We all of us at one time or another want an external confirmation or a certainty. Even the most skeptical "free inquirers" among us...though they may find it difficult to admit. The language of "being saved" and "converted" rubs us the wrong way and we accuse those that use it of simplicity or of looking for cheap answers. The language of conversion is the topic of Sylvester Judd's sermon today and it argues for a more Biblical view than that of the Calvinist Orthodoxy then beginning to wane. Though we may not need to be "converted" from Calvinism, Judd's view of what it means to be converted has much to teach us still...
CAST YE UP, CAST YE UP, PREPARE THE WAY, TAKE UP THE STUMBLING-BLOCK OUT OF THE WAY OF MY PEOPLE. —Isaiah vii. 14.
There are many stumbling-blocks in the way of duty. As the true idea of the soul, of Christianity and the Church, begins to unfold, these stumbling- blocks are developed more and more... There are multitudes who will not do any thing for God or the Church, on the ground that they have not been converted. Let us examine what this ground is, how good it is, how substantial.
What is the meaning of the word " conversion" ? It is turning, or turning round. It is, the Latin form of the Saxon expression to turn. It signifies to turn from one state or condition or mode to another. The corresponding Greek word means this, and no more...The allusion, the import, and application of the language in the Bible are exceedingly simple. You are turned from an object, you turn towards it and are converted; as Christ turned (literally, converted himself), and looked towards Peter. You are going a wrong way, you turn and go a right way; you are converted ; as the sinner is converted who is turned from the error of his way. You have neglected your affairs, you now attend to them ; you are converted. You have been indifferent to truth, you become interested in it; you are converted.
Summarily, conversion, according to Bible language, is doing the very thing which you say you must be converted before you can do. Conversion does not lie anywhere between a man and his duty. Whoever faithfully fulfils his duty, having once neglected it, is a converted man. Conversion does not express what a man is, or what happens to him, but what he does. Invariably, I believe, it is referred to by the sacred writers in an active sense.
There is no mystery in conversion, so far as the Gospel is concerned. It is a matter of common sense, of every-day life, of familiar experience... conversion is a returning, mark the word, a returning, a going back to something we have left, a recovery of an old position, a resumption of what we have neglected. Jesus says, " Except ye be converted," — that is, except ye return, turn about, go back, — " and become as little children, ye cannot see the kingdom of God." The child's nature is not corrupt, it is not a vicious condition of being engendered of Adam; it is pure; it is free, I mean, from the stain of sin; and we must return to that simplicity and innocence, that our souls may be saved. This is what Christ teaches. This is what we believe. This is the doctrine of the Church...Conversion, then, in its highest sense, is the returning of the soul to its God, of the child to its Father in heaven, of the wanderer to his home. Repent and be converted; repent and return. By repentance and humiliation, every sinner can and must return to his God...
Nor do we misconceive conversion, we understand it; nor do we pervert its meaning, we elucidate it; or rather, by applying ourselves to the simple word of God, we discover and learn what it is. This explains what I have elsewhere said about Unitarianism being the true interpreter of the Bible. It gets just as near to the mind of Christ as it is possible to do. It goes to the original media of expression; it compares passage with passage; it follows a given word from book to book. Having heard Christ use a phrase once, it stays near him and waits until he uses it again, and then it betakes itself to Paul, to be sure of the sense ; and thus, simply, humbly loving the truth, it is impossible that it should not know the truth.
Let us remember that conversion consists in doing our duty ; that we are being converted just as far and as fast as we do our duty; that there is no conversion, and never can be a genuine conversion, while a man neglects to do his duty."