Repent, then, and turn back, so that your sins may be wiped away,
I. THE NATURE OF TRUE CONVERSION.
1. Spiritual change. Not a mere ritualistic sensation, or educational development of the character, but being "born again." Repentance, change of mind, on the ground of facts acknowledged and promises received. The announcement of the gift of God prepared the way for the call to repentance. The kingdom of heaven is at hand, therefore repent; pass through the gate into life.
2. Man's co-operation with God. "Repent and turn again" (Revised Version), "that your sins may be blotted out," etc. No amount of feeling is conversion; no enlightenment of the mind, or even devoutness of spirit, supersedes the change of life. The sins are blotted out by the blood of Christ as guilt, their burden is removed from the conscience, the heart, and the life, when repentance and faith introduce the sinner into the state of grace. What the apostle appealed for was a real coming out of the old state into the new. We must not be satisfied with mere religiousness, instead of decided confession of Christ before men. Direct the Word to the individual: "Repent ye. The participation of privilege as children of Abraham, as members of the favored nation, no release from the obligation to repent. The Church itself needs revival and change.
1. The great fact. Conversion is a reality, already seen. The Spirit of God is already poured out. The beginning of the new life is before our eyes. Others are changed, why not ye? Distinguish between the right and wrong use of such a fact. No necessity to wait for great revivals. Danger of expecting excitement to do God's work for us. The actual existence of a living, working Church of Christ in our neighborhood is the great call to us.
2. The offered blessedness - the blotting out of sins. Sense of pardon the spring of the new life. The function of thankfulness in practical Christianity. The impossibility of progress without a sense of liberty. Hence the defective Christianity of our Churches. No sense of victory over sin.
3. The promised future. Seasons of refreshing." Return of Jesus Christ. Restitution of all things. The key-note of revelation. The golden horizon of the world. Power of hope in awakening energy. "Pilgrim's progress" is towards "the celestial city." Turn your face from the city of Destruction to the city of God. The call to repentance should never be a mere denunciatory cry against sin, a mere pointing to the overhanging Mount Sinai, which gendereth bondage; but as the loving invitation to rejoice in the "presence of the Lord," from which the blessing is ready to come forth. Address men not as far off, but as nigh - within the temple courts, under the outspread wings. - R.
Repent ye therefore and be converted.I. THE APOSTLE BADE MEN REPENT AND BE CONVERTED.
1. Repent signifies, in its literal meaning, to change one's mind. It has been translated "after-wit," or "after-wisdom"; it is the man's finding out that he is wrong, and rectifying his judgment. But although that be the meaning of the root, the word has come in Scriptural use to mean a discovery of the evil of sin, a mourning that we have committed it, a resolution to forsake it, the love of what once we hated, and the hate of what once we loved. Conversion means a turning from, and a turning to, from sin to holiness, from carelessness to thought, from the world to heaven, from self to Jesus. The words in Greek are "Repent and convert," or, rather, "Repent and turn." It is an active verb, just as the other was. When the demoniac had the devils cast out of him, that was repentance; but when he was clothed and in his right mind, that was conversion. When the prodigal was feeding his swine, and on a sudden began to consider and to come to himself, that was repentance. When he set out and left the far country and went to his father's house, that was conversion.
2. Repentance and conversion are the work of the Holy Spirit. And yet Peter says, "Repent, and be converted"! "How reconcile you these two things?" We tell men to repent and believe, not because we rely on any power in them to do so, not because we depend upon any power in our earnestness or in our speech, but because the gospel is the mysterious engine by which God converts the hearts of men, and we find that, if we speak in faith, God the Holy Ghost operates with us, and while we bid the dry bones live, the Spirit makes them live — while we tell the lame man to stand on his feet, the mysterious energy makes his ankle-bones to receive strength — while we tell the impotent man to stretch out his hand, a Divine power goes with the command, and the hand is stretched out and the man is restored. The power lies not in the sinner, not in the preacher, but in the Holy Spirit.
II. THERE WAS GOOD REASON FOR THIS COMMAND. "Repent ye therefore." The apostle was logical. It was not mere declamation. What, then, was the argument?
1. The Jews put Christ to death. And this is spiritually true of you. Every sin in the essence of it is a killing of God. Every time you do what God would not have you do, you do in effect, so far as you can, put God out of His throne, and disown the authority which belongs to His Godhead. When Christ was nailed to the tree, sin only did then literally and openly what all sin really does in a spiritual sense. Will you not repent if it be so? While you thought your sins to be mere trifles, you would not repent; but now I have shown you that every sin is really an attempt to thrust God out of the world. What, then, if the authority of God should be no more owned in the universe — where should we all be? What a hell above ground would this world become! Do you not see what a mischievous thing, then, your iniquity has been? Then, truly, there is abundant reason why you should repent and turn from it.
2. He whom they had slain was a most blessed person — one so blessed that God the Father had exalted Him. Jesus Christ came not into this world with any selfish motive, but entirely out of philanthropy, full of love to men; and yet men put Him to death! Now God does not deserve that we should rebel against Him. If He were a great tyrant domineering over us, putting us to misery, there might be some excuse, but, when He acts like a tender father to us, it is a cruel shame that we should live in daily revolt against Him. You who have not believed in Christ have mighty cause for repenting that you have not believed in Him, seeing He is so good and kind.
3. While they had rejected the blessed Christ they had chosen a murderer. Sinner, thou hast despised Christ, and what is it thou hast chosen? Has it been the drunkard's cup? Thy lust? What devilish things to set in the place of Christi What have thy sins done to thee that thou shouldst prefer them to Jesus? What wages have you had? Oh, then, this is a thing to be repented of.
4. Christ whom they had despised was able to do great things for them. "His name through faith in His name," etc. If you will trust Jesus to-day, all your iniquities shall be blotted out. Believing in Him, He can make thee blessed. And is not this cause for repentance? With hands loaded with love He stands outside the door of your heart. Is not this good reason for opening the door and letting Him in?
5. "I wot that through ignorance ye did it." As if He would say, "Now that ye have more light, repent of what you did in the dark." You had not heard the gospel, you did not know that sin was so bad a thing, you did not understand that Jesus was able to save to the uttermost. Now you do understand it. The times of your ignorance God winked at, but now "commandeth all men everywhere to repent." Greater light brings greater responsibility. Do not go back to your sin, lest it become tenfold sin to you. "Now ye have no cloak for your sin." Therefore, because the cloak is pulled away, and you sin against the light, I say as Peter did, "Repent and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out."
III. WITHOUT REPENTANCE AND CONVERSION SIN CANNOT BE PARDONED. Many Oriental merchants kept their accounts on little tablets of wax. On these tablets they indented marks which recorded the debts, and when these debts were paid, they took the blunt end of the stylus or pencil, and just flattened down the wax, and the account entirely disappeared. Now, he that repents and is pardoned is, through the precious blood of Christ, so entirely forgiven that there is no record of his sin left. If we blot out an account from our books, the record is gone, but there is the blot; but on the wax tablet there was no blot. But sin cannot be removed except there be repentance and conversion. This must be so, for —
1. It is most seemly. Would you expect a great king to forgive an erring courtier unless the offender first confessed his fault?
2. It would not be moral; it would be pulling up the very sluices of immorality to tell men that they could be pardoned while they went on in their sins and loved them. Does not conscience tell us this? There is not a conscience here that will say to a man, "You can hope to be saved and yet live as you list." But whether your conscience shall say so or not, God says "He that confesseth and forsaketh his sin shall find mercy," but there is no promise for the unrepenting. "He who goeth on in his iniquity and hardeneth his neck shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy."
IV. REPENTANCE AND CONVERSION WILL BE REGARDED AS PECULIARLY PRECIOUS IN THE FUTURE, for my text says, "When the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord."
1. He that repents and is converted shall enjoy the blotting out of sin in that season of sweet peace which always follows pardon. When the prisoner first gets out of prison, when the fetters for the first time clank music as they fall broken to the ground! when the sick man leaves the sick chamber of his convictions to breathe the air of liberty and to feel the health of a pardoned sinner! Oh, if you did but know what a bliss it is to be forgiven, you would never stay away from Christ I But you do not know, and cannot. Oh, "repent and be converted," then, and you will.
2. Perhaps these "times of refreshing" may also relate to times of revival in the Christian Church. The only way in which you can share in the refreshment of a revival is by your own repenting and being converted. Of what use is a revival to an unpardoned sinner? It is like the soft south wind blowing upon a corpse.
3. The text means, according to the context, the second advent. Jesus is yet to come a second time, and like a mighty shower flooding a desert shall His coming be. His Church shall revive and be refreshed. But woe unto you who are not saved when Christ cometh, for the day of the Lord will be darkness and not light to you.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
(W. Hay Aitken.)
(W. Hay Aitken.)
I. IN ORDER THAT THEY MIGHT ATTAIN PROPER RELATIONS TO GOD. "That your sins may be blotted out." There stood against them an account by which they were bound, and that account could not be cancelled except through repentance. Then God would not treat them as sinners. The reason for this condition is obvious since God can do nothing that is morally unfit. To attain this right relation to God is to enter the way of ultimate personal perfection.
II. IN ORDER THAT THEY MIGHT CEASE TO STAND IN THE WAY OF BLESSING DESIGNED FOR THEIR FELLOW-MEN. "That the times of refreshing," etc. The world was full of sin and weariness. God knew all about it, and had promisedseasons of refreshment. They were to be granted "from His presence," by His decree. But He would bless men through men, Repentance and conversion were therefore required. So now. Domestic piety will be promoted by those who penitently turn to God. The purification and quickening of particular churches will be aided by such as mourn over sin and forsake it. And the multiplication of purified and quickened churches would soon work mighty changes in Christendom.
III. IN ORDER THAT THEY MIGHT PROMOTE THE COMING OF THE GREAT FINAL MANIFESTATION OF THE REDEEMER. "And He shall send Jesus."
(D. L. Moody.)repentance is practical: — I heard one say, "It is an awful-thing to be a slave to the winecup; I wish that I had never tasted it. The first opportunity I get I will turn over a new leaf." He did not say what the new leaf would be, but he was going to do any quantity of reforming work. Alas I he never did anything at all, for he was drunk again the next day. A beautiful penitent to look upon; but a wretched hypocrite in due time, for he returned like the dog to his vomit, and the sow which was washed to her wallowing in the mire. If you repent of sin, down with sin! In God's name, down with sin! When repentance is hearty it is practical. When a man truly turns to God, he turns away from sin.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
(J. Watson, M. A.)Hosea 14:8).
