Conviction in general, is the assurance of the truth of any proposition. In a religious sense, it is the first degree of repentance, and implies an affecting sense that we are guilty before God; that we can do nothing -of ourselves to gain his forfeited favor; that we deserve and are. exposed to the wrath of God; that sin is very odious and hateful, yea, the greatest of evils.
There is a natural and just conviction which arises from natural conscience, fear of punishment, moral suasion, or alarming providences, but which, is not of a permanent nature. Saving conviction is a work of the Holy Spirit, as the cause; though the conscience, the law, the gospel, or affliction, may be the means (Joh 16:8-9).
Convictions of sin differ very much in their degree and pungency, in different persons. It has been observed that those who suffer the most agonizing sensations are such as never before enjoyed the external call of the gospel, or were favored with the tuition of religious parents, but have neglected or notoriously abused the means of grace. To these, conviction is often sudden, and produces that horror and shame which are not soon overcome; whereas those who have sat under the gospel from their infancy have not often such alarming convictions, because they have already some notion of these things, and have much acquaintance with the gospel, which administers to a believing heart immediate comfort. As it is not, therefore, the constant method of the Spirit to convince in one way, it is improper for any to distress themselves because they are not, or have not been, tormented almost to despair: they should be rather thankful that the Spirit of God has dealt tenderly with them, and opened to them the genuine source of consolation in Christ. It is necessary, however, to observe that, ill order to repentance and conversion to God, there must be real and lasting conviction, which, though it may not be the same in degree, is the same in nature.
Evangelical conviction differs from legal conviction thus legal arises from a consideration of the divine law, God's justice, power, or omniscience; evangelical, from God's goodness and holiness as seen in the cross of Christ, and from a disaffection to sin; legal conviction still conceives there is something remaining good; but evangelical is sensible there is no good at all; legal wishes freedom from pain; evangelical from sin; legal hardens the heart; evangelical softens it; legal is only temporary; evangelical lasting.