Now it happened, when the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, that he tore his clothes. (2 Kings 22:11)
Young King Josiah came to throne when the leaders and people of Judah were spiritually compromised and corrupt. As he took an interest in God’s temple, they found the Book of the Law – what we would call many of the books of the Old Testament – in the temple.
When they read God’s word to the king, it did a spiritual work in King Josiah. It was not merely the transmission of information; the hearing of God’s word impacted Josiah with spiritual power.
When Josiah heard it, he tore his clothes. This was a traditional expression of horror and astonishment. In the strongest possible way, Josiah showed his grief on his own account and on account of the nation. This was an expression of deep conviction of sin, and a good thing.
Revival and spiritual awakening are marked by such expressions of the conviction of sin. Dr. J. Edwin Orr, in The Second Evangelical Awakening in Britain, recounted some examples from the great movement that impacted Britain and the world in 1859-1861.
In the town of Coleraine, Northern Ireland, a schoolboy was under so much conviction of sin that he couldn’t continue on in class. From the ministry of another boy in the class, he found peace and returned to the classroom immediately to tell the teacher: “I am so happy: I have the Lord Jesus in my heart!” His testimony had a striking effect on the class, the teacher peeked out the window and saw boys kneeling in prayer all around the schoolyard. The teacher was so convicted that he asked the first converted boy to minister to him. Finally, the whole school was in such a state that pastors came and ministered to the students, teachers, and parents, and people received ministry at the school until 11:00 that night.
A high-ranking army officer described the conviction of sin in his Scottish town: “Those of you who are at ease have little idea of how terrifying a sight it is when the Holy Spirit is pleased to open a man’s eyes to see the real state of his heart… Men who were thought to be, and who thought themselves to be good, religious people… have been led to search into the foundation upon which they were resting, and have found all rotten, that they were self-satisfied, resting on their own goodness, and not upon Christ. Many turned from open sin to lives of holiness, some weeping for joy for sins forgiven.”
This conviction of sin is the special work of the Holy Spirit, even as Jesus said in John 16:8: “And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin.”
The conviction of sin never feels good, but it leads to something good: forgiveness of sin and getting the life right with Jesus Christ. Don’t despise the conviction of sin.