|Some Memorable Conversions|
by C. H. Spurgeon
From the September 1877 Sword and Trowel
HE ACCOUNT which Richard Baxter gives of his own conversion has often been quoted as a testimony to the power of good books. When Richard was about fifteen years of age a certain day laborer known to the family lent them "an old torn book" called "Bunny's Resolutions," and the reading of this became a means of enlightenment. What happened farther goes to show the value of colportage, though colporteurs as an organized band were not known in England until centuries afterwards. A peddler, whose pack contained some indifferent wares, as well as others of sterling merit, one day halted at the Baxters' house and sold a copy of Sibbes's "Bruised Reed." That book was the instrument used to confirm Richard in the faith: though, as is sometimes represented, it was not the means of his awakening. "The Bruised Reed" has in reality taken the honor due to the "old torn book" of the poor day laborer.
In the era of the Reformation it appears that educated men were frequently converted despite their former prejudices, if not in opposition to their prayers. Prince George of Anhalt was of this description; for after reading the books of Luther from mere curiosity, and not without inward misgivings as to his own weakness, he embraced the reformed faith and built up the church. Even more striking was the case of Vergerins, legate of the pope in Germany, and whose eminent services to the Roman see "His Holiness" purposed to reward with a cardinal's hat. There were those about the court, however, who counseled a becoming caution; for having been so long absent from the center of orthodoxy, some suspected that Vergerius at least smelled of Lutheranism. On learning how matters stood the ecclesiastic was more than a little chagrined, being conscious of his own integrity and devotion to the church. He resolved to prove his sincerity by writing down the Reformation, in a book to be entitled "Against the Apostate Germans," and he retired to a suitable retreat for that purpose. He set himself industriously to work at the task of reading the books of the enemy, but this reading was blessed to his conversion. He went to his brother to tell him what had occurred, and that brother likewise renounced popery. They both of them became zealous preachers and pillars in the Protestant church.
A Turk, who was baptized at St. Paul's church in Covent Garden, in 1658, under the new name of Richard Christophilus, owed his conversion to a singular train of circumstances, which plainly showed the leading of Providence. At Constantinople he had served the Porte in a high official station, and by embracing Christianity he became liable to such torture and death as are characteristic of the Turkish rule. It happened that he had a slave who was a devout Christian, and this man could not be prevented by any of the ill-usage to which he was subjected from pressing upon his master the claims of the gospel. Though again and again repulsed, this procedure was at length successful; a breach was made in the great man's Mahomedan bigotry, and he began to suspect that Christ was the Messiah and the prophet of Islam an impostor. At once resigning every brilliant prospect in life, he fled to Paris; but after seeking instruction at the hands of the Romish priests the fugitive felt disappointed, thinking that if such things were the doctrines of Christ there was some reason to return to Constantinople. Hearing that there were other sections of the church in the city the poor man determined to find them, and thus he was instructed in the truth by the Protestant pastors during a space of six weeks. He soon became happy in the faith, and renounced the abominations of Islam before the congregations of the church in London, where he was received into communion.
The Puritans believed that persons might be brought into paths of righteousness by severe dealing. An atheist, and a profane swearer, named White, was said to have been converted through seeing the devil at his bedside in the form of "a great ugly man," whose smile was more repulsive than his frown. He was one of those commonplace boors who look upon hell and demons as names invented by interested parsons, and only by a terrible vision of the night was he cured of his illiterate belief.
A beautiful story illustrative of some of the very finest traits of the Christian character belongs to the family of Sergeant Granvil. The sergeant had two sons, and unfortunately the elder, on whom it was hoped the estate might be conferred, was a fast liver, and he promised soon to squander in waste and riot the property of which he was utterly unworthy. As neither entreaty nor threatenings sufficed to bring about a reformation the father at last, in self-defense, settled the inheritance on the younger brother, who was of a more tractable disposition. After the good father's death the youthful renegade sat down to meditate on his folly: he grew melancholy, but at length, perceiving that he had forfeited an earthly estate, he determined to lay hold on a better inheritance in heaven. The brother beheld the change with admiration, the evidences of its reality being quite convincing. Soon afterwards the friends of the family were invited to a great feast, at which the rejoicings suddenly took an unexpected turn. A dish was placed before the elder brother, and this on being uncovered was found to hold a pile of deeds transferring the whole of the property into his possession. The younger intimated that in so acting he had only done what their father would have done had he lived to see the blessedness of the change they themselves were privileged to witness.
