So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.Luke 22:32
A FEW plain words about a plain truth: many of Christ’s disciples need converting again. Peter, to whom the Savior spoke the words, had been converted before. He had believed in the Lord Jesus; he loved his Savior heartily and had forsaken all for Him; have we done much more? But Peter fell, and many a living disciple has fallen. Compared with what he has been in a fallen state, some are lukewarm, others have a name to live, and are dead; while of many Christ may say, “You have forsaken the love you had at first.”
It is an acknowledged fact that many Christian professors need a change. There is a felt want for something higher in religious experience. The Church too often feels a burden resting upon her. It is often the subject of praying the prayer meetings. It is spoken of in the assemblies for Christian fellowship. It no doubt forms the subject of many a sorrowful complaint in secret before God. Let our readers take this home to their own hearts. Are we not consciously below our privilege? Has religion, as possessed in our hearts and displayed in our lives, the power it ought to have? Is it not likely that this cause may be attributed to the few conversions from the world to God?
It is a fact that there have been Christian people who have been raised from a low state of righteousness into a new and glorious experience of the things of God. Theirs had been the cold and variable experience so commonly deplored; theirs, the frequent heart backslidings, weakness of faith, absence of faith, absence of joy, and continual self-reproach. Their example had been but a dim and changeful light, and their power with God feeble. But God has changed them, and they have entered upon a higher life of conscious liberty and glorious power. Most of us can recall instances of the kind among local preachers, class leaders, and ministers. What has been the change in these cases but a new conversion?
But why use language of this kind, it will be asked. Why not keep to the standard phraseology? If the Church of Christ has fallen, why not call it backsliding? And if you would call Christians to attain all that the atonement has procured for them, why not speak of entire sanctification, of a clean heart, or perfect love? For this reason, that in those of whom we write, there are the elements of both. Many who profess Christianity need perfect love, healing their heart backslidings, and forgiveness for the past. When Christ spoke the words to Peter above, he spoke of a re-conversion. The Apostle James writes in a similar strain, “My brothers and sisters, if any of you wander from the truth and someone turns back the wanderer, recognize that whoever brings a sinner back from the wrong path will save them from death and will bring about the forgiveness of many sins.” (James 5:19-20 CEB) Let us see, then, whether there is an analogy between this change so much needed by many who profess Christianity and that which we usually speak of as the conversion of a sinner.
If we ask, what is the first great need of an unsaved man? The answer will be reconciliation with God. The source of his thousand miseries is that sin has put him wrong with God, and he is condemned already until his sin is pardoned. Between the condemned soul and its offended God, there can be no fellowship. Forgiveness is needed to put right with God. Is there not a similar need with many who are known as Christ’s disciples? Let our readers ask their own hearts, Am I walking in the clear light of God’s favor now? Can I call Him Abba, Father, with the filial confidence of past years? Can I now
“Behold, without a cloud between,
The Godhead reconciled? “
How many need a change to the clear blessed assurance of pardon! There requires a perpetual good understanding between our souls and God. We speak of conversion as required because the sinner is in bondage to sin. O, what a domineering tyrant is evil in the heart of one who has never been set free by Christ! With such a person, sin is master, and “when he would do good evil is present” to defeat their intention. They need what the Spirit calls the new birth to set them free from sin. The believer often needs a similar change. It is not that sin in them rules, but they struggle with it so terrible, and they are so often defeated that they find themselves entangled in the old bondage. Sin in their heart, in their words and actions; sin defiling their holy services; sin robbing God of glory and the soul of peace and power. How much is needed salvation from all sin! In fact, as the unconverted person needs a new heart in one sense, the disciple does in another. Following up on this is the want of peace, for sin brings its own punishment, and be under the power of sin is to have a heart unresting and unhappy. How many a poor mistaken soul, hungry and thirsty for happiness, feeds on husks because ignorant of the true good! Perfect peace and solid joy are blessings existing in desire and prayer rather than actual experience with many members of the family of God. Who now is as happy as when God first saved him? Who now can “rejoice evermore, pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks?” It is not uncommon to meet sincere Christians so miserable with doubts and a wearying conflict with evil that they are ready to use the language that Paul never used as the language of a true believer, “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?”
These things reveal the need for a change-show that many who have been converted; and are members of the family of God and the Church of Christ need a new conversion.
