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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, August 19, 2001
"Who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?"
Another great obstacle to conversion is not persevering until it truly occurs. Usually a preparatory work goes on before the actual conversion happens. People have many convictions and troubles in their minds before they come to Christ as He is offered. If people would value these convictions and troubles, and seek more light than they have, they would be blest. But when they lose the convictions they once had, and turn back to the sins they once loved, no wonder God leaves them unconverted. Some of you have grown cold and lost your convictions, as though you never had such feelings. Others have turned back to the cares of this world, and so the hopeful beginning you had has come to nothing, and you are in your old condition again, having had a false conversion which was only partial.
If you are such a sinner, you should "be zealous…and repent" (Revelation 3:19). Have you turned like a dog to his vomit, and like a pig to its wallowing in the mud? (II Peter 2:22). Did you look back after putting your hand to the plough? (Luke 9:62). What reason did Christ give you to leave Him? Have you found that Satan is a better master, and that living in sin is the best way? The thought of eternal life was very important to you at one time, but not now. Has God become unimportant also? Has Christ become unimportant? Have you become able to resist God's anger and punishment? Remember that God has said that if you draw back, He will have no pleasure in you (Hebrews 10:38). Those who draw back will find that they go to Hell. They "backslid" because they never fully entered salvation in the first place. They had a "partial conversion," not the full and real experience of it. They drew back into perdition instead of believing to the saving of their souls (Hebrews 10:39). There is no one more miserable than a person who once began to seek conversion but went back to sin. The end of such people is worse than their beginning (II Peter 2:20-21). It will be sad to see these people who had false conversions condemned to Hell at the Last Judgment.
In the name of God, I warn every one who has gone back to sin to think about your soul. Oh, be awakened from your foolishness, come back and do the first works. Repent and turn fully to Jesus Christ. Oh, do not sleep on until Hell awakens you!
The next hindrance to conversion is misunderstanding the Scriptures, and wrong thinking of the ways of God. If error remains in your mind, it will keep saving grace out of your heart. I will give several ways this can happen.
1. Some do not know what true grace or conversion is.Therefore they think they have it when they don't, and as a result don't look for it. They think conversion is merely giving up some big sins, and doing some outward service to God, and doing good deeds toward others, and this makes them think they have true conversion, because they have turned away from some sins. But these people should realize that conversion is more than this. It is strongly turning from the world and from carnal inward desires, and the devotion of yourself to Jesus Christ. No matter how zealous you are, or how strict you are, this is no proof of real conversion, if you are not united with Christ as your only hope.
2. Some do not think that there is any such thing as conversion.The reason they think this is because they have not experienced conversion themselves, and therefore they think no one else has experienced it. They think that those who say they are converted are only talking, and have never experienced it. But these people should understand that it is a terrible think to contradict the Bible, God's Word. And it is wrong to contradict the experience of those who are truly real Christians. They should also understand that they make these contradictions because they are so sinful themselves. Since God's Word speaks of saving people and putting the Holy Spirit in their hearts, and purifying a peculiar people for Himself who want to live the Christian life (Titus 2:14), how dare they say that there is no such thing as conversion? Since Christ has died to purchase their conversion and the Holy Spirit has been sent to produce it, how can they say there is no such thing? Are the Bible and the preachers and the churches to work for your conversion, if such a thing is not possible for you? If you refuse to believe the Bible and the experience of those who have already been converted, you will be forced to see the truth at the Last Judgment, and you will be ashamed on that day of your foolish rejection of the truth that you could have been converted if you had wanted it.
3. Others think that holiness is not needed, and that it is not necessary to make salvation our main concern. They think that too much concern about conversion makes people strange and unbalanced mentally.
Although I have already answered this objection, yet the subject comes up again, and I will reply to it.
(1) Tell me, do you think that God or you are most qualified to judge what is necessary for a sinner to be saved? Does God command something that you say is unnecessary? Do you think God has told us to do something that is not necessary? Are you saying that you are smarter than God? Do you dare to say that He requires you to do more than is necessary?
(2) Then I ask, Is it more than the Bible requires when God calls you to holiness? Jesus said, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness" (Matthew 6:33). "The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force" (Matthew 11:12). "Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able" (Luke 13:24). "Labor not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life" (John 6:27). "What manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness"? (II Peter 3:11). A hundred more Scriptures could be mentioned, so that if it is wrong to require so much concern and carefulness about salvation, God Himself is the one who said so. And who is more likely to be right, you or God? You hardly know good from evil, and do you think you are wiser than God, and tell Him what is right?
(3) Do you think that a person can do too much to gain Heaven, and labor for it more than it is worth? Is a person fit to see God in Heaven who thinks Heaven is not worth the greatest efforts? Do you think that your labor is so important, and think that God and Heaven are so unimportant, that you think the eternal enjoyment of Heaven is not worth all this effort?
