Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-4-59 10:50 a.m.
You are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message which is an exegetical commentary on a verse in Proverbs, Proverbs 11:30. It is a textual sermon. That is, we shall take the text and see what God gave this inspired writer to say to us today. Proverbs 11:30: “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise.” That is the King James Version.
The Hebrew of that text is a balanced couplet. The poetry of the Hebrew author is not like most of ours which rhymes at the end. But the poetry lies in its parallelism. It is a couplet, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life.” And the American Revised Version of 1901 puts it exactly like the Hebrew is, “And he that is wise winneth souls.” You have a balanced poetic couplet there, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that is wise winneth souls” [Proverbs 11:30]. The inspired author says that the life of the believer is full of blessing to others. The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, it brings life and health and healing.
In the twenty-second chapter of the Revelation and the [second] verse, you have a description of the tree of life. The last time you saw it and heard it was in the garden of Eden guarded by the flaming sword of the cherubim [Genesis 3:24], but now God says it is in heaven. And it bears twelve manner of fruits, and its leaves are for the healing of the nations [Revelation 22:4]. So the author says the fruit of the righteous, the life of the believer, is a tree of life that brings health, and strength, and goodness, and blessing to all who come under its shade [Proverbs 11:30]. It is a natural thing for a tree to bear fruit. A vine by nature bears grapes. A palm by nature bears dates. A Christian life, a dedicated life by nature is a blessing, a strength, a health. Even to rest under the shade of a tree is cooling and refreshing and comforting. So he says the fruit of the righteous is a tree of life [Proverbs 11:30]. It is a blessing; any man who walks in the Spirit of the Lord and in the service of the Master.
Now he equates with that a poetic couplet, a second verse, “and he that is wise winneth souls [Proverbs 11:30]. The inspired author uses the word “wisdom” and “one who is wise” in a special way. To us, a wise man is a man who has had long experience in this world and is capable of many proper judgments. But “wisdom” in the Word of God is used almost metaphorically as an apostrophe, as an incarnation, as a personalization. For example, in the eighth chapter of the Book of Proverbs:
Receive my instruction, not silver; and knowledge rather than gold.
Wisdom is better than rubies; all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it.
I wisdom dwell with prudence. . . .
When God prepared the heavens, I was there: when He set a compass upon the face of the depth:
When He established the clouds above: when He strengthened the fountains of the deep:
When He gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass His commandment: when He appointed the foundations of the earth: I was by Him, as one brought up with Him: I was His daily delight, rejoicing always before Him; Rejoicing in the habitable part of His earth…
Now therefore hearken unto me, ye children: blessed are they that keep my ways.
Hear instruction, and be wise…
Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors.
For whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favor of the Lord.
And he that misseth me, chatta [Proverbs 8:36].
They are a couplet again: matza, whoso “findeth” me findeth life. But he chatta, “that misseth me,” sin is described in the Bible as missing the mark [Romans 3:23], and instead of translating actually missing, they translate it sin.
But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate me love death.
Now as I read that passage, wisdom goes far beyond just the accumulation, the summation of the experiences of life. But it is rather used personally. If I were to take the name of Christ and place it here in the Book of Proverbs where he uses the word “wisdom,” it would fit exactly.
Christ was with God in the foundation of the earth, when He gave the decree to the sea. “In the beginning was the Word,” the logos, the wisdom of God. “The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made” [John 1:1-3]. “Blessed is the man that heareth Me, Christ” [Proverbs 8:34]. “Whosoever findeth Me findeth life” [Proverbs 8:35]. “He that misseth Me, that sinneth against Me wrongeth his own soul” [Proverbs 8:36]. So wisdom is used in the Book of Proverbs as another name for Christ, and if we substitute Christ for wisdom, we have a full content of its meaning and message. Then when he describes a wise man, he is referring to what we would call a Christian man, a born-again man, a saved man. “He that is wise,” that is the Christian, “winneth souls” [Proverbs 11:30].