We have endeavored to show that some of the followers of Christ need a change that may be called a new conversion in some respects. We may perhaps see this more clearly as we inquire into the nature of the change itself. And here, a question arises – Is the conversion of a sinner instantaneous or gradual? The answer is – Both. As a change of mind, it is gradual work. The mind opens, becomes enlightened, and obtains more authentic views of God and religion. This must be a work of time. We notice in those whose conversion appears sudden that they usually admit on being questioned, that their mind was for some time previously been waiting to understand the importance of religion. But the soul’s conversion – the part God does, and in which He is all in all – is the work of a moment. He does not forgive this gradually, a few at a time. He does not regenerate the heart by a slow process, nor take months or weeks to adopt them into His family. He speaks, and it is done!
And thus, will it be with the change through which many saved ones need to pass ere they are what God would have them be. The change of the mind, it’s awakening to the fact that something is wrong, that a higher Christian life is both possible and necessary – this is gradual. Some have been months and even years in learning this lesson. But the great spiritual change, when the Lord God sanctifies the heart and raises the soul to its true life, may be expected to occur in a moment. The instant a sinner fully yields and takes hold of the promise of God by faith, that instant they are pardoned and received. An as soon as an earnest seeker of the higher life fully surrenders all to Christ and believes in the cleansing blood, that moment sin dies, and the soul rises into the life of God.
And conversion is a glorious work. Who of us that has experienced its power can ever forget it? It is the saving of a soul from death, the hiding of a multitude of sins. It is day-dawn to the spirit that has long sat in darkness and the region and shadow of death. A change from darkness to light – from guilt to pardon – from hostility to love – from condemnation to confidence – from misery to joy unspeakable. And like this in joyfulness and power is this re-conversion. We knew a godly man who experienced this change. He had been consistent before, but soon he became a man of singular spirituality and power. His testimony was that the change he had experienced far surpassed the glory of the first change of his heart. And most are familiar with a remark of Bramwell’s to the effect that as far as the influence for God is concerned, one wholly sanctified person is worth a dozen converted from the world. O! for us who have doubts and fears to be raised above them all, and see the last slavish fears slain beneath our feet; for us who have walked in darkness to walk in the light as God is in the light: for us who have spiritually bee so weak, and so reluctant in confessing our Master – for us to receive power through the Holy Ghost, and so become witnesses for Him – how glorious a change would this be! Glorious for ourselves, the Church, and the world around were we thus re-converted, thus raised to what our loving God would have us be.
The change in a person’s character and position before God, which we call conversion, is evident. “A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden.” We often hear of the philosopher who solved his problem while bathing and ran forth joyfully crying, I have found it! And such as somewhat the feeling of one whose soul is saved. How is it possible for a person to experience a change so marvelous as this, and for his family, his shop mates, his neighbors to find it out? You are the light of the world. And indeed, Christ never lights His lamp to be put a bushel measure over them. If the room is dark, you should turn on the lights sending the light into every part. And no more can the light of a converted person be kept from shining. The light will not be held under the bushel – it must shine out!
And this will it be with the believer raised by God’s power to the higher life. The change will carry with it its own evidence. We Peter at Pentecost, braveheart, earnest and full of zeal, confronting the murderers of his Master and charging home to them their sin. Is this the same Peter? Can it be he whose faint heart, frighted at the servant girl’s question, quickly denied all knowledge of Christ? Yes, the same, but he has been new-converted. Imagine Peter asking if he should confess the blessing! Confess it! His fellow disciples would soon know, and those to whom he preached would know that he was a re-converted man. Yet we, in our weakness of faith, are shrinking from witness-bearing and asking, “If God were to do this, could I confess it?” Why, it would beam forth from our countenance and speak out in our life if our tongue refused to own it. “With your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”
Many of our readers will have felt that such a change is highly desirable as we have been pressing their attention. In their case, there has probably been a long-standing dissatisfaction with their present experience. Still, the question has been ever, how shall I rise to something higher and purer? By what means shall I become what I feel I ought to be? In plain words, I want a new conversion – how shall I get it? To this, the answer is not complicated. How were you converted in the first? Let thought glance backward to the period when the first significant change was undergone. It may be five, ten, fifteen years ago – but what was its commencement?
Undoubtedly in every case, in a spiritual awakening, in what we call conviction of sin. It was the opening of the soul’s eyes. Past sins were seen in their multitude and enormity as they had never been seen before. The law of God shone before the dazzled eyes of the awakened conscience in all its purity and spirituality, and eternity was revealed in all its mystery and awfulness. Then the soul felt creeping over it a sense of guiltiness, and for the first time, realized its actual position and peril. Then followed unrest, anxiety, and a desire for mercy, which prompted the question, “What must I do to be saved?”
