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RICHARD BAXTER ON CONVERSION #2 –
THE NATURE OF CONVERSION –
A CHANGE OF THE MIND

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

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


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


I don't need to beg you to love yourself, or convince you to seek happiness. You will do those things without me telling you to do them because they are in your own interest. Only a fool doesn't love himself and want to be happy.

My purpose is to tell you where happiness comes from and where it does not – and to advise you to go in the direction that will bring you the greatest pleasure.

My motive is to please God and save souls. I don't think it is right to enter the pulpit for any other purpose. A man who preaches for some other reason is seeking something for himself, and not for Christ. No wonder such "preachers" use smooth words and pleasing sentences. They are trying to please the people rather than trying to please God.

I know how hard it is to get anyone to listen to the truth concerning conversion. I know how hard this work is, how cold people are even when they owe their very souls to a faithful preacher. But I remember that I must speak in the name of Christ. I also remember that I must speak to people who will either be everlastingly happy or everlastingly miserable. I know how little time you have to change your everlasting state. I know also that the Bible says very few people will be saved, that many "are called, but few are chosen" (Matthew 20:16; Matthew 22:14). Most people are lost forever because they will not think about Christ, or accept the mercy God offers them.

That's why I speak to you on only one subject: that one upon which your life or death depends. If I wanted you to think of me as a great scholar, or to get you to applaud what I say, I would speak on a more pleasing subject, and I would have told you some cute stories and funny jokes. But I know that this would please the Devil instead of pleasing God, so I will not speak that way at all. I pray for God to use what I say to convert your soul. That's what I want to happen.

"Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven"

(Matthew 18:3).

The "kingdom of heaven" means the state of true grace (salvation) as well as the future kingdom. In this verse it refers to being in a state of salvation. Conversion is the entrance into the preparatory kingdom, because conversion is the entrance into salvation.

I. The Doctrine of Conversion

We can learn several doctrines from this text in Matthew 18:3.

1. Unless people are converted, they cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.

2. All people are by nature in the kingdom of Satan. When they are converted they are transferred into the kingdom of heaven. A person is moved from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of heaven by experiencing conversion.

3. The words conversion, repentance, regeneration, and sanctification are used in the Bible to explain the same work of God in the human soul. But each word shows something different about this one work.

4. "Repentance" describes our motion away from the sinful state – from which we turn when we are converted. The word "repentance" explains that we turn to Christ, away from sin. There are two sides of repentance: one is turning from a state of sin and misery (it also can refer to turning from a particular sin), the other is turning to Jesus Christ.

"Repentance" speaks of two things: (1) Deep sorrow that we have sinned; (2) A change of mind from that sin to Jesus Christ. The first is only a part of the second. The changed mind is sorrowful over past sins, although sorrow is not all there is to such a change. Yet whenever real repentance occurs, part of the change of mind does include deep sorrow for sins.

5. "Regeneration" also means the same thing as "conversion." But there is this small difference: the term means "the new birth." "Regeneration" means "the new birth." So great is the change, that a person is a new man. Although the term "regeneration" is more comprehensive than "conversion," the two words mean essentially the same thing.

6. "Sanctification" also means the same thing as "conversion," but with this small difference: the word focuses on our deep love for God, and the holiness of life that comes from such love.

Now I must show you what it means to be "converted and become as little children." This can't be done very well unless I first give you a description of the state of an unconverted person.

Man sinned, broke the law of God, and made himself a ruined slave of Satan and a child of death. Therefore, the very nature of an unconverted person is corrupted and depraved. So, we are unclean within our very natures. Conversion deals with the question, "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?" (Job 14:4). How could Adam pass on to the human race a good nature when he had lost this himself? We are all born with corrupted natures because we inherited such a nature from Adam. Our natures are against God and heavenly things, and are interested in earth and earthly things. Pride, covetousness, unbelief, error, hypocrisy, ungodliness, fighting, and all wickedness have their roots inside of us. If temptation comes, we will bring forth the fruit because of our depraved nature.

Since this is your nature, it will only get worse the longer you sin, and the longer you put off being converted.

Since your nature is corrupted, something outside of yourself must convert you, for a corrupted tree cannot bring forth good fruit. The main cause of conversion is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit uses the preaching of Jesus Christ (whether read or heard) to convert people. The Holy Spirit causes a person to believe in Jesus. The Holy Spirit turns a person away from trusting himself to, instead, trust Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit makes conversion occur within the sinner, to bring about this inward change.

