The Soul-Winning Church
March 20th, 1960 @ 10:50 AM
THE SOUL-WINNING CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-20-60 10:50 a.m.
If you listen on the radio, you are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. We are in the days of preparation for our annual season of revival appeal. Tonight, the sermon at seven-thirty o’clock is especially dedicated to, directed to, these whom we would seek to introduce to our Savior. Come tonight; if possible bring a family or a friend who ought to give his heart to the Savior. Come praying; we ought to have a marvelous service tonight.
The title of the sermon this morning is The Soul-Winning Church. And these are just background passages. In the first chapter of the Book of Acts, in the fourteenth verse: after they had come up into the upper room, it names the disciples, then says, "These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren" [Acts 1:14]. All of them saved now, even the brethren who did not believe on Him had now accepted Him [John 7:5]. And these brethren, and His mother, and the devout women who followed Him from Galilee, and the disciples, and others of a little band who numbered one hundred twenty, "These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication" [Acts 1:14-16]. Then the first verse and following of the second chapter: "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place [Acts 2:1]. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to testify as the Spirit gave them utterance" [Acts 1:4].
I copied from somebody whose name I do not know, but it was in a published book and evidently was a discerning disciple of Jesus, who attending the church to which he belonged, found the house cold and removed and barren of spiritual power. And this is what he said: "I go to God’s house and find no God. I do not hear His voice in song or sermon. His grip is not in the hand of fellowship. I hear no yearnings for the lost in the message of the preacher, nor see it in the face of the people. There is no God in the temple where My people worship." Any cold conservative, removed, dead, formal church is like that.
I heard a man this week describe the bitter winter storms that unprecedentedly have paralyzed so many of the communities of the North and of the East. A church and its services can be like that: where the spiritual temperature of the people is low, God’s engines are ice bound, and the traffic is slow in the kingdom of God. Where these violent storms have broken down the powers of communication and the lines of contact, the cities are in darkness, and the machinery is still, and the wheels are silent, and the factories are closed up, and ultimately the people and its social fabric would perish; it is so in the church and in the house of God.
A refrigerator will keep things that are dead for a while, but a refrigerator will not preserve life, nor will it be conducive to growth. In the deadness and the coldness of a church, no life is born; a cold dead mother cannot give birth to a live child. If an egg is to be hatched, it must be placed under the warm wing of a mother hen or in an incubator. And if a rose shrub is to bloom, it must be bathed with the warm winds of the spring. It is no different in a church. It is the warmth of the church, the spiritual temperature of the church that makes possible the matrix, the womb, in which children are born unto God. Bathed by the tears and blood of the mother, a new life is brought into the world; and bathed by the tears and devotion of a congregation, people are won to the Lord.
I do not deny that in a cold formal church there is not a continuity of existence. They live off of the devotion and sacrifice of the fathers in the past who preached the gospel, who converted the pagan, who lifted up the standard of Christ, and who poured into the ministry and appeal their heart’s life and their heart’s blood. And their dead, inert, cold children now continue keeping on with a formal respectability; and the church lives and has a continuity, I say, because of the great devotion and sacrifices of the men who won the lost in days passed. But the church that wins people to Christ now, in whose womb and matrix children are born now, is a church whose life is bathed with the blood and tears and sacrifice, devotion and intercession, heart appeal of its membership.
The only difference between the iceberg that sank the Titanic to the bottom of the sea and the bosom of the ocean that bore it up is a difference in temperature. And the difference between churches is mostly a difference in the heart, in the love, in the care, in the soul, in the yearning, in the seeking, in the intercession, in the desire, in the hope, in the appeal, in the outreach, in the warm open arms of its love and its welcome. Where a furnace is a fire in the souls of the members, you will find warmth in the house of God. Where there is yearning over the lost, where there is a desire to see people saved, you’ll find a house full of people and a church open at night, and evangelistic services announced, and a visitation program promulgated; and you’ll find the house filled with people, and a response streaming down the aisles, and the baptismal waters disturbed, and the people happy in the service of the Lord. Where that is not true, you’ll find the church falling into increasing difficulty, and all kinds of perplexities, both in the heart of the church and in its great outward ministry to the world.
