Online Text Sermon - The Holy Spirits Work in Conversion, Jeremiah ch.31 vv.18-19
|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||The Holy Spirits Work in Conversion (Scottish Reformation Society Meeting, Inverness. Date not known. Continued on sermon ID 569)|
|Text||Jeremiah ch.31 vv.18-19 |
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"I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus; Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke: turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the Lord my God. Surely after that I was turned, I repented; and after that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh: I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth" (Jeremiah 31, 18-19).
I think you would want me to say a word or two as to why I would choose this subject rather than any other subject. I did, after all, receive a free hand to choose my own theme; I appreciate that and am grateful indeed to the Scottish Reformation Society branch, which was so kind as to afford me that luxury. The reason why I wish to speak about the subject of the Holy Spirit's work in conversion really, I think, can be explained in this way.
First of all, this subject of conversion is the one subject which is most easily lost in all churches and at all times in history. We know our history well enough, do we not, to realise that a hundred and fifty years ago was the Free Church of Scotland's great Disruption, which had an immense effect upon the Highlands. We remember that there was a very important anniversary a hundred years ago in the formation of the Free Presbyterian Church. Other anniversaries come to mind also: McCheyne died on the 25th March a hundred and fifty years ago, and his great biographer, Andrew Bonar, was buried in January, a hundred years ago, fifty years after the death of McCheyne. These men and these events were all very closely associated with the importance of the subject of conversion. Indeed you could say that what was recovered, at the period of the Disruption, was the doctrine of conversion and the preaching of that doctrine with power. What the Free Presbyterian men stood for and were concerned about was the possibility, a hundred years ago, that certain Declaratory Acts and Articles would undermine the doctrine of conversion and therefore grieve the Holy Spirit. Certainly if you look farther back into history, other doctrines like the 'Being of God' have been well preserved, but the doctrine of conversion is what has been most readily lost in the history of the Church.
In 1900, just to spend a moment more on the historical side, there was in Edinburgh immense enthusiasm. The streets - Princes Street and other streets - were lined black and thick with churchgoing people, and they were congratulating themselves on a certain union of churches in 1900. They imagined that a new chapter was opening with the beginning of this, the twentieth, century. Sad to say, they were entirely misled about the nature of the changes in Scottish church life which were being inaugurated at that period. Most tragically of all, what has been lost in the south of our country, to go no farther than that, has been the doctrine of conversion. Those of you who know the south of Scotland will bear me out, that you can traverse great tracts of the Border country, as well as Perthshire and elsewhere, and you just cannot find places where the Gospel is preached - or at least it's very rare - and such places are very precious. You will hear morality, decency, virtue and other things extolled; but the doctrine of conversion is extensively lost again to this beloved nation. It is the same in England and in Wales. We are living in a day when the doctrine of conversion is largely lost. So that is one reason I offer to you why I think the subject deserves a little attention.
Then there is a second reason, and that must be my last on this occasion. My second and last reason for bringing the subject to you would be this. Would it not be true, my friends, to say that somehow or other, in this day and age, many conversions seem to be so anaemic? So many people seem to be able to come to faith in Christ, and yet you feel they bring the world with them. I don't want to be unkind, nor do I forget that all generations have their besetting sins, but it would seem to me to be true, extensively true, that many people who go to Kirk Sessions of ministers and elders, to be received in membership of churches in this day and age, appear to be comparatively without emotion, without deep feeling, without those convictions that were being sung of in Psalm 32, and that must be food for thought. I put it no more strongly than that. So with these words of justification or explanation, let me give you my paper this evening on conversion.