The parts of this conversion are these three:

1. It is a change of mind;

2. It is a change of heart;

3. It is a change of life.

II. Conversion Changes the Mind

Every unconverted person is ignorant of the saving truths of the gospel. Each person is ignorant either because he has not heard of it, or because he has not understood it.

Most people in the world do not know that man's nature is totally corrupted. They do not know how God hates sin, and how sin deserves God's everlasting wrath. They do not know how Jesus Christ has satisfied God's justice and redeems us from misery. They do not know that Jesus offers them pardon through His death on the Cross, and on what terms that pardon is offered to them, or how those who believe will enter everlasting glory, and those who do not believe will be in everlasting misery. Many are completely ignorant of these fundamental principles of the Christian religion. Most of those who do know some of these doctrines know them only in a shallow and ineffective way.

1. Now the first thing that the Spirit of God does in conversion is to open people's eyes to understand these truths; so that the person who used to hear the sermon as an unreal thing, now is like someone who is brought out of a dark dungeon into the open light.That person is like someone who was blind but has recovered their eyesight, who is happy to see the light and is surprised at their former ignorance and blindness.

I will prove this to you by the Scriptures:

"The natural (unconverted) man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned"

(I Corinthians 2:14).

"If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world (Satan) hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them"

(II Corinthians 4:3-4).

And then the Bible tells us of the healing that happens in conversion:

"I send thee to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God"

(Acts 26:17-18).

You are ignorant of the great truths in the Bible until God Himself awakens you to their reality.

2. In conversion your mind is also changed from thoughtlessness to serious attention.The main reason we cannot get people to hate this world of sin and seek to find Christ is that we cannot get them to think seriously. Instead of thinking deeply about the sermon, lost people go home from church to think and talk about other things. They are never helped by the sermon because they don't think about it. We can't get them to go alone for an hour and actually recall seriously what they heard.

When the Spirit of God comes to convert you, He makes you think about the sermon. He wakes up sleeping souls and shows them that the sermon is for them. God sets the truth of the sermon before their eyes and makes them contemplate seriously what they heard. God Himself focuses their thoughts on the sermon they heard, which before they would have forgotten right away. They might have heard a hundred sermons on sin and Christ, and the need to be converted, they may have heard about judgment and Heaven and Hell many times, but they never seriously thought about these things until now. Now God brings the things they heard in the sermon sharply and clearly into their minds.

This is a great part of the converting work of God's Spirit, to make a person actually think about the sermon they heard.

3. The third change in the mind at conversion is from unbelief to true faith.A word or two in the sermon about Heaven or Hell, if it were really believed by you, would make you search for Christ with all your heart. But unconverted sinners only half believe the Bible. They are really unbelievers. But when the Spirit of God begins to work in you, then you will begin to see that everything in the Bible is really true. You will begin to see that Christ, and everlasting torment in Hell, are not dreams, but are actual facts. Whatever you think about this now, all people on earth will soon find themselves in Heaven or Hell.

If you tell someone that a robber is following him, and he does not run away fast, you can be sure he did not really believe you. But if you see that person run for his life it is proof that he believes you. When a person is truly converted, you can easily see by the way he acts whether he believes what the Bible says. Because Noah truly believed what he heard, he was moved with fear and prepared for judgment (cf. Hebrews 11:7). If you saw Noah at work on the ark you would know that he really believed what he heard, otherwise he would not have worked so hard to escape the danger.

4. The fourth change that comes with conversion is a turning away from errors.Before, lost people think that there is no Heaven or Hell. They think that God will save them the way they are.

But when God converts you, you change all these opinions. You once thought it was O.K. to miss church for any reason. You once thought it was all right to sin in one way or another. But when God converts you, you will turn away from these errors and sins. You will then think, "Oh, what a fool I was to sleep away the short time of my life instead of searching for salvation in Christ! What a fool I was to forget how close God's judgment is!"

When you are awakened by God, you will say, "I must hurry to make sure I am ready for Heaven! I must do all I can to make sure that I don't go into the flames of everlasting torment!"

Unconverted person, your mind will be changed, you will think differently from the way you do now, when you are converted. You will have a new way of thinking about sin and church, the wicked and the godly.

You may say that you will never change your mind, but God Himself can make you think differently from the way you think now. God's light will not be overcome by your darkness, if He means for light to shine into your soul.

Jesus said:

"Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven"

(Matthew 18:3).

Solo by Benjamin Kincaid Griffith: “Ye Must Be Born Again”

by William T. Sleeper (1819-1904).

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

 

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.