by Richard Nichols
Originally published in
the Christian Informer
Jesus said, "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).
Now, all persons who are thus converted in heart, and character, and state, have the promise of Christ that they shall be healed -- that they shall be pardoned; for says Jesus, "that they might be converted, and I should heal them." Hence, said Jesus to the apostles: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature; he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved;" or, in the text, shall be healed -- being saved and being healed meaning the same thing, namely, the pardon of sins.
Here, friend, we will leave the general subject of conversion, so far as the thing done in conversion is concerned, and will proceed to answer a very important question that is started at this point. One may be ready to ask now, admitting that all we have said is true, How are the hearts of men changed? We have seen what is meant by a change of heart; there is no darkness on that subject; but the question is, How is this change effected? Is it done with agents and instrumentalities, or without agents and instrumentalities? Are there visible instrumentalities employed in effecting this change of heart? Or, is it effected by some mysterious, indefinable influence that passes through the atmosphere, and takes hold of the heart of a man, like an electrical shock without the employment of any visible agencies, and thus changes the heart in an instant? This, friend, is a question of no ordinary impact, and the answer anyone may give to it will likely affect his future actions. Hence, we should approach it with honest, unprejudiced minds, determined to be satisfied with nothing but the truth of God on this very important subject.
How, then, is the heart of a man to be changed or converted to God? The answer is in the text: "that they understand with their heart, and be converted." Then, in order to attain a man's conversion, he must understand with his heart. Therefore, the Savior said, in his explanation of the parable of the sower, found in connection with our text: "When anyone heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he that received seed by the wayside." Then, speaking of the ground that brought forth fruit, he said, "But he that received seed into the good ground, is he that heareth the word and understandeth it."
By understanding with the heart of judgment, then, the heart or affections are changed from the love of sin to the love of holiness. This is the reason why you cannot change the life or actions of one who cannot understand and believe with his heart. Take, for example, an idiot, who has no understanding, and you cannot change his course of life. The reason is, he cannot understand the force of the teaching; he cannot appreciate a motive for change; he cannot feel the power of moral persuasion.
But, do you ask, what is to become of him? Is he to be lost because he cannot understand? Infants, too, that die before they are capable of understanding: Are they to be lost? No, friend, their happiness is secured. Remember the blessed Lord took little children in his arms and blessed them and said, "Of such are the kingdom of heaven." Hence, the gospel is not to be preached to such; but it is to be proclaimed to those who have the capacity to understand.
But there is another question beyond all this that we must address. That is, how are persons to understand with their hearts?
The answer to this is also to be found in our text. "That they might see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and be converted, and I should heal them." What a beautiful arrangement this is. In order to be pardoned, the sinner must be converted; in order to be converted, he must understand with his heart; in order to understand with his heart, he must see with his eyes and hear with his ears. Hence, the Savior gives, as a reason why those to whom he refers in our text were not converted. "For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed..."
Hearts are sometimes changed for the better, and sometimes for the worse. The first change of heart that ever came about in the family of man was from good to bad. We speak, of course, in reference to the case of our mother, Eve. Now, what do you suppose was the state of her mind when she came out of the hands of her Creator? Surely, her heart was then fully reconciled to God; for all that God had made was good -- yea, very good. Every pulsation of her soul then beat in harmony with the mind and will of God. Now, had she continued in the same state of accord with God -- had her heart remained unchanged -- she never would have touched the forbidden fruit. But her heart was turned away from God, she was converted from good to evil -- from virtue to vice -- and in this way she was led to violate the law of God.
How was that change brought about? Was is not by seeing and hearing, and understanding or believing what she heard? Read the history of the case, as recorded in the Word of God. The Devil, in the person of the serpent, came to our mother Eve in the garden. He seems to have understood something of human nature. He understood that the heart of man must be reached through the eyes and ears, and hence he began talking with her. At first, he appeared to have no special object in view, but only proposed to ask a simple question -- one about which he seemed to show little interest, but simply might ask in passing: "Has God said ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?"
This question naturally directed her attention to the tree. She looked at it with more interest than before, but answered correctly, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die."
All of this conversation directed her mind to that prohibited tree. There it was, right before her, and she seems to have discovered, for the first time, that its fruit was good for food. She never seems to have inquired into the character of this fruit; she knew that the prohibition of God rested upon it, and therefore she never intended to touch it. Hence she did not care whether it was sweet or bitter. But now she looks at it with more interest, and for the first time discovers that it is good for food.
