The Need and Nature of Conversion

by Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Charles Haddon Spurgeon"Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon" (Isa. 55:7).

Some years ago I preached from the last four words of this verse, laying special stress upon the abundant pardon which is given to repenting sinners through the rich mercy of our God. On this occasion, I am going to put the emphasis upon the first part of the verse, speaking more upon the necessity of the sinner forsaking his evil way, and of the unrighteous man abandoning his evil thoughts. There is urgent necessity for us continually to insist upon this course of action. This 55th chapter of Isaiah is full of gospel teaching, and it expresses, under the most striking and cheering metaphors, both the fullness and the freeness of the gospel. But the prophet also insists most clearly that the wicked man must forsake his way, and the unrighteous man must turn from his thoughts, and return to the Lord, that he may obtain the mercy and pardon that God is waiting and willing to bestow.

This is not a merely legal demand; it is a gospel demand, found in the center of a gospel chapter in the writings of the most evangelical of all the prophets. The chapter begins with a number of gracious and wide invitations, and so naturally leads on to the promise of the coming Savior. Only God himself could find a Savior for our ruined race, and none but God's own Son could be that Savior. Then there follows, in due order, the promise of a people to be saved. The Savior shall not come to the Earth in vain. He shall call a people unto Himself, and "nations" shall run unto Him. Then, following the promise of a Savior, and the declaration of the certainty that many shall be saved by Him, there comes this loving invitation: "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near."

This brings us to our text. Here we are told, first, that the wicked must forsake his way. There is no Savior for the man who will not forsake his sin. Such a man cannot embrace the Savior who hates sin with a perfect hatred. This is the theme upon which I am going to speak now, and I want to do it in the spirit of the Master, of whom Malachi wrote, "For who may abide the day of his coming? And who shall stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap: and he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness."

I. The Necessity of Conversion

"Right about face!" is the marching order for every sinner. There is no hope of forgiveness for him if he will continue with his face as it now is. He must turn from his sin if he would be saved.

How would it be consistent with the holiness of God for Him to put aside our past sin, and then to allow us to go on sinning as we did before? Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, but He never came here to spare their sins. God would never have sent His Son to this earth to be the messenger of sin, yet Christ would be nothing better than the messenger of sin if He had come, and said to men, "You may continue in your sin, yet I will forgive you. You may live as you like, yet you shall find mercy with the Lord at the last."

Such a course as this would be inconsistent with the character of the Judge of all the Earth, who must do right. There is no such teaching as that in the whole of the Scriptures; and he who dares to believe it, believes a lie. Nowhere, in the whole compass of revelation, is there a promise of forgiveness to the man who continues in his iniquity.

Possibly, someone would remind me that the greatest promises are given to those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. That is quite true; but the faith which believes in Jesus is a living and active faith, which works in the soul a hatred of sin; and if a man says, "I believe in Christ," and yet continues to delight in sin, he is a liar, and the truth is not in him, for "faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone." It is no use wanting or trying to be saved without a change of heart and life. Without holiness no man shall see the Lord. "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." Again I repeat: in the whole compass of the Word of God, there is no promise of pardon to the man who continues in his iniquities.

Neither, dear friends, is there a single case that would lead any man to hope that he could keep his sins and yet be saved. If you remind me of the woman in the city who was a sinner, I also remind you that her life had been completely changed, else our Savior would not have permitted her to wash His feet with her tears, and wipe them with the hairs of her head. Saul of Tarsus was guilty of the great sin of persecuting the saints; but see what a changed man was Paul the apostle of the Gentiles. Zaccheus, the rich tax-gatherer, offered to make full restitution and recompense to any whom he might have wronged. So is it evermore where the grace of God works effectually. When the Lord Jesus Christ saves a sinner from the punishment of sin, He also saves him from the love of sin. He makes him holy as well as makes him happy and safe.

The same lesson is taught in our Lord's parables. For instance, there was no rejoicing over the lost sheep while it was still wandering away from the fold; the joy began when that lost sheep was found and was brought home on the shepherd's shoulder. A more striking example is that of the prodigal son. There was no joy over him while he was in the far country, and no kiss for him from his father while he was feeding the swine. He must come back, he must say, "Father, I have sinned." We must ever say, as plainly as we possibly can: If you will keep your sins, you will go to hell; but if you would go to heaven, you must part company with your sins. "No man can serve two masters." He who would be married to Christ must first be divorced from sin.

