The Soulwinner’s Reward
June 19th, 1960 @ 7:30 PM
THE SOULWINNER’S REWARD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-19-60 7:30 p.m.
The sermon tonight closes the series through the Book of James. I am already close enough to the end of the Bible to be able to forecast when we shall conclude these many years of preaching through the Word of God. Some time this fall we shall have finished 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2, 3 John, and Jude; and some time the latter part of this fall or the first of next year we shall begin preaching through the Revelation. It will take about two years, I suppose, something like that to preach through the Book of the Revelation. And when that is finished, we shall have been a little more than seventeen years preaching through the Word of God.
Now let’s move into our sermon tonight. This is the last message in James, the pastor of the church at Jerusalem. So to give us a background, let’s read James, the last chapter, verse 13 to the end. And the text is verse 19 and verse 20, the last two verses in the book. The Book of James, the last chapter, the thirteenth verse; now let’s all read it together:
Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.
Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:
And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.
Confess your faults one to another, and pray for one another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of thee years and six months.
And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.
Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him;
Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.
And this is the text: "Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins" [James 5:20];
The Scriptures say that salvation belongeth unto God, salvation is of the Lord [Psalm 3:8]; but, in achieving that salvation, it pleased God to use human instruments. And in the Scriptures that human instrument is so largely presented and so vitally necessary; so much so that many times, as in this text, it is presented as though we save the lost. For example, Paul writes to the young preacher Timothy in the fourth chapter of his first letter and says, "Take heed unto yourself, and unto the doctrine: and continue therein; for by so doing thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee" [1 Timothy 4:16]. To a man who will preach the gospel, Paul says, he’ll save the people, the souls who listen to him. In the seventh chapter and the sixteenth verse of the first Corinthian letter, Paul says that the believing husband will save the wife, and the believing wife will save the husband [1 Corinthians 7:16]. Now, that is true, both of them. No man could ever be saved outside of the Lord [Acts 4:11; John 14:6]; it is the Lord that regenerates us, that saves us, that writes our names in the Lamb’s Book of Life [Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27], that shall present us without spot and blemish some day in the presence of His glory [Ephesians 5:27]. And yet it is also true that we save the lost.
I could illustrate it by a man who would be walking by and unconscious of a precipice, a great perpendicular cliff, was unconsciously about to walk over into his death, and a man seeing him call and say, "Wait, stop!" And the fellow turns, and he says, "Just beyond awful death awaits, just one more step." And the man, looking beyond, seeing the cliff, turns back and says, "Oh, my friend, you saved my life." And then, at a testimony meeting, some time he might stand up and say, "Did you know, were it not for the guiding overwhelming providences of heaven, I would have been lost that day?" In one instance he says to the man, "You saved my life"; then at another time he would say, "God did it, the great purposes of the Lord reached down even unto me." So it is in the salvation of our souls: we can attribute it to God; the Lord loved us and His mercy and grace and favor are bestowed upon us [Ephesians 2:8]. Then we could also say, "I tell you I could never thank that preacher enough; he saved my soul in that sermon." Or, "God bless that sainted mother of mine; she prayed me into the kingdom of heaven." Or, "God be praised for that faithful Sunday school teacher; had it not been for him, I’d have never found Christ." It’s both of us. It’s the Lord in His grace and His goodness; and it’s God’s servant who’s faithful in delivering, in mediating the message: "Let him know, let him know that he which converteth," we do the converting there, "Let him know that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins" [James 5:20].
