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AN ALARM TO THE UNCONVERTED
by Joseph Alleine
Edited and adapted to modern English
A sermon preached on Saturday, December 11, 2004
"Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3).
I have given you several mistakes about conversion. But now I must give you its meaning. Conversion is not some high attainment of a few advanced Christians. No, every person who is saved undergoes this change. "Except ye be converted…ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3). Conversion is a change of heart, resulting in a changed life.
The author of conversion is the Spirit of God. That's why conversion is called "the renewing of the Holy Ghost" (Titus 3:5). The other two Persons of the Trinity are involved, yet the work of conversion is principally attributed to the Holy Spirit, and so those who are converted are said to be "born of the Spirit" (John 3:6).
Now this shows us that conversion is a work that is above and beyond man's power. The Bible says that converts are "born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13). Never think that you can convert yourself. If you ever hope to be converted, you must give up the thought of doing it in your own strength. You must give up the idea of doing it yourself, by your own power. It is a resurrection from the dead (Ephesians 2:1) and a new creation (Galatians 6:15; Ephesians 2:10). These things are out of the reach of human power. This is a supernatural work.
The cause of conversion is God's grace. God finds nothing in any human being to turn His heart, but plenty to turn His stomach. What do you have within you that would cause God to love you? What else but God's grace could move Him to love a sinner like you? God's mercy alone is the cause of conversion. We often sing about God's grace, but have you felt it? Does it seem amazing to you that God would save such a wretched person as you? Paul speaks of God's mercy and grace in converting sinners when he says,
"But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)"
Can you sing John Newton's song with any reality, if you have never felt or experienced God's "quickening" grace?
Amazing grace! how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
("Amazing Grace" by John Newton, 1725-1807).
How can you forget such grace, or pass over it, just mentioning it doctrinally? What else but God's grace could move Him to love you - unless your rebellion against Him could do it, unless the deformity of your heart, and your cold deadness toward Him could do it? We were
"foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour" (Titus 3:3-6).
"By grace ye are saved" (Ephesians 2:5).
The cause of conversion is also the merit and intercession of Jesus. Through Him are all spiritual blessings given to us in heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3). He prays for those that are not yet converted (John 17:20). Every convert is the fruit of His prayers. No baby was ever born with the difficulty that Jesus went through for us. The pains He suffered on the Cross were our birth pains.
"For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God" (I Peter 3:18).
The suffering and prayers of Christ are what brings to us converting grace. If you are converted, you know that it was Christ's suffering and Christ's prayers that caused you to be converted.
There are two agents that God uses in conversion. The first is the ministry. "In Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel" (I Corinthians 4:15). Christ's ministers are those that are sent to open men's eyes, and to turn them to God (Acts 26:18). These are those whose business it is, under Christ, to save you. These are the servants of the most high God that show unto you the way of salvation (Acts 16:17; Acts 26:18).
The second agent is the Word of God. We are converted by the Word of truth, by the Bible. It is the Bible that enlightens the eye, and converts the soul (Psalm 19:7-8), and makes us wise unto salvation (II Timothy 3:15). This is the incorruptible seed by which we are born again (I Peter 1:23). If you are unconverted you should read God's Word studiously, diligently. You should also pray for God to convert you through the preaching of His Word. The sermon does not help you because you do not pray for it to help you, and because you do not meditate on it, by thinking about it carefully after you hear it.
The goal of conversion is your salvation, and God's glory. We are converted to praise God (I Peter 2:9), and to be full of good works (Colossians 1:10; Ephesians 2:10).
The subject of conversion is the elect sinner. Are you one of the elect? If you are thinking about whether you are one of the elect, you have begun at the wrong end. Prove your conversion, and then never doubt your election. Whatever God's secret purposes are, I am sure that His promises are plain. Rebels foolishly say, "If I am one of the elect I will be saved no matter what I do. If I am not one of the elect I will be damned, no matter what I do." Perverse sinner, is not the Word of God plain? "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out" (Acts 3:19). "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:31). What could be plainer? Do not argue about your election, but repent and believe in Christ. Pray to God for converting grace. Whatever the Bible says about election, I am sure of this - if I repent and believe in Jesus I shall be saved; and if I do not believe in Him I shall be damned. Isn't that plain enough?
"Except ye be converted…ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3).
(TO BE CONTINUED)
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, p. iv).
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