(4) Do you think there was ever a person who got to Heaven, who was sorry he spent so much effort to get there? If you could speak to someone who is already in Heaven, and ask him, "Who is wiser, the person who does all he can to be saved, or the one who says, 'Why make so much of a fuss about it?'" Which side do you think a wise man would take?
(5) Did Christ, or the Apostles, or any real Christian, think like you? See in the Bible whether they thought that salvation was the most important thing in life. The Christians in Bible times never felt they had enough grace, but always wanted more. They never felt that they were holy enough, but they always wanted more holiness, they always wanted to be better than they were. And do you think that you are wiser than they were? Do you think that the Apostles or early Christians didn't know what they were doing with they strove strongly for salvation and holiness?
(6) What is it that you think is so hard to do for God and Heaven? Do you know what you are talking about? Why, being a real Christian is the only joyful life anyone can have on earth. What is holiness? It is living in the love of God and in the joy of the Holy Spirit, and the great hope of life to come, and daily communion with God, and in attending church with joy, to hear of God's love, and the promise of Heaven, and the forgiveness of sins, and prayer to Him for your needs, and thanks and praise to Him for what you received. And do you think this is a hard way to live? Is it hard work to eat and drink when you are hungry and thirsty, or to love your closest friend and be with Him? If you think not, why should you think that it is too hard to live in the love of God, and work for Him in the local church?
(7) Isn't it a sure sign of an unconverted heart if you think working for God is too hard? A man who hates his wife and loves prostitutes will say, "I cannot love her, or live with her." But if he loved her, he would not think that way at all. And if you did not really hate God, you would not think it is too hard to live in a loving relationship with Him, and to be with Him as much as possible.
(8) Do you want to go to Heaven or not? If not, remember that it is you who made the choice to be shut out. If you want to go to Heaven, then don't you realize that all the work you do there will be much more holy and perfect than what you are called to do on earth? Will you think that Heaven itself is too hard a place, and that praising God there is too difficult? If not, how dare you say that a far smaller degree of service to Him in this life is too much? If you are tired of such a small amount of service here, how tired would you be of Heaven?
(9) I will ask you one more question. Do you think the trouble it causes to live a holy Christian life is greater than the trouble you will have in Hell? If you don't, shouldn't you choose the lesser to escape the greater? If you don't have enough love for God to make you serve Him, you should at least have enough love for yourself to make you fear God's everlasting wrath. Remember, you must go through the pain of living a holy Christian life, or you must suffer everlasting torment in Hell. Which will you choose?
4. Another error people make is thinking that their prayers and good works will make up for their sins and make them acceptable to God. They think if that won't work there is nothing else they can do. The truth is that they don't see the evil of their good works. And they don't see the sinfulness of their own natures. They also do not truly see their need for Christ or a thorough change of their condition, so they can be made the justified sons and daughters of God, and have new hearts and lives. They think they can live sinful lives and make up for it by good intentions, and praying, and doing good things.
They do not see that their good works always come from selfish motives, and that such good works themselves need to be forgiven. Even if your good deeds were perfectly good, they could not atone for the sins you committed in the past. Forgiveness of sin can only come through the Blood of Christ. It is sad to hear people talk about their commitments and prayers while they make no mention of the Blood of the Redeemer, nor feel the need of it. We hear countless "testimonies" that make no mention of Christ's Blood, and say little about what Christ has done for them, or how much they owe Him. It is not fixing up your life that saves you. You must be made wholly new. "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). It is not giving up certain sins or saying a "sinner's prayer" which saves you. You must have a new heart, new motives, and a new life. The main motive of your life must be new.
5. Another error that hinders conversion is the misunderstanding of Scriptures which seem to promise salvation to some particular duty. "Whosoever believeth in him should not perish," therefore they think, since they believe in Him mentally they are saved. Even though they have no holiness of life, they believe this Scripture has promised them salvation. They misunderstand it, therefore. Another Scripture which is often misunderstood is "Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." Therefore they say, "I have called on the name of the Lord, so I am saved" – even though they are not converted, not as holy as a real Christian is. To these people I have several things to say:
(1) You don't know what you are talking about. You are deceived by words that you don't understand in the whole context of Scripture. Sin is the evil which Christ saves you from, and conversion is the saving work He does in you. How can you say you believe, and therefore do not need to be converted? How can you say, "I believe in Christ as my Saviour, to save me from my sins," and yet you go on committing those sins? These are the reasonings self-conceited people use to delude themselves and others. How can Christ save you, if you will not be converted from serving sin to serving God?
(2) Is it a wise argument to say that you can believe in Jesus without being converted? It is as foolish as saying that you can have sunshine, and yet see without its light. There is no such thing as true faith without conversion.
