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Biographies of Common Christians: The Young Cottager and the Dairyman’s Daughter

August 8, 2016 1 comment

From my recent Spurgeon sermon reading comes an interesting reference to then-popular Christian literature.  From this sermon in the 1865 volume  (text Psalm 113:7-8):

 Some of the sweetest biographies of Christians have been the lives of the lowly culled from the annals of the poor. Who has not read, The Young Cottager, and, The Dairyman’s Daughter?

Though generally unknown today, these books are available online now, the writings of Legh Richmond: his accounts of conversions among the young, rural poor in England – the Isle of Wight specifically – in the late 18th and early 19th century.  A brief biography on Legh Richmond, from Amazon:

LEGH RICHMOND (1772–1827) was born in Liverpool, England. He attended Trinity College in Cambridge and received his B. A. and M. A. degrees. The young clergyman entered the ministry at the Isle of Wight. When he read Wilberforce’s “Practical View of Christianity,” he had a spiritual awakening, and respectfully named his son Wilberforce. On the Isle of Wight he met ‘The Dairyman’s Daughter,’ ‘The African Servant’ and ‘Little Jane.’ After seven years he moved to London and then to Turvey, where he wrote, “The Fathers of the English Church.”

“The Young Cottager” and “The Dairyman’s Daughter” are each slightly over 100 pages; both are available free from Gracegems.org:  Young Cottager and the Dairyman’s Daughter (also available for free in Kindle version from Amazon, here).  Both of these are accounts of young women who came to saving faith in Christ, and then experienced the decline and slow death of consumption (now known as tuberculosis).   Both were very serious about their faith, and instrumental in the salvation of family members — parents as well as younger siblings.  The Young Cottager, “little Jane,” was twelve years old, one of a group of junior-high age students that the minister had been teaching on Sunday afternoons.  A point that some of us at least can certainly relate to: Jane was in the background, not one of the students that particularly stood out to the teacher.  Her absence, at the beginning of her sickness, was not even noticed by him; an adult neighbor came to the minister, and  and told him of Jane’s desire to see him.  The Dairyman’s Daughter (Elizabeth Waldridge) came to saving faith in her twenties, while working as a servant girl for another household.  She later came back to her parent’s home to assist her elderly parents.  (As an aside, the description of her very aged father at first glance would seem to us as that of a man in his 80s – he was not yet 70; the hard life of poor people, doing physical work in the sun, takes its toll at an earlier age, compared to modern-day city dwellers.)  The content of this book includes many actual letters from Waldridge, who lived some distance from the minister and often sent letters to him by personal messenger.

Wegh Richmond’s style includes many details of the scenery — an appreciation for the details of the natural creation as the setting for his meditations.  Occasionally he commented on the act of meditation and his style and approach to his writings, as with these excerpts from The Dairyman’s Daughter:

How much do they lose who are strangers to serious meditation on the wonders and beauties of nature! How gloriously the God of creation shines in His works! Not a tree, or leaf, or flower, not a bird or insect, but it proclaims in glowing language, “God made me.”

And

Do any of my readers inquire why I describe so minutely the circumstances of prospect and scenery which may be connected with the incidents I relate?  My reply is, that the God of redemption is the God of creation likewise; and that we are taught in every part of the Word of God to unite the admiration of the beauties and wonders of nature to every other motive for devotion.

The stories from both Jane and Elizabeth, regarding their conversion experience, their apprehension of divine truth, and their insights and maturity, are fascinating to read, and even humbling, in comparison to our modern-day life.  No superficial understanding, but very deep comprehension of God’s grace, is seen in these spiritual babes, recent converts, along with spiritual growth of a much quicker pace than is usual in our modern day Christian experience.  It is well here to remember, that not every person’s salvation experience is going to be exactly the same, or to the same level of growth within so short a time.  Indeed, Wegh Richmond himself observed this, that not everyone (even in his day) showed such spiritual maturity in the same way:

It has not unfrequently been observed, that when it is the Lord’s pleasure to remove any of his faithful followers out of this life at an early period of their course, they make rapid progress in the experience of Divine truth.  The fruits of the Spirit ripen fast, as they advance to the close of mortal existence.  In particular, they grow in humility, through a deeper sense of inward corruption, and a clearer view of the perfect character of the Saviour.