What we seek is a warm devotion to God, a fire in the congregation, the Spirit of moving in the fellowship of the services. When a stranger comes in the door, when a visitor visits from afar, immediately he senses God is in the presence of the people, and the Spirit that moved over the face of the deep in that primeval ordinance of creation [Genesis 1:2], moves over the deep in our lives and our souls and brings life and light and glory unto God.
There are several things that are combustibles in the house of God and in the services of the Lord. In these moments, I name a few. One is a deep, honest, actual, real, sincere love for our Lord. I do love the Lord Jesus. A testimony like that will bless and hallow any life, and any congregated membership will make possible sweet and beautiful and glorious services. The great, primary, first foundational fundamental question is always the one our Lord asked Simon Peter:
· Simon, I know you have fallen, and I know you have cursed and denied, and I know you have repudiated My name, avowing you never even knew Me [Matthew 26:69-75].
· I know you followed afar off, I know you fell short in the great time of need [Matthew 26:58].
· Simon, son of Jonah, those things do not matter; they are of no concern. Simon, son of Jonah, just one thing, just one: Simon, lovest thou Me? [John 21:15, 16, 17].
And three times repeating it, Peter grieved finally said, "Lord, You know all things: every mistake I have made, every dereliction of my life, every failure and shortcoming. But Lord, knowing all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee" [John 21:17]. Why, the rest doesn’t matter. On that foundation, you could build a church. On that foundation, you can call a great company together; on that foundation, you can shake the gates of hell; on that foundation, you can witness in the gospel power and message to the whole creation. A deep, unfathomable, illimitable, immeasurable, unwearying devotion to Christ: "Thou knowest that I love Thee" [John 21:15, 16, 17].
Another combustible: a love for His people. "Lovest thou Me? Yea, Lord. Then feed My sheep. Then take care of My lambs. Then shepherd My flock" [John 21:15, 16, 17]. To love God is to love God’s people; and to serve Christ is to serve God’s people; and to minister to Jesus is to minister to those who need Him. And there are two of us: all of us are sinners [Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:23], and some of us are saved, and some of us are lost [1 John 5:12]; and that love for Christ pours over into a love for the lost and a love for the saved [Romans 5:5]. A love for the lost – there ought to be a seeking note in everything, and every part, and every piece, and every section, and every song, and every sermon, and every testimony, and every prayer, and every meeting: there ought to be a seeking note in everything in this church, everything.
If the choir sings, it ought to have in its heart and purpose that somebody find God. And if we preach, or if we teach a lesson, or come down here to an evening hour, wherever we are, there ought to be in that service an appeal, a seeking, searching, yearning hope and wish and prayer that people come to know Jesus. These that are found in the Bible, the first ones [Acts 1:8], all the rest of them, little bands of disciples gathered around Jesus out seeking for the lost; that was the first church [Matthew 10:5, Luke 10:1], and that was every one in the Bible thereafter. That’s why we are here. That’s why God hath saved us and put us together in a wonderful and sweet and precious fellowship: to shine, to witness, to testify, to call, to make appeal, to pray, to intercede, to bid come to the Lord [Matthew 5:16, Philippians 2:15]. And those devotions all put together make a church of intensest interest, and intensest fire, and intensest feeling. Just to sit in the congregation is to be moved by the Spirit of God that lives, and stirs, and breathes, and quickens in the lives and hearts of the people. It carries with it a compassion. "Lord, if I don’t have it, give it to me. If there’s no burden, put one on my heart."
Jesus weeping over a great city [Luke 19:41]; wonder how many of us honestly, actually, sincerely, sympathetically, yearningly, have ever wept over this great city, far larger than the city in Jerusalem over which Jesus wept in His day? There are more lost people in this city than there were citizens in Jerusalem when Jesus wept over lost Jerusalem [Luke 19:41]. Or the apostle Paul weeping day and night as he visited from house to house in the great capital of the Asian province of Ephesus [Acts 20:19-20, 31]. "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him" [Psalm 126:5-6].
This, this creates that temperature and that spirit and that atmosphere in the services of the Lord, the Holy Spirit in our hearts [Romans 5:5]: each one wherever he sits, bringing into the congregation, into the house of the Lord, the moving, the quickening of the Holy Spirit of God [Ephesians 4:3-6]. Wherever you are, there is a little island of influence, rapport, unconscious influence around you. You may be seated there almost, almost oblivious to the fellow back of you, almost unconscious of the man to the right or the left of you, almost unconscious of the one in front of you; but each one of you has a little island of feeling, of sense, of rapport around you.
I can illustrate that. If there are two of you in a room and a third person comes in, immediately the whole feeling, the whole atmosphere, the whole thing is changed. If the third person that comes into the room is a beloved friend, that’s one thing. If he’s a bitter, and harsh, and critical enemy, that’s another thing. But the feeling of the thing is changed when somebody comes in. It is so in the house of God, only greatly intensified and multiplied.
The reason high services and a furious flame and burning are possible in the house of God is because so many of us are there, fuel for the fire, combustible for the burning. And when we bring to God’s house the Spirit of the Lord in our hearts, put us all together, and it makes a mighty lambent, burning, flaming witness unto God [1 Corinthians 3:16]. These are the things that make possible the marvelous heightened spiritual temperature of a church: our own spirit of devotion, marching eagerness. A passionless, a compassionless, a spiritless, and enthusiasmless church cannot help but be dead and inert and removed. There has to be a beating of the drum, a sounding of the trumpet; there has to be the march and the tread of the armies of Christ. And others catch its tempo, and catch its spirit, and listen to its song, and feel somewhat of its message and its moving, quickening power. To be dead in ourselves, uninterested, indifferent, slow, phlegmatic, lethargic, removed, without burden, without care, it makes a church like that. But when the church marches and its people are in step, and there’s enthusiasm, and spirit, and interest, and eagerness, and dedication, and onwardness, and upwardness, that thing is contagious in the house of God, in the family of the saints, and in the services of the Lord.
Spurgeon, the incomparable Spurgeon, in forty years in his church and in the pastor’s college, Spurgeon had seven hundred forty young ministers go out who baptized two hundred sixty-five thousand saved souls into the fellowship of the Baptist churches of England. Why, I can hardly think of it, that one glorious, incomparable preacher, and that incomparable church, seven hundred forty young ministers in forty years, out of that congregation, out of that pastor’s college, witnessing and testifying to the glorious saving power of Jesus! Oh, what a church, what a church! When A. J. Garden died – his church right down the way from yours in Boston – when A. J. Garden died, there were one hundred twenty members in that church that had gone out on the foreign fields or on home mission fields, working and testifying for the Lord Jesus. Why, just to think of a congregation like that fills your heart, fills your soul, fills your spirit.
Dwight L. Moody sat one day in a balcony in Spurgeon’s church, and as he sat there and saw the congregation and felt the power of the whole appeal, came back to America aflame and afire, and began that marvelous world-moving revival meeting, when they had the first World Fair in Chicago. People went to Chicago incidentally maybe to see the World Fair, but mainly and on purpose to be in the services of that sweeping great Moody revival.
All of us sharing, the preacher has a part. You had to have Spurgeon. You had to have Moody. You had to have A. J. Garden. "It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save men that believe" [1 Corinthians 1:21].
You don’t build a great church in any other way; you have to have a preacher, and he has to preach the message of God. You have to him. You can’t do without him. That’s the reason he needs praying for and helping so momentarily, so constantly, so never-endingly. But beyond the pulpit and beyond the pastor and beyond the message of an hour, oh, how God’s people are called into a like ministry, and a like witness, and a like devotion, and a like fellowship, a like love, a like prayer, a like consecration, all of us, all the time; some of us testifying in an office, some of us testifying in the home, some of us testifying on the streetcar or in the bus, some of us testifying in a little social circle, some of us testifying at a dinner, but all of us testifying everywhere.
I cannot tell you the hurt I felt when one of the men, businessmen, here in this city, when I was talking to him about a man, I said to him, "That’s one of my finest deacons." He said, "You mean that man is a deacon?" I said, "Yes. Yes, he’s one of my finest deacons." Well, he said, "That’s strange. I’ve been doing business with that man thirty years. I did not even know he was a Christian. I did not know he was a Baptist, much less that he was a deacon in your church."
