4. *Conversion

We need not linger long over this crucial step, because it is a transaction that takes place altogether between the soul and God, usually following conviction of sin and a new sense of the need of a Saviour, when Christ's salvation is recognised and appropriated. Here we can do little except help to centre on Christ and His redeeming love and power, the attention which has been directed toward the sinful self and its needs. If the patient stopped at the last stage he would be like a sick man who mourned the magnitude (real or fancied) of his disease, but saw no hope of healing. He would become a morbid religious hypochondriac. The burden of his sin must fall from his shoulders, as did that of Pilgrim, and he must come to know not only the poignant sorrow for his sin, experienced on Calvary, but also the triumphant joy of the Resurrection morning. The Christian worker here needs, as Drummond assures us, thoroughly to understand the rationale of conversion. Viewed from man's side, it is an act of faith in which the sinner deliberately and finally turns from all known sin and identifies himself with Christ, for the future, in a saving, victorious moral unity and fellowship. Viewed from God's side, it is an act of God's free grace by which He is able, through bearing human sin—in suffering redemptive love—to forgive the sinner and so to effect in Christ a reconciliation, a new relationship, in which the barrier of sin no longer remains. The result of this two-fold act is a fundamental change, so important that Jesus called it a new birth of the spirit. The modern religious psychologist uses strikingly similar language, calling the change that occurs at conversion "the formation of a new ego." Writes Starbuck: "It seems that the heightened worth of self and the altruistic impulses in conversion are closely bound up together, and the differences between them lie simply in the different content of consciousness, determined by the direction in which it is turned. The central fact underlying both is the formation of a new ego, a fresh point of reference for mental states."*


* For the best treatment of this subject, viewed in the light both of psychology and Christian experience, see Chapters IV, V and VI of K. J. Saunders' Adventures of the Christian Soul.
† Starbucks Psychology of Religion, p. 129.
‡ James: Varieties of Religious Experience, p. 189.
In different terms, but wit a no less clear recognition of the profound significance of this crisis and transformation, William James begins his chapter on "Conversion," in the book to which we have already alluded. "To be converted, to be regenerated, to receive grace, to experience religion, to gain an assurance, are so many phrases which denote the process, gradual or sudden, by which a self, hitherto divided, and consciously wrong, inferior and unhappy, becomes unified and consciously right, superior and happy, in consequence of its firmer hold upon religious realities."Later on he writes concerning the new centring of a man's life interests after conversion. "It makes a great difference to a man, whether one set of his ideas, or another, be the centre of his energy; and it makes a great difference, as regards any set of ideas which he may possess, whether they become central or remain peripheral in him. To say that a man is 'converted' means, in these terms, that religious ideas, previously peripheral in his consciousness, now take a central place, and that religious aims form the habitual centre of his energy."†
* Royce: The Philosophy of Loyally, p, 46.
† Ibid , p. 196.

Professor James' colleague at Harvard, the late Professor Royce, referred to this new focal point of a man's interests and activities as a new centre of loyalty to a great cause around which all his energies thenceforth revolve, and which calls forth his highest powers, He writes: "If you want to find a way of living which surmounts doubt and centralizes your powers, it must be some such way as all the loyal in conversion have trodden since first loyalty was known among men."*


* Saunders: Adventures of the Christian Soul, pp. 67, 68.

What the new loyalty to Christ meant in the life of St, Paul, a great expulsive power that purged his soul of all the old pride and fanaticism and discontent, we read in his Epistle to the Phillipians: "Yet all that was gain to me—for Christ's sake I have reckoned it loss. Nay, I even reckon all things as pure loss because of the priceless privilege of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. And for His sake I have suffered the loss of everything, and reckon it all as mere refuse, in order that I may win Christ and be found in union with Him, not having a righteousness of my own, derived from the law, but that which arises from faith in Christ—the righteousness which comes from God through faith. I long to know Christ and the power which is in His resurrection, and to share in His sufferings and die even as He died; in the hope that I may attain to the resurrection from among the dead."†

But the question which these psychologists seem unable to answer satisfactorily, namely, what motive is adequate to explain the phenomena which they have so painstakingly investigated, bringing to pass this unification of the divided self, this supreme loyalty, is answered by Kenneth Saunders, who has added to a thorough training in psychology a wide experience in dealing with individual souls, illumined by true devotion to Christ. Conversion, in his eyes, is a "falling in love." He writes: "The basis of conversion is the awakening of a new self, and the vital clement in the birth is the dawning of a new affection which henseforth dominates the heart. Conversion is, in fact, as we have said, a 'falling in love,' a saying 'Yes' to the 'Divine Lover,'"* And again he writes: "It is this passion for the Unseen and the Eternal which above all else can change the heart, and strengthen the will, and illuminate the mind. Conversion is the birth of Love."'†


† Ibid., p, 88. † Phillipians 3:1.11, Weymouth tr.