It is perfectly clear that the Lord Jesus Christ and the apostles stress the absolute need we have of conversion. "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall in not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18, 3). Or again, says scripture, "Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?" (Ezekiel 33, 11). Or again, in the preaching of the apostles, these noted words, "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out" (Acts 3, 19). So there is no doubt about it, you and I will not get to heaven without conversion. Regeneration, or the new birth, is something that happens only once in our lifetime, in our life and in our experience; but conversion is a lifelong thing, and this point is sometimes overlooked. So that we speak about being born again once, but the whole of our life ought to be one turning to God. We never cease to be converted; we never cease to be turned, and the best Christians are those who are most converted, most turned to God. The new birth is just the beginning of the spiritual life. That conception is a biblical and a New Testament conception. We should therefore, all of us, be more and more turning. Every day we should cry to turn us more and more from sin, more and more to holiness.
This is why the Lord Jesus Christ addresses Peter in this way. After Peter was going to sin Jesus said to him, "When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren" (Luke 22, 32). Peter had been born again and, in the first sense, converted for some years, but he was going to backslide and he would need to be converted again; not, of course, regenerated again - that's impossible - but converted out of his deadness, out of his backslidden condition. So we see from that and other scriptures that conversion is an ongoing process, and I love the quotation that comes from an early church father called Tertullian: "I was born for nothing but repentance." That is the essence, I believe, of real biblical Christianity: the conception that every day we live we are to repent, we are to turn, we are to move from sin to God.
I chose these words in Jeremiah 31 that have been read to us because they are not so very familiar. Indeed, some of you might have wondered where the text was going to be brought from, and I want to show you. "I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus; Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke: turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the Lord my God. Surely after that I was turned, I repented; and after that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh: I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth" (Jeremiah 31, 18-19). In those words we have a picture of the work of the Holy Spirit in the conversion of a sinner. Ephraim is taken here as a prophetic word for the convert, the man or the woman who is brought to a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. You will notice that Ephraim is represented as bemoaning himself. In other words, he is in a sad state of mind, he is grieved. This is a picture of the true convert; there is no conversion to Christ - genuine conversion - apart from this inward bemoaning of ourselves, this true grief of mind. It is the characteristic of the converted man and woman.
This is the language then which is typical of, characteristic of, every person who is brought to the experience of a saving relationship to God in conversion. The text expresses this, and it exposes the tender heart of a convert. You will notice that converts do not retain their tender heart forever; it is one of the sad experiences of ministers, and it's certainly my sad experience, to discover that when persons are first converted they come to the Kirk Sessions with great tenderness, and frequently with tears. They find it very hard to express their inner convictions because they are so deep that they cannot contain their emotions. Their emotions which are so profound are pent up within them, and as they express their newfound love for Christ: there is a welling up of emotion with it. It is something one has to do in Kirk Sessions, when interviewing persons for membership. When they apply for membership, you have to say, "My dear, don't worry if you cry, that's perfectly normal." Sometimes people are surprised that you would say that to them. "Don't be ashamed to weep here, plenty of weeping goes on in this Kirk Session when people are being interviewed." That is the sort of thing that I mention because you see it is typical of the newfound convert's initial tenderness of heart. But you will know it doesn't last always; people harden up as they get more experienced. They see, for one thing, bad examples in other Christians and the consequence is they lose their tenderness. They then see bad standards, possibly in congregations, and laxity in congregations, and they learn to live by a lesser level; they learn to compromise with the world; they learn the habits of those who have gone before who are not a safe example to them, who are poor, let us say, in their attendance of the means of grace, feeble in their attention to family duties, careless in the keeping of the Lord's day, irregular in their attention to the commandments of God; and after a time, converts learn bad habits. The trouble there is this: they fail to remember that the genuine Christian should all his life be turning. You and I must never look at other Christians, no matter who they are, be they elders or deacons, be they ministers or professors, be they kings or princes, be they popes or whatever they may be, we are not to look at any; we are to keep our eyes on scripture. This principle of conversion is everywhere found in the scriptures. Even the apostle Paul at the end of his long, fruitful, inspired and inspiring life and ministry said this, "I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3, 14) - showing that he was still turning, he was still converting (to use this phrase); he was still being prompted by the love of Christ to strive after that perfection which is normative in glory, and to which he had not yet attained.
In opening up this text I have certain points that spring naturally to our attention from the words that the prophet gives. The first point, surely, is this: sorrow for past rebellion. One who has been converted to Christ begins with this sorrow for their past rebellious life. This is how it goes: "I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus; Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke" (text). There are several things there in connection with this sorrow for past rebellion. This bemoaning of himself consists of tears and sighs and groans because of their inward thoughts. Every new convert comes with deep thoughts of their wasted life, their wasted past. I was eighteen in my own case, before I knew a thing about the Gospel. I lived in Britain but I never heard the Gospel as far as I know; never heard that I was a sinner in the hand of an angry God, or that there was a Messiah, a Christ who had died for me. Well I knew these things in a faint, far off way but nobody ever told me I needed to be converted; and there are thousands like that in this country where we live. But when the realisation comes home to a converted soul that their life in the past has been worthless, then what can he or she do but bemoan himself? Sin is now felt to be sin, and it is seen to be this sin in the light of the cross of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Do we appreciate that those who are not Christians do not hate sin for what it is? The world is afraid of sin because of its consequences. Let me take a very simple example, I hope with delicacy, and yet I must be realistic because, friends, we are living in a very grim society. The commandment of God goes like this, "Thou shalt not commit adultery" (Exodus 20, 14), and the implication is that God detests the practice; He hates it, He abominates it. But now, here is the way the world translates God's command. You will see it on the buses in the city of Edinburgh: "Make sure that what you do is safe; do it in a safe way." You see what I am saying? They are not afraid of sinning against God, they are afraid of the possible consequences in terms of dreadful diseases. Oh, the sin is delicious but the consequences might be disastrous. So, you see, the world would love the sin but not the consequences. That's not conversion. When a man is converted he bemoans himself because sin is seen to be sin against God, and it is hated in the light of the cross of Christ.
Then he says, "Thou hast chastised me and I was chastised." When the Lord begins to deal with a man or woman to bring him or her to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, there is a distinct work of the Holy Spirit which is referred to in Romans 8:15 as the Spirit of bondage. "For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear" (Romans 8, 15), declares the apostle Paul. That spirit of bondage is the preparatory work of the Holy Spirit in the sinner, so that the sinner may justifiably be said at that period of his life to pass through three phases. There is first of all the careless state of the sinner, and that is how we all are until the Holy Spirit begins to strive with us in a saving way. When we begin to hear the divine call then a change comes about, an earthquake begins in our life; our security is broken up, our confidence is broken down. We begin to be afraid of death, for reasons we may not be able to put into words, but there is an inner instinct that God is to be feared in a deeper way than we had ever realised before. Then, when we are brought to the new birth we have that Spirit of adoption (Romans 8, 15), whereby we cry, "Abba, Father."
I'll take this in the instance of the Philippian jailer. We see the Philippian jailer passing through these three phases in Acts 16. First of all we meet him as a careless sinner without any thought of his own soul. He throws the apostles into the inner prison and puts their feet in the stocks. He is confident that he is going to master the situation, hasn't the slightest love for these wretched creatures, these Bible-thumpers as they would be called in modern society, these fundamentalists, these evangelicals, these despicable Calvinists; he has no time for them - "In the dungeons with them, and their feet in the stocks!" He with his own hands, no doubt, supervises and secures their feet firm and fast. That's the first picture of him. Then we have the earthquake and suddenly all their bands are loosed; we see this man springing in, trembling. Not because he is afraid he will lose his prisoners and therefore his life according to the terms of Roman law. He doesn't say, "What am I to do? My prisoners are on their way of escape and I myself will be captured and have to fear forfeiting my life for their sake." No, no! He says, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" (Acts 16, 30). It's a spiritual concern, it is a religious conviction. So that second phase is one in which we see the Philippian jailer a concerned and convinced sinner. That's not salvation because that can wear off in the case of some. People can come to that condition of being afraid for a time, but in some cases it comes to nothing. However, where the election of God is concerned, it brings them through the new birth into that third phase which is the liberty of the glory of the children of God.
