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AN ALARM TO THE UNCONVERTED #1 -
A sermon preached on Saturday, December 4, 2004
Joseph Alleine was a pastor who lived from 1634 to 1668. He graduated from Oxford University in 1653. He became a pastor in 1655 and died in 1668, at the age of thirty-four. In those thirteen years he labored for the conversion of souls, while his wife kept a school for children in their home. Alleine had a book in which he wrote down the names of people on each street, and made notes concerning every individual who came to hear him preach on Sunday. During the week he visited the people and taught them personally, one at a time. Richard Baxter, who lived at the same time, spoke of his "great ministerial skilfulness in the public explication and application of the Scriptures - so melting, so convincing, so powerful." Like Baxter, he was imprisoned for his preaching in 1662, when the infamous Act of Uniformity was passed and 2,000 Puritan pastors were cast out of their pulpits. Although he was imprisoned and barred from his pulpit, Alleine's voice was not silenced. His little tract, An Alarm to the Unconverted, became one of the most popular books on conversion of all time. It was first published in 1672, four years after his death. Along with John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and Richard Baxter's A Treatise on Conversion, Alleine's An Alarm to the Unconverted became one of the three best-selling evangelistic books of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Indeed, these three books shaped the thinking of evangelicals of that day, and laid the groundwork for the First Great Awakening, the revival that shook the very foundations of the English speaking peoples, and ignited the modern missionary movement around the world.
The influence of Joseph Alleine's An Alarm to the Unconverted can be seen in the writing and preaching of the great evangelists George Whitefield and John Wesley. Whitefield said that Alleine's book "much benefited" him, and Wesley had it reprinted. Spurgeon's mother read it to him at night when he was a child. Iain H. Murray said that An Alarm to the Unconverted "embodies the substance of Alleine's message and in so doing provides a true model of Puritan evangelism�here, we have no hesitation in saying, are the principles which must be present in any true presentation of the Gospel" (Iain H. Murray, introduction, An Alarm to the Unconverted, Banner of Truth, 1959 reprint, page iv).
Without any further introduction I will present Joseph Alleine's An Alarm to the Unconverted in today's English, condensed for the sake of modern thought. Please stand and turn with me to John 3:3. Let us read it aloud.
"Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3).
You may be seated.
No one will enter into Heaven except by the narrow passage of the new birth. My desire is for you to be saved. I must not give you a great speech to impress you. I must be plain and open with you. My work is not to please you, but to save you. If I wanted to make a baby stop crying I would sing and rock it to sleep. But when a baby falls into the flames of the fire place, the parents rush to pull it out. I know if I don't succeed with you, you are lost. If I cannot get you to arise and come away, you will perish forever. No conversion - no salvation! I must get you to agree, or leave you miserable.
Some of you do not know what I mean by conversion. I cannot persuade you to experience what you do not understand. Therefore I will show you what conversion is.
Others have secret hopes of mercy, although they continue just as they are. I must show them the necessity of conversion.
Others may harden themselves with the false idea that they are converted already. To them I must show the marks of the unconverted.
Others feel no alarm, fear none, and so remain asleep. To them I will show the misery of the unconverted.
Others do not see how to escape. To them I will show the means of conversion. And finally, I will tell everyone why they need to be converted.
"MISTAKES ABOUT CONVERSION"
The devil has created many counterfeits of conversion, and tricks one person with this counterfeit, and others with a different counterfeit. The devil is a master of trickery and deception. If it were possible, he would deceive the very elect. My purpose is to cure the mistake of those who think they are converted when they are not. I also want to remove the fears of those who think they are not converted when they are. Therefore I will show you the nature of conversion. First I will show you what it is not.
Conversion is not merely declaring that you are a Christian. Christianity is more than a name. Paul says that it is not in word, but in power (I Corinthians 4:20). If merely leaving Judaism and paganism and going to a Christian church were conversion, then who was a better Christian than those of Sardis and Laodicea? These people all said they were Christians. But they only had the name of "Christian," and so Christ threatened to reject them (Revelation 3:14-16). Many name the name of the Lord Jesus, but do not depart from iniquity (II Timothy 2:19). Many profess that they know God, but in works deny Him (Titus 1:16). Will God receive these as true converts? What! converts from sin, when they still live in sin? It is a visible contradiction. Many who say they are Christians, and even preachers of Christ, and wonder workers, will be rejected, because they were not truly converted (Matthew 7:22-23).
Conversion is not baptism. Ananias and Sapphira and Simon Magus were baptized. What good did it do them? Many make a mistake here, dreaming that conversion comes through the external administration of baptism. And indeed, if conversion and baptism are the same, all people would have to do is proclaim that they were baptized to be admitted to Heaven. Whatever people do or pretend to receive in baptism, if they are found afterward to be grossly ignorant, or profane, or merely formal they must be born again (John 3:7), they must be renewed by a thorough and powerful change, or else they cannot escape the damnation of Hell.
Conversion does not lie in moral righteousness. The righteous living of the Scribes and Pharisees could not save them (Matthew 5:20). Before he was converted, Paul was righteous, in the law blameless (Philippians 3:6). The Pharisee could say "I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican" (Luke 18:11). You must have something more than this to show, or else God will condemn you.
Conversion is not simply conforming to the rules of Christianity. People may have a form of godliness without the power (II Timothy 3:5). People may pray long prayers (Matthew 23:14), and fast often (Luke 18:12), and listen to the preaching gladly (Mark 6:20), and serve God (Isaiah 1:11), and still not be converted. There is no outward service that an unconverted person cannot do, even giving all his money to feed the poor, and his body to be burned (I Corinthians 13:3).
Conversion is not merely education. It is easy to mistake education for conversion. But if learning how to be saved were enough, who would be better than Joash? While his uncle Johaida was alive, Joash served the Lord (II Kings 12:2, 7). But there was nothing more than a good education in all this. When his teacher was removed Joash appears to have been a wolf chained up, and falls into idolatry. Learning "the plan of salvation" is not conversion.
Conversion is not conviction of sin or a partial reformation. A man like Felix may tremble under conviction without being converted (Acts 24:25). A man like Herod may do many things without being converted (Mark 6:20). It is one thing to be alarmed by the conviction of sin. It is another thing to be converted. Many people mistake conviction for conversion. But if that were true, Cain would have passed for a convert. He ran up and down the earth like a man distracted, under the influence of a guilty conscience, until he was able to stifle his conscience with building and business.
Others think that they are real converts because they have changed their way of living. They forget that there is a great difference between being converted and being civilized.
Still others think that some emotion or feeling they have had is conversion. So a person can pass through various transmutations, from ignorance to knowledge, from no religion to a form of Christianity, and all the time remain unconverted.
It is hard work to take away your false hopes. It must be unpleasant to you, and it is certainly not pleasant to me. But it is better to let go of your false hopes than to have your eyes opened in Hell, when it is too late. I would be a false teacher if I did not tell you that you have built your hope of being saved on something that will not save you. Do not rest until God has done a thorough work with you, for you must be converted, or else you are lost.
What will become of you if you are not converted? God is hardly ever in your thoughts. What will become of you who are so ignorant that you cannot pray, and so careless that you refuse to do so? O repent and be converted! Come away to Christ for pardoning and renewing grace! Wash your hands, ye sinners! Purify your hearts, ye double minded! But if you insist in going on the way you are, you will die.
Please turn to Matthew 18:3. Let us stand together and read this verse aloud, beginning with the word "Verily."
"Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven"
You must come away to Christ for converting grace. "Except ye be converted�ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3). And may God grant that conversion will be experienced soon in every troubled and convicted soul. Amen.
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