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What Is It to Win a Soul?
I purpose, dear ones, if God will enable me, to give you a short course under the general heading of "The Soul Winner." Soul-winning is the chief business of the Christian; indeed, it should be the main pursuit of every true believer. We should each say with Simon Peter, "I go fishing," and with Paul our aim should be, "That I might by all means save some." (1 Corinthians 9:22)
We will commence our messages on this subject by considering the question:
What Is It to Win a Soul?
This may be instructively answered by describing what it is not. We do not regard it as soul-winning to steal members from other established churches and train them to say our peculiar creed. We aim rather to bring souls to Christ than to make converts to our churches. Sheep-stealers roam abroad, concerning whom I will say nothing except that they are not brothers, not acting in a brotherly fashion. To their own Master they must stand or fall. We count it utter meanness to build up our own house with the ruins of our neighbors’ mansions. We prefer to quarry for ourselves.
I hope we all sympathize in the big-hearted spirit of Dr. Chalmers, who, when it was said that such-and-such an effort would not be beneficial to the special interests of the Free Church of Scotland, although it might promote the general religion of the land, said, "What is the Free Church compared with the Christian good of the people of Scotland?" Indeed, what are all the churches put together, as mere organizations, if they stand in conflict with the moral and spiritual advantage of the nation or if they impede the kingdom of Christ?
It is because God blesses men through the churches that we desire to see them prosper, and not merely for the sake of the churches themselves. There is such a thing as selfishness in our eagerness for the aggrandizement of our own party. From this evil spirit may grace deliver us! The increase of the kingdom is more to be desired than the growth of a clan. We would do a great deal to make a infantile Baptist brother into a mature Baptist simply because we value our Lord’s ordinances.
We would labor earnestly to raise a believer in salvation by free will into a believer in salvation by grace, for we long to see all religious teaching built upon the solid rock of truth and not upon the sand of imagination. At the same time, our grand object is not the revision of opinions, but the regeneration of natures. We should bring men to Christ, not to our own peculiar views of Christianity.
Our first care must be that the sheep are gathered to the great Shepherd. There will be time enough afterward to secure them for our various folds. To make proselytes is a suitable labor for Pharisees. To lead men to God is the honorable aim of all laborers of Christ.
In the next place, we do not consider soul-winning to be accomplished by hurriedly inscribing more names upon our church rolls in order to show a good increase at the year’s end. This is easily done, and there are those who use great pains, not to say arts, to effect it. But if it is regarded as the epitome of a Christian’s efforts, the result will be deplorable.
By all means, let us bring true converts into the church, for it is a part of our work to teach them to observe all things whatsoever Christ has commanded them. But still, this is to be done with disciples, and not with mere professors. If care is not used, we may do more harm than good at this point. To introduce unconverted persons to the church is to weaken and degrade it. Therefore, an apparent gain may be a real loss.
I am not among those who decry statistics, nor do I consider that they are productive of all manner of evil, for they do much good if they are accurate and if men use them lawfully. It is a good thing for people to see the nakedness of the land through statistics of decrease, that they may be driven on their knees before the Lord to seek prosperity. On the other hand, it is by no means an evil thing for workers to be encouraged by having some account of results set before them. I would be very sorry if the practice of adding up, deducting, and giving the net result were to be abandoned, because it is good to know our numerical condition.
It has been noticed that those who object to the process are often those whose unsatisfactory reports would somewhat humiliate them; this is not always so, but it is suspiciously frequent. The other day, I heard of the report of a church in which the minister, who was well-known to have reduced his congregation to nothing, somewhat cleverly wrote, "Our church is looking up." When he was questioned with regard to this statement, he replied, "Everybody knows that the church is on its back, and it can do nothing else but look up."
When churches are looking up in that way, their pastors generally say that statistics are very delusive things and that you cannot tabulate the work of the Spirit or calculate the prosperity of a church by figures. The fact is, you can reckon very correctly, if the figures are honest and if all circumstances are taken into consideration. If there is no increase, you may calculate with considerable accuracy that there is not much being done. If there is a clear decrease among a growing population, you may reckon that the prayers of the people and the preaching are not of the most powerful kind.
