by Theodorus VanderGroe
LORD’S DAY 33
The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. —2 PETER 3:9
Question 88: Of how many parts doth the true conversion of man consist?
Answer: Of two parts: of the mortification of the old, and the quickening of the new man.
Question 89: What is the mortification of the old man? Answer: It is a sincere sorrow of heart that we have provoked God by our sins, and more and more to hate and flee from them.
Question 90: What is the quickening of the new man? Answer: It is a sincere joy of heart in God, through Christ, and with love and delight to live according to the will of God in all good works.
Question 91: But what are good works?
Answer: Only those which proceed from a true faith, are performed according to the law of God, and to His glory; and not such as are founded on our imaginations, or the institutions of men.
In the previous Lord’s Day, the instructor addressed the necessity of sanctification and the doing of good works by all true believers, meaning believers who have been delivered by Christ from their misery purely by grace and without any strength or merits of their own being taken into consideration. He addressed how this redeemed people, with both body and soul, must henceforth live in all true holiness and godliness before the Lord. In this Lord’s Day, he proceeds to expound for us how, in principle, the Lord enables His people to live accordingly by means of a true conversion of heart whereby they “put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts…. And…put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph. 4:22, 24). With the instructor, we will now proceed to consider this blessed and glorious benefit of conversion. May the Lord sustain us by His Holy Spirit, and may He bless our preaching.
The instructor addresses two matters in this Lord’s Day:
1. He expounds for us the true conversion of elect and believing sinners (Questions 88–90).
2. He describes and explains the nature and essence of those good works that proceed from conversion (Question 91).
The instructor observes the following order in regard to the conversion of a sinner:
1. He delineates for us in Question 88 what are the essential components of conversion.
2. He expounds in greater detail the two components of conversion in Questions 89 and 90.
Regarding the first, we must address the meaning of the word conversion, after which we will address the matter itself.
The benefit of God’s grace, as it is addressed here, is set before us by the term conversion. On the one hand, the thrust and essential meaning of the word conversion is a turning away from and forsaking of something, while on the other hand, it is a turning to something of one’s choosing that one affectionately receives and embraces. This word is therefore very suitable to express the great inner change and renewal of man that is wrought within as a result of this inner transformation. When an elect sinner repents, he wholeheartedly turns away from the service and slavery of sin to which, by nature, he is subject in both body and soul, and he sincerely turns to God, to His holy service, and to His communion, seeking and taking hold thereof entirely in Christ.
In His Word, the Holy Spirit customarily describes the conversion of the sinner in a variety of ways. He commonly refers to it as “returning”—that is, a turning to God from whom all men have departed through sin—as “being contrite,” or as “becoming wise again.” All of these are descriptive of conversion, for the repenting sinner indeed returns unto God. He is truly contrite, and inwardly he is grieved and sorrowful regarding his sins and having lived apart from the Lord. He again becomes wise and turns away from his former foolishness and imprudence.
Regarding the sinner’s conversion or his return unto God, the instructor first gives a general description when he posits that conversion consists “of the mortification of the old, and the quickening of the new man.”
To understand this correctly, you need to know that when God’s Word refers to the old man and the new man, it refers to the twofold state of God’s children: their natural state and their regenerate or renewed state of grace. The Holy Scriptures also commonly refer to these as flesh and spirit. To differentiate correctly between these two states of God’s children is a matter that requires considerable discernment—the sanctified discernment the saints have as a result of being anointed by the Father.
When God’s Word speaks of the old man, it is to be understood as referring to the natural state into which believers and all men are born. Until their regeneration and conversion, they continue wholly in this state, and subsequent to their conversion and being united to Christ, their old man always cleaves to them, even unto death.