Here we see Ephraim in this condition of bemoaning himself; he was unaccustomed to bearing the yoke - this is his confession. He did not know how to bear the yoke of God's Moral Law. He was never a law-keeper and now he begins to recognise that his whole life is just a tangle of transgressions; there was a never a thing he did right from the day of his birth. That is because God has brought this bemoaning Spirit upon him. He is aware of what he is in the sight of a holy God, and he recognises he has never done God any service; he has never borne the yoke of Christ upon him. Jesus' words, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you" (Matthew 11, 28-29). That is the yoke of Gospel - service, obedience, and a willing desire to be a fruitful member of the kingdom of God. So Ephraim has not yet got to that condition but that is how the work of conversion begins.
The next point you see here is that this convert has a prayer for conversion: "Turn thou me" - and that itself is very instructive; let me say how. First of all it teaches us that man has no natural ability to convert himself. We are totally lacking in strength for the work of conversion. Conversion work is work beyond the strength of fallen sinners; they cannot achieve, they cannot produce the energy. Therefore Paul says in Romans 5, "When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly" (Romans 5, 6). We have no strength to turn; we could not turn to God. No act of the human will can turn us; you cannot sit down and turn yourself to Christ. There are many things you can do as an unconverted person: you can go to church and should; you can read the Bible and should; you can make the form of a prayer and should. But there's one thing you cannot do as an unconverted sinner, you cannot turn yourself to Christ, you cannot make yourself believe and I will tell you why. It's that you can make yourself do something but you can't make yourself want to do something. You see the difference? You can make yourself fast and pray, and you can make yourself hungry with fasting; you can make yourself exhausted with sleeplessness; you can lie like Martin Luther on a stone floor in a monastery cell; you can whip yourself until your back bleeds; you can wear the hair shirt; but you can't make yourself want to please God. We have no power over that power of wanting, that faculty of wanting, in the human heart. And so he prays to God and he says, "Turn thou me" (Jeremiah 31, 18). And it shows that nobody was ever turned to God without prayer; there is no conversion without prayer.
We see also here, nobody was ever converted against their will. You see, he now wants to be converted. It strikes you that some people seem to be converted against their will - I am like that myself. My own experience is that I did not want God, and when He began to strive with me in 1957 I said to Him I wanted Him to go away. What a terrible prayer; what a mercy He didn't answer that. But I can testify I did not want God, I wanted the world, and I said so. God in His mercy most graciously had other thoughts - what a kindness! I felt like a man who had been dragged through a hedge backward against my will. But that's not true; you come to the point in which you are willing to do the will of God, and that is what we see here: "Turn thou me" - he desires the experience. Every genuine convert is brought to the point in which he longs for Christ and would give anything for Christ; he would give his right hand to get Christ. Beforehand he has none of that; he despises the Lord's people - these foolish characters who are so old-fashioned and go to churches and, indeed, very strange churches at that, where people are so stiff and strict and where they seem to be so inhuman, and he despises the Lord's people. But then, when this work of the Spirit comes upon them, this Spirit of bondage, this Spirit of conviction, they love the Lord's people, they envy them and they yearn to be like them. They thought them so ugly before, but now they see them so beautiful; they thought they were so old-fashioned and staid in their ways before, but now they see they have the one thing needful.
Thirdly here, after this prayer we see there is always the element of hope: "Turn thou me, and I shall be turned" (Jeremiah 31, 18). That's very important to notice because, you see, there is hope here; there's a sense that God will answer the prayer. Every man and women who is converted prays out of hope and out of faith. This is the difference between Peter and his repentance, and Judas Iscariot and his repentance. Judas Iscariot repented - the Scripture says so - he repented of betraying Christ, and he took his thirty pieces of silver and he threw them across the temple floor, and he went out and hanged himself in despair. That despair was entirely wrong. What he should have done of course was this, he should have thrown the money down and gone on his knees for mercy; there was mercy in God. You will say to me of course, in his case he couldn't be - and I agree with you in his case, he could not be - but there was nothing in God actively pushing him away. It was his own unbelief that pushed him away; he was guilty of despair, and in this life we should never despair. It may be that you are here tonight, for all I know, because you are seeking Christ and you're not a Christian at all yet. I say to you: Don't despair, ever, because the very worst of sinners can be converted. Take the Old Testament. The wickedest king in all the Old Testament, Manasseh, found mercy when he humbled himself and prayed to God. He remembered God in his captivity; he humbled himself and he sought the Lord, and he found the Lord. That's the hope, you see, which every man and woman has who is being brought to this conversion experience by the Holy Spirit. "Turn thou me, and I shall be turned" (Jeremiah 31, 18).
