Conversion To God
Henry Allan Ironside
There are many lessons to be learned from a careful study of Luke’s account of Paul’s voyage to Rome. Taken literally, it shows us, in a wonderful way, the personal care of the Lord Jesus Christ for His beloved servant in a time of great stress and difficulty. The particular incident recorded in Acts 27:21-26 is that to which I especially desire to draw each reader’s attention.
For long, weary days and nights neither sun nor stars had been visible. The captain of the ship was in despair; the mariners, hopeless. Then it was that Paul, “the prisoner of the Lord” (Ephesians 4:1)—how lovely a title: not a prisoner of Caesar, nor of Rome, but of the Lord!—became the comforter of all in the ship, comforting them with the comfort wherewith he had just been comforted of God. For to him an angel of the Lord had appeared, standing by him, and saying, “Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.”
This settled it for Paul. He knew that not a man on that ship would be lost, whatever might become of the vessel itself. So he says, “Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me. Howbeit we must be cast upon a certain island.” And so it was, for the ship was wrecked; but every one who had sailed with Paul was saved from drowning and reached the shore
Now, I want to apply this in a spiritual way. First, I would earnestly ask each reader: Do you sail with Paul? It is not now a question of temporal, but of eternal, salvation. The voyage I have in mind is not from one earthly port to another, but that vastly more important voyage from earth to heaven, from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. One thing is certain: you are on a voyage, sailing over the sea of time, bound for eternity. Do you then sail with Paul? All who do shall reach the port of endless glory at last, whatever circumstances they may pass through on the voyage. All who do not sail with the great apostle will fail of final salvation.
What is it to sail with Paul? It is to know Paul’s Saviour and to share Paul’s blessings. Are these things true of you? There are untold thousands in Christendom today who are nominally believers, who belong to the Church in its outward aspect, who partake of the sacraments and are more or less zealous in what is called “Christian work,” but who do not sail with Paul. He repudiated all such things as a ground of confidence and trusted alone in the matchless grace of God.
What does grace mean to you, my reader? People talk of grace and sing of being “saved by grace,” who are all the time trusting in their own righteousness and building their hopes for eternity on their own zeal and earnestness. They never seem to consider the meaning of grace; otherwise they would not use the word with their lips and by their actions deny it. Grace is the very opposite of merit. If I think of merit, I see only an eternal hell of woe before my guilty soul because of my sin (Romans 6:23). But when I think of
grace, I turn from all thoughts of what I deserve and contemplate the matchless love of God which caused Him, the offended One, to give His only begotten Son to die for me, the offender, that, confiding in Him, I might be eternally saved. Thus I see that grace is not only undeserved favor, but it is favor shown to one who has deserved the very opposite. “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9)—this is Paul’s own statement of salvation by grace. It was thus he was saved, and in the same way are they all who sail with Paul. It is my purpose in this pamphlet to trace out some of the precious truths Paul was chosen to make known for our eternal blessing. Only let each reader be sure he or
she is one who sails with Paul, for to none other do they apply.
Conversion To God
The one who sails with Paul has been truly and definitely converted to God. Paul’s conversion occupies a larger place in the New Testament than any particular doctrine that Paul preached. About this, God would have no uncertainty. He let us know clearly how Paul began the voyage to an eternity of bliss. Three full chapters in the Acts are devoted to this important subject. In chapter 9 we have Luke’s historical account of this model conversion. In chapter 22 Paul himself gives what has been called the “Hebrew narrative” of this blessed event; he relates his conversion to Jewish auditors in a manner especially calculated to appeal to them. In chapter 26 we have his “Gentile narrative,” where, “being made all things to all men” (1 Corinthians 9:22), he again tells of his conversion, but in such style as to be clear to Agrippa the Edomite and Festus the Roman. Then in the first chapter of his letter to the Galatians, Paul once more dwells on this wonderful theme, particularly emphasizing the sovereignty of God in it all (verses 15,16).
Philippians 3 is a fifth account, where his special object is to disclaim all human merit. And he once more refers to it in 1 Timothy 1:12-17, where he declares that in him as chief of sinners, Christ Jesus had shown all longsuffering, “for a pattern [or model] to them which should hereafter believe on Him to life everlasting.”
With such an array of Scripture before us, which I hope each reader will carefully read, it is surely manifest that no one sails with Paul who did not begin with conversion. I know it is unpopular to press this in some places today. “Don’t trouble people about the how, where or when of conversion. The only thing of importance is to determine how they stand now.” Such is the unscriptural and misleading instruction often given. And because of this, souls are harmed by an easy-going ministry that does not arouse the conscience, which lets people complacently drift on to a lost eternity who are not sailing with Paul, though they think all is well. The words of the Lord Jesus may surely rebuke all such folly: “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). Conversion then is a very real experience and not something that may take place unconsciously. I do not mean by this that all know the day, the hour, and the moment, when they were converted. Paul did, undoubtedly; but often young people go through a prolonged period of exercise, in which, little by little, they learn the folly of self-confidence and the simplicity of faith in Christ alone for salvation. When He is trusted in, conversion has taken place; but, for lack of sound teaching, many do not realize this, and so have more or less perplexity in answering the questions, “When, or where, were you converted?”
But there should certainly be no difficulty in regard to the how. All people are converted in exactly the same way, however experiences may vary. Conversion is a turning from self to Christ; it is ceasing to rely on one’s own fancied merits and trusting in the Lord Jesus alone. Has this great change occurred in your life, my reader? If so, you have been converted and are sailing with Paul. Let no doubts or fears distress your soul if you do not seem to see things just as others do. Do not allow Satan to torment you with thoughts of your unworthiness, or questions as to whether your faith is of the right kind. It has never been God’s way to put all souls through some stereotyped experience. No two Bible conversions are alike as to the means of awakening or the way in which the soul was led to trust in Christ. And, on the other hand, it is important to remember that if you were worthy, you would not need a Saviour. It is because of your unworthiness you came to Him, the worthy One. Let your soul then be occupied with Him, and not with your own frames and feelings.
And as to “the right kind of faith”—a difficulty felt by vast numbers of young believers—remember it is not the right faith that saves, but faith in the right Person. You might have the strongest possible faith in yourself, in the priest, in the church, in the sacraments, in visions or dreams, and be lost forever. But, on the other hand, the feeblest faith in Christ Jesus, God’s Lamb, saves for all eternity, and puts you forever in Paul’s company. In each account given of his conversion we see how God showed him the futility of self-righteousness and human religiousness as a means of salvation, and the absolute certainty of eternal salvation when the Lord Jesus is trusted in and confessed. When He becomes the soul’s object, conversion is an accomplished fact.
So when we ask, “How, when, or where, were you converted?” we really mean, “How were you led to trust in Christ? When did you find out that He alone must be your Saviour? Where did you get that sweet rest in Him?” And if, perchance, your exercises covered a number of weeks or months, out of which you emerged at last resting on His mighty arm and trusting His finished work, do not be distressed that you cannot particularize, but boldly confess Him as Saviour and own Him as Lord. All who have turned from self to Christ are in the fullest, clearest, scriptural sense converted.
You may be troubled and perplexed about many things; your knowledge of many subjects may be very vague; your conflicts with yourself may be most trying, and at times thoroughly discouraging; but let nothing make you doubt that you are converted and therefore eternally saved, if Christ is the One to whom you have turned for deliverance. Count on God to make all else clear as you go on, and fear not as to the final issue; for all who sail with Paul shall come out right in the end. The devil knows this, and therefore seeks to rob you of the good of it; but it is written, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
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