Now the actual meaning of the text is a little different. And let’s take actually what the author says. Actually the meaning of his text, “He that is wise winneth souls,” has a little different connotation in his meaning than what at first we might think. What he actually means and says in his Hebrew text is this, “He that is wise wins souls,” just because he is what he is. He is a holy man, he is a righteous man, he is a good man, he is a Christian man. And a Christian man, you have it translated, “winneth souls.” It would be better to say it like this, “And the Christian man draws souls” [Proverbs 11:30], He attracts souls. People notice him, they point him out. He is very honorable. He is very acceptable.
Any time you think the world—however abject and depraved—does not honor a fine, upright Christian man, you do not know what you are talking about. I dare say there are jokes about a good man and a righteous man, and many times epithets and contemptible characterizations are sometimes flung towards them, but down in the deep of any man and any organization, there is a profound respect for a true man of God. God made it that way. Life will always be more glorious than darkness; righteousness will always be more mighty than iniquity. And the good man, the upright man, the righteous man will always be a more honorable man than all of the citizens of iniquity. He that is wise, the Christian man is an attractive man; he draws souls, he takes souls, he wins souls.
Could I describe it like the flaming bush at Horeb that drew the attention of Moses, aflame with the deity of God? [Exodus 3:2]. So a holy man, and a godly man, and a good man, and a righteous man, and a Christian man; he is in himself an attractive man, and he wins souls. He draws people just because of what he is.
Could I liken it to the sun? The sun doesn’t come and with a mailed fist and with a heavy hand, and with a stentorian voice knock and pound on your door and say, “Get up and come out!” There’s no voice, there’s no sound. I never heard a sunrise. Nor did I ever hear the fury of a sunbeam. But the sun just rises. It just is; it just shines. And it silvers every windowpane, and it softly plays on the baby’s cheek, and it fills the house with glory. It lights up every one of these beautiful stained-glass windows, and it seeks to enter every accessible corner. And just itself is glorious, and it draws.
Did you ever find a plant in a basement struggling, reaching out towards some little ray of sunshine that came through an aperture, a window, a hole in a ceiling? Anywhere that the sun shines, there will the faces of all plant life be turned, like a sunflower that will follow the course of the great orb across the sky, in the morning facing towards the east, and in the evening facing towards the west. So it is with the Christian life. We don’t need to walk up and down the street blowing trumpets, beating drums, “Hear ye the Word of the Lord!”
I pass by those people who shout out there on the street corner of Dallas. I pass by them often. Sometimes I pause and listen to them. I turn over in my mind a great deal that kind of a ministry. I preached on the street every Saturday when I was a pastor in Oklahoma. The sun beat down on my head so fiercely in the summertime that they built a little pavilion there on the courthouse lawn. And every Saturday, I preached there to a multitude that came into that county seat town from all around. I won many people to Christ there. I was happy to share in that ministry. But I often think about that, down there on the streets of Dallas. Just how is it we get the message of God to the human soul and the human life? How do you do it?
I tell you verily, if by my taking this Book, I went down there on the corner of the street and shouted to the top of my voice, if that would do it, your pastor, with every ounce of strength that he has, would be down there every hour of every day shouting to the top of my voice, if that would do it, if blowing the trumpet would do it, if beating the drum would do it, but you are the preachers finest arguments, you are the pastor’s greatest defense, you are religions noblest apology. You are the tremendous points of every sermon and the demonstration of every gospel message. This text makes every man a preacher and every believer a gospel witness.
He that is wise, the Christian, wins souls, attracts souls; he just does, just being what he is. Don’t have to blow the trumpet; don’t have to beat the drum. Don’t have to walk around with loud sonorous, stentorian voice; just be a wonderful example of what God can do for a man, just be a Christian.
That famous infidel one time said, “I can answer every argument of the Christian apologist, but there is a little servant girl in my home whose upright, honest, and faithful life staggers me!” It is hard to discount the Christian faith when there before you stands a noble and an honorable man, a born-again child of God. I am just exegeting the text, that’s all. The Book says that the Christian man draws men to him. He attracts, he cannot help it. He shines like the sun. “And a city set on a hill cannot be hid” [Matthew 5:14].
Another thing the text says. The Christian man, the wise man, the born again man, he wins souls, he attracts souls just by being what he is, a Christian man. It says another thing. He wins souls. He woos souls. He attracts souls [Proverbs 11:30]. Now that is one of the remarkable things that God has done in this universe. You cannot drive souls. You cannot coerce hearts. You cannot force a man’s inner self. You can his body, you can drive the body, you can coerce the body. You can commandeer and command the body; you can tie it and bind it and impale it. But you can’t the soul! The soul can defy the driver and the jailer and the tyrant.
Isn’t that a strange thing how God made us? Our bodies can be incarcerated, and imprisoned, and beat, and hanged, but our spirits are free. And that’s true in every area of life; you can’t buy love, or coerce devotion, or challenge and commandeer affection, it has to be won. Let me say it like this, we give ourselves away, we just do. You can’t buy it, you can’t command it or commandeer it or force it or coerce it. You woo it, you win it, and if you gain it, it’s a gift. How I feel, the love of my heart, the moving of my soul; be a wonderful thing if money could buy those things, but it doesn’t. And that is the glory of the Christian appeal; it addresses itself to the heart and to the soul.
Listen to Paul as he says, “We beseech you by the mercies of God.” Listen to Paul as he says, “We beg you, we beseech you, we pray you in Christ stead, be ye reconciled to God” [2 Corinthians 5:20]. Christianity addresses itself to the soul, to the heart, to woo and to win. That is why the services in the house of God should always be beautiful and attractive. To little children, to go to church is a great event, to be denied it is a great loss. Everything we do down here, where children are involved, ought to be beautifully and attractively done.
So it is with all of the services and work of the Lord. All of it should be of all things wonderful, and glorious, and beautiful, and attractive. The singing, the ministry of preaching, the teaching of the Word, all of the fellowshipping of the church, all of it should be of all things wonderfully attractive and appealing.
He that is wise winneth souls, woos souls, attracts souls, for our address is to the heart [Proverbs 11:30]. May I follow that through now? That delineates then the assignment of the church and of the preacher. Christianity then is a religion that addresses itself to the heart. And the work and ministry of the church is defined, its direction is one, it’s to the soul. The minister may give himself to economic and political dissertations, but his great calling was to have been to the soul. He may make his sermons regarding book reviews and current events and many other interesting and passing phenomena of this weary world, but God called him to address himself to the heart and to the soul. And the energies of the church are always ultimately to reach out to that holy and blessed end.
We may have a recreational program incidentally. We may have many other wonderful activities in the church incidentally. But our great business is religion, and the great assignment to the church is to win souls, to address ourselves to the heart and to the life. That has in it the incomparable reward and blessedness of God. He that is wise, he that is blessed, he that is favored of God winneth souls [Proverbs 11:30].
I stood by the side in the midst of a large family group gathered around their fallen father. And as they wept and sobbed, saddened at his translation, they said to me, “Oh, he was such a wonderful father.” And they added, “He did not leave us any of the wealth of the world. He died as he lived, a very poor and hardworking man.” But they said to me, “He left to us the greatest inheritance any family could ever possess; he won us all to God, every one of us is a Christian, and he showed us the way to heaven,” the blessedness, the blessedness of a father like that.
I was in the office of a physician, and as I talked to him, he broke down and cried. You know what we were talking about? We were talking about my predecessor. And as he cried, he said to me, “You must forgive me, you must forgive me.” He said, “He won me to Christ, and he showed me the way to God.”
Oh, the blessedness and the reward of the life that points to Jesus! It is an imperishable crown; after we are gone, it still lives, having won somebody to the Lord.
Now may I close with an earnest appeal to our church? My text would say that there are souls to be won. My text would say that there are souls that are lost. My text would say that they are not hopelessly lost. My text would say they can be won, “He that winneth souls” [Proverbs 11:30]. Now I grant you it is a difficult task. I grant you it is a most discouraging commitment sometimes. I grant you it is a thing that is almost above and beyond us, I know. But my text tonight says—it was an exegetical sermon, that’s all—my text would say they can be won. There is a way. He that winneth souls, they can be won.
A writer referred to our churches today as “speaking-trumpet churches.” Why, I never had heard of a speaking-trumpet church; never had heard the term a speaking trumpet. And then he went on to describe what he meant when he said our churches today are speaking-trumpet churches. This is what he was referring to. He said that a ship floundered on the rocks off the coast of England and went down and every passenger aboard perished. The ironical thing of the loss of that great host of passengers was this: that the ship went down within a hundred or two hundred yards of a life saving station. The government held an investigation, and the captain was placed on the stand. And when they asked him, he declared that he had done everything possible to win those people, to save those drowning lives.
And the interrogator asked, “Did you launch a boat to save those people?”
And the captain replied, “No sir. We did not launch a boat. The surf was too high and the winds too furious and we felt we couldn’t do it, and we didn’t try.”
The interrogator said, “Then did you shoot a line to form a breeches buoy over which the passengers might be brought to safety?”
And the captain said, “No. We did not shoot a line. We felt it was too far, and we didn’t try it.” And they asked him again and again several things. And the captain replied, “No.” They didn’t try it, they didn’t think they could do it.
And in desperation the interrogator finally said, “Well, then in heaven’s name, what did you do to save those drowning passengers?”
And the captain grandly replied, “Sir, we sought to give all the aid we could through the speaking trumpet,” a large megaphone that in that day lifesaving stations used to send their voice over the sound and the roar of the storm, “We sought to give what aid we could through the speaking trumpet.”
I see why the writer referred to our churches today as “speaking-trumpet churches.” Hire a minister and let him sound out the Word, and bring in an evangelist and let him deliver the message, and the passengers drown, and the people die, and the soul is lost.
“He that is wise winneth souls,” he that is a Christian winneth souls [Proverbs 11:30]. He that is a born-again believer winneth souls; out there on the sidewalk, out there in the home, over there in the business, up there in those skyscraper buildings. Wherever we are, there the Christian wins souls.
May God help me, may God help us in this new dedication as from day to day, from way to way, from time to time, God shall have occasion to bless our walk and our witness to the winning of the lost. He that is wise, he that is born-again, he that is Christian winneth souls [Proverbs 11:30].
Now, we have two services this morning. All of us stay for this first one until we’re dismissed, no one leave until the pastor dismisses us. We’re going to sing a hymn of appeal. And while we sing that hymn of appeal, somebody you, in the balcony round, on this lower floor, while we sing this hymn, somebody you, to give your heart to the Lord this morning, somebody to put your life in the fellowship of the church, while we make the appeal, would you come and stand by me?
“Pastor, this morning I give you my hand. I give my heart to Christ.” Or, “Today we’re putting our lives in the fellowship of the church.” This morning again at the 8:15 hour, we must have had, oh, eight to come. It was a blessed, blessed moment. At this 10:50 hour should you come? Does God bid you here? Giving your heart to Christ or putting your life in the church, would you make it now?
Down these stairwells at the front or the back if you’re in the balcony, into the aisle and down here to the front, if you’re on this lower floor, “Here I come. I make it now. Giving my heart to Christ, taking Him as Savior,” or “putting my life in the fellowship of the church.” While we sing, would you come? While we stand and make appeal.
THE SOUL WINNER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. Souls need winning and can be won
1. Believer draws unbelievers in to be won
2. Cannot be coerced
3. No other way but by free, voluntary choice of the heart
II. Defines the work of the church and the believer
1. Our assignment-make Jesus known in the hearts of men
2. Churches turn cold when soul-winning stops
III. Wise in the wisdom and blessedness of God who wins souls