Peter on the other hand repented in an evangelical sense, as we well know. He went out and he wept bitterly. That's the difference between the sorrow of the world that worketh death, and a godly sorrow that worketh repentance unto salvation not to be repented of. We should never despair in God, for ourselves or for any other. I am rather in danger of saying something that other people might have heard me say in a different context a few days ago. If so, I hope you will bear patiently with my repetition. We have a couple coming to us just now in the Ayr Free Church, and they are from Honolulu. This man and his wife are very interesting, they are of Japanese extraction. I mention them because the conversion of the gentleman, which I heard quite recently, is rather striking. He doesn't mind people knowing this, incidentally. He was onto drugs, he told us, for twenty years in Los Angeles on the west coast of the United States, deep into drugs and into the world, as you can see. One day the television was on and it was a Christian station broadcasting, and in this Christian station the man who was speaking was reading the news, but then the news finished and so this gentleman from Honolulu reached out his hand to switch off the television, but the next man who was coming on was going to preach the Gospel, and these were his first words as he started the programme, he said, "Don't switch me off," which gave the other man quite a shock; he thought he could be seen by the man so he pulled his hand back literally, surprised at what was being said, as though the man in the screen could actually see him. There's an element in which there is almost something humorous in that, but he drew back his hand like this and then the preacher began: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3, 16). The point I am coming to is this, this man was converted through that sermon and this is what he said. He said, "I thought myself far too wicked for God ever to forgive." You see, this was the wonderful truth, even he, twenty years onto drugs, had no need to despair. "There is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared" (Psalm 130, 3). Indeed, speaking of that verse, those were the words that delivered John Owen who was the great theologian in England three hundred and so many years ago, as you well know, who wrote his sixteen volumes and so on of great theology - the 'Calvin of England' they call him. On one occasion as a Christian, he fell into deep melancholy and sadness; his own soul was in trouble and he almost became ill apparently, but these words in Psalm 130 helped him: "With thee there is mercy, that thou mayest be feared," and he rose up out of his sadness and he wrote a great treatise on these words and on the whole Psalm - it's still there to be read to this day - but that was his experience. He speaks of that later on in life in his own words. He said, "There was a day in my experience when I came to see what it was to trust in the mercy of God through the mediation of Christ."
My friends, there is hope for the world, there is hope for these poor wretched hippies and these dropouts in society, there is hope for them; the very worst of men can be raised from the gutter of sin. Mr Mackenzie and I were talking about a great preacher, Matheson was his name, who preached in 1859 in the days when the Spirit of God was working powerfully in Scotland, and they say that 300,000 people were brought into the churches in these two years in Scotland in the Free Church's General Assembly in 1860 they called it the 'revival assembly' because in the whole day of Wednesday of that assembly, they set aside the whole day for nothing else but hearing reports from all over Scotland of conversions, and prayer meetings, and salvation, and churches beginning. All over the land from the Butt of Ness right down to the Borders there was a great work of God going on. Three hundred thousand, they say, brought into churches in those years of the revival assembly of the Free Churches. The other assemblies were the same: the Church of Scotland and the United Presbyterians, all richly blessed with the grace of God. This man Matheson, this mighty preacher, would preach to people in the open air, maybe to ten thousand. The very worst of society would appear and would be raised out of their misery by the power of God. Isn't it so tragic in our modern society that the government - alas I am sure they are doing their best - but they are trying to find a solution for the problems of this modern society, the permissive age, the liberal society in which we live, and it would be laughable to listen to the solutions were it not so serious. Are we to have more police? Shall we have more detention centres? Are we to have other laws? What are we to do about the depravity amongst young people? What's going to solve the problem: boys killing little babies of two, seemingly; girls strangling women in their own homes at night? What's going to be done about it: bombs being put in Warrington where the whole place goes up and people are killed? What's the solution? O that God would pour out the Holy Spirit upon our nation again! It's the only solution. It happened time and again in history - 1859, 1904 in Wales, from end to end of Wales! Fire was pouring upon the community. The old people can still tell you about it. Great works of God were being done. Hundreds and hundreds were delivered from the power of indwelling sin and the power of the world and of the devil. Well here it is... there is hope, there is hope. "Turn thou me, and I shall be turned" (Jeremiah 13, 18). The worst and wickedest of men and women may find deliverance.
