I’ve often heard it said that though there is only one way to the Father – through Jesus – there are many ways to Jesus. In other words, there are various ways people come to faith in Christ. Therefore, we should never make our experience of coming to Christ a paradigm for others when they come to Christ. Nor should we rigidly follow others when they make their experience of coming to Christ a paradigm. The stories in Scripture prove that conversion experiences are quite different!
Now, it does sometimes happen in Christian circles, when a preacher talks about his feelings and experience of coming to Christ and he makes it sound like you must have the same feelings and experience or you might not be a true Christian. This kind of emotional preaching can leave Christians depressed since they don’t share the same feelings and experiences as the preacher does. I’ve even had it myself years ago when listening to a popular preacher share his Christian feelings; mine didn’t match, so I wasn’t sure what to do with that. Thanks to John Newton I have a better idea about it now:
“It would be well if both preachers and people would keep more closely to what the Scripture teaches of the nature, marks, and growth of a work of grace instead of following each other in a track (like sheep) confining the Holy Spirit to a system, imposing at first the experience and sentiments of others as a rule to themselves, and afterward dogmatically laying down the path in which they themselves have been led, as absolutely necessary to be trodden by others.”
“There is a vast variety of the methods by which the Lord brings home souls to himself, in which he considers (though system-preachers do not) the different circumstances, situations, temperament, etc. of different persons. To lay down rules precisely to which all must conform, and to treat all enquiring souls in the same way, is as wrong as it would be in a physician to attempt to cure all his patients who may have the same general disorder (a fever for instance) with one and the same prescription. A skilful man would probably find so many differences in their cases, that he would not treat any two of them exactly alike.”
These are wise words. If you don’t have the exact same emotions, feelings, and experiences as others in coming to Christ (and following him), don’t doubt your faith and repentance. Don’t try to get the same emotions, feelings, and experiences of others, even if they are of a popular preacher. Here’s Newton’s advice:
“I hope the Lord has made me willing to learn (if I can) from all, but ‘Nullius in verba jurare’ is my motto (take no one’s word as final; examine for yourself). If you read Scripture and your own heart attentively, you will have greatly the advantage of those who puzzle themselves by too closely copying the rules they find in other books.”
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002