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RICHARD BAXTER ON CONVERSION #3 –
THE NATURE OF CONVERSION –
A CHANGE OF THE HEART

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Fundamentalist Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord's Day Morning, June 24, 2001


"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (I John 2:15).


The first part of the work of conversion is on the mind. The second part is on the heart. When I speak of the “heart” I am referring to your will, that part of you that makes choices. In conversion, it is necessary for the mind to be changed to prepare the will to be changed.

God brings the will to love what it once disliked, and to dislike what it loved before.

I. The first change that God makes on the heart or will during conversion is in the desires. He causes you to love what you once thought was bitter. Before conversion every desire you have is for earthly things and you have no desire for the things of God. Your heart is opposed to the things of God. You love to possess, or think about possessing, earthly things. You have no pleasure in God. You do not want to hear about, or think about, the life to come in Heaven. Before you are converted you do not enjoy God or holy things. You do not like to think of them, or to speak about them, or even hear about them very much. You wonder why other people enjoy hearing about them and praying. You yourself can hardly stand to think about the things of God.

You may go to church once in a while and say a quick prayer, but you are glad when it’s over. That is why the Bible calls you an enemy of God and a hater of Him – because your heart is against God, even though your words may sound like you are with Him (Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:3).

I know it is very common for most people to say that God has more of their hearts than He really does. Sin has so blinded them that they don’t even know themselves. If you could see yourself as you really are you would realize that you have truly rejected God. Many sinners are willing to lie to themselves rather than admit that they have no love for God, as the Psalmist says, “God is not in all his thoughts” (Psalm 10:4). “The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity” (Psalm 94:11).

The first change that God makes on the heart is to turn your heart to Himself and give your heart a new desire for Him and His ways. The Holy Spirit opens men’s eyes to see God’s excellency, and the excellency of the glorious things He has promised in Heaven. It is an impossible thing to get people to think seriously about Heaven, but God can do it, and God does do it when conversion takes place. Then you will truly say, “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee” (Psalm 73:25). You hardly ever thought of God before. Now you think about whether God is reconciled to you or not, and what God thinks of your way of living. You now make it your daily habit to seek Christ until you find Him. This is true of the converted soul. Other people talk about God – but converted people give Him their hearts.

I am trying to make this as plain as I can to you, because I want you to ask yourself whether you have been converted or not. Has this change occurred in you? You know that there is something that is most important in the mind of each person. It is the thing you talk about most and think about most. If you have no real interest in it, you will no longer think about it or talk about it.

Here is the real difference between the heart of a converted person and the unconverted heart. Before a person is converted his mind hardly ever thinks about God. After conversion, nothing is more interesting than God! The Bible describes these two states: “For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit... But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Romans 8:5-9). Here you see, in the very words of the Bible, a plain description of these two different conditions – converted and unconverted. Until you are converted, your mind is concentrated on having pleasures in this world. Your mind is concentrated on your happiness in this world, not on the world to come. No matter what you may say about loving God, God knows that you don't really love Him. But when conversion comes it removes the old way of thinking and gives a new thought-pattern. Now the person who was carnally minded becomes spiritually minded.

Look into your own heart, and ask yourself what you would wish for if you could have anything in the world – what most pleases you – what you want if you could have your choice. In this way you can tell whether you are converted or not. You may think that you can have a worldly mind and still be a child of God. But don’t deceive yourself. It cannot be. If you ever escape the torments you deserve, and see God’s face in Heaven, your heart must be turned another way! Your shameful delights must become bad tasting to you. You must be ashamed of what you now love.

Many weaknesses may exist in a converted person, but a carnal or worldly mind in a dominant sense cannot. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (I John 2:15).

Only a foolish man would say that God is not better than this world. But the question is this: which of these do they love more? Never tell me that your thoughts about God are sincere unless you think pleasantly about God in your inward thoughts.

When converting grace comes it does this work – it causes the heart to sincerely love God. When the best Christians have reached the highest knowledge of God and His love, they are still looking for more. And they will see how little they have known. The converted soul knows the emptiness and worthlessness of this world when he is first humbled and made to see his sins, is made to see that he has broken God's law, and is in terror of God's anger. How can anything in the world bring him relief, or peace, or pleasure? If you are ever converted, God will show you another kind of pleasure. He will give your diseased soul a thirst for Jesus, the living water (John 4:14). "The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost" (Romans 5:5).

II. The second part of the change of the heart in conversion is in its purpose – what it wants to do. Conversion causes a person to want to do what is right. The converted person's desire is to seek the will of God and to do what is right.

Before conversion, all people are inwardly and secretly enemies of God. Their hearts are against Him. He does not have their hearts. It is not God whom they really search for. It is something in the world that they seek for, and not God. Therefore you are said to "have their portion in this life" (Psalm 17:14). You are therefore called "the men of the world." You build up some treasure on earth (Matthew 6:19). You think that there is nothing greater that they can do. You do not know the joy of God's presence. You seek only what they shall eat or drink, or what You can wear, for this is the way of unconverted people on earth (Luke 12:29,30). You think very little of Christ and His kingdom, in comparison with the things you are interested in on earth. You do things for themselves, but you are not rich toward God (Matthew 22:5; Luke 12:21). You do not want to give up anything for Christ. Your "end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things" (Philippians 3:19). You work only for good things in this life. You think that true Christians are foolish to give up pleasures to pray, and listen to sermons. Therefore when real Christians are comforted in Heaven, you will be tormented in Hell (Luke 16:25). These Scriptures describe what unconverted men want and what their hearts desire. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be (Matthew 6:21).

