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RICHARD BAXTER ON CONVERSION #1 –
MISERIES OF THE UNCONVERTED

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Fundamentalist Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord's Day Morning, June 17, 2001


"Destruction and misery are in their ways" (Romans 3:16).


Introduction: The Life of Richard Baxter

“I preach as never sure to preach again,
and as a dying man to dying men.”      
                                                – Baxter.

The best known of the Puritan authors was Richard Baxter (1615-1691). He has been called “the most successful preacher, winner of souls, and nurturer of souls that England has ever had.” Edmund Calamy called him “The most voluminous theological writer in the English language.” Baxter wrote 160 books. George Whitefield, John Wesley, C. H. Spurgeon and Martyn Lloyd-Jones regarded him highly.

Born in Shropshire into a somewhat poor family, he never attended a university and was always physically weak. Yet he was self-taught, acquiring great learning on his own. He became the pastor in Kidderminster, a town near Birmingham, in 1647. The people there were very wicked. The pastor he replaced was a drunkard who preached only once every three months! Hardly any of the church members were converted when he became the pastor. During his years at Kidderminster he visited all of the 800 families in his church every year, teaching each person individually. He put forth his method of ministry in his well-known book, The Reformed Pastor, the greatest book on pastoring that has ever been written.

The outstanding feature of Baxter’s preaching was his earnest zeal. In his writing and preaching he shows his belief that pastors need “the skill necessary to make plain the truth, to convince the hearers, to let in the irresistible light into their consciences, and to keep it there, and drive all home; to screw truth into their minds and work Christ into their affections.”

He had “no Calvinistic axe to grind,” and sought to mediate between Arminianism and Calvinism. He attempted to soften some points of Calvinism by advocating “free will.” Baxter’s method was a middle way, which he called “mere Christianity” (C. S. Lewis used this phrase from Baxter as the title of his famous book).

His great strength lay in his pastoral ability and in his evangelistic preaching. The main purpose of his sermons was to see the lost converted. His book, A Call to the Unconverted, is a hard-hitting plea for the lost to come to Christ.

Although he preached before the King, in Parliament, and in Westminster Abbey, his favorite pulpit was in his own church, speaking to the poor people of Kidderminster.

After the Act of Uniformity, he was put in prison in the Tower of London for eighteen months because he was unwilling to stay in the Church of England. While in prison, he was often visited by the great commentator Matthew Henry.

Written in 1657, Baxter’s Treatise on Conversion is a great book. But it is too lengthy, and the wording is too difficult, for most people today. I have condensed it and rearranged it, and have changed difficult words to simpler ones, to reach the less literate mind of modern man. I hope these sermons from Baxter are a blessing to you. They indeed correct the shallow “decisionism” of our day – which is damning millions to eternal torment.


Sermon:

"Destruction and misery are in their ways" (Romans 3:16).

What great numbers of people there are in the world who have never been converted! Yet they live as though everything were all right with them. If you come to twenty of them and ask them if they are converted, some will say they hope so, but are not sure. Some will make fun of you or be angry with you for asking. Most will not even know what conversion is, even though the Bible plainly tells them that unless they are converted they cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.

What do you think when someone asks you if you are converted? Do you ever ask yourself, "What will happen to me if I am not converted?" May you be awakened to your need of conversion by the following points.

1. As long as you are unconverted, you are not a true child of God, or a real Christian, because you do not really know Jesus Christ. You cannot therefore say that God is your Father. You are still His enemy, because you are not His child. Your heart is still concerned with earthly things.

The whole world is divided into two classes of people, the children of God and the children of the Devil. Only those who are converted are the children of God (John 1:11-12; Romans 8:9). Everyone who is unconverted is a child of the Devil, as Christ Himself told us (John 8:44). "In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil" (I John 3:10). It is only by saving faith in Christ that you can be made a son or daughter of God (Galatians 3:26; Ephesians 3:17). The unconverted do not have saving faith in Christ. When you pray, you cannot have comfort because God is not your Father. It is conversion that turns your heart to God, and if He does not have your heart, you are not His child. None of the unconverted are His children. You may call God your Father as much as you like, but He will never agree that you are His child until you are converted.

You may call Him "Lord, Lord" until you die, but He will tell you that He does not know you (Matthew 7:22). You are by nature of a different class than those who are converted. This is the very nature of true conversion. Therefore you must be humbled and broken off from trusting yourself and all others, so that you can be planted in Jesus Christ, the living vine. No matter what you say, you are only a dead branch, and you will be gathered up and burned in the fire (John 15:1, 4-6). It is no more possible to be a human, and not be born, than it is to be a Christian without being born again. The union of Christ and true Christians is in the heart. Words and prayers will not unite your heart to Jesus Christ.

"Destruction and misery are in their ways" (Romans 3:16).

2. Think farther, I beg you; there is no hope of salvation for any unconverted person who lives and dies in an unconverted state. This is true whether you like it or not. If this offends you, you are offended by the words of Christ. Even if you say that this is a hard saying, it is still a true one, because God cannot lie. Remember what Christ said:

"Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3).

