Have you ever given in to the temptation to use one of those penny-morphing machines? Surely you’ve seen them at a tourist attraction, haven’t you? Over the years, we have encountered them at Disney World, Great America, Sea World, Niagara Falls, the Cog Railway at Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, and many more places, I’m sure.
Remember how they work? You put a penny in one slot and a sum of quarters in another (I think the cheapest I’ve seen is 50¢; most expensive, $1). Then crank a lever and watch as the machine presses and stretches the penny, elongating the former circle into an oval. One side is pressed against a smooth steel plate; the other side, stamped with an image of the tourist attraction you’re visiting. When the process is completed, the machine spits out your former penny, and viola! It’s been transformed into a souvenir!
But here’s the thing. Nothing substantial has changed at all. The piece of copper is still copper. Nothing has been taken from or added to it. The former 1989 copper penny didn’t get transformed into the 1943 steel variety.
Thomas Manton put it this way:
Lead is lead still, whatever stamp it beareth.
Once again, I share Charles Spurgeon’s comments in his Flowers from a Puritan’s Garden.
A change of form is a very different thing from a change of substance. You may cast lead into the shape of a shilling, but you cannot make silver of it. Now, the only change which can save us is a thorough transformation of nature, and this is as clearly beyond human power as the turning of lead into silver. When we see a great moral improvement in any man we ought to be glad, and to admire the power of conscience; but if the man’s heart remains the same, the alteration is only casting the lump of lead into a pretty form. When the man’s nature and disposition are radically altered, we may then exclaim, “This is the finger of God”—this is the transmuting lead into silver. “You must be born again”: nothing less will suffice.
Years ago, in the first church I served as pastor, a man presented himself to the congregation as pious, serious about studying the Bible, and living for God. He was an officer in the church and teacher of an adult Bible class. At the time, he appeared to be a genuine “shilling.” But some time after I moved on, I got word that he had left the church, renounced Christianity, and fully embraced atheism—even actively trying to “convert” others from Christianity to atheism. He bore the stamp of “Christian” for a while, but unfortunately, he was but “lead.”
Apparently having seen similar situations too many times, Spurgeon closed his comments in prayer:
Lord, grant that I may truly know this change. If I am mistaken and have never been regenerated, be pleased to exercise thy gracious power upon me know, for Jesus’ sake.