"Repent, therefore, and turn, that your sins may be blotted out, in order that the times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord."--Acts iii:19.
THE introduction of the religion of Christ into the world, is the grandest event connected with the entire history of man. The founding of empires, kingdoms and republics, their revolutions and downfalls, hold no comparison in point of magnitude, with the one grand and transcendently sublime event of founding this new institution of religion, called the kingdom of Christ. The infidel that denies Christ and the divine authority of the Bible, still has this wonderful event, the most astounding one ever recorded--the founding of Christianity--to reason on and account for.
There stands the undeniable fact, confirmed by the testimony of Jews, infidels, pagans and Christians; the united testimony of all history; uncontradicted by any authority, at the time, in the place, and by the persons, as reported in the Bible. Admitting all this, as a man of reason, and one who claims to account for the position he takes, it devolves on him to tell us how it was that a poor carpenter, a Nazarene, who had never received even common schooling, the society of influential persons, any power from wealth or birth, at the head of a dozen fishermen of Galilee, fresh from their humble avocation, uncouth, unaccomplished and unlettered, stood up in Jerusalem, the center of the most violent religious bigotry, in opposition to the sanhedrin, the distinguished rabbis, scribes, and doctors of Jewish divinity, with their magnificent temple, imposing synagogues, altars, victims, and ancient ritual on the one hand; and outside of all this paganism, with the civil governments, the money and philosophy of the world at command, on the other; and in defiance of this combined opposition of the Jewish and pagan world, swept away their religious rites, forms, ceremonies and institutions, declaring them null and void, and established a new religion on the ruins!
How was this done, if God was not in the work? How did twelve unaccomplished, unlettered and moneyless fishermen, in defiance of the doctors, priests and scribes, in a few days after their leader had been put to an ignominious death, and they had shown themselves to be cowards, stand up boldly in Jerusalem and induce three thousand of the people to believe that God had raised this same leader from the dead and turn away from their former religion, associations, and every thing earthly that was dear to them, and commit themselves to this new faith? How did they persuade five thousand, on another occasion, to fall in with them? How did they, in a short time, extend the doctrine to Samaria, and in ten years to the Gentiles, bringing thousands to the faith? By what means, natural or supernatural, human or divine, did they, in forty years, extend it the length of the great Mediterranean Sea, to all the cities, towns and villages of note throughout Asia Minor, in the mere strength of ignorant fishermen? This they did, if the skeptic is right. How credulous the man must he who believes all this!
Paine, in his book, falsely styled "The Age of Reason," delighted to array Moses, Jesus, and Mahomet, in the same class, as three great imposters, and skeptics still delight to speak of the similarity between the rise of Mohammedanism and Christianity; but certainly there was no similarity between the early progress of Christianity and Mohammedanism. Christianity proselyted three thousand persons the first day the death, resurrection and glorification of its founder in the heavens was fully unfolded, but Mohammedanism did not make one hundred converts in the first ten years. No imposter ever converted three thousand persons at the first speech, nor five thousand at the second; nor could the religion of Christ have done this, if nothing more than human power had been in it. Its success was not attained either by pandering to the pride of life, the lusts of the eye, the customs of the world, nor by enticing words of man's wisdom, or any effort to please man. The holy life, the pure morals, the austere manners it enjoined, forbid this. Nor was it done by sympathizing with other and false systems of religion in the world, nor the true one which the Lord had abolished; nor by aping the priesthood who taught these systems and bound them on the necks of the people. They remembered the command of their leader, "Be you not like them."
On the one hand, they openly declared the Jews' religion null, void, abolished, taken out of the way, and that by the deeds of its law no flesh could be justified. On the other hand, they declared all paganism an abomination in the sight of" God; that pagan idols were not gods, but the workmanship of men's hands; that there was no salvation in them. They openly declared the whole world to be under sin, under the power of the wicked one--guilty before God; and that there was no other name given under heaven nor among men by which any person could be saved, but the name of Jesus. This was offensive to all, both Jew and Gentile alike, sweeping away every thing they held sacred under the name of religion. It was revolutionizing religiously, in all its bearings. He who can believe that twelve fishermen, without learning or any superior natural ability, money, or popularity, in their own mere human strength, stood up in the face of the priests and scribes of Israel, on one hand, and the statesmen, philosophers, and men of wealth, combined with the entire pagan priesthood, on the other, as described; and advocated this new doctrine, defended, propagated and perpetuated it, as the facts in the case, admitted by Jews, pagans and skeptics show they did, never ought to speak of the credulity of mankind. The man who can believe all this is too credulous to be a Christian. He can believe without evidence. The Christian system only requires a man to believe with credible evidence.
