The Nature, Effect and Necessity of Conversion
Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of Heaven. Matthew xviii:3
The twelve disciples of Christ were slow to learn the nature of his kingdom. They regarded it as a secular kingdom, and supposed its administration would involve such a display of worldly splendor as earth never saw. They expected the Messiah to be a mighty temporal prince, competent to subdue every foe, and induce universal submission to his scepter. They imagined that he would wear a crown made out of the richest materials, supplied by the diadems of the dethroned monarchs of the earth. The disciples, entertaining these views, were anxious to have posts of honor and preferment assigned them in the kingdom of the Messiah, and they were very desirous to know who should be greatest in the kingdom. Their ambitious views called forth the language of the text, "Except ye be converted and become as little children," etc.
I. The Nature of Conversion.
The term conversion literally signifies the act sf turning, change, etc. The connection in which
it is found shows the nature of the change. The word, as used in the text, means a change of views in reference to the kingdom of Christ. I shall, however, speak of conversion in its ordinary evangelical sense. What is it?
It is turning to God in heart and life. The unrenewed heart is estranged from God. The soul is in darkness - under the power of Satan. The affections take hold of improper objects. The will chooses what it ought to reject. Hence, in conversion, the sinner turns from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God. Paul was sent to the Gentiles to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, etc. Here the eyes of the understanding are represented as blind. They were to be opened. But what would this of itself avail? With open eyes a man can see nothing in darkness. The eye is adapted not to darkness but to light. The light is for the eye, and the eye for the light. There is a mutual adaptation. The eyes of the Gentiles were to be opened by Paul's ministry, and then they were to turn from darkness to light. And if there is a distinction between regeneration and conversion, as Charnock and others have supposed, it may be denoted thus: The opening of the eyes signifying the regenerating process, and the turning from darkness to light the converting process. In conversion the sinner comes out of darkness into marvelous light - breaks away from the power of Satan and comes under the dominion of God.
The estranged heart is reclaimed from its estrangement. The alienated affections, being recalled from improper objects, are placed on God and holiness. The will chooses what the affections love. Conversion, internally considered, is a turning of the heart to divine things by repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. The turning amounts to nothing, unless it is a turning to the Lord. The heart may turn ever so frequently from one idol to another, but there is no evangelical conversion without a turning to the Lord. Hence, David, in referring to the times of the Messiah, says, "And all the ends of the earth shall remember, and turn to the Lord."
In conversion there is also a turning to God in the life. There is an external as well as an internal turning to the Lord. He who is converted inwardly, is converted outwardly. There is a conformity of the life to the will of God. When the tree is made good, the fruit is good. The grace of God, which brings salvation, teaches a denial of all ungodliness and worldly lusts, and inculcates sobriety, righteousness and godliness. The idea of conversion is incomplete, unless it includes a turning to God in life as well as in heart.
II. The Effect of Conversion.
I do not say effects, because I wish to confine myself to the effect referred to in the text - and
become as little children. In what respects are converted persons as little children?
1. In their readiness to give credence to testimony. - Little children do not hesitate to believe what is told them. The probability is, that they never doubt the truth of any one's declaration, till they find they have been deceived. Then they begin to indulge suspicion. But even then, though deceived by others, they believe what their parents say. Strange as it may be, defying as it may, their feeble powers of comprehension, they do not look on it as a possible thing for their parents to utter an untruth. Their childish disputes among one another are settled by an appeal to the father or the mother. "Father says so," or "mother says so," is final. Thus do the converted receive the testimony of God. They ask no other reason for a thing than that God says so. They may question the truth, of what men say, (as children may question the truth of what all the world may say, if it conflicts with what their parents say,) but they believe God. From their hearts they say it is impossible for God to lie. I can not better illustrate this point than by referring to what occurred in the state of New York between an intelligent infidel and a simple-hearted, uncultivated Christian. The infidel scornfully said, "Do you believe the Bible?" "Yes," was the reply. "Do you believe all the Bible?" rejoined the infidel. He added also, "Think well before you answer this question, for the Bible contains some strange things." The honest-hearted man said, "I believe all the
Bible." The infidel contemptuously inquired, "Does not the Bible say a whale swallowed Jonah? Do you believe that?" "Yes," said the pious man, "and if God had said Jonah swallowed the whale, I would have believed that." This was a child-like disposition to give credence to testimony. This unlettered man could not, perhaps, have understood a metaphysical disquisition on faith; but he exemplified the loftiest confidence in God. He was ready to believe any thing that God would say. He did not hesitate to take God at his word in matters easy or difficult to understand, in things plain or mysterious. He was converted. He had become as a little child.
