ANXIETY FOR CONVERSION
"What must I do to be saved?"--Acts 16:30
Many readers of this work may have traveled through its pages to the present chapter with a sad conviction that hitherto their spiritual state touching the momentous subject of which it treats has been unmet. Feeling that they cannot lay claim to Christian experience so advanced, they are ready to close the book in despair of having any part or lot in the matter--as possessing no scriptural evidence of spiritual quickening in the soul. To meet the case of such, whose very anxiety is no small sign of life, we devote the present chapter of our work, designed to exhibit conversion in its incipient form--the sincere, earnest anxiety of a soul to be converted. We select, as the illustration of this stage, the often-quoted and familiar, but not less appropriate and instructive, case of the Philippian jailer. The inquiry which he proposes must, more or less intense, be the inquiry of every individual born again. All must commence their spiritual course from this starting-point--all with that momentous inquiry, "What must I do to be saved?"
It is an inquiry which only God can answer, as it is a state which only the Holy Spirit can produce. It is the most profound, the most weighty, the most solemn question that ever stirred human feeling or awakened human thought. Traverse the circle of human inquiry, and select the most learned, important, and thrilling subject that ever engaged the intellect or called into being the energy and enterprise of man, and place it in contrast with this single, simple question--"What must I do to be saved?"--and it pales into the profoundest insignificance. It is as the child gathering pebbles on the shore, compared with the diver searching for the pearl, or the miner excavating for the diamond. It will be seen, then, how much importance we attach to the first or incipient stage of the new birth. So far from despising the day of small things in grace, so far from regarding with indifference the anxious, trembling state of mind which the question betrays, it presents itself to our view as the most important, touching, and lovely stage of conversion.
Can there be any difficulty in tracing this anxiety for salvation to other than its proper and legitimate SOURCE? Man could not convey it, nature could not inspire it, flesh and blood could not reveal it. It is of God. We turn to the trembling jailer. Two great convulsions were transpiring at the same moment. The one was natural--the earth quaking; the other was supernatural--the soul morally convulsed from a sense of sin. God is at no loss for means to bring to Himself His chosen people. He can employ an earthquake, a flash of lightning, a thunder-clap, a sudden bereavement, to rouse the soul to the all-important concerns of eternity. Tell us not that, that conversion is not genuine, that, that spiritual change is not real, because produced by some stirring, alarming event of God's providence--a convulsion of nature, the prostration of health, the loss of property, the knell of a departed soul. "Lo, all these things works God oftentimes with men."
God grant that the solemn, startling events of His providence in your history, my reader, may not be without their spiritual impress upon your soul! Sad, yes, most dreadful, if, when your present probation closes in a destiny changeless as the throne of Him who will appoint it, it should appear that you were deaf when God spoke, you trifled when God was serious, were impenitent when God called; and that all His startling providences, solemn warnings, earnest and touching appeals tended but to fit you all the more for condemnation, as the sun's heat seasons the fuel for the flame. But we address the soul anxious for salvation.
We approach the consideration of this state of mind with solemn and tender interest. If the angelic host contemplate the spectacle with wonder, and find in its study material for joy--beholding in it the fruit of Christ's death and the wondrous working of God's grace, the struggles and the pangs of a soul passing into the new birth--surely we are justified in regarding it as possessing vital and transcendent interest, worthy of our deepest, tenderest consideration.
Anxiety for salvation is, as we have remarked, conversion in its latent or incipient state. It may arise from various causes, but essentially it is the same. You feel yourself a lost sinner. You have made the startling, momentous discovery that you are not saved! Hitherto, living in ignorance of yourself as a sinner, and of your state as under condemnation; living for the world as your portion and for self as your god, you now awake as from the sleep of death, and find and feel yourself lost, guilty, self-destroyed. Your great anxiety now is--how you may be saved. Shall we attempt to analyze your anxiety? You feel yourself--a SINNER. This is the great concern of your soul. Sin is your distress, your burden, your alarm. Sin as sin against God, sin as polluting your entire being, sin as exposing you to condemnation, sin as the most oppressive weight that ever crushed you to the earth, sin as separating you from the holy on earth and from the glorified in heaven, is the cause of present conviction, anxiety, and alarm.
But, startling and solemn as this discovery of your condition as a sinner is, be not more startled if we pronounce it as most blessed! It is the first dawn of light, the first pulse of life in your soul. Before you are healed, you must feel that you are diseased. Before you are cleansed, you must feel that you are unclean. Before you are saved, you must feel that you are lost. Before you repair to the Savior, you must feel that you are a sinner. Do you see the fitness of all this?