Now this text describes the one who is lost as being tragically in the way of a terrible judgment: "save a soul from death, hide a multitude of sins"; then there is a possibility of a soul reaching unto death and being covered with a multitude of sins. And the Bible without fail describes the tragedy of that incomparable, immeasurable loss. When the Bible uses the word "life," "eternal life," it does not mean "existence"; it means "life separated from God." When the Bible uses the term "death, the second death, eternal death" [Revelation 20:14-15, 21:8], it does not mean non-existence; but it means the soul set out, sent away, interdicted from the presence of God. For example, Paul will say, "You who were dead in trespasses and in sins" [Ephesians 2:1], still alive, still breathing, still walking in the flesh, but dead; that is, the soul is separated from God. Paul will say in the first letter to Timothy, "She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth" [1 Timothy 5:6]. She is there in all of her glamour, and all of her life, and all of her clubbing, in all of her harlotry, she’s very much alive; but Paul says she’s dead, even though she lives. The meaning of the Book is that separation; body from soul is physical death; separation soul from God is spiritual death, death covered over with a multitude of unforgiven sins [James 5:20]. And the descriptive passages in the Bible describing that death are horrible and terrible beyond compare: where the worm dieth not, where the flame is not quenched [Mark 9:43-48], and the smoke of their torment arose forever and ever [Revelation 14:11], where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth [Matthew 8:12, 13:42, 13:50, 22:13, 25:30; Luke 13:28], the judgment and wrath of God upon the disobedient, the unbelieving, and the wicked. These are terrible things; the tragedy of the soul away from God, without Christ, without a Savior, lost in death and covered with a multitude of sins. That’s why this pastor says, "Let him know, ponder it, think of it, consider it, let him know that he that converteth the sinner from the error of his way has done the greatest, most marvelously spiritual ministry in this earth; when he saves a soul from death, and when he covers over, hides, a multitude of sins" [James 5:20].
I can imagine the hero who would watch a ship break up on the rocks at sea, and he’d man the life boat and row out there and bring back those who were drowning. What a magnificent recovery: a hero deserving a citation form Congress itself. I can imagine the devotion of someone who, seeing a child in the midst of the flame and the fire, would dash into the burning, falling embers, and rescue the child. What a magnificent thing to do, but nothing comparable to the one who would save a sinner from the error of his way, save his soul from death, and cover over a multitude of sins [James 5:20]. Somebody went up to the great scholar-preacher Lyman Beecher and said, "What is the greatest thing that one person can do for another?" And the great scholar replied, "The greatest thing that any person could do for another is to bring that someone to Jesus as Savior." Greatest thing you could ever do for anybody is to win that somebody to Jesus.
I had one time a marvelous deacon in one of my little rural churches. And the way he became a Christian was this: he’d grown up into young manhood without Christ, and without God, well-to-do young fellow, inherited the lands of his father, had married a beautiful, wonderful girl, had started his home and his family, but he was not a Christian, he was without God. Now this man who was a great Christian and a friend of the father of this deacon that was so wonderfully blessed in my church, but who at that time was not a Christian, he was thinking, "What can I do for the memory of that wonderful friend who in bygone days had helped him get started in life?" And as he was thinking what could he do – the man was then in heaven – "What could I do for him?" he said in his heart, "This I can do: I can win his boy to Jesus. I can win his boy to Christ." So he set himself in faith and intercession to winning that boy, that young fellow, inherited all that property, married that beautiful girl, just beginning his home and his family, he set himself to winning the young fellow to Jesus, in payment, the greatest thing he could ever have done in gratitude for what the boy’s father had done for him. Well, I haven’t time here to describe that conversion, but it was something, it was something. Upon a night, when they were having a big revival meeting, he made his way down to the tabernacle and stopped at every farmhouse on the way and said, "Come to church tonight," and called that boy’s name and said, "He’s going to be saved." Well, when the preacher got through preaching and they gave the invitation hymn, that fellow not only didn’t come down the aisle, that young man was not only not saved, but he turned on his heel and walked out and was walking away to leave. But this man had the answer to his prayer: God said, "Tonight he’s going to be saved"; so he left the tabernacle and followed him. And when they got out there by the team, talked to him, got down on his knees and prayed for him, put his arm around him, brought him back into the tabernacle, down to the front, prayed for him again, and he came through. They tell me there never was such shouting up and down the countryside from one place to the other as everybody rejoiced and praised God when that young fellow was converted; one of my most wonderful and gracious helpers I ever knew in my ministry.
That’s it: the greatest thing he could ever have done for his father in memory of a man that loved him and helped him was to win his boy to Jesus. And the greatest thing anybody can ever do for anybody else is to win that somebody to the Lord. That’s the judgment of the Scriptures. The great wise man wrote in the eleventh of Proverbs, "He that winneth souls is wise" [Proverbs 11:30]. To be wise in your own conceit is contemptible. To be wise in the judgment of other men is fine and acceptable. But to be wise in the judgment of God is to have the highest tribute paid in this earth or in heaven to come. "He that wins souls is wise; and they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and as the stars forever and ever [Daniel 12:3] . . . As the Lord sent Me, so send I you" [John 20:21], said Jesus. "Do the work of an evangelist" [2 Timothy 4:5], says the apostle Paul. The greatest thing one could ever do for another is to win that somebody to Jesus.