2. Little children are free from corroding, worldly care. - Supply their present wants, and they are happy. Apprehensions of the future do not trouble them. They feel safe under parental protection. They confide in the power and willingness of their parents to provide. The converted must exhibit this freedom from worldly care. The Savior refers to this when he says, "Take no thought for the morrow" - that is, no anxious, distressing thought. He shows the inutility of such thought. Which of you, by taking thought, can add one cubit to his stature?
The greatest anxiety avails nothing. Paul says to the Phillippians, "Be careful for nothing, but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God." Again he says "My God shall supply all your need." David had said before,
"Trust in the Lord and do good: so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed." The exemption from worldly care, which the Savior recommends, is inseparable from that confidence in God which sustains the persuasion that he "will withhold no good thing from those who walk uprightly."
3. Little children do not cherish and retain malice. - They sometimes fall out with one another, but they are soon reconciled. Their resentments are transient. Paul says to the Corinthians, "In malice, be ye children, but in understanding, be men." The converted may learn a lesson from little children. All converted persons possess, in a greater or less degree, a forgiving disposition. They are imperfect and sometimes offend and are offended. But they are "kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God for Christ's sake has forgiven them." The resentful, malicious feelings of the heart must not be indulged. "Anger rests in the bosoms of fools." A wise man, a good man may feel anger, but it is with him a transient emotion, while it abides in the bosoms of fools. A forgiving spirit is perhaps one of the best evidences of conversion. What evidence have the unforgiving of their conversion? A moment's reflection will convince them that they are not converted, unless God acts toward them as they do not act toward those who offend them. Let it be remembered that the converted are as little children in malice. They soon forgive offenses, and act as if they had never occurred.
4. Little children are unambitious. - This infantile trait is referred to when the Savior says, "Whosoever shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of Heaven." Little children never assume airs of superiority till they are taught to do so. No schemes of ambition occupy their minds. No lofty enterprises engage their thoughts. The children of the rich and the poor, of the wise and the ignorant, of the philosopher and the rustic, of the king and the subject, know of no inequality until it is suggested to them. They are humble. So the converted are humble. It is characteristic of all the converted that they have learned of Christ, who is meek and lowly in heart. They have the mind of Christ. They are clothed with humility. Goodness is, in their estimation, infinitely more important than greatness. The converted man can adopt David's language, "Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty, neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me. Surely I have behaved and quieted myself as a child that is weaned of its mother. My soul is as a weaned child." Humility is one of the loveliest ornaments of the Christian character. There is no surer evidence of conversion than the humility inculcated by the Savior.
III. The Necessity of Conversion.
On this topic my remarks shall be few. Why is conversion, necessary?
1. It is necessary in order to our elevation to the proper dignity of rational creatures. - Alienation from God, brings disgrace on all who are involved in it. Man is in a state of degradation while he remains unconverted. To attain true dignity and glory he must turn to God.
2. It is necessary in order to our qualification for church membership. - Church privileges are not to be lightly esteemed, and they can not be appreciated or enjoyed by the unconverted. No man ought to belong to a church on earth, who would not, were he to die, enter into Heaven. A church of Christ is designed for converted souls. No one can, of right, enter the kingdom of God on earth without conversion.
3. It is necessary in order to our admittance into Heaven. - If the text refers to the kingdom of glory, this point is settled; and if it does not, there are other portions of Scripture which teach the necessity of conversion to an entrance into the heavenly mansions. Conversion is, therefore, as important as the attainment of celestial glory. And who can tell how important it is to share in this glory? Conversion is as important as the soul's salvation. And who can tell how important it is for the soul to be saved? Is not conversion necessary?
1. Are you converted?
2. Are you as a little child?
3.Is the kingdom of Heaven yours?
[From J. M. Pendleton, Short Sermons on Important Subjects, 1859. This book is from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Library, Wake Forest, NC via ILL through Boone County Public Library, Burlington, KY. - Jim Duvall]
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