by Christopher Love
That at that time ye were without Christ, being Aliens from the Common-wealth of Israel, and strangers from the Covenants of promise; having no hope, and without God in the world. - Ephesians. 2. 12.
God's will is for those in a converted state to frequently recall their sin and misery before conversion. One reason for this is that by doing so, we will be all the more inclined to magnify and admire the greatness and richness of God's grace towards us. There are none in the world who are greater admirers of God's grace and mercy than those who are most mindful of their own sin and misery. You will never truly and profoundly magnify God's mercy until you are plunged into a deep sense of your own misery. Until the Lord has enabled you to see how wretched and miserable you were before conversion, you will not fully appreciate and magnify the riches of God's free grace in bringing you out of that condition and into the state of grace. This is what the Apostle Paul was saying in 1 Timothy 1:13 when he was trying to magnify the free grace of God to him. He said, "I was a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious; but I obtained mercy because of the abundance of God's grace." The recollection of his former sins elevated and stirred his heart to make him admire the free grace of God towards his soul. A man who has never been in prison can never value liberty as he should.
God wants us to recall our sin and misery before conversion not only to magnify and admire the greatness of His grace but also to have a deeper understanding of the depravity of our nature. This understanding is essential in developing true humility, which is a vital element in Christian character. By acknowledging our own sin and misery, we become less focused on ourselves and more focused on God, which is the essence of true humility.
Another reason why God wants us to recall our sin and misery before conversion is because it serves as a spur to quicken and engage us to be more eminent in grace after our conversion. When we frequently and seriously consider how bad and sinful we were before conversion, it cannot help but provoke us to be more humble and holy after our conversion. This is very evident in the life of Paul. All the sins and wickedness he was guilty of before conversion, he strove against and laboured to excel in the contrary graces after conversion. Before his conversion, he laboured to drag others to prison for worshipping Christ. But after his conversion, he laboured to draw others to Christ. In Acts 26:10-11, he said, "Many of the saints I put in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many times I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to speak against Jesus. In my furious rage against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them."
After his conversion, he laboured to outdo the evil course he was in before. Before conversion, he imprisoned those who belonged to Christ, but after conversion, he was imprisoned himself for the cause of Christ. Before conversion, he spoke out against the people of God, but after conversion, he prayed for them. Before conversion, he punished them often, but afterward he preached to them often. Before conversion, he compelled men to blaspheme Christ, but after conversion, he was very earnest to persuade people to believe in Christ. Before conversion, he was exceedingly mad against the people of God, but afterward, he was so exceedingly zealous for them that everyone thought he was mad. Finally, before conversion, he persecuted saints to strange cities, but afterward, he went preaching the Gospel to strange cities.
My beloved, let Paul's example be your guide. Recall your sin and wickedness in your unconverted condition, but let it provoke you to labour to abound in grace now that you are converted, just as you formerly abounded in sin.
One reason why God wants us to remember our sins and misery before conversion is to arouse compassion in our hearts towards those who have not yet converted. The Apostle Paul exhorts us to this in Titus 3:2-3, "To speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another." Paul is saying that he, Titus, and all believers were once as sinful as the unconverted. Therefore, we should be compassionate towards them. Remembering our own past sins can help us to empathize with the unconverted and be more compassionate towards them.
We should remember our past sins not only to help us show compassion towards the unconverted but also to remind us of God's mercy and grace. By remembering our own past sins, we are reminded of how much we have been forgiven. This should fill us with gratitude and humility and should also encourage us to extend mercy and grace to others.
Another reason for remembering our former misery is to abate pride in the hearts of converted individuals. This will be a means of keeping pride under control and promoting humility among God's people. Beloved, even a good person is naturally inclined towards pride. We may not be proud of our sins, but we tend to be proud of our virtues. Pride can grow in the hearts of the best of men. Therefore, God wants us to reflect on our unconverted state at times to humble our spirits. In Ezekiel 16:3-5, God says to Jerusalem, "Your birth and your nativity are of the land of Canaan; your father was an Amorite, and your mother a Hittite. And as for your nativity, in the day you were born your navel was not cut, neither were you washed in water to supple you; you were not pitied at all, to do any of these things for you, to have compassion upon you; but you were cast out in the open field, to the loathing of your person, in the day that you were born." God wants the people to remember their guilt and shame when He is pacified towards them and reconciled to them. In Ezekiel 20:43, He says, "And there you shall remember your ways and all your doings with which you were defiled; and you shall loathe yourselves in your sight for all the evils that you have committed."
There is an account of Agathocles, as related by Plutarch, who went from being a potter's son and in a low, contemptible condition to becoming King of Sicily. Even when he could have had his meals served in golden dishes every day, he still had his food brought in earthen dishes, saying, "I may remember what I was and what I am, a potter's son, so that I may not be too much lifted up and exalted." Similarly, we must remember what we were, children of a potter, and poor miserable sinners. This will help us to abate the pride in our hearts.
Lastly, God wants us to recall our former sinful nature because it will make us more watchful and circumspect, preventing us from running back into the same sins we were guilty of before conversion. God does not want us to recall our former sins to drive us into despair or question our salvation, but to make us humble and watchful, preventing us from repeating those same sins. You can think to yourself, "Before conversion, I spent my days in sin and wickedness, and consumed my years in vanity and pleasures, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and mind." Reflecting on this will lay an obligation on your soul to walk more carefully, prudently, and holily in the future. This is what the Apostle Paul meant in Ephesians 5:8 when he said, "For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light." We should now hate and abhor those sins that we once delighted in.
This point has several uses, but I will only make one short use of it, which is to reprehend those who contradict this doctrine either in their judgment or practice, despite it being God's will that we remember our former sinfulness after conversion.
Firstly, it rebukes those who think that once they are converted, they should never look back upon their former wretchedness and only live in divine raptures, revelations, spiritual joys, and comforts. This is because, firstly, if Paul's precept is justifiable, then this opinion is not. Paul tells us that we must remember what we were in our unconverted state, that we were without Christ, without hope, and without God in the world. Secondly, Paul instructs the Ephesians, who were an elected people chosen before the beginning of the world, to remember that they were previously dead in trespasses and sins, though now they have been made alive. If Paul tells them to recall their former sinful nature, then why should we not do the same?
This also rebukes those who, although they do not deny this doctrine in their judgment, fail to make it their practice to recall their former sins before conversion. I am sure that many of you can remember what you have done and the debts you had twenty years ago, but cannot recall the sins you committed twenty years ago. Perhaps some of you were once cheaters, swearers, adulterers, and profaners, yet you do not think about it now and believe that everything is alright. I cannot express how sorrowful, dismal, and deplorable your soul's condition is if you never recall your former sins. But this is enough for the first doctrine.
Excerpt: The Natural Man's Case Stated by Christopher Love