Having progressed this far upon her feelings, the serpent comes out plainly and says, "You shall not surely die; for God doth know, that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." What an effect this must have had upon her heart or affections when she believed it! Do you suppose she reasoned thus: "Now, God must have deceived me. Here is a tree whose fruit is good for food, and it's pleasant to look at, and I want it because, when I eat it, I will become as wise as God himself... But God said not to eat it, or even touch it, or I'll die. Surely God has deceived me, and doesn't want me to become wise like him... And here is a real friend who has come along to tell me the truth about it." Thus was her heart turned away from God, "and she took of the fruit thereof and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat." Consequently, by seeing, and hearing, and understanding or believing what she heard, Eve's heart was changed from a good condition to a bad condition. By this process sin was introduced into the world with all its death, sorrow, and suffering.
If a falsehood told, heard, understood, and believed, turned the heart of man away from God, will not the truth told, heard, understood, and believed, turn it back to God again? Surely it will. Therefore, from that day, when God would attempt to gain a man, or a nation of men back to himself, He always sent someone to talk to them. When His ancient people would apostatize or turn away from God, He would raise up a prophet, and would put His words in the prophet's mouth, and then send him to the people to be converted and reformed, commanding him to say. "Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for the Lord hath spoken" (Isa. 1:2); "Lift up your voice like a trumpet, cry aloud and spare not" (Isa. 58:1); "Incline your ear and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live" (Isa. 55:3); "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool" (Isa. 1:18). In all cases when the people would not hear, they were not converted, but when they gave heed to the things which were spoken, and heard with a willing mind, their hearts were gained, and the people were converted.
The same divine arrangement is carried out in the New Testament. Hence, after he arose from the dead, Jesus said' "Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day; And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem" (Luke 24:46,47). Again, Christ commanded the apostles, "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature." Why all this preaching? Why -- that the people may see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and be converted.
When the Lord commissioned Saul, He said, "I have appointed thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and the things in the which I will appear unto thee, delivering thee from the people and from the Gentiles, unto whom I now send thee" (Acts 26:16,17). Now, for what purpose was Saul sent to the Gentiles? Answer: That they may see and turn to the light. The Scripture plainly says, he was "to open their eyes, and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God" (verse 18).
In all of the Scriptures there is never a case of conversion without hearing. In our own times, where there is no hearing gained, there is no conversion. Go to the heathen lands and ask, why are these idol worshipers not converted? It is not because they have no hearts with which to understand, no eyes with which to see, and no ears with which to hear the word of God. They have hearts, eyes, and ears. But the people must use them; otherwise the preaching is to them vain. How important then is the command of the Lord recorded several times in Matthew, Mark and Luke, "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." How important then is that blessed condition of the one who will "hunger and thirst after righteousness," Jesus says, "For they shall be filled" (Matthew 5:6). The promise is only to the one who will "seek" that "he shall find," and to the one who will "knock" for "it shall be opened unto him" (Matt. 7:7).
In the parable of the sower that went forth to sow seed, we are told that the seed of the kingdom is the word of God. In this parable there is no indication that different kinds of seed were sown on the four soils, just that pure seed representing the "word of God." But the only kind of ground that produced fruit was that called "good ground." The seed fell on it, "And sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold. And when he had said these things, he cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear" (Luke 8:8).
How important it is then that one must be receptive to the message of God. The control of seeing and hearing remains with the listener. How important it is then for one to want to, to have a desire to, "see" and "hear" it, to receive it into his heart and to be converted. "Son of man, thou dwellest in the midst of a rebellious house, which have eyes to see, and see not; they have ears to hear, and hear not; for they are a rebellious house" (Ezekiel 12:2).
Furthermore, dear Christian, how important it is, then, that you demonstrate to the honest seeker of salvation "what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God" (Romans 12:2). The Lord pictures you as the "light of the world" saying, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). He goes on to call you the salt of the earth," but if the salt has lost its beneficial qualities, Jesus says, "It is neither fit for the land, nor yet for the dunghill; but men cast it out. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear" (Luke 14:3).
[We will conclude our series of articles on "Conversion" with our next article, Lord willing. -- Richard Nichols]