“THAT I MAY BY ALL MEANS SAVE SOME”
Over the hills and valleys of Esau’s land there rang the urgent cry, “Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night?” (Isa.21:11,12). Back again came the answer from the hilltop, where the watchman waited the dawning of the day, “The morning is coming, but also the night.” It is a cry which thrills the heart of every Christian. “The morning is coming” the glad morning, which shall never again fade away into night. But the watchman’s message did not finish there. As he looked he saw the night coming too. It is a solemn thought that when, for the believer, “The morning breaks, eternal, bright and fair” for the perishing of men and women there will be ushered in the long, dark night, which shall never again see the light of the morning. Peter writes about it, and Jude also, as “the blackness of darkness . . . forever.”
The Lord Jesus saw it coming, and to His disciples He said,
“As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.” (Jn 9:4).
“We must work,” He said, linking Himself with the men who had been called to share with Him in the work to which His Father had sent Him. And although nineteen centuries have passed, His words are as urgent today as on the day they fell from His lips. “We must work.” What a privilege to be called to work for Him in bringing the light of the gospel to the darkened hearts of men!
There are many ways in which this work may be pursued, but perhaps one of the most effective is that which has been described as the “one by one” method. Those with a desire after the souls of men have used it effectively in all ages. Did it not begin with the Greatest-of-all Lover of souls, who trod the dusty road to Sychar that a sinful Samaritan woman might drink the water of life? (Jn 4). It was He again who one night answered the call of the troubled ruler, and during those nocturnal hours pointed his weary soul to the way of life and peace (Jn 3). That He found time, not only for the multitude, but for individuals, cannot but impress us with the importance of this aspect of the work.
Examples abound in Scripture of men and women who were turned to the heavenly way by the simple but faithful witness of those who loved their God. “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy” said Naaman’s servant girl to her mistress (2 Kgs.5:3). Doubtless it took some courage on her part, but what a stream of blessing and glory to God issued from her simple testimony! Andrew, although perhaps not given to spectacular things like his brother Peter, is a shining example of one whose life was made fruitful because of his aptitude in introducing enquiring ones to his Master. “The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ).” (Jn 1:41,42). He found, and he brought! It does not sound difficult, does it? But thereby another life was reached and saved.
It is with a desire to encourage one another in this aspect of soul-winning that the following notes are prayerfully passed on. That this method of winning others is becoming more and more important seems evident, for in these days of indifference, when many will not stop to heed the message preached in the streets, and far less accept an invitation indoors, the personal word, spoken quietly to the heart, seldom fails to provoke some response. And the delightful thing about personal work is that it knows no restrictions. All can engage in it, and at all times and in all places it is equally effective. The train or the bus, office or workshop, home or hospital, all provide opportunities of speaking of Christ, not to mention the close of a gospel meeting, which is a most valuable time for this type of work. “Button-holing” is undesirable, but a kindly “Glad to see you this evening…” is often sufficient to draw forth a reply which will indicate whether or not further conversation would be appreciated. If we are to win souls we shall not be content with speaking only when we are spoken to, although that is also very important, as Peter says in his first epistle (1 Pet.3:15). We must watch and pray for opportunities, for the more we tell, the more will be reached. The reaping will be in proportion to the sowing. It is said of John and Betty Stam, who were martyred in China, that they began each day with the prayer,
“Lead me to some soul today,
O teach me, Lord, just what to say;
Friends of mine are lost in sin,
And cannot find their way.
Few there are who seem to care,
And few there are who pray:
Melt my heart and fill my life,
Give me one soul today.”
Theirs is an example worth copying. How much more interesting life would be, if as each new day dawned, we went out expecting opportunities to speak of the Saviour!
Is it not true, young Christian, that oftentimes we are slow to speak of the Master we follow? Slow to tell of Him who died to save us? But the heart cannot but speak of the one it loves. Could it be that love to Him is lacking? “What is your beloved more than another beloved?” was the question asked by the daughters of Jerusalem, which drew forth from the lover so effective a description that their next word was, “Where has your beloved gone, most beautiful of women? Which way did your beloved turn, that we may look for him with you?” (Songs 6:1). Her words sprang from the love of her heart, and others are quick to recognize love. “…that we may look for him with you” How we long to hear men saying that to us about our Lord Jesus! But how can this desire be instilled into their hearts? What will be required on our part?
