Acts 2.37



1.   It was two weeks ago when we last dealt with soul-piercing sorrow, and I laid out before you an explanation why your sinful heart must be torn by deep conviction.  You see, there is something terribly wrong with you, and it’s not God’s fault but yours.

2.   Have you not proven your own hardness and coldness again and again and again by your refusal to respond to the Gospel of God’s love for you, the Gospel of Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice for you, the Gospel of your own soul’s forgiveness?

3.   Is it not obvious that you don’t want to be reconciled to God because you’ve not come to Christ to be reconciled?  Is it not obvious that you have no desire to be saved from your sins because you’ve not come to the from sins Savior?  And is it not obvious that you have no heart’s desire to become a Christian because it’s with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and there has been no inclination of your heart to savingly believe in Jesus?

4.   So, where does that leave you, my lost friend?  Will I play the decisionist and recite to you again The Roman’s Road To Heaven?  You know The Roman’s Road To Heaven as well as I do.  Shall I tell you once again that God loves you?  You’ve been told that since the first time you went to Church, without significant effect.  You trample and abuse God’s love for you every day.

5.   Here is where decisionism shows its weakness, its puniness, its inability to deal with hardened and callused sinners like you.  No sob story will move you to seek the Lord while He may be found.  No humor or clever wit will do the job with you.  Oh, you’ll laugh at humor, but it won’t move you to Christ.  Neither will displays of learning provoke you to rid yourself of sin.  You need to be dealt with at a more basic level, at the level of your affections, at the level of your wants and desires.

6.   So, let’s see what we can do tonight about what you want.  Do you want to be converted?  Then you’ll need to be pricked in your heart like they were on the day of Pentecost, Acts 2.37. 


Sometimes God deals openly and obviously with a sinner, and sometimes He deals less obviously and more secretly with a sinner.  But for a sinner to actually come to Christ he must first be prepared.  How, I ask, does God prick a sinner’s soul?  How does the Lord stab the soul and run a guy through with conviction?  How is a fellow in this way prepared to come to Christ?

It doesn’t happen often.  But when it does happen it frequently happens in three stages:

1B.    First, of those guys who have gotten converted it should be noticed that the Lord commonly and usually lets in a kind of illumination into the sinner’s minds.

1C.   Imagine yourself a bit out of it for one reason or another, lethargic and generally inattentive to your surroundings.  You’re in danger, but you have no awareness of the threats that surround you.  But crush an ammonia ampule under your nose and the first whiff of that ammonia will alert you very quickly.  You don’t precisely know what’s wrong, but you do know something is wrong.

2C.   So it is generally with the soul of that sinner who’s been sitting under preaching without alarm.  If it ever happens with you, the Lord will let into your mind some flash of illumination; something is grasped.  And somehow some evidence reaches your heart, some truth penetrates deeper than anything has ever penetrated into your heart before, and the hammer of God’s Law explodes on you like a drop forge, and you discover the vile nature of sin.

3C.   It may be that the Lord lets in some sudden truth that unmasks your soul to you, and drives you to a sudden alertness and amazement.  Now you see your corruptions in a new light, and they appear to be different than you ever saw them before.  You won’t ordinarily see the evil of your sin at this point, but you are somehow made to stand and pause.  You won’t know what to say about yourself, or really what to think of this sin.  Your thoughts will be confused, disoriented, and you won’t know what to make of yourself.

4C.   This is the way it was with Saul of Tarsus as he traveled to Damascus.  “Suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?”[1]  He marveled at the matter, and yet he did not know what the matter was, so he said, “Who art thou, Lord?” and “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?”[2]

5C.   Though Saul’s experience was much more spectacular than is common with most sinners who have ended up getting converted, the effect is the same for us all.  Perhaps some poor fellow is in Church and all of a sudden, without the sinner expecting it, the Lord lets some light into his soul.  Perhaps some kid goes to camp just so he can swim in the pool every day and, before you know it, the Lord lets some light into his soul.  In my case it was while sitting at home alone, quite bored, and reading God’s Word just to have something to read.

