Conversion: What Is It? Part 1

1 Thessalonians 1
The first chapter of first Thessalonians presents a very striking and beautiful picture of what we may truly call genuine conversion. We propose to study the picture in company with the reader. If we are not much mistaken, we shall find the study at once interesting and profitable. It will, most assuredly, furnish an answer distinct and clear, to the question which stands at the head of this article, namely, What is conversion?
Nor is this, by any means, a small matter. It is well, in days like these, to have a divine answer to such a question. We hear a good deal, now-a-days, about cases of conversion; and we would heartily bless God for every soul truly converted to Him.
We need hardly say we believe in the absolute, the indispensable, the universal necessity of divine conversion. Let a man be what he may; be he Jew or Greek, barbarian, Scythian, bond or free, Protestant or Roman Catholic; in short, whatever be his nationality, his ecclesiastical position, or his theological creed, he must be converted, else he is on the broad and direct road to an everlasting hell.
There is no one born a Christian, in the divine sense of that word. Neither can any one be educated into Christianity. It is a fatal mistake, a deadly delusion, a deceit of the arch-enemy of souls, for any one to think that he can be a Christian, either by birth or education, or that he can be made a Christian by water baptism, or by any religious ceremony whatsoever. A man becomes a Christian only by being divinely converted. What this conversion is, we shall see in the course of our present study. What we would, at the very outset, insist upon, and earnestly press on the attention of all whom it may concern, is the urgent and absolute necessity, in every case, of true conversion to God.
This cannot be set aside. It is the height of folly for any one to attempt to ignore or to make light of it. For an immortal being — one who has a boundless eternity stretching away before him, to neglect the solemn question of his conversion, is the wildest fatuity of which any one can possibly be guilty. In comparison with this most weighty subject, all other things dwindle into utter insignificance. The various objects that engage the thoughts and absorb the energies of men and women in the busy scene around us, are but as the small dust of the balance in comparison with this one grand, momentous question of the soul’s conversion to God. All the speculations of commercial life, all the schemes of money making, the absorbing question of profitable investment, all the pursuits of the pleasure hunter — the theater, the concert, the ball-room, the billiard room, the card table, the dice box, the race course, the hunting ground, the drinking saloon — all the numberless and nameless things that the poor unsatisfied heart longs after, and grasps at — all are but as the vapor of the morning, the foam on the water, the smoke from the chimney top, the withered leaf of autumn — all vanish away, and leave an aching void behind. The heart remains unsatisfied, the soul unsaved, because unconverted.
And what then? Ah! yes; what then? Tremendous question! What remains at the end of all this scene of commercial excitement, political strife and ambition, money making and pleasure hunting? Why then the man has to face death! “It is appointed unto men once to die.” There is no getting over this. There is no discharge in this war. All the wealth of the universe could not purchase one moment’s respite at the hand of the ruthless foe. All the medical skill which earth affords, all the fond solicitude of affectionate relatives and friends, all their tears, all their sighs, all their entreaties cannot stave off the dreaded moment or cause the king of terrors to sheathe his terrible sword. Death cannot be disposed of by any art of man. The moment must come when the link is to be snapped which connects the heart with all the fair and fascinating scenes of human life. Fondly loved friends, charming pursuits, coveted objects, all must be given up. A thousand worlds could not avert the stroke. Death must be looked at straight in the face. It is an awful mystery — a tremendous fact — a stern reality. It stands full in front of every unconverted man, woman, and child beneath the canopy of heaven; and it is merely a question of time, hours, days, months, or years, when the boundary line must be crossed which separates time, with all its empty, vain, shadowy pursuits, from eternity with all its stupendous realities.
And what then? Let Scripture answer. Nothing else can. Men would fain reply according to their own vain notions. They would have us believe that after death comes annihilation. “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Empty conceit! Vain delusion! Foolish dream of the human imagination blinded by the god of this world! How could an immortal soul be annihilated? Man, in the garden of Eden, became the possessor of a never dying spirit. “The Lord God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul — not a dying soul. The soul must live forever. Converted or unconverted, it has eternity before it. Oh! the overpowering weight of this consideration to every thoughtful spirit! No human mind can grasp its immensity. It is beyond our comprehension, but not beyond our belief.
