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Conversion (Ash Wednesday)
A great national calamity, either impending or just passed, was the occasion of the prophecy of Joel. It is traceable to national sin, and its remedy is national repentance.
The words of our text bring before us a matter which is peculiarly fit for Ash Wednesday consideration the doctrine of Conversion; for conversion is the first step in that life of penitence to which Lent calls us. But conversion is a subject about which there is much misunderstanding.
I. What Conversion is not.
a. Many persons confound conversion with regeneration, with which it has hardly anything in common. The grace of regeneration can be given but once, for we can only be born once, but conversion may be necessary many times in our life, as often indeed as we turn away from God.
b. Conversion is not always the same in every one. With some, like St. Paul, it is instantaneous; with others it is gradual, and so free from any special manifestation that they can hardly tell when they were converted.
(c) Conversion is not everything, it is only the first step in the life of penitence, and of little use if it does not lead to the fullness of Christian fellowship.
II. What Conversion is. It is the turning of the will to God. By the gift of free will, which God has bestowed upon us, we are able to make our actions meritorious by doing them freely, with the love of God as their motive, and the glory of God as their end.
III. There are Many Degrees of Sin Possible in Man.
a. We can live in open rebellion.
b. We can compromise, and while serving God outwardly, we may fall short of conformity to His will.
a. Must be thorough. We must turn to God with our entire will.
b. The accompaniments of conversion are, fasting, weeping, and mourning; these are signs of deep penitence, and all are fruits of a thorough conversion.
A. G. Mortimer, One Hundred Miniature Sermons, p. 161.
References. II. 12. J. E. Vaux, Sermon Notes (1st Series), pp. 36, 38. II. 12, 13. E. Blencowe, Plain Sermons to a Country Congregation (2nd Series), p. 138. G. W. Brameld, Practical Sermons, p. 58. Bishop How, Plain Words (1st Series), p. 33. II. 17. J. Keble, Sermons for Septuagesima to Ash Wednesday, p. 352. II. 25. F. W. Farrar, The Fall of Man, p. 292. J. Vaughan, Old Testament Outlines, p. 273. II. 26. J. Keble, Sermons for Septuagesima to Ash Wednesday, p. 249. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xix. No. 1098. H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1541. J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons (2nd Series), p. 220. II. 28. E. Bayley, Sermons on the Work and Person of the Holy Spirit, p. 221. II. 28-32. Ibid. p. 1.
A Message of Deliverance (Ash Wednedsay)
This verse occurs three times over in the Scriptures, once here in the old dispensation, once again on the birthday of the new, and once again thirty years later, when the great Apostle was facing the problem of the admission to the Church of the Gentiles.
I. The Message Proclaimed:
a. By the Prophet Joel. Nearly three thousand years ago the words were spoken first. Judea had reached a period of prosperity, but both king and people had forgotten to walk humbly with their God. And Joel tells, in language which cannot be misunderstood, what must happen to a nation which will live without God. Is there then no hope for the people? He passes on to tell them of the hope that there is in the Lord (Joel 2:12-13 ). Even the fire of prophecy burns up afresh. Joel sings a song which is full of joy (2:24). Further still he looks to the dawn of the new dispensation. 'I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh.' Then further still, to the end of the dispensation on earth altogether. Then, even then, it shall come to pass that 'whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered'.
b. By St. Peter. Eight hundred years later, when the Day of Pentecost has come, St. Peter is about to preach the first Christian sermon, and our text was his text. When the sermon was over, there was such a result as proved God's blessing on his interpretation of the text: for men were moved, not in hundreds but in thousands, to ask the great question, 'What shall I do?'
c. By St. Paul. The world rolls on again for thirty years, steadily becoming worse, and the Apostle to the Gentiles, grasping for the first time with full force the magnificent width of the Christian Church, also takes up this text, and looking round on all the darkness of the heathen world, on the hollowness which was creeping even then into the infant Church, he declares with emphasis that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
II. A Message for Today. That was the message with which the Church went out into the world, that is the message the Church has preached ever since, and it is the message the Church delivers Today. And Today, as we enter upon this holy season of Lent, we do well to remember that the message has never at any time lost its force. Do not let us explain it away. Do not let us think it cannot be accepted literally. It is exactly and literally true. By that message we must be judged some day. If it be 'easy' as some say to call upon the Lord, it is only because all that was hard was taken by Him and borne for us. Do not let us think that salvation is so complicated a thing that it cannot be contained in a message like that It is true that salvation is a very wide and deep thing, but the first thing it must mean to every soul is salvation from the wrath of God. The criminal under sentence of death must first be pardoned, and know it, before he can come out and live a life worth living. 'Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord,' aye, even now, 'shall be delivered,' shall be saved from the wrath upon him because of original sin, from the burden of the guilt which belongs to him from actual sin, shall know that he has passed from death into life, the life which Christ gives him as a gift.
III. A Personal Question. Have you ever made one real effort to call upon the name of the Lord to be saved? This is the question I would press home upon you at this Lenten season. What does the message mean? Simply this faith, which acknowledges Jesus as the Saviour. Faith first, which looks up to Him believing that He is able to do what I long for Him to do. Then, secondly, simple acceptance. I must be ready to take what He gives, to accept it, to believe it, to rest upon it.
References. II. 32. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxii. No. 1931. III. 14. J. C. M. Bellew, Sermons, vol. i. p. 109. III. 21. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vii. No. 379. R. F. Norton, The Hidden Guest, p. 233.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Joel 2". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany