The Work of Conversion
How surprising was the mercy which Providence performed for you in that day! Providence had a design upon you for your eternal good, which you did not understand. The time of mercy was now fully come; the decree was now ready to bring forth that mercy, with which it had gone big from eternity, and its gracious design must be executed by the hand of Providence, so far as concerned the external means and instruments. How aptly did it cause all things to fall in with that design, though you did not know the meaning of it? (pg. 72)
In this chapter we find John Flavel, that consummate pastor, relating instances of God's Providence in bringing men and women to faith in Christ. How my heart rejoiced as he tells us of the many and varied ways that God directs the paths of His children into His presence.
At the beginning of the chapter he offers a bit of a disclaimer and warning. There are some, like myself, who can pinpoint the time of our awakening. There are others, like my wife, Barbara, who have no such memory of a specific time of conversion, even though it is real and enduring. Both are the products of God's Providence, both are valid experiences, and both are to be cherished.
In my wife's case, she grew up in the bosom of a Godly and worshiping family. Spiritual duties were attended with care, and the nurture and admonition of the Lord was a part of daily life. During her early childhood, and with the encouragement of Mom, Dad, and older brothers, she felt a sense of her sin and her need for salvation. She trusted in Christ in her early years, and has remained faithful to this day. She cannot pinpoint an exact time of her conversion, but it is a real and enduring fact in her life. God's Providence placed her in an environment in which the new birth could take place.
There was a considerable contrast in my case. While my parents were loving and nurturing (Thanks Dad for caring enough to devote time to scouts, school projects, and family vacations even while battling alcoholism.) there was very little spiritual direction. We would occasionally attend military chapels, but there was no attention to the worship of God as a part of our lives.
I was not a "bad kid" but I had no time for God. I remember reading from The Communist Manifesto at age 15, and thinking that there was ample evidence for religion being "the opiate of the masses". During the summer following my 16th birthday I had a part-time summer job with the city Recreation Department. A co-worker who was considerably smaller than me (I was already imposing in physical size) kept trying to tell me about Jesus. I was usually able to squelch the discussion quickly. On July 24, 1972 he came to me and tried to reopen the conversation. My rebuke was something to the effect of "You say the name 'Jesus' again, and I am going to ..." He asked me if I would "examine the claims of Christ", and handed me a little yellow booklet entitled The Four Spiritual Laws. Cracking it open I noticed that it contained various Bible references. Since "everyone knows that the Bible is full of errors", I decided to take up his challenge, relishing the thought of decimating his faith the following day.
Since I had to have a Bible in order to carry out my plan, and since the only Bible in our house was a monster family Bible covered with a layer of dust, and because I didn't want anyone to think that I had gone crazy by using that Bible, I came up with "Plan B". I went to the local Rexall drug store, and purchased a $2 paperback Bible from the book rack. I put the yellow tract in the same brown paper bag, and hid both under my mattress at home. After dinner I excused myself from my family, retired to my room, locked and checked the door, and proceeded in my plan to destroy Christianity and religion.
I opened the tract, and the first verse that I encountered was John 3:16. I needed to use the index at the front of the Bible to find John, and then, in order to discover the "errors" decided to read chapters 2-4 of John's Gospel. Hmmm, I didn't discover any "errors" there. Next was John 10:10, so I read John 9-11. This wasn't working out like I intended. After reading Romans 2-4 (Romans 3:23) I abandoned my plan, and as I continued to read the tract I realized that I was faced with a dilemma.
I now knew that I could either toss the Bible and tract in the trash and try to avoid my co-worker's questions for the rest of the summer, or I could place my trust in Jesus Christ as my only Savior from sin. I hadn't found any "errors" in the Bible, but the Bible had certainly uncovered "errors" in me. I was deeply convicted of my sins, and feared the judgment of God's wrath that I deserved. I remember falling on my knees and asking God to forgive me and save me. While I didn't know the word "repentance" at the time, I truly believe that this is what God wrought in my life at approximately 10:00 PM Mountain Daylight Time on July 24th, 1972. His Providence directed that evening and all of the events leading up to it, and allowed His grace to convert a wicked sinner into His kingdom.
How proud I was at the beginning of that evening. How humbled I was at the end of it. And yet, I knew, I truly knew, that I was changed forever.
The next day my co-worker very sheepishly asked me if I had looked at the tract. I replied "yes". He then, very carefully, asked me what I thought of it. When I told him that I had been converted his astonished response was: "You are kidding!!!". (Sometimes Christians have a hard time believing that God saves sinners.)
Note that it had to be Providence that worked this miracle. First, how many of us would consider it to be an effective witness to place a copy of The Four Spiritual Laws in a belligerent person's hands and ask them to "examine the claims of Christ"? How many of us would know that the recipient's pride would lead them to take up the challenge, even if for all the wrong reasons? How many of us truly believe that God can work His miracle of salvation using the weakest of means?
So, in conclusion, we see God at work saving people within the context of a Christian family, and we see God saving people all alone in their bedroom while trying to disprove the claims of Christ. We see God at work in orchestrating our lives for His glory, and we see him using us as the means, often very tiny means, to bring others into His kingdom.
O, therefore, set a special mark upon that Providence that set you in the way of this mercy. It has performed that for you which all the ministers on earth and angels in heaven could never have performed. This is a mercy that puts weight and value into the smallest circumstance that relates to it. (pg. 74)