When you read that, you refuse to believe it. What a false hypocrite you are if you say you are a Christian, but do not believe these words of Jesus Christ.

What will you gain by this unbelief? It will only lead you to more self-delusion and ruin. If you don't believe Christ, how can I expect you to believe me? Some day soon Christ will say, "Bind him hand and foot…and cast him into outer darkness" (Matthew 22:13). And then you will have weeping and gnashing of teeth.

If Christ is not to be believed, no one can be believed. But if Christ is to be believed, no unconverted person can enter the kingdom of heaven. Don't be so foolish as to think these words are mine. They are the words of Jesus Christ!

If Satan and sin have hardened your heart so much that you will not believe, remember that Christ told you that if you remain unconverted you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. You will remember His words whether you want to or not.

"Destruction and misery are in their ways" (Romans 3:16).

3. Think even further – while you remain unconverted you cannot have any sin pardoned.All the sin you have ever committed condemns you. You will answer for every transgression before God. You will suffer for your sins for all eternity if you are not converted. When Christ speaks of those who were hardened by the unpardonable sin, because they resisted His converting grace, He adds, "Lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them " (Mark 4:12). You can see that this means your sins are not forgiven unless you are converted.

Think how awful it is to have a whole load of unforgiven sins on your record. One unforgiven sin will condemn you forever, just as one stab in the heart will kill a person. What then will happen to you if you have thousands of unforgiven sins?

There is no question that an unforgiven sinner is lost, just as surely as the demons themselves are lost. Christ tells you that this will be your sentence:

"Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41).

"There remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries" (Hebrews 10:26-27).

How horrible for you to stand at God's judgment bar with unforgiven sin! Your judgment for sin will be heavier upon your soul than a mountain upon your body, and will push you down to everlasting torment. Unforgiven sin is the very fuel of Hell.

You cannot be saved after you die. It is everlastingly too late to be saved then. You must be converted now, while you are alive, or you will spend eternity in torments. I did not make up this terrible doctrine. It is taught throughout the Bible. You will say, "Lord, Lord, open to us." But Christ will say, "I know you not" (Matthew 25:11-12). He will then say, "I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity." These are His own words (Matthew 7:21-23).

If you hope to stand at the right hand of Christ, and not be sent into everlasting misery, you must seek Christ now for the forgiveness of your sins. No one ever obtained pardon after death. I say the same thing that Peter told the people in his sermon at the Temple:

"Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out…" (Acts 3:19).

I hope you will pay close attention to those words. The verse shows that no one's sins are blotted out unless he is converted.

"Destruction and misery are in their ways" (Romans 3:16).

4. The next thing I want you to think about is this: As long as you are unconverted, you are the servant and slave of Satan. You are under the Devil's power, and are led about as his captive. You may not think so, but it is true anyway. God has told us that this is true of you in your unconverted state. Until a person is converted he remains a captive slave of Satan. Only when you are converted do you become a free man – the son or daughter of God.

"He that committeth sin is of the devil…In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil…" (I John 3:8-10).

The meaning of this verse is that the person who gives his heart to sin belongs to the Devil; and he who gives his heart to Christ is a child of God.

It is the Devil who makes you hate the thought of conversion, or he makes you think you are converted already. It is Satan who tells you that you have plenty of time and not to worry about getting saved. The Bible tells us that this is Satan's work, which Christ came to destroy (I John 3:8).

If a man is taken to a prison and put in a dark dungeon, he will certainly cry out, "Oh, I wish I were free!" You could be delivered from Satan – but you are not willing! Christ has provided His Blood as the remedy for your sin. He offers it to you. But you don't want it. God "would have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth," but most people do not want to be saved. They want to remain the slaves of Satan. Remember this: all people are the Devil's slaves until they are converted. If you do not want to live and die as his slave, don't put off your conversion any longer.

"Destruction and misery are in their ways" (Romans 3:16).

5. Another misery or grief of the unconverted is that nothing you do can truly please God. Prayer, church attendance, Bible reading, giving your money, witnessing – none of these things please God at all if you are unconverted. God is displeased with, and hates, even the best works performed by an unconverted person.

"He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination" (Proverbs 28:9).

Unconverted sinners do not realize that their prayers and church attendance, and other religious duties are abhorred (hated) by God!

"Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts" (Luke 16:15).

"Thou hatest all workers of iniquity" (Psalm 5:5).

"Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord" (Proverbs 16:5).

Please don't think that I am telling you not to pray, or read the Bible, or go to church. I am certainly not telling you to stop these religious duties. They will be the means God uses to convert you. But, I am saying that the mere repetition of these duties will not help you any more than they helped the Pharisees in the time of Christ. You must withdraw from the deceitfulness of sin and stop resisting the grace of God. Come fully to Jesus Christ and be converted. Nothing you do can truly please God until you are converted.

"So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God" (Romans 8:8).

Only a converted person can ever be pleasing to God.  If you go on like you are, you can never please God.

"Destruction and misery are in their ways" (Romans 3:16).

6. Another torment of unconverted persons is that they live in continual danger of damnation. Although God has patiently held back His judgment, the unconverted live in continual danger of damnation. They live under the wrath of God. They are under the curse of the law. They do not know when judgment will fall on them. No unconverted person can tell how long he will live in this world. Judgment and death could come at any moment. A person who is going to Hell does not know whether it will be today. Such people, if they are thinking at all, can never feel peace or security. Every second you are living at the very edge of Hell! You may fall over that edge at any moment. You may be in Hell one hour from now! Every morning when you get up, and every night when you lie down, you are never sure whether you will be in Hell the next day.

Many dying people have been terrified when they think that in a day or two they will be among demons in Hell! Oh, what a dreadful thought! What a horrible fear! How horrible to have demons clawing at you, to be sucked under and gnawed upon by the worm that dieth not, to be burned horribly again and again, without any relief from the pain, to be tormented with painful thirst night and day!

Let the thought of this give you no rest until you are truly converted. Until then, you are never sure of safety. You are in continual danger at all times!

"Destruction and misery are in their ways" (Romans 3:16).

7. From all these points there is another terrible thing for unconverted people – they have no basis for even one hour of peace! How can a person be happy who is in such a condition as this? If your eyes were opened, you would either be frightened out of your sins or out of your mind! You would either be frightened into conversion or into insanity, if these things became real to you.

This is exactly what happens in suicide, which is much like conversion – but without grace. In suicide, the mind sees the hopelessness of life. There is no rest, night or day, in this state of depression at the hopelessness of life. So, the person commits suicide. In conversion, the first part is much the same. The person becomes depressed day and night. They see the hopelessness of life and the horror of their own sins. But, by grace, they turn fully to Christ – instead of suicide. In this way the depression leading to suicide or conversion is much the same in the beginning.

Let this thought come to you when you are laughing with your friends – "Oh, but I am not converted yet!" When you are at work, or at school, or at play, may you think, "Oh, but I am not converted yet!" And every night, as you drift off to sleep, may you think, "Oh, but I am not converted yet!" May this thought come into your mind when you first wake up in the morning also. Every day and every night – wherever you are and whatever you are doing – keep thinking, "I am not yet converted." Everything you look at or think about should remind you that you are unconverted – until you are out of this dreadful condition.

"Destruction and misery are in their ways" (Romans 3:16).

8. Think, further, that the unconverted who neglect salvation will increase their misery and pain. To be unconverted while living among Catholics, Mormons, or new-evangelicals is no surprise, any more than to be in the dark at midnight. But to be unconverted while in a church where the gospel is preached gives no excuse, and will make your misery even greater at the Judgment.

God has not left you in darkness. But you close your eyes, and turn away from the truth, and refuse to think seriously about these things.

You must understand that the preaching you hear will either convert you or condemn you. Your refusal to be converted makes your rebellion even greater, and your sin even worse, than those who do not attend a gospel-preaching church.

Remember this, if you die unconverted, you will be condemned. Those who have heard the most sermons will have the worst place in Hell – the greatest condemnation.

"Destruction and misery are in their ways" (Romans 3:16).

9. Think again, that the farther you go in an unconverted state, the greater will be your punishment. As long as you are unconverted, you live in continual rebellion against God. You reject His mercy. You prefer the world and sin to Him. You deny Him in your heart.

The unconverted think bad thoughts about the converted. But they are even worse in their punishment of themselves. They laugh at us, but they hurt and wound themselves. They tempt others to sin, but plunge into it themselves. They think lightly of the preaching, but send themselves to Hellfire.

Also, think about the fact that while you remain unconverted, you grow more and more hardened in sin. God forsakes you more and more. The Spirit withdraws from you. Continuing in sin will make you worse and worse.

"Destruction and misery are in their ways" (Romans 3:16).

10. As long as you remain unconverted, you rob yourself of happiness. God offers you happiness, and you could have it, but you keep yourself from it by rejecting conversion. You could have God instead of the world, Christ instead of sinful self, and the Holy Spirit instead of Satan who deceives you. You could have holiness instead of wickedness, justification instead of condemnation, blessings instead of a curse, peace of conscience instead of terror or false security. You do not know what you lose every day that you remain unconverted – more than all the pleasures that sin can give you – for a season, for a while.

Ask anyone who has been converted if you don't believe me. Ask them if they would like to return to an unconverted state. If these people found that they were no better off than they were before, they would want to return to an unconverted state. But true converts would not do this for anything!

If you knew the danger of the life you now live, you would hurry to leave it as quickly as a man would run out of a house on fire, or as a man would leave a boat sinking in the sea, who, if he did not hurry to get to shore, would sink and be drowned. And if you knew how good it felt to be converted, you would not wait one day longer.

I have now showed you what it means to be unconverted. If you dare to go on in unbelief, and carelessly reject what I said, if God leaves you to yourself, or if death comes to you while you are still unconverted – then you have no one to blame but yourself.

"Destruction and misery are in their ways" (Romans 3:16).




Solo by Benjamin Kincaid Griffith: “God Calling Yet”

by Gerhard Tersteegen (1697-1769).

You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.rlhymersjr.com. Click on "Sermon Manuscripts."