The Soul-Winning Ministry of Paul
February 21st, 1954
THE SOUL-WINNING MINISTRY OF PAUL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-21-54 10:50 a.m.
Now in our preaching through the Word, we are in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts; the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts. And this morning, as we turn our faces toward the season of the year that brings to us our annual revival, we are speaking today of The Soul-Winning Ministry. Now you look in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts; the twentieth, the twenty-first, and thirty-first verses:
Ye know how,I have taught you publicly, and from house to house,
Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ,
Now the thirty-first verse –
Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn everyone night and day with tears.
[Acts 20:20-21, 31]
Paul was an unusual man; I do not think anything like most people think of him. He was a preacher and a missionary. And when we think of so famous a preacher and so glorious an exponent of the gospel of Christ, we think of a man with a tremendous appearance, a tremendous oratorical ability, with capabilities of vast flights of oratory and perorations and flowing language. Now he may have been that way, but his enemies who went to hear him preach said just the opposite about him. In the tenth chapter and the tenth verse of the second Corinthian letter, Paul quotes what his enemies say about his preaching, and this is what they say, "His letters are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible" [2 Corinthians 10:10]. Now I do not say that is true, I am merely quoting what Paul said his enemies said about him. "His bodily presence is weak," he did not look the part, "and his speech is contemptible," he didn’t speak the part; though he could write letters that would make you tremble in your soul. That’s what his enemies said about him. Now whether that’s true or not, there is bound to be some truth in it or his enemies could not have repeated such a characterization.
In any event, my point this morning is this: that the power of the work of the apostle Paul did not lie in his majestic appearance, nor did it lie in his eloquent sermon, but the power of the ministry of the apostle Paul is found in his personal soulwinning. You remember that, "I taught you publicly, and from house to house, testifying to the Jew, and to the Greek, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ [Acts 20:20-21],and I did it by the space of three years . . . night and day with tears" [Acts 20:31]. That’s Paul’s own characterization of his greatest ministry, which occurred in the city of Ephesus, the capital of the Roman province of Asia. He had a conviction, a persuasion that men were lost without Christ, and that is the presupposition of the whole Christian faith; that is its first stone, that men are lost without Christ.
When we were in the tenth chapter of the Book of Acts there was described for us a Roman centurion who lived in Caesarea, and this is the way he is described by the Bible, "a devout man, one that feared God, a philanthropic man; he gave much alms to the people, and he prayed to God always" [Acts 10:2]. But the Bible says that he was lost [Acts 10:6]; his goodness was not good enough. As fine a man as he was, as good a man as he was, without Christ he was lost. And the angel said to this man who prayed, "You send down to Joppa for one Simon Peter who will come and tell thee words whereby thou and thy house may be saved" [Acts 10:32].
The Scriptures say that, in ourselves, all of us are born in sin and are dead in trespasses and iniquities [Ephesians 2:1]; the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, all of us have gone astray [Isaiah 53:6]; "There is none righteous, no, not one," Romans 3:10 to add to it. We all are alike, all are alike; we are lost, we are undone, we need saving, and that is the presupposition of the Christian faith. We all are under the judgment and condemnation of the wrath of Almighty God. So Paul is out, going from house to house, publicly and in private, pleading "repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" [Acts 20:20-21], and warning everyone night and day with tears [Acts 20:31]; the ministry of Paul.
Another thing about him, he had a personal feeling, persuasion, conviction, of being accountable to God for the people who were lost. In the twenty-sixth verse he says, "I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men" [Acts 20:26]. "I have done my part, I have done my best to get lost men to Christ Jesus, and my hands are clean; I have done my best." That was the second thing about his ministry: he felt a personal accountability for people who were lost.
Now a last thing about his ministry: he did it, he pursued it, he furthered it with a compassionate heart. "I ceased not to warn everyone night and day with tears" [Acts 20:31]. He was like his Master in that. Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem when it spurned His overtures of grace and mercy [Luke 19:41]. And when Paul pled with the Ephesians to turn to Christ and be saved, when they turned down his appeal, it hurt his heart. He cried, he wept; he was a compassionate preacher of the glorious gospel of the Son of God [Acts 20:19, 31].
Now I want us to turn to our ministry and our ministries today. I’ve been on a two-week tour preaching to the East, on the eastern seaboard and in the South, and I look at our preachers. Preaching through evangelistic conferences, I hear many of them, and this time not only in our only denomination but preaching through a conference of another denomination. I look at ourselves; and as I lie down at night and think through the messages that I have heard, and the men I have talked to, and the work they are doing; and then these long trips on the plane, turning the thing over in my mind, a lot of things come to my heart and crowd into my soul. I want us to look at ourselves in those three categories that so graciously characterize the ministry of this man Paul. I want us to look at ourselves in those three categories.