With the birth of this new affection religion has parted company with philosophy, as Fosdick makes clear in his Meaning of Faith: "Religion begins when the God outwardly argued is inwardly experienced. Religion begins when we cease using the tricky and unstable aeroplane of speculation to seek Him among the clouds, and retreat into the fertile places of our own spirits, where the living water rises, as Jesus said. God outside of us is a theory; God inside of us becomes a fact. God outside of us is in hypothesis; God inside of us is an experience. God the Father is the possibility of salvation; God the Spirit is actuality of life, joy, peace, and saving power. God the transcendent may do for philosophy, but he is not enough for religion."‡


‡ Fosdick: Meaning of Faith, p. 283.

Similarly, Professor Coe, of Union Seminary, writes of the new sense of reality effected by conversion, in the most recent contribution to the subject of the psychology of religion.

"Granted that his training has prepared him for the crisis, and that conversion puts him under the control of existing social standards and ideas of God, the fact remains that conversion makes these things real to the convert. Heretofore he has 'knowledge about' them; now he has 'acquaintance with' them. The world or God has meaning for him, and makes response now. Here is no mere repetition of the past, for the individual is a new and unique one, and this experience as his is as fresh as the creation mom itself."*


* G. A. Coe, The Psychology of Religion, p. 315. Quoted in The Biblical Review, New York. April, 1918, pp. 214, 215.

An these facts relating to the rationale of conversion it is well for the personal worker to know, but all that the sinner needs is to know how hateful is his sin in the eyes of his Heavenly Father, and that if he turns his face resolutely toward God in Christ, He is able to cleanse him from sin and to empower him for a new life of righteousness and victory. Books of religious psychology, like those above referred to, and books narrating cases of actual transformations, like C. G. Finney's Memoirs and S. H. Hadley's Down in Water Street, in the United States, and the writings of Harold Begbie and General Booth in England, abound in illustrations of conversions where there was little or nothing of the theological belief, but only a loathing of sin, the confession of utter helplessness unless through the aid of some higher Helper, then a hand stretched upward and the consciousness that Another had grasped the hand, and that thereafter freedom, and strength and peace had come. The last phase of Hadley's conversion, as abridged from his own account by James, may be quoted as typica1:

"I listened to the testimony of twenty-five or thirty persons, everyone of whom had been saved from ruin, and I made up my mind that I would be saved or die right there. When the invitation was given, I knelt down with a crowd of drunkards. Jerry made the first prayer. Then Mrs. McAuley prayed fervently for us. Oh, what a conflict was going on for my poor soul! A blessed whisper said, "Come," the devil said, "Be careful." I halted but a moment, and then, with a breaking heart, I said, "Dear Jesus, can you help me?" Never with mortal tongue can I describe that moment. Although up to that my soul had been filled with indescribable gloom, I felt the glorious brightness of the noonday sun shine into my heart. I felt I was a free man. Oh, the precious feeling of safety, of freedom, of resting on Jesus! I felt that Christ with all His brightness and power had come into my life; that indeed, old things had passed away and all things had become new.

From that moment till now I have never wanted a drink of whiskey, and I have never seen money enough to make me take one. I promised God that night that if He would take away the appetite for strong drink, I would work for Him all my life. He has done His part, and I have been trying to do mine."*


Varieties of Religious Experiences, pp. 202, 203.

To show how similar is the experience of conversion at opposite ends of the world and in utterly different types of character, in the American drunkard and in the greatest scholar that Indian womanhood has produced, let me give a few quotations from the autobiography of Pandita Ramabai. After telling how, largely through reading the Bible, she was drawn to the religion of Jesus, was baptised, and experienced comparative happiness for a number of years, becoming, however, increasingly dissatisfied as she realised that she had the religion of Jesus but not Christ Himself, she goes on—

"I was desperate, I realised that I was not prepared to meet God, that sin had dominion over me, and I was not altogether led by the Spirit of God, and had not, therefore, received the Spirit of adoption, and had no witness of the Spirit that I was a child of God.

"What was to be done? My thoughts could not, and did not, help me I had at last come to an end of myself, and unconditionally surrendered myself to the Saviour; and asked Him to be merciful to me, and to become my Righteousness and Redemption, and to take away all my sin.