That is in the judgment of our Lord who began His ministry in the personal appeal of John the Baptist. "Look," said John [John 1:29], "and Andrew and John looked, and then Andrew went to Simon named Peter and said, Come and see for yourself. And John got James his brother. And then Jesus saw Philip, and Philip got Nathanael" [John 1:35-46]. Greatest thing they ever did was introducing a brother, a friend, to the Lord Jesus. That’s the greatest thing that can ever happen to a soul: is to win them to Jesus. Paul said, in this magnificent chapter, in the ninth chapter in the first Corinthian letter:
Though I be free from all men, I am a Christian, I am saved, going to heaven, yet I do not want to go just as I am, in the liberty that Christ has given me; I am bound with cords of love and commitment, I am bound to these all around me. To the Jew, I am as Jew that I might win a Jew. To them that are in the law, as under the law that I might win them under the law. To them that are not under the law, I am not under the law that I might win them that are not under law. To the weak, I am weak that I might gain the weak. I am made all things to all men that I might save some.
[1 Corinthians 9:19-22]
And there it is again, "That I might by all means save some." We save the lost; we save them. "To the weak, I am weak; to the poor, I am poor; to the uneducated, I am uneducated; to the illiterate, I’m illiterate; to the mighty, I try to be mighty; to the one of the law, as under the law; to the Jew, as a Jew; that I might win some: that God would somehow bless the testimony I make that some of them might come to Jesus."
And I want you to know, if you’ll be faithful in that, you will win some. Brother Bill Ennis, if you’ll continue to love those Jewish people, some of those Jewish people will find the Lord; if you will, some of them will. And if we’re faithful to the poor, some of the poor will find the Lord. And if we’re faithful to the rich, some of those rich will find the Lord. And if we’re faithful to the youth, some of the young people will find the Lord. And if we take time for children, some of those children will find Jesus. "All things to all men, that somehow by all means I might win some; I might save some" [1 Corinthians 9:22].
And in the judgment of heaven, that’s the greatest thing in the world. What is it that makes the bells of heaven ring? What is it? "Oh, he preached a great sermon; he went from one marvelous oratorical peroration to another, he rose in flights of poetry and glory, it was a great pronouncement and all heaven sang." Doesn’t say it in the Book. Or, "They had some great convocation, twelve thousand people were there, and thrilled to the message of the morning or the evening." Doesn’t say that in the Book; what it does say it is: "There is joy in heaven over one somebody that turns to God [Luke 15:10]. Verily, verily, I say unto you, there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner that turns than over all of the others who don’t turn, and think they don’t need it, and already in the church and already sitting there in their smugness and in their complacency and in their self-sufficiency, and they don’t have a burden, and they don’t have any tears, and they don’t have any prayers, and they don’t have any intercession."
How much better, Jesus says, to give your life to winning somebody to Christ. "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that turns" [Luke 15:10].
Let him know, let him know that he that converteth the sinner from the error of his way has done life’s greatest ministry, has achieved life’s greatest appointment, he saved a soul from death, and hides a multitude of sins.
Now may I point out to you in the text? Do you notice? "Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let that one know that he which converteth the sinner, that one who" [James 5:19-20]. Well, you say that means that one preacher, that one theologian, that one divine, that one paid prophet of God who’s hired for the task, let him know, that one preacher." Doesn’t say that at all, nor does it intimate it, nor does it refer to it, nor does it touch it. "Let him know, let that one know," that one anybody, that one child, that one youth, that one man, that one woman, that one anybody, "Let him know, let him know" [James 5:20]. Do you notice the singular all the way through? "Brethren, if any of you are away from God, and one convert him, let him know that he which converteth the sinner, a sinner, from the error of his ways shall save a soul from death" [James 5:20]. I can see how all of us are – just like I am – inspired and swept away reading those tremendous stories or going to see these tremendous revival evangelists, we sit there and we listen, and we look, and we read these books or the stories of these great men, and we say, "Oh, how I would aspire to be like Chrysostom the "golden mouth," preaching to thousands and to thousands and turning a whole empire to God! Oh, how great that would be!" And then we read all about Savonarola, or John Huss, or Hubmaier, or Wesley, and Whitefield, and then Spurgeon, and Truett; oh! the sweeping power of their eloquence as they spoke to the thousands and the thousands. "And into the kingdom of God did they stream the souls," doesn’t say it in the Book.
