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6. Another proper direction to be given to sinners is: "Choose you this day whom ye will serve" (Joshua 24:15). Under the Old Testament dispensation, this, or something equivalent to it, was the most common direction given. It was not common to call on men to believe in Christ until the days of John the Baptist. He baptized those who came to him, with the baptism of repentance, and directed them to believe on Him who should come after him. Under Joshua, the text was something which the people all understood more easily than they would a call to believe on the distant Messiah; it was: "Choose you this day whom ye will serve." On another occasion, Moses said to them: "I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live"
(Deuteronomy 30:19). The direction was accommodated to the people's knowledge. And it is as good now as it was then. Sinners are called upon to choose - what? Whether they will serve God or the world; whether they will follow holiness or sin. Let them be made to understand what is meant by choosing, and what is to be chosen, and then if the thing be done from the heart, they will be saved.
Any of these directions, if complied with, will constitute true conversion.
The particular exercises may vary in different cases. Sometimes the first exercise in conversion is submission to God, sometimes repentance, sometimes faith, sometimes the choice of God and His service; in short, whatever their thoughts are taken up with at the time. If their thoughts are directed to Christ at the moment, the first exercise will be faith. If to sin, the first exercise will be repentance. If to their future course of life, it is choosing the service of God. If to the Divine government, it is submission.
It is important to find out just where the Holy Spirit is pressing the sinner at the time, and then take care to push that point. If it is in regard to Christ, press that; if it is in regard to his future course of life, push him right up to an immediate choice of obedience to God.
It is a great error to suppose that any one particular exercise is always foremost in conversion, or that every sinner must have faith first, or submission first. It is not true, either in philosophy or in fact. There is a great variety in people's exercises. Whatever point is taken hold of between God and the sinner, when the sinner YIELDS that, he is converted. Whatever the particular exercise may be, if it includes obedience of heart to God on any point, it is true conversion. When he yields one point to God's authority, he is ready to yield all. When he changes his mind, and obeys in one thing, because it is God's will, he will obey in other things, so far as he sees it to be God's will. Where there is right choice, then, whenever the mind is directed to any one point of duty, he is ready to follow. It matters very little which of these directions be given, if it is only made plain, and if it is to the point, so as to serve as a test of obedience to God. If it is to the point that the Spirit of God is debating with the sinner's mind, so as to fall in with the Spirit's work, and not to divert the sinner's attention from the very point in controversy, let it be made perfectly clear, and then pressed till the sinner yields, and he will be saved.
III. ERRORS INTO WHICH ANXIOUS SINNERS ARE APT TO FALL.
1. The first error is, in supposing that they must make themselves better, or prepare themselves, so as in some way to recommend themselves to the mercy of God. It is marvelous that sinners will not understand that all they have to do is to accept salvation, all prepared to their hands, from God. But they all, learned or unlearned, at first betake themselves to a legal course to get relief. This is one principal reason why they will not become Christians at once. They imagine that they must be, in some way or other, prepared to come. They must change their dress, and make themselves look a little better; they are not willing to come just as they are, in their rags and poverty. They must have something more on, before they can approach God. They should be shown, at once, that it is impossible they should be any better until they do what God requires. Every pulse that beats, every breath they draw, they are growing worse, because they are standing out in rebellion against God, so long as they do not do the very thing which God requires of them as the first thing to be done.
2. Another error is, in supposing that they must suffer a considerable time under conviction, as a kind of punishment, before they are properly ready to come to Christ. So they will pray for conviction; and they think that if they are ground down to the earth with distress, for a sufficient time, then God will pity them, and be more ready to help them when He sees them so very miserable! They should be made to understand clearly that they are thus unhappy and miserable, merely because they refuse to accept the relief which God offers.
3. Sometimes sinners imagine they must wait for different feelings before they submit to God. They say: "I do not think I feel right yet, to accept Christ; I do not think I am prepared to be converted yet." They ought to be made to see that what God requires of them is to will right. If they obey and submit with the will, the feelings will adjust themselves in due time. It is not a question of feeling, but of willing and acting.
The feelings are involuntary, and have no moral character except what they derive from the action of the will, with which action they sympathize.
Before the will is right, the feelings will not be, of course. The sinner should come to Christ by accepting Him at once; and this he must do, not in obedience to his feelings, but in obedience to his conscience. Obey, submit, trust. Give up all instantly, and your feelings will come right. Do not wait for better feelings, but commit your whole being to God at once, and this will soon result in the feelings for which you are waiting. What God requires of you is the present act of your mind, in turning from sin to holiness, and from the service of Satan to the service of the living God.