"Only those who have been convicted of sin and have seen themselves as God sees them, under similar circumstances, can understand what one feels, when a great and unbearable burden is rolled away from one's heart. I shall not attempt to describe how and what I felt, at the time when I made an unconditional surrender, and knew I was accepted to be a branch of the True Vine, a child of God by adoption in Christ Jesus my Saviour. Although it is impossible for me to tell all that God has done for me, I must yet praise Him and thank Him for His loving kindness to me, the greatest of sinners. T'he Lord, first of all, showed me the sinfulness of sin, and the awful danger I was in of everlasting hell-fire; and the great love of God with which He so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.

"I do not know if anyone of my readers has ever had the experience of being shut up in a room, where there was nothing but thick darkness, and then groping in it to find something of which he or she was in dire need. I can think of no one but the blind man, whose story is given in St. John 9. He was born blind and remained so for forty years of his life; and then suddenly he found the Mighty One, who could give him eyesight. Who could have described his joy at seeing the daylight, when there had not been a particle of hope of his ever seeing it? Even the inspired evangelist has not attempted to do it. I can give only a faint idea of what I felt, when my mental eyes were opened, and when I, who was 'sitting in darkness saw Great Light,' and when I felt sure that to me, who but a few moments ago 'sat in the region and shadow of death, light had sprung up.' I was very like the man who was told, 'In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.' 'And he, leaping up, stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking and leaping, and praising God."*


* Pandita Ramabai: A Testimony, pp. 18, 19. Mutki Mission Press, Kedgaon, 1917.

From such illustrations as this we see that, as Mr. Buchman puts the matter in the simplest terms, only three essential factors are involved in conversion—Sin, Jesus Christ, and (the result) a Miracle. Conviction of sin is a matter of the sinner's heart, Conversion is a matter both of the heart and the will, and if there is anything we can do to assist him to make the great venture of faith, once he has realized his sins at the foot of the Cross and expressed the desire to be cleansed, it is, first of all, to give him autobiographical writings like those of St, Augustine, Brother Lawrence and Tolstoy, and illustrations of others who have so ventured with momentous results; and, secondly, to help him toward greater decision of character through the reading of such pamphlets as Foster's Decision of Character; King's Fight for Character; Mott and Eddy's Constructive Suggestions for Character Building and the chapter on "Decision" in Speer's Things That Make a Man.*


* All these pamphlets ran be secured from the Association Press, Calcutta.

Here, too, of course, as at every other point, we must remember that our greatest service will be rendered through the medium of intercessory prayer. A personal experience of Rev. William Jessup, of Syria, told by Dr. Howard Agnew Johnson, will illustrate the importance of recognizing that the work is God's and that our first duty is to cooperate in prayer.

"Just ten years ago I was in Syria, and one day visited the home of William Jessup, that splendid missionary of the Cross, a son of Henry Jessup. Who had been there for fifty years. We were speaking of these things, and he told us this—

"'Some months ago I was very much depressed and discouraged. There were a number of men around here that I had not been able to win for Jesus Christ, and I wondered why. I knew the difficulty must be in me, that it was not in God. So I decided finally that I would take a week and let God teach me the thing that I needed to know. On Monday morning I took my Bible and began to turn it over to see what God would say.' He had not gone far, he said, before something dawned on him that he had never realized before—that he had not given God His place in his thought of the work to be done in winning these people to Christ. He thought of the account of the fall of Jericho before the children of Israel. God brought that about in a way that no one should be able to think that it was a mans work so that these Gentiles shou1d realize that the God of this peculiar people is a mighty God, and would like to have Him for their God. God wanted to have Israel a channel through which He could give His love and His salvation to everyone else.

"Mr. Jessup said, as this fact dawned on him that morning he closed his Bible and took a sheet of paper, and wrote the names of the men in that locality whom he had been trying to win to Jesus Christ. And he lifted them up to God, and asked God to do His work in those lives, to use him as He wished, but to enable him to realize that his was the smaller part in that great task. And as he continued through the Book, the thought grew upon him that he had not realized before that God, and not he, William Jessup, was the one who was to do that work.

"On Friday of that week a young man, whose name was on that list, came to him burdened about his soul, and about his father, whose name was also on the list. The missionary realized that God was working.

"'Even yet,' he said, 'I am ashamed to say I did not fully believe that God was going to do all. On Monday morning of the following week I started out, and in three weeks God gave every one of those eleven men whose names were on that list to Jesus Christ.'"

"'I will be a different sort of a missionary,' he continued, 'for the rest of my life. I have a new vision of what it is to have a God who can and who will save.'"*


* From an address by Dr. Johnson, quoted in Victory in Christ, A Report of the Princeton Conference of 1916, p. 194.
* Adventures of the Christian Soul, p. 95.