Conversion: What Is It? Part 5

1 Thessalonians 1:9
We are now called to consider what we may term the positive side of the great subject of conversion. We have seen that it is a turning from idols — a turning from all those objects which ruled our hearts and engaged our affections — the vanities and follies, the lusts and pleasures, which made up the whole of our existence in the days of our darkness and blindness. It is, as we read in Acts 26:1818To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. (Acts 26:18), a turning from darkness, and from the power of Satan; and, as we read in Galatians 1:44Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father: (Galatians 1:4), a turning from this present evil world.
But conversion is much more than all this. It would, in one sense, be but a poor thing, if it were merely a turning “from sin, the world, and Satan.” No doubt, it is a signal mercy to be delivered, once and forever, from all the wretchedness and moral degradation of our former life; from the terrible thralldom of the god and prince of this world; from all the hollowness and vanity of a world that lieth in the arms of the wicked one; and from the love and practice of sin — the vile affections which once held sway over us. We cannot be too thankful for all that is included in this side of the question.
But, we repeat, there is very much more than this. The heart may feel disposed to inquire, “What have we gotten in lieu of all we have given up? Is Christianity merely a system of negations? If we have broken with the world and self — if we have given up our former pleasures and amusements — if, in short, we have turned our back upon what goes to make up life in this world, what have we instead?”
1 Thessalonians 1:99For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; (1 Thessalonians 1:9) furnishes, in one word, the answer to all these inquiries — an answer full, clear, distinct, and comprehensive. Here it is — “Ye turned to GOD.”
Precious answer! Yes, unspeakably precious to all who know aught of its meaning. What have I got instead of my former “idols”? God! Instead of this world’s vain and sinful pleasures? God! Instead of its riches, honors, and distinctions? God! Oh, blessed, glorious, perfect Substitute! What had the prodigal instead of the rags of the far country? The best role in the father’s house! Instead of the swine’s husks? The fatted calf of the father’s providing! Instead of the degrading servitude of the far country? The father’s welcome, his bosom, and his table!
Reader, is not this a blessed exchange? Have we not, in the familiar, but ever charming, history of the prodigal, a most touching and impressive illustration of true conversion in both its sides? May we not well exclaim, as we gaze on the inimitable picture, “What a conversion! What a turning from and turning to!”
Who can utter it? What human tongue can adequately set forth the feelings of the returned wanderer, when pressed to the Father’s bosom, and bathed in the light and love of the Father’s house? The rags, the husks, the swine, the slavery, the cold selfishness, the destitution, the famine, the misery, the moral degradation — all gone, and gone forever; and, instead thereof, the ineffable delight of that bright and happy home; and, above all, the exquisite feeling that all that festive joy which surrounded him was wakened up by the very fact of his return — that it made the father glad to get him back!
But we shall perhaps be told all this is but a figure. Yes; but a figure of what? Of a precious, a divine reality; a figure of what takes place in every instance of true conversion, if only it be looked at from a heavenly standpoint. It is not a mere surrender of the world, with its thousand and one vanities and follies. It is this, no doubt; but it is very much more. It is being brought to God, brought home, brought to the Father’s bosom, brought into the family; made — not in the language of a barren formulary, but in the power of the Spirit, and by the mighty action of the word — a child of God, a member of Christ, and an heir of the kingdom.
This, and nothing less, is conversion. Let the reader see that he thoroughly understands it. Let him not be satisfied with anything short of this grand reality — this turning from darkness to light, from the power of Satan, and from the worship of idols, to God. The Christian is, in one sense, as really brought to God now as if he were actually in heaven. This may seem strong, but it is blessedly true. Hear what the Apostle Peter says as to this point: “Christ hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, to bring us to” — What? Heaven when we die? Nay; but “to bring us to God” now. So also in Romans 5 we read, “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only so, but we also joy in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the reconciliation.”
This is an immense principle. It is not within the compass of human language to set forth all that is involved in being “turned” or “brought to God.” Our adorable Lord Jesus Christ brings all who believe in His name into God’s presence, in all His own perfect acceptability. They come in all the credit, and virtue, and value of the blood of Jesus, and in all the fragrance of His most excellent name. He brings us into the very same position with Himself. He links us with Himself, and shares with us all He has, and all He is, save His Deity, which is incommunicable. We are perfectly identified with Him. “Yet a little while, and the world seeth Me no more; but ye see Me; because I live, ye shall live also.” Again, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” “These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” “Henceforth I call you not servants, for the servant knoweth not what his lord doth; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you. So also, in that marvelous prayer in John 17, we read, “I have given unto them the words which Thou gavest Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from Thee, and they have believed that Thou didst send Me. I pray for them; I pray not for the world, but for them which Thou hast given Me; for they are Thine. And all Mine are Thine, and Thine are Mine; and I am glorified in them.” “I have given them Thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” “As Thou hast sent Me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.” “And the glory which Thou gavest Me I have given them; that they may be one, even as We are one. I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that Thou hast sent Me, and hast loved them as Thou hast loved Me. Father, I will that they also whom Thou hast given Me be with Me where I am; that they may behold My glory which Thou hast given Me; for Thou lovedst Me before the foundation of the world. Ο righteous Father, the world hath not known Thee, but I have known Thee, and these have known that Thou hast sent Me. And I have declared unto them Thy name, and will declare it; that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”
Now it is utterly impossible to conceive anything higher or more blessed than this. To be so thoroughly identified with the Son of God, to be so wholly one with Him as to share in the very same love wherewith He is loved by the Father, to partake of His peace, His joy, His glory — all this involves the very highest possible measure and character of blessing with which any creature could be endowed. To be saved from the everlasting horrors of the pit of hell; to be pardoned, washed, and justified: to be reinstated in all that Adam lost; to be let into heaven, on any ground, or in any character whatsoever, would be marvelous mercy, goodness, and loving-kindness; but to be brought to God in all the love and favor of His own beloved Son, to be intimately associated with Him in all His position before God — His acceptability now — His glory by-and-by — this, truly, is something which only the heart of God could think of, and only His mighty power accomplish.
Well, reader, all this is involved in the conversion whereof we speak. Such is the magnificent grace of God, such the love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses and sins, enemies in our minds by wicked works, serving various lusts and pleasures, worshipping idols, the blind, degraded, slaves of sin and Satan, children of wrath, and going straight to hell.
And the best of it all is, that it both glorifies the name, and gratifies the heart of God, to bring us into this place of inconceivable blessedness, love, and glory. It would not satisfy the love of His heart to give us any lower place than that of His own Son. Well might the inspired apostle exclaim, in view of all this stupendous grace, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ; according as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love; having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made as accepted in the beloved, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1).
What depth of love, what fullness of blessing, have we here! It is the purpose of God to glorify Himself, throughout the countless ages of eternity, in His dealings with us. He will display, in view of all created intelligences, the riches of His grace, in His kindness toward us, by Christ Jesus. Our forgiveness, our justification, our perfect deliverance, our acceptance — all the blessings bestowed upon us in Christ — are for the display of the divine glory throughout the vast universe, forever. It would not meet the claims of God’s glory, or answer the affections of His heart, to have us in any other position but that of His own well-beloved and only-begotten Son.
All this is marvelous. It seems too good to be true. But it is worthy of God, and it is His good pleasure so to act toward us. This is enough for us. It may be, and most assuredly is, too good for us to get, but it is not too good for God to give. He acts toward us according to the love of His heart, and on the ground of the worthiness of Christ. The prodigal might ask to be made as one of the hired servants, but this could not be. It would not be according to the Father’s heart to have him in the house as a servant. It must be as a son, or not at all. If it were a question of desert, we do not deserve the place of a servant, any more than that of a son. But, blessed be God, it is not according to our deserts at all, but according to the boundless love of His heart, and to the glory of His holy name.
This, then, is conversion. Thus we are brought to God. Nothing short of this. We are not merely turned from our idols, whatever they were, but we are actually brought into the very presence of God, to find our delight in Him, to joy in Him; to walk with Him, to find all our springs in Him, to draw upon His exhaustless resources, to find in Him a perfect answer to all our necessities, so that our souls are satisfied, and that forever.
Do we want to go back to the idols? Never! Have we any hankering after our former objects? Not if our hearts are realizing our place and portion in Christ. Had the prodigal any longings after the husks and the swine, when folded in the father’s bosom, clothed in the father’s house, and seated at the father’s table? We do not, and cannot, believe it. We cannot imagine his heaving a single sigh after the far country, when once he found himself within the hallowed circle of that bright and blissful home of love.
We speak according to the divine standard. Alas! alas! many profess to be converted, and seem to go on for a season, but before long they begin to grow cold, and get weary and dissatisfied. The work was not real. They were not really brought to God. Idols may have been given up for a time, but God Himself was never reached. They never found in Him a satisfying portion for their hearts — never knew the real meaning of communion with Him — never tasted heart-satisfaction, heart-rest, in Christ. Hence, in process of time, the poor heart began to long once more for the world, and back they went, and plunged into its follies and vanities with greater avidity than ever.
Such cases are very sad, very disappointing. They bring great reproach on the cause of Christ, and are used as a plea for the enemy, and as a stumbling-block for anxious inquirers. But they leave the question of divine conversion just where it was. The soul that is truly converted is one who has not merely been turned from this present evil world, and all its promises and pretensions, but who has been led by the precious ministry of the Holy Spirit to find in the living God, and in His Son Jesus Christ, all he can possibly want for time and eternity. Such an one is divinely done with the world. He has broken with it forever. He has had his eyes opened to see, through and through, the whole thing. He has judged it in the light of the presence of God. He has measured it by the standard of the cross of Christ. He has weighed it in the balances of the sanctuary, and turned his back upon it forever, to find an absorbing and a commanding object in the Person of that blessed One who was nailed to the accursed tree, in order to deliver him, not only from everlasting burnings, but also from this present evil world.