Writings by George Burgess (1829-1905)
The word conversion has a universal application. Its process touches all nations bodily and spiritually. Conversion, in the universal Realm of nature is continuous. Earth and Air are converted into Fruits, and Fruits again into Earth. Day into Night, and Night again into Day. Summer into Winter, and Winter again into Summer. Life into Death, and the Death of portions of the vital organism again into Life.
Conversion can work downward and degrade but its true nature is to work upward and perfect. Conversion then, is the universal and mighty law, and not an impulsive sound from a frightened sinner just begun to be saved.
There is mechanical conversion of the unwrought into the wrought mechanism and art. There is commercial conversion of land into money, and money into stocks & shares, and these shares into other shares. All downward commercial conversions bring down and degrade those interested in them by the process, and at one and the same time. The downward conversions and drift of the greedy is Eternal Law. There is no Escape!
There is also Agricultural conversion, and Educational conversion, and numberless other kinds. Each of the forgoing kinds of conversion has to be paid for, or worked for, by the one whom the conversion is intended to benefit.
Then we come to conversion of Godliness. This, also, has to be worked for by the one to be converted. The “water of life is free, without money, and without price”. But we have to work for it, we are bound to “Come” and seek it, and find it, and Drink it, or we sill never get it. When a bad character has to be converted into a good one the owner is bound to do it himself. Neither men nor God can, or will, ever help the man who will not help himself. But as soon as he truly begins to work out his own conversion then God, as once, begins to work within him, and help him. And all food men will join one another in helping the man who helps himself. This is the working of the righteous, and Eternal Law of Human Existence.
We therefore see that conversion is a work done as much by the man as for the man. It is a continuous, personal, real work of growing in goodness, or Godliness. Godliness is goodness and Goodness is Godliness. And Godliness includes all Spiritual graces, and all forms of goodness that can exist on Earth and Heaven.
So that a man is converted exactly in proportion to his growth in goodness, and to his going on into perfection. He may be a Mahomet or Jew, or Christian or Heathen, or Trinitarian, or Unitarian, or Quaker, or Shaker, or Methodist, or Baptist, or no member at all of any one of the numberless differing Religions in all parts of the world, it makes no difference, for God does not won Sects, he only owns goodness. Good and Godley men live in all lands. And in every Clime, where a man is working for his growth in goodness he is also working out his own conversion to Godliness. We need not ask his name, but that man is the Father’s beloved son. That is a “man after God’s own heart”. The word Conversion or converted in the Old Bible refers to changes from evil to good and to the conversion of the Gentiles to a belief in the God of Israel. And in the New Testament it refers to the Jews and Gentiles conversion to a belief in Jesus as the Messiah, and also to the conversion of human character from evil to good.
Is conversion of Character “sudden”? Well, every great work is both sudden, and slow or gradual, in its process. Every blow in mechanics is sudden, but it takes ten thousand sudden blows and movements to slowly build up and finish the Engine. That which is the most suddenly begun and finished is the most suddenly ended. The 3000 under Peter’s sermon were mainly converted mentally from Judaism, and some from no belief at all, to a belief in Jesus as the Messiah. They were startled by Peter’s eloquence and “sold their possession, and had all things common” - A custom “suddenly” begun, and “suddenly” ended! And the Jews, as a people, are practically all-still unbelievers in Jesus as their Messiah. Paul was not suddenly converted in character, but only in mental belief.
Conversion, in the New Testament, as explained by Jesus, is termed being “born again” in the “Kingdom of heaven within”, the right using of our “Talents”, the having “good ground” for the “sower’s seed”, the “doing of these saying of mine”, “building the house on the Rock”, Striving to enter in at the Starlight Gate”.
Every illustration of Jesus shows that conversion is a gradual slow process of faithful personal work. Certainly, a wicked man may gradually become convinced, and miserable, and then suddenly stop in his mad career; and his conversions to Godliness only then begins. It will take himself, and God, a long time to root out his old wickedness, and convert him into a “new creature”. The carious EVILS, he has fed and reared within himself will not come out of him in a hurry. They will not come out of him until they are starved out. A Godley Life, and “prayer, and self-denial” will soon starve them. Then they will come out, but not before!
Some men need less converting than others. They are Godly from the beginning, and like Zacharias and his wife, and Jacob and Jesus, and millions of divine men all over the face of the Globe, they are naturally “righteous, and Walk before the Lord blameless”, even if they do not know God. He knows them, and hi Him they “live and move and have their being”. These are the men of whom Jesus said “I am not come to call the righteous, but the sinners to repentance”. These naturally good mend need only to work out their conversion as they always have been doing, by their good and righteous lives. But the more wicked men, to be found everywhere, and among all Sects, will need very long periods in which to become cleansed and converted into good and Godly beings. The work cannot be done in an instant. Just as a man can only grow evil by degrees, so can he only grow good by degrees. Therefore, the sudden or instant conversion of a bad character into a good one is an impossibility. It is a question of facts, and not of fears, and feelings, and fancies. Being “Born again” would include conception, embryo-growth and then birth. Each of these stages is inevitable, and from conception to Birth, occupies a gradual and lengthened period of time; but a birth has never been secured by any other process, and this is the process of Spiritual conversion as explained by the exact words of Jesus. It is his very finest description. Now, we see that real conversion is a real, slow and sure work with a small beginning, a continuous growth and a complete SPIRITUAL BIRTH, WITH NO ENDING.
The Scriptures say “Believe, and be saved”, not believe and you are not saved. “Repent, and be converted”, not Repent and you are not converted. Belief, or “Faith without works is Dead”. Faith that the work can be done is the starting-post. And the doing of the work, by the man himself, and God, is conversion of Godliness. And this conversion is slow, and continues through al Time, and through all Eternity, just in proportion as spirit-beings grow more and more perfect, and more and more Godly in their happy work of climbing higher, and still higher, the heights of joy and Gladness in the Everlasting Land of Light and Love.
George Burgess, August 1899