I rejoice in it; I would to God I could speak to a hundred thousand people and have thousands come down the aisle to the Lord. I wish I could. Don’t you wish you could? But the Book doesn’t say, the Book says one, the Book says one, "Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death" [James 5:20]. That one, just one. Aren’t you glad that somehow God never forgot us and overlooked us because we were just one? It’s the religion of the one lost sheep [Luke 15:3-7], and the one lost coin [Luke 15:8-10], and the one lost boy [Luke 15:11-32]. And in the text it speaks of that one, one, one. "Let him know, that he which converteth a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins" [James 5:20].
Well, that one who errs, who hasn’t come to Christ, who hasn’t found the forgiveness of sins in Jesus, that one can be hard and difficult, steeped in iniquity, and villainy, and wickedness, and worldliness, and sensual life, and pleasure. Can be. But that’s not impossible that God could save him and cover over all of the sins of his life. That’s what it meant when the father said, "Bring hither the robe, and put upon him" [Luke 15:22]; that is, the old life is covered over and washed away. There are some of you who sit in these pews listening to me tonight whose lives have been dark, whose lives have been stories of sin, in the dregs of the whole sordid mess that Satan sometimes is able to drown a poor lost sinner. Some of you are here tonight listening to me preach, and God’s given you a new robe, and God’s covered you. That’s the parable. "And he hides a multitude of sins." That’s the parable of the wedding garment. A robe, that’s the wonderful symbolism of the Book of the Revelation, when God’s sainted people appear in His presence, all clothed in white, in the glory of the Lord [Revelation 19:7-8]. You know it almost makes me think sometimes we might preach in robes up here. Wouldn’t that be something? All of us come in dressed in robes of white? Wouldn’t they think we had absolutely lost our equilibrium? And yet we could say, "We’re just doing what we’re going to do in heaven. Man, if you don’t like us in white robes here, what you going to do in heaven when we’re going to live in them all day and all night for eternity?" That’s what that means. That’s what that means. "Covered over, covered over," God doesn’t see the blackness anymore, and He doesn’t remember that violent wrong anymore, and He hides away forever all of the stains and sins, hiding a multitude of sins.
And I think it also means this: "save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins" [James 5:20], I think it also means, when we win somebody to Jesus, ah, there are many, many, many, many derelictions, and darknesses, and vilenesses, and wickednesses, and sins that’ll never be, never be; they just will not be. For our life is hid with Christ in God [Colossians 3:3], and they never happen, they never come, they never afflict us, they never cover us, they never hide us, they never bury us. And I think of that when I think of the appeal God makes to youth and to children. Hiding a multitude of sins, listen, is it not better, is it not better to win a boy before he becomes a prodigal? Isn’t it better? Isn’t it better that a man should be won to Christ before he becomes a thief, a derelict? Isn’t it better? It’s a great thing to see a prodigal come back [Luke 15:18-21]. It’s a great thing to see a thief converted, like the one on the cross [Luke 23:42-43]. But it’s a greater thing to see a boy who gives his heart to God and never becomes prodigal; to a man who follows Christ and never knows what it is to fall into condemnation of thievery and wickedness; hiding a multitude of sins. They never appear, they are not. Where are the Daniels and the Samuels and the Josiahs in the church? They’re from our children: all their lives have been taught in the love and nurture of the Lord [Ephesians 6:4]. He doesn’t know what it is to be in the vile wickedness and darkness of the world; all his life he’s been brought up in the love and nurture and admonition of the Lord. Isn’t that better?
