James Buchanan (1804–1870)
Conversion properly consists in a sinner being brought actually, intelligently, and cordially to close and comply with God's revealed will on the subject of his salvation.
Some conviction of sin being wrought in the conscience and some knowledge of God's truth imparted to the understanding — the sinner is, at the time of his conversion, brought to the point — he comes to a final decision, a decision which implies at once a firm assent of the understanding in an act of faith and a full consent of the will in an act of deliberate choice. He surrenders himself to the power of God's truth. He submits to God's revealed will in the matter of his salvation. Convinced that he is a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior, a Savior appointed by God Himself, qualified alike by the dignity of His divine nature, the tenderness of His human sympathies, and the efficacy of His meritorious work to save unto the very uttermost all that come unto God by Him, a Savior declaring His own free and unutterable love in its universal calls.
The sinner, taking that Gospel as his warrant, comes to Christ, closes with Him, embraces Him in all the fullness of His offices, and surrenders himself without reserve into the Savior's hands to be washed, justified, and sanctified according to the terms of the everlasting covenant. This is conversion. This will secure the salvation of the sinner, and nothing short of this can.
There must be a decisive closing with the Gospel call, a final determination, first on the part of the understanding, and secondly on the part of the will. Believing it to be infallibly certain that Jesus is the Christ, the only but all-sufficient Savior — we must close with Him as He is revealed to us in the Gospel and believe Him as all our salvation and all our desire (2 Samuel 23:5).
It is not enough that we are visited with occasional convictions of sin — so was Cain, so was Herod, and so was Judas. Nor is it enough that we acquire some speculative knowledge of divine truth — so did king Agrippa, who was almost persuaded to be a Christian, and so also did Simon Magus, who made such a profession as was sufficient for his baptism, and who yet remained "in the gall of bitterness, and the bond of iniquity" (Act 8:23).
Conversion implies much more — it implies an actual, deliberate, and cordial closing with Christ in His revealed character and a surrender of our souls into His hands. It is a radical heart-change by which the sinner is brought to close in right earnest with the Savior. He may have been troubled in his conscience before and moved in his affections and, to a certain extent, instructed in the truths of God. But until now, he hesitated, delayed, and doubted. The bargain was not struck, the covenant was not subscribed, the decisive act was not done. But now he is brought to a point — the business, long in negotiation, is about to be finally settled. He sees the magnitude of impending ruin, the fearful hazard of an hour's delay; and hearing that Christ and Christ alone can save him — he believes, and he comes to Christ deliberately and solemnly to commit his soul into His hands and to embrace Him as his own Savior.
This decisive act of closing with Christ and complying with God's revealed will in the matter of our salvation, although it may at first sight appear a very simple and easy process, includes in it, I apprehend, everything that is essential to saving conversion — or that is declared in Scripture to accompany or flow from it. Let the sinner close with Christ in His scriptural character, in other words, let him have a correct apprehension of Christ as He is revealed in the Gospel and cordially believe on Him — as his own Savior, in all the fullness of His offices, and he is really from that time a converted man, however defective his knowledge and his experience in many other respects may be. He has already experienced all that is essentially involved in that great change, and every other consequence that properly flows from conversion will ensue.
This decisive act implies the following:
1. That he believes Jesus to be the Christ. In other words, he believes the same Jesus Who was crucified on the hill of Calvary to be the Son of God, manifested in human nature as the Savior of sinners and, as such, executing the will of God, acting by His authority, bearing His commission. He was anointed with the Holy Spirit as a Prophet to declare God's infallible truth, as a Priest to satisfy God's inflexible justice, and as a King to rule His converted people. He was a Christ once crucified — but now exalted, invested with almighty power, and able to save unto the very uttermost all that come unto God by Him.
2. This decisive act of closing with Christ in His revealed character implies that the man feels himself to be a sinner. As such, he is condemned by God's Law, exposed to God's threatenings, and in imminent danger of eternal ruin — while he has no means and no power to save himself, but must be indebted to a Savior.
3. It implies that he is willing or rather that he has been made willing to receive, own, and submit to Christ as God's Anointed One, and in respect to every one of His offices as the Redeemer of God's people. He willingly submits his understanding to Christ's teaching, receiving the truth from His lips, and on His authority, as the infallible truth of God.
He willingly acquiesces in the method of being justified, not by his own righteousness but by the righteousness of Christ, seeking to be pardoned only through the merit of His blood, shed on the cross and accepted only through the efficacy of His meritorious obedience.