Shortly after the great Pentecost, Peter and John went up to the temple at three o'clock in the afternoon, as we count time, it being the hour the Jews were accustomed to assemble for prayers. There were two causes moving them, if no more, in going there at this time.
1. The natural desire of the human soul, when in possession of good news, to tell it--to publish it abroad. They had the best news ever published--the news of a free and gracious pardon for a guilty and condemned race.
2. They had a divine commission from the great head of the Church, to "Go into all the world and preach these good news to every creature"--to "Go, and disciple all nations."
Impelled, then, by the natural desire, burning in their breasts, to publish the good news of salvation to a perishing world, and a divine commission requiring them to do it, they went up to the temple. As they were passing the gate called Beautiful, their ears were greeted by the importunities of a beggar, a man lame from his birth, who was carried and laid there to implore the charities of the people as they passed into the temple. Looking on Peter and John, he asked them for money. These preachers were in a similar predicament with many others of whom we have heard; they were poor men and had no money, nor were they ashamed to acknowledge the fact. Peter with John, looking intently on the man, as he lay before them, helpless, said, "Look on us." He anxiously gave heed to them, expecting to receive something. Peter said, "Silver and gold I have none; but what I have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ, of Nazareth, rise up and walk. And he took him by the right hand and raised him up. And immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength; and leaping up, he stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God." This attracted the attention of the people, and thus served one of the principal designs of miracles. Miracles never converted any body, nor was their design to convert. The design of this miracle was twofold:
1. To attract the attention of the people to get them to hear.
2. To prove to them that God was with these men, or, in other words, to confirm their divine mission.
Another matter worthy of note, in this grand transaction, is, that it occurred in broad daylight and openly, as if the Lord would challenge the world to investigate--to test the claims of the newly authorized ambassadors of Christ. Nor was this done in vain, for in the council held over the matter, by Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest, alluding to the healing of the lame man, they admitted, not only that a miracle had been done, but a noted miracle; and not only a noted miracle, but that it was known to all who dwelt in Jerusalem, and that they could not deny it.
Peter, seeing the eyes of the people earnestly fixed on himself and John, proceeded to guard against another evil against which no imposter ever does. "Why," says he, "look you so intent on us, as if by our own power or holiness this man has been made whole?" This is in a very different spirit from that of Pope Pius IX, who claims to be the successor of the apostle Peter. When they look intently on this modern Peter--the false Peter--the Man of Sin--or when they bow down before him, he never inquires, "Why look you so earnestly on us, as if by our own power or holiness this man had been made whole?" He claims that it is by his own power and holiness that wondrous things are done, and requires them to address him by "His Holiness," "Vicar of Christ," "Visible Head of the Church on Earth," "Lord God the Pope," etc. But the Peter whom Jesus sent, unlike this venerable head and representative of the great apostasy, when Cornelius, in his unenlightened condition, desired to worship him, forbade it, saying, "I myself also am a man." He would not permit any person to fall before him, as to the Lord. In the same style, in Solomon's porch, he inquired, "Why look you so earnestly on us, as if by our own power or holiness this man has been made whole?"
This was abundant caution that he might not fall into the sin of Moses, on account of which he was not permitted to lead the Israelites into the promised land. Some have supposed this sin was, that Moses became angry. Others think it consisted in his striking the rock. There is no evidence, however, that it consisted in either of these, but clear evidence that it consisted in an entirely different thing. He took the glory to himself and Aaron, that was due to God alone. Said he to the Israelites, "You rebels; must we bring you water from this rock?" The Lord says to him, "Because you sanctified me not in the eyes of this people, you shall not go before them into the land I have promised them." He did not set God apart before that people, or in their eyes, as the source of the water from the rock, but said, "Must we give you water from this rock?"
