And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:…
1. The essential, primary idea is that of a corporeal turning round, without anything to limit it. But to this original notion, which is inseparable from the word, usage in many cases adds certain accessory notions. One of these is, the idea of turning in a definite direction; that is, towards a certain object. The difference is that between a wheel's turning on its axis and a flower turning towards the sun. But in some connections there is a still further accession to the primary idea; so that the words necessarily suggest, not the mere act of turning, nor the act of turning in a definite direction, but the act of turning from one object to another, which are then, of course, presented in direct antithesis to one another. Thus the magnetic needle, if mechanically pointed towards the south, is no sooner set at liberty than it will turn from that point to the north. In this case, however, there is still another accessory motion added to the simple one of turning, namely, that of turning back to a point from which it had be[ore been turned away. And this idea of return or retroversion may, of course, be repeated without limit, and without any further variation of the meaning of the term used, which is still the same, whether the turning back be for the first or second, tenth or hundredth time. All these distinctions or gradations may be traced also in the spiritual uses of the term. As thus applied, conversion is a change of character, that is, of principles and affections, with a corresponding change of outward life. Now, such a change may be conceived of, as a vague, unsettled, frequently repeated revolution of the views and feelings, without any determinate character or end. But the conversion spoken of in Scripture is relieved from this indefiniteness by a constant reference to one specific object to which the convert turns. It is to God that all conversion is described as taking place. But how, in what sense, does man turn to God? The least and lowest that can be supposed to enter into this conception is, a turning to God, as an object of attention or consideration — turning, as it were, for the first time to look at Him, just as we might turn towards any object of sense which had before escaped attention or been out of sight.
2. Sometimes, again, the idea is suggested that we not only turn to God, but turn back to Him. This may at first sight appear inconsistent with the fact just stated, that our first affections are invariably given to the world and to ourselves. But even those who are converted, for the first time, from a state of total alienation, may be said to turn back to God, in reference to the great original apostasy in which we are all implicated. As individuals, we never know God till we are converted. As a race, we have all departed from Him, and conversion is but turning back to Him. But this expression is still more appropriate, even in its strict sense, to the case of those who have already been converted, and are only reclaimed from a partial and temporary alienation, from relapsing into sin, or what is called, in religious phraseology, declension, and, in the Word of God itself, backsliding. That the term conversion may be properly applied to such a secondary restoration, is apparent from the language of the text, where it is used by Christ Himself, of one who is expressly said to have had faith, and faith which did not absolutely fail.
II. Conversion tends to the STRENGTHENING OF OTHERS. In answer to the question, How does conversion tend to this result? the general fact maybe thus resolved into three distinct particulars:
1. It enables men to strengthen others.
2. It obliges men to strengthen others.
3. It disposes men to strengthen others.The convert is enabled to confirm or rescue others by his knowledge of their character and state. He knows, not only what he sees in them, but what he feels or has felt in himself. He knows the difficulties of the restoration — how much harder it is now to excite hope or confirm faith, how much less effective either warning, or encouragement, or argument is now than it once was — how precarious even the most specious reformation and repentance must be after such deflections. This advantage of experimental knowledge is accompanied, moreover, by a corresponding liveliness of feeling, a more energetic impulse, such as always springs from recent restorations or escapes. Out of this increased ability arises, by a logical and moral necessity, a special obligation. This is only a specific application of a principle which all acknowledge, and which the Word of God explicitly propounds, "To him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin." It needs .not so much to be explained or established, as to be exemplified from real life. The recognition of the principle is there unhesitating and unanimous. He who has been recovered from the power of a desperate disease by a new or unknown remedy, is under a peculiar obligation to apply it, or at least to make it known, to all affected in like manner. Hence the unsparing, universal condemnation of the man who, from mercenary motives, holds in his possession secrets of importance to the health or happiness of others. He who is mercifully saved from shipwreck, often feels especially incumbent on himself the rescue of his fellows. He must do what he can even though he be exhausted; how much more if he is strengthened. The heart must beat in concord with the reason and the conscience. And it does so in the ease of the true convert.
(J. A. Alexander, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: