By Mike Willis
In May 1967, I began preaching on a full-time basis just a few months before my 20th birthday. I lived near my oldest brother, Cecil Willis, who had distinguished himself as a gospel preacher. Under his tutelage, I developed as a gospel preacher. One of the best things that he did for me was to guide my studies by directing me to preach the first principles of the oracles of God during that first year of preaching. I preached many sermons on conversion and the church.
In guiding my studies, Cecil loaned me his copy of Conversion by B.F. Manire. I found this to be an excellent tool for this study. Using the text of Scripture and the studies presented in this book, Sermons by J.W. McGarvey, The Gospel Plan of Salvation by T.W. Brents, and Gospel Preacher, Volumes 1-2, by Benjamin Franklin, I methodically preached on every case of New Testament conversion during that year. Years later, I found a copy of Manire’s book in a used book sale and added it to my collection. It is by far, the best study of the various cases of conversion presently in print.
This series on conversion has been printed on several occasions. The twelve sermons on Conversion were first published sometime before 1875 in the Southern Christian Weekly of Alabama, which was owned and edited by J.M. Pickens. In 1881, they were rewritten for the Apos- tolic Church, a monthly magazine which was published by W.L. Butler of Mayfield, Kentucky. They were followed in that periodical by three parts of the sermon on Baptism. In 1890 and ’91, these were all revised again, and published in the Church Register of Plattsburg, Missouri, of which James C. Creel was the editor and proprietor.
Some of the materials in this book were first published in the book, although most of it appeared in the various series mentioned before. The sermon on “What Must I Do To Be Saved?” was written first in 1856 when Manire was in the fourth year of his ministry, and was published by Dr. John T. Walsh in the American Christian Preacher of Kinston, North Carolina. Some years afterward it was published in the Gospel Advocate of Nashville, Tennessee, and soon after the war in the Ameri- can Christian Review of Cincinnati, Ohio. It was rewritten for each of these and brought to its present form. In 1871, it was published in the Christian Unitist of Jackson, Mississippi, and a thousand copies were struck off in tract form, all of which were soon sold. In 1890, it was again published in the Church Regis- ter, and a thousand copies issued in pamphlet form, all of which were sold within a year. The author commented, “It has been the most fruitful of all the sermons I have ever preached, and is included in this volume by the request of many brethren.” The author continued,
The Book as a whole is the result of more than forty years of study and labor. In most of the protracted meetings which I have held within the past thirty years, these Sermons have been preached, at least in substance, and they have been blessed to the conversion of many souls. I also have reason to think that in their publication at various times they have been a help to many inquiring hearts.
As a “renaissance of our distinctive teaching” of the first principles of the gospel of Christ, has been called for by the Christian Standard, and heartily seconded by many thoughtful brethren, I deem it a favorable time to throw this book upon the patronage of the brethren. I do not know of any volume of sermons that treats so fully of the first great lesson of the gospel — the way of the sinner’s return to God under the mediation of Jesus.
In the preparation of these sermons, both for pulpit use and for publication, I have from the first had in view mainly the wants of the “common people,” such as those who heard Jesus so gladly. I have always taken it for granted that if the common people could understand me, the uncommon people, those who are learned and critical, could also, if they wanted to; and I would much rather help the great number who need help and want help, than the few who can get along without any help.
I hope and pray then that this little book may to some extent meet the want that is beginning to be felt as never before — the want of the gospel of Christ in all its simplicity, purity, and power; that it may lead many souls to Christ; that it may be a help to young preachers; and that it may continue to preach Christ and Him crucified long after the “lisping stammering tongue” that preached these sermons, and the trembling hand that pens these lines have moldered back to dust (“Preface”).
As with any uninspired book, there are some things with which one will disagree, such as Manire’s belief that the 120 were baptized with the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 (59, 70), the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit (68, 81), and his conjecture that Cornelius might have been saved had he died before hearing the gospel (90). There may be other things that one will notice as he reads the book, but generally he will be impressed, not with those areas of disagreement, but with how well he has presented the case for how conversion occurs.
There is an urgent need for brethren to get back to the basics in their preaching. We are hearing many “be good — feel good” sermons that invite a person to “come to Jesus,” but have little to say about how one is to come to Jesus and obey the gospel. This series of gospel sermons on conversion calls men back to what the Bible text teaches that men had to do to be saved by the shed blood of Christ Jesus.
This book will make an excellent gift to anyone who preaches or wishes to preach. It is an excellent study of con- version for any man, Christian or non-Christian. It would make a good gift for one who is not a Christian but wishes to learn how to become one. The book is well-written; it is a good study of the subject of Bible conversion.
The Guardian of Truth Foundation is delighted to add this volume to our catalog of publications and commend it to our readers. We hope you will enjoy it and benefit from it as much as I did.