But when converting grace comes the very purposes of a man (the things he wants to do) are changed! He now wants to think about God and Heaven! He has figured out what the world is worth, what it can give him, and how long it will last him, or do for him when he needs help. He has decided that the world can never make him truly happy. If you ever get converted you will experience all this yourself. Converting grace makes a person truly think about whether anything in the entire world could make him happy. When you think about it in conversion you will realize that nothing in the world can make you truly happy. God now opens your mind so that the false appearances of earthly things cannot deceive you as they used to. You thinks about how they lead you to the grave and Hell, and leave you when you are in the depths of distress.

Before you were like the Prodigal Son, who thought that it was difficult to live in his father's house. Away among his friends and pleasure he wanted to go. But when he woke up in the beginning of conversion, he wanted to go home again! He was dying with hunger for the things of God!

In this way God takes the soul, during conversion, away from its former purposes and desires, and makes you say, "Lord, these things will not make me happy. Please don't let me be content with things like this." When your soul is loosened from its former delight, and sees that something else is needed for you to be truly happy, the Holy Spirit shows you that Jesus Christ alone can satisfy.

The very best of worldly things will no longer satisfy you, but you "desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for he hath prepared for them a city" (Hebrews 11:16).

III. The third part of the work of conversion in the heart is a new willingness to seek Christ the way God tells you to do so. Salvation cannot be found any way you want. You must be saved God's way – or remain lost.

Two things are absolutely necessary in salvation:

1. You must believe the truths about Christ given in
 the Bible.

2. You must believe in Jesus Christ Himself – up in
 Heaven.

Now the heart of the unconverted person is against both of these things.  You do not deeply believe in the substitutionary death, resurrection and ascension of Christ. Your belief is very shallow. Also, you do not seek Christ in Heaven – because you have not been humbled, and do not feel the need of Christ. "The whole need not a physician, but they that are sick."

You have learned to say nice things about Christ, and you are even willing to be forgiven by Him, but you have never grabbed ahold of Him, like a drowning man would grab a piece of floating wood to save him from being sucked under the water.

But when converting grace comes, you will think very highly of Christ, and seek with all your might to know Him. Then you will say, "I am tormented by my own conscience, and nothing but Thy blood can make my conscience stop accusing me. I am condemned by the law, which I have broken. I don't know what to do if Thy blood does not pardon me. I have thousands of sins against me. I cannot meet the demands of God's justice. I must have Thy sacrifice on the Cross as my substitute for the payment of my sins. Hell is now ready to swallow me eternally if Thou dost not save me. Save me, save me, Lord, or I will perish! A just and angry God will be an eternal consuming fire to me if His anger is not put out by Thy blood, O Jesus!"

Here are four things that happen when converting grace comes to you:

1. Self-condemnation for sin. Unconverted people feel no burden of conscience which would drive them to Christ for forgiveness. Their consciences are dead. They are quick to point out other people's sins, but they are just as quick to excuse their own sins. But when converting grace comes, your whole attitude will change. You will then talk very much against yourself. You will speak a great deal about your own sins. You will then condemn yourself.

2. Earnest prayer to God. An unconverted person doesn't know anything about true prayer. They either don't pray at all or else they pray mechanically, with no life at all in their prayers. But when converting grace comes, you will cry out to God. Reality in prayer one of the signs that converting grace has come.

3. Great interest in the Word of God. Unconverted men have little interest in the Bible or preaching. You let your mind wander while reading the Bible, or sitting in church as the sermon is preached. But when converting grace comes you will have great interest in reading the Bible and hearing the preaching of God's Word.

4. Fellowship with Christians. Unconverted people are very quick to judge real Christians and get angry with them instead of forgiving them. The truth is that they don't like true Christians. The more holy the Christian is, the less an unconverted person will like him. Unconverted people will look for a fault in others as an excuse to leave the church, or commit other sins. They are continually judging others so they can excuse themselves.

It is natural for a wicked man to hate a true Christian (Genesis 3:15; I John 3:12; Hebrews 11:4). Christ told His disciples that the world would hate them because He had chosen them out of the world; but if they were part of the world, the world would love them (John 15:19). This explains why the unconverted world hates Christ and His true followers.

But when the soul is truly converted there will be a real love for true Christians and a real love for the local church. A person who is truly converted will not leave his local church (I John 2:19), but you will stay because you truly love the members (John 13:34-35; John 15:12-13). People who change membership often, because they find faults in the members or leaders, are  nearly always unconverted people. There are very few exceptions. When you are converted you will love your neighbor as yourself - in the local church.

IV. The fourth part of the work of conversion in the will is the settling of the heart, a great settled seriousness about being converted.

This is not separate from what has been said. It is the summing up of all that has been said so far.

Many people have some conviction or interest in being saved, but after a while this goes away, and they go back like they were without being converted. They remain half-converted, but they are still lost.

Sometimes God turns the heart quickly, and a person is suddenly converted. But most people linger a long time under conviction and partial awakening – before they are converted. They know that they are lost, but they stay in a stupid state, half-resolved, half in and half out of salvation.

But true conversion turns the mind over wholly to God, and shows you that there is no other cure for sin but Jesus Christ. You will then know that there is no other pardon for sin but the blood of Jesus Christ. You will then know that you must throw yourself on Jesus to be saved. You will now be determined to trust in nothing else but Christ.

A hundred considerations will make you say, "Away with all these worldly vanities; welcome Christ and a holy life."

Many people have been lost forever who started out to find Christ. The main part of the work of saving grace in the soul lies in this resolution – "I will not stop seeking Christ until I find Him." If you are ever converted, you will be determined to find Christ at any cost.



Solo by Benjamin Kincaid Griffith: “Give Me Thy Heart”

by Eliza H. Hewitt (1851-1920).

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.