We see here that he uses reasons for his confidence in prayer. Prayer ought to have reasons; prayer is not irrational, there are reasons why we should pray to God, and these reasons are things we can plead with the Almighty, as George Muller used to say. George Muller opened that wonderful orphanage in Bristol over a hundred years ago. He was a leader of the Plymouth Brethren when it first began - and he prayed for something like two million pounds over the years to be given to support these orphans that he looked after in Bristol. I say this because, you see, his great attitude to prayer was: plead the reasons with God, argue with God; don't simply state your prayer, give reasons why these things should be so. If you are here as a person tonight who has not got the assurance of salvation, I give you these reasons why you should pray to God for this mercy of the Gospel.
First, because of the preciousness of the soul of a man or a woman. The preciousness of the soul is something which you cannot calculate; one soul is more to God than a thousand worlds. The worlds are nothing to God, but one soul is so precious that nothing could atone for the sin of the soul but the blood of God incarnate. That gives you some idea of the value to God of the soul. Incidentally, it gives us some conception as to the magnitude of the wickedness of destroying a newborn child in the mother's womb, the soul of a child. Who can calculate what's been done to these children who are being so brutally done away?
Then there is also this reason and this argument: "Christ died for the ungodly" (Romans 5, 6), and "whosoever will" (Revelation 22, 17), may come; God has "no pleasure in the death of the wicked" (Ezekiel 33, 11). These are arguments that you and I should plead, on our own behalf if we're not yet in a state of full assurance, or on behalf of our loved ones. Sons and daughters, husbands and wives, friends and family, we all have them, we all have unconverted relations and these are the arguments to plead with God, "Turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the LORD my God" (Jeremiah 31, 18). There's a reason why God should be appealed to in our hearts, and in our prayers, and in our cries, and in our tears.
Going on to another element in the text, we see here also the wonderful effects of converting grace upon the sinner's life. "Turn thou me, and I shall be turned" (text), he says. Then he goes on like this: "Surely after that I was turned, I repented; and after that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh: I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth" (v.19). Here the conversion has occurred; it is something that has happened. Previously it was the preparatory stages of conversion. Previously, and up to that point, clearly it was the work of preparation; the Spirit of God was convicting and convincing, and bringing home to the emotions such thoughts that were producing tears. "I heard Ephraim bemoaning himself." There is no cry as desperate as the cry of a sinner seeking Christ. You know the story of Muckle Kate of Lochcarron? I won't insult you by coming to the Highlands to tell you your own great stories, but it is a great story you know. Lachlan Mackenzie's young men were singing the song that he composed outside her front door, in which they recite in song all her sins. The Spirit of God bringing it home to her conviction, her heart and her conscience. She repented, you remember, in such a degree of depth and penetration that she wept until she went blind. Oh happy woman, to lose her sight and yet to get a Saviour! That is a sublime story, and preaching ought to be directed in such a way at the deep sensations of the sinner's heart as to produce and to conduce to those very feelings of deep remorse and of repentance. We must not let people into the membership of churches without conviction, and without remorse for past sin! That is to ruin the Church and that is what happened in many places down in the south. People rush into membership, and they look like the world, and they behave like the world, and they talk like the world, and alas, alas, it often turns out they are nothing but the world. If we build Zion with blood, and with converts who are like the world, what's going to happen to the Church? The old illustration holds good does it not? When the ship is in the sea, all is well; but when the sea is in the ship, all is not well. So with the Church: when the Church is in the world, all is well; when the world is in the Church, all is lost.