Surely the first requirement is love. We shall need to love them with the love of Christ. “Love is patient, love is kind” (1 Cor.13:4). By nature we love ourselves, but the soul-winner must needs learn to love others more than he loves himself. “Others” was the one word on a telegram that a Christian leader sent to a Conference of workers, and “others” must be written on our hearts. Some whom we set out to reach will not be easy to love, for sin has carried them far down until they are most unlovely. We shall need to set our hearts upon the One of whom we delight to sing,
“Out of the ivory palaces, into a world of woe,
Only His deep, eternal love, made my Saviour go,”
“Now remain in my love” He said (Jn 15:9), and His is a love which removes all barriers and makes all things easy.
“Love that never faileth
Love that all prevaileth—
Saviour Christ, O hear me now
And give Thy love to me!
Round me souls are dying,
Deep in darkness lying;
Thou didst love them unto death,
O give Thy love to me!
Love that ever burneth
Love that ever yearneth—
Saviour Christ, O hear me now
And give Thy love to me! “
And love begets compassion. Six times over the Gospel-writers speak of the Master having compassion. The blind, the lepers, the hungry multitude all drew forth His compassion. Are our hearts easily touched by the need of others? If so, we are on the way to reaching them for Christ.
Secondly, we shall need wisdom, for “…the one who is wise saves lives” (Prov.11:30). Human wisdom will not avail here; it is the wisdom which is from above which we require. We have all felt the need of this when seeking to help a troubled soul. Each case is different. No two are alike. Where shall we begin? And what shall we say? Surely Solomon was right. Only the wise can win souls. But we need not fail because of this, for the promise is, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (Jas.1:5). Wisdom to win souls—liberally, in full measure, all that we need. And simply for the asking! Christian, let us bend the knees today, and ask in faith for this wisdom.
With the matter of wisdom Solomon links a third requirement. He says,
“The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and the one who is wise saves lives.”
Holy living and the winning of souls are linked together. Our speaking must needs be backed by a righteous life, living daily in touch with God. We know this from experience. How difficult it is to speak of Christ when something in the life has broken our fellowship with God! When the heart is right the lips can speak. “The lips of the righteous nourish many” (Prov.10:21). What a promise! Many there are today who are hungry for the words of life, but there are few to feed them. In the Master’s day “the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God.” (Lk.5:1). Let us keep our lives right, and then our lips will be ready for Him to use. Day by day we shall rise to say,
“Take my lips, and let them be
Filled with messages from Thee,”
and the Lord will gladly take them, and use them to His glory in a way which will surprise us.
In the fourth place we must know our Bibles, and that well enough to turn without hesitation to the various portions of Scripture which the Holy Spirit will bring to our remembrance. The word of the aged apostle to his son, Timothy, bears forcibly on this point. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. ” (2 Tim.2:15). Who has not been intrigued watching a craftsman handling his tools? It all seems so easy until we pick up the tool and try to do it ourselves. Then we soon discover the difference between being trained and untrained! Diligence will certainly be required if we are to handle God’s word competently. Watch Philip at his work with the Ethiopian eunuch! Running up to his chariot he heard him reading aloud, and recognizing the part without any difficulty, he began from that scripture and preached unto him Jesus, with the delightful outcome we all know so well, don’t we? In Samaria his message had been the same, “Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there.” (Acts 8:5). It was Christ they needed, and Christ he preached. The apostle Paul followed the same pattern, for, writing to the Corinthians, he says, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. ” (1 Cor.2:2). Souls will be saved, not by clever arguments or well-polished words, but by some word of God, brought home to the heart by the Holy Spirit. Our part is to know the sacred writings, and store them in our hearts, “So that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim.3:17).
Then there is the vital need for prayer, for little is ever accomplished for God without this exercise on our part. No amount of toil or earnestness can take its place. God delights to give in answer to our asking: 2 Kgs.4 tells of the death of the Shunammite’s son, and how in response to her plea Elisha sent his servant in haste to lay his staff upon the face of the child. The servant returned with the message, “…there was no sound or response…“The boy has not awakened.”
When Elisha came, “He went in, shut the door on the two of them and prayed to the Lord.” And what the touch of the rod had been unable to effect, the power of prayer accomplished. There is a lesson here. Only by earnest believing prayer will souls that are dead through trespasses and sins receive new life—the life that is in Christ Jesus.