6C.   However the particular circumstances unfold, the Lord lets in a light, and He encircles you with some threatenings of the Law, and He shows you a bit of the nature of sin, and some of the damnation that comes by that sin.  Then your thoughts begin to tumble one upon the other, like clothes in a dryer.  So, you go home from Church and think to yourself, “If the preacher was right in what he said, then I am in trouble.  I never realized that about my sins before.”

7C.   And you think to yourself, “I always knew serious sins were punishable.  And I’ve always known that God is angry at bad sins.  But I never before realized that my soul was damned for every little sin I’ve committed, for every wrong thought that’s passed through my mind.  If what he said today is really true then everyone is condemned to Hell, especially me.”

8C.   So, that’s how it starts, with a flash of illumination and some continued thinking on the subject.  You don’t put it out of your mind.  You don’t distract yourself, like you’ve done before.  This time you hold the thought.

2B.    Next, those of you who do get converted then make up your mind to look into the matter.

1C.   And you will typically do this in three ways:  First, you go back to Church with the intention of more carefully listening to the preacher.  Second, if you are like most people you will begin to read up on the subject.  Third, it would not be uncommon for you to talk to other people in an attempt to verify the conclusions you are arriving at.  But be careful.  Some sinners will read and confer with others they know disagree with the preacher, so doing to convince themselves that the preacher is wrong.  In this way they will let themselves off the hook and continue in their spiritual blindness.

2C.   But if you are on the right track you will come back to Church to hear the preaching again.  And this, of course, is your responsibility to do as a human being.  God starts it off and you properly respond in a certain way.  And with the combination of hearing the preaching and reading what’s given to you and conferring with the right people, you will see that what you were in doubt about is too obvious to deny, and what you questioned in your mind before is without doubt true.

3C.   The Law is just.  The Word is plain.  If God be true, then it is true that “The wages of sin is death.”[3]  And, yes, every sinful thought is damning to the soul.  And “he that believeth not is condemned already.”[4]  So, now you begin to consider.  The condemnation that threatens you disrupts your sleep.  God is now chasing you, and the punishment that God threatens you with will catch up to you, sooner or later.

4C.   So, from that initial flash of illumination and the realization that something might be terribly wrong, you are now arrived at the decided conclusion that something is terribly wrong.  And in your mind then begins to develop a “fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation.”[5]  You ask yourself, “What if God really will cast me into Hell?”  Your soul fears that the evil that you’ve discovered will fall on you.  And here is the nature of your fear:  You know there is cause to fear.  You know that God’s punishment of you is well-deserved.  But you can’t bear the thought of actually going to Hell.

5C.   You say to yourself, “I am a sinful wretch.  And God may damn me for all I know.  What if God should damn me?”  This is the reason why the Spirit of God is described in Romans 8.15 in this way:  “ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear.”  The convicting ministry of the Spirit of God is supposed to show you your bondage to sin, and this is what produces the fear Paul refers to.  Is this fear good or bad?  This fear is good, because it is evidence of the Spirit of God working to convict you of your sin and to produce sorrow in your soul.

6C.   This is precisely what happened at Belshazzar’s feast.  Turn to Daniel chapter 5 and let’s read together:

1      Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand.

2       Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem; that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein.

3       Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem; and the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them.

4       They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.

5       In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaister of the wall of the king’s palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote.

6      Then the king’s countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another.

7      The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers.  And the king spake, and said to the wise men of Babylon, Whosoever shall read this writing, and shew me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.

8      Then came in all the king’s wise men: but they could not read the writing, nor make known to the king the interpretation thereof.

9      Then was king Belshazzar greatly troubled, and his countenance was changed in him, and  his lords were astonied. 

8C.   What defiant arrogance Belshazzar displayed in daring to take the holy vessels that were intended to be used for the worship of God in the Temple and to instead use them in a drunken party, and then to praise the gods of gold and silver and brass and iron and wood and stone.  But then God made himself known to this wicked fellow, more spectacularly than is usual in His dealings with men, to be sure, but this was a more spectacular sinner.  The essence of God’s dealings with Belshazzar were the same as His dealings with any other sinner.  It was good for Belshazzar that he pursued the matter and sought the man of God to further explain to him the truth of his predicament.[6]

9C.   Now, you may say, “But pastor, Belshazzar died that very night when the Persians took the city, according to Daniel 5.30.”  And you’re absolutely right.  But what would have happened had Belshazzar believed what old Daniel had told him?  What would have happened if Belshazzar had fallen on his face before God and pleaded for mercy?  But he didn’t believe Daniel.  And he didn’t fall on his face and plead for mercy.  So, he was slain by the Persians and has been roasting in Hell now for more than 2,500 years.