What is the old man; that is, what does this natural state of man consist of? It consists of radical ungodliness, of being utterly estranged from God, and it has dominion over the entire man in both body and soul. It proceeds from Adam’s transgression, by which the entire human race fully departed from God, the consequence being that mankind no longer knows, loves, serves, or glorifies God in even the least degree. The old man is therefore this ungodly creature whose “carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Rom. 8:7). It is nothing but darkness and the “bond of iniquity” (Acts 8:23), a being utterly void of God, and a “being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart” (Eph. 4:18). During that period of life, we were entirely “without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). The old man is therefore an accursed creature that is fully subjected to the curse and wrath of God and is condemned by Him to eternal death and perdition. The fact that the Holy Scriptures designate this natural state of ungodliness and alienation from God as the old man is due to this innate ungodliness having complete dominion over the entire man in both soul and body, so that the intellect, the judgment, the will, the affections, the members, the senses, and whatever else constitutes man have fully departed from God and manifest absolute hatred and enmity toward Him. The old man is thus in bondage to sin and to vanity.
Another reason why this ungodliness is designated as the old man is primarily due to man being born in this state. The old man is therefore his old and innate nature. By the renewing work of the Holy Spirit in Christ Jesus, this old man increasingly must be hedged in, disappear, and vanish—until, upon the death of the body, it shall fully and eternally perish and be annihilated.
In contradistinction to this old man, there is in God’s children the new man, consisting of a spiritual and new creation. This new man, begotten of God in Christ and by the Holy Spirit, lives in all true believers from the moment when, by faith in the Lord Jesus, believers are internally united to Christ and embrace Him unto justification and sanctification. At that moment, they become partakers of the triune God Himself, as well as of His light, love, grace, and image, and they are internally united to Him. Their nature is principally transformed and renewed according to God’s image, and, with Christ, they are resurrected from the dead and made alive, receiving within them “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus,” which “hath made [them] free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2). They begin to know, love, serve, and glorify God in Christ and by the Holy Spirit. This proceeds from the inward principle of spirit and life that God has created within them by faith and regeneration. This new nature is therefore designated as “the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph. 4:24).
This new creation in God’s children is, in all things, the exact opposite of their old man and is designated as the new man because it encompasses the entire man. Therefore, the intellect, the judgment, the will, the affections, the members, the senses, and whatever else constitutes a man have principally been transformed and sanctified unto the service of the triune God. It is called the new man because this grace has been newly wrought in the believer by the Spirit of the Lord, and, as such, he is increasingly wrought upon as one who previously had none of this, for “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).
We have thus set before you in what the old and new man essentially consist. The instructor teaches regarding the old and the new man that true conversion consists of the mortification of the old and the quickening of the new man.
One of the components of conversion is the mortification of the old man, which the Holy Scriptures also designate as a “casting off” (Rom. 13:12), the crucifying of the old man (Rom. 6:6), the “destruction of the flesh” (1 Cor. 5:5). As to the essence of the matter, this is nothing but a dismantling and destruction of this old man of sin and the innate ungodliness within us. All who are converted by God begin to cease and desist in their enmity toward Him, and they part with their former ungodliness and unrighteousness. I have said that they begin to do this, for no one should think that when God’s children are regenerated and converted by the Spirit of the Lord, their old man of sin, that is, their sinful flesh, completely dies and is so utterly annihilated that nothing of it remains. This is by no means so, for this old man of sin remains alive in God’s children as long as they dwell here upon this earth. To their great sorrow and grief, the old man always cleaves to them, and they will not be fully delivered from the body of this death until their death.
In conversion, the old man is mortified in principle and by grace is subdued and broken to such an extent that it never is able, to all eternity, to have complete and unopposed dominion over believers as prior to their conversion, when they were in bondage to sin and uncleanness. However, from the time of their conversion and forward, the old man or the flesh is mortified in them. It then gradually and incrementally dies, and increasingly it is subdued by the Spirit as to its internal motions and lusts, until the old man, with the body of this death, is completely and eternally annihilated. This is the first component of conversion.
According to the instructor, the other component of conversion is the “quickening of the new man.” The Holy Scriptures also refer to this as the putting on of the new man (Eph. 4:24). This occurs when believers are inwardly united to Christ and when the principle of true spiritual life is established and activated within them—when, from being dead in sin, they are raised unto a new life and enter into the knowledge, service, and fellowship of God in Christ by the Holy Spirit. This is taught abundantly throughout the Holy Scriptures. Though this new man, when initially quickened in believers at conversion, is complete from the outset in all of its constituent parts, it is by no means complete as to degree, for in their initial conversion, believers receive a very small beginning of life and of grace, and it is as tender and weak as is the newly born child. However, having been created for eternity and unto perfection, this new creation, by the immediate infusion of grace and the operation of the Holy Spirit in Christ, gradually increases “till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). In proportion to the daily decline and mortification of the old man, this new creation in God’s children increases and arises in Christ Jesus their head until, at last, at the death of the body, it will be eternally perfect.
The conversion of man therefore consists of our old man of sin being mortified within us and a new and spiritual man being quickened in us by virtue of our union with Christ. When this occurs, we are truly converted and depart from our former ungodliness. With body and soul, we then return to the triune God in the way of His covenant and submit to Him, our lawful king and Lord, to serve and glorify Him, and to find all our salvation for time and eternity in Him.
The instructor is not satisfied with addressing this subject merely in general terms, for he proceeds to expound briefly of what these two components of conversion consist, and we will follow him and do likewise. To have more insight into the character and nature of true conversion, the instructor explains here what constitutes 1) the mortification of the old man, and 2) the quickening of the new man.
Regarding the first, the instructor teaches that the essence of the mortification of the old man is “a sincere sorrow of heart that we have provoked God by our sins, and more and more to hate and flee from them.” When the Lord Jesus converts His elect people, He illuminates their darkened understanding and, by His Word and Spirit, opens their blind eyes. He causes them to see how greatly and dreadfully they have sinned against the Lord their God and have fully forsaken Him and His holy service. They view this in light of the fact that they should have rendered Him all love, filial fear, and obedience with soul and body; that they should have glorified only Him, their creator and king, in all things; and that all their salvation consists solely in serving Him and having communion with Him.
They now perceive how dreadfully and grievously they have dishonored the Lord by breaking His yoke and willfully casting it from their necks, and instead have served Satan, the world, and themselves without ever inquiring of and seeking after the Lord. This is all clearly uncovered to the elect in their conversion. They see clearly and vividly how they have dishonored God the Lord and provoked Him to wrath by fully cleaving to and serving such as are no gods. They acknowledge that God is supremely holy and just, and therefore must punish the sinner temporally and eternally. They acknowledge that the Lord’s wrath toward them is justified and that God would be just were He to cast such vile sinners as they are into hell eternally, being unwilling to bestow the least measure of grace upon them. They view themselves as being utterly guilty, hell-worthy, abominable, and despicable, and by no means are they able to find within themselves the least measure of goodness or virtue. It cannot be otherwise, for they confess their ungodliness and that they have eternally forfeited the right to live—that is, in and of themselves, they have no standing before God by virtue of His infinite majesty, holiness, and justice. All this greatly grieves them and causes them inwardly to be sorrowful, perplexed, and ashamed before the Lord in the deepest recesses of their souls. They are truly sorrowful and troubled about their sins and the fact that they have forsaken the Lord. They therefore abhor themselves. They are as Ephraim, who cried out regarding himself, “Surely after that I was turned, I repented; and after that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh: I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth” (Jer. 31:19).
One may verbally speak of these things, but it cannot be truly expressed in words how intense and tender is the sorrow that God’s children generally experience in their conversion—this heartfelt sorrow, deep shame, grievous perplexity and contrition of soul, inward brokenness and humiliation before the Lord, and humble longing and groaning to be reconciled with God in Christ. This can be known only by the true and inward experience of the heart. How blessed they are who can speak of this by such knowledge, and in whose hearts has been verified all that the Holy Spirit abundantly testifies regarding these matters in His Word!
Does the mortification of the old man consist only in God’s children having such heartfelt sorrow and contrition because they have provoked God by their sins? No! According to the instructor, they “more and more…hate and flee from them.” The apostle Paul describes this when he writes, “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of” (2 Cor. 7:10).
Another preeminent aspect of conversion is that God’s children depart from all ungodliness. They truly hate all iniquity and therefore fully part with it in their inner man. In their hearts, they abhor it and no longer are either able or willing to have even the least fellowship with such iniquity.