I. CONSIDER THE STATE OF THE SOUL BEFORE CONVERSION
1. The Bible speaks of it as a state of death. Death is so offensive in physical nature that we are compelled to bury even our beloved friends; and had we eyes and hearts to see and feel the realities of the spiritual world a soul dead by sin would be more offensive than a decaying body. We bury the physical dead, but it is impossible to put away a dead soul from society. The world would have been better without you, for as a corpse putrifies the air we breathe, so a dead soul is a corruption which gives forth evil and prevents good. A dead soul may —(1) Have great influence. Your influence might have been exerted for the good of society, but you have lived only to enjoy your own self, and so instead of being a helper of the highest interests of mankind, you are drawing sap from the human tree and are yielding no fruit.(2) Be a moral person. You have not committed any crime, but you are dangerous to society. Your goodness is an argument to a bad man against being "religious," and the children of your family say, "Why, father never goes to church, nor reads the Bible, nor prays — why should I?" People will follow a moral sceptic because they wish to have an excuse for sin.(3) Be an openly wicked man.
2. How can it be known whether I am in this state of death or not? If you be in this state there will be —(1) No growth of goodness in your character. Some persons appear to grow more beautiful every year, but others become more wicked as they grow older.(2) No strength to do holy things. You may do as you like with a dead body; it can make no resistance, and likewise a dead soul is helpless in the hands of Satan.(3) Troubles and obstacles which will cause you to despair. In such a case men, but mostly women, rush to intoxicating liquor, and their last state is worse than the first. A dead soul is one "having no hope, and without God in the world."
II. INQUIRE, WHAT IS CONVERSION?
1. It is a new life. You may see advertisements offering for sale an ingredient which improves the breath. Now conversion does not improve the old sinful breath, but it gives a new holy breath within the soul. Just as God by His Providence gives us at birth physical lungs with which to breathe the air about us, so His Holy Spirit creates spiritual lungs in our soul by which we breathe in the atmosphere of the kingdom of God.
2. A second incarnation of God. The first was in Christ, the second in the soul of His disciple. God is not limited to the body of Jesus. He shall also fill every believer with all His fulness. Socrates, speaking of true friendship, describes it as one spirit in two bodies. Now conversion is one Spirit in God and also in you.
3. A moral transformation. It is that change which makes a man who has loved sin to shun it as he would a poisonous serpent.
4. A birth for humanity. It is to realise that you are born to be the brother or the sister of every one, and to prove it by your active goodness. It is that union with God which unites us to our fellow-man.
III. I would URGE YOU TO BE CONVERTED: because —
1. Unless converted you are at war with God. How shameful to be at war with a loving Father!
2. The gospel assures you of pardon.
3. The Lord loves you.
4. God can convert you.
Theological Sketch-Book.I. WHAT CONVERSION IS, AND WHEREIN IT LIES. The conversion to be treated of is not —
1. An external one, or what lies only in an outward reformation of life and manners, such as that of the Ninevites, for this may be where internal conversion is not, as in the Scribes and Pharisees.
2. Nor is it a mere doctrinal one, nor a conversion from false notions before imbibed to a set of doctrines and truths which are according to the Scriptures; so men of old were converted from Judaism and heathenism to Christianity.
3. Nor the restoration of the people of God from backsliding when they are in a very affecting and importunate manner called upon to return to the Lord (Jeremiah 3:12, 14, 22; Hosea 14:1-4); so Peter when he fell through temptation and denied his Lord, and was recovered from it by a look from Christ, it is called his conversion (Luke 22:32). But —
4. The conversion under consideration is a true, real, internal work of God upon the souls of men.(1) In the turn of the heart to God, of the thoughts of the heart.(2) Conversion lies in a man's being turned from darkness to light; the apostle was sent to turn them from darkness to light (chap. Acts 26:18), that is, to be the instrument or means of their conversion by preaching the gospel.(3) From the power of Satan unto God as in the above place (chap. 26:18). Satan has great power over men in an unconverted state.(4) Conversion lies in turning men from idols to serve the living God; not merely from idols of silver and gold, of wood and stone, as formerly, but from the idols of a man's own heart.(5) Conversion lies in turning men from their own righteousness to the righteousness of Christ.(6) Conversion lies in a man's turning to the Lord actively under the influence of Divine grace; and by this phrase it is often expressed in Scripture as in Isaiah 10:21; Acts 11:21; 2 Corinthians 3:16.
II. THE CAUSES OF CONVERSION.
1. Not by the power of man; what is said of the conversion or turning of the Jews from their captivity is true of the conversion of a sinner that it is not by might nor by power, that is, not of man, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts (Zechariah 4:6).
2. Nor is conversion owing to the will of man; the will of man before conversion is in a bad state; it chooses its own ways, and delights in its abominations, it is in high pursuit after the desires of the flesh and of the mind.
3. God only is the author and efficient cause of conversion.
4. The moving or impulsive cause of conversion is the love, grace, mercy, favour, and good will of God, and not the merits of men.