Now I’m not finding fault with the deacon. He’s a very faithful man and a very fine deacon. I am just pointing out a dereliction in all of us: to do business with a man and he doesn’t know that we belong to Christ, to have mercantile establishments and employees not know that we’ve taken our stand for Jesus, to be in an office, to be in a social group and it never be known and it never be apparent by any word of testimony or invitation that we belong to Christ. Oh, how we need, how we pray for, how this appeal is made to my heart and to yours as we have these opportunities, as we have these open doors, as God shall give us, as God shall give us the chance to say a word for Jesus, Lord help us, help us to make a good thing for Thee!
That doesn’t mean to be offensive. You don’t have to be a wet blanket. You don’t have to be an unwelcomed guest. You can be as gracious, and fine, and sweet, and nice as any guest in any home, or any visitor in any office, or any fellow worker in any shop or institution, and at the same time shine for the Lord. The sweetness, and the glory, and the goodness, and the worth, and the virtue of the Lord in your face, and in your countenance, and in your eyes, and in your gesture, and in the tone of your voice, and in the chasteness of the language you speak, and in the humble invitation as God gives opportunity for you to make, why bless you, I have no doubt in my heart but that there would break out in our church a revival that would be beyond any we’ve ever known, if that thing were in the hearts of our people, and as God gave us opportunity to speak a good word for Jesus, to invite to the church, to let the people know our hearts are hid with Christ in God [Colossians 3:3].
Scarborough, whom I listened to as a boy and who made so indelible an impression upon my soul, Lee Scarborough – president of our seminary, Southwestern – Lee Scarborough said he was holding a revival meeting, and as the Spirit of the Lord began to move among the people and in the congregation, on Tuesday morning there came to him the doctor in the town, the most loved and the most honored, the doctor in the town, and said to the preacher, he said, "Would you quietly have the pastor take my name off the roll?" He said, "I’m supposed to be a member here, but I’m not a Christian. I’m not a Christian. And I want you to have the pastor take my name off the roll."
That’d be a good sign, wouldn’t it? The convicting power of God was speaking to his heart, and when he saw himself in the light of what we ought to do, he just felt unsaved and unworthy. "Have the pastor take my name off the roll." And Dr. Scarborough was very wise, very wise, very shrewd, and very gifted with souls. And the preacher said, "Doctor, by the way, isn’t there a young physician, a partner with you in your office?"
"Yes," replied the older doctor.
"Well," said the preacher, "is the young man a Christian?"
"I, I do not know," said the doctor, "I never did ask."
"Well, doctor," said the preacher, "before I ask the pastor quietly to take your name off the roll, would you ask the young man if he’s a Christian, and would you invite him to the services tonight?"
Well, the doctor hesitated, but he was embarrassed to refuse just so small a request. So he finally said, "Why yes, preacher, yes I will." And Scarborough said that that night, while he was sitting in the pulpit, there came in that physician with his arm around a younger man; that he came right on up to the platform where the preacher was seated, and he said, "Dr. Scarborough, this is my young partner, the young doctor who’s with me in the office." He said, "Preacher, when I went to the office, I saw the young man seated there in the chair, and he was reading a letter. And I asked him what he was reading, and the young fellow said, ‘This is a letter from my mother who is earnestly beseeching me to be a Christian.’"
The doctor said, "Preacher, I don’t know what happened, I don’t know, but I, I found myself talking to the young man about Jesus, and we just found ourselves on our knees, and we just found ourselves weeping before the Lord, and we just found ourselves rejoicing in one another’s arms. This is the first soul that I’ve won. But preacher, I have resolved to give my life as a Christian doctor to winning souls for Christ." Then he happened to remember, "By the way, preacher, don’t tell the pastor to take my name off the church roll."
That would be revival. Oh, that would be like the glory of God coming down. "Look, pastor, look, this is my partner," or, "This is my business associate," or "This is a man with whom I do business, and look, here he is," two of you coming, one bringing another. Oh, what that would do for the church, what that would do for the congregation, what that would do for the services, what that would do for the Lord. Why, I do believe, if we were to have services like that, and people were saved by the testimony and earnest prayerful appeal of these members, I do believe if you were to build this house three times as big as it is, you couldn’t hold the people that would press into its auditorium – revival.