He willingly subjects his heart and life to Christ's royal authority, that his heart may be renewed and sanctified by Christ's Spirit, and that his life may be governed and regulated by Christ's law.
In a word, he is willing to receive and embrace a whole Christ and a whole salvation; to surrender himself unreservedly — soul, body, and spirit — into Christ's hands; to be saved and sanctified, governed and dealt with, now and eternally, according to the terms of the everlasting covenant.
Here we have a real, thorough conversion, which consists mainly and essentially in repentance and faith, two gifts of the Spirit that are often used together or even separately to denote the whole of this great change. Repentance indicating what the sinner turns from — and faith, what he turns unto. Conversion is the turning point at which he turns out of the broad way that leads to destruction and into the strait, the narrow way that leads unto life. He then flees from the wrath to come, and flees to Christ as his refuge. He forsakes the service of sin, and follows Christ as his Master. He shuns perdition and seeks salvation in Christ as his Savior.
Now repentance describes his conversion with reference chiefly to what he turns from — and faith describes his conversion with reference chiefly to what he turns to. Each implies the other, there being no true repentance — where there is no faith; and no true faith — where there is no repentance. Both are wrought in the soul at the time of its conversion by the power of the Holy Spirit applying the truth as it is in Jesus. From this radical change of heart — there flows an outward change of life; reformation of life proceeding from a renewed mind. First, the tree is made good — and the fruit becomes good also (Matthew 12:33). The fountain is purified — and the stream that flows from it is also pure.
The production of true faith is often spoken of in Scripture as amounting to the whole work of regeneration: "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God" (1 John 5:1). And again, "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to those who believe on his name — who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:12-13). Here, every one who really believes is said to be born of God; and as every true believer is a converted man, it follows that the production of saving faith is equivalent to the work of regeneration.
But then it must be a real scriptural faith, such as is required in the Gospel — not the faith which the Apostle James declares to be dead, but that living faith that is described in Scripture as a well-grounded belief resting on the sure testimony of God. It must be a positive belief, not a mere negation or absence of disbelief, nor a doubtful and wavering opinion, but a thorough conviction of mind.
It must be an intelligent belief, such as is inconsistent with blind ignorance and implies a perception of the meaning of God's truth, a full and comprehensive belief, embracing all that is essential to be known in regard to the method of salvation.
This belief implies scriptural apprehensions of God in His true character, of Christ in His person as Immanuel, in the fullness of His offices as Mediator, His great design and His finished work — and of ourselves as guilty, depraved, and exposed to a sentence of righteous condemnation. This belief, thus founded on God's testimony and implying spiritual apprehensions of His truth, is a vital, active, and operative principle, bending the will to a compliance with God's call, awakening suitable emotions of reverence, fear, complacency, delight, love, and joy — renewing, transforming, purifying the soul, and effecting a radical change on all our practical habits.
The production of this real, living, and sanctifying faith is the great work of the Spirit in conversion — a work which implies or produces a universal change on all the faculties of our nature, so that as soon as this faith is implanted in his soul — the sinner becomes a new man, the truth of God received by faith renewing his understanding, his conscience, his will, his desires, and his affections. "Old things are passed away — behold, all things are become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Every believer then, in the Gospel sense of that term, is born again. In other words, no one is a believer who is not regenerated. The production of saving faith is that wherein regeneration properly consists. But then it must be such a faith as the Gospel requires and describes. That faith, although it may have its seat in the understanding — implies a radical change in our whole moral nature, and especially a renewal of the will. The understanding is, in the order of nature, the leading and governing faculty of the soul, and it is by means of truth cordially believed that the great change is accomplished.
But the truth is either not truly understood or not really believed — where it works no change on the heart and habits of the sinner. He may read, speak, and speculate about it; he may even embrace some fragments of it and hold them tenaciously — but the substantial truth of Christ's Gospel cannot be really understood and believed by any man, who remains unconverted.
It is true that many an unregenerate man may suppose that he believes — he may never have questioned the general truth of God's Word; he may even have declared himself on the side of the Gospel; and by a public profession or in private conversation, he may have often defended and maintained it. Nay, he may have had many thoughts passing through his mind, many convictions awakened in his conscience that show that he is not altogether ignorant or unimpressed. Yet nothing can be plainer from the Word of God, than that these transient impressions may often be experienced by an unconverted man, and that the man who is not regenerated and transformed by his faith, has no true faith at all.
"Ah, sirs, where the true heaven-given life is found, there is something to show for it. If the love of Christ within, does not make us better than the best of worldly men — we give no evidence of having experienced the renewing work of God the Holy Spirit." Charles Spurgeon