Administer medicine to a corpse, and supply it with nourishment. Is there a fitness, a harmony in the means you are employing to the end? Most assuredly not. But, let there be life--conviction of disease, sense of hunger--and your proceeding is rational and proper. Now, all this will apply to your spiritual condition. None come to Jesus but under the vital drawings of the Spirit. None come for healing but the sin-sick. None repair to Him for the bread of life but the soul hungering for salvation. I am now supposing this to be your case. You are inquiring the way of life. You are anxious to be converted. You long to be saved. This is just the process the Holy Spirit is taking to bring you to the Savior. The illumination of the understanding, the conviction of sin, the enkindling of godly sorrow, is a work supernatural and divine. To withdraw the mental veil, to remove the spiritual cataract from the spiritual eye, to unlock the chamber of the heart, to crush the rebellion of the will, and to subdue the whole soul before the cross, oh, this is the work of God the Spirit, and is the sure precursor of that New Birth, which, transpiring in grace here, shall be perfected and eternized in glory hereafter.
The soul-anxiety you now feel, being the fruit of the Holy Spirit, will terminate in your full conversion to God. Conversion does not depend upon the depth of sin-conviction, nor upon the clearness of faith's eye. In one night the Philippian jailer repented and believed, was converted, saved, and baptized. That night that heard, amid the trembling of the earth, the earnest inquiry of the alarmed and anxious penitent, heard songs of gladness in heaven over one sinner that was saved.
And why not you? In one hour you may be awakened, converted, saved. Listen to the recorded conversion of an eminent saint of God in tracing the way the Lord brought him to Himself--"As I was alone in the field, all my past life was opened plainly before me, and I saw clearly that it had been filled up with sin. I went and sat down in the shade of a tree, where my prayers and tears, my longing and striving for a better heart with all my doings, were set before me in such a light that I perceived I could never make myself better, should I live ever so long. Divine justice appeared clear as condemnation, and I saw that God had a right to do with me as He would. My soul yielded all to His hands, fell at His feet, and was silent and calm before Him. And while I sat there I was enabled by Divine light to see the perfect righteousness of Christ, and the freeness and richness of His grace, with such clearness that my soul was drawn forth to trust in Him for salvation, and I wondered that others did not also come to Him who had enough for all. The Word of God and the promises of His grace appeared firmer than a rock, and I was astonished at my previous unbelief. My heavy burden was gone, tormenting fears were fled, and my joy was unspeakable. Yet this change was so different from my former ideas of conversion, that for above two days I had no thought of having experienced it. Then I heard a sermon read which gave the characters of the children of God, and I had an inward witness that those characters were wrought in me--such as a spirit of prayer, a hatred of sin, an overcoming of the world, love to the brethren, and love to enemies; and I conclude that I then had the sealing of the Spirit of God, that I was a child of His. New ideas and dispositions were given me; the worship and service of God and obedience to His will were the delight of my soul. I found such happiness therein as I never had in all the vanities of the world." (Memoir of Rev. Backus of America.)
Such may be the joyous termination of your present serious impressions, anxious feelings and desires. Your inquiry is--how you may be saved. If so, then your mind is brought into sympathy with the greatest work in which the God of heaven ever embarked--the work of saving sinners. Salvation! It is but one word, and yet, oh how pregnant with significance! How glorious its meaning! Salvation was the one thought of the Father from eternity, when He devised the scheme of its accomplishment. Salvation was the one thought of Jesus when he made His advent to our world, with the blood-sweat, the sighs, and sobs of Gethsemane, the cross, the agonies, and the passion of Calvary confronting Him. His one mission was to--save. He objected not at the price, hesitated not at the terms, shrank not from the sacrifice. Though it involved such humiliation, and such sorrow, and such suffering, and such a death, and such a sacrifice as convulsed the universe--struck terror into hell and awoke amazement in heaven--the Son of God dying for the chief of sinners!--yet he voluntarily undertook and faithfully finished the salvation of countless millions. One life sacrificed--and by that one life sacrificed innumerable lives saved. "He saved others, Himself He cannot save." Such is God's salvation, worthy in all respects of Him who embarked His all of love, and power, and wealth in its accomplishment!
Contemplate it in some of its transcendent blessings. WHAT IS IT TO BE SAVED?
1. To be saved is to be delivered from the guilt and despotism of sin. And what a salvation is this! Who can estimate its greatness and its preciousness, but he who has felt the burden of sin uplifted and removed, the corrodings of guilt cleansed and effaced entirely and forever? This the blood of Jesus effects. That blood was sacrificial and atoning, expiatory and cleansing. "Who His own self bore our sins in His own body on the tree." "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities." "He bore the sin of many." "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin." "His name shall be called Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins."
