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MODERN CALVINISM AND REAL CONVERSION

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Evening, June 7, 2009

“Therefore 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).


I have been asked by e-mail twice in the past week what I believe about conversion. I would say that Spurgeon’s summary gives a short answer. He said,

In all true conversions there are four points of essential agreement: there must be in all a penitent confession of sin, and a looking to Jesus for forgiveness of it, and there must be a real change of heart, such as shall affect the entire after life, and where these essential points are not to be found there is no genuine conversion (C. H. Spurgeon, “Is Conversion Necessary?” The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Pilgrim Publications, 1971, volume XX, p. 398).

Rev. Iain H. Murray has a good chapter on this subject in his book, The Old Evangelicalism: Old Truths for a New Awakening (The Banner of Truth Trust, 2005, pp. 41-69) titled “Spurgeon and True Conversion.” In that chapter Iain Murray says,

But simple although [what Spurgeon said] sounds, all that is involved [in conversion] is more profound than we can [comprehend] in our present understanding. Spurgeon was to study the subject of conversion, preach on it, and see many converted during forty years, and yet he never got to the bottom of it. Our danger today is to [think] that the truth about conversion [is so simple] that it need not [hold] our attention for long (Iain H. Murray, “Spurgeon and True Conversion,” The Old Evangelicalism: Old Truths for a New Awakening, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2005, p. 41).

I think he is right. The subject of conversion has not been carefully thought about, and very little has been preached on or written about it for many decades. Most of our preachers think conversion is so simple that they don’t need to think about it, and certainly not study it. That is why our churches are made up largely of unconverted people today.

There is a tendency in most of our churches to accept almost any “decision” as a real conversion, without even asking a basic question or two from the person who makes such a “decision.” They are instantly baptized with no questions asked. This method has filled our churches with unconverted people by the millions.

As a direct result of the failure of “decisionism,” a new interest in Calvinism has arisen. Calvinism is the fastest growing movement today among Baptists and other evangelicals. But while the new Calvinism theoretically explains the reason for the failure of “decisionism,” at least so far, it has not cured “decisionism.” Why? Because modern Calvinism has only explained conversion theoretically. It has not adequately applied the doctrines of total depravity and grace. Therefore, almost anyone who mentally agrees with its basic doctrines is quickly proclaimed converted and taken into the church without actually going through the experience of conversion outlined by Spurgeon in the quotation I just gave. As a result modern Calvinism explains the errors of “decisionism,” but does not cure them. In fact, the mere assent to, and belief in, the doctrines of Calvinism have become little more than a new form of “decisionism,” in a subtler form. The man who makes a “decision” to believe the doctrines is proclaimed saved! If he can explain the Calvinistic “doctrines of grace” he is accepted into the church with no questions asked about his own experience of conversion. Thus, thousands learn to explain the meaning of TULIP, and are, upon the ability to explain these doctrines, pronounced converted and taken into the churches. Therefore modern Calvinism has in no instance been connected in any way with true revival and is, in fact, little better than the average solid “decisionist” churches.

Notice that I am not speaking either for or against the doctrines they teach. I am simply saying that belief in doctrines, even true doctrines, is a mental form of “decisionism.” When you “decide” to believe the doctrines you are considered saved. This, in my view, is the weakness and error of modern Calvinism. Why? Because conversion is far more than a simple mental agreement with a list of doctrines, even true doctrines. Thus, modern Calvinism has tended to produce nothing adequate to actually cure the error of “decisionism” that has weakened our churches and filled them with so many lost souls. In fact, most of the modern Calvinists I have spoken with are still unconverted themselves. For the most part they are resting in what the older Calvinists of centuries past would call a “false hope” – the false hope that belief in correct doctrine is the equivalent of true conversion. But "doctrinal belief" is not true conversion. If the modern Calvinistic movement realizes that, and applies their doctrines, they might very well see many real conversions, and perhaps even true revival. But they must discover again the old methods of evangelism and preach “the old truths” to the unconverted Calvinists in their own congregations, or else, in spite of their doctrinal belief in Calvinism, I fear that many modern Calvinists will go into “the fire that never shall be quenched. Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:43-44).

Although you may not know Calvinistic doctrine, I wonder how many of you here tonight in our church are depending on belief in some doctrine rather than depending on a personal encounter with, and a personal knowledge of, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. If you are depending on doctrine of any kind, you also will one day find yourself in “the fire that never shall be quenched. Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:43-44).

To escape that unhappy ending, and the endless torment that goes with it, you must be converted.

“Therefore 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).

Since I accept Spurgeon’s definition, given at the beginning of this sermon, let me go over it with you. For make no mistake, if you are not truly converted you will be in Hell before very many months or years have passed, “Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:44).