In the Philippian prison Paul and Silas were praying about midnight (Acts 16:25). Was it, perhaps, for the jailor? Again, it was while Peter was praying upon the housetop that the men came with the message from Cornelius (Acts 10). There is no doubt that God’s method is to give, in answer to prayer. It is a precious experience to have the heart burdened about a soul, and to pray for that one until God grants the request for Jesus’ sake. The story is told of a dear Christian man in a large engineering works, who during the lunch hour used to preach to his mates at the gate of the works, and how sometimes he would sing the hymn which has the refrain,
“For you I am praying . . . I am praying for you.”
Only a praying man could do that. And praying men win souls.
“Come follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men,” called the Master to Simon and Andrew, as they were casting their nets one day by the Sea of Galilee. Note how Mark puts it, please. “I will make you.” It is evident that this was a task which could not be learned in a day. It had taken years for these men to become the clever fishermen they were; how much more then the work of fishing for men. Training and preparation are required in most walks of life, and this comes only by study and practice. We must not expect that the service of the Lord will call for anything less. How were Peter and Andrew equipped for their divine calling? “Come follow Me,” He said, “and I will make you…” He is the Divine Instructor. And who better could make His followers into fishers of men, than He whose love for men brought Him from the throne above to share their toil and tears, and then to give Himself upon the Cross that they might be won for ever? Young disciples, in this, as in all else, He bids us learn of Him. Often we find the Lord Jesus dealing with individuals. Let us see what we can glean of His methods that will help us in our work. A few suggestions are:
(a) Acquire a friendly and approachable attitude. Starting a conversation is possibly the most difficult part, but a smile always helps—and smiles cost nothing. The Master was wonderfully approachable; none feared to come to Him. His kindly interest drew even the children to His side. Philip, the apostle, was another such. It was he whom the Greeks sought out when they wanted to see Jesus. An evangelist tells of a train journey one day when he was offered a candy by a fellow-passenger, and unthinkingly refused, only to find that it was most difficult afterwards to open up conversation. We must be on the look-out for points of contact. “Will you give me a drink?” the Lord Jesus said, and that simple request served to open up a conversation which led to the woman, and many others too, drinking the water of life.
(b) Listen carefully to the other person, hearing what he has to say first. He will then be far more ready to listen to us when our turn comes. “a careful listener will testify successfully.” (Prov.21:28). Indeed, only by listening to the person’s story can we decide how best to make our approach. Most doctors get their patients talking; it aids diagnosis. Remember how the Lord Jesus encouraged the Samaritan woman to talk until He had drawn out from her a confession of her past life, and then He revealed Himself as the Messiah, the One strong to save.
(c) Keep clear of arguments. Some people love to argue, but we must not be drawn, for souls are not won that way. Someone has said, “You may win an argument, but lose a soul,” and it is souls we are out to win, not arguments. How often the Pharisees tried to draw the Lord Jesus into an argument, but always without success, for He silenced them with a word.
(d) Endeavour to understand the person requiring help, and to put yourself in his position. This is important if we would win his confidence. This may apply particularly in lands where the customs and mode of life are different from our own, but at home also we should train ourselves to understand others and appreciate their point of view. ” This man understands me” will be the quick response, and we all know how heart-warming it is to feel that someone is interested in us. This very point the apostle presses home in 1 Cor.9 where he says, ” I am become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some.” He was prepared to get down to men, to look at things from their angle, and so he won them for Christ. Perhaps he learned it from Ezekiel, who came to the people of the captivity, and he says, ” I sat where they sat ” (Ezek.3:15, R.V.M.). Once again, the Lord Jesus is the perfect Example, for “His understanding is infinite.” He could as well understand the rich young ruler, putting His finger immediately upon the cause of the trouble, as He could the woman of the city who wept her way to His feet. “Friend of tax collectors and sinners” the Pharisees called Him in scorn, little realizing how true a description it was, or how sweet to those who love Him.
Reverting to the raising of the son of the great woman of Shunem, after Elisha had prayed he stretched himself upon the child, “mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands. As he stretched himself out on him, the boy’s body grew warm.” Not a pleasant task, but only thus could the child be warmed back to life. And again he stretched himself upon him . . . and the boy “opened his eyes.” Do we long to see sin-darkened eyes and hearts being opened today? Hearts that have been long cold in sin warmed to the love of Christ? Oh yes, we do, and we shall, if only we are prepared, as the prophet was, to get down to men, where they are, so close to them, that the warmth of the love of Christ in our hearts will warm them towards Him who alone can give them life.
Not all, of course, are so deep in sin. There are others whose lives are almost beyond reproach, and they also need to be pointed to the Saviour. The noble of this world, the mighty, the educated; how should they be approached? Is not this a task which calls for special qualifications? Strangely enough, no!, for in Christ “are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden,” and the man of God finds himself completely equipped, if Christ is dwelling in his heart through faith.