First: first that fundamental presupposition that men are lost without Christ [Acts 10:32], that there is in this ministry and in this appeal an eternal and a desperate seriousness. Now, I want us to look at ourselves. This is my judgment, my sincere judgment: religion to us is first a matter of option; if a man chooses to be religious, that’s fine. If he chooses not to be religious, it’s optional; he may do as he pleases. Over in Moscow, a city of seven or eight million people, there are fifty churches that are still functioning. It’s a bad thing to be religious in the orbit of the communist world. In New York City there are two thousand seven hundred operating churches. It’s a good thing in the orbit of the free world to be religious. But what kind of religion? It’s the kind of religion you find at the Marble Collegiate Church. It’s the kind of religion that the psychiatrist was speaking about.
As I go on these planes, I read all the magazines that are on the thing; about the only time I ever go through all of that stuff that our public fills their heads with by day and night. Why, here’s a psychologist, a psychiatrist, and here’s what he says. He says ot’s good to be a member of a church, or of a club, or of any other active, social organization. The psychiatrist says it is good for you to go to church. The psychologist says it is good for you to be a member of the church, in the same sense and in the same category that it is good for you to belong to the club, or to the philanthropic group, or the fraternal organization, or any other civic function. Good for you, good for your personality, but that’s all. That’s all. It’s optional. If you want to improve your personality, why, go to a church, or a fraternal organization, or a civic organization, or get in some group that’s helping crippled children or debilitated personalities. That’s one thing.
All right, another thing about them. Another thing about them: our attitude toward religion, our attitude toward religion. Now I’m not talking about the psychiatrist and the psychologist, I am talking about the preacher now, and the religious leader, the ecclesiastical functionary; I am talking about him. What is his attitude toward religion? All right, this is it: as I sit there and listen, I get the idea that religion is a matter of culture. It is a matter of scholasticism. It is a matter of philosophy and metaphysics. As I sat in one of those conferences where men were gathered together ostensibly for the purpose of setting themselves to winning a lost world to Christ, one of those conferences in which they had brought a man from afar, a distinguished theologian from continental Europe and from Scotland, a great religious thinker and leader in that conference set his manuscript before him and turned page after page after page as he discussed theology in terms of scholasticism, learning, intellectual ramification. Why, a man could listen to it five hundred thousand years and never get any other impression of the Christian faith than that it is a matter of philosophical discussion. "You think this, and he thinks that, and they think that, and I conclude this." Or another one: an illustrious college president, at a conference where men were supposed to be set in order to win a lost world to Jesus, stand up there, and if I could give a title to his message it would be this: "The Social Implications of the Conflicting Cultures of the East and the West."
Toynbee, who is to history what Albert Schweitzer is to the missionary in Africa, and what Einstein is to the realm of mathematics and physics – Toynbee, a leader in the intellectual world of history, Toynbee is now writing a volume entitled The Post-Christian Era of Civilization, and sometimes I think he’s right; he’s right. Whatever the thing is that these people had in the days of the apostle Paul, where would you find it today? Where? Where?
Augustine dreamed that he went to heaven, and the gatekeeper at glory stopped him and said, "Who are you?"
And Augustine replied, "Christianus sum" – "I am Christian."
And the gatekeeper looked into the face of Augustine and said, "Sir, you are no Christian! You are a Ciceronian. When you stand up, you have all of that classic learning, and you speak in classic allusions, and you study classic style, and you strive for oratorical perorations. And in glory we judge men by what they think and what they do, not by what they say they are. You are not a Christian, you are a Ciceronian!"
And when Augustine awaked out of his sleep, he set himself to the study of the teachings of the Lord Jesus and to the preaching of the gospel of the Son of God [quoted in e.g., Seed Thoughts for Public Speakers, Arthur Tappan Pierson, 1900, and the Holman New Testament Commentary – Acts, 1998, p. 346; actually from Letter 22 to Eustochium, §30, Jerome, AD 384].
You look at this thing that Paul did, "By the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears" [Acts 20:31]. Warn every one night and day with tears; there’s a judgment coming, there’s a great God to face, and what shall we do in that final day and that final hour? To warn every one night and day with tears, there’s no metaphysic in that. There’s no philosophical discussion in that. There’s no theological hair-splitting in that. There’s no learned manuscript reading in that. Man, we are a dying people! And we must face God, who is able to deliver us [Hebrew 7:25]. That was the conviction of the apostle Paul. Where is that conviction today, lost without Christ?
Over here in this country, you will have a presentation of a big public meeting, the Jew, the Catholic, and the Protestant. That’s here in Dallas and in America. In Japan, you will have the Shinto, the Buddhist, the Jew, the Protestant, and the Catholic. In Hindu India, you will have the Hindu, the Buddhist, the Jew, the Protestant, and the Catholic. In China, you will have the Confucianist, the Jew, the Protestant, the Buddhist, and the Catholic. It just depends on what groups they are. And the presupposition back of all of that is an eclectic outlook on religion – that they are all just alike, all just the same – and what we need to do is take the good out of each one and develop it according to each one’s tendency, or attitude, or personality, or character.
It’s the same thing as when I pick up a book of religion and it is entitled, The Great Religions of the World. And here is the picture of Jesus, Moses, Buddha, Mohammed, Mahavira, Lao-Tze, Zoroaster; and Jesus is just one out of all of those great leaders of religions, just one. And the Christian faith is just one of the many faiths of the world and all of them about as good as another. So let us develop the best in each one, and let each group takes its choice according to its own personality. Oh, my soul, my soul! Whenever a religion gets down to the place where it is optional – you can or cannot, it is up to you – when it comes to that place, it’s a matter of cultural development. Let’s take the best and deliver it to the people, enhanced and envalued with all of the other good things of other eclectic faiths. When we do that, it loses what the New Testament has – that earnest, desperate conviction that unless we give our hearts to Christ, we are lost; we are lost. "There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" [Acts 4:12]. If a man is in Christ, he is saved! If he’s out of Christ, he’s lost. He’s lost. The religion of the New Testament is that categorical. It is one or the other, we are saved or we are lost in Christ – in Christ.
And that brings us to that second thing that Paul had; his compassion, his compassion, his weeping, his crying, his lamenting over people who turn down the gospel of the Son of God [Acts 20:19, 31]. If religion is a matter of culture, of eclecticism, who would cry whether anybody turned it down or not? Who is going to weep over Immanuel Kant’s philosophy, whether you believe it or not? Who is going to lament over the Socratic method, whether you accept it or not? Or Plato’s idea of the nous, of the "idea of the mind," whether you believe it or not? Who is going to cry and lament over that? But, if this thing of being saved is a matter of life and death, of heaven and hell – if you believed it – who could help but lament and weep when men turn aside from the blessed invitation and the atoning blood of the Son of God? His compassion was wrapped up in his conviction that men were lost without the Lord Jesus.
The preacher said to me over there, he said, "I want you to sit down there." So I sat down. He said, "I want you to look at this." And he stuck in my hand a little piece of paper, and I sat down and read the thing. This is what it is: and I have an announcement to make this morning, something we are going to do. I haven’t got over reading that little piece of paper until this present hour. We are going to change something around our church. We are going to do something; we are going to start out on something, by the grace of God and with His help we are going to do it. We are going to do it. This is on that little piece of paper:
It was the noon hour of a group of working men, and they were eating lunch. A bunch of working men, laboring men; they were eating lunch together and just talking. Finally got around to religion, and one of the men said, "I’ll tell you why I’m not a member of the church and I’m not a Christian. I’ll tell exactly why, because they are all insincere, every one of them; there’s not a one of them believes what he says. Not a one of them."
Most of the men were not Christians. But there was in the group a very devout, humble man of God, a devout Christian. And so he challenged him. He said, "Why, that’s not so, that’s not right. You say that all of these people in the church are insincere, and they don’t believe what they say? That’s not so." He says, "There may be some who are insincere, but the great hosts of the people are most sincere."
"Well," said the man, "you’re a Christian, aren’t you?"
"Yes," humbly he said, "I am."
"And you are a member of the church?"
"You believe when you die you’re going to heaven?"
He said, humbly, "Yes. I’ve trusted the Lord Jesus Christ, and I have the promise that if I’ll trust in the Lord, He will see me through, He will take me to heaven."
Well, he said, "You also believe that the rest of us who don’t believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, we’re going to hell; you believe that?"
He said, "I am sad to say it, but according to the Word, those who refuse the Son of God are going to hell. That’s right, they’re going to hell."
"All right," he said, "we’re going to hell around here. We’re going to hell. We’re going to spend eternity in fire and in brimstone and in flames – we’re going to hell around here."
"Yes," said the man, sadly, humbly, "I have to say yes."
"All right," he said, "you’ve been working here by our sides twenty years. We’ve been down here working together for twenty years. You think we’re going to hell and spend eternity in fire. Now, I want to ask you, in that twenty years, how many nights have you prayed that we might be saved from the fires of eternal damnation? How many nights have you prayed for us that we might be saved? Seven nights? Have you prayed seven nights?"
The man said, "No, no, I haven’t."
"Have you prayed six nights?"
"No," he said.
"Have you prayed three nights?"
"No," he said.
"Have you prayed one night? Have you spent one night in twenty years that we might be saved, have you?"
He said, "No, no, I haven’t."
"Well," said the man, "have you spent half a night, one-half of a night?"
He bowed his head and said, "No. No, I haven’t."
"Well, let me ask you one other question. Did you ever spend one hour – did you ever spend one hour for all of us, your friends who worked with you twenty years, have you ever spend one hour that we might be saved?"
He bowed his head and said, "I am ashamed to confess, I have never spent one hour pleading that you might be saved."
Then the man replied, "Isn’t that what I said? You are insincere, and you don’t believe what you say. You think we’re lost, and damned, and going to hell, and yet in twenty years you’ve never got on your knees and spent one hour that we might be saved."
Well, that has a turn to it that I admit isn’t very good. It isn’t very – an accurate gauge of the sincerity and Christian devotion of a man, but I tell you it did something to me. It did something to me. And here is what we’re going to do down here at the First Baptist Church. Beginning next Sunday morning, beginning next Sunday morning, I am going to call out thirty minute periods, thirty minute periods. And I am going to ask our people to take them. And we are going to start on Saturday; we are going to start in the daytime at first. And over there in that chapel, there is going to be a light on – there is going to be a light on – and there is going to be a rug down there at the front. And there is going to be somebody down there on his knees, on his knees before an open Bible, praying God that the Lord will help us in this church to win the lost to the Lord Jesus. We are going to pray. We are going to pray. There will be somebody down there on his knees all day long in thirty-minute periods before an open Bible, praying to God. And then during the day, all of us who will, all of us who will, let’s turn aside, go into that chapel, sit down and pray quietly, earnestly, asking God, asking God in compassion, in mercy to save our lost. I think we ought to do that, or we ought to stand up in this church and admit and say – and I want to do it myself – and say, we think this matter of religion is optional. Whether a man is saved or not, is indifferent. Whether you accept Christ or not is just a matter of personal choice. But if we believe this thing: that outside of Christ our people are lost, they are lost, they are lost, then we ought to get on our knees and take time and ask God, "O Lord, in power and in wisdom, and in love, and in mercy, help us to reach the lost for the Lord Jesus."
Now my last word is personal accountability. We are going off of the air, but to you who are here in this auditorium; a man came up to me and shook my hand over there in South Carolina. He shook my hand. And he said, "Preacher, I went to your church there. I went to your church in Dallas." He said, "You know what impressed me about that service?" He said, "I never had seen a church that big before, but that wasn’t it. I hadn’t seen a crowd like that going to God’s house; I hadn’t seen that before, but that wasn’t it." He said, "Your choir sang gloriously. But that wasn’t it." He said, "You preached, but that wasn’t it." He said, "You know what impressed me in your service?" He said, "Evidently some time before, you turned to a man and said to that man, ‘I am asking you to be responsible for the boy that belongs to a family down there at the front.’" And he said, "Down the aisle that day there came that man, bringing that boy and saying to me, `Pastor, you said to me, I shall be accountable for this boy, here he is. Here he is, giving his heart to Christ – won him to the Lord.’"
Bob, wasn’t it the last Sunday night I preached here? A young man came down the aisle that morning and gave his heart to the Lord and said to me, "Would to God, would to God my family would become Christians! Would to God they might be saved!" And I turned to the people and said, "Oh, that we could win this family to God!" That was at the morning hour, and at the evening hour, you came down the aisle with that family, saying, "Preacher, the boy this morning – here is his dad and here is his mother. Here they are. Here they are. Here they are." He had gone out in that Sunday afternoon and had won them to Christ, "Here they are, pastor, here they are, here they are."
A personal accountability: dear people, I don’t know how to put it on my own soul, much less do I know how to put it on your heart. But I do know, I do know that the religion of that Book and the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ is something that you get on your soul. It’s a burden on your heart, warning "day and night with tears" [Acts 20:31] with tears, that they might be saved. "My prayer and hope to God for my people is," says Paul, "that they might be saved" [Romans 10:1]. That they might be saved; dedicated in all of the energy of our life, dedicated to a tremendous soul-winning ministry – that’s Paul, that’s the Savior, that’s that Book, that is His church today, so lead us and help us, Spirit of the living God.
Now we must sing. And while we sing our song, while we sing our song, anywhere, everywhere, in those balconies, that topmost seat, everywhere, somebody you give his heart to the Lord Jesus, "Pastor, today, today, this day, I’m taking my stand openly and publicly for Christ. Trusting Him, believing in Him, loving Him, giving my heart to Him, here I am, and here I come." Or into the fellowship of the church by letter, "I’m going to pray with you, pastor, we’re going to be here in this church and in this ministry." As God shall say the word and lead the way, you come, you come, anywhere. Somebody you, by yourself or with your family, "Here we are, pastor, and here we come," while we stand and while we sing.