The Need and Nature of Conversion
A Sermon (No. 2797)
Intended for Reading on Lord’s-Day,
September 21st, 1902,
C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.
On Lord’s-day Evening, October 13th, 1878.
“Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”Isaiah 55:7.
OME year ago,* I preached from the last four words of this verse, laying special stress upon the
abundant pardon which is given to repenting sinners through the rich mercy of our God. On this occasion, I am going to put the emphasis upon the first part of the verse, speaking more upon the
necessity of the sinner forsaking his evil way, and of the unrighteous man abandoning his evil thoughts.
There is urgent necessity for us continually to insist upon this course of action. This chapter, as we noticed in our
reading, is full of gospel teaching, and it expresses, under the most striking and cheering metaphors, both the
fullness and the freeness of the gospel. But the prophet also insists most clearly that the wicked man must forsake
his way, and the unrighteous man must turn from his thoughts, and return to the Lord, that he may obtain the
mercy and pardon that God is waiting and willing to bestow.
This is not a merely legal demand; it is a gospel demand, found in the centre of a gospel chapter in the writings
of the most evangelical of all the prophets. The chapter begins with a number of gracious and wide invitations, and
so naturally leads on to the promise of the coming Saviour. Only God himself could find a Saviour for our ruined
race, and none but God’s own Son could be that Saviour. Then there follows, in due order, the promise of a
people to be saved. The Savour shall not come to the earth in vain. He shall call a people unto himself, and
“nations” shall run unto him. Then, following the promise of a Saviour, and the declaration of the certainty that
many shall be saved by him, there comes in this loving invitation, “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call
ye upon him while he is near.” Since he is to have a people who shall be his for ever, put in your claim to be
amongst them; and since, as a Saviour, he is near to you, call upon him, and he will hear your call.
This brings us to our text, which is consistent with the rest of the chapter, even though some people think it is
not. Here we are told, first, that the wicked must forsake his way. There is no Saviour for the man who will not
forsake his sin. Such a man can never be among the people who shall run to Christ, for how can he run to Christ
while he continues in the way of sin? Such a man shall seek sin, he cannot embrace the Saviour who hates sin
with a perfect hatred. This is the theme upon which I am going to speak now, and I want to do it in the spirit of
the Master, of whom Malachi wrote, “For who may abide the day of his coming? And who shall stand when he
appeareth? For he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: and he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and
he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering
in righteousness.” May the Master bless his own searching word, and he shall have all the praise.
I. First, then, let us meditate a while upon THE NECESSITY OF CONVERSION. If a man is to be saved, he
must turn from his sins. “Right about face!” is the marching order for every sinner. There is no hope of
forgiveness for him if he will continue with his face as it now is. He must turn from his sin if he would be saved.
This will be at once evident to you when I ask, How would it be consistent with the holiness of God for
him to put aside our past sin, and then to allow us to go on sinning as we did before? How could he be thought
to be just and pure if he should remit the punishment for past transgressions, without seeing in us any
determination to abstain from such sin in the future? Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, but he never
came here to spare their sins. God would never have sent his Son to this earth to be the messenger of sin, yet
Christ would be nothing better than the messenger of sin if he had come, and said to men, “You may continue in
your sin, yet I will forgive you. You may live as you like, yet you shall find mercy with the Lord at the last.” It
must strike you, in a moment, that such a course as this would be inconsistent with the character of the Judge of
all the earth, who must do right. There is no such teaching as that in the whole of the Scriptures; and he who dares
to believe it, believes a lie. Nowhere, in the whole compass of revelation, is there a promise of forgiveness to the
man who continues in his iniquity. There is a promise of pardon to the sinner who forsakes his wicked way, and
turns from his evil thoughts; there are many promises of forgiveness to those who confess their sins in humble
penitence, and who seek to live new lives under the power of the Holy Spirit. Possibly, someone would remind me
that the greatest promises are given to those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. That is quite true; but the faith
which believes in Jesus is a living and active faith, which works in the soul a hatred of sin; and if a man says, “I
believe in Christ,” and yet continues to delight in sin, he is a liar, and the truth is not in him, for “faith, if it hath not
works, is dead, being alone.” That faith alone will save us which is proved to be a vital and real faith by bringing
forth “fruits meet for repentance.” It is no use wanting or trying to be saved without a change of heart, and a
change of life. “Ye must be born again,” is Christ’s own word to all unregenerate sinners. Without holiness no man
shall see the Lord. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”
There has never been any revocation of these truths, and again I repeat that, in the whole compass of the Word of
God, there is no promise of pardon to the man who continues in his iniquities.