Peter avoids a similar sin, in inquiring, "Why look you so intently on us, as if by our own power or holiness this man has been made whole? The name of Jesus Christ, through faith in His name, has given this man this perfect soundness in the presence of you all." How bold, manly, and self-denying this language, losing sight of himself, and carrying the minds of his hearers to his Lord and King. The name of Jesus Christ, through faith in His name, has made this man whole. This is done, too, in the presence of you all. As Paul said, before Agrippa, "This thing was not done in a corner," but openly and in broad daylight, before the gaze of a numerous multitude. This convinced them of the truth, and he proceeded as follows: "Repent, therefore, and turn, that your sins may be blotted out."
This opens the way for the main topic of this discourse, which is conversion. Many fears of unsoundness are entertained on this subject. On this account, it will be necessary to examine the subject with much care. The first thing, then, will be to consider the word convert, and examine its use, and ascertain its meaning in Scripture.
The original Greek word, strepho, occurs eighteen times in the New Testament, and is translated turn, in every instance, in the common version, except Matt. xviii:3: "Except ye be converted and become as a little child," etc. The Bible Union translate it turn, here, and read it as follows: "If ye do not turn and become as little children," etc., thus making the turning their own act, and at the same time making them accountable beings. If man can turn from sin to the Lord, he is an accountable being and may justly be condemned for not turning. But if a man can not turn from sin to the Lord, he is not accountable, and can not be justly condemned for not turning. We do not condemn the wheel, which can not turn itself, for not turning, when there is no power on it sufficient to turn it.
In every instance where the word strepho occurs in the New Testament, except the last one, Rev. xi:6, the person, or that which was turned, turned itself, as for example, Acts vii:42, "God turned;" Acts xiii:4, Paul says, "We turn to the Gentiles;" Luke vii:9, Jesus "turned him about;" Luke vii:44, "He turned to the woman."
The original Greek word, epistrepho, occurs thirty times, and is translated, in the common version, turn, or its equivalent, twenty-two times. It is eight times rendered converted, or convert. In a large majority of these cases, that which was turned, turned itself, as Matt. ix:22, "Jesus turned him about;" Matt. x:13, "Let your peace return to you;" Mark v:30, "Turned him about in the press," etc. There is nothing in the meaning of this word, showing which way the turning, or conversion is, whether from bad or good. This must be learned from the connection, as for example, 2 Pet. ii:22, "The dog turned to his vomit again;" Mark xiii:16, "Let him not turn back," etc. In one instance, where the turning is to the Lord, the turning is ascribed to the preacher; as, for example, Acts xxvi:18, Paul was to "turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God." The turning is here ascribed to the preacher, in view of his agency, or instrumentality, in turning them. The turning is never ascribed to God, to Christ, or to the Holy Spirit. Still, it is true, when we are looking to God as the author of the entire scheme, by which we are turned and saved, we say that God turns us. When we are looking at the instrumentality of the preacher, we ascribe the turning to him. When we are looking at the act of turning, we ascribe the turning to man.
Converted to God, means turned to God, and nothing else. It is the purpose of this discourse to elucidate this whole matter fully. In order to this, it is necessary to make a few preliminary statements:
No person turns to God properly, or in the sense of the Gospel, without undergoing three distinct changes.
1. A distinct divine change in the heart.
2. A distinct divine change in the life, or character.
3. A distinct divine change in the state or relation. When a man is divinely changed in heart, life and relation, he is a new creature, a child of God.
In order, to these three distinct divine changes, there are three distinct appointments in the Gospel.
1. The Lord has appointed faith to change the heart.
2. He has appointed repentance to change the life.
3. He has appointed immersion to change the relation.
The heart is never changed by repentance. The character is never changed by immersion. The state is never changed by faith. Faith and repentance together, never changed the state or relation. Immersion never changed the heart, or life.
These three grand items, in turning to God, can not be reversed in their order. The state or relation can not be changed first, then the life, and then the heart. The life can not be changed first and then the heart. The heart is the beginning place. The change in the heart must be produced first. There can be no repentance, or change in the life, produced by repentance, till the heart is changed. The change in the heart leads to repentance, and produces it. Repentance results in a change of life, or it is worthless. The order of heaven is, that faith must come first, producing a change in the heart. Repentance must follow next, producing, as its legitimate fruit, a change of life. When the heart and life are both changed, the person is ready for a new state or relation.