What truth can be more luminous or what declaration more precious than this? What could avail to efface so deep a stain, to blot out so dark a spot, to annihilate so heinous a thing as SIN, but the atoning blood of Immanuel, the incarnate God? And this BLOOD has done it!--has done it now, has done it fully, and has done it forever in the happy experience of all who believe in Jesus. Bring your sins, your crimes, your transgressions in believing contact with Christ! Let them touch the cross--and the cloud shall dissolve, the chains shall fall, the burden shall vanish, and no sounds shall linger upon your ear but the Words of Jesus--"Your sins are forgiven--go, and sin no more."
2. To be saved is to be delivered from the condemnation of the law. In an unconverted, non-saved state, we lie under the curse, and are shut up to the eternal condemnation of the law. "The law works wrath." "Cursed is everyone that continues not in all things written in the book of the law to do them." But the salvation of the Lord Jesus is a deliverance from the law in its anathematizing and condemnatory power. It flashes no more curse, and rolls no more condemnation over the heads of those who are in Christ Jesus. "Christ has delivered us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us." And oh, what a salvation is this! The curse annihilated, the sentence repealed, the condemnation removed, and yet the law fully repaid, perfectly obeyed, divinely honored and magnified in the eyes of all holy intelligences, in the life of Him "by whose obedience many are made righteous." Thus, our Lawgiver is our Law-Fulfiller; and His fulfillment of the law is imputed to us who believe; and so we become the righteousness of God in Him, which righteousness is unto all and upon all those who believe.
3. It follows from the preceding statement, strictly logical, that the salvation of Christ insures our deliverance from the wrath which is to come. If there is no present condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, then the future, with all its tremendous realities, its dreadful solemnities, unveils no dread, awakens no terror, to those who are saved. The Lord Jesus, offering Himself as our substitute, engaging as our surety, obeying for us, suffering for us, dying for us, has exhausted the curse of the law, drained the cup of wrath, and saved us from its future outpouring. Having by sovereign grace turned from idols to serve the living and true God, we now "wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus, who delivered us from the wrath to come." Oh, what a salvation this! Saved from the quenchless flames, from the undying worm, from the companionship of the lost, from the pangs of the death which is eternal! Who would not utter the cry--never ceasing to utter it, until, piercing the heart of the Savior, it brought down the gracious response--"Lord, save, or I perish!"
And still the great question remains unanswered--"What must I do to be saved?" We wish the anxious inquirer particularly to mark how the apostles--those sons of consolation, those blessed heralds of the cross, to whom was given the tongue of the learned, that they might know how to speak a word in season to the weary--met the question. They did not commence, as, alas! too many human teachers unskilled in the Word do, by investigating the nature or gauging the depth of the jailer's conviction; nor did they set him upon the hopeless task of doing something of himself to soothe the intense anguish of his soul; neither did they direct him to an external reformation of his habits--to go to the synagogue, to partake of baptism, or the communion of the Lord's supper--to fast, and pray, and read. Still less did they exhort him to throw off his serious thoughts, to drown his mental distress in scenes of worldly frivolity and excitement. Oh, no! Miserable comforters they would have been, physicians unskilled in the are of spiritual healing, to have employed means like these--means which must have proved a vain and cruel mockery of a case so peculiar and desperate.
But what did they? They at once preached to him JESUS--they uplifted the cross--directed his eye to the Crucified--brought him to the Savior. "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved." What a marvelous announcement! How suitable, how simple the remedy! This was all they prescribed. Not a word about election, or baptism, or church, or reformation. The one instrument of healing was faith; and the one Object of that faith, the Lord Jesus Christ.
And such is the gospel, the glorious gospel, of the blessed God. It proclaims with clarion notes of sweetest melody, everywhere and to all, "BELIEVE, and be SAVED!" All man's working, all human merit, all self-doing of the anxious soul is utterly ignored. What says the Scriptures? "However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his FAITH is credited as righteousness." Anxious soul, listen to the joyful sound!--welcome the good news of the gospel of the grace of God! Sinner though you are--the vilest, the greatest, the very chief--receive in faith the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved!