This work of the Spirit on the soul was the very commencement of the significant saving change. There could be no living faith, there could be no repentance even, till the soul realized its guiltiness and peril. And there is an awakening needed in those who would be entirely the Lord’s. Believers, as well as sinners, need conviction of sin. An usually, the hunger and perseverance with which a man seeks restoration, and total renewal are in proportion to the insight and depth of his convictions of need. To be satisfied with our present state is a curse to any man, especially if our state is one of lukewarmness and heart-backsliding. To experience an uneasiness of soul and a restless desire to be holier is a blessing. Let us not be afraid to know our actual state, as the Divine eye sees us; and when with sincerity we place ourselves in God’s presence and baring our hearts before him, ask-
Show me as my soul can bear
The depth of inbred sin
We have taken the first steps toward a holier life. That which in conversion follows the conviction of need is repentance – a genuine turning round of the heart from sin to God. The awakened man is now sorry for his wrong and would gladly know how to escape his sin. According to his temperament, his sorrow may run deep like a steady stream that flows silently within its banks. Or may flow out carelessly and spread itself like a flood. However, shown, the sorrow will be there. It will lead to the offering of the publican’s prayer “God be merciful to me a sinner!” or that of the penitent king – “Have mercy on me, O Lord, according to thy lovingkindness!” and similar sorrow will pierce the heart of those who think of their backslidings and seek a higher state.
Not needlessly did Mr. Wesley publish that sermon on “The Repentance of Believers,” for those whom God has pardoned is not among those “who need no repentance.” Peter, after his sad fall, “was grieved” by the thrice-repeated question, “Lovest thou Me?” and often in those epistles Christ sent by the beloved John to the churches, is heard the call to repent. Is lukewarmness in life nothing to grieve over? Heart-back-sliding and coldness toward Christ and His sacrifice, nothing to be sorry for? O that God would give us to feel as Peter felt when his Master’s reproving glance fell upon him and to repent as he repented when “he went out and wept bitterly!” There must be, there will be, genuine grief on account of the indwelling sin, and the believer, seeking complete restoration to God’s favor, and the possession of His full salvation, will be found using language, not unlike that which poured from his broken heart in the sorrow which preceded the forgiveness of his sin,
“O for that tenderness of heart!”
Then, last of all, faith in the Lord Jesus completes the change in either case. It is through faith in the great atonement that we are justified and born again. The same faith, exercised towards the same object, brings us the healing of our backslidings and the full salvation of our souls. A sinner is pardoned when he believes, and not until he believes-so a believer is sanctified whenever he takes God at His Word and believes in the blood which cleanses. “By grace are ye saved, through faith,” but “sanctified through faith.” “To him that believeth, all things are possible.”
We cannot better close these papers than with an extract from a letter put into the writer’s hand a few months ago, after a sermon on holiness.
“I obtained the blessing eight years past, and retain it to the present time, and trust I shall forever. I had the impression from a boy that Christianity was calculated to prepare a man to meet death and his God, with peace and joy, which I have proved to the satisfaction of my soul. I have long been distressed with doubts and fears respecting God and my salvation. I did many things I thought would merit His favor, but alas! They were all in vain. I saw, at last, there must be an entire surrender to obtain the blessing and a constant keeping the sacrifice on the altar, to retain the same. With due reverence, I speak it. I enjoy a constant peace with God which passes knowledge, a sacred awe and silent heaven of love, a short waiting to meet the bridegroom. I see the way to heaven as clear as the sun. If this privilege was to be obtained and retained by works, I should never enjoy it, but why not as it is by faith? It was natural for me to doubt, fear, and die; it is now habitual to believe, rejoice, and live. All praise to the glorious Trinity. ‘Whatsoever toucheth the altar shall be holy.’ Preach this glorious doctrine with your every breath, and you shall be crowned with eternal life.’
O, that all our readers may experience this glorious change very soon!
“But is it possible that I
Should live and sin no more?
Lord, it on Thee I dare rely,
The faith shall bring the power.”
I. E. PAGEL
Bate, John, ed. 1870. The Guide to Holiness and Class Leader’s Magazine. Vol. 1. London: Amos Osborne.