10C. Most will never hear God’s Word.  Most of those few who hear God’s Word are never startled with illumination so that they realize that something is wrong.  Of those, most do not come back for more so they will more clearly see their danger.  

3B.    Thirdly, after that flash of illumination is received, and after you pursue the matter farther than Belshazzar did, the Lord pursues after your soul. 

1C.   Have you ever thought about what fear really is?  Think about fear, because you will live with an eternity of fear if you end up dying without Christ.  Fear is the dread of what evil may come upon you.  And the greater the dread, or the greater the evil that will come upon you, the greater will be your fear.

2C.   Well, guess what?  There is great dread of the evil that will come upon you that’s in store for you, especially if you don’t get converted.  If you are not converted you will spend forever dreading the great evil of an eternity of fire and brimstone that lies before you.  But if you get converted you will be made by the Holy Spirit to dread the evil that will come upon you if you do not get converted.

3C.   There will, of course, be variations with each sinner.  But in general, God reveals something to you by means of a flash of illumination.  With Belshazzar it was the writing on the wall.  With Saul it was Jesus appearing to him on the way to Damascus.  With most of us it is something far less dramatic.  What follows that is some type of response by the sinner in which he comes back for more.  Belshazzar’s response was incomplete and he died in his sins.  But Saul pursued the matter all the way to the house of Ananias in Damascus.  While this was done God worked in the heart of that sinner named Saul by the Spirit of bondage, to fear. 


         Most people who are suddenly illuminated, who suddenly become fearful of their sins, quickly push those thoughts out of their minds.  They, in effect push away the Holy Spirit so that they can think blind happy thoughts again.  But somehow the Lord will not let the person who ends up getting converted do that.  It’s as if the Spirit of God keeps reminding you that it will be your own sins will start the fire that burns you in Hell forever.  And then comes an additional sorrow.  God reveals to you some secret displeasure of His that you’d not realized before, and it stabs your soul.  It’s as though you are already weighed down by your sins and then, all of the sudden, an even greater load is dumped on you.  You are then made to see that which you feared. 

         Of course, now your conscience is accusing you and pointing the finger of blame at you, and you say to yourself, “I have offended a just God, and therefore I must be damned, and to Hell I must go.”  This is the nature of true sorrow.  If evil is to come, you fear it.  If evil is determined upon you, you grieve and sorrow for it.  This seems to be the most crucial work of the Holy Spirit in preparing a sinner’s heart for conversion, and the Lord deals a bit differently with each person as He sees fit, but frequently in these three ways:

1B.    First, there is the sinner God civilizes.

1C.   This is the person God uses sorrow to restrict, to restrain from doing evil deeds.  This would be the vile person or the person who persecuted God’s people until he was on some occasion shocked, frightened, and amazed by a flash of illumination and a warning of impending doom.

2C.   This fellow is accused by God, is warned by God, has seen in his soul flashes of Hell from God, knows the anger of God will be upon him forever, becomes terrified of Hell in his heart, and will even admit to it. 

3C.   But he’s still deluded, you see.  His conscience has been deceived into thinking that he is converted when nothing of the sort has occurred.  He’s only improved his behavior a bit, so that he goes to Church, he prays with his family, he listens to sermon, he is basically a good boy.  And for that God should be credited.

4C.   Not that God did not jar him with a flash of illumination, for He certainly did.  Not that the sinner wasn’t affected by the sinfulness of his sin, for he certainly was.  But he has settled for something short of true conversion.  He has not entered in at the strait gate.  He’s become quite civilized, and mistakes being civilized for being converted, which he most certainly is not.

2B.    But secondly, there is the sinner God intends to do good to.