It cannot be otherwise. He who has learned to see his sins as a most dreadful and abominable evil that utterly alienates him from God, as dreadful and evil because God is utterly dishonored and provoked, now sees his sins and is greatly grieved, contrite, and humbled in light of them, and therefore cannot but utterly hate sin as sin and exceedingly abhor it. Believers are admonished accordingly in Psalm 97:10, “Ye that love the LORD, hate evil.” Such persons cannot have the least fellowship with any measure of sin—with all that deviates from God’s holy law even in the least degree. Instead, they wholeheartedly hate and abhor sin, for God is thereby dishonored, despised, desecrated, and provoked.
By virtue of such innermost and righteous hatred against sin, such persons endeavor, by the grace of God in Christ Jesus, to part with all sin—not only sinful deeds and practices, but also their sinful nature and the least inclination they detect within themselves toward sin. They declare themselves to be enemies of all that opposes God and His holy law, and they desire to distance themselves utterly from sin, “hating even the garment spotted by the flesh” (Jude 23).
Such is the manner whereby a converted Christian, by the Spirit, is tender before the Lord in Christ Jesus, and all his wrestling and striving against sin proceed entirely from this disposition. This increases daily according to the measure of his grace, and does not cease until he is fully and eternally delivered from his sinful flesh, after which he is fully in subjection unto God. According to the instructor, this constitutes the essence of the mortification of the old man. The old man, or our sinful flesh, is dying when we perceive within ourselves such a heartfelt sorrow over our sins, whereby we dishonor and provoke God. We therefore utterly hate and flee from sin and all that in the least degree is related with it. This increasingly manifests itself in us by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Hereby the old man of sin within us, so to speak, is mortally wounded, and thereby is so stripped of its efficacy that never to all eternity will it have any dominion over him. Instead, by the increase of God’s grace within, and by virtue of its initial mortification, the old man increasingly becomes weaker and more feeble, until at last he is fully and eternally mortified—that is, when the life of Jesus and of His Spirit shall be fully manifested in His children. We have thus considered the first component of conversion, namely, the mortification of the old man, as well as what constitutes this mortification. We must yet briefly address the other component of conversion, namely, the quickening of the new man. According to the instructor, this consists in “a sincere joy of heart in God, through Christ, and with love and delight to live according to the will of God in all good works.”
May the Lord teach you this experientially by His Spirit, that when an elect sinner is inwardly renewed and converted, he goes to God in and through Christ and has true communion with Him by faith. No sooner does he perceive himself utterly to have departed from God through sin, to be subject to His righteous curse and wrath as one who is utterly impotent, poor, blind, and naked, than he at once completely desists from seeking life within himself. He exclaims that he is utterly ungodly and worthy of death, that it is all beyond hope for him, and that he cannot contribute anything whatsoever to his salvation, but that he must eternally perish, since God is infinitely holy and just, before whom he, as an ungodly one, cannot stand even for one moment.
To such an impotent, helpless, and truly perplexed sinner, God, by means of His Word and Spirit, and in accord with the content of the gospel, sets before him the counsel of His grace. He spiritually reveals to his mind the mediator, Christ Jesus, His Son, in His suitability, fullness, all-sufficiency, and sweet willingness. God does so with such clarity and with such discerning light proceeding from His Spirit that the heart of the sinner is thereby powerfully inclined toward the Lord Jesus and His free and sovereign grace. By the powerful ministry of the Spirit, the sinner completely and fully turns away from himself and turns unto the Lord Jesus and His fullness, taking hold of Him and His offered strength and righteousness as proposed in the gospel (Isa. 27:5). By faith, he does so purely and sincerely, and he fully and unconditionally surrenders himself, upon the basis of free and sovereign grace, to the Lord Jesus unto justification and sanctification. He is fully inclined and prepared by faith and by grace to expect his entire salvation and redemption from God in Christ.
