Some years ago a young woman officer wrote the colonel in command of a European territory telling him she meant to resign if she could not get souls saved. But she did not resign.
A pastor, famous for the revivals which swept his churches and moved the communities where he labored, was sent to a big church in New York City. As he walked into a gathering of ministers, he heard them whispering among themselves: “He will find New York different. It is the graveyard of revival reputations.” And right there he resolved and publicly declared that there would be a revival or there would be a funeral in his parsonage. There was no funeral in that parsonage.
Little Faith sees the difficulties and often accepts defeats without a fight. Great faith sees God and fights strongly against all odds, and, though the enemy apparently triumphs, wins moral and spiritual victory, as did Christ on Calvary, and the martyrs who perished in the flame. What could be more complete to doubting hearts and the eyes of unbelief than the defeat of Christ on the cross or of the martyrs burned at the stake! And yet it was then that their victory over the enemy was supreme. The spirit of Jesus is the spirit of conquest.
When Paul, filled with passionate love for Christ, whom he had persecuted, and burning with eager desire to save people went forth to evangelize the Roman Empire, the Jews everywhere confronted and hunted him with the same deadly hate and murderous opposition that he had once shown to the Jerusalem Christians; while every city he entered reeked with unmentionable vices and idolatries. He had no complete Bible, no religious press, no missionary organization behind him to insure his support, and the very name of Christ was unknown, while Caesar was honored as a god.
The wealth, the learning, the philosophy, the political power, the religions, the vested interests of the world and the agelong habits, passions and inflamed appetites of people were all opposed to him. Don Quixote’s valorous attack on windmills did not appear more absurd than Paul’s assault on the sin, the corruption, the entrenched evils of the world of his day with no other weapon than his personal testimony and the story of a crucified, resurrected Jewish peasant Carpenter, whom he heralded as the Son of God and the Savior and Judge of the world, before whom all people, from Emperor to the lowest slave, must someday appear to be judged for his deeds and be rewarded with eternal bliss or doomed to endless shame and woe. Paul died, but he won souls.
Immeasurable difficulties faced the Wesleys when they and Whitefield began their career that quickened Christendom. The clergy were, as a class, utterly unspiritual, given over to drinking, horse racing, and fox hunting with the gentry; the educated classes were, in large measure, skeptical and immoral, while the lower classes in the cities were only too often debased and drunken. But in the midst of these desolate and desperate conditions the Wesleys started the greatest revival that had been known since the apostolic age and snatched souls from the very jaws of Hell.
And amid conditions equally as dark and forbidding, the Founder began and carried on his work that directly touched and won millions of souls, quickening the faith and lifting the spiritual level of the whole Christian world, touching with soul-saving power and lifegiving hope great populations in many lands.
But none of these world embracing, epoch making revivals began in a large way. Paul usually made an address and gave his testimony in a synagogue until he was excluded and then went to some home, back room or kitchen that was opened to him. This was followed by house-to-house visitation, often after a day’s work at tentmaking. The Wesleys began in the same humble way, and likewise the Founder.
Great revivals among God’s people and awakenings among the ungodly never begin in a great way. They begin as oak trees begin. In darkness an acorn gives up its life and the oak, first only a tiny root, is born out of the death of the acorn. So revivals are born, souls are won, the kingdom of God comes. Someone, no longer trying to save himself or to advance his own interests, dies – dies to self, to the world, to the praise of men, to the ambition for promotion, for place, for power, and lives unto Christ, lives to save men, and the awakening of sinners comes. Souls are born into the kingdom of God, rally round their leader and become soul-winners. “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” said Jesus (John 12:24). And so He “endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
“If any man serve Me, let him follow Me,” said Jesus. Let him lose his old life, his old ambitions, his old estimate of values for My sake, My cause, and the souls he would win and for whom I died. “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25).
