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GOD MAKES PEOPLE AWARE OF THEIR
Jonathan Edwards said, "It is God's manner to make men sensible of their misery and unworthiness before He appears in His mercy and love to them." I have come to believe that this is an important insight into the Biblical psychology of conversion. I mean that this is an insight into what happens in the human mind and heart during conversion. God makes people aware of their lostness and hopelessness before they are made aware of salvation through Christ.
I also mean that this is a Biblical insight. It is true of the conversions found in the Bible. It was true of Adam and Eve, the children of Israel, the thief on the cross, the men at Pentecost, the Apostle Paul, and the Philippian jailor. They were all made aware of their lostness, and helplessness, and hopelessness before they were made aware of God's mercy in Christ. This awakening to one's misery and unworthiness is perfectly pictured in the account of the Prodigal Son:
"And when he came to himself [was awakened], he said…I perish with hunger. I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee" (Luke 15:17-18).
He was made aware of his misery and unworthiness before his father appeared to him in mercy, and clothed him and fed him.
"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).
This promise of rest is given only to those who are laboring and are heavy laden - that is, laboring under the heavy burden of their guilt, and sin, and misery and unworthiness.
There is a very interesting example of awakening like this in the book of Daniel. Please turn with me to Daniel, chapter four, verse thirty-three and following. Please turn to it, and stand with me for the reading of God's Word:
"The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar: and he was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles' feathers, and his nails like birds' claws. And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation" (Daniel 4:33-34).
You may be seated.
This is a graphic illustration of the awakening and conversion of King Nebuchadnezzar. It is such an important conversion that God recorded it twice in the Bible. For the second record of this remarkable awakening and conversion, turn to Daniel, chapter five, verse twenty:
"But when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him: And he was driven from the sons of men; and his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild asses: they fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven; till he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men…"
This account of the awakening and subsequent conversion of King Nebuchadnezzar is remarkably similar to that of the Prodigal Son, given in Luke 15:11-24, which Dr. Chan read in our Scripture lesson a moment ago.
The Prodigal Son and King Nebuchadnezzar both had to be made deeply aware of their misery, sin, and unworthiness before they were made aware of God's mercy and pardon through Christ. When these two men were fully conscious of their sin and misery, then, and only then, could they understand the meaning of those words,
"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).
I pointed out last Sunday night that the testimonies of famous Christians throughout history show that Jonathan Edwards was right when he said, "It is God's manner to make men sensible of their misery and unworthiness, before He appears in His mercy and love to them." I reminded you that this was true of Augustine, Luther, Bunyan, Whitefield, both of the Wesley brothers, C. H. Spurgeon, and R. A. Torrey. And, if you have read his biography, how can you forget the horrible experience of guilt and fear that John Newton went through before his conversion? The man was literally in despair before he found salvation in Christ! No wonder he wrote,
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.
'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.
("Amazing Grace" by John Newton, 1725-1807).
Like King Nebuchadnezzar, John Newton was driven to the edge of sanity by guilt and feelings of unworthiness, before God's amazing grace came to comfort him in Christ. I am thinking right now of a man in our church tonight who had a similar experience.
I do not say that everyone must go to these depths before conversion. As Jonathan Edwards pointed out, God sometimes enables people to see their own hearts so clearly that they give up trying to help themselves right away. Sometimes God convinces people very quickly, as in the case of sudden conversions - as in the case of the thief who was nailed on a cross next to Christ. Misery and guilt came over him quite rapidly - and he turned in saving faith to Jesus. But most people linger in a period of preparation, until they see their sin clearly enough to want mercy through Jesus. Some must go as far as the Prodigal Son or King Nebuchadnezzar before their hearts are broken by guilt and they are willing to trust the Saviour.
This brings me, at last, to the concluding thoughts in Jonathan Edwards' sermon, "It Is God's Manner to Make Men Sensible of Their Misery and Unworthiness."
It is my purpose to exhort those, who have some convictions of sin and danger, that they do not lose them. If God has led you to think about your sins, and made you aware that you are in danger of Hell, be very careful that you do not lose those convictions. Be very careful not to go back to a state of senselessness about eternal things. To keep from losing your convictions, think about the following things.
I. Think about the fact that there is a danger of losing the convictions you already have.
There are many who seem to be under strong conviction, whose convictions don't last very long. Some who were under strong conviction for a long time gradually become more and more careless, and go to sleep again. Satan is watching over you, working in many ways to lessen and take away your convictions. He works to turn your mind away to other things. This world is full of things which tend to take your mind away from thoughts of eternity in another world.
II. Think of the fact that, if you lose your convictions, it will do you no good whatever that you once had them.
Whatever thoughts you once had about your sin or damnation in Hell, whatever prayers you have made, it will all be lost. When you have lost your convictions you will be as far from salvation as you were at the beginning. You will lose everything you gained. You will roll back to the bottom of the hill you were climbing. All will be lost. You might as well have never had those convictions in the first place, as to have once had them, and then lose them.
III. Think that you may never again have such an opportunity.
God is now striving with you by His Spirit. If you lose the strivings of His Spirit, it may be that God's Spirit will never return to you again. If you are under convictions, you have a precious opportunity. You may never again have such an opportunity. The Bible tells us to seek the Lord "while he may be found" in Isaiah 55:6. The time when God's Spirit is striving with you regarding your sin and danger is the right time, and your best opportunity to be converted. If God's Spirit is now at work with you, you have a precious opportunity. Don't lose it. It may doubtlessly be said that many missed their opportunity to be saved. In Ecclesiastes 9:12 we are told, "Man…knoweth not his time." If the Spirit of God is now striving with you, it may be your time, and it may be your only time. You cannot have convictions and awakenings whenever you please. If you think you can put off your conversion and be awakened later, it is a false presumption.
IV. Think that if you lose your convictions and return to your former ways, there is less opportunity, and less probability of your salvation, than there was before you had any convictions.
Lot's wife became a pillar of salt, as a clear illustration of the danger of looking back after you have set out to find salvation. If you turn back and lose your convictions, salvation will be farther away from you than ever.
V. Think about the encouragements in Scripture to keep on seeking salvation until you have found Christ.
Turn to Hosea, chapter six, verse three,
"Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord…"
We learn from this that God usually gives success to those who diligently, and constantly, and perseveringly seek conversion.
There are three main ways that you can lose your convictions:
1. By going into some sin. This is the most common way to put an end to convictions.
2. By letting your mind be drawn away by some diversion (there is a special danger of this happening around Christmas or New Year's).
3. By some change in your circumstances. Your mind is then taken up with this, and you forget about your soul.
Keep on seeking Christ until you find Him in full salvation. Don't give up. Seek with all your might to come under deep conviction of sin and danger. Then it will be a simple step for you to come to Jesus Christ. Seek conviction of sin. Go for it! It is the first step in salvation! May God help you to do it!
Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Luke 15:11-24.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith: "Amazing Grace"
(by John Newton, 1725-1807).
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