Here we see the effects of this converting grace: threefold, briefly. First of all, there is repentance. "I repented," he says. "After I was turned I repented, I was sorry." What does a convert repent of? All known sin! We turn from idols to God, to the living and true God. We turn from darkness unto light, from the power of Satan unto God - it's a right about turn! You don't carry with you the old life. That has to stop when conversion occurs - I'm not saying we are entirely perfect; I'm not suggesting we never sin again, but we never sin willingly again. "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin" (1 John 3, 9), says God. It doesn't mean to say he is sinless; no, it means to say he never willingly commits sin. He commits sin against his own better nature. But an unconverted man commits sin according to his nature; and a Christian contrary to his better nature. So that's the first thing, repentance.
But it doesn't stop there. What else is the effect here of this converting grace? "After that I was converted," he says, "I smote on my thigh." What a strange statement. Why does he smite on his thigh? Well, it's the expression we have in English, "I was such a fool, I could have kicked myself; I could have hit myself for my stupidity." You see, he smites on his thigh; it's a sign of indignation against his own stupidity. What a fool I was to be the man I was - all those years in drink, in filthiness, in the world, in gambling - all those years wasted. My whole life has passed along so far and here I am at this stage of life and I am in this poor condition. What a fool I have been - I smote upon my thigh. That is an evidence of the grace of God. We should look for that in our converts; they should hate themselves for what they have been.
I once said that in a certain gathering and I was taken to task. "Where in the Bible are you told to hate yourself?" - or something was the question, and I pointed to Ezekiel 36: "Then shall you remember your own evil ways, and your doings that were not good, and shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and for your abominations" (Ezekiel 36, 31). There is such a thing as evangelical self-hatred. You never forgive yourself - in a way of speaking, of course, not in every sense - but in a sense you never quite forget the fool you have been: "I was as a beast before thee" (Psalm 73, 22). You see, we can't forgive ourselves, in a way of speaking - "I smote upon my thigh."
Finally, and with this I must close, he says he was ashamed. This is another natural consequence of conversion. We are ashamed of what we were. I want to use an illustration. I have not had this documented with great authority but I am told it is true. Years ago - I'm told there was a young man who was very cheeky to his mother. She apparently was a godly lady and her son was a wayward boy and he was very discourteous to her. Happily her prayers were answered and he was converted. This is what he said to his mother, "Mother," he said, "how can I forgive myself for all my dreadful disrespect?" But he found a way in which he shows his respect to his mother ever after, and this is what it was. It might sound extreme - I am not suggesting we all do it or anything like it but this is what he did apparently. Whenever his mother would come into the room he would get up and he would kneel down before her, and he would not get off his knees until given permission by his mother. He did that to show his respect and his sense of self-hatred for the way he had been so discourteous to his mother. There is something profoundly right about that state of mind, never mind about the external practice which you might think overdone, but the state of mind is right. We smite upon our thigh - "I was ashamed."
Then he says, "for the shame of my youth." You know youth is a slippery time. Youth is when good advice is least wanted. Don't we see fine young boys and girls from excellent Christian homes? They slide this way, and they slide that way, and some of them are converted and they come back, and then what do they tell us - "The shame of my youth"? Well that's what Ephraim bemoans himself for here: "The shame of my youth". Let us be humble.
As I close I want to just answer one question and it is this: Why do you think it is that God allows his children to go through so many experiences of sin before he converts them? - which is often true, isn't it? Why does he allow that? I am sure it is for this reason: that we may learn to hate sin out of our own bitter experience; and having done so, bemoan ourselves and find our peace and rest in God.
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