Let us hearken to the voice of God. What does Scripture teach? One line of Holy Scripture is quite sufficient to sweep away ten thousand arguments and theories of the human mind. Does death annihilate? Nay! “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.”
Mark these words, “After this the judgment.” And this applies only to those who die in their sins — only to unbelievers. For the Christian, judgment is passed forever, as Scripture teaches in manifold places. It is important to note this, because men tell us that, inasmuch as there is eternal life only in Christ, therefore all who are out of Christ shall be annihilated.
Not so says the Word of God. There is judgment after death. And what will be the issue of the judgment? Again Scripture speaks in language as clear as it is solemn and impressive. “And I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before the throne; and the books were opened; and another book, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in books, according to their ivories. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it: and death and hades delivered up the dead which were in them; and they were judged every man according to their works. This is the second death — the lake of fire. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20).
All this is as plain as words can make it. There is not the slightest ground for demur or difficulty. For all whose names are in the book of life, there is no judgment at all. Those whose names are not in that book shall be judged according to their works. And what then? Annihilation? Nay; but, “the lake of fire,” and that forever and forever.
How overwhelming is the thought of this! Surely it ought to rouse every soul to the serious consideration of the great subject now before us, namely, the urgent need of conversion to God. This is the only way of escape. An unconverted person, whoever and whatever he is, has death, judgment, and the lake of fire before him, and every throb of his pulse brings him nearer and nearer to those awful realities. It is not more sure that the sun shall rise, at a certain moment, tomorrow morning, than that the reader must, before long, pass into eternity; and if his name is not in the book of life — if be is not converted — if he is not in Christ, he will, assuredly, be judged according to his works, and the certain issue of that judgment will be the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone, and that through the endless ages of a dark and gloomy eternity. Oh! the terrible monotony of hell!
The reader may perhaps marvel at our dwelling at such length on this dreadful theme. He may feel disposed to ask, “Will this convert people?” If it does not convert them, it may lead them to see their need of conversion. It may lead them to see their imminent danger. It may induce them to flee from the wrath to come. Why did the blessed apostle reason with Felix on the subject of “judgment to come?” Surely that he might persuade him to turn from his evil ways and live. Why did our blessed Lord Himself so constantly press upon His hearers the solemn reality of eternity? Why did He so often speak of the deathless worm and the unquenchable fire? Surely it was for the purpose of rousing them to a sense of their danger, that they might flee for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before them.
Are we wiser than He? Are we more tender? Have we found out some better mode of converting people? Are we to be afraid of pressing upon our readers or our hearers, the same solemn theme which our Lord so pressed upon the men of His time? Are we to shrink from offending polite ears by the plain declaration that all who die unconverted must inevitably stand before the great white throne, and pass into the lake of fire? God forbid! It must not be. We solemnly call upon the unconverted reader in this our opening paper for the year 1878, to give his undivided attention to the all important question of his soul’s salvation. Let nothing induce him to neglect it. Let neither cares, pleasures, nor duties so occupy him as to hide from his view the magnitude and deep seriousness of this matter. “What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Oh! reader, if thou art unsaved, unconverted, let us earnestly entreat thee to ponder these things. If God permit, we hope, in a future paper, to unfold what conversion is — how it is effected, and what it involves. But, just now, it seems pressed upon us in the form of a solemn duty to seek to rouse thee to a sense of thy need of being savingly converted to God. This is the only way of entering His kingdom. So our Lord Christ distinctly tells us; and we trust you know this, at least, that not one jot or tittle of His holy sayings can ever pass away. Heaven and earth shall pass away; but His Word can never pass away. All the power of earth and hell, men and devils, cannot make void the words of our Lord Jesus Christ. Either of two things for thee — conversion here, or eternal damnation hereafter.
Thus it stands if we are to be guided by the Word of God; and, in view of this, is it possible for us to be too earnest, too vehement, too importunate in urging upon every unconverted soul with whom we may come in contact, either with voice or pen, the indispensable necessity, this very moment, of fleeing from the wrath to come, fleeing to that blessed Saviour who died on the cross for our salvation; who stands with open arms to receive all who come; and who declares in His own sweet and precious grace, “Him that cometh unto Me, I will in no wise cast out.”