(e) Speak faithfully of sin, but always in a God-fearing way. This is a subject on which we may feel reticent to speak, but we shall need to be faithful if we would give help. Sin is at the root of all men’s troubles, and until they recognize their sinner-need, how will they look to Christ as Saviour? Governor Felix trembled as Paul reasoned with him of “righteousness, and temperance, and the judgement to come,” but it was for his good. “A truthful witness saves lives” (Prov.14:25). Oh, let us not fail to be true!
In Acts 20:21 the apostle helpfully sums up his message under two headings, “turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.” Repentance must come first, but that change of mind will only be brought about as the heart is convicted of its sin against God.
(f) Speak to convince the mind first. Paul “entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 19:8): reasoning, as to the mind; persuading, as to the heart. It is of no use urging persons to believe unless they are clear in their minds what they must believe. When the mind agrees, then we can look for the word to be received into the heart. A careful reading of Jn 3 indicates that the Lord Jesus worked this way with Nicodemus. In verses 1 to 3, they are speaking face to face; verses 3 to 8, mind to mind; from verse 9 onwards heart to heart.
(g) When turning to appropriate passages of Scripture it is helpful if the enquiring one himself reads the verses aloud. He needs to feel that the word is to him personally. How careful we should be to remember that in the end it will be, not by our exposition (used of God though that may be), but by some word of God that he will be saved! “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” (Rom.10:17). And again, ” He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.” (Jas.1:18). The word of God is living and active: 2 Thess.3:1 speaks of it “running.” Such is its activity. Privileged indeed we are that we are called to work with it.
(h) Guard against trying to force a decision, but when the heart has responded to the message, it is often helpful to kneel together and encourage the new-born soul to call upon God for himself. This helps to bring the assurance of eternal life. Hearing, believing, calling is the precious order in the birth of a soul. “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Rom.10:14). That is where our part comes in. And then the word, ” Behold, he is praying” (Acts 9:11 ESV)
These are but a few points; others will occur to the reader. But when all has been said, our fruitfulness in winning souls will depend upon our abiding in Christ.
“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (Jn 15:4).
Yet how easy it becomes when we remain in Him! No effort is required. With the Husbandman to cleanse, and the very life of the Vine flowing through, the branch cannot but bear fruit. And the wonderful outcome, for which we all long is—
“This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (Jn 15:8).
Nor is it on earth alone that the Lord will be glorified, for throughout eternity we shall shine to His glory, as Dan.12:3 shows,—
“Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.“
This is the soul-winner’s promise. Surely such a prospect will stir our hearts to greater endeavours to reach some for Christ. Not to all is this privilege granted. ” Must I go—and empty-handed? ” sadly asked a dying young man of his friend. He had been saved only a month, most of which had been passed upon a sick bed, and with life fast ebbing away, he longed for the chance of reaching some for his Saviour. What of you and me, dear reader, with health and strength, and life before us (if the Lord will)?
“Must I go—and empty-handed?
Thus my dear Redeemer meet?
Not one day of service give Him,
Lay no trophy at His feet? “
The following extract is from a statement made by an atheist, and surely what he writes in unbelief comes as a challenge to those of us who love the Saviour.
“Did I firmly believe, what millions of Christians say they do … I would cast away earthly enjoyments as dross . . . (The gospel of Christ) would be my first thought in the morning, and my last image before sleep sank me into unconsciousness. I would labour in its cause alone. I would take thought for the morrow of eternity only. I would esteem one soul gained for heaven worth a life of suffering. Earthly consequences should never stay my hand, nor seal my lips. I would strive to look upon eternity alone, and upon the souls around me, soon to be everlastingly happy or everlastingly miserable. I would go forth to the world and preach to it in season and out of season, and my text would be, ‘What is a man profited, if he gain the whole world, and lose or forfeit his own soul?’ ”
To the task, young Christian! Around us men are dying without a hope to cheer the tomb. Some whom our lives touch today may tomorrow be languishing in eternal burnings. And we could have spoken to them. Let us give ourselves earnestly to the task, for the night comes, when no man can work. We cannot afford to be careless, can we, when all around the precious souls of men are perishing— the very souls for whom the Saviour died. Let us count no sacrifice too great if thereby we might gain some. ” Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord.” And when we bend the knee with a troubled soul, and hear him call upon God for mercy, our hearts will be filled with Christ’s own joy.