The angel said to Joseph, before our Savior's birth, "Thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins;" but if they can be saved in their sins, where is the meaning of His name? Paul wrote to Titus that Christ "gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works;" but how can that purpose be accomplished if men can be pardoned, and yet continue to live in sin?

Beside that, the very character of heaven prevents such a thing being done. We know that the unholy cannot enter there, nothing that defiles can pass the watchers at the pearly portals. Therefore, be sure of this: you can never enter heaven, and you can never have forgiveness, if you continue to cling to your sins. You must forsake them, or mercy cannot be yours.

II. The Nature of This Conversion

First, it deals with the life: "Let the wicked forsake his way." Observe that it is "his way" that he is to forsake; that is, his natural way, the way in which he says he was brought up, the way that his natural affections, and propensities, and passions lead him. He must forsake this way, even though it is the way in which he has walked these thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, seventy, or even eighty years.

If you are to be saved, if you would have mercy of God, you must give up your old sins, your sweet sins, your pet sins; the sins of the flesh, with all their pleasure; and the sins of the mind, with all their pride

"Let the wicked forsake his way." It does not say, "Let him confess that his way is bad." There are some who will say, ‘Oh, yes, I know that my way is very wrong;" and there they stop. Such an admission as that will not save you, my friend. This kind of confession will only increase your guilt. You must forsake your wicked way if you are to be forgiven.

"Oh, sir," you say, "I am very sorry for all the sin that I have committed!" I am glad that you are, and I hope that you will be still more so; but that sorrow alone will never save you. Furthermore, resolving to forsake your sin will not by itself save you, for there are plenty of good resolutions that are good for nothing. You have actually to forsake your wicked way before you have complied with the requirements of our text.

We must not be like the man who owes a lot of money, and has not a penny to pay, yet who keeps on saying to his creditors, "I hope I shall be able to pay you tomorrow." Then, when that day comes, he says he is very sorry, but he missed the friend he expected to see, so he must postpone the payment for a few days; yet, when the few days have passed, there is still nothing forthcoming. So it is with many who resolve to forsake sin; they are like those who promise, but never pay. This will not do; you must forsake your sin if it is to be forgiven.

It is no use mincing matters with you: If you mean to go to hell, go on with your wickedness; but if you would be forgiven for the past, you must cut all connection with these evil things. I most solemnly assure you, in the name of God, that there can be no compromise about this and every other sin-a fleshly way, a way of lust, a way of self-indulgence, any way of sin, it must be forsaken. You must abandon it, or else you must abandon all hope of ever getting to heaven.

This repentance also deals with the man's thoughts: "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts." In thought is often the very essence of sin. A deed might in itself be colorless; but the motive for doing it-the thought at the back of it-puts the venom, and virus, and guilt into the deed.

What sort of thoughts must the unrighteous man give up? He must give up his opinion about God, for instance. If he has thought of Him at all, he has dared even to judge his Creator, and to find fault with what God does. Ah, sir! You must give up all such thoughts of God, and you must come to reverence Him, and to regard Him as so great that you are less than nothing in comparison with Him.

You will also have to give up your opinion concerning God's Law. You thought it was too severe, and that you could improve it a great deal. You will have to confess, with the Apostle Paul, that the Law is spiritual, and that you are "carnal, sold under sin." You will have to forsake your old thoughts concerning sin. You said, "Oh, it is a mere trifle! God won't be angry with us for such a little thing as that." You will have to feel that sin is exceedingly sinful, a great and deadly evil, or you will never be likely to seek and to find peace with God.

You will also have to change your mind about the Lord Jesus Christ. He is nothing to you now; but He will have to be everything to you if you are to be saved by Him. You will have to change your mind about yourself. You fancy that you are a fine fellow now, but you will have to regard yourself as less than nothing before you come to your right position before God. If ever you are to find mercy at His hands, you will have to forsake your present thoughts on all these matters.

Remember that solemn affirmation of the Lord Jesus Christ concerning the seventh commandment, "I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." Learn from it that the very thought of evil is sin; and to suck it down as a sweet morsel to think upon, even though we never dared to perpetrate the act, is still a gross evil; and if we would be forgiven, we must forsake all these vile, flesh-delighting thoughts. The garment spotted by the flesh must be flung away from us, and the very thought of evil must be banished from our minds as far as it is possible for us to do so.