5. The instrumental cause or means of conversion is usually the ministry of the Word.
III. THE SUBJECTS OF CONVERSION. Lost sinners redeemed by Christ are the subjects.
(Theological Sketch-Book.)1. All through the New Testament one great saving change, involving entirely new relations with God on the one hand, and with sin on the other, is represented as indispensably necessary, and one only, and it is to this great change that we give the name of "conversion." The word, particularly in the original, seems to be a suitable one to indicate it, looking at it from man's point of view, because it connotes a turning round and a turning towards, with a view to resting in. The word too, in common use, suggests just such a radical change. We speak of "converters" that change iron into steel; of converting a sailing ship into a steamer, or an old-fashioned gun into a breechloader.
2. This great saving change is represented as the true starting-point of the spiritual life. It is therefore not a life-long work, for if all our days be consumed in making the start, what time is there left to that journey? The locomotive requires to be placed upon the turntable, and to have its position reversed, before it can proceed on its return journey. But if the whole four-and-twenty hours are consumed in getting the engine turned, what is to become of that journey? And where is the station-master that would be content to go on all day asking, "Is that engine being turned?" or would feel content on hearing that the process was going forward?
I. CONVERSION IS CLOSELY CONNECTED WITH, BUT DISTINCT FROM, REPENTANCE. Repentance represents the negative, conversion the positive, element. Repentance consists in the honest repudiation of the old, with the accompanying feelings of regret and humiliation; but conversion consists in the acceptance of the new, with all natural, spiritual exultation in God. Repentance is the discovery of the fatal disease and the mournful confession of it. Conversion is the appropriation of the remedy, the believing touching of the hem of His garment, with the firm persuasion, "If I may but touch I shall be whole." Repentance brings us down to the dust; conversion sets us amongst the princes and makes us inherit a crown of glory.
II. CONVERSION IMPLIES AN ORIGINAL ATTITUDE OF AVERSION. "An evil heart of unbelief departing from the living God." And it is the presence of this attitude, more or less fully developed, that makes conversion necessary. Now this attitude is inherited from our first parents. Hence our position differs from theirs in this, that they had to fall beneath their created nature in order to turn from God, whereas we have to rise above our inherited nature to turn to God. Then, again, as it was by a definite moral act, an act of the will, that man turned away from God, so it is only by a definite moral act that man can be converted to God. And hence it is evident that no ordinance can render the conversion to God superfluous or unnecessary. This is surely a sufficient answer to those who allege that conversion cannot be necessary in the case of those who have been baptized as infants, unless they have lapsed into open sin. On the other hand, however, it must frankly be admitted that there are many of whoso conversion there can be no reasonable doubt, who yet cannot remember in the past any aversion, and hence cannot point to any distinct conversion. They seem to have loved and trusted their Saviour so long as they could remember anything. Again, there are others who, although they can recall a condition of aversion, cannot point to the hour of conversion. This seeming indefiniteness with some, no doubt, arise from temperament, or perhaps to defective teaching. Anxious souls, who wish to come to Christ instead of being directed at once to the Cross, are told that they must wait for certain experiences. But whatever be the true explanation we shall do wisely in thinking less of the accidents and more of the essence of this great change. The question is not when and how did your conversion take place? but, Has it taken place?
III. Must CONVERSIONS ALWAYS BE SUDDEN? You hear not few affirm with sufficient dogmatism that they don't believe in sudden conversions except those on a death-bed. I must say, for my own part, that these are the only kind of sudden conversions that I am sceptical about. But my answer is not that all conversions are in their outward appearances necessarily sudden, but that there is no reason why they should not be so. If this matter of turning back again from sin and self to God can be settled promptly, none would wish to see it protracted; for it is only after this point has been passed that real religious experience begins. If conversion can be immediate, there is surely no sense in desiring that the process should be protracted. "Behold, now is the accepted time," etc. If conversion were one and the same thing as reformation, this might well require time; but if it be a mighty spiritual revolution wrought in man by the Holy Ghost, then it is by no means surprising that it should be completed as rapidly as Naaman's cure. Let us turn to our text.
IV. CONVERSION IS AN IMPERATIVE DUTY. The text is a direction couched in the form of a command. "Be converted." It may occur to you to object, Who can convert himself? If I am to be converted, it is God that must convert me. Now there is a certain sense in which this is quite true. The regenerating power can only come from God; but, on the other hand, man as well as God has his part in producing this great change, and it is to man's part in it that the word conversion almost invariably refers. Only once is the word used in the Passive Voice, "Except ye be converted, and become as little children," etc. In that passage the actual moral change is referred to. And it is well that the word should thus be used once lest we should lose sight altogether of the necessarily close connection that must exist between the turning on our part and the change wrought by God on His part. But in the present passage the word is active, "turn again." Many awakened souls are kept back from Christ because they cannot make themselves feel the great change that they think they ought to experience. They wait and hope and pray that they may be converted, instead of turning right round so as to face the God from whom they have turned away. Now to all such the voice of God through similar passages would seem to say, "Turn ye even unto Me, saith the Lord."