The way is now clear for the investigation of this work, as a whole, and each of these items separately, in particular:
1. What, then, is meant by a distinct divine change in the heart? Such a change as destroys the love of sin and establishes the love of God in the heart of the sinner. The love of sin must be completely destroyed in the heart, so that the subject hates it and no longer desires to practice it; and the love of God, of righteousness, and holiness, established in the heart, so as to create hunger and thirst after righteousness.
In nine-tenths of the cases where preachers talk of "experimental religion," and require persons to tell experiences, the amount of the experience is no more than that the subject has experienced a change--that what the subject once loved he now hates, and what he once hated he now loves. This is all right as far as it goes, but, in many churches, it is taken for more than there is in it. It is taken not only for what it is--a change in the heart--but for the entire process of turning to God; a work of grace, evidence of pardon, the impartation of the Holy Spirit--a new creature. This is too much. All this is not in it. Where the statement is true, there is this much in it, a change in the heart--no more. The love of sin is destroyed in the heart and the love of God established there. That is all. There is no repentance, no change of relation, no pardon, no impartation of the Holy Spirit. The person is simply prepared in heart for all the balance of the work which should follow. Those who thus limit conversion do not comprehend the work. They stop with a single item.
2. What produces this distinct divine change in the heart? It has already been stated that faith produces it. This must now be elaborated and elucidated. Perhaps a description of a case and the manner in which the change in the heart was effected will, at least, illustrate the subject.
Let us suppose a man in your community forty-five years old. In his business operations, he has prospered greatly. Success attends all his plans and financial operations. He is a true gentleman in the worldly sense. He attends fairs, takes the premiums; has fine stock, bets on them when he can find a gentleman who will bet five hundred or a thousand dollars. When he drinks, he only drinks enough imported wines and brandies to make him feel a little richer and sharper in trading than he would otherwise be. He never swears, only when angry and "can't help it." He attends the races; goes to the theatre; never gambles, except where the first class, in some place of refinement and elegance, engage in games for large sums. He assists to build churches, especially if he thinks it will enhance the value of his property two or three times as much as he gives; gives a little to the poor, but does not see any use in being poor. He never goes to meeting, except on some extraordinary occasion; and has no use for preachers, Bibles, and churches. They are of service only to moralize and keep down ignorant and vicious people. Thus a rich and successful operator goes through the world, and to the eternal judgment, making money, seeking pleasure, thoughtless about his soul and his relation to God.
In the midst of this mad career, the Lord puts His hand on a little son of seven years, and after some fifteen days of terrible suffering the precious and innocent child breathes the last breath, struggles the last time, and closes its eyes in death. He stood over and ministered to the little sufferer till the last struggle was over, and saw it sink away in death. Many times already he had planned for the education of that child in some fine university and thought of the property he would give him, but alas! he is gone. His breast swells, he heaves a deep sigh, and groans inexpressibly. Secretly, he inquires, "What is the meaning of all this?" Down he sinks with his heart broken. The world appears now to be one vast gloom. A new theme has come up for his consideration, and one that can not be put off.
Arrangements for the funeral, the coffin, cemetery, and grave are the matters that now rush up before him. In awful solemnity and inexpressible grief they are considered. But now what is to be done? A preacher must be had and a funeral sermon must be preached, but what preacher shall be had? He knows nothing of preachers or churches; but he had a grandfather or a grandmother that belonged to some popular Church, and if he leans at all, it is toward that Church and preacher. He remembers how said preacher entered the "sacred desk" with a black robe on, in a very solemn manner, with other evidences of wisdom, piety, and orthodoxy. It is decided that he is the man to preach the funeral sermon. He is sent for, comes, and preaches the sermon.
The heart of the afflicted man has become tender, and is susceptible of good impressions. He is willing to hear something about the soul and the other world. He is satisfied that his little child has gone to rest. In the sermon the preacher repeats the words: "What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" What an awful question! He meditates on it, and, in inexpressible grief, looks back at his effort to gain the world, or as large a share of it as possible. He looks at the other part of it, losing his own soul! Is it possible that a man may lose his own soul?
