Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 9, 1964
NUMBER 35, PAGE 1,12-13a


A. Hugh Clark

There is perhaps, no point at which denominational (needs and statements of faith have departed farther from the simple teaching of the word of the Lord, and where more of both ignorance and superstition have crept into the general religious beliefs of the people than in their beliefs concerning the experience which they call conversion.

Conversion, literally speaking, means to turn around; to transform; to change from one form, or kind, or thing, or substance, or state, et cetera, to another; as to convert iron into steel. Theologically, or to speak with religious signification, conversion stands for the whole of that spiritual change from unbelief to faith, with its accompanying moral change from a life of sin to a life of righteousness in Christ.

The word convert appears more frequently in the Authorized, or King James version of the English Bible, than in the Revised Edition. That is because the revisers have simply given us the word "turn," which is the equivalent of the word convert, in all but two of those passages where the word occurs in the King James version. Let us read these passages and see this significance given to the word.

The disciples of Jesus, upon one occasion, fell victim to a self-seeking spirit which at once disqualified them for an entrance into the kingdom of heaven; and except they turned from it, they could never enter therein. Matthew says, "In that hour came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, who then is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And he called to him a little child, and set him in the midst of them, and said, verily I say unto you, except ye turn, (be converted, A.V.) and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:1-4) The conversion required by Jesus here was the turning by the disciples from their arrogance and selfishness to the humility and selflessness of a little child.

There arose also a like contention among the disciples on the night of the last Passover, in which, it seems, the apostle Peter must have led, because Jesus singled him out for a special reproof, saying, "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan asked to have you, that he might sift you as wheat: but 1 made supplication for thee, that thy faith fail not; and do thou, when thou hast turned again (been converted, A.V.), establish thy brethren." (Luke 22:31)

Once when Jesus was asked by the disciples why he spoke to the people in parables, he explained that their attitude of mind and disposition of heart necessitated it. He said, "For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest haply they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should turn again (he converted, A.V.) and I should heal them." (Matt. 13:15) This passage teaches that seeing, hearing, and understanding with the heart, were necessary prerequisites to that turning again, or conversion, upon which he would heal, or save, the people of that day.

Let us come now this side of the cross of Christ and the establishment of the gospel era, and find the use of the word "convert" applied to the whole of that spiritual change which brings people into Christ, and into the possession of the remission of sins, The occasion was the healing of the lame beggar at the gate of the Temple which was called Beautiful. The sermon of Peter was substantially the same as the one he had preached on Pentecost. He announced the death of Christ at their hands, a fact which they already knew, but affirmed that God had raised him from the dead, a fact which they did not know, but which they must be brought to believe. And then he commanded, "Repent ye therefore, and turn again (be converted, A.V), that your sins may be blotted out, that so there may come seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord." (Acts 3:19)

This passage leaves no doubt about the importance of conversion. ''Repent ye therefore, and turn again (be converted) that your sins may be blotted out" He who is not converted, meaning that and only that which is contemplated or included in a Spiritual use of the word, can never have his sins blotted out; to him there can never come seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.

There yet remains one more passage where our word is used, but this time the apostle has in mind one who has been a Christian, but who has erred, or turned aside from the truth. and therefore needs to be turned back from the error his way. James says, "My brethren, if any among you err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he who converteth a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins." (James 5:19-20)

These passages are abundantly sufficient to show that the word "convert" simply means, or contemplates, one's turning to the Lord in the divinely appointed way. Whatever therefore, the New Testament teaches the alien sinner, or the child of God who has erred from the truth, to do in turning to the Lord that he may be saved, that is his conversion. We shall however eliminate the erring child of God front the remainder of this discussion, since it is the alien sinner which we wish primarily to consider.

Let we now state the more prevalent religious notion of conversion existing in the popular mind, and point out three reasons why it cannot possibly be so. It has already been said that at the point of conversion more of both ignorance and superstition have crept into the religious beliefs of the people than at any other point. The definition I shall now give of the most prevalent notion of conversion, which I believe to be a true description of the general understanding of the term, together with the three unavoidable errors into which such a conception forces us are my reasons for making the affirmation.

