Conversion: What Is It? Part 3

1 Thessalonians 1
Having thus far, seen the absolute necessity, in every case, of conversion, and having, in some measure, sought to point out what conversion is not, we have now to inquire what it is. And here we must keep close to the veritable teaching of Holy Scripture. We can accept nothing less, nothing different. It is greatly to be feared that very much of what passes, now-a-days, for conversion is not conversion at all. Many so-called cases of conversion are published and talked of, which cannot stand the test of the Word of God. Many profess to be converted, and are accredited as such, who prove to be merely stony-ground hearers. There is no depth of spiritual work in the heart, no real action of the truth of God on the conscience, no thorough breaking with the world. It may be the feelings are wrought upon by human influence, and certain evangelical sentiments take possession of the mind; but self is not judged; there is a clinging to earth and nature; a lack of that deep-toned earnestness and genuine reality which so remarkably characterize the conversions recorded in the New Testament, and for which we may always look where the work of conversion is divine.
We do not here attempt to account for all these superficial cases; we merely refer to them in order that all who are engaged in the blessed work of evangelization may be led to consider the matter in the light of Holy Scripture, and to see how far their own mode of working may call for holy correction. It may be there is too much of the merely human element in our work. We do not leave the Spirit of God to act. We are deficient in profound faith in the power and efficacy of the simple Word of God itself. There may be too much effort to work on the feelings, too much of the emotional and the sensational. Perhaps, too, in our desire to reach results — a desire which may be right enough in itself — we are too ready to accredit and announce, as cases of conversion, many which, alas! are merely ephemeral.
All this demands our serious consideration. It is of the very last possible importance that we allow the Spirit of God to work and to display — as He most assuredly will — the fruit of His work. All that He does is well done, and it will speak for itself in due time. There is no necessity for us to blaze abroad our cases of conversion. All that is divinely real will shine out to the praise of Him to whom all praise is due; and then the workman will have his own deep and holy joy. He will see the results of His work, and think of them in adoring homage and worship at his Master’s feet — the only safe and truly happy place to think of them.
Will this lessen our earnestness? The very reverse; it will intensify our earnestness immensely. We shall be more earnest in pleading with God in secret, and in pleading with our fellows in public. We shall feel more deeply the divine seriousness of the work, and our own utter insufficiency. We shall ever cherish the wholesome conviction that the work must be of God from first to last. This will keep us in our right place, namely, the blessed place of self-emptied dependence upon God, who is the Doer of all the works that are done upon the earth. We shall be more on our faces before the mercy-seat, both in the closet and in the assembly, in reference to the glorious work of conversion; and then, when the golden sheaves and mellow clusters appear, when genuine cases of conversion turn up — cases which speak for themselves, and carry their own credentials with them to all who are capable of judging — then verily shall our hearts be filled with praise to the God of all grace who has magnified the name of His Son Jesus Christ in the salvation of precious souls.
How much better is this than to have our poor hearts puffed up with pride and self-complacency by reckoning up our cases of conversion! How much better, safer and happier to be bowed in worship before the throne, than to have our names heralded to the ends of the earth as great preachers and wonderful evangelists! No comparison, in the judgment of a truly spiritual person. The dignity, reality, and seriousness of the work will be realized; the happiness, the moral security, and the real usefulness of the workman will be promoted; and the glory of God secured and maintained.
Let us see how all this is illustrated in 1 Thessalonians 1, “Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the assembly of the Thessalonians in God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ: grace be unto you, and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; remembering without ceasing your work of faith and labor of love, and patience of hope” — the grand elements of true Christianity — “in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of our God and Father; knowing, brethren, beloved of God, your election.” How did he know it? By the clear and unquestionable evidence afforded in their practical life — the only way in which the election of any one can be known. “For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake”
The blessed apostle was, in his daily life, the exponent of the gospel which he preached. He lived the gospel. He did not demand or exact aught of them. He was not burdensome to them. He preached unto them the precious gospel of God freely; and in order that he might do so, he wrought with labor and travail, night and day. He was as a loving, tender nurse, going in and out among them. There were with him no high-sounding words about himself, or his office, or his authority, or his gifts, or his preaching, or his wonderful doings in other places. He was the loving, lowly, unpretending, earnest, devoted workman, whose work spoke for itself, and whose whole life, his spirit, style, deportment, and habits, were in lovely harmony with his preaching.