Richmond’s works include a third title, also free on Kindle:  Annals of the Poor, which includes the account of the African servant.  As Spurgeon said, these are sweet biographies, the stories about common Christians.  We are so familiar with the lives of the spiritual giants, the Luthers, Calvins, and Spurgeons, but these accounts remind us of the many other people we will meet one day.  So many Christians have passed through this world, unknown by all but a few.  It is nice to read about some of these poor saints, who were so rich in faith and serve as examples to us, of those who have gone before us.

1689 Confession Study: The Crisis-Conversion in Riper Years

February 5, 2016 Leave a comment

Continuing in the 1689 Baptist Confession study, chapter 15 on repentance includes a look at the meaning of the first paragraph:

Those of the elect who are converted in riper years, having lived some time in the state of nature, and in this state served various lusts and pleasures, God gives repentance which leads to life, through an effectual call.

From this study I learned some new terminology: the sudden experience of adult conversions, of those who know the date when they were saved (as with my own experience), is referred to as a “crisis conversion,” as contrasted with the gradual conversion experience of children brought up in Christian homes, who cannot pinpoint a sudden, specific time of their conversion.

The audio lesson spends a great deal of time in emphasizing the point–to listeners who are of the second (gradual conversion) type–that all people who are converted experience repentance.  By mentioning the first type, the confession’s authors here were not saying that only the first type of conversion experience is a true experience. The important point is that we have continuing faith and repentance in our lives, now–and to recognize that everyone’s conversion experience is unique and so we should not expect everyone else’s experience to be like ours—or for our own experience to be like that of others. For the latter, Hodgins gave the example of reading David Brainerd’s diary– one who was extremely aware of his wretchedness – and comparing his own conversion experience to that and thinking “I must be lost, since I didn’t have such awareness of my sinful condition.” Each type of conversion has its advantages and disadvantages; the adult with “crisis conversion” lived more years in an unsaved condition, more sins (and perhaps more “baggage” of problems, less common grace than those who were saved at a younger age, a point similarly made during the chapter 13 Sanctification study). The point is well-made, for both groups. I recall from early Christian experience, that at first I assumed that all other Christians likewise had a sudden conversion experience—and only later learned that at least some Christians do not have this.

As quoted from Sam Waldron  (at this person’s 1689 Confession Commentary on chapter 15):

The Confession makes this out of a desire to distinguish repentance as a crisis experience from repentance as an ordinary grace.  All believers are marked by ordinary grace, but not all believers will know, or need to know, repentance as a crisis experience. …The practical applications of this are various and important.  Do not doubt your salvation merely because you lack a crisis experience like that of some respected brother or sister in the Lord.  Do not demand of others a certain type of conversion experience as a necessary mark of true grace.  An emotional earthquake, radical, external changes in one’s life-style, knowing the exact time of one’s rebirth, an extended work of conviction by the law, immediate sudden joy–all of these may accompany conversion, but none are necessary marks of true repentance.”

From further online reading, (courtesy of Google books) I came across a few pages of “Saved by Grace” by Anthony Hoekema, which provides further information on this topic — Variations in the Pattern of Conversion – along with Hoekema’s quotes from Herman Bavinck. The Reformers’ own conversions can be further classified in terms of contrasts: from deep feelings of guilt to the joyful awareness of forgiveness in Christ (Luther), being set free from the bondage of the law, to happiness of being a child of God (Zwingli), or “deliverance from error into truth, from doubt into certainty” in John Calvin’s conversion. The pattern of conversion thus may be predominantly intellectual, or volitional, or emotional, and Hoekema noted examples from Church History of all three: C.S. Lewis the intellectual conversion, Augustine as volitional, and John Bunyan’s as emotional.