Still, all hurry to get one into the church is most mischievous, both to the church and to the supposed converts. I remember several young men who were of good moral character and religiously hopeful. However, instead of searching their hearts and aiming at their real conversion, the pastor never gave them any rest until he had persuaded them to make a profession. He thought that they would be under more bonds to holy things if they professed religion; he felt quite safe in pressing them, for "they were so hopeful." He imagined that to discourage them by vigilant examination might drive them away. To secure them, he made them hypocrites. Presently, these young men are much further from the church of God than they would have been if they had been affronted by being kept in their proper places and warned that they were not converted.
It is a serious injury to a person to receive him into the number of the faithful unless there is good reason to believe that he is really regenerate. I am sure it is so, for I speak after careful observation. Some of the most glaring sinners known to me were once members of a church and had been, as I believe, led to make a profession by pressure, well-meant but ill-judged. Do not consider that soul-winning is or can be secured by the multiplication of baptisms and the swelling size of your church.
What do these dispatches from the battlefield mean? "Last night fourteen souls were under conviction, fifteen were justified, and eight received full sanctification." I am weary of this public bragging, this counting of unhatched chickens, this exhibition of doubtful spoils. Lay aside such numberings of the people, such idle pretense of certifying in half-a-minute that which will need the testing of a lifetime. Hope for the best, but in your highest excitements be reasonable. Inquiry rooms are all very well, but if they lead to idle boasting, they will grieve the Holy Spirit and work abounding evil.
Nor is it soul-winning, friends, merely to create excitement. Excitement will accompany every great movement. We may justly question whether the movement was earnest and powerful if it were as serene as a drawing-room Bible reading. You cannot very well blast great rocks without the sound of explosions, nor fight a battle and keep everybody as quiet as a mouse. On a dry day, a carriage is not moving much along the roads unless there is some noise and dust. Friction and stir are the natural result of force in motion.
When the Spirit of God is abroad and men’s minds are stirred, there must and will be certain visible signs of movement, although these must never be confounded with the movement itself. If people imagine that to make dust is the object aimed at by the rolling of a carriage, they can take a broom and very soon raise as much dust as fifty coaches, but they will be committing a nuisance rather than conferring a benefit. Excitement is as incidental as the dust, but it is not for one moment to be aimed at. When the woman swept her house, she did it to find her money, not for the sake of raising a cloud.
Do not aim at sensation and "effect." Flowing tears and streaming eyes, sobs and outcries, crowded after-meetings and all kinds of confusion may occur, and may be borne with as concomitants of genuine feeling. But, I pray you, do not plan their production.
It very often happens that the converts who are born in excitement die when the thrill is over. They are like certain insects which are the product of an exceedingly warm day and die when the sun goes down. Some converts live like salamander--in the fire--but they expire at a reasonable temperature.
I delight not in religion which creates a hot head. Give me the godliness which flourishes upon Calvary rather than upon Vesuvius. The utmost zeal for Christ is consistent with common sense and reason; raving, ranting, and fanaticism are products of another zeal which is not according to knowledge. We should prepare men for the communion table, not for the padded room at Bedlam. No one is more sorry than I that such a caution as this should be needed. However, remembering the vagaries of certain revivalists, I cannot say less.
What is the real winning of a soul for God? So far as this is done by instrumentality, what are the processes by which a soul is led to God and to salvation? I take it that one of its main operations consists in instructing a man that he may know the truth of God. Instruction by the Gospel is the commencement of all real work upon men’s minds. "Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:19). Teaching begins the work and crowns it, too.
The Gospel according to Isaiah is, "Incline your ear, and come unto Me: hear, and your soul shall live" (Isaiah 55:3). It is ours, then, to give men something worth their hearing--in fact, to instruct them. We are sent to evangelize, or to "preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). That is not done unless we teach them the great truths of revelation.
