THE SOUL WINNER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-27-74 8:15 a.m.
You are listening to the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas bring the message entitled The Soul Winner. It is a textual message from the eleventh chapter of Proverbs, verse 30, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise” [Proverbs 11:30].
In the American Revised Version, the Scripture reads like this, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that is wise winneth souls.” The reason why they place it like that is because of the form of Hebrew poetry, which is not necessarily rhymed like ours but is in parallel thought. Parallelism is a characteristic of Hebrew poetry. So putting the thoughts parallel: “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that is wise winneth souls” [Proverbs 11:30]—that is a beautiful, a preciously beautiful thought. “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life.”
There is full-soul blessing in the life, in just the living of a good and holy man. The result of his life is like a tree, a living tree. Even the shadow of a tree is cooling and soothing and comforting. The first Psalm will say that a good man, a righteous man, “is like a tree planted by the rivers of water. . .whose leaf shall not whither, who brings forth its fruit in its season; and whatsoever he doeth prospers” [Psalm 1:3].
In the twenty-second chapter of the Revelation and the [second] verse, the apocalyptic vision of John presents to us the tree of life for the river of water, and it bared twelve manner of fruits, each in its season and month, and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the people [Revelation 22:1-2]. “The fruit of the righteous is like a tree of life,” then the parallel, “and he that is wise winneth souls” [Proverbs 11:30]. Just by being himself, the believer, the Christian man, just being himself he wins souls. That is, he draws them to our Lord. He’s like the bush that burns with the deity of God [Exodus 3:2-3]—you could not help but stop and look at it. So it is with the Christian man, the believer, the born-again soul of God. He is attractive; you cannot but notice him. He draws people to himself and to the Lord.
Did you ever think about the sun? How it does? How it works? The sun does not rise in the morning and with a mailed fist beat on the door and say, “Here I am, get up! Wake up! It’s time to go to work.” The sun does no such thing. It just rises in the morning, and it silvers the window pane, and it softly plays on a baby’s cheek, and it fills the house with glory, and it seeks out every accessible nook and corner. And it just brings life and warmth and light to the whole world. It floods all creation and the flowers awaken. Did you ever notice the sunflower will follow the course, the path of the great orbit, clear across the sky? In the morning the flower will face east and follow it all day long; in the evening, will face the west, just drawn by the sun.
So it is with a Christian man, a good man, he just draws people to himself. The righteousness, the holiness, the Christian life and spirit of a good man is most noticeable.
I one time in my college days went with a little group to a revival service in a small humble church. And by me sat a very outspoken, agnostic unbeliever, one of those young fellows who loves to parade his superiority to God and to church and the revelation of the Lord. So as we sat there in the service, and the invitation was given, and it was one of those moving times when people were saved, families were put together in the Lord, and the wives were rejoicing and with many tears, welcoming their husbands into the faith, into the fold, it was just one of those moving times when you just felt the Spirit of God—and this student who was so vocal in critical unbelief of our blessed Lord and of His people, turned to me and said, “I just cannot deny it. There is something about the Christian faith—and he used the word—that just hits you in the face, it moves your heart, it is its own wonderful defense.”
The believer winneth of souls [Proverbs 11:30], he draws them, he just does. That is a marvelous thing of our blessed Lord, that God uses us for that purpose, for you see, the passage is built upon the assumption that souls need winning and can be won.
“The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise” [Proverbs 11:30]. That word “win, winning” is used in many categories, in many ways. You use it in describing love-making: a man is winning the heart and the hand of a young woman. You use it militarily: the winning of a battle. You use it legally: the winning of a court case. You use it in good fortune: the winning of a prize. You use it in athletics: the winning of a game. Now there’s some things in the use of that word that are very apparent when I apply it as we use it in our common nomenclature.
Take, for example, that first one, “the winning of a girl’s heart, love-making, winning.” How do you do it? Not by coercion or by force. You can force the body, incarcerate it, beat it, do many things under coercion, but you can’t coerce a man’s heart and a man’s spirit. You can put him in prison, you can send him to the gallows, you can send him to the galley, you can force him to hard labor, but his spirit—even behind bars and stone walls—remains free. The spirit, the heart, has to be won.