The conversion of Mr. Studly, whose father was a Kentish lawyer who hated aught savoring of Puritanism with fervent hatred, presents many points of interest, and is besides illustrative of English life when Charles the Second reigned at Whitehall. Reared in the faith and practices of a cavalier, the younger Studly was no better than his tutors until he was arrested in his course of sin by a surprising adventure in the streets of London. Having on a certain occasion sat late at night with some roystering companions, he was returning homeward the worse for liquor, when he fell into a cellar which opened on the pathway, and lay at the bottom partially stunned, but with a dreadful suspicion floating in his mind that he had fallen suddenly into the infernal regions. Fortunately the shock was one which did not vanish as the morning dew on the return of consciousness. The habits which had occasioned the catastrophe were forsaken, the young man became subject to fits of melancholy, he took to reading, and sought by prayer to remove the burden which oppressed him. This change in the current of the young man's life was not relished by the father, who at once adopted means to extinguish all this Puritan enthusiasm, such as dealing out rough treatment, and obliging the youth to engage himself with horses or worldly employments. When it was discovered that he read at night, candle was denied, but so long as fire-light sufficed for a substitute the want was scarcely felt. In the hope of curing what he supposed to be a religious distemper the father resorted to other means; he sent his son to France, expecting that the frivolous society of gay people would have the desired effect. All things turned out quite different from these expectations. A lodging was taken in the house of a godly Protestant pastor, who in due time returned to England with his young friend, though on the pastor's character being discovered he was not permitted to remain in the home of the squire. As the youth still remained Puritanically inclined, a situation was obtained for him at Whitehall, where as gentleman-in-waiting to a lady of high station it was hoped he would forget his religion. It turned out precisely contrary; instead of conforming to the world he contributed to the reformation of those about him, and to the lady's extreme satisfaction such order reigned in her establishment as she had never known before. Still perplexed as to what he should do next, but determined to carry his point, the elder Studly thought that marriage might probably win the victory where everything else had failed. A neighboring gentleman of wealth and position had a beautiful daughter who would in all respects make a desirable match, and it was determined that the incorrigible young Puritan should be united with this lady. This was the final attempt, and the penalty for not acceding to the paternal wish and returning to the world was forfeiture of the family estate. The young man so far yielded that he consented to woo the lady, and in order that no unnecessary obstacles might obstruct the way, loose, profane conversation or immoral doings were for the time, as far as was practicable, suspended in the household. The family wore masks as it were until their true characters were concealed; but at the wedding dinner, which occurred soon afterwards, this mask was suddenly laid aside. Wine and profane talk were largely indulged in, and amid the riot the bride was heard to utter an oath. Horrified and humiliated, the bridegroom left the table, went to the stable to saddle his horse, and, unobserved, left the yard. In an agony of mind he now condemned himself for not having sufficiently sought the counsel of God in a momentous affair of life; but as the die was cast, and there was no path of retreat, he resolved that he would plead earnestly for the conversion of his wife. In the most solitary part of a neighboring wood he spent the afternoon in prayer and tears, and the cry of his soul was the language of faith. While thus employed in quiet seclusion, the scene at the house was one of consternation and uproar. The bridegroom had mysteriously disappeared, and mounted horsemen were scouring the country in a wild and fruitless search. At length the missing one quietly returned, sought his wife in the solitude of her chamber, and in reply to her reproaches acquainted her with the occupation of the afternoon as well as with the story of his life experience. He spoke of God's grace having led him this way and that way, till at last the lady's curiosity was excited to ask the meaning of so singular a phrase. Still more surprising and welcome was her question: "Is there no grace for me, who am so wretched a stranger to