Conversion: What Is It? Part 6

1 Thessalonians 1:9
The more we dwell on 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), the more we are struck with its marvelous depth, fullness, and power. It seems like sinking a shaft into an inexhaustible mine. We have dwelt a little on that very fruitful and suggestive clause, “Turned to God from idols.” How much is wrapped up in it! Do we really understand the force and fullness of it? It is a wonderful thing for the soul to be brought to God — to know Him now as our resource in all our weakness and need — the spring of all our joys — our strength and shield — our Guide and Counselor — our all in all — to be absolutely and completely shut up to Him, wholly dependent upon Him.
Reader, do you know the deep blessedness of all this in your own soul? If you are a child of God, a truly converted soul, then it is your happy privilege to know it, and you ought not to be satisfied without it. If we are “turned to God,” what is it for, but to find in Him all we can possibly want for time and eternity? Nothing can ever satisfy the human soul but God Himself. It is not within the compass of earth to meet the cravings of the heart. If we had the wealth of the universe, and all that that wealth could procure, the heart would still want more; there would still be an aching void which nothing under the sun could fill.
Look at the history of Solomon. Hear him recording his own experience. “I, the preacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem; and I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven; this sore travail hath God given to the sons of men to be exercised therewith. I have seen all the works that are done under the sun, and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit. That which is crooked cannot be made straight, and that which is wanting cannot be numbered. I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem; yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge. And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit. For in much wisdom is much grief, and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow. I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth; therefore enjoy pleasure; and behold this also is vanity. I said of laughter, it is mad; and of mirth, what doeth it? I sought in mine heart to give myself to wino, yet acquainting mine heart with wisdom, and to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was that good for the sons of men, which they should do under the heaven all the days of their life. I made me great works: I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards; I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits; I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees. I got me servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of great and small cattle, above all that were in Jerusalem before me. I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces; I gat mo men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts. So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem; also my wisdom remained with me. And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them; I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labor; and this was my portion of all my labor. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labor that I had labored to do; and behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun” (Eccles. 1-2).
Such is the withering commentary upon all earth’s resources, as given by the pen of one who had all that earth could give — of one who was allowed to drain to the very dregs every cup of human and earthly pleasure. And what was it all? “Vanity and vexation of spirit.” “All things are full of labor; man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.” The poor human heart can never be satisfied with the resources of earth. Creature streams can never quench the thirst of the immortal soul. Material things cannot possibly make us truly happy, even if they were permanent. “All is vanity and vexation of spirit.”
The truth of this must be proved by every human heart. Sooner or later all must find it out. Men may turn a deaf ear to it now; they may refuse to listen to the Spirit’s warning voice; they may vainly imagine that this poor world can yield them substantial comfort and happiness; they may eagerly grasp at its riches, its honors, its distinctions, its pleasures, its material comforts; but they will find out their mistake. And, oh, how dreadful to find it out too late! How terrible to open one’s eyes in hell, like the rich man in the parable! What human language can set forth the horrors of a soul shut out forever from the presence of God, and consigned to outer darkness, to the place of weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth? It is absolutely overwhelming to think of it. What will it be to realize it? What will it be to find oneself in the tormenting flames of hell, at the other side of that impassable gulf, where a single ray of hope can never break through the deep and horrible gloom of eternity?
Oh, that men would think of all this in time! that they might flee from the wrath to come, and lay hold on the blessed hope set before them in the gospel; that they might “turn to God.” But alas! the god of this world blinds their minds, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine into them. He engrosses them with present things — business, money-making, pleasures, cares, lusts, anything and everything but the one thing, in comparison with which all earthly things are but as the small dust of the balance.
But we have digressed from our special theme, to which we must return.
We are particularly anxious to press upon the Christian reader the immense importance of seeking to find all his resources in the living God. We have only, for a moment, turned aside from this point, in order to sound a warning note in the ear of any unconverted, careless one who may happen to take up this paper.
We earnestly entreat the latter to turn to God. We entreat the former to seek a deeper acquaintance with the One to whom, by grace, he has turned. We have the two things before us in penning these papers on the great subject of “conversion.” We can truly say, we long to see precious souls converted to God; and we long to see converted souls happy in God.
We are increasingly convinced of the practical importance of Christians proving in their daily life that they have found thorough rest of heart in God. It has immense weight with worldly people. It is a grand point gained when we are able, through grace, to tell the world that we are independent of it; and the only way to do this is to live in the abiding sense of what we have in God. This would impart a moral elevation to our entire course and character. It would deliver us completely from that strong tendency to lean on human props, and to betake ourselves to creature streams, which we have all, more or less, to lament, and which must assuredly issue in disappointment to us, and dishonor to God.
How prone we are, on all occasions, to look to our fellow men for sympathy, succor, and counsel, instead of looking directly and exclusively to God! This is a serious mistake. It is in principle to forsake the Fountain of living waters, and hew out for ourselves broken cisterns which can hold no water. What can we expect? What must be the issue? Barrenness and desolation. Our God, in very faithfulness to us, will cause our fellow man to fail us, in order that we may learn the folly of leaning upon an arm of flesh.
Hear what the prophet says on this great practical question: “Thus saith the Lord, Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord. For he shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh, but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land, and not inhabited.”
But mark the contrast. “Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green, and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit” (Jer. 17).
Oh, reader, it is a grand reality to lean on the arm of the living God — to find in Him our relief and our resource, at all times, in all places, and under all circumstances. He never fails a trusting heart. He will never disappoint us. He may see fit to keep us waiting for an answer to our call, but the time we spend in waiting is well spent, and when the answer comes, our hearts are filled with praise, and we are able to say, “Oh, how great is Thy goodness, which Thou hast laid up for them that fear Thee, which Thou hast wrought for them that trust in Thee before the sons of men” (Psalm 31:1919Oh how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee; which thou hast wrought for them that trust in thee before the sons of men! (Psalm 31:19)).
It is a great thing to be able to trust God before the sons of men, to confess His sufficiency for our every exigence. But it must be a reality, and not mere profession. It is no use to talk of leaning on God, while at the same time we are, in one way or another, looking to some poor mortal to help us. This is a sad delusion. But, alas! how often we fall under its power! We adopt the language of dependence upon God, but in reality we are looking to man, and letting him know our wants. We deceive ourselves, and dishonor God, and the end is disappointment and confusion of face.
Reader, let us look closely and honestly at this matter. Let us see to it that we understand the meaning of those precious words, “Turned to God.” They contain the very essence of true happiness and true holiness. When the heart is really turned to God, it has found the true, the divine secret of peace, rest, and full satisfaction, it finds its all in God, and has no occasion whatever to turn to the creature. Am I in any perplexity? I can look to God for guidance. He has promised to guide me with His eye. What perfect guidance! Can man do better for me? Surely not. God sees the end from the beginning. He knows all the bearings, all the belongings, all the roots and issues of my case. He is an infallible guide. His wisdom is unerring, and moreover He loves me perfectly. Where could I find a better guide?
Am I in want? I can go to God about it. He is the Possessor of heaven and earth. The treasures of the universe are at His disposal. He can help me, if He sees it to be good for me; and if not, the pressure will be much better for me than the relief. “My God shall supply all your need, according to His riches in glory, by Christ Jesus.” Is not this enough? Why look to a creature stream? What a poor thing to have to make known our wants to a human being! It is in reality giving up, so far, the ground of faith, the life of simple dependence on God. It is actually dishonoring our Father. If I apply to my fellow for help, it is tantamount to saying that God has failed me. It is really betraying my loving Father who has taken me up, body, soul, and spirit, to do for me for time and eternity. He has pledged Himself to provide for all my wants, be they ever so many, ever so great, ever so varied. “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”
But we sometimes hear people say that the Lord has told them, or laid it upon their hearts, to apply to some human resource. This is very questionable indeed. It is not at all likely that our God would ever lead us to forsake the Fountain of living waters, and betake ourselves to some broken cistern. His word is, “Call upon Me” — not upon your fellow — “in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me.”
True it is that God uses the creature to meet our need; but this is a totally different matter. The blessed apostle could say, “God who comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus.” Paul was looking to God for comfort, and God sent Titus to comfort him. Had Paul been looking to Titus, he would have been disappointed.
Thus it is in every case. Our immediate and exclusive reference must be to God in all our need. “We have turned to God from idols”; and hence, in every exigence He is our sure resource. We can go to Him for counsel, for succor, for guidance, for sympathy, for all. “My soul, wait thou only upon God, for my expectation is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation; He is my defense; I shall not be moved.”
Will this most blessed habit of looking only to God lead us to undervalue the channels through which His precious grace flows to us? The very reverse. How could I undervalue one who comes to me directly from God, as His manifest instrument, to meet my need? Impossible. But I value him as a channel, instead of applying to him as a source. This makes all the difference. We must never forget that true conversion means our being brought to God; and, most surely, if we are brought to God, it is in order that we should find in Him a perfect covering for our eyes, a perfect object for the heart, a perfect resource in all our exigencies, from first to last. A truly converted soul is one who is turned from all creature confidences, human hopes, and earthly expectations, to find all he wants in the living and true God, and that forever.