(3) Where true faith in Christ is, all other saving graces accompany it; there is repentance, hope, love, humility, and a Heavenly way of thinking. So, it is not saving faith which is separated from any of these. It is merely false presumption.
If you want to be converted, humbly submit to the Word of God, and to the instruction of those men of God whom He has given to teach you. What unreasonable pride those people have who reject the counsels of the most able ministers, where God Himself leads them in His Word. Are these ministers not likely to know more than you, or not, who have studied these subjects all their lives? Talk with them and see whether they have more knowledge of conversion than you. Consider how foolish you are when you proudly argue against the necessity of conversion and a holy life. Are you wiser than your teachers, whom God has sent to convert you? Many people who know hardly anything about Christianity are yet so proud that they reject the instruction of the wisest men of God. I tell you that the conviction of God's judgments will bring you down to ruin before long. The day is coming when your pride will humble you – either in conversion or in eternal damnation. Listen while there is still time, otherwise you will "mourn at the last, when thy flesh and thy body are consumed; and say, How have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof; and have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined mine ear to them that instructed me" (Proverbs 5:11-13). If you think you are too smart to learn, you will be too foolish in the end to be saved.
The last hindrance to conversion that I will mention is rebellious obstinacy. When people have resisted God's grace for a long time, they are often given over to reprobation, and they grow so obstinate they can never be saved. They say, "I will not be converted." They will not become holy, nor deny their sin, nor give up the world of sin, nor devote themselves to a heavenly life in the local church. They become so hardened that they will not believe it is necessary to be converted, and they can never be changed from this rebelliousness. This desperate state of rebellion is Satan's last hold on them, and he will bind them in sin forever.
What can I say to you to get you to give up this hindrance? When your heart is so corrupted and rebellious, whatever I say will be rejected by you. All I can do is ask you to go back over what I have already written, and tell you to think deeply about what I have already said. But I have little hope of convincing many of you. Because so many are in this horrible condition, I am forced to conclude this book with great sadness.
I know that both you and I will soon appear before God, to give a strict account of our lives. And if I have not taught you with sincerity, with a true desire for the salvation of your soul, how can I stand before the Lord, if the Blood of Christ, through repentance and faith in Jesus, will not bring salvation to you?
If any man or woman who has read this book appears before the Judgment of God in an unconverted state, what will they be able to give for an excuse? Or how will you escape the threats of damnation? I hope I will meet some souls in Heaven who will be able to say that this book helped them to be converted. But I am afraid that I will see great numbers of you in an unconverted state, that I sit down and weep over these thoughts, now that I have written this book.
Have I written all this to condemn you, to be a witness against you, at the Last Judgment? I know that every soul who has read this book and rejected it will pass out of his body in an unconverted state. I know that every one of you will be forever in Hell. And I know that you have been so often warned that you are left without excuse, and will therefore have a double condemnation, because now it is your rebellion and obstinacy which keeps you from true conversion.
If you will look over the directions I have given you, and begin to practice them, you will be converted. If not, what hope do you have? Particularly read the Scriptures daily, leave your sinful friends behind, get into a Bible-believing church among those who fear the Lord, and take all opportunities to listen to the sermons and counsel with preachers who do not practice superficial "decisionism."
Dr. Hymers' note: Most preachers in our time of apostasy are decisionists, whether they know it or not. They practice quick and superficial counselling, to "get it over with" as quickly as possible. Such men can do you little good, I know. Seek out the rare preacher who will take much time to do what Baxter and all the old preachers did – by spending many counselling sessions with you, asking you probing questions. These must be men who are not in a hurry to have you make a quick, superficial commitment, or have you say a quick "sinner's prayer" and let it go at that.
Baxter concludes his book with these sober words:
I have delivered my message, and I hope God will not require your blood at my hands. You shall bear me witness that I told you there is no salvation without conversion. I showed you the reasonableness of the offers of God, and that if you are not converted, it is because you would not submit to Christ, and what a torment it will be everlastingly to your conscience to think that you stubbornly destroyed yourself, that you deliberately refused salvation, and that you could have been in Heaven if you had not obstinately rejected real conversion. I say, what tormenting things these will prove to be to you eternally, you cannot possibly know now, in this life. But in eternity you will know and feel the horror of it, if true conversion does not lead you to Christ and Heaven. It is my earnest prayer that what I have written shall lead you to Christ and to conversion. So it is now, and as long as I have life and strength, will be my earnest prayer.
“I preach as never sure to preach again,
and as a dying man to dying men.”
– Richard Baxter.
(END OF SERMON)
Solo by Benjamin Kincaid Griffith: "Ye Must Be Born Again" (by William T. Sleeper, 1819-1904)
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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.