God?" "Yes, my dear," replied the husband, "there is grace for thee; and I have been praying for it this day in the wood." He believed, moreover, that his petition was heard, and now proposed that they should pray together. After such exercises, they presented a singular appearance before the ribald company at supper. Their eyes were red and swollen with weeping, though their features were staid with heavenly peace. "I beseech you, father, swear not," said the bride, when her sire, according to custom, talked profanely, thus testifying to the miraculous change which had come over her since noon. The table was soon in a blaze of discord. "What!" said the elder Studly, rising in a consuming rage, conscious of being defeated at this final stage by a power which was irresistible, "What? is the devil in him? I would rather set fire to the four corners of my fair-built house than that he should enjoy it." The old lawyer did according to his threats; for when he died, soon after, the estate was willed away, and the son received only ten pounds. The bride fared likewise, being denied her dowry on account of her Puritanical religion; but having £200 pounds of her own, they were able to take and stock a farm, the once fine lady cheerfully undertaking the many duties of a farmer's wife. After prospering in this manner for a time, the tenants on the estate unexpectedly discovered that, after all, Mr. Studly was their legal landlord, as the father had no power to will away the property. Thus the good man altogether regained what he unmurmuringly surrendered for conscience' sake.
The case of Saint Augustine, the greatest of the Christian fathers, is sufficiently interesting to be included in the category of remarkable conversions. He was born in the year 354, his father being a pagan at the time of his son's birth, while his mother, Monica, was a model of Christian unselfishness and devotion, a worthy mother of an illustrious son. Being naturally inclined to pleasure and love of the world, Augustine in youth resisted the importunities of his mother to embrace the Christian faith, and following the example of his father, drank deep of earthly pleasures. He was an ardent lover of the stage, and in a day when, as a writer in the Encyclopoedia Brittanica tells us, "one of the most significant signs of a man having become a Christian was his habitual absence from the theater. No one was more emphatic on this point afterwards than Augustine himself, and as the result of his own experience, he seems to have doubted whether, apart from the gross immoralities of the pagan stage, the indulgence in fictitious joys and woes is a warrantable excitement." On renouncing idols, he embraced the heresies of Manichaeism, which, however, he soon relinquished for a better creed. He left Carthage, where he had lived as a student, glad to escape from its pagan abominations, and settled at Milan, where Ambrose was at the height of his fame and usefulness. In the preaching of the great bishop, Augustine found the light he had long needed, though the perfect peace of faith in Christ came not all at once into his soul. As he studied the Epistles of Paul, the inward struggles of his soul were prolonged and severe. One day he lay on the ground beneath a fig tree in his garden, overcome with groans and tears, longing for relief; and at the height of the conflict he imagined he heard these words coming from an invisible person: "Take up and read, take up and read." His companion Alypius, who sat a short distance off, had the Scriptures in his hand, and in the Epistle to the Romans Augustine read: "Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof." That was the moment of the victory of grace when, according to Augustine's own confession, peace streamed into his soul, and the shades of doubt were chased away by heavenly light.
It is charming thus to see the same variety in grace as in nature. The Lord does not cause the new creature to come forth in one set form and fashion. The Holy Ghost is called by David "thy free Spirits" and so he is; working after his own sweet will, and not according to some invariable standard. He uses ordinarily the appointed instrumentality of public ministry, but sometimes he does without it, and calls in his chosen by other means; and this doubtless that we may not place our confidence in men, or dream that any agency is necessary with the Lord. This should inspire us with hope even for those who are beyond the reach of common means. Let us pray for them, for they are not beyond the reach of the Lord. Though the sinner may wander beyond the range of our voice, our eye, or our pen, yet not beyond gunshot of grace, nor beyond the omnipresence of eternal love.