Neither, dear friends, is there a single case in fact, nor one emblem in parable, that would lead any man to
hope that he could keep his sins, and yet be saved. If you remind me of the woman in the city who was a sinner, I
also remind you that her life had been completely changed, else our Saviour would not have permitted her to wash
his feet with her tears, and wipe them with the hairs of her head. Saul of Tarsus was guilty of the great sin of
persecuting the saints; but see what a changed man was Paul the apostle of the Gentiles. Zaccheus, the rich
tax-gatherer, offered to make full restitution and recompense to any whom he might have wronged. So is it
evermore where the grace of God works effectually. When the Lord Jesus Christ saves a sinner from the
punishment of sin, he also saves him from the love of sin; he makes him holy as well as makes him happy and
safe. The same lesson is taught in our Lord’s parables. For instance, there was no rejoicing over the lost sheep
while it was still wandering away from the fold; the joy began when that lost sheep was found, and was brought
home on the shepherd’s shoulder. A more striking example is that of the prodigal son. There was no joy over him
while he was in the far country, and no kiss for him from his father while he was feeding the swine. He must
come back, he must say, “Father, I have sinned,” there must be the forsaking of his former evil ways, or else there
could be no enjoyment of his father’s forgiveness. We must ever say, as plainly as we can possibly say it, If thou
wilt keep thy sins, thou shalt go to hell; but if thou wouldst go to heaven, thou must part company with thy sins.
He who would be married to Christ must first be divorced from sin. There is no possibility of walking in the way
of the Lord and, at the same time, treading the pathway of evil. “No man can serve two masters.” No one can, at
the same time, be a servant of the Saviour and a servant of Satan.
Besides, dear friends, our common sense tells us that it would be highly dangerous to society if men were to
be pardoned, and yet were not to be renewed in character and life. If Christ should meet with a man, and say to
him, “I forgive thee because of the precious blood I shed for thee on Calvary; go and be a drunkard still, go and be
unchaste, go and be a thief,” this would be the way to undermine the very pillars of society, and, very soon, we
should not be safe in our beds. If there were no laws, or if the laws had no system of punishment for the guilty,
human society would cease to be endurable. He who ruleth all things righteously will never set up such a scheme
as this. The Judge of all the earth must punish sin; he will by no means clear the guilty.
Moreover, it would be a serious injury to the man himself if he could be pardoned, and yet not be changed.
For God to forgive us without renewing us, would be a frightful peril to ourselves. A man, finding himself so easily
forgiven, and having no change of heart, would plunge into sin worse than ever; and, so far as my observation is
concerned, I have come to the conclusion that the very worst form of character is produced in a man who, for
some reason or other, thinks himself to be a favourite of heaven, and yet continues to indulge in sin. I recollect the
thrill of horror, which passed through me, in my youthful days, when I heard a man, who was accustomed to be
drunk, boast that he could say what none of his pot companions could say, namely, that he was one of the elect of
God. I felt, child as I was, that he was one of the devil’s chosen followers, and I do not doubt that he really was. If
a man once gets into his head such a perverted notion of the free grace of God as to imagine that it is compatible
with the love of sin, and a life of sin, he is on the high road to being made into the worst conceivable character;
and if such a man as that could be delivered from all the consequences of his sin, from all such consequences as
might be looked upon as arbitrarily fixed by the punishing hand of God, (I know that I am talking of an
impossibility,) even then he must be miserable. Such a man must go on from bad to worse; and sin, whatever we
may think of it, is misery. The worm that never dies is sin; the fire that is never quenched is sin; and hell is sin
fully developed. “Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death,” and that second death is hell. O sirs, if you could
get rid of the disease, the pain, the headaches, the qualms of conscience which follow upon indulgence in sin, it
would be a mischievous riddance for you, for the very pain that is caused by sin is part of God’s way of calling to
you to come back to him. As long as you are in this world, the consequences that follow after certain forms of sin
are really, with all their bitterness, and they are bitter, but a healthful tonic that should make you give up sin,
and turn to God.
If you go on sinning, you cannot be saved. If you continue to love sin, and to practise it, you cannot be saved.
Think, for a moment, what any other result would involve; if it were possible for a man to live in sin, and yet be
forgiven, what would be the value of the work of the Holy Ghost? He has come in order that we may be born
again, and have new hearts and right spirits; but if men could be forgiven without having new hearts and right
spirits, of what service would the Holy Spirit be? This would be contrary, also, to the whole design of Christ in our
salvation. The angel said to Joseph, before our Saviour’s birth, “Thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save
his people from their sins;” but if they can be saved in their sins, where is the meaning of his name? When he hung
upon the cross, and one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, “forthwith came there out blood and water;”
but what is the use of the purifying water if we need not be purified, and can be pardoned without being cleansed?