V. CONVERSION IS THE CORRELATIVE OF AVERSION. Now in this aversion three distinct steps may be discerned. The first is taken in the aversion of the inner eye, the looking away from God; the next in the aversion of the will when we say, "We will not have this man to reign over us." We prefer to assert our independence; and then follows the aversion of the desires and affections. Now there are three corresponding steps in conversion. We begin to turn Godwards when we allow ourselves to recognise our inward needs, and turn from the empty cisterns that can hold no water, and confess, "My soul is athirst for God, yea, even for the living God." That may be called the conversion of the desires. We take our second step in the submission of our wills and our decision to yield ourselves to God, and here usually the struggle is the most severe, and when this point is gained the hardest part of the battle is won. But there is a third step, the conversion of our inner vision. For even when our desires are fixed on God and our wills yielded to God, seeking souls are still not unfrequently kept in darkness just because they will turn their eyes to anything else rather than God. They will look at themselves, at their feelings, at their ill deserts, at their own faith, or rather at their want of it, at other people, and their experiences rather than at God. Now when St. Peter calls upon us to turn right round and face towards God, it is in order that we may so fix our gaze upon God as to discover what there is in God for us, and rest at peace in the joy of that discovery. But it would be of little use to call upon us to turn unless such an object were presented to us as should attract and retain our gaze when once we direct our vision towards it. The thought of God and of His holiness repels and even appals the awakened soul. But here it is that we learn the value of the gospel. It was not enough that Christ should bid us return to our Father; it was necessary that He should constitute Himself the way.
VI. Thus we see the connection between the atoning work of christ and conversion. The result of that work is, that the sinner finds in God the very thing he has despaired to find in himself. Gazing on the Cross, he makes the astonishing discovery, "Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid." Indeed, we may say that in the wondrous vision we find that which converts all our thoughts of God. He who gave His Son for me must needs be worthy of my confidence and love. "Look unto Me," I hear Him say, "and be ye saved," and unto Him I look and find that there is indeed "life for a look at the Crucified One." And this look is conversion; for everything about that Cross seems of a kind to produce a change of thought and feeling that might be called a conversion. I love my sins, but I look at that Cross, and I see in the agony and death of the Sin-bearer what sin really is, and what it must bring me to if I cling to it; and thus my view of sin is changed. I looked upon many of my sins as mere trifles; now I see how exceeding sinful sin must be in the sight of Him who is its Judge, and thus my estimate of the gravity of sin is changed. I once thought of God as though He were hard, austere, and unsympathetic; now I see how tender, as well as infinite, is His love. Thus my judgment of God is changed. I used to love to think of myself as my Own master, but now I see what man is without God, and so my views of myself and of my relations to God are changed. Thus in turning myself to God I turn my back upon my old self. The old is passed away, left crucified on yonder Cross, and all things are become new. But more than even this. Not only am I changed in all my views and feelings, but I am converted to God; that is to say, I am restored to my proper relations with God. Between Him and me there is now nothing but love, and so I am now in a position to enjoy His fellowship and to be strong in His power.
(W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)I. A CHANGE. A Scotch lassie, who heard Mr. Whitefield preach, was so impressed that she underwent a change of heart. When she presented herself before the Church to be admitted as a member, the deacon said to her, "My child, is your heart changed?" She replied, "Sir, I do not know whether it is my heart that is changed or the world, but I feel that something is changed; things are different now." When a man is "converted" he undergoes a change. Instead of being a servant of Satan, or living merely to please himself, he becomes a servant of God, and lives henceforth to try to please God.
II. A SUBSTANTIAL CHANGE; not merely in name, but in reality. A certain clergyman was preaching to black people. One of the men seemed much impressed, and said he would be a Christian. So the clergyman baptized him, made the mark of the cross on his forehead, and called him by a new name — "Adam." A week or two afterwards the clergyman had reason to believe that this man was not doing as he ought, and amongst other things that he was not fasting on Fridays. Accordingly, one Friday, he went to the man's cabin, and, as he expected, smelt the savoury scent of roasting beef. The clergyman said, "Adam, you are breaking the law of the Church; you ought to be fasting; that is beef, not fish." The man replied, "Well, Master preacher, you cross me and call me a new name, and say I am Christian. So, massa, I take de beef and cross him, and put him in de water, and call him fish." That is about as great a change or conversion as one man can give another. No rite can convert a living soul. Conversion is a personal act between the soul and God.
III. A CHANGE WITHIN WHICH TRANSFORMS THE OUTWARD LIFE.
IV. AN ENDURING CHANGE. A man can get a new "rig-out" for about half-a-crown in Petticoat Lane. You can get a coat and vest for a shilling, a pair Of "unmentionables" for sixpence, a shirt for fourpence halfpenny, a collar and tie — such as they are, for a penny, a hat — what you call a "pot," for threepence, a pair of stockings also for threepence, and you may get a cane and a ring for a penny! And if you are good at bargaining, you may have a gold-like breast pin with a thing like a diamond thrown into the lot for good luck. While you are in the dark shop the whole thing looks moderately "respectable." The articles are not new certainly; nor second-hand; they are about tenth-hand. But when you walk out with your purchases on your back — well, you had better have a good-sized sheet of brown paper to wrap yourself in, for I suspect a decent gust of wind might blow them away altogether, or a shower of rain might dissolve them. The fact is the things are not substantial; they won't stand wear and tear. Man-made conversions are like those cast-off clothes — they are unsubstantial — they will not wear well.