The Gospel is good news. To listen to some preachers, you would imagine that the Gospel was a pinch of sacred snuff to make them wake up, or a bottle of ardent spirits to excite their brains. It is nothing of the kind.
The Gospel is news: there is information and instruction in it concerning matters which men need to know, and statements in it calculated to bless those who hear it. It is not a magical incantation or charm whose force consists in a collection of sounds. It is a revelation of facts and truths which require knowledge and belief. The Gospel is a reasonable system; it appeals to men’s understanding. A matter for thought and consideration, it appeals to the conscience and reflecting powers.
Hence, if we do not teach men something, we may shout, "Believe! Believe! Believe!" but what are they to believe? Each exhortation requires a corresponding instruction, or it will mean nothing. "Escape!" From what? This requires for its answer the doctrine of the punishment of sin. "Fly!" But where? Then must you preach Christ and His wounds, and the clear doctrine of atonement by sacrifice. "Repent!" Of what? Here you must answer such questions as, What is sin? What is the evil of sin? What are the consequences of sin? "Be converted!" But what is it to be converted? By what power can we be converted? What from? What to?
The field of instruction is wide if men are to be made to know the truth which saves. "That the soul be without knowledge, it is not good" (Proverbs 19:2). It is ours as the Lord’s instruments to make men so to know the truth that they may believe it and feel its power. We are not to try to save men in the dark. Rather, in the power of the Holy Ghost, we are to seek to turn them from darkness to light.
Do not believe, dear friends, that when you go into revival meetings or special evangelistic services, you are to leave out the doctrines of the Gospel, for you ought then to proclaim the doctrines of grace rather more than less. Teach gospel doctrines clearly, affectionately, simply, and plainly, and especially those truths which have a present, practical bearing upon man’s condition and God’s grace.
Some enthusiasts seem to have embraced the notion that, as soon as a minister addresses the unconverted, he should deliberately throw away his usual doctrinal messages, because supposedly that there will be no conversions if he preaches the whole counsel of God. It just comes to this: supposedly, we are to conceal the truth and utter half-falsehoods in order to save souls. We are to speak the truth to God’s people because they will not hear anything else, but we are to wheedle sinners into faith by exaggerating one part of truth and hiding the rest until a more convenient season. This is a strange theory, yet many endorse it. According to them, we may preach the redemption of a chosen number of God’s people, but universal redemption must be our doctrine when we speak with the outside world. We are to tell believers that salvation is all of grace, but sinners are to be spoken with as if they were to save themselves. We are to inform Christians that the Holy Spirit alone can convert, but when we talk with the unsaved, the Holy Ghost is scarcely to be named.
We have not learned Christ thus. Others have done these things. Let them be our warning signals, not our examples. He who sent us to win souls neither permits us to invent falsehoods nor to suppress truth. His work can be done without such suspicious methods.
Perhaps some of you will reply, "But, still, God has blessed half-statements and wild assertions." Be not quite so sure. I venture to assert that God does not bless falsehood. He may bless the truth which is mixed up with error, but much more of blessing would have come if the preaching had been more in accordance with His own Word. I cannot admit that the Lord blesses evangelistic Jesuitism, and the suppression of truth is not too harshly named when I so describe it. The withholding of the doctrine of the total depravity of man has worked serious mischief to many who have listened to a certain kind of preaching. These people do not get a true healing because they do not know the disease under which they are suffering. They are never truly clothed because nothing is done towards stripping them.
In many ministries, there is not enough of probing the heart and arousing the conscience by the revelation of man’s alienation from God, and by the declaration of the selfishness and the wickedness of such a state. Men need to be told that, except divine grace shall bring them out of their enmity to God, they must eternally perish. They must be reminded of the sovereignty of God, that He is not obliged to bring them out of this state, that He would be right and just if He left them in such a condition, that they have no merit to plead before Him and no claims upon Him, but that if they are to be saved, it must be by grace and by grace alone. The preacher’s work is to throw sinners down in utter helplessness, so that they may be compelled to look up to Him who alone can help them.
