Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:00

Dealing With Young Converts (2)

Written by Rev. G.R. Procee
It is always a very delicate matter to deal with the spiritual life of young converts. William B. Sprague, who witnessed revivals in the early 19th century in America, gives advice on how to deal with young converts. In the January 2004 issue of The Messenger we considered some of his advice. We now wish to continue to listen to SpragueÕs advice, which should be beneficial for office bearers, youth workers, teachers, and even parents for the valuable lessons he teaches. These articles are a synopsis of an essay to be found in his book: Lectures on Revivals of Religion (1832).
In the first article Sprague explained that the first aim in dealing with young converts is to save them from self-deception and build them up in faith and holiness. In this second article Sprague explains four major strands of advice. He describes the way to gain true comfort from religion, the necessity of being focused on God's Word, being watchful against particular besetting sins, and being on guard against backsliding.

1. The Way To Gain True Comfort From Religion
Much of the comfort in religious life in all probability will depend on the resolutions and principles the new convert adopts at the beginning of his walk with Christ. Like everything else, in religion also, the first steps that are taken are usually the most decisive. The person who sets out well in any business, who carefully counts the cost, and engages in it with prudence and zeal, will usually succeed. On the other hand, let an individual engage in the same enterprise with little zeal, and you may well expect that the end will be like the beginning--little attempted, little accomplished.

In like manner, suppose that the young Christian starts with a resolution, formed by the power of divine grace, to do the utmost in his power for the advancement of the Redeemer's cause. Also, suppose that he adopts fixed principles for the regulation of all his conduct, and resolves that he will never yield them in any circumstances. In that case you may have good reason to hope that he will continue, even in the face of insurmountable obstacles, and that throughout his life he will exhibit the character of a good soldier of Jesus Christ.

But if the new convert does not adopt such a form of self discipline and is satisfied with some general changes in his conduct, if he starts out by compromising his conscience and even neglects duties that require great self-denial, in all probability his spiritual life will be marked by little of either comfort or usefulness. And if he is saved at the last, it will be as by fire.

Let the young convert then be urged, Sprague states, to regulate and order his life properly and in agreement with God's Word, to promote as much as possible the glory of God. There should be a desire for personal holiness as well as a desire to promote the glory of God in his life. This will prove to be very beneficial to obtain a vigorously useful and eminently happy life.

2. Let The Young Convert Draw All His Religious Opinions And Ways Of Conduct Directly From God's Word
Sprague states that there are many good religious books which superbly defend the doctrines of the Gospel and which have their value. But they should all be considered subordinate to God's Word. All books must be tried and tested by the Word of God. Those who derive their views of religion from uninspired writings, however excellent, will naturally be liable to mix error with truth. In addition, even if the uncorrupted truth were gathered from such writings, it would not result in the same deep and powerful conviction that is drawn directly from GodÕs holy Word. Consider also how much more God is honoured!

I would say then to everyone just entering on the Christian life--study the Bible for yourself. Study it with humility, diligence and prayer. Believe what you find written there; whatever is not written there is either not true or not important. Be not discouraged in your efforts to ascertain the truth by the fact that the world is full of different opinions respecting it--for the truth is clearly revealed in Scripture. Moreover, most of the disputes that exist among Christians relate to human philosophy rather than to matters concerning God's Word. Remember that God Himself has said that "the meek he will guide in judgment; the meek he will teach his way."

It is also of the utmost importance that the new convert derives the rules of his conduct directly from the Bible. There are, indeed, many particular cases in which we may be called to act, in relation to which there are no express directions in God's Word. But there are general rules to be found in it that apply to every possible case and which an enlightened conscience will always know how to apply.

Let the young Christian, therefore, be exhorted to study the Bible diligently as a rule for duty. Let him ascertain from God's own Word what God would have him do in the various conditions in which he is placed. Let the young convert refer every question of right and wrong to this standard, and to no other. Let his character be formed under this influence, and it cannot fail to grow in creditable and goodly proportions. There will be found in him a dignified stability that will protect him from the undue influence of circumstances.

You who may be called to counsel those who are just setting out in the Christian life should charge them for the sake of their comfort, character and usefulness, to have nothing to do with any other standard of conduct than that which they find in the Bible. Let them be exhorted to adhere to this standard, even though it should subject them to the greatest temporal inconvenience. Let them determine that they will regulate the whole conduct of their lives by it--not only in what may seem to them their more important actions, but also the least important ones.

When they have settled the question, "Lord what wilt thou have me to do?" then, and only then, are they prepared to act with freedom and confidence in a manner that is fitted to keep peace in their consciences and bring upon them the blessings of God.

3. Let The Young Convert Be Admonished To Discover His Besetting Sin And To Guard Against It With The Utmost Caution
It is true of every Christian that there is one sin to which he is more inclined than any other. What that sin is in any particular case may depend on the previous moral habits of the individual or on the circumstances in which he is placed; or on some original weakness.

He, therefore, who discovers in his own case what this sin is and regards it as the most formidable enemy to be encountered in his struggles, and succeeds in gaining a victory over it, accomplishes much in the way of sanctification. He, who neglects to guard against besetting sin, while he takes care to avoid sins to which he is not specially inclined, acts foolishly. He is like an army commander who defends himself against attacks that present little danger to him. It is allowing the enemy to attack him with full force in his weakest spot, without having made sure that the proper defenses are in place.

Let the young Christian watch closely the tendencies of his mind and take note on what forbidden objects his affections most readily fasten. He should be alert to know what circumstances and occasions have the most powerful influence on him in the way of temptation. The result cannot fail to be that he will know what sin most easily besets him. When he knows this, he is prepared to guard against it. He does this by watching against this sin and avoiding as much as possible those objects and occasions that would lead him into temptation. He should increase his earnest prayer for grace to be enabled to gain the victory over sin and cultivate his spiritual life. Sin can never flourish in soil that is habitually watered with heavenly grace.

4. Impress The Young Convert With The Danger Of Backsliding
Often spiritual decline starts by making only a very small departure from duty. It rarely happens that an individual becomes a great backslider at once. On the contrary, it is usually the work of time, and generally has a small and almost imperceptible beginning. When the first step is taken, there is probably, in most cases, the intention not to take another--certainly not to go further. But it is a law of our moral constitution that when one step is taken the next one becomes easier.

Caution the young Christian, therefore, against allowing even the least violation of duty. Admonish him, that if he enters on such a course, he can never know where it will end. Point him to examples of those who have taken the first step with a firm purpose never to take another, who nevertheless continued to backslide until scarcely a semblance to Christian character remained.

Let him understand that no degree of joy, or even of spirituality, which he may possess on earth, is security against losing his evidences and comforts, and can prevent him from sinking into a state of the most chilling spiritual indifference. If, at any time, he finds that he has actually begun to wander, let him remember that he has good reason to be alarmed and that every minute he continues his backsliding, he is setting himself up for bitter repentance and bringing a dark cloud over his religious prospects.

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