Paul wrote to Titus that Christ “gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto
himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works;” but how can that purpose be accomplished if men can be
pardoned, and yet continue to live in sin?
Beside that, the very character of heaven prevents such a thing being done; we know that the unholy cannot
enter there, nothing that defileth can pass the watchers at the pearly portals; therefore, be ye sure of this, that
you can never enter heaven, and you can never have forgiveness, if you continue to cling to your sins. You must
forsake them, or mercy cannot be yours.
II. Having spoken thus upon the necessity of conversion, I turn, for a little while, to the second part of our
subject, THE NATURE OF THIS CONVERSION. How is it described here?
First, it deals with the life: “Let the wicked forsake his way.” Observe that it is “his way” that he is to
forsake; that is, his natural way, the way in which he says he was brought up, the way that his natural affections,
and propensities, and passions lead him. He must forsake this way, even though it is the way in which he has
walked these thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, seventy, or even eighty years; he will have to get out of this way, however
much he may delight in it. Possibly, he has now got to love sin so much that he says he could not give it up. There
are some sins which men roll under their tongues as dainty morsels; but if you are to be saved, you will have to
give them up. If you would have mercy of God, you must give them all up. You must give up your old sins, your
sweet sins, your pet sins; the sins of the flesh, with all their pleasure, and the sins of the mind, with all their pride,
must be given up; for notice that word “forsake.” “Let the wicked forsake his way.” It does not say, “Let him own
that his way is bad.” There are some who will say, ‘Oh, yes, I know that my way is very wrong;” and there they
stop. Such an admission as that will not save you, my friend; you must forsake your way as well as own that it is
wrong. To know that it is wrong, and yet to go on in it, will double your sin. This kind of confession will not help
you in the least; on the contrary, it will only increase your guilt. You must forsake your wicked way if you are to
be forgiven. “Oh, sir,” you say, “I am very sorry for all the sin that I have committed!” I am glad that you are, and
I hope that you will be still more so; but that sorrow alone will never save you. It is not saying, “I am sorry,” nor
yet your being sorry for your sin that will save you; that is right as far as it goes, but you must forsake the sin as
well as be sorry for it. “I must forsake it; well, I resolve that I will do so.” Yet that resolve by itself will not save
you, for there are plenty of good resolutions that are good for nothing. You have actually to forsake your wicked
way before you have complied with the requirements of our text. I know how the devil will try to deceive you,
when you have made a good resolution. He will say, “Ah, you are a fine fellow; and that is a splendid resolution of
yours!” Yet mere resolutions are not worth a penny a thousand; we must act, not simply resolve what we mean to
do. We must not be like the man who owes a lot of money, and has not a penny to pay, yet who keeps on saying
to his creditors, “I hope I shall be able to pay you tomorrow.” Then, when that day comes, he says he is very
sorry, but he missed the friend he expected to see, so he must postpone the payment for a few days; yet, when the
few days have passed, there is still nothing forthcoming. So it is with many who resolve to forsake sin; they are
like those who promise, but never pay. This will not do; you must forsake your sin if it is to be forgiven.
“I will tell you what I will do,” says one; “I will still keep to my old way, but I will not travel quite so rapidly in
it; I will not live such a fast life as I have done.” I tell thee, friend, that thou must forsake that old way of thine
altogether if thou wouldst be saved. If thou standest still in it, if thou art decent and respectable in it, all that will
avail thee nothing. Thou must clear right out of it, for so our text puts it, “Let the wicked forsake his way.” In
plain terms, the prophet means just this. Is your way the way of the drunkard? Now, no drunkard can ever inherit
the kingdom of God as long as he continues a drunkard, so you cannot be saved if you remain in that condition.
Are you a thief? Do you privately cheat in business? All that kind of thing must be given up. It is no use for you to
say, “I will do it, and yet go to heaven.” You will be damned unless that sin, as well as others, be given up. Or
have you been a blasphemer? Do you talk profanely or filthily? You must wash all that foulness out of your mouth
if you would be saved: “Let the wicked forsake his way.” Am I addressing any who have practised vice in
unmentionable forms? Oh, how many there are who do that, and yet are not ashamed! You must forsake all that,
young man, or old man either; it is no use mincing matters with you. If you mean to go to hell, go on with your
wickedness; but if you would be forgiven for the past, you must cut all connection with these evil things for the
future. I most solemnly assure you, in the name of God, that there can be no compromise about this and every
other sin. ‘Let the wicked forsake his way, a fleshly way, a way of lust, a way of self-indulgence, any way of
sin, it must be forsaken. You must abandon it, or else you must abandon all hope of ever getting to heaven.