So it is in the Christian faith. There’s no coercion in it. Not by force do we bring people to Jesus but by winsomeness and persuasiveness, winning the heart, the soul. That’s why I’ve always felt that the church ought to be an attractive and fascinating place, especially for children. The child ought thus to respond to father or mother, “I want to go to Sunday school.” It ought to be an alluring and charming invitation to the child. He likes to come.
I feel no less so about our services. To win people to Christ means per se, in itself, that we have dedicated ourselves to making that appeal to the heart and to the soul in such a way that somebody finds himself warmed by the presence of God’s people. This is one of the things that hurts me deeply once in a while.
For example, not very long ago I was inquiring about a certain family and the father and mother, and I found out that they had come here to the church and had attended the services, but they did not like me. I preached too loud and too vociferously and too vigorously, presented the case too vehemently, and they did not like me, and they did not come back. Oh, the reason that it hurts me is for the gospel of Christ ought to be presented winsomely, beautifully, attractively. And when it is not presented in a way that people are warmed by it and charmed by it, I feel that I have failed. By winning we mean an address to the heart, to the soul, to the will. I choose to respond. There is no other way to become a Christian except by the free, voluntary choice of the heart.
Will you notice the second thing about that winning, in a battle, in a legal case, in an athletic contest: winning the game, winning the battle, winning the case, always there is a concomitant of careful, earnest, dedicated striving, of planning, a purpose in it. No one ever went out to war and just accidentally won it. No one ever went through a court case and just adventitiously was given the decision. And nobody ever went out on a playing field and just inadvertently came off with a victory. It means striving, it means programming, it means planning, and if there is soulwinning in the congregation of the Lord, it will be also just like that. It will be planned for, it will be the consummation of an avowed and stated and carefully delineated purpose. We have given ourselves to it.
And that leads me to the next thought that is in this passage, inspired of the Lord. It outlines for us our great first common determination as a church, as a body of believers, and as individual Christians. Our supreme mandate is that: winning souls, bringing people to Christ [Proverbs 11:30]. If we were to say, “What is the first great objective of the house of God and the people of the Lord?” it is always this: our dedication is to bring Jesus to the hearts of the people, to win these families to our blessed Savior, that they might know Him whom to know is life everlasting [John 6:47]. That is our great assignment, and whatever else is done, ought to reach toward that consummation.
We have a recreational department, wonderful, but that’s what it’s ultimately for. We have an education division, wonderful, but that’s what it’s for. We have a mission division, glorious, but that’s what it’s for. We have a business division in the church, and one in which our men have great confidence. What our people do in that business office is to be responsible to God and to you. And I’m grateful for them. But ultimately, what they do even in the business office is to reach out toward a great purpose, mainly of making Jesus known in the hearts of men. This is our assignment.
Now let me show you two things that happen to a church when we turn aside from it. A church can turn aside from its great mandate from heaven to win people, to win souls, but one of two things will always happen.
One: the church will become worldly. Its people will become worldly. And the church itself will become worldly. Instead of our winning the world, the world wins us. And worldliness is almost an indefinable, intangible something. We say, “Well, that’s worldly and this is worldly and that is worldly and the other thing is worldly.” Actually all of this and that and the other that you can name comes out of a spirit that has opened itself to the floodgates of the allurements and enticements of the world. Worldliness is a spirit, and it can get into the church, it can get into the staff, it can get into the heart of the pastor, and it can get into the lives of the people. And when the church turns itself away from soulwinning it will find itself increasingly worldly.
Or the second thing that can happen, an alternative that can happen to the church when it turns itself away from its great heavenly mandate to win people to Christ, second it can become, if not worldly, then it can become coldly orthodox—just as rigid in its loyalty to the Word of God, just as faithful and true to the letter of the Book as a seraph himself could recite it and delight in it, and yet there be in that rigid orthodoxy, that cold reproval acceptance of the Word of God, no warmth and no love and no life-giving appeal.
I asked someone in our home, who was there in our house, about the services of a church attended by that someone. And they were described for me. Then I asked, “Well, when the minister was done, did he give an invitation?”
“Well,” I said, “why do they not give an invitation?”
And this communicant said, “I do not know.”
“Well,” I said, “you go there. Why do you go there?”
And this one who was answering said, “I love prophecy, and I go there and attend the services to hear prophecy.”
I said, “That is fine, wonderful, for the prophetic revelation of God shows how God is sovereign in the world and reveals His purposes to us. And He gives us assurance of final victory and triumph. But,” I said, “when the message is delivered and the prophecy is explained, to what end does the minister deliver the message and explain the prophecy?”
And the answer was, “I do not know. We just present the prophecy.”
That to me is exactly like an insurance man, and he’s talking to you, and let’s say you are a father, and you have a wife, and you have children, and you have, say, a mortgage on your house. And if something were to happen to you, an accident were to take your life away, or a disease were to strike you down, what would happen to the house you live in and the mortgage on it? And what would happen to the children and what would happen to your wife? So the insurance man talks to you and he says, “You see, this is a way we have of protecting your family. This is a way of protecting your wife. This is a way of protecting your children. This is a way of protecting your home. And every man ought to take out some insurance. And I’ve come to show you.” Then he shows the beautiful paper of the policy, and he shows the name of the company, all kinds of things about it, and never asks the man to take out the policy; never asks the man to sign on the dotted line; never makes an appeal to the man to respond. Why, I think it is unthinkable. You do too when I say it.
But if I think that a man ought to protect his home and his family by taking out an insurance policy, how much more is it reasonable and right for us to say that a man ought to save the life and the souls of the circle of those whom he loves, and of his own soul? “What if he gains the whole world,” Jesus says, “and loses his own soul?” [Matthew 16:26]
So when the gospel is preached, and the message is delivered, and the prayer is prayed, and the song is sung, always it should reach out toward that. My brother, this is the revelation of God in Christ, who died for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3], was raised for our justification [Romans 4:25], is coming again for our vindication [Romans 10:11]. Have you trusted Him?
Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing power?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Are you fully trusting in His grace this hour?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
[“Are You Washed in the Blood,” Elisha A. Hoffman]
Are you? Are you saved? Do you know God? Does your family know God? Do your friends, your business associates? Tell me. Is not that the great purpose and heavenly assignment of the church and of us who compose it?
I’m asked many times why the coming of Brother Jimmy Draper. And of course the people think and say, “He’s come to help the pastor. He’s come to stand by the pastor’s side and help him and give him strength and length of days.” Yes, that’s all true. That’s all true. But there was another great purpose in the coming of the associate. And that was that he might help all of us enter into a tremendously effective soul-winning program. And he’s doing that: laying the foundation for that vow, and that’s what we ought to do. Not just say, not just speak, not just preach, but we ought to do something, plan it, so that I can get a hand on it in a way that I can help; for I want to help.
You know, in my reading I came across a court case in England that was one of the most unusual I ever read about. It is startling and its message for us was no less poignant and trusting and driving! Here’s what happened. A long time ago on the shores of England, there was a ship that foundered on the rocks and sank, and all of its passengers were lost. They all were drowned. But the bizarre thing about the accident was that the ship went down within about two hundred yards of a life-saving station. So in the trial the head of the life-saving station was brought before the court, and the lawyer was interrogating the man and had a long series of questions to ask him. And here was the line of the interrogation:
“Did you see that ship out there, foundered on the rocks and sinking and the people drowning? Did you see that?”
“Yes,” said the life-saving captain, “I saw it.”
“Well,” said the interrogator, “did you try to save those people?”
“Yes,” said the man.
So the interrogator said, “Did you send out a boat?”
And the man said, “No. The surf was too high.”
The interrogator said, “Well, did you try to shoot out a line?”
And the man replied, “No. I felt it was too far.”
And the interrogator at the court said, “Well, did you try to establish a britches buoy?
And the man replied, “No. I felt it was too difficult.”
So after a long interrogation, in desperation the lawyer said, “Well, in heavens name, tell us, what did you do to try to save those drowning people?”
Now I’m going to give you his reply. He said, “We tried to do everything we could through the speaking trumpet.” You would say the megaphone.
Standing on the shore speaking, that’s what they did to save those drowning people.
Just to recount the court case brings its own indictment. Just to speak, just to use the megaphone or a P.A. system. O Lord, there ought to be the best dedicated effort of which we’re capable to reach out the saving hand. Here’s the lifeboat, let’s man it. Here’s the lifeline, let’s throw it out. Let’s say, “We missed the boat that is sinking by a hundred yards.” I think for our own sakes we ought to throw out the lifeline just the same. This is our great assignment. And I am praying and believing that God will answer the prayer. And under the direction of this dedicated staff, and with the willingness of response on the hearts of our people, we’re going into a tremendously, blessed of God, soul-saving effort; bringing them to the Lord in every way that God will show us how, through every instrument that God would place in our hands.