I went to the Foreign Mission Board in Richmond, Virginia one time and saw the board appoint seventeen new missionaries. And as I listened to their testimony – this is unusual – every one of that seventeen, every one of them, every one of them had been converted at the age of five, six, seven, eight, nine, years of age, every one of them. And not only that, but they had felt the call to be missionaries to God when they’re four, five, six, and seven years of age, every one of them. It was an astonishing thing to me! Did you know that practically every servant of God has given his life to that ministry and that devotion in childhood, almost every one of them? Once in a while there’ll be a Mel Carter, once in a while. Once in a while there’ll be a Billy Sunday, once in a while. Once in a while there’ll be John Bunyan, once in a while. But it is once in a rare while. Almost all of the servants of God, they who preach in the pulpit, they who labor in the church, they who work in the vineyard of the Lord, they who go abroad on foreign fields, almost always they come as children, as Samuel; they hear the voice of the Lord, "Samuel, Samuel"; he didn’t even know the Lord, and old Eli had to tell the boy, "Son, the next time He speaks to you, you say, Here am I, Lord" [1 Samuel 3:4-10]. Listen, listen, listen, as a child. "Save a soul from death, and cover over a multitude of sins" [James 5:20], that never are, that never come to pass, they never happen; for the child is won to Jesus.
How do you do that? I want to show you in just this sentence, and then I’m through. When the dear mother, the Shunammite woman, came to Elisha, her son was dead; that’s a picture of all of us: dead, dead outside of God, not quickened, not alive; dead, not converted, not given to Jesus; dead. And when she came, Elisha the prophet saw that she was in great distress of heart and soul. So he finally learned, the child had died; he turned to Gehazi and said, "Gehazi, take my staff and put it on the child, touch the child, lay my staff on the child." And Gehazi went his way with the staff of the man of God, to lay the staff on the cold still form of the child. But she was a wise mother. She didn’t follow Gehazi, as Elisha thought she would. Rather she fell at the feet of the prophet and put her arms around his feet and says, "My lord, as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee" [2 Kings 4:27-30]. Well, there wasn’t anything for Elisha to do but to follow, go to the house of the Shunammite woman. And so Gehazi took the staff, and he laid it on the still form of the boy. And there was no life, there was no breath, there was no response; for mechanics won’t do it [2 Kings 4:31]. You can just plan, and plan, and plan, and plan, math is multiplied and multiplied, but the staff won’t do it. And when Elisha came, he went up into the room, got down on his knees and on his face. And the book says, "And he prayed to the Lord, and he cried to the Lord for the soul of the child." Then he put his warm body on the cold, still, dead, lifeless body of the boy, and breathed into the lad the breath of life. And God answered from heaven. And he brought the boy and placed him in the arms of his mother alive, alive [2 Kings 4:32-37]. Don’t you ever be persuaded, though we give much time and energy to these methods and these organizations and these many, many ministries of the church, don’t you ever be persuaded these instrumentalities and these mechanics save the soul: they are saved down on our knees, interceding before God, asking heaven’s blessings upon the truth we mediate to their hearts. And don’t you ever be persuaded that we could have a choir and a preacher and all of it be mechanical and the Spirit of God move in power on the congregation: we can sing, and sing, and sing, and have the best trained choir in the earth, and the preacher can prepare and study and deliver the finest intellectual dissertations that ever fell from the lips of a man; but it’s the Spirit of God that saves, mediated through hearts that pray and intercede and look to heaven. "O Lord, come down and bless us. Bless us, Lord, bless us. We’ve sung the hymn the best we know how, bless it Lord. And the preacher’s preached the sermon the best he knows how, bless it Lord. And the people have come and have listened and prayed, bless them Lord. And now, the time is come for a harvest; bless it Lord, bless it Lord once again, once again. Grant us a reaping, sheaves, trophies of grace, to lay at Thy precious and blessed feet. Bless us, Lord." And He will. And He does. And He will do it again, and He will do it now.
While we sing this song of appeal and invitation, in this balcony round, you, on this lower floor, you, a family coming, somebody you, a youth, a child, as the Spirit of Jesus shall lead the way and open the door, while we make appeal, will you come? Will you make it now? "Here I am, Savior, here I come."
"Except a man be converted and become as a little child, he shall in nowise enter into the kingdom of heaven" [Matthew 18:3]. Humbly, simply, trusting, "Here I come, pastor, I give you my hand; I give my heart to God." Or, "Here’s my whole family; we’re all coming tonight." I can’t make that appeal; God has to do that. He speaks the word. Listen to the voice of our Savior. Come, come, while we stand and while we sing.