That your sins may be blotted outColossians 2:14) is that of an indictment which catalogues the sins of the penitent, and which the pardoning love of the Father cancels. The word and the thought are found in Psalm 51:10; Isaiah 43:25.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
When the times of refreshing shall come
I. ARE NEEDED. Spiritual life is dependent on direct Divine agency. But as there may be life without health or vigour, so in the believer and the Church there may be real life but great languor, and when such is the case times of refreshing are needed. This Divine influence is often compared to rain, etc. (Isaiah 35:1; Isaiah 44:3; Ezekiel 34:26; Isaiah 61:11), and the result of its exertion is fertility and growth.
1. Personal piety will be deep and personal activity energetic. These are here connected because they should never be separated. Piety without activity will degenerate into spiritual selfishness; activity without piety will be formal and mechanical. As spiritual life generally begins in the closet, it is there that it will be invigorated and revived. As the healthy man requires more sustenance and has a larger appetite than the invalid, so there will be a craving for spiritual food. As in health we crave for the fresh air of heaven, so we shall often ascend the mountain-top of communion with God. And this revived piety, taking cognisance of eternal realities, will prompt to corresponding activity in the cause of Christ. As such times are the result of spiritual influence, by that influence the love of Christ will constrain to holy and individual devotedness.
2. Domestic piety will be more manifest. If the flame of closet devotion be dim, that of the family altar cannot be bright; but when times of refreshing come the members of the household will catch the spirit of devotion, and those for whom parents have long prayed will give evidence of spiritual life. Here, perhaps, more than anywhere are such times to be desired. Worldly amusements, literature, principles, conformity, have in too many instances sapped the foundations of family religion.
3. Social piety will be revived. What dulness and formality there often is in our Church organisations and gatherings, and what a falling off in consequence. But get a season of refreshing, and the pastor will speak direct from the mount of communion a message from God, and Church officers and members, instead of availing themselves of any trifling excuse, will eagerly throng to the services and zealously work all the departments. Equally great will be the change in the habitual converse of Christians. Out of the fulness of the heart the mouth will testify of spiritual things.
4. Sinners will be converted and added to the Church. This has always been a characteristic of such seasons. Witness Pentecost, e.g.
II. MAY BE EXPECTED. We are not left in doubt as to the ultimate triumph of the truth. Christ yet will draw all men unto Him. But Christ works by agents, and since the success of the gospel is in proportion to the vigour of the agents, we are led both by the nature of things and the Divine promises to expect a renewal of spiritual invigoration from time to time. And as the fruitful showers of one year will not suffice for the next, but each has its own supply, so we are led to expect for each generation, and for each believer in his successive phases of experience and work, fresh supplies of reviving grace. And the recurrence of such seasons may be expected from the analogy of the past. They have always been sent when the Church's need has been great. It was so after the Exile (Haggai 1:14), in the days of the Baptist, at Pentecost, in Italy under Savonarola, in Germany and Switzerland, at the time of the Reformation, in America under Jonathan Edwards, etc. (Isaiah 51:9).
III. MUST BE SOUGHT. While we refer their recurrence to the sovereignty of God, yet He has indicated the course which we have to pursue. "I will yet for this be inquired of by the House of Israel to do it for them." But if we regard iniquity in our hearts the Lord will not hear us, "Repent ye, therefore, that the times of refreshing may come." This exhortation is needed by dead Christians as well as dead sinners.
IV. WILL CHANGE THE WHOLE ASPECT OF THE CHURCH. There will be —
1. Clearer knowledge of Divine truth.
2. More manifest spirituality.
3. Greater joy.
(R. C. Pritchett.)I. WHAT THEY ARE. The phrase might be read —
1. "Times of cooling," in allusion to the custom of labourers, especially in Eastern countries, of retiring to the shade during the heat of the day to recruit their exhausted strength. And what are these hallowed hours, whether on the week days or on the Sabbath, but times of refreshing, affording an agreeable pause amid the busy scenes of life, enabling us to retire from the burden and heat of the day to "the shadow of a great rock in a weary land?" Here grows the "tree of life," of which the grateful Church exclaims, "I sat down under His shadow with delight, and His fruit was sweet unto my taste." Here gently rolls "the river of the waters of life," "whose streams make glad the city of God." Here, like Nathanael under the fig-tree, we can review all ,'the way in which the Lord our God hath led us," and that is refreshing. Here we can contemplate the unfolded mysteries of redeeming love, and that is refreshing. We can inspect the work of grace in the heart, and that is refreshing. We can look into the promises and examine the covenant which is "ordered in all things and sure," and that is refreshing. We can think of heaven, and that is "refreshing,"
2. Times of refection. The renewed soul has an appetite as well as the body, and the blessings of salvation are adapted to our necessities. "In this mountain shall the Lord of Hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things," etc. To these rich provisions we have constant access. Here is food for all, and the whole in pleasing variety. Here is "the sincere milk of the Word" for "babes in Christ," etc.
3. Times of humidity, softening, and moisture, when the genial showers or refreshing dews saturate and revive the thirsty bosom of vegetation. Apt emblem of the refreshing influences of the Holy Ghost, which "come down like rain upon the new-mown grass, and as the showers which water the earth." And how welcome these heavenly showers! How they refresh the soul of the minister, who, having sown the good seed of the Word, is anxious to see "the blade, the ear, and the full corn in the ear!" How they revive the spirit of the people whose graces open and expand like "trees planted by the rivers of water!" What a happy effect they have upon our religious institutions! What a sweet perfume, as a "savour of life unto life," do they produce, as you find in a garden after a refreshing shower! And what a beautiful bow upon "the cloud of our mercies as in the day of rain," do they impress, when they descend in concert with the Sun of Righteousness, like "the bow of promise mid the storm."