The type of conversion experience, for Hoekema, raises the question–from the paedo-baptist covenantal perspective—of whether “covenant children” need to be converted. What he says makes sense, regardless of one’s view of covenant theology and baptism (of the paedobaptist or believer’s Baptist), in the general observation that many who are raised in Christian homes have a gradual conversion experience—yet they still need their own personal conversion, to realize their own sin, their own commitment to Christ, to personally appropriate the blessings of salvation. What Hoekema describes, I can certainly relate to:

Much variation is possible in the way in which those born of Christian parents later come to conversion. Some are led gently, with no earthshaking upheavals, growing steadily from childhood to young manhood, and from young manhood to full maturity… Others, however, who for a time lived openly sinful lives, or became alienated from their Christian upbringing, are suddenly brought to conversion, through some gripping word of arresting circumstance, often by means of a violent emotional struggle.

 

Charles Spurgeon: Salvation Experiences

September 10, 2015 2 comments

Charles Spurgeon often preached about the experience of salvation — as in answering possible objections of unbelievers, urging them to move past those objections or obstacles to come to Christ; or overall consideration of how people come to Christ.  From my recent reading come two sermons (#559 and #570) from 1864 (volume 10) on this topic. The first one (sermon #559) describes various unbelievers and their different responses – how they are kept lame, as with this excerpt:

Some are still lame, though they have faith, through ignorance. They do not know what being saved is. They entertain wrong expectations. They are trusting in Christ, but they do not feel any surprising emotions; they have not had any remarkable dreams, or visions, or striking emotions of excited joy, and therefore, though they have “faith to be saved,” they have not the faith of a present salvation. They are waiting for something, they hardly know what, to embellish their faith, or to fortify it with signs and wonders; now, poor soul, why do you wait? These things are not necessary for salvation. In fact, the fewer you have of them, I think, the better—especially of things which are visionary. I rather tremble for those who talk much about sensible evidences; they are too often the frivolities of unstable hearts. Beloved, though you may have never had any ecstatic joys, or suffered any deep depression of your spirits, if you are resting on Christ, it does not matter one whit what your feelings have been or have not been! Do you expect to have an electric shock, or to go through some mysterious operation? The operation is mysterious, too mysterious for you to discern it; but all that you have to do with is this—“Do I believe in Jesus? Am I simply depending upon Him for everything?” If you do, you are saved, and I pray you to believe this!

One observation from this sermon: all the people he describes at least have a basic worldview of belief in God – and then various “religious” reasons for fearing to come to God. Very likely this reflected the actual worldview backgrounds of the people of Spurgeon’s day, Victorian England. In all his sermons to this point, indeed, he never considered the case of people who professed atheism, those who had so suppressed the knowledge of God as to really think in naturalist, anti-supernatural and anti-theist terms. Even today the majority of unbelievers are not of the atheist type (and even less likely to be reading such a sermon in the first place), but after so many years of modernism and even post-modernism I suspect it is more common than in Spurgeon’s day.

Also from reading this sermon, the thought: how amazing it is that God saves each of us in different ways, dealing with us and our own personality and background. We don’t all have the same experiences in the process of conversion (from the time leading up to it through the time of regeneration / saving faith), and thus we observe great variety of people and their conversion/salvation experiences. Some cannot point to a specific moment when they came to saving faith, but instead a gradual process and general period of time (as for instance, those in Christian homes with childhood conversions), while others (as with my own case, and also the testimony of Spurgeon himself) recall a specific point in time. While, as in the Spurgeon quote above, people should not be “looking” to “feel any surprising emotions; they have not had any remarkable dreams, or visions, or striking emotions of excited joy,” yet in my own case God graciously did provide the sudden understanding and sudden, excited joy.