1C.   I speak now of that sinner who is taken farther by God than a perfunctory reformation, a quick profession by a fellow who sees himself a sinner and wants to rapidly be done with the matter so he can live a quiet and respectable life as a professing Christian.  This is the fellow to whom God has much more clearly revealed his sins.  God has plucked away all this fellow’s wildness, removed his wild and reckless sinning, all his pride.  He has seen all his sins.

2C.   This is what Job was speaking of when he said, in Job 6.4, “For the arrows of the Almighty are within me, the poison whereof drinketh up my spirit: the terrors of God do set themselves in array against me.”

3C.   And as David said in Psalm 77.4, “Thou holdest mine eyes waking” and Psalm 51.3, “my sin is ever before me.”  If God loves a sinner, and means to do good to him, He will not let him look away from his sin.  God’s love for you will be shown by His pursuit of you, His ferreting you out of your den, being with you in all your stealing and pilfering, uncovering all your accursed things.  If you belong to Him He will not give you over.

4C.   In Job 7.19 we read, “How long wilt thou not depart from me, nor let me alone till I swallow down my spittle?”  This is Job saying to God, in so many words, “When are you going to give me a break?  When will you lighten up on me?”  Better to be under conviction now, when there is a remedy for your sins, than to feel sorry only when you are in Hell and it’s too late for a remedy.

5C.   In Job 9.18 we again read, “He will not suffer me to take my breath, but filleth me with bitterness.”  You have breathed out your venom against the Lord of heaven, therefore now He will fill your soul with indignation.  As you have breathed out your oaths against Him, so shall you breathe in His wrath.  You have filled the Lord’s eyes and ears with your abominations, and the Lord of heaven shall answer by filling you with His wrath.

6C.   Now let me read Second Thessalonians 2.12 to you:  “That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”  What?  Won’t any great ones be saved?  Nope.  Nor little ones either.  All that do not lay hold upon Christ, but who have pleasure in unrighteousness, not just the great ones, or those who are abominably profane, but all that had pleasure in wickedness are damned. 

7C.   Now your conscience says to you, “Don’t you know that you are one of them that have had pleasure in unrighteousness, and that you will be damned to Hell?”  At this point your soul shakes, and you think you’re going to faint, and can’t take it any more.  But the Lord holds you up with one hand, as He beats you down with the other.  How much more agony can you endure?

8C.   You think everything is against you, the fire burns to consume you, you think the air will poison you, your conscience flies in your face, you are conscious of Hell’s mouth being open to receive you, the wrath of God hangs over your head, and if God should take away your life you will immediately tumble headlong into Hell.

9C.   You feel like you are being torn apart.  When it’s day you wish it were night.  When it is night, you wish it were day.  The wrath of God follows you wherever you go, and your soul would gladly be rid of all this, but you cannot.  And yet all the while your soul is not heavy and sorrowful for sin. 

10C. You are burdened, and you would be quite content to throw away the punishment and horror of sin, but not the sweetness of sin.  You’re still like a youngster who takes a live coal in his hand to play with it, but who throws it away when he feels the heat of it’s burning.  He doesn’t throw the coal away because it’s black, but because it burns him.  So it is here.  You will throw away your sin because of the wrath of God that is due to you for it.  But if you could have the sin without the punishment you’d take it back in a heartbeat.  Why?  Because, although you do not like the punishment that comes with it, you do love the sinfulness of it, the defilement of it, the wrongness of it.

11C. Are your bones waxed old through your roaring all the day long?  Is God’s hand heavy upon you?  Is your moisture turned into the drought of summer?  These are the descriptions of foolish people who are plagued for their sins, Psalm 32.3-4.  This is what is brought on a person by pride and drunkenness and uncleanness.  If you want relief get rid of your corruptions.  If you would have the effect removed, then take away the cause.

12C. There are two things in sin which make a man sorrowful:  First, the sin itself, that defiles a man and separates him from God.  Second, there is the punishment of sin.  Let’s say you’ve gotten to this point and think you are now ready to be converted.  After all, you are now strongly against sin, aren’t you, because it brings only judgments and punishments?