To try to will a soul for Christ by keeping that soul in ignorance of any truth is contrary to the mind of the Spirit; to endeavor to save men by mere claptrap, excitement, or oratorical display is as foolish as to hope to hold an angel with bird lime or lure a star with music. The best attraction is the Gospel in its purity. The weapon with which the Lord conquers men is the truth as it is in Jesus.
The Gospel will be found equal to every emergency--an arrow which can pierce the hardest heart, a balm which will heal the deadliest wound. Preach it, and preach nothing else. Rely implicitly upon the old, old Gospel. You need no other nets when you fish for men; those your Master has given you are strong enough for the great fishes and have meshes fine enough to hold the little ones. Spread these nets and no others, and you need not fear the fulfillment of His Word, "I will make you fishers of men." (Matthew 4:19)
Secondly, to win a soul, it is necessary not only to instruct our hearer and make him know the truth, but to impress him so that he may feel it. A purely didactic ministry, which would always appeal to the understanding and leave the emotions untouched, would certainly be a limping ministry. "The legs of the lame are not equal" (Proverbs 26:7), says Solomon. The unequal legs of some laborers cripple them. We have seen such a one limping about with a long doctrinal leg, but a very short emotional leg. It is a horrible thing for a man to be so doctrinal that he can speak coolly of the doom of the wicked, so that, if he does not actually praise God for it, it costs him no anguish of heart to think of the ruin of millions of our race. This is horrible!
I hate to hear the terrors of the Lord proclaimed by men whose hard visages, harsh tones, and unfeeling spirit betray a sort of doctrinal desiccation: all the milk of human kindness is dried out of them. Having no feeling himself, such a preacher creates none. The people sit and listen while he keeps to dry, lifeless statements. They come to value him for being "sound," and they themselves come to be sound, too. I need not add, sound asleep. What life they have is spent in sniffing out heresy and making earnest men offenders for a word. Into this spirit may we never be baptized!
Whatever I believe, or do not believe, the command to love my neighbor as myself still retains its claim upon me. God forbid that any views or opinions should so contract my soul and harden my heart as to make me forget this law of love! The love of God is first, but by no means lessens the obligation of love to man. In fact, the first commandment includes the second. We are to seek our neighbor’s conversion because we love him. We are to speak to him in terms of God’s loving Gospel because our heart desires his eternal good.
A sinner has a heart as well as a head, emotions as well as thoughts. We must appeal to both. A sinner will never be converted until his emotions are stirred. Unless he feels sorrow for sin and a measure of joy in receiving the Word, there is not much hope for him. Truth must soak into the soul and dye it with its own color. The Word must be like a strong wind sweeping through the whole heart and swaying the whole man, even as a field of ripening corn waves in the summer breeze. Religion without emotion is religion without life.
But, still, we must mind how these emotions are caused. Do not play upon the mind by exciting feelings which are not spiritual. Some preachers are very fond of introducing funerals and dying children into their messages. They make the people weep through natural emotion. This may lead to something better, but in itself, what is its value? What is the good of opening up a mother’s griefs or a widow’s sorrows? I do not believe our merciful Lord has sent us to make men weep over their departed relatives by digging anew their graves or rehearsing past scenes of bereavement. Why would He?
It is granted that you may profitably employ the deathbed of a departed Christian and that of a dying sinner for proof of the rest of faith in the one case, and the terror of conscience in the other. But it is out of the fact proved, and not out of the illustration itself, that the good must arise.
Natural grief is of no service in itself. Indeed, we look upon it as a distraction from higher thoughts and as a price too great to exact from tender hearts, unless we can repay them by engrafting lasting spiritual impressions upon the stock of natural emotion. "It was a very splendid oration, full of pathos," says one hearer. Yes, but what is the practical outcome of this pathos? A young preacher once remarked, "Were you not greatly struck to see so large a congregation weeping?" "Yes," said his judicious friend, "but I was more struck with the reflection that they would probably have wept more at a play." Exactly. The weeping in both cases may be equally valueless.
