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RICHARD BAXTER ON CONVERSION #7 –
THE NECESSITY OF CONVERSION

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Fundamentalist Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord's Day Morning, July 22, 2001


"If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new"
          (II Corinthians 5:17).


By now you can see that conversion is a great change which is made on the soul and in the life by the renewing grace of Christ. If you have not had conversion change you, you should strongly consider what Christ said:

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


Your words and your life tell us that you are not yet converted. What is it that lets you remain in peace? How can anyone read such a verse as this (Matthew 18:3) without being awakened from false security? Yet by experience I know that many who read this, knowing that they aren't converted, will still be as careless as if it didn't matter that they are going to Hell. Why does this happen? Undoubtedly this is because they do not completely believe the truth of what I have said. Therefore,

 I. I will show from the Word of God the absolute necessity of conversion.

What more proof do you need that conversion is necessary than the words of our text:

"Except ye be converted…ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3).


Christ told Nicodemus that he couldn't enter the kingdom of heaven unless he was regenerated (i.e. born again). This means that as a child receives new life, is a new creature, and enters newly into the world, so must every person who will be saved receive a new spiritual life, and enter into the world of grace, and begin life anew.

"If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (II Corinthians 5:17).


See in this verse both the necessity and nature of this change that occurs in conversion. It is not a few persons who need conversion, but everyone, " If any man …" And he that is not in Christ is not a Christian, "If any man be in Christ…" If he is not a Christian, he cannot be saved. Every true Christian, then, is a new creature in character and in life: "Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." What are "old things" but what I have expressed to you in previous chapters? A truly converted person will not have the same motives you had before. You will have new hope and happiness, new love, new desires, new sorrow, new delight, new resolution, and a new way of living and talking. All will become new to you at conversion. You have a new covenant with Christ, a new master, a new head and Lord, and you will be a member of a new society, and you will enter into a new kingdom and family. You have a new work to do, a new group of friends in the church, new thoughts in your heart, and a new way of speaking.

Conversion is putting off the old man and putting on the new man:

"…seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him" (Colossians 3:9-10).


Knowing this, that the converted person's "old man" is crucified with Christ, that from now on they should not serve sin – for he that is dead is freed from sin (cf. Romans 6:4-7). Thus, those who are converted serve God in newness of spirit (Romans 7:6). But in case there is any doubt in your mind, I will give you some points to show the necessity of conversion.

1. Conversion is the very thing that Christ came into the world to give, to bring wicked sinners to God. Do you think that Christ came to do something that was not necessary? Just as His suffering was necessary to pay for our sins, so His doctrine and Spirit are necessary for our conversion. We can no more be saved without the one than without the other. Would God have sent His Son to earth on purpose to call home wandering sinners if they could be saved without conversion? The Lord Jesus is the great physician of souls. He did not come to heal small diseases which might have been healed without Him. He came to cure the destructive plague of sin, which no one else could cure but Him. It was never in the mind of Christ to come down from Heaven to suffer for our sins, that we might continue in them without a change. Never did He think to bring people to Heaven in their sins, but to destroy their sins, which would keep them out of Heaven. He never meant to bring you and your disease together into Heaven, but to heal your disease, which otherwise would have ruined you. What greater blasphemy against Christ can there be than to imagine that He befriends sin, which He hates so much? What greater blasphemy can there be than to imagine that Christ stands with Satan and strengthens the Devil's kingdom – when it was truly His mission to destroy it?

Thus, Christ came to convert people, and not to pardon anyone without conversion. "The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). "Who gave himself for us," not to pardon and save us without converting us, but "that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works" (Titus 2:14). From these verses you can see the absolute necessity of conversion if you hope to be saved.

2. Conversion is the main thing in the whole Bible, to convert people from sin to God, and to build them up once they are converted. And do you think that God would have made conversion the main topic of His Word if it were not necessary to be converted? If a person could be saved without conversion, why would God inspire prophets and apostles to deliver His Word to convert people and build up the converted? Would God do all the things in the Bible for something that is not needed? This is the very purpose of God's Word: "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul" (Psalm 19:7). What else does the Bible tell lost sinners to do, but to repent and turn to Jesus Christ? Hundreds of verses in the Bible show that the main purpose of the Scriptures is to turn sinners to Christ (cf. Ezekiel 33:11; Isaiah 31:6; 59:20-21; Jeremiah 3:7; Proverbs 1:23; Joel 2:12-13; Jonah 3:8; Acts 3:19; etc.).

3. Conversion is the business to which ministers of the gospel are called, to convert people to Christ. Why would God call men to preach conversion if conversion were not necessary? John the Baptist began preaching repentance. Christ followed him, preaching the same thing (Luke 13:3-5). The apostles followed Him, preaching the same repentance, without which there is no salvation (Acts 2:38; 8:22). They tell us, God "commandeth all men every where to repent" (Acts 17:30). Paul's work was to show people that they "should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance' (Acts 26:20). And "to 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…" (Acts 26:18). The substance of Paul's preaching was, "Repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21). Ministers are to be found "in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will" (II Timothy 2:25-26). So, the main business of preachers is to convert people to Christ.