How needful for all workmen to ponder these things! we may depend upon it that very much of the shallowness of our work is the fruit of the shallowness of the workman. Where is the power? Where is the demonstration of the Spirit? Where is the “much assurance?” Is there not a terrible lack of these things in our preaching? There may be a vast amount of fluent talking; a great deal of so-called cleverness; and much that may tickle the ear, act on the imagination, awaken a temporary interest, and minister to mere curiosity. But oh! where is the holy unction, the living earnestness, the profound seriousness? And then the living exponent in the daily life and habits — where is this? May the Lord revive His work in the hearts of His workmen, and then we may look for more of the results of the work.
Do we mean to teach that the work of conversion depends upon the workman? Far away be the monstrous notion! The work depends wholly and absolutely on the power of the Holy Spirit, as the very chapter now lying open before us proves beyond all question. It must ever hold good, in every department and every stage of the work, that it is “not by might nor by power; but by My Spirit, saith the Lord.”
But what kind of instrument does the Spirit ordinarily use? Is not this a weighty question for us workmen? What sort of vessels are “meet for the Master’s use?” Empty vessels — clean vessels. Are we such? Are we emptied of ourselves? Are we cured of our deplorable self-occupation? Are we “clean?” Have we clean hands? Are our associations, our ways, our circumstances, clean? If not, how can the Master use us in His holy service? May we all have grace to weigh these questions in the divine presence! May the Lord stir us all up, and make us more and more, vessels such as He can use for His glory!
We shall now proceed with our quotation. The whole passage is full of power. The character of the workman on the one hand, and of the work on the other, demands our most serious attention.
“And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit: so that ye were ensamples [or models] to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia. For from you sounded out the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak anything, for they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you.”
This was real work. It carried its own credentials with it. There was nothing vague or unsatisfactory about it — no occasion for any reserve in forming or expressing a judgment respecting it. It was clear, distinct, and unmistakable. It bore the stamp of the Master’s hand, and carried conviction to every mind capable of weighing the evidence. The work of conversion was wrought, and the fruits of conversion followed in delightful profusion. The testimony went forth far and wide, so that the workman had no need to speak about his work. There was no occasion for him to reckon up and publish the number of conversions at Thessalonica. All was divinely real. It was a thorough work of God’s Spirit as to which there could be no possible mistake, and about which it was superfluous to speak.
The apostle had simply preached the word in the power of the Holy Spirit, in much assurance. There was nothing vague, nothing doubtful about his testimony. He preached as one who fully believed and thoroughly entered into what he was preaching about. It was not the mere fluent utterance of certain known and acknowledged truths — not the cut and dry statement of certain barren dogmas. No; it was the living outpouring of the glorious gospel of God, coming from a heart that felt profoundly every utterance, and falling upon hearts prepared by God’s Spirit for its reception.
Such was the work at Thessalonica — a deep, solid, blessed, thorough divine work — all sound and real, the genuine fruit of God’s Spirit. It was no mere religious excitement, nothing sensational, no high pressure, no attempt to “get up a revival.” All was beautifully calm. The workman, as we are told in Acts 17, “came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews; and as his manner was, he went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures” — Precious, powerful reasoning! would to God we had more of it in our midst! — “opening and alleging that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead, and that this Jesus whom I preach unto you is Christ.”
How simple! Preaching Jesus out of the Scriptures! Yes, here lay the grand secret of Paul’s preaching. He preached a living Person, in living power, on the authority of a living word, and this preaching was received in living faith, and brought forth living fruit, in the lives of the converts. This is the sort of preaching we want. It is not sermonizing, not religious talking, but the powerful preaching of Christ by the Holy Spirit speaking through men who are thoroughly impressed with what they are preaching. God grant us more of this!