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by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
A sermon preached at the Fundamentalist Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord's Day Evening, July 22, 2001
"Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live” (Isaiah 55:3).
By this time I hope you are willing to be converted, and are ready to ask what you can do to give support to your conversion. Therefore I will show you the common obstacles to conversion, which you must remove or conquer. I will also give you the corresponding directions to follow on these subjects.
Hindrance Number One. The first obstacle to conversion is the deliberate neglect of the means God has given to bring about conversion.
1. The first means of conversion is hearing sermons in church.
“How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:14, 17).
God sent Paul to open men’s eyes and convert them (Acts 26:17-18). God sent an angel to Cornelius, not to preach the gospel, but to direct him to a human preacher, because God wanted to do things in the usual way, and have a preacher speak to the lost man (Acts 10:3-5). This is why Christ stopped Paul in a vision, and yet sent him to Ananias for instruction (Acts 9:6-10). It was by hearing Peter preach that the Jews were converted, and three thousand were added to the church at once (Acts 2:37-41). It was God who opened the heart of Lydia, but why did He open it? He opened her heart to listen carefully to the things that were spoken by Paul, so she could be converted (Acts 16:14). God sent an earthquake to prepare the heart of the jailor, but He did not convert him without the preaching of Paul and Silas (Acts 16:32). If people will not hear preachers, they must shake off the dust of their feet in witness against them (Matthew 10:14). And Christ said it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah at the Last Judgment than for such people. It is by preachers that Christ teaches His churches (Ephesians 4:11). Every person who refuses to hear will be cut off from His people (Acts 3:23).
If you stay at home when the sermon is given to the congregation, you will not be helped by it. If you find something else do to when you should hear the sermon, God will find something else to do when you need Him.
If you think you can read the Bible and be saved without going to church to hear the preacher, is not this horrible pride in you – to think you are able to understand the Word of God as well without a preacher as with one? When he asked him whether he understood what he read, the wise eunuch said to Philip, “How can I, except some man should guide me?” (Acts 8:30-31), and yet you think you can read the Bible and be saved without a guide.
Would your children be right to say, “We have the same books at home, therefore we will not go to school. Our teacher only instructs us in these books. We can read them for ourselves at home.” Are you wiser than God, who sent His preachers? (Ephesians 4:11-16). If you say you don’t need to hear the preacher, you think you are smarter than God, who sent the preacher to guide you.
Look through the Bible and see whether or not the usual way of conversion was by hearing the Word of God preached.
By missing church you excommunicate yourself! You cut yourself off from the communion, the fellowship of the saints, the visible body of Christ.
The sixth council at Constantinople (AD 680) decreed, that whoever was absent from the congregation three Lord’s-days together without a good reason, if he were a minister, would be expelled from the ministry, and if he were a layman, he would be excluded from the communion of the church, dropped from its membership and privileges.
Dr. Hymers’ note: How much stronger would our churches be today if they followed the example of these ancient Christians? They would be smaller – but a great deal stronger and more Biblical.
2. Another means of conversion is reading the Bible. Although this must not replace church attendance to hear the preaching of the Word, it is an excellent means of grace, or God would not have told us to read it. “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul” (Psalm 19:7). It is a great privilege to have the verses before our eyes, so we can read them over until they are fastened on our hearts.
3. Another means which God has appointed is to seriously listen to those who can instruct us. Nicodemus came to Jesus by night for counsel, because he knew that He was a teacher sent from God. And Christ gave him advice on the matter of the new birth. Another inquires what he should do to have eternal life (Matthew 19:16). The eunuch asks for Philip to instruct him (Acts 8:31). Paul asked Ananias, and Cornelius asked Peter, as I said before. The Jews who were pricked in the heart asked Peter and the rest of the Apostles what they should do (Acts 2:37). The jailor asked Paul and Silas what he should do to be saved (Acts 16:30).
If unconverted sinners would follow these examples, and go to their preachers for direction regarding their salvation, and decide to do exactly what their preachers say, conversions would not be so rare, nor would so many mistakes be made. But most persons are so careless that they feel no need to go to the preacher. Others are so proud that they will not humble themselves and do it. Others think they already know what the preacher will say, and so they do not seek his counsel. Thus Satan keeps people from salvation by keeping them from their preachers, from this means of grace.
4. Another means of conversion is frequent fellowship with good Christians. The friends you make have a transforming power, and the conversation and example of Christians does a great deal to make you consider your soul. Commonly people are much like their companions. The unconverted person should be in church at every service.
5. Another means of conversion is frequent and earnest prayer to God. When you know that you need grace, and that God is the one who gives it, what should you do? You should ask God for saving wisdom and grace (James 1:5). I know some people teach that those who are unconverted should not pray, because without faith they cannot please God. But the Bible commands unconverted men to pray: “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts” (Isaiah 55:6-7; Hosea 10:12; Amos 5:6). Peter told the unconverted Simon Magus to pray (Acts 8:22-23).
So, hindrance (obstacle) number one is the deliberate neglect of the means God has given for the work of conversion. Now I give you the first direction, designed to remove this obstacle, which is: you should use the means which God has appointed for your conversion.
1. Make sure that you are in every church service to hear the preaching. Don’t let anything but extreme necessity keep you from even one service. If you are absent without an extreme reason from even one sermon, God may justly deny you the blessing of the rest. Satan will be aware of what the preacher has been studying all week, and when he sees that he is going to preach what you need to hear, he may do his very best to keep you away from church that day. He may give you some excuse, or tempt you to miss, because he is afraid that if you come you will be converted. Therefore, do not miss one sermon, or you may miss the one that would have converted you.
And as you listen to the sermons, be very careful how you listen. Christ often said, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” A person who does not listen carefully to the sermons is not worthy to have ears.
2. If you wish to be converted by the preaching of God’s Word, do not let the sermon slip from your mind as soon as you hear it. Think about what you heard, and speak about it to those around you. If your memory is too weak to remember, ask someone else to repeat the main ideas to you.
3. Spend much time reading the Bible. Think seriously about what you read.
4. Especially do all this on Sundays. When the church service is over, on Sundays, take time with your families or by yourselves, to go over the sermons you hear, to read the Bible, and to pray. Seek after the knowledge of God on Sundays, if you wish to be converted by His grace. Do not let work keep you from Sunday services. Before you take a job, tell them you will not work on Sundays. Flee from Sunday work, as Lot fled from Sodom. No amount of money is worth the loss of your soul.
5. Go to your pastor if you need help regarding conversion. Answer the pastor’s questions, and decide beforehand that you will do what he says. Follow his advice carefully.
6. Pray every day. Beg God to give you conversion. Beg Him to open your eyes and show you your misery and sin until you are humbled. Ask God to make you hunger and thirst after Christ and His righteousness. Beg God, with all your heart, that He would not let you live unconverted any longer, or death may find you in a lost state. Beg God to forgive your former rebellion and resistance of His Spirit, and now give you the grace which you have so long neglected. Ask Him to bring you to the place of hating the sinful pleasures you loved before.
These are the means which God has given to bring you into a state of salvation. Are you willing? Have you made up your mind to follow the advice I have given, and use the means God has appointed? Unless you are such a fool that you would give up the joys of Heaven and endure the intolerable pains of Hell – then be serious about obeying these means without waiting any longer!
(END OF SERMON)
Solo by Benjamin Kincaid Griffith: “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God”
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“I preach as never sure to preach again,
and as a dying man to dying men.”
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.