By Rev. Charles T. Cook
The Effective Soul-Winner
An Address Delivered at the 1937 Moody Founder’s Week Conference | London, England
WHEN PAUL WAS WRITING the second letter to Timothy, he summed up the practical purpose of Scripture in the words, "All Scripture ... is profitable ... that the man of God may be perfect [or complete], throughly furnished unto all good works" (II Tim. 3:16, 17). The greatest vocation under the sun is that of the soul-winner, and we ought to give serious consideration to the preparation for it.
In Great Britain, in every department of life, there is an increasing demand for efficiency. The slacker is in for a hard time, and a man or woman in business or in a profession must be completely furnished for his or her life purpose. Ought we to be content with a lower standard in the service of Christ? I believe that the Lord Jesus Christ has a right to demand the very best that we can offer Him, and I am perfectly sure that we shall never be truly yielded in His sight unless we offer to Him all the potentialities of our ransomed personality–body, mind and spirit. You remember what Paul says: "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth" (II Tim. 2:15). That was Charles Alexander's watchword, and it is engraved on his tombstone in Birmingham, England: "Study to shew thyself approved unto God."
Be Sure of Your Conversion
Let me remind you of a few essentials if you are to be an effective winner of souls. First of all, and needless to say, we must be very sure of our own conversion. And yet, I wonder, is it needless to say it? Two hundred and fifty years ago, Richard Baxter declared, "Many a preacher is now in hell that hath an hundred times called upon his hearers to use every care and diligence to escape it." When I first read that I was inclined to think it was an exaggeration, but in the light of further and wider experience, I am inclined to think that Richard Baxter was right. Yes, it is possible to warn men to flee from the wrath to come and yet not to have fled from it oneself.
And then I suggest that we try to keep the freshness and the wonder of our conversion experience. God forbid that we should ever come to regard it as one of the commonplaces of life. A friend of mine years ago whimsically said to me, "I was converted to God forty years ago, and I never got over it!" It is a great thing to live with a constant sense of wonder that the grace of God has reached us and saved us.
In the second place, if we are to be effective soul-winners we must have a pure and unselfish motive. We must be "approved unto God." That is one of the picturesque expressions of the New Testament. It means being subjected to drastic tests. I found an illustration of that in Saturday's Daily News. Here is a picture of a worker in a foundry taking molten steel from the furnace. From there it goes to the laboratory where it is subjected to the close scrutiny of metallurgical experts. The fire will try every man's work. Study—give diligence-says Paul, to be approved unto God—to be bright metal cleansed from every bit of dross, effective for its purpose. Oh, let us beware lest there is any alloy mixed with our motive! Beware of trying to gain a reputation for ourselves as a soul-winner instead of seeking the glory of Christ.
I think the most outrageous example I ever came across was when a man actually advertised himself after this fashion: "I will gain for you fifteen church members in a week, or I will give you twenty pounds." Fancy a man making a bet as to how many souls he was going to win for Christ in a week! All reputations of that character are bubbles that will soon burst and disappear. When D. L. Moody was asked upon one occasion how many converts he had made, he answered, "I don't keep the Lamb's book of life." We can leave the results to God!
Make Large Use of the Bible
Then, in the third place, we must be men and women of the Book. In the story of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8), three essential things are mentioned: (1) There is an anxious inquirer; (2) there is a copy of the Scriptures; (3) there is a man on the lookout to win a soul for Christ. Philip could have done very little with the eunuch if he had not had a copy of the Scriptures before him. From the Scriptures, Philip "preached unto him Jesus."
Have you noticed what a large place the Scriptures occupied in our Lord's ministry? His whole personal life was nourished and built up upon the Word of God. And in all His public work it was to the Word of God that He turned again and again. When He met the tempter in the wilderness, He vanquished him by quotations from the Word of God.
It was the same with the apostles and in the experience of the early Church. What a wonderful regard Peter, Paul, John and the rest of the apostles had for the Scriptures! We might follow on through the whole history of the Church of Christ and find the same thing repeating itself. Some of the mightiest soul-winners were the Puritans. What was the secret of their success? It was because they were men who from morning to night steeped themselves in the Word of God.
I remember reading somewhere that Dr. R. A. Torrey said, "There are four reasons why every Christian worker should know his Bible: First, to show men their need of a Savior; second, to show them that Jesus is the Savior they need; third, to show them how to make this Savior their Savior; and finally, to deal with specific difficulties that stand in the way of their accepting Christ."
I suppose you know everything about D. L. Moody in the Institute, but may I remind you how Henry Moorhouse taught Moody this secret? Moorhouse said to him, "You are making a mistake in giving people your own words. Give them the Word of God, and you will learn the secret of power. " And about thirty years earlier Robert Murray McCheyne, of Dundee, had said a similar thing: "It is not our comments upon the Word that bring life; it is the Word itself." Our comments are like the feathers of an arrow which guide the arrow of the Word to its mark, but it is the Word itself that gets home.
A Personal Testimony
It is a great delight to see so many young faces before me, and it is for their sake in particular that I mention these things. Some of you may say, "How can I gain this facility in the Word of God? How can I know instantly where to turn for an appropriate passage?" I suppose there are various methods. I will give you a little bit of my own experience. In my early Christian life I was greatly helped by reading everything I could lay my hands on that D. L. Moody wrote. Later on, Dr. Torrey came on the scene, and I began to read his books. I remember that he brought out what was called The Vest Pocket Companion. It was a very simple arrangement of Scripture verses under various topics so that one could very readily find an appropriate text on a given topic. That book was very useful to me as an inexperienced beginner.
There are others who have adopted the method of underlining specified passages of Scripture with different colored inks: underlining in black references to sin and condemnation; underlining in red references to the death of Christ and the efficacy of the shed blood, and so on. I have not followed that method, but I know others who have found it useful.
But let me say this: Such methods are all right to begin with, but you have not developed much if after ten years of Christian work in soul-winning you are still as dependent upon such aids as you were at the beginning. I am quite sure Dr. Torrey never meant his book to be more than an introduction, a method of guidance in the use of Scripture for the beginner. You ought to become so expert in the Word of God that without even the need of colored inks you can turn to the passage that you know is appropriate to the point under discussion.
Dr. Handley Moule, late Bishop of Durham, used to say that every Christian should know his Bible as much as a Londoner knows his London. London is a huge city, spread out much more than Chicago or New York. I do not know every street, but I know whether a particular district is north or west or south or east. I know the main thoroughfares and many of the side streets, and that is how we ought to be able to know our way about the Scriptures. We ought to know the large areas of the Word of God. We ought to know the theme of every book and the main lines of the history or the argument of an epistle. Whatever method you begin with, aim at least at that, and use all the aids that will enable you to become proficient in the knowledge of the Word of God. Make much use of concordances, as Moody used to urge us to do, and the other helps that in these days are so abundant.
Value of Hard Work
Perhaps you say, "If I am going to do this, it is going to involve much time and labor. " Well, my friends, what else do you expect? If you are going to enter trade or industry-if you are going to be a lawyer, a medical man, an army officer or a nurse-in order to become proficient, you have to study hard. You have to live laborious days and pass the most severe examinations and gain a diploma before you even begin your career. As I said at the beginning, there is no higher or more important vocation upon earth than to be a soul-winner. Do you imagine that to save a soul from eternal death is one of the unskilled occupations? Thank God, He can and He does use the humblest and the least instructed believer. The Lord will make you a soul-winner from the beginning if all your heart goes out in desire for the salvation of men and women. But the more you understand the significance of your work, the more you will come to realize that a man who is going to become skilled in the winning of souls is the man who must give diligence to the task and attention to methods by which the Lord can make him more helpful to those in need.
Beware of the man who comes to you and says, "Never mind about such things. After all, the apostles were untrained men. " I do not believe that a greater untruth has ever been uttered than that. The apostles attended the finest theological college the world has ever known. For three years they had personal tuition in the things of God by none other than the infallible Son of God Himself. There never was such a college as that in Galilee, when Peter, James and John and the others followed the Lord.
In the New Testament we have recorded for us the lessons that those men were taught, so that as we read the Gospels and ponder the things our Lord said to His disciples and the object lessons He gave them in the miracles, we, too, are attending the Bible school of Christ. And when we read Paul's thirteen epistles, we join the apostle Paul's correspondence school. Yes, we have the same curriculum as the men our Lord commissioned at the first to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.
Value of Bible Training
Though some here may not have opportunity to attend a Bible school, you have the Word of God in your hand, and you have the Spirit, who gave the Word, as the interpreter. Even though you have no other help, yet with the Word itself and prayer and dependence upon the Holy Spirit, you can become wise in the things of Christ.