The text further says, "and let him return unto the Lord." He who would find mercy must return to God to obtain it. First you must begin to think of God; and then you must yield to Him, give up your will to His will; and, doing that, you must pray to Him, cry to Him for mercy; and then you must trust Him. Especially, you must accept His way of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ; and when you do that, then you will be sure to love Him. When you get as far as that, you will be a new creature altogether. Then, God will delight in you; then, it will be misery to you to be out of His presence, and it will be the highest joy of your life to have constant communion with Him.

III. The Gospel of This Conversion

Possibly, somebody says, "You have been preaching to us the Law, sir." No, I have not. The Law says nothing about repentance. The Law curses you from the very first moment when you have broken it. That gracious message, "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out," is not the utterance of Law, but of the gospel.

The gospel of it lies, first, in the fact that God has promised that He will abundantly pardon those who turn from their evil ways: "Let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." To the man who confesses his guilt, the Law says, "You are guilty and you must suffer the penalty attached to your crime." If a person pleads "guilty" in a court of law, the judge does not say to him, "If you will promise amendment, you may go free." No, he pronounces sentence upon him, and God, the righteous Judge, might justly have done the same to us; but, instead He says, "Forsake your wicked way, and your evil thoughts, and turn to Me, and I will abundantly pardon you. Only repent of your iniquity, and abandon it, and it shall all be blotted out, and your sins and your transgressions I will not remember against you any more for ever." Oh, precious gospel message! Who would not turn from his sin when such a gracious promise awaits him in the turning?

Yet there is a great deal more; for not only does God bid men turn to Him, but He enables them to do so; so the gospel of this passage is, that God the Holy Ghost is freely given to sinners to turn them, first in their hearts, and then in their lives. What you cannot do of yourself, the Holy Spirit will enable you to do, or will do for you. There is no form of sin which you cannot conquer by the power of the Spirit of God, and that Spirit is freely given to all who sincerely seek His aid. On the day of Pentecost, He descended from heaven, and He has never gone back again.

Peter said to those who were awakened on the day of Pentecost, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call."

I wish that many of you would pray the prayer, "Turn us, O God, and we shall be turned." You must be turned, by sovereign grace, if you would really turn unto the Lord; and you cannot do this of yourself; but the Holy Spirit has been given on purpose to enable you to do it.

There is a further gospel message in the fact that Jesus Christ Himself came into the world on purpose that this divine Spirit might be given in connection with the exercise of faith in Him. One of the simplest declarations of the gospel is, "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life"; and one of the last sayings of our Lord Jesus Christ before He went back to heaven was, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." To believe is to trust; and whosoever trusts Christ Jesus, depends upon the merit of His death, relies upon the excellence of His atoning sacrifice, and proves the reality of his faith by confessing it in the scriptural way. Such a man shall assuredly be saved; and, in order to his being saved, he shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost by whose almighty power he shall be enabled to conquer the sin that still dwells within him.

Once more-and this is the part of the gospel that is the best of all-God gave His Son, Jesus Christ, to offer a full and complete atonement for sin. I never weary of preaching that glorious truth to you, but I long that, when I have done so, you may close in with Christ, and that Christ may close in with you, that you may be eternally saved.

According to the righteous Law of God, sin must be punished. Therefore it was that Jesus came, and bore the dread penalty that was due to sin. The lash of the Law must fall on someone, so He bared His shoulders to its terrible blows. The sword of divine justice was unsheathed, and it must smite someone; so Jesus gave His heart to that sword's point, and quenched the flaming blade in the crimson fountain of His own blood.

Now that this has been done, God can be just, and yet the Justifier of everyone who believes in Jesus; and everyone who truly trusts to that atoning sacrifice finds himself so changed that he hates the sin he formerly loved; he rushes out of the wicked way in which he once delighted, he abhors the thoughts that once charmed him, and he turns to the Savior whom once he despised.

An abridgement of a message delivered Oct. 13, 1878, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle.

The sermon from the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit is provided to ICLnet and
the Internet community by the Bath Road Baptist Church, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1891) was the son and grandson of preachers. He was converted at age 15 when he was admonished by a Primitive Methodist layman to "Look to Jesus!" He began preaching at a Baptist chapel in Cambridge the next year, and at age 20 he was called to the New Park Street Church in London. In 1861 the Metropolitan Tabernacle, which seated 6,000 persons, was built to accommodate the congregation. Spurgeon was widely acknowledged as "the prince of preachers," though he himself wished only to be a "John Ploughman," keeping his hand to the plow and plowing a straight furrow. His books of sermons and devotions are still very much in demand.

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