4. Another error of sinners is to suppose that they must wait till their hearts are changed. "What?" say they, "am I to believe in Christ before my heart is changed? Do you mean that I am to repent before my heart is changed?" Now, the simple answer to all this is that the change of heart is the very thing in question. God requires sinners to love Him: that is to change their hearts. God requires the sinner to believe the Gospel. That is to change his heart. God requires him to repent. That is to change his heart. God does not tell him to wait till his heart is changed, and then repent and believe, and love God. The very word itself, repent, signifies a change of mind or heart. To do either of these things is to change your heart, and to "make you a new heart" (Ezekiel 18:31), just as God requires.
5. Sinners often get the idea that they are perfectly willing to do what God requires. Tell them to do this thing, or that, to repent, or believe, or give God their hearts, and they say: "Oh, yes, I am perfectly willing to do that; I wish I could do it, I would give anything if I could do it." They ought to understand that being truly willing is doing it, but there is a difference between willing and desiring. People often desire to be Christians, when they are wholly unwilling to be so. When we see anything which appears to be a good, we are so constituted that we desire it. We necessarily desire it when it is before our minds. We cannot help desiring it in proportion as its goodness is presented to our minds. But yet we may not be willing to have it, under all the circumstances. A man may desire on many accounts to go to Philadelphia, while, for still more weighty reasons, he chooses not to go there. So the sinner may desire to be a Christian. He may see that if he were a Christian he would be a deal more happy, and that he should go to heaven when he dies; but yet he is not willing to be a Christian.
Why, that you should love Him. Now for you to say that you are willing to give God your heart, but that God is unwilling, is the same as saying that you are willing to love God, but God is not willing to be loved by you, and will not suffer you to love Him. It is important to clear up all these points in the sinner's mind, that he may have no dark and mysterious corner to rest in, where the truth will not reach him.
7. Sinners sometimes get the idea that they repent, when they are only convicted. Whenever the sinner is found resting in any LIE let the truth sweep it away, however much it may pain and distress him. If he has any error of this kind, you must tear it away from him.
8. Sinners are often wholly taken up with looking at themselves, to see if they cannot find something there, some kind of feeling or other, that will recommend them to God. Evidently for want of proper instruction, David Brainerd was a long time taken up with his state of mind, looking for some feelings that would recommend him to God. Sometimes he imagined that he had such feelings, and would tell God, in prayer, that now he felt as he should, in order to receive His mercy; and then he would see that he had been all wrong. Thus the poor man, for want of correct instruction, was 74 driven almost to despair, and it is easy to see that his Christian exercises through life were greatly modified, and his comfort and usefulness much impaired, by the false philosophy he had adopted on this point. 75 You must turn the sinner away from himself.
1. The labor of ministers is greatly increased, and the difficulties in the way of salvation are greatly multiplied, by the false instructions that have been given to sinners. The consequence has been that directions which used to be plain are now obscure. People have been taught so long that there is something awfully mysterious and unintelligible about conversion, that they do not try to understand it.
It was once sufficient, as we learn from the Bible, to tell sinners to repent, or to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ; but now, faith has been talked about as a principle, instead of an act; and repentance as some thing put into the mind, instead of an exercise of the mind; and sinners are perplexed.
Ministers are charged with preaching heresy, because they presume to teach that faith is an exercise, and not a principle; and that sin is an act, and not a part of the constitution of man. And sinners have become so sophisticated, that you have to be at great pains in explaining, not only what you do mean, but what you do not mean, otherwise they will be almost sure to misunderstand you, and either gain a false relief from their anxiety, by throwing their duty off upon God, or else run into despair from the supposed impracticability of doing what is requisite for their salvation. It is often a matter of the greatest difficulty to lead sinners out of the theological labyrinths and mazes into which they have been deluded, and to lead them along the straight and simple way of the Gospel. It seems as if the greatest ingenuity had been employed to mystify the minds of the people, and to weave a most subtle web of false philosophy, calculated to involve a sinner in endless darkness. It is necessary to be as plain as A B C, and the best educated have to be talked to like children. Tell a sinner to believe, and he stares, saying: "Why, how you talk! Is not faith a principle? And how am I to believe till I get this principle?" So, if a minister tells a sinner, in the very words that the apostle used in the great revival on the Day of Pentecost: "Repent, every one of you" (Acts 2:38), he is answered: "Oh, I guess you are an Arminian; I do not want any of your Arminian teaching; do you not deny the Spirit's influences?" It is enough to make humanity weep, to see the fog and darkness that have been thrown around the plain directions of the Gospel.