The funeral is over. He and his wife return to their fine mansion. But pride is stricken down. Their hearts are broken. All is gloom. The sweet voice of a dear little son is heard no more. His quick step is no more heard. His little toys are found and laid carefully away as mementoes. He inquires, "Wife, where is that scripture quoted by the preacher?" He can not repeat it, but gives her some idea of it. She knows not where it is, but after a long search, they find and read it many times over: "What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" They sit and and weep over it. "Shall we," said he, "in our stretch to gain this world, lose our own souls?" This theme engages their attention much of the time till the next Lord's day.
By this time they are both anxious to attend meeting. In the discourse, the preacher repeats the words: "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." In his mind he repeats the words, "the wages of sin is death." "Is it possible," says he, "that this is the wages for which I have been working all my life?" He ponders this in his mind during the week, and commences reading his Bible and talking of what he reads, in his family. He longs for the next Lord's day, that he may hear preaching again. You can see now that he is changing rapidly. He attends meeting again, and the preacher quotes the words: "These shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal." This strikes down deep into his heart. "And," he exclaims, "is this the end to which I am coming?" Thus he continues on, week after week, struggling under the power of faith. He now is reading and talking about religion much of his time, and inviting religious people home with him. He begins to approach the preacher, and invites him to visit him, and to find his chief delight in religious conversation.
About this time, one of his former associates informs him of some great races soon to come off, and invites him to accompany them. He replies kindly, but very decidedly, "I shall not be there." Another invites him to attend a great ball, soon to come off. He replies, with decision, "I shall not be there." All such follies and vanities have lost their attraction to him. The change that he has undergone is so great that the amusements and pleasures, as he once called them, not only have no attraction for him, but would make him unhappy if he were where they are. He has no taste or relish for them. The love for them is utterly destroyed in his heart. The matters of the kingdom of God are opening up to him. His soul is now seeking rest, peace and joy in the things of God. His moral sensibilities are all alive and shocked at the thought of vanities and follies such as here alluded to. Truly can he now say, "The things I once loved I now hate, and the things I once hated I now love." This is what is meant in this discourse by "a change of heart"--such a change as destroys the love of sin in the heart and plants the love of God in its place. This would be received as a divine change of heart in any church in the land. The affections are changed from the love of the world to the love of God. As the popular style of expressing it is, "his feelings are changed."
One grand mistake, very current at the present time, is to regard this change in the heart and, as they say, "in the feelings," as an evidence of pardon! It is no evidence of pardon, nor of acceptance with God. Pardon is not a change in us, but an act of the pardoning power in heaven for us. We do not feel pardon in us, as it is not in us, but done in heaven for us.
In time of the war, a man was condemned to be shot, and the day set for the execution. His friends sent a petition to the President to pardon him. No reply came, and the general expectation was that he would be executed. His wife took cars and went in person, to make her plea for pardon. She obtained admittance to the President's apartment, and as she entered his room, she shrieked out, "O, my husband!" The President took her by the arm, raised her up, and inquired, "Madam, what of your husband?" She exclaimed, "My husband is condemned to be shot, and I have come to seek and obtain pardon for him." The President wiped away his tears and invited her to be seated, adding, "Your husband shall be pardoned." She instantly sprang to her feet, thanked him from the depths of her heart, and praised God. But her husband did not rejoice yet, because this work was not going on in him, but in Washington for him. The pardon was written out and handed to his wife. She hasted to the telegraph office and dispatched to a friend near the prison of her husband, in the words, "I have obtained a pardon for my husband." Still the husband felt no pardon, and did not rejoice. The dispatch was soon read to him, and he then wept tears of inexpressible joy, though yet bound in prison, and praised God for the pardon that had been obtained.
The change in the heart of the sinner, as described in this discourse, is not pardon, nor an evidence of pardon, but a change in his heart, preparing him in heart for pardon. This change, then, is here taken for just what it is, no more, no less. The heart is turned to the Lord. He is now right in heart. This is the first distinct divine change.