I. First, Spurgeon said there must be conviction and confession of sin.

He said, as you may remember, “In all true conversions there are points of essential agreement: there must be in all a penitent confession of sin.”

By “penitent” he meant conscience-stricken sorrow and remorse over sin. By “confession” he meant “admission” and “acknowledgement” of sin. Can you say that you have experienced that? Have you felt the depravity of your own sin-enslaved nature? Have you felt yourself to be such a sinner by nature that you have no hope whatever of reforming yourself? Have you felt that your heart is so sinful that the prophet Jeremiah describes you perfectly when he says,

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9)?

Have you felt remorse and fear when you look at the deceit and trickiness, the abject rottenness of your own heart? Have you felt that your heart is not just "slightly sinful" but, as the prophet says, “desperately wicked”? Iain H. Murray said, “The common factor is that all true converts are penitent" [conscience-stricken by their sin] (Murray, ibid., page 57).

Conviction of sin leads a man to see he is too poisoned, too depraved, too godless to be saved by any act of his own, too ruined at heart to ever hope to be saved by any decision or rededication he could make, too hopelessly deadened by the Fall to ever hope that learning the meaning of TULIP could help him, too hard of heart and too self-deceived to think that any prayer could ever help him escape from the wrath of God.

Spurgeon said it is a waste of time to preach Christ to you if you are not willing to repent, and if you do not feel the weight and horror of the original sin that rules in your wicked, unconverted heart.  If you do not desire and pray for God to change your sinful heart in conversion, you will never, 

“Repent therefore of this thy wickedness” (Acts 8:22).

And that is what must occur if you ever hope to be converted and escape the flames of Hell. You must come under conviction of sin, especially the sin that controls your heart, inherited from Adam in the Fall. Aren’t you ashamed of the sinfulness of your heart? Doesn’t it trouble you? It should – and it must if you ever hope to be converted.

“Therefore 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).

II. Second, Spurgeon said there must be a looking to Jesus or you will not be converted.

One man wrote to me and asked, “How much conviction must one have to be converted?” I said, “Enough to make him come to Jesus.” You see, that’s the purpose of conviction. God knows how much conviction you need. When you are fed up and sick of your sins – then and only then will the cleansing Blood of Jesus seem important to you. Jesus said,

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

He said, “Come to me.” But to whom does He say that? He does not say it to a person living in sin – one who has no conviction. No! He says “come to me” to those who are laboring to get rid of their sins, those who are “heavy laden” with sin. Only to those under conviction of sin does Jesus say, “Come unto me” in Matthew 11:28.

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

III. Third, Spurgeon said there must also be a real change of heart that affects the entire life.

“Therefore 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).

Spurgeon said,

The Bible is meant for mankind, and our text refers to “any” man, in any country.

“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).

Read in the Bible and you find that it divides all men into two classes – the sheep and the goats; [the saved and the lost]; and those “dead in trespasses and sins” and those who have been made “a new creature” (II Corinthians 5:17).

When a person tells you they are converted, and later drops out of church, and goes back to the world, it is certain that they have had a false conversion. Why? Because, as Spurgeon said, “there must be a real change of heart such as affects the entire life.”

When a person tells you they are converted, joins the church and gets baptized – and then comes and takes back all that he said before, and says he is not saved, be wary of him. A man who can tell you one day that his entire life was changed, and a few days later takes it all back, is like Reuben. Jacob said to him, “Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel” (Genesis 49:4). Such a person should be kept on probation for a long time before he is ever again allowed to be a member of the church. That’s what our old-time Baptists and Protestants did – and they were right!

Conclusion

Real conversions occur when lost sinners feel conviction for their sin, and hate it; when they come to Christ, under conviction, and are cleansed by His Blood; and when there is a real change in their hearts, produced by God, that changes the direction of the life of the convert forever after.

“Therefore 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).

In Christ’s name, I pray that you will repent, come to Christ for cleansing in His Blood, and forever after live a changed life. Amen.

(END OF SERMON)
You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.realconversion.com. Click on “Sermon Manuscripts.”

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: John 15:1-6.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Look and Live” (by William A. Ogden, 1841-1897).


THE OUTLINE OF

MODERN CALVINISM AND REAL CONVERSION

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“Therefore 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).

(Mark 9:43-44)

I.   First, Spurgeon said there must be conviction and confession of sin,
Jeremiah 17:9; Acts 8:22.

II.  Second, Spurgeon said there must be a looking to Jesus or you will
not be converted, Matthew 11:28.

III. Third, Spurgeon said there must also be a real change of heart that
affects the entire life, Genesis 49:4; II Corinthians 5:17.