“That is pretty strong language,” says someone. Do you think so? I shall have to use still stronger expressions
presently, for the next point concerning the nature of this repentance is that it deals with the man’s thoughts: “Let
the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts.” “But thoughts are free,” says some unthinking
person; “I shall never be hanged for my thoughts.” No, perhaps not; but have you never heard that old saying, “A
man may not be hanged for his thoughts, but he may be damned for his thoughts;” for, in thought, is often the
very essence of sin. A deed might in itself be colourless; but the motive for doing it the thought at the back of
it puts the venom, and virus, and guilt into the deed.
As that is the case, what sort of thoughts must the unrighteous man give up? He must give up a great many
fine opinions of which he is very proud; his opinion about God, for instance. It is possible that he has thought
nothing of him; or if he has thought of him at all, he has dared even to judge his Creator, and to find fault with
what God does. Ah, sir! You must give up all such thoughts of God, and you must come to reverence him, and to
regard him as so great that you are less than nothing in comparison with him. You will also have to give up your
opinion concerning God’s law. You thought it was too severe, too stringent, and that you could improve it a great
deal. You will have to confess, with the apostle Paul, that the law is spiritual, and that you are “carnal, sold under
sin.” You will have to change your mind upon a great many subjects if you really wish to be saved. You will have
to forsake your old thoughts concerning sin. You said, “Oh, it is a mere trifle, a peccadillo! Poor helpless
creatures as we are, God won’t be angry with us for such a little thing as that.” You will have to feel that sin is
exceedingly sinful, a great and deadly evil, or you will never be likely to seek and to find peace with God. You will
also have to change your mind about the Lord Jesus Christ. He is nothing to you now; but he will have to be
everything to you if you are to be saved by him. You will have to change your mind about yourself; you fancy
that you are a fine fellow now, but you will have to regard yourself as less than nothing before you come to your
right position before God. If ever you are to find mercy at his hands, you will have to forsake your present
thoughts on all these matters.
Do you ask, “What other thoughts shall we have to forsake?” I reply, A whole set of thoughts in which
many people indulge. To the ungodly man, it is often quite a treat to sit down, and think of what he calls the jolly
days of his youth when he sowed his wild oats. He wishes that he had a handful or two of them left. Ah, sir! You
will have to give up all thoughts of that sort; but you will have to think of those past days with bitter tears of
sorrow over the sins that you then committed. The ungodly man often pictures to himself scenes of carnal delight;
and if he cannot have a share in such scenes, he often wishes that he could. I would remind any of you, who have
ever done so, that you may commit every sin forbidden in the Decalogue, without having actually committed any
one of them, by simply revelling in them in your thoughts. Remember that solemn affirmation of the Lord Jesus
Christ concerning the seventh commandment, “I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after
her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart;” and learn from it how our Lord meant his interpretation
to apply to the whole law, so that we should understand that the very thought of evil is sin; and to suck it down as
a sweet morsel to think upon, even though we never dared to perpetrate the act, is still a gross evil; and if we
would be forgiven, we must forsake all these vile, flesh-delighting thoughts.
We must also forsake our thoughts in the sense of turning from all purposes of evil. That, indeed, is the main
meaning of the Hebrew word used here: “Let the unrighteous man forsake his purposes.” You say that you will do
this or that, without any thought of whether God would have it so or not. Possibly it is your purpose, as you
express it, “to have your fling.” You have come up from the country, young man, you are pleased that you have
got away from your mother’s apron strings, and now you are going to have your own way. Forsake all such
thoughts, I implore you; and, if any, whom I am now addressing, have formed any purpose of sin, if you have
resolved to indulge in this or that evil, whatever it may be, I charge you, if you desire to have eternal life, to hate
all such purposes and thoughts of sin. The garment spotted by the flesh must be flung away from us, and the very
thought of evil must be banished from our minds as far as it is possible for us to do so.
Nor is this all, for the text further says, “and let him return unto the Lord,” so that this conversion deals with
the sinner in his relation to God. He who would find mercy must return to God to obtain it. Do you ask how you
are to do so? Well, first, you must begin to think about God. I really believe that some of you do not think half as
much about God as you do about the Sultan of Turkey; and with some of you, almost an