I have known men who have acquired a liberal education simply because they have steeped themselves in the Bible. Sometimes I have listened to an eloquent message from a simple, unlettered, working man, made eloquent because he has given years to the reading of the Word of God so that it is stored in his memory and has transformed his whole vocabulary. Such is the power of the Word of God to edify and to build up.
Remember also that though we may acquire technical efficiency, yet if we lack a passion for souls, our labor will be in vain. We must see to it that our intellectual training does not outpace our growth in the Spirit. As we seek to know how to find the appropriate Scripture to fit every case, so also we must keep flaming in our hearts the fire of a great love and compassion for those who are perishing. I should like to add:
A Word of Encouragement
We are apt to associate soul-winning with those engaged in pulpit ministry. It may be that I am speaking to some Sunday School teacher, and the thought uppermost in that teacher's mind may be, "If I could be like some of these world-famed evangelists and preachers; if only I could be used of God and see scores coming out for Christ in the public assembly-then, indeed, I feel that my life would be lived for some purpose. But I cannot speak on the public platform. I can only teach a few children."
Now, my brother, my sister, remember that you can be as effective a soul-winner where God has placed you as the man who is used by Him to bring about hundreds and thousands of public decisions. Whatever our gifts and whatever our opportunities, we can all have an equal measure, if we will, of the passion for souls. And our special God-given work can be as truly directed to a soul-winning end as that of any other.
Among the books that have been of great inspiration to me in past years is The Life of William Carey. Now I venture to say that when year after year William Carey was toiling at translating the Scriptures into Sanskrit and other languages of the East, his literary labor was as truly directed to a soul-winning purpose and was inspired by as true a passion for souls as was the evangelistic work of D. L. Moody on the public platform. Moody would have been the first to acknowledge that. At the end of his forty years in India, how many souls could Carey reckon he had won directly to Christ through his instrumentality? Nothing like the number Spurgeon or Moody saved from their preaching. But Carey placed the Scriptures in the hands of missionaries and native workers, an how many souls have been won since because of the labor of William Carey to give the Scriptures to the East?
How Christian Businessmen Help
Those splendid businessmen who rallied around D.L. Moody and gave him money to establish his institutions were men who labored in business for the glory of Christ and with a soul-winning purpose. I emphasize this fact for the encouragement of anyone who may imagine that because his own gifts a inconspicuous, therefore, his life is less effective than the lives of others. What value do we attach to a human soul? That is the test by which to examine our lives. If we can move among men who are careless and indifferent, perhaps openly skeptical and unbelieving, and yet not be stirred to the depths of our being, there is something wrong with us. It is so easy to become professional in our work. May God save us from being professional preachers or professional pastors, or professional editors! May God give us fire and passion!
Do we value souls? Oh, that men and women may become impressed with the fact that we are in dead earnest! Bishop Phillips Brooks quoted a man who said to a preacher, "I am not really convinced by what you say. I am not sure but what I could answer every argument you have presented, but one thing puzzles me and makes me feel that there is power in your message. I cannot understand why you go to so much trouble and why you labor with me in this way, as if you cared for my soul! "
That is it! Many a skeptic has been won to Christ, not so much by argument as by realizing that the preacher believed what he said. A Jewish millionaire went to the Royal Opera House, London, to hear D. L. Moody. One of his friends said to him, "You don't believe what he preaches, do you?" And the reply was to the point, "No, I don't; but he does. And that is why I go to hear that man."
Alexander Duff said, "I would stand on a street comer in India, and I would clap two shoes together if thereby I could claim the attention of the people to the things of Christ." When, after 25 years in India, Dr. Duff’s health broke down and he had to come home, he was so enfeebled that when he addressed the General Assembly, half way through his address he sank down fainting on the platform. As soon as he revived, he said, "I haven't finished my speech. Take me back again!" Once more he faced that assembly. This is what he said: "Mr. Moderator, if it is true that Scotland has no more sons to give to the service of the Lord in India, then old man that I am, having lost my health in that land and having come home to die, I will be off tomorrow to let them know that there is one old Scotsman who is prepared to die for them. Gladly will I lay down my life on the shores of the Ganges, if only I can plead once more with India to come to Christ. " That is the passion for souls. May God give it to us!
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"In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ."
—2nd Thessalonians 1:8