13C. But remember that you are now only as far as Cain was, as Saul was, and as Judas was.  Yet they died in their sins.  Cain could say that “My punishment is greater than I can bear,” because he had killed his brother.  But he never did see that sin is so vile, because it did separate him from God.  You see, the greatest evil is that which deprives you of the greatest good.  And the greatest good is fellowship with and communion with God, which sin destroys.

3B.    Now in the third place, there is the sinner the Lord intends to save.

1C.   You need to come a bit farther than Cain and Saul and Judas Iscariot.  You need to come to the place where you sorrow, not because yours is a great and shameful sin.  You see, even the least sin makes a separation between God and man.  This is this the vile nature of sin.  You were made to be one with God, and to have communion with God, and to obey His commandments.  But what you have done instead is to depart from God by sin, and to depart from His commandments.

2C.   A godless and a graceless man is a miserable man, even if he were never plagued at all by his sins.  You see, you were made to honor God, and you have done nothing else but dishonor Him since the day you were born.  You were made to subject yourself to the good will of God, but instead you have withdrawn yourself from His will.  This is your misery and your plague.  If you were in Hell and had no sin, you would be a happy man.  And if you were in heaven and yet has sin you would be a miserable man, because it’s the sin that makes a separation between you and your God.

3C.   The soul God intends to save, the sinner whose heart is prepared by the Holy Spirit, the heart that believes unto righteousness is that person who is brought to see the vileness of sin, not for it’s wickedness, not for it’s punishment, but for its effect of separating that sinner from God.

4C.   You must be saved from your sins, you see, because your sins separate you from God.  And if you are not saved from your sins, if you are not cleansed of your sins, your separateness from God will not be remedied, and you will finally be lost forever. 


1.   So some sinner says to himself, “What good does it do me to be rich and miserable, to be honored by my friends and be damned by my God, to have a peaceful and quiet life here and now but an eternity of fire and brimstone?  What good is a conscience that never afflicts me now, when in the end I’ll be thrown to the devils?”

2.   If you had all the ease, all the wealth, all the honors and all the friends in the world, so long as you also had your vile heart you could not be happy.

3.   So, you go ahead and pretend that you are okay.  You go ahead and do your deals and scheme on how you are going to succeed in business.  You think you are doing fine because you never feel bad, your heart is never afflicted, your soul has never been pierced for sin?

4.   Let me tell you something.  If you’ve never been pierced for your sins your condition is woeful.  You’re in trouble.  You who are never troubled for your sins, but go on smoothly, know this:  So long as you have your proud, sturdy, unfaithful, know-it-all heart, you are as miserable a creature as ever breathed upon the face of the earth.

5.   Sometimes God deals with a man in a clearly defined and precise way.  First, He drives the man to an amazement by means of some flash of illumination.  Secondly, He works in the man a marvelous fear of the evil that is to come upon him if he isn’t converted.  Thirdly, He impresses the man’s soul with the feeling of the evil as I have just described.

6.   There is no necessary time frame involved in God’s dealings with a man, and sometimes His dealings with a man cannot be so easily seen to follow such an observable pattern, so we need to make sure that we do not limit God in His dealings with sinners.

7.   It is true that the Lord may press in upon a man’s soul and work all this suddenly.  But yet experience has proved, and reason will confirm it, that when God does not work so suddenly He affects the sinner’s soul. 

8.   Thus, when a lost fellow comes into the congregation, God lays some truth upon him that is new and terrible, so that the fellow dare not deny it or yet fully resist it.  Instead, he is a bit dazed by this new truth. 

9.   In time the Lord opens his eyes and awakens his conscience, and makes the conscience more evident to the soul, and so immediately arrests his soul that he becomes terribly sorry and greatly affected in his heart.  Everything becomes so personal and close.  The preacher is speaking to him, and God is dealing with him, and he feels himself close to falling into Hell.  And so, he comes to Christ.

10. Sometimes all this may result from one sermon, but usually God’s manner of working is as I have described over time.

[1] Acts 9.3-4

[2] Acts 9.5-6

[3] Romans 6.23

[4] John 3.18

[5] Hebrews 10.27

[6] Daniel 5.22-29

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