3. The next distinct divine change, is a divine change in the life. All the change a man can have in his heart amounts to nothing, unless there is a corresponding change in his life. The Lord's appointment to produce this, is repentance. Repentance is a change in the mind or purpose. When this repentance is what it ought to be, and what must be, to be acceptable to the Lord, it is a change of mind or purpose sufficient to result in a change of life, or in a reformation of life. Repentance does not change the past life. This is beyond the reach of the sinner. Nothing short of the hand of God can change the past life. Pardon separates the sinner from the past life, all its guilt, and the consequences that would follow in the world to come without pardon. The penitent regrets the past life, sorrows for the sins with which it is filled up, and grieves over them, but this in no way changes his relation to the past life.
Nothing but an act of mercy from the Sovereign, in graciously granting pardon, can change the sinner's relation to his past sins. This is not repentance. Repentance looks to the future life. When it is genuine, such as it must be in order to be acceptable to God, it is a change of mind or purpose so great as to result in a change in life for the time to come. It looks forward and promises to cover the whole future life, while pardon looks back and covers the whole of the past life, saving him from the past as repentance does from the future. This repentance prepares the sinner in life or in character for pardon, but is not pardon itself. When the sinner is changed in heart, so that the love of sin is destroyed in his soul and the love of God established in him, and so changed in his mind as to destroy the practice of sin, as to induce him to cease to do evil and learn to do well--to desire from his heart to do the will of God--to hunger and thirst after righteousness--he is a proper subject for pardon.
4. Though the sinner is now changed in his heart and life, the love and practice of sin both destroyed in him, there is yet no change in his relation. He is still in the same state. He is greatly changed, but the relation is not changed. The change, so far, is only in him, not in the relation, at all. Being now changed in heart and life, and thus fitted for the new relation, he is now a proper subject for a new state or relation. What is it, then, that transfers the person into the new state or relation; the person whose heart has been changed by faith, and whose life has been changed by repentance? Immersion into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, is the divine appointment to change the state or relation. Immersion does not change the heart nor the life, but the state or relation of the person whose heart and life have been changed by faith and repentance. This accounts for one trouble that many people find. They find many good people who have never been immersed, and many bad people who have been immersed. This is a plain matter. Immersion does not make them good. It changes neither their hearts nor lives. If persons are immersed who have not the faith to change them in heart, or the repentance to change them in life, as, no doubt, is the case with many, they will be no better than they were before. But that does not prove that the person who is changed in heart by faith, and changed in life by repentance, is in the new state till immersed into Christ, or that he need not be immersed into Christ. He is the very person that ought to be immersed into Christ.
Some one may inquire, What do you mean by a change of state or relation? The very act itself of entering into the kingdom or Church, is what is meant. It is not the change in the heart that prepares a man in heart to enter, nor the change in life, that prepares a man in life to enter, that is here meant by a change in relation, but the act, on the part of one already changed in heart and life, of entering into the kingdom. Faith changes no relation, but changes or prepares a man in heart for a change of relation. Repentance changes no relation, but prepares a man in life for a change in relation. Immersion changes no man's heart or life, but changes the state or relation of the believing penitent, transferring him into the new state or relation.
But it is very desirable to have a distinct idea of what is meant by this new state. A change of state, is simply to change from one state to another. The change alluded to, in the state or relation is expressed in several clear passages of Scripture, as the following: "Immersed into one body"--"immersed into Christ"--"enter into the kingdom"--"immersing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." Each of these expressions has the idea of transition from one state to another. The transition is into a state of justification. Every man immersed into one body is in a justified state. "Immersed into Christ" amounts to the same thing. To "enter into the kingdom of God," amounts to the same, for all who enter into the kingdom of God are justified, and none who do not enter into the kingdom of God is justified.
All believing penitents, immersed into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, are in the kingdom, in one body, in Christ, in a state of justification. When the Lord says, "He who believes and is immersed shall be saved," it is equivalent to he who believes and is immersed shall be pardoned or justified. When he says, "Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he can not enter into the kingdom of God," the amount of it is the same as if he had said, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit he can not enter into the body of Christ or be pardoned. A man can be changed in heart, be good in heart, and not be in the kingdom of God. He can be good in life and not be in the kingdom of God; but no matter how good he is in heart and life, he is not in the kingdom or body of Christ unless immersed into the body. Immersion into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, on the part of a believing penitent, is the visible act, in which he is transferred from one kingdom to another. Before this act, though he may be prepared in heart and life to enter, he is out of the body or kingdom; after this act, he is in the body or kingdom.