I saw a girl on board of a steamboat reading a book and crying as if her heart would break. But when I glanced at the volume, I saw that it was only one of those silly yellow-covered novels that fill our railway book stalls. Her tears were a sheer waste of moisture, and so are those which are produced by mere pulpit tale-telling and death-bed painting.
If our hearers will weep over their sins and after Jesus, let their tears flow in rivers. But if the object of their sorrow is merely natural and not at all spiritual, what good is done by starting them weeping? There might be some virtue in making people joyful, for there is sorrow enough in the world, and the more we can promote cheerfulness, the better. But what is the use of creating needless misery? What right have you to go through the world pricking everybody with your lancet just to show your skill in surgery? A true physician only makes incisions in order to effect cures, and a wise man only excites painful emotions in men’s minds with the distinct object of blessing their souls.
You and I must continue to drive at men’s hearts till they are broken. Then we must keep on preaching Christ crucified until their hearts are bound up. When this is accomplished, we must continue to proclaim the Gospel till their whole nature is brought into subjection to the Gospel of Christ. Even in these preliminaries you will be made to feel the need of the Holy Ghost to work with you and through you; but this need will be still more evident when you advance a step further to speak of the new birth itself, in which the Holy Spirit works in a style and manner most divine.
I have already insisted upon instruction and impression as necessary for soul-winning, but these are not all. Indeed, they are only means to the desired end. A far greater work must be done before a man is saved. A wonder of divine grace must be wrought upon the soul, far transcending anything which can be accomplished by the power of man. Of all whom we would with pleasure win for Jesus, it is true, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). The Holy Ghost must work regeneration in the objects of our love, or they never can become possessors of eternal happiness. They must be quickened into a new life, and they must become new creatures in Christ Jesus. The same energy which accomplishes resurrection and creation must put forth all its power upon them. Nothing short of this can meet the case. They must be born again from above.
This might seem at first to put human instrumentality altogether out of the field, but on turning to the Scriptures we find nothing to justify such an inference and much of quite an opposite tendency. We certainly find the Lord to be all in all, but we find no hint that the use of means must therefore be dispensed with. The Lord’s supreme majesty and power are seen all the more gloriously because He works by means. He is so great that He is not afraid to put honor on the instruments He employs, by speaking of them in high terms and imputing to them great influence. It is sadly possible to say too little of the Holy Spirit--indeed, I fear this is one of the crying sins of the age. Yet that infallible Word, which always rightly balances truth, while it magnifies the Holy Ghost, does not speak lightly of the men by whom He works. God does not think His own honor to be so questionable that it can only be maintained by depreciating the human agent.
There are two passages in the Epistles which, when put together, have often amazed me. Paul compares himself both to a father and to a mother in the matter of the new birth: he says of one convert, "Whom I have begotten in my bonds" (Philemon 1:10), and of a whole church he says, "My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you" (Galatians 4:19). This is going very far, much further than modern orthodoxy would permit the most useful servant to venture. Yet it is language sanctioned, even dictated by the Spirit of God Himself, and therefore it is not to be criticized. Such mysterious power does God infuse into the instrumentality which He ordains that we are called "laborers together with God" (1 Corinthians 3:9). This is at once the source of our responsibility and the ground of our hope.
Regeneration, or the new birth, works a change in the whole of man. So far as we can judge, its essence lies in the implantation and creation of a new principle within the man. The Holy Ghost creates in us a new, immortal nature, which is known in Scripture as "the spirit," by way of distinction from the soul.
Posted October 12, 2002
I have not read the book in its entirety yet, but it is a wonderful book. I am very happy with the stance he takes on true converts. It's a wonderful first chapter :)
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Posted May 8, 2013
Have not finished reading it all but I find it excellent! And why not? Everything by this author is outstanding and should be read if time
and opportunity are available.