II. THE SOURCE WHENCE THEY SPRING — "The presence of the Lord." This renders them doubly valuable. The gift is enhanced by the love which we bear to the Giver, especially when we recollect His motive, the way in which our supplies have been procured, the medium through which they descend, the impossibility of procuring others of equal worth, our own unworthiness and "the fulness of joy and the pleasure for evermore" of which they are the pledge and the earnest. They come "from the presence of the Lord," as the pool of Bethesda was rendered medicinal by the presence of the angel; as the bitter waters of Marah became sweet by the influence of the tree which was cast into them; or as the sorrowing disciples were made glad by the presence of the Redeemer. That the blessed God is present with His people whenever and wherever they meet together in His name, requires no proof. He has promised, "in all places where I record My name will I come unto you and bless you."
III. THEIR IMPORTANCE. What would the earth be without the genial showers which water it but a desert, whatever our skill or labour? Thus it would be in our Churches without Divine influences. Ministers might "break up the fallow ground, and scatter the precious seed," but it would not germinate. "We should labour in vain, and spend our strength for nought." But when the Spirit is poured out from on high, "The wilderness shall bud and blossom as the rose." The Holy Ghost is the fruitful source of vital religion. Without His fructifying graces, instructions, invitations, warnings, judgments, mercies, miracles — are all unproductive. But when He descends, "like showers of heavenly rain," the simplest means produce the noblest effects. And as the Holy Spirit produces vital religion where it has never existed before, so He revives it where it has withered, strengthens it where it is weak, and beautifies, expands, and causes it to unfold where it has been contracted and confined.
IV. HOW THEY ARE TO BE OBTAINED.
1. By a conviction of their value. This is requisite to give a proper impulse to our solicitude.
2. By fervent and persevering prayer. We must ask in order that we may receive. For the blessings which we require the Lord will be sought unto. And "if ye, being evil," etc.
3. Prayer must be followed by an avoidance of those inconsistencies and declensions which "grieve the Holy Spirit of God."
(W. B. Leach.)Psalm 85:6): — I have selected these words —
I. AS THE DEEP UTTERANCES OF OUR LONGINGS FOR A REVIVAL IN OUR OWN LAND.
1. Do we not feel the need of it in ourselves individually? Religion begins with a man's self and works outward. "When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren." Instead of saying, "What lack I yet?" or "thanking God you are not like other men," rather cry, "My soul cleaveth unto the dust. O quicken Thou me, according to Thy Word." Are some secretly flattering themselves that they have not lived in open ungodliness? "Ah, but where is the blessedness ye once spake of?" What report from thy closet? thy scene of daily labour? the house of God, the Sunday school? the chamber of the sick and dying? "Wilt Thou not revive me again?"
2. Is there no need for a revival in our families? Have you set your house in order? Do you walk within your house with a perfect heart? Is there here no too indulgent Eli? Is there no parent troubled with an Absalom? Like Jacob, are you suffering from concealed idols? Difficulties are felt in these modern times by many a parent; but let the "land mourn, every family apart," and "the voice of rejoicing and salvation shall be in the tabernacles of the righteous." Let the family Bible, the family altar, and the family pew, secure the family blessing.
3. Is there no need for a revival in our Churches? But let us beware of that censoriousness which can see nothing but faults, and even feel a pleasure in exposing them. The ears of the world are open to these aspersions, and out of their mouths they condemn us. Mark you the example of Christ in the addresses to the Churches in Asia: where possible, praise is blended with censure, and praise has the precedence.
4. Our eyes naturally turn to our nation at large, and we inquire if no revival be needed. What is our national character, habits, and reputation abroad? Look at your senate, universities, markets, factories, press, theatres, prisons, the sins and miseries of your streets, by night as well as by day, and will you not "sigh and cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof"? The deep conviction of national sins precedes a revival.
II. THE SOURCE OF A RELIGIOUS REVIVAL. Whence is it? "From heaven, or of men?" What more perplexes the worldly philosopher than to see crowds of men, women, and children rushing to the prayer-meeting. On the Day of Pentecost "they were all amazed and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this? Others mocking, said, These men are full of new wine." But all this leaves the phenomenon of a genuine religious revival unexplained. That a real revival, as tested by the fruits of repentance and a holy life, is the work of the Spirit, we boldly aver. We argue this from the change effected. I appeal to the history of the Church. Say, whether you refer to the conversion of the three thousand, or of individuals, as the malefactor, Zaccheus, Saul of Tarsus, or the jailor, whether in every case it was not as with Lydia — "The Lord opened the heart." If any fact were necessary to confirm this view, it would be not only the notorious sinners that have been converted, but the humble and despised agents and agency employed. But let us appeal to the Scripture itself. What say apostles of their own success? "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves." "So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth, but God that giveth the increase." "Not by might, nor by power; but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts." And the same Voice is heard saying, "And I will make them and the places round about My hill a blessing," etc.