By faith, the sinner does not merely cleave to Christ. In and through Him, he goes unto God, who reveals Himself to him in Christ. He confesses his sins unto God, acknowledging his hell-worthiness and impotence. The sinner comes before God with the all-sufficient righteousness of the mediator Jesus, beseeching of Him that He would receive him for the sake of that righteousness and not impute his sins to him. He experiences that God is entirely well pleased with this and that He graciously and for Christ’s sake pardons all his sins fully and eternally. God therefore is no longer angry with him, but in and through His Son, Christ Jesus, He is fully reconciled to him. Thereupon such a sinner receives and enjoys from God such a measure of love, grace, and benevolence, and so much fills his soul from God through Christ that he cannot express in words the eternal love and sovereign mercy of God in Christ regarding him, who is such a vile, hell-worthy, and ungodly sinner. This greatly exceeds all that he could have imagined, and it greatly transcends the capacity of his amazement and adoration that God would be reconciled to an ungodly sinner in such a way, and eternally unite and turn him to Himself. Such a sinner will never be able to magnify, praise, and exalt God in the measure whereof He is worthy. Although he had a thousand mouths and tongues, he would infinitely come short in doing this, for he cannot rightly express to other men in what measure his heart is now filled with the sweetest love, peace, comfort, and joy in God. All of his joy, delight, confidence, and desire is now only in God through Christ, “whom having not seen, [he loves], in whom, though now [he sees] him not, yet believing, [he rejoices] with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8).
This is the blessed joy and peace of a sinner who in God through Christ is the recipient of grace and reconciliation. The Holy Scriptures speak of this joy and peace in such sweet and glorious terms, but this remains utterly hidden from flesh and blood. It is a joy that increasingly leads the sinner away from all that is of self and from all that is not to be found in the Lord Jesus, but increasingly unites him with God in Christ. This joy that the soul now finds in God through Christ constitutes the internal and spiritual life of the soul, and this begets the new man in the soul that is now truly born of God.
According to the instructor, this sincere and spiritual “joy of heart in God, through Christ” is inseparably connected to the desire “with love and delight to live according to the will of God in all good works.” This joy in God is a true, spiritual, and holy joy, for the soul who thus rejoices and delights herself in God through Christ fully loves God and His holy attributes, and she has no desire but to be fully subject to Christ in both soul and body. Such a soul is also desirous that never again will she sin against Him, but that in all things she might do His good and holy will. This alone becomes her intent and desire. She now finds all her salvation in continually walking “worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10). This walking “worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing” is now chosen by the soul to be her best portion, and she thereby fully bids an eternal farewell to the service of sin, having but one desire—“to live according to the will of God in all good works.”
Such a person now belongs to Jesus’s own, willing people, whom He has purified “unto himself [as] a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14). If time permitted, with the Lord’s help, I would expound this in greater detail, for the quickening of the new man consists in this “sincere joy of heart in God, through Christ, and with love and delight to live according to the will of God in all good works.”
If someone has experience of what we have set before you, a new man and a new creature have been quickened within him, and internally he has been transformed and renewed according to God’s image in true righteousness and in holiness.
Thus, we have briefly expounded for you in what the “the mortification of the old, and the quickening of the new man” consists, and this constitutes the true conversion of man. He who experiences these two matters within himself turns from sin unto God. He forsakes his natural ungodliness and returns unto the service of the triune God and His communion, from which he had utterly departed through sin.
How supremely blessed are such people who have been converted unto God in truth! No one should entertain the thought that such a conversion proceeds from man himself—as if man could be converted unto God by his own power, suitability, and ability. Beloved, man cannot convert himself. Man is intimately and inseparably intertwined with his sins, and he can do no otherwise but utterly hate God and His holy service. Conversion is and remains the duty of man, and God will punish the unconverted with eternal condemnation because they would not turn unto Him. Nevertheless, conversion is and remains the Lord’s work as to its outset, continuation, and completion. For all His elect, Christ is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. “Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31).
Having explained and expounded the conversion of a sinner, the instructor proceeds to consider those good works that all truly converted men are now desirous to do and so to walk in accord therewith. In Question 91, the instructor will explain what good works are and what the constituent elements of such good works are. Since, however, this is a matter of great importance and of far-reaching ramifications, we will expound this more particularly in a subsequent Lord’s Day. It is the wish and prayer of our soul that the Lord would be pleased graciously to bless our exposition to the initial conversion of dead sinners and to the further renewal and conversion of His people and children. Amen. So be it for the Lord’s sake!
From The Christian's Only Comfort in Life and Death by Theodorus VanderGroe