Where sermon #559 prompted these thoughts, Spurgeon comes through – as though in answer – a few sermons later, with #570 to specifically consider the variety of means used in conversion. A very helpful sermon, with a longer text than is usual for Spurgeon’s textual style preaching  – John 1:37-51 – Spurgeon here provides many insights into the experiences of “The First Five Disciples,” and their four different types/methods of conversion. Were you, however, to examine any five persons, I suppose you would find similar disparity. Pick out five Christians indiscriminately and begin to question them how they were brought to know the Lord, you will find methods other than those you have here; and probably quite as many as four out of the five would be distinct from the rest.

  1. Andrew and John – the fruits of preaching
  2. Simon Peter – Private instrumentality, not by the preaching of the Word
  3. Phillip – without either the public Word or private instruction, but directly by Jesus, and
  4. Nathanael – partly through private instrument, but also the preparation and Christ’s divine word to convince him.

An excerpt, describing the third case:

in some cases no apparent instrumentality is used. We have known some who on a sudden have felt impressions, from where they came or where they tended they did not know. In the midst of business we have known the workman suddenly check his plane—a great thought has entered into his brain—where it came from he could not tell. We have known a man wake up at midnight—he could not tell why, but a holy calm was upon him, and as the moon was shining through the window, there seemed to be a holy light shining into his soul, and he began to think. … We cannot tell, brethren, when God may regenerate His elect, for though we are to use means, and cry to God to send forth laborers into the vineyard, yet the sovereign Lord of all will frequently work without them. The Word which has been heard in years gone by, the Scripture which was known in childhood, may by the direct power of the Holy Spirit, without any immediate apparent means, turn the man from darkness to light. …What preparation of heart there had been before, I cannot tell. What still small voice had been speaking before this in Philip’s ear, we do not know. Certainly the only outward means was this voice of Christ, “Follow Me.” And there may be in this House some who will be converted this morning. You do not know why you are here, you cannot tell why you strayed in; but yet it may be—God knows—Christ would have you come here because He would come here Himself.

When Was the Apostle Paul Converted? (The Three Components of Faith)

November 22, 2013 3 comments

From S. Lewis Johnson’s series through the life of the apostle Paul, comes the question “when was Paul converted? On the Damascus Road, or in Damascus?”

Faith includes three components:  knowledge, assent to that knowledge, and personal trust.  Notitia asensus, fiducia are the three latin terms used by theologians to describe this.

Paul’s conversion can be considered as similar to the question of when other biblical people were saved:  was Abraham saved when he was called out to follow the Lord to another land, or was he saved later, when the Lord took him out and showed him the stars – that “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness.”

The chances are the salvation of Abraham and the salvation of Paul has some similarity, and also possibly are similar to our own experience.  That is sometimes salvation takes place outwardly in stages, in the sense that the efficacious grace of the Holy Spirit leads us on to a climatic relationship at which salvation occurs.  It’s not easy to answer this question.

As to Paul’s specific conversion experience:

I am inclined to think that when the apostle was on the Damascus Road that a certain significant transformation took place in him.  He came to understand there that Jesus of Nazareth was a heavenly being, who could speak to him still as a divine being; and he (Paul) called Him Lord; and no doubt that produced this tremendous revolution within Paul’s thinking, and he had to go back over all that he had been taught from the beginning, and all the things that he had wrongly understood, and now try to put them all together.  Later on he spent some time in Arabia, and possibly that was further straightening out of the vast knowledge that he had of Jewish and Rabbinic things and squaring them with his Christian experience.

Within the three aspects of saving faith, the following is possible concerning Paul’s conversion:

1)      Knowledge – acquired on the Damascus Road, that Jesus is the Lord.

2)      As he later arrived in Damascus and at the house on Straight Street: further assent to the knowledge he had.

3)      Finally, when Ananias speaks to him and explains to him that he too has been the object of the sovereign working of God bringing him to Paul, and that he was the Lord’s messenger to tell Paul certain things about him, and his ministry:  it all came together at this point, and Paul came to personal trust in the Lord Jesus Christ – though he had been the object of efficacious grace, which had brought him to this point.