III. THE JOYOUSNESS OF ITS CHARACTER.
1. This time is one of "refreshing" from its effects on our own minds. Some of you may be awakened to discover the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and to be alarmed for its consequences. See the penitent at the footstool of mercy beseeching the royal forgiveness; mark the proclamation of the Sovereign's favour, and watch the change on the suppliant's countenance! "I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for Mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins." How different now the heart of the suppliant to the trembling with which he approached to present the prayer "Hide Thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities!" Was it not so with the jailor when he "rejoiced with all his house"? Was it not so with the men "pricked in their heart"? "They gladly received his word."
2. Is it not a time of refreshing when we witness large accessions to the Christian Church? Roused to a feeling of compassion for the perishing world, the Church unites her joy on earth with the "joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth." But if the rescue of one sinner be such joy, what rejoicing when at these seasons Satan's empire is shaken to its centre, and he himself trembles for his kingdom?
3. Then the Churches themselves are so purified and separated from the world, that they not only believe in, but experience the communion of saints. The charity of every one of them towards each other aboundeth. Instead of being idlers, they are in "labours more abundant"; instead of being troublers they are peace-workers of Zion.
4. But we have not reached the height of the joy until we have associated religious revivals with the manifested glory of God.
(J. S. Pearsall.)
(T. W. Jenkyn, D. D.)
(H. W. Beecher.)
(H. W. Beecher.)
(T. W. Jenkyn, D. D.)
(T. L. Cuyler.)
(H. W. Beecher.)
I. The period of refreshing. The word thus rendered is properly a revival by fresh air; the consequence of letting in a breeze of cool and invigorating air upon one who has been long fainting under a sultry and oppressive atmosphere. Do not we want such times? Are we not all conscious of the oppressive weight of this world's atmosphere? Do we not all feel ourselves oftentimes fainting with the closeness and sultriness of the air we are forced to breathe? The oppression of persecution is rather "a stormy wind and tempest" which has in it something of a wholesome severity, rousing our whole being into a more resolute and vigorous vitality. But the text speaks of that stifling heat which at once indisposes and incapacitates for exertion; of that sense of breathing an exhausted air, or living in a crowded cabin, which paralyses every energy, and at last forbids repose itself. How seldom does the refreshing breath of God's Holy Spirit revive Christians into the buoyancy of conscious life and health! How seldom does the sweet influence of the Divine presence lift them into that upper air where no earth-born cloud darkens their sky, and no noxious vapour damps or poisons their atmosphere! They can tell the times when this has been their bright experience. But far more often they sigh for light and air, hunger for food, thirst for water. In prosperity the air of earth is laden with a luscious perfume, lulling us into a stupor which is no repose. In adversity we seem to be confined within the walls of a sick-room,. from which worldly pleasure is banished, without the admission of a heavenly visitant.
II. THE TIME OF RESTITUTION. What a tangled, disordered, inverted thing is the world as we see it! What a deterioration from any condition in which God could ever have pronounced it to be very good. "The whole creation groaneth and travaileth," etc. Only see, for example, bow the relations of life are disorganised! See what misfortunes, sorrows, spring out of the affections! See the hearts of fathers turned from their children, and the hearts of children from their fathers. See the weaker and the more trusting half of mankind made the sport and the victim of the stronger and the less sensitive. See the distinction of ranks now cruelly aggravated, and now violently obliterated. And under the government of a righteous and holy God can it be conceived that this state of things should be perpetual? Is not the very extent of the ruin a prophecy of the restoration? Can it be that God should thus have made all things in vain, and suffered His own beautiful handiwork to be thus marred and desolated finally? It has been the language of all prophecy that there shall be a time of restitution. "We," the same apostle writes, "according to His promise, look for new heavens, and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness." And shall it not be a comfort to the true Christian to look forward to the arrival of that time when the ways of God shall be finally justified to the universe? How does it become us to see that we ourselves be not adding to the confusion. Although the restoration of all things is not yet, yet let us remember that there is a restitution, a reparation, a reconstruction, which belongs to all time; a repentance and a conversion which, if not realised here, can be realised nowhere; a renewal of soul, and an amendment of life under the influence of the Holy Spirit, which is the condition of our ever being admitted into the world in which dwelleth only righteousness. If we would ever enter heaven, we must begin it here. If we would ever see the restoration of all things, we.must struggle day by day here for our own.
Times of refreshing and restitution2 Peter 3:12) and by St. Paul (Romans 11:25-27), that the conversion of sinners, especially the conversion of Israel, will have a power to accelerate the fulfilment of God's purposes, and, therefore, the coming of His kingdom in its completeness. The word for "refreshing" is not found elsewhere in the New Testament, but the cognate verb meets us in 2 Timothy 1:16. In the Greek version of Exodus 8:15, it stands where we have "respite." The "times of refreshing" are distinguished from the "restitution of all things" of verse 21, and would seem to be, as it were, the gracious preludes of that great consummation. The souls of the weary would be quickened as by the fresh breeze of morning; the fire of persecution assuaged as by "a moist whistling wind" ("Song of the Three Children," verse 24). Israel, as a nation, did not repent, and therefore hatred and strife went on to the bitter end without refreshment. For every church, or nation, or family, those "times of refreshing" come as the sequel of a true conversion, and prepare the way for a more complete restoration.
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