Do not hesitate because of the feebleness or the dimness of your faith. Faith is not your Savior, but JESUS. The mightiest faith ever possessed would not save you, apart from the sin-atoning Lamb. Therefore it is that the weakest, dimmest faith ever exercised in the Lord Jesus will save from going down to the pit the greatest criminal. Jesus is mighty to save, is willing to save, is pledged to save, is eternally glorified in saving. Without a work, without one particle of merit--as a poor bankrupt sinner, having nothing to pay--He has promised, and is pledged to save you to the uttermost. Did He ever repel a sincere penitent? Did He ever reject an humble suppliant? Did He ever refuse to save a poor sinner? Did He ever scorn and reject a trembling, sorrowing outcast? Oh, never! That case is yet to transpire of a soul convinced of sin by the Spirit, and falling down at the Savior's feet seeking His pardoning mercy, on whom He bends a frown of anger, exclaiming, "Begone! you are too vile, too unworthy, too great a sinner to be saved; the sins of your youth, of riper years, of old age, exclude you from my mercy--place you beyond the pale of my salvation. You have resisted light, have stifled conviction, have striven with the Spirit, and there remains to you no room for repentance, no sacrifice for sin, no hope of pardon." We say, this fact is yet to transpire. And when it does, there will be a profound and prolonged silence in heaven, and a loud laugh of fiendish triumph in hell!
What, then, hinders your coming to Christ, and coming to Him now, O anxious soul? Is it ELECTION? Election is among your greatest encouragements to come to Christ; since, were you not one of His elect, the Holy Spirit would not have convinced you of sin, and Christ would not have inclined you to come, by His grace. All that the Father gave to Him shall come to Him; and your coming to Christ under the drawing of the Spirit is just the evidence that you are one of those given to Him of God. Who will dare affirm that you are not one included in the eternal purpose of God, whom He has made to see, feel, and deplore your impotence, vileness, and nothingness in His sight? "Whom He predestinated, them He also CALLED;" and the voice of His effectual grace is now calling you to Himself, and so you have irrefutable evidence that you are one of His. Making your calling sure, you will make your election sure; and so, taking hold by faith of the lowest link in the golden chain of God's salvation, you shall rise to the highest, and before long partake of the rapture of the saints, and find yourself in heaven--having passed from grace to glory!
What hinders you coming now to Christ? Is it your SINS? Why should this be a bar? Jesus made His advent into the world to save sinners; He shed His atoning blood to save sinners; He gave Himself a sacrifice to save sinners; He rose again from the dead to save sinners; and He is now exalted at the right hand of God to give repentance and remission of sins to poor sinners. In addition to all this, He has left on earth His great and glorious promise, that, "him that comes unto me, I will never cast out." Upon this magnificent, this precious promise you may venture, and hope, and rely.
This plank has saved many a drowning soul from going down into the yawning pit; and if you will with simplest faith grasp it, it will save you. Accumulate all the arguments, objections, and difficulties to your coming to Christ which it is possible for sin to allege, unbelief to suggest, or Satan invent, and hurl them in faith against this one Divine and gracious promise, and they will fall as powerless, broken, and scattered as the billows which launch their thunders against the ocean's rock. Bunyan, in his own quaint but forcible way, thus puts it--"'But, I am a great sinner,' say you. 'I will never cast out,' says Christ. 'But, I am an old sinner,' say you. 'I will never cast out,' says Christ, 'But, I am a hard-hearted sinner,' say you. 'I will never cast out,' says Christ. 'But, I have served Satan all my days,' say you. 'I will never cast out,' says Christ. 'But, I have sinned against light,' say you. 'I will never cast out,' says Christ. 'But, I have sinned against mercy,' say you. 'I will never cast out," says Christ. 'But, I have no good thing to bring with me,' say you. 'I will never cast out,' says Christ.
Thus might I go on, and show you that this promise was provided to answer all your objections, and to ease all your fears. Many, like you, have feared that the Savior would not receive them; but 'I will never cast out' is a promise of Christ upon which millions more will yet rely, and which, when the grass is withered and the flower faded of all creature strength and glory, shall endure forever. You blessed spirits in glory! tell us, is it not a faithful saying that Jesus Christ saves sinners?" You Saul of Tarsus, who once gloated in the dying agonies of Christ's first martyr, yourself a Pharisee and blasphemer, tell us, is it not a faithful saying that Jesus receives and saves sinners, even the very chief? And you Mary Magdalen, once demoniacally possessed, tell us, is it not a faithful saying that Jesus has might to cast out the Evil One, and save to the uttermost the poor victim of his power? And you expiring malefactor, appealing in penitence and faith to the crucified Savior, at whose side you did languish and die, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom," tell us, is it not a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners?
And what, my anxious reader, is the testimony which this great cloud of witnesses bears?--"Oh, yes, it is a most true and precious saying, worthy of all belief and acceptance. We came to Jesus as sinners, the vilest, the greatest, the very chief, and He welcomed and saved us; we washed in His blood, and we clothed us in His righteousness, and He saved us by His grace, and brought us home to glory, and now we sing, Unto Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests unto God and His Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen." Anxious soul! humble penitent! come to Jesus, and come now! For, "we believe that, through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, we shall be saved, even as they."