(3) A man commits a sin. God records guilt. He who sins knows it is a sin, and may or may not trouble himself in conscience about it. For example, a man may have “taken God’s name in vain,” or as we say he has been “swearing.” The distinction between the act of sin and the guilt thereof is clear in God’s pronouncement in the third commandment

given to Israel: “Thou shalt not take the name of Jehovah thy God in vain; for Jehovah will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” Here we see that guilt has to do particularly with that time when God judges sin.1 The profane man may condemn himself, may resolve to “do better,” may even take steps of watchfulness against this sin. All this is human works. But what does God still say? “I will not hold him guiltless.” Whatever the creature may think, resolve, or do concerning his sin, there remains this fearful fact of guilt.

(4) There is coming a day when all the deeds and thoughts of men will be brought up. For guilt belongs to the Judgment Day to settle. A sense of guilt appals a soul even in this life with terrible dread of judgment—and it should. But that dread does not in any sense remove guilt.

I remember, years ago, sitting in a carriage in a Michigan city waiting for a friend. The carriage was at the foot of a street that came...

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