Mistakes About Conversion

I’m reading through Joseph Alleine’s “Alarm to the Unconverted” (currently being published under the title “A Sure Guide to Heaven” by Banner of Truth), and thought the end of this first chapter was especially good.  It speaks very much to the heart to those today.  The Lord has blessed me with the report of three testimonies just these past couple weeks that bear witness to the truth of these words.  I thank God that He opens the eyes of the blind, enables the lame to walk, and gives life to sinners, dead in our trespasses.  In these passages, the author is speaking not to the unconverted who might acknowledge their own depravity, but to those who trust in their own merits for salvation and not the work of Christ on the Cross.  The whole book is quite good, and can be purchased as a Puritan Paperback for less than $5 in the link above, or viewed on-line for free at Grace Gems web site.

(from the chapter Mistakes about Conversion)

Conversion does not lie in MORAL RIGHTEOUSNESS. This does not exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, and therefore cannot bring us to the kingdom of God (Matt 5:20). Paul, while unconverted, touching the righteousness which is in the law was blameless (Phil 3:6). The Pharisee could say, ‘I am no extortioner, adulterer, unjust’, etc. (Luke 18:11). You must have something more than all this to show, or else, however you may justify yourself, God will condemn you. I do not condemn morality—but I warn you not to rest in it. Piety includes morality—but morality does not insure piety.

Conversion does not consist in an external conformity to the rules of piety. It is manifest that men may have a form of godliness, without the power (2 Tim 3:5). Men may pray long (Matt 23:14), and fast often (Luke 18:12), and hear gladly (Mark 6:20), and be very forward in the service of God, though costly and expensive (Isa 1:11), and yet be strangers to conversion. They must have more to plead for themselves than that they go to church, give alms, and make use of prayer, to prove themselves sound converts. There is no outward service but a hypocrite may do it, even to the giving of all his goods to feed the poor, and his body to be burned (1 Cor 13:3).

Conversion is not the mere chaining up of corruption by EDUCATION, human laws or the force of affliction. It is too common and easy to mistake education for grace; but if this were enough, who a better man than Jehoash? While Jehoiada, his uncle, lived, he was very forward in God’s service, and calls upon him to repair the house of the Lord (2 Kings 12:2,7). But here was nothing more than good education all this while; for when his good tutor was taken away he appears to have been but a wolf chained up, and falls into idolatry.

In short, conversion does not consist in ILLUMINATION or CONVICTION or in a SUPERFICIAL CHANGE or PARTIAL REFORMATION. An apostate may be an enlightened man (Heb 6:4), and a Felix tremble under conviction (Acts 24:25), and a Herod do many things (Mark 6:20). It is one thing to have sin alarmed only by convictions, and another to have it crucified by converting grace. Many, because they have been troubled in conscience for their sins, think well of their case, miserably mistaking conviction for conversion. With these, Cain might have passed for a convert, who ran up and down the world like a man distracted, under the rage of a guilty conscience, until he stifled it with building and business.

Others think that because they have given up their riotous ways, and are broken off from evil company or some particular lust, and are reduced to sobriety and civility, they are now real converts. They forget that there is a vast difference between being sanctified and civilized. They forget that many seek to enter into the kingdom of heaven, and are not far from it, and arrive to the almost of Christianity, and yet fall short at last. While conscience holds the whip over them, many will pray, hear, read, and forbear their delightful sins; but no sooner is the lion asleep than they are at their sins again. Who more religious than the Jews when God’s hand was upon them? Yet no sooner was the affliction over, than they forgot God. You may have forsaken a troublesome sin, and have escaped the gross pollutions of the world, and yet in all this not have changed your carnal nature.

You may take a crude mass of lead and mold it into the more lovely proportion of a plant, and then into the shape of an animal, and then into the form and features of a man; but all the time it is still lead. So a man may pass through various transmutations, from ignorance to knowledge, from profanity to civility, then to a form of religion, and all this time he is still carnal and unregenerate, his nature remains unchanged.

Hear then, O sinners, hear as you would live. Why should you willfully deceive yourselves, or build your hopes upon the sand? I know that he will find hard work, who goes to pluck away your hopes. It cannot but be unpleasant to you, and truly it is not pleasing to me. I set about it as a surgeon when about to cut off a mortified limb from his beloved friend, which of necessity he must do, though with an aching heart. But understand me, beloved, I am only taking down the ruinous house, which otherwise will speedily fall of itself and bury you in the ruins—that I may build it fair, strong, and firm forever. The hope of the wicked shall perish (Prov 11:7). And had you not better, O sinner, let the Word convince you now in time, and let go your false and self-deluding hopes, than have death open your eyes too late, and find yourself in hell before you are aware?

I would be a false and faithless shepherd if I would not tell you, that you who have built your hopes upon no better grounds than these before mentioned, are yet in your sins! Let conscience speak. What have you to plead for yourselves? Is it that you wear Christ’s livery; that you bear His name; that you are a member of the visible church; that you have knowledge in the points of religion, are civilized, perform religious duties, are just in your dealings, have been troubled in conscience for your sins? I tell you from the Lord, these pleas will never be accepted at God’s bar. All this, though good in itself, will not prove you converted, and so will not suffice to your salvation. O look to it, and resolve to turn speedily and entirely. Study your own hearts; do not rest until God has made thorough work with you; for you must be converted men, or else you are lost men.

But if these persons come short of conversion, what shall I say of the profane person? It may be he will scarcely cast his eyes on, or lend his ear to this discourse; but if there be any such reading, or within hearing, he must know from the Lord that made him, that he is far from the kingdom of God. May a man keep company with the wise virgins, and yet be shut out; and shall not a companion of fools much more be destroyed? May a man be true in his dealings, and yet not be jus
tified before God? What then will become of you, O wretched man, whose conscience tells you that you are false in your trade and false to your word? If men may be enlightened and brought to the external performance of holy duties, and yet go down to perdition for resting in them and sitting down short of conversion; what will become of you, O miserable men, who live without God in the world? What will become of you, O wretched sinners, with whom God is scarcely in all your thoughts; who are so ignorant that you cannot pray, or so careless that you will not? O repent and be converted, break off your sins by righteousness. Away to Christ for pardoning and renewing grace. Give up yourselves to Him, to walk with Him in holiness, or you shall never see God. O that you would heed the warnings of God! In His name I once more admonish you. Turn you at my reproof. Forsake the foolish, and live. Be sober, righteous, and godly. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, you double-minded. Cease to do evil, learn to do well (Prov 1:23 and Prov 9:6; Titus 2:12; James 4:8; Isa 1:16-17). But if you will go on, you must die.

Peace & Blessings, SM

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