No two persons can properly enter the marriage relation without three similar changes.
a. A change in heart. b. A change in the life. c. A change in the relation or state.
In the acquaintance the parties form, the faith or confidence in each other becomes such as to change their hearts or affections. Here there is a change in their feelings, and the desire to enter the marriage relation is established. This is followed by a visible change in their lives. A series of preparations for an anticipated new relation commences. They are still single, notwithstanding the change in heart and life. The time is appointed and the marriage ceremony is performed. Before that ceremony they were each in a single state. Now they are married, the state is changed. When did they enter the marriage covenant? When did they enter the new state? When their hearts and feelings were changed? Certainly not. When their lives were changed and a change was seen in their actions? By no means. But when the marriage ceremony was pronounced. This is the time when they entered the new relation. The whole relationship throughout the entire train of connections, on both sides, was changed the moment that ceremony was pronounced. It did not change their hearts or lives, make them any better, or love any more ardently, but it changed the relation. The marriage is not dated from the time of the first change they experienced in their hearts, nor from the time of the first change in their lives, but from the time when the marriage ceremony was performed.
If the gentleman is worth a million of money, and falls dead one minute before the ceremony would have been performed, the lady is not legally entitled to one dollar interest in his estate. If he falls dead one minute after the ceremony is pronounced, she has a life interest in it. There is something in an "external performance," an "outward act." The changes in the heart and life were necessary, and they were not prepared to enter the new relation without those changes, but the act of entering was a separate thing. So the changes in the heart and life of the sinner are necessary, and he would not be prepared to enter into the kingdom of God without these changes, or to enjoy the kingdom when in it, but they only prepare him to enter, and do not transfer him into the kingdom.
And in like manner, immersion into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, of a penitent believer, has no tendency to change the heart, and is not designed for that purpose, but is solely to change the relation. In it the proper subject is transferred "into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," "into Christ," "into one body," "into the kingdom," into a state of justification or pardon.
The person, then, being turned to the Lord in heart by faith, in life by repentance, and in his relation by immersion, is, in heart, and life, and relation a new creature.
It is of great advantage, in looking at all subjects, to keep the items all distinct. Men sometimes say, the Lord gives faith. This is true in a certain sense, but not the sense generally intended. In creating man, he gave him intelligence, or the ability to believe facts on credible testimony. He gave us the Gospel; sent men to preach it to us, that we might hear and believe it. When men ask whether they can believe in and of themselves, if they mean without the facts given to believe, or the Gospel that brings them to us, they should be answered that they can not. But if they mean to inquire, whether a man can believe the Gospel when preached to him, without some supernatural power performed directly on him, to enable him to believe, or on the Gospel, to make it believable, they should be answered, he can. If he can not, he can not be justly condemned for not believing. The part, then, the Lord performs in making a believer, is in giving a man the Gospel, which he can believe. He will, therefore, condemn him for not believing.
The part that believing performs, in preparing a man for the enjoyment of God, is in changing his heart, thus destroying the love of sin and establishing the love of God in him.
The part that repentance performs, is in changing his life; destroying the practice of sin for the future.
The part that immersion performs, is in changing the state or relation of the man previously prepared in heart by faith, and in life by repentance, for the kingdom of God. He is immersed into the name, the body or kingdom.
Pardon is not done in the sinner, in the water, nor on earth, but in heaven, for the sinner, separating him forever from all past sins, and receiving him as innocent, as if he had never sinned.
The impartation of the Holy Spirit, is the consummation in turning to God. Because you are sons, He has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, saying, Father, Father.
Now, is Peter the same in Solomon's porch as Peter on Pentecost? Where did he begin on Pentecost? He began by preaching the Gospel. He did the same in Solomon's porch. On Pentecost, when they heard, the Gospel preached, they were cut to the heart. They would not have been cut to the heart if they had not believed. When he made his appeal in Solomon's porch, upon the healing of the cripple, they heard and believed. On Pentecost, he commanded them to repent. He did the same in Solomon's porch. On Pentecost he commanded them to be immersed in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins. Instead of this, he commanded them, in Solomon's porch, to "be converted," as it reads in the common version, or "turn," as it reads in both the New Translation, by Anderson, and the Revised Version, by the Bible Union, "that your sins may be blotted out."