Most people, if I have been able to understand them, believe that conversion is an involuntary, internal change, superimposed by an irresistible divine power; that it is irrational and supernatural in its nature, and is therefore, inexplicable in its process. But, while this is. perhaps, the most generally held conception of the experience called conversion, it is opposed to the truth of the Bible in every statement and implication. It rests upon no statement of Holy Writ, but wholly upon ancient ignorance and plain superstition.

Such a notion cannot possibly be true because, first, it makes God the independent agent in conversion, and as such, he becomes as certainly- responsible for the damnation of every man who will be eternally lost, as lie is responsible for the salvation of every man who will be saved. If God, as the independent agent in conversion, by the irresistible power of the Holy Spirit, directly contacts the heart of a single individual, and in some mysterious and strange manner converts and saves him, if he does not do that for every other person in all the world, he will be directly responsible for the damnation in hell of every soul who goes there. But this outrages all reason and justice and contradicts at least two plain statements of the New Testament. Peter said, at the house of Cornelius, "Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is acceptable to him." (Acts 10:34-35) Now, if God is no respecter of persons, what he does for one, he will, and must do for all; if he does not, then he is a respecter of persons. So, if the passage is true, then the theory is false. Further, the theory makes man passive in conversion, he is acted upon, but the passage under consideration makes him active; "In every nation he that feareth God and worketh righteousness, is acceptable to him."

The apostle Peter also says, "The 'Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to you-ward, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9) But it is preposterous to say that God is the independent agent in conversion, as the theory we are examining unavoidably makes him, and then to say that he desires not the death of any, lint that all should come to repentance, yet he will refuse to save some! However, this is the foolish conclusion to which this false notion of conversion drives us, no matter how generally it is held.

Second, the theory makes an absurdity of the doctrine of the universal atonement in the blood of Christ. If God from an arbitrary choice irresistibly converts a part of the human family and abandons the rest to die in their sins and be lost, it was the height of folly to send his Son into the world to die for all men, since all amen could not possibly be saved. And Paul says that Christ tasted of death for every man. (Hebrews 2:9)

Third, any theory that makes God the independent agent in conversion, makes the preaching of the gospel a vain and foolish thing, since the conversion of man, according to the theory, depends not upon the preaching of the gospel, but upon the independent action of God. Why, then, did Jesus say, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned"? (Mark 16:15-16)

The truth of course is, that the theory is false in its every statement and implication. Conversion is not an involuntary change on the part of man, but a voluntary change; it is wrought by a divine power, but not an irresistible power; it is perfectly rational in its nature, and its process is therefore, easily explained. God is not the independent agent in conversion, and man is not passive in conversion, but active.

The Bible no place teaches that God operates by a direct impact of the Holy Spirit upon the heart of any man to convert and save him. Such an idea is wholly unwarranted by the Scriptures; it is a plain superstition. Paul says, "I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek." (Rom. 1:16) God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, operate upon the heart of mall to convert him through the gospel. The gospel has been made the repository of all the power God has to convert and save man. It is the only means, therefore, which can be used for the accomplishment of this end.

The gospel is the perfect revelation of the mind and will of the rational God and his Son, Jesus Christ, made known by the Holy Spirit through the apostles. It is addressed to man, God's rational creation, and is perfectly adapted to the changing, turning, conversion of man in every faculty of his being.

Through the gospel God attacks the citadel of a man's understanding, and through it reaches down to take possession of his whole being. Through the preaching of the gospel the mind of man is changed from unbelief to faith, "For faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Rom. 10:17) Through the gospel he is informed of the love and goodness of God and Christ, and is caused to love them in return. He learns also of the evil of sin and of the dreadfulness of its consequences, and in repentance changes his will with regard to sin and purposes to reform his life and live in righteousness; for the is what repentance is. (2 Cor. 7:8-10) The next act of obedience which the gospel requires of such an individual is that he be "Baptized into Christ." (Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:26-27) And when this has been done, the whole man has been completely changed in every faculty of his being; he has, in reality, turned to the Lord.

— Route 1, Killeen, Texas