Now I must close. May I say one other thing? “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise” [Proverbs 11:30]. Why does God say that to the wisest man who ever lived? He wrote that; God said that. A man is wise in the blessedness and the wisdom of God who wins souls.
I want to take two things that I came across in my studying and preparing: one out yonder, and one here. I’m speaking now of the blessedness, the heavenly blessedness, the benedictory reward from God’s gracious hands, when we give ourselves to this assignment.
Something that happened way out there, both in time and in space; a long time ago there came up to a Sunday superintendant a young fellow. He found the Lord. He was afire in his heart for Jesus, came up to the Sunday school superintendent and said, “I want to teach a Sunday school class.”
The superintendent said, “We don’t have any class for you to teach.”
Well, the days passed, and he came back and said to the superintendent, “But I want to teach a class.”
And the superintendent said, “We don’t have any class.”
The days passed and he came back again and persistently said, “I want to teach a class.”
And the superintendent said, “I have told you, we don’t have any class for you to teach! You just get your own class.”
Well, he hadn’t thought of it. But he thought well of it, having thought of it. So he went out on the streets of the city and collared every ragamuffin boy that he could run down and tried to get the boy to come to Sunday school. Well, he had a poor, poor response. But one of those ragged urchins on the street—he saw him again and again and again—and each Sunday the young fellow would go to his little cubbyhole in the church where he was to have his class and not a boy would come. But that boy finally came. And when he did the young fellow didn’t recognize him. He’d washed; he’d cleaned himself up. But he had come.
And as the days passed with that one little boy, he got other boys; and had him a fine class, teaching them the Word of God and winning them to Jesus. You know who that little boy was, that first one who responded? To my amazement—and that’s why it made the impression upon my soul—to my amazement that little boy was the great Dr. Robert Morrison, who is the father of the Christian missionary enterprise to the Orient. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine that? That little boy! Oh, the reward, the reward. You don’t know, you don’t realize what God is doing through you, winning souls.
Now I want to take one here. Oh, out of a thousand thousand, I’ll not speak of myself. Let me speak of my predecessor. When I came to the church—about thirty years ago—I asked, “Who was the dentist of Dr. Truett?”
I try to take care of my teeth. I have wonderful, good teeth. I inherited that from my father. You know that’s the funniest thing in the world: he never went to a dentist in his life. And when he died at seventy-six years of age, he had every tooth in his head, just as sound as a dollar. Isn’t that something?
Well, I inherited that from my father, but not his habits. He never went to a doctor, never in his life. There was no hospital until he’d died. And he never went to a dentist. Well, I’m not like that. I go to the dentist and I try to take care of my teeth.
So when I came here, I asked, “Who is the dentist of Dr. Truett? I would like to go to him, since I knew no one at all.” And they replied to me, “Dr. Snowden.” So I went to Dr. Snowden, and I was in the chair—the dentist’s chair—and he was looking at my teeth, and he began to talk to me about Dr. Truett.
And while he was talking to me he broke down and cried. Now that would be a new experience for you, wouldn’t it, when the doctor broke down and cried? He just stopped his dentistry and began to cry. And when he got control of himself, Dr. Snowden said to me, he said, “Sir, I apologize to you. I didn’t mean to break down. But,” he said, “that man taught me the way of life, and I loved him so dearly,” one of the sweetest and humblest and most precious of all the things any man could ever say about his pastor. “He taught me the way of life; I loved him so dearly.” The reward is everlasting. “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise in the wisdom of God” [Proverbs 11:30].
Ah, Lord, may Thy Spirit work with us as we give ourselves as a people to that sweet and precious appeal. Come, come, come. And we bring that appeal to your heart this morning. In a moment we stand and sing our song of invitation, out of the balcony round, you; the great throng of people on this lower floor, you; a family, a couple, or just you, to accept Christ as your Savior, to open your heart to Him; or to come into the fellowship of the church, as the Spirit of Jesus shall press the appeal to your heart, make it now, come now; do it now, while we stand and while we sing.
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