by Richard Nichols
Originally published in
For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. Matthew 13:15
The doctrine of conversion to Christ is a vastly important doctrine to every accountable soul on earth. Its interests extend above the heavens and lay hold on things invisible and eternal. How carefully and respectfully we should approach this glorious theme.
In our text Jesus said,"They might be converted and I should heal them." Mark 4:12 gives it, "That...they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them." The terms healed and forgiven mean the same thing. Therefore, to be spiritually healed is to be forgiven by the Lord.
All who are living in their sins, unforgiven, and irreconciled to God, are pictured in the Scriptures as laboring under a spiritual sickness. It has attacked their moral being. The gospel pictures Jesus as standing with arms outstretched, holding heaven's balm of healing. To sin-sick men He cries in sympathetic tones, "WILT THOU BE MADE WHOLE?"
Conversion and pardon are not the same. Denominational preachers are sometimes confused on these terms. Hence, conversion, a change of heart, emission of sins, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, are often spoken of as so many expressions of the same thing. They are not. Conversion is one thing, remission is another, and the gift of the Holy Spirit is yet something else. These are different items in the great process of salvation. Thus, the Savior said, "that they might be converted and I should heal or pardon them." In this, he represents conversion and pardon as two distinct components in the wonderful system of human salvation.
Conversion goes before pardon. Christ did not say, they might be healed, and I then should convert them, but that they might be converted, and I should heal them, placing conversion before being healed, or pardoned.
According to our text, conversion not only comes before pardon, but pardon depends upon conversion; no conversion, no pardon. The text reads, "that they might be converted, and I should heal them," thus, plainly making pardon depend upon conversion.
Since these things are true, it is most important that we understand what it is to be converted. If I do not understand what conversion is, I do not know whether or not I am converted. And if I do not know if I am converted, I do not know whether or not I am pardoned. We therefore want to examine the Scriptures to determine just what is meant by conversion.
The simple term convert means to change. Webster defines the word, "To change, or turn into another substance or form.... 2. To change from one state to another. 3> To change or turn from one religion, or from one party or sect, to another. 4. To turn from a bad life to a good one; to change the heart and moral character from enmity to God, and from vicious habits, to love God, and to a holy life." All this is embraced in the simple word change, though it may be applied to different objects.
Your copy of the Scriptures you call your Bible was once simply sheets of paper, but the paper has been converted into a book. The paper was once a bundle of rags, but these old and apparently worthless rags were converted into paper, and then the paper, by a second conversion, was turned into a book. Now, when this word conversion is used in a religious sense, it does not lose its primary meaning; it still means change.
There is contemplated in gospel conversion a "change of heart." The expression may not be found in the Scriptures, but the idea of a change of heart is conveyed by revelation. We are aware that some accuse us of denying the doctrine of a change of heart but that is a false accusation. The denominational doctrine of heartfelt religion may be successfully denied, but we do not hold to a kind of "head religion" as we are sometimes accused of. Hence, the remark has been reproachfully made, that if our heads were cut off, our religion would be gone.
No man who believes in the New Testament can deny that Christianity has much to do with the heart. The Scriptures say a great deal about the hearts of men. They say, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). Again: "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil" (Ecclesiastes 8:11). Jesus said, "A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh" (Luke 6:45). And the apostle Paul addressing those who had been judging others, while they themselves remained in sin, said: "But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God" (Romans 2:5). And Christ said, "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8).
Thus, men have wicked hearts, deceitful hearts, hearts set on doing evil, hard and impenitent hearts, good hearts and pure hearts, all of which are spoken of in the Scriptures. Indeed, the human heart is considered as a great workshop, in which all man's actions are invented before they are carried out. For example, from what is in the heart, the mouth speaks, says Jesus,
We are to understand that the man whose heart is hard and impenitent will not obey God. Under the dictates of a hard and impenitent heart, he will continue a course of rebellion against God, adding iniquity to crime, and will thus treasure up to himself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the just judgments of God. Then, in order for this man's salvation, his heart must be converted, must be changed. From a hard, unfeeling, unrelenting heart, it must be changed to a feeling, contrite, penitent heart.
But, after saying all of this, do we understand? When the preacher tells the sinner that he must have a change of heart, does the sinner know what he means? Really, does the preacher know? Do we know what the Scriptures mean when they talk about the hearts of men?
Look with us to 2 Samuel 15. There we are told that "Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel." What are we to understand from this? We are certain that no one understands this passage to refer to the organ of muscle in the chest which pumps the blood throughout the body. Surely, all have a more advanced grasp of the Bible "heart" than this.
By reading the entire context of the above scripture, it will be readily seen that Absalom, on the occasion referred to, demonstrated great concern for the welfare of the men of Israel. He "stood by the side of the way of the gate; and it was so, that when any man had a controversy came to the king for judgment, then Absalom called unto him, and said, Of what city art thou? And he said, Thy servant is of one of the tribes of Israel. And Absalom said unto him, See, thy matters are good and right; but there is no man deputed of the king to hear thee. Absalom said moreover, Oh that I were made judge in the land, that every man which hath any suit or cause might come unto me, and I would do him justice! And it was so, that when any man came nigh to him to do him obeisance, he put forth his hand, and took him, and kissed him... so Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel."
From all this, it is perfectly clear, that by the heart, the affections of the mind are meant. Absalom, by these acts of kindness, and strong expressions of regard for the dear people, gained their affections; and when this was done, the Scriptures say, he stole their hearts.
Another example is from the words of Solomon: 'The heart of fools is in the house of mirth" (Ecclesiastes 7:4). Here, the wise man proposes a case in which a number of young persons have gathered themselves together to spend an evening of merriment. All is foolishness and levity. A vain fellow knows that such a scene of mirth exists, but is not bodily present; however, his heart is there. Now, is that what is meant by Solomon? All would agree that in this case the heart simply means the affections of the mind. All the affections and desires of the poor simpleton gather around that high-spirited group, and he longs to be there.
On the other hand from Solomon we learn that "the heart of the wise is in the house of mourning." This wise man possibly knows of a scene of mourning in the neighborhood. Perhaps the hand of death has been laid upon the head of the family, and all are immersed in gloom and sorrow. There are heard the deep sigh and wailing of grief from the bereaved and distressed family. The wise man is not able to be there, but he knows the case, and his heart is there. Now, what is meant by this? His body is in one place, but his heart is in another. All of us understand this. All say it means that his affections are there. His affections and tender sympathies of mind cluster around that mourning, sorrowful group. Here, then, the heart means the affections and sympathies of the mind.
From the very last chapter of the Old Testament we find the Lord speaking by Malachi, saying, "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse" (Mal. 4:5,6). Now, what is meant by the heart in this passage? All say it means the affections; this great reformer was to unite the fathers and children in their affections for one another, and thereby avert the stern judgment of God against this people.
Now let us look to the New Testament for an example when Jesus told his disciples: "But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matthew 6:20,21).
From this expression, it seems that a man, while he is busy on earth, attending to the affairs of life, can have his heart high up in Heaven. How can we understand this? The apostle Paul explains: "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth" (Colossians 3: 1,2). Thus, Paul explains the heart to mean the affections of the mind. When a man has his affections placed on his eternal inheritance which is laid up in heaven, Jesus says that his heart is in Heaven.
In the Scriptures the heart of a man means affections of the mind, but it refers to other things, too. Lord willing, we will look at these in our continued study of Conversion.