My time is gone and I have so much more to say. Between now and two or three minutes, may I enumerate some things we are to remember? First, remember that Jesus is always on our side when we make appeal for the lost, always [Matthew 28:19-20]. When I’m talking to a man about his soul, I know that the Holy Spirit of God is talking to that man’s heart too [John 16:7-8]. There may be everything against the appeal that I’m making, everything, everything, but I know that Jesus is on my side. And when I make appeal, the Holy Spirit is pulling for me, and He is pulling for you. Remember, when you make an invitation for Christ, remember, Jesus is with you, and the Holy Spirit is for you, and He speaks in the heart of the man to whom you make appeal.
Remember the marvelous power of the Word of God, "Quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow" [Hebrews 4:12]. "My word, saith the Lord, is like as a fire, and as a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces" [Jeremiah 23:29] – the power of the Word of God.
Remember that Jesus can save [Matthew 1:21; Luke 19:10; 1 Timothy 1:15; Hebrews 7:25]. Oh, and here I planned to preach this morning, and I haven’t time, it’s all gone. Jesus can save. The most astounding, miraculous works in this earth are not the works of the creation, they’re not the works of nature, they are the saving works of God. Oh, oh, oh! There are some of you who listen to me this hour, there are some of you who are miracles of grace; what you once were and what you now are – oh, the saving, moving power of Jesus! And remember: persistent, importunate prayer never fails [1 Thessalonians 5:17; Ephesians 6:18].
I must take time because this thing happened in my reading this week. I had read where Mueller prayed for three men. One was saved in five years, one was saved in fifteen years, and do you remember some time ago I told you about that prayer of George Mueller, those three men, and that he had prayed for one forty years, and he still wasn’t saved? And I told you, I have no idea whether he was ever saved or not. I said that’s as far as I can find, prayed for one man forty years, and he still was lost. And they asked him about it: "Oh, he’s going to be saved; he’s going to be saved. Prayed for him forty years, and he’s still lost, but he’s going to be saved." Bless you; in my reading this week I got the answer: George Mueller prayed for that man sixty-five years, and he was saved. Sixty-five years and he was saved! You may not live to see it, but your prayers don’t ever fall to the ground. It may be after you’re in glory, it may be after you’re in heaven, but pray, wait upon the Lord, and it’ll come to pass [Psalm 37:5]. Jesus is able. Christ can save.
Now, while we sing our song, while we make this appeal this morning, is there somebody you, somebody you? "Today, pastor, I will take Jesus as my Savior. Today, I will give my heart to Him; I will do it now." Will you? Now, if you are in that balcony, on that topmost seat, there’s a stairwell there, there’s one here, coming down that stairway, down that stairway, "Here I am, pastor, here I come. I give you my hand. I give my heart to Jesus." Will you this morning? Or in this lower floor, into this aisle and down to the front, "Here I come, pastor, I give you my hand; I give my heart to God. I do take the Lord as my Savior. I give Him my life, now and in the world that is to come, I look to Him. If I were to die tonight" – did you know this last week, we had three of our people taken out of the world by accident? Three of them in one week – "If I do not get home today, you just remember, preacher, that I’m looking to Jesus. I’ve settled that thing with Jesus. He is my Savior, all sufficient, all adequate. I give my life and soul and destiny to Him. Here I am, and here I come." Or a family or one to put his life with us in the church; while we sing the song, while we make the appeal, would you make it now? While the pastor is here at the front, and while our people prayerfully sing the song, and all of us join in the spirit of that intercession, would you come this morning? Would you make it now? "Today, here I am," while we stand and while we sing.
I. The atmosphere and spiritual
temperature of the church
A. If spiritual mercury
is low, God’s engine is ice-bound
B. Warmth of the womb
bathed in blood and tears
The feeling of care and concern make for a church where people are saved
II. What is needed
A. Love for Christ
B. Love for the lost
(Matthew 9:36, 18:12-14)
C. Love for the church
(Ephesians 5:25-32, Hebrews 10:25)
III. Things to remember
A. Holy Spirit is for
me and with me
B. Scripture is the
power of God (Hebrews 4:12-13, Jeremiah 23:29)
C. God answers prayer