There will be no difficulty in seeing that "the remission of sins," and "sins blotted out," amount to the same. But some will be troubled to see how "be immersed" and "be converted," or "turn," amount to the same. Yet this is the case. "Be immersed," is a literal command. There is nothing figurative about it. But the command, in Solomon's porch, to "turn," puts the result accomplished in immersion for immersion itself. These persons were already turned in heart by faith, and they are, in the connection, commanded to repent, which turns or changes the life. There was nothing remaining to turn or change but the relation. This was the turning commanded, and as this is effected in immersion, the command here amounted to the same as the command to be immersed on Pentecost. That on Pentecost was "in order to the remission of sins;" and that in Solomon's porch, "that your sins may be blotted out." On Pentecost he says, "and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit;" and in Solomon's Porch, he has "the times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord;" the same, expressed in different words.
A man says, "That is all clear enough, but I am afraid I have not the right kind of change of heart." The following case will illustrate a proper change in the heart, and the Lord's mercy and love in receiving the penitent sinner when he turns to Him:
A young man ran off from his father and mother, and was absent a year before they knew where he had gone. Many prayers had fervently gone up to heaven for him, many tears had been shed over him, and many long and solemn conversations had been held, by an anxious father and mother, about him. After about a year, a friend found him in California, and, knowing the anxiety about him, immediately wrote his father a letter, informing him where he could write to him. The father received the letter, and lost no time in writing his son. The young man took the letter from the office and said, when he saw his father's handwriting, it moved him to his heart. But he determined to read it, as he expressed it, "like a man," and not shed any tears over it, as he thought "weak people" do. He decided, however, not to read it till he was alone. As he was returning, he stopped in a path in the dense forest, and opened the letter, nerving himself against weeping. He thought he was succeeding finely as he read down through the main body of the letter, as he restrained all his tears. At the bottom he saw a postscript, in something like the following words: "My dear son, it is late at night, and your dear mother is sitting by my side, bathed in tears, weeping over you." His manliness, as he falsely styled it, gave way, and he sank down by the path and wept like a child. Immediately he rose up, and resolved, "I will go home to my father and mother." This illustrates the right change of heart when the sinner resolves to turn and go home.
The balance of the history of the case, illustrates the mercy and goodness of God in receiving the sinner when he turns. As early as possible, he started homeward, and reached his father's house one morning at eight o'clock, and rapped at the door. The father, not knowing that his son was within three thousand miles from home, opened the door, and saw his son. The young man stretched forth his hand and exclaimed, "O, father, can you forgive me?" The father's heart melted; he sprang forth and embraced him, replying, "With all my heart, I forgive you, my dear child." In a moment he was brought into the house, and, looking into another apartment, here was the mother, who wept while that letter was being written, approaching, when he cried out, "O, mother, can you forgive me?" You know how a good mother can forgive! Young man, your mother stands next to God. If you do so badly that your mother can not forgive you, there is but one more you can go to. Your mother will forgive when no other human being will forgive. The mother, in an ecstasy, sprang forward and clasped her boy in her arms, exclaiming, "With all my heart, my dear child, I forgive you" "So there is joy in heaven among the angels of God when one sinner repents," says Jesus.
How kind and compassionate is our heavenly Father, against whom we have sinned, not only one year, but every year of our life, till we turned to the Lord, to forgive all our sins--blot them from the book of remembrance and remember them no more forever--not even permit them to be mentioned; and how wonderfully ungrateful must man be to refuse to come and accept this most gracious pardon, when freely and mercifully offered! And when we remember that He stands all the day long stretching forth His hands to a gainsaying and disobedient people, the ingratitude is heightened if men and women refuse. By all His tender mercies, then; His goodness, His great love; His wonderful compassion; by the value of your precious souls; by the sufferings of the bleeding, dying Savior; the shame and indignation heaped on him, when he bore our sins on the cross; by all that is lovely and endearing, be persuaded to turn to the Lord and live forever.