That is the way to become a soul-winner. That is the price that must be paid. The Master could find no easier way, and He can show no easier way to us. It is costly. But shall we wish to win eternal and infinite values cheaply? “For the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). What joy? The joy of having the Father’s approval and of saving souls from eternal death. Shall share that joy by some cheap service that calls for no uttermost devotion, no whole burnt offering, no final and complete sacrifice? Not otherwise has any person ever become a soul-winner. We may move upon the surface of people’s lives, we may touch their emotions, we may lead them to easy, non-sacrificial exercises and activities, and think we are saving souls, but we do not really win them until we compel them to follow us, as we follow Christ, into the newness of life unto holiness.
That was Paul’s way. He counted the cost, paid the price, turned neither to the right hand nor the left. He marched straight forward. “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8).
It is as we count all things but loss and win Christ that we are empowered to win souls. This is the standard we must set for ourselves, and to which we must woo and draw by the compulsion of love and faithful teaching and example others.
The Psalmist cried to God for a clean heart and a right spirit. “Then,” said he, “Then I will teach transgressors your ways so that sinners will turn back to You” (Psalm 51:13). David felt that if he would effectively teach and convert sinners his heart must be pure, his spirit must be right. The cost of winning souls includes the price that must be paid for a pure heart. I must be clean, my spirit must be right, I must hold back no part of the price, if I would be a soul-winner.
If I would be a soul-winner, I must pay the price of wisdom. Wisdom cannot be bought with silver and gold. It cannot be passed on like an inheritance from father to son. It cannot be learned, as we learn mathematics or the sciences, in schools and colleges. It comes only through experience in following Christ.
He who wants wisdom mustn’t shrink from suffering. “When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it,” wrote Paul (1 Corinthians 4:12). Suffering did not daunt him. Abuse and neglect did not embitter him. A man with that spirit is full of the wisdom of God and he wins souls. His life, his example, his speech are compelling, and he wins and knits people to Christ.
The soul-winner must not despise the day of small things. It is better to speak to a small company and win a half dozen of them to the Savior, than to speak to a thousand and have no one saved or sanctified, though they all go away praising the leader.
The true soul-winner counts not his life dear to himself. He gives himself desperately to his task, and there are times when, as Knox prayed, “Give me Scotland, or I die,” so he sobs and cries, “Give me souls, or I die.”
The lassie officer to whom I have referred did not resign. One night, as she closed the meeting, she asked the soldiers to remain with her for a short while. Then she opened her heart to them telling them of her letter to the colonel. She said she could not continue in the work unless she could see souls saved. Many drunks infested the city streets. Their homes were being ruined, wives neglected, while they hastened to Hell because of drink. Would not the comrades remain and spend an hour in prayer with her and for her, for the salvation of souls, and especially of the drunks of the city? They stayed, and for an hour they prayed. God heard and drew nigh. Jesus was in the midst.
After the next meeting she requested the soldiers to again remain, and again they prayed for an hour or more, and Jesus was there. After every meeting for a week, ten days, or more, the soldiers stayed with the officer and prayed, and Jesus was in the midst. Then one night somewhat to their surprise – strange that we should be surprised at answered prayer – the worst drunk in the city, with several of his pals, came to the meeting and was converted. Then his whole family was won, and they all became soldiers. In a brief time twelve of his drinking pals were converted, and that lassie had a blessed revival on her hands. Not only were sinners converted, but an officer was saved to the Army.
We may be sweet singers, eloquent and moving preachers, skillful organizers, masters of people and assemblies, wizards of finance, popular and commanding leaders, but if we are not soul-winners, if we do not make men and women see the meaning and winsomeness of Jesus, and hunger for His righteousness and purity, and bow to the claims of God, and put their whole truest in Him, and yield to Him their full loyalty, then one thing, the chief thing, we lack. And yet that one thing is within the reach of us all, if we live for it, if we put it first, if we shrink not from the cost. We may be, we should be, oh, we will be at all cost, winners of souls.