4. The conversion of others is the work and duty of every Christian. Would God tell us this if there were any other way of salvation? "They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars for ever and ever" (Daniel 12:3). James says, "If any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins" (James 5:19-20).

Put all this together, and decide whether it would be likely that God would have sent His churches to work for the conversion of sinners, if there had been any other way to save them. Would Christ Himself have come to convert people if they didn't need it? Would the Word of God, the Bible, have been given for this reason – to convert people? Would the prophets, and apostles, and ministers of the gospel be sent with this message of conversion? Would it be the duty of every Christian to work for conversion, if others could be saved without conversion?

I beg you, therefore, believe in your need for conversion as an unquestionable truth. Let it be a firm belief in your heart that there is no hope of salvation without true conversion.

 II. I will give several reasons why a person cannot enter the kingdom of heaven without being converted.

1. If we had nothing but the Word of God, the Bible, as the only reason, it should be enough. Heaven belongs to God, and He can give it to whoever He will. And He has told us in His word that He will give it to no one but the converted.

"Except ye be converted…ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3).

Do you object to this doctrine, that none will be saved but the converted? Then you are finding fault with God. Do you think you are wiser than Him? Do you think He doesn't know what He's doing? Will you accuse Him of injustice? A guilty sinner like you, who has done so much wrong to the Lord who made you, and who has refused His grace which would have saved you, should not dare to open your mouth against God, and tell Him, after all this, that if He condemns you He is unmerciful.

I will tell you my religion. I believe all that God says in the Bible is true, whether I completely understand it or not. I have looked to see if there is any better or surer foundation for religion, and I have found none. When God tells me in His Word that no man will be saved except he is converted, I take Him at His Word. I will set the Word of God against all the reasoning in the world. If you say it is a hard thing to believe that so few will be saved, and that you cannot believe God would deal so harshly, against all your arguments I will simply quote the Word of God. God has said it, and will He not do it?

2. The second reason that no one can enter the kingdom of Heaven without being converted is from the nature of God's government. Do you want God to reward people for serving Satan? Do you want God to say, at the Last Judgment, "Come, sinner. You have lived for the Devil all your life, and have thought only about the pleasures of this world. You have despised me and my church. But come in – enter into the glory of Heaven." Sinner, if self-love did not blind you, you would see that this would be a decision unfit for the wise and righteous God. Do you think He must reward the Devil's servants? "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25). And what is right, but to give every person what he deserves?

3. But further, consider this. The holy nature of God will not permit an unholy soul to enter into His presence. "There shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination" (Revelation 21:27). "Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity" (Habakkuk 1:13). "The righteous Lord loveth righteousness; but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth" (Psalm 5:4,5; 11:5,7). "Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous" (Psalm 1:5). "The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God" (Psalm 9:8,16,17). What more reasons would you have? There is opposition between the nature of God and the unconverted. "What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?" (II Corinthians 6:14).

Either you must become holy like God or God must become unholy like you – or you will not be able to live together in Heaven. God cannot become unholy, because it is against His very nature. You must become holy in His sight, through the imputed righteousness of Christ, which you receive at conversion. For this reason, only converted people can live with God in Heaven. If you will turn to Christ you will be welcome in Heaven. But never expect that God will become sinful like you.

4. Here is another reason only converted people can go to Heaven. God offered them salvation in this life and they refused it. God made it simple and easy for them to be saved, but they refused it. They could have had Christ and forgiveness, and holiness and happiness, if they wanted it, but they rejected it all. God set life and death before them and asked them to choose life that they should live (Deuteronomy 30:19). But they deliberately chose death. God called His preachers to deal with them in season, and out of season (II Timothy 4:2), and to "reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine." He even tells His ministers to "compel them to come in" (Matthew 22:9; Luke 14:23). And yet they will not come. Some make one excuse for not being converted. Some make another excuse. Some do not take our message seriously. Others attack and oppose it.

It grieves me to say that I must witness against thousands of people of which this has been the case. Sinner, I witness to you this day, that God and angels and men shall know that if you are thrust into Hell it will be because you would not be saved. It is not because God is cruel to you, but because you were cruel to yourself. This will prove true at the end of your life.

5. If all these reasons for God not permitting unconverted people into the kingdom of Heaven do not satisfy you, I will give one more – it is an impossible thing. It is a contradiction. Sin is the soul's sickness and death, and conversion and holiness are its life. Only a fool would try to make a dead man alive. Yet it is as great a contradiction and impossibility for a man to be saved without being converted. What must we be saved from, if it isn't sin and Hell? And there is no salvation from Hell without being saved from sin. "He shall save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21).


(END OF SERMON)


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."

 

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.