The Soul Winner
January 27th, 1974 @ 10:50 AM
THE SOUL WINNER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-27-74 10:50 a.m.
On the radio, on television you are worshiping with us in the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Soul Winner. It is an exposition of a beautiful verse—one of the most beautiful in the Book of Proverbs—it is an exposition of a beautiful verse in the Book of Proverbs, chapter 11, verse 30, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise” [Proverbs 11:30].
Let me take it as the American Revised Version of 1901 will write it—they just change one little thing in it—but they change it because of the form of Hebrew poetry. When we think of poetry, we think of words that rhyme but when the Hebrew author wrote poetry, he wrote it in parallel form and their poetry lay in parallelism. So to make it parallel it would read like this: “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; And he that is wise winneth souls,” ASV. “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; And he that is wise draweth souls.” A marvelously beautiful thought;
The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life. . .” [Proverbs 11:30].
The first Psalm says of a God-blessed man, a Christian man, “He is like a tree planted by the rivers of water . . . His leaf shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper” [Psalm 1:3]. In the twenty-second chapter of the Apocalypse, the [second] verse, the inspired seer John says, “By the river of life was there the tree of life and it bare twelve manner of fruits, its fruit in its season each month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the people” [Revelation 22:2].
Could you think of a more magnificent tribute that inspiration could lay at the feet as a trophy to the good man, the Christian man, the believing man? The fruit of his life is a tree of life. Even the shadow of it is cooling, and soothing, and refreshing, healing, life-giving; “the fruit of the righteous is a tree of life” [Proverbs 11:30].
Then the parallel, “and he that winneth souls is wise.” “He that is wise winneth souls” [Proverbs 11:30]. You see, the primary meaning of the text apparently is that the life of the believer wins; it draws. It is like the burning bush at Horeb, ablaze with the glory of God. You could not but look at it, it just draws and takes in to itself [Exodus 3:1-3]. So this inspired writer says about a godly man, a Christian man, a believing man; he draws souls to the Lord [Proverbs 11:30]. He just does; just by being himself.
I sometimes think of that like the sun. The sun does not rise in the morning and with a mailed fist beat on the door and say, “Get up! Go to work!” The sun rises in the morning so without sound, it just rises and shines of itself. It silvers the window pane; it will softly play on a baby’s cheek. It will flood the house with glory; it will seek out every accessible nook and corner; it will enlighten the whole world, and the flowers lift up their faces to see it. Did you ever notice a sunflower in the morning? The sunflower will face the rising orb in the east, and follow it all through the day, and when the sun sets, the sunflower will be facing the west; all day long, just following the course of that burning orb. The sun draws to itself; it just does. It just shines and the whole world is awakened. Now he says that the man of God is like that. He that is wise, he that is a believer, he who is a child of God, draws souls, takes souls, wins souls; he just does [Proverbs 11:30].
I remember when I was in school, one of the fellows in the school was very critical. It’s so easy for a college student to be that way—critical of the Lord, critical of the Bible, critical of the church, critical of the services, critical of the people—just critical! He liked to talk that way, as though he were an agnostic or an infidel.
Well, a little band of us, a little group of us, a little handful of us, went to a revival meeting in a little humble church, a little church. And I happened to be seated by that skeptic. And it was one of those services that night where the Lord just blessed the appeal and families were saved and put together in the Lord. And after the invitation was done, why, we stood there; just a row of us students stood there and watched. And there were wives who were rejoicing with their husbands, and fathers and mothers who were rejoicing with their children, just as you’ve seen once in a while when the Spirit of God is moving. And that skeptic seated next to me, just looking at it, turned and said to me, “You know,” and this was his expression, “there is something about the Christian faith that just rises up and strikes you in the face.”
What he meant was that, however the skeptic may ridicule it, and depreciate it, there is something about just the shining of the Christian life, the moving of the Spirit of God, that is undeniable. You can’t help but see it and notice it. And that is the passage here, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that is wise”—the believer in God—“winneth souls” [Proverbs 11:30]. He draws them to himself.
Now the verse is posited on a presupposition: namely, that souls need winning and can be won. “He that is wise winneth souls” [Proverbs 11:30]. It is not that they’re impossible, or that the human heart is made out of iron, or that the will is always obstreperous and incorrigible, no! No, the human heart is still capable of being moved and the Holy Spirit is able to change it; souls can be won.
Now when we look at that word win, “He that is wise winneth souls” [Proverbs 11:30], we use that word in many areas of life. Sometimes we will use it to refer to courting, to lovemaking: the boy wins the heart and hand of the girl. We will use that word win militarily: a general wins a battle. We will use it legally sometimes: a lawyer will win his case in court. We will use it sometimes to refer to good fortune: here is a man who wins a prize. Sometimes we use the word athletically: they win the game.
Now, when you look at that the way we use the word win, winning, you’ll find two things about it in the list I have employed. One: in lovemaking, in courting; winning the heart, the soul, the love of somebody; that is, it is not done by coercion, or by force, or by mandate. You can coerce the human body; you can pound it, you can put it in jail, you can incarcerate it behind bars and stone walls, but a man’s spirit, his heart, is always free. It cannot be coerced. It has to be won persuasively, charmingly, beautifully. And when I think of that, I so often think of it in terms of say, our children. I think the church ought to be, of all places of the world, attractive, and fascinating, and especially for children.
Oh, I have the deepest hesitancy, to think about the church as being so lugubrious, so melancholy, so drab, so dull and uninteresting, and the father and mother makes the child go. Doesn’t want to go; “I’d rather do anything else but to go!” So the child is coerced in going, force is used, “As long as you live here in this house you have to go to church!” Well, I suppose; but, would to God, that the whole turn and frame of the service, of the Sunday school, of the Training Union, of the missionary organization, of all of it—that it could be so turned that the child would say, “I want to go! Get up, Mother and Dad, let’s go!” or “Hurry up, let’s go! I like to go.”
That is wonderful! I also love to think of the services in God’s house like that. They are charming; they are alluring; they are fascinating; they are appealing; they tug at your soul. It is persuasive; it is something we love to do. When it isn’t that way, I hurt in my heart.
There was a couple, of a fine family—there was a couple who came to church here to visit us; and they never came back. And when inquiry was made why they did not return, the man said, “We don’t like to go, we don’t like the preacher. He preaches too loud and he presents the gospel too vehemently, and we don’t like him.”
Well, I would give anything in the world to be able to present the gospel message in the most attractive and fascinating way in the earth. And when I don’t do it that way, and when the response is just the opposite of that way, I feel so sad, and so blue, and sometimes discouraged. For the services of God ought to reflect the glory of the Lord. Like that beautiful chorus that the choir sang:
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed
And all flesh shall see it together.
Just like the sun in its strength, the glory of God.
[from Isaiah 40:5]
Oh, that I could do that! That it would be marvelous, wonderful, exalting, meaningful; when I don’t, I am so deeply saddened in disappointment. So it is with that word “win.” It applies to its persuasiveness; the appeal that is made to the heart.
It has another use in that series that I mentioned: militarily, a man wins a battle, or an athlete wins the contest, or a lawyer wins his suit at court; that is behind the appeal that is made, the drive of it, the thrust of it, you have the feeling of a striving, a planning. And that’s always true. Judge Williams, no man ever adventitiously won a contested suit at court; he has to think about it. He has to plan for it. There is the judge on the bench; there is the jury; the whole set up of the process of jurisprudence. And the man must think, and he must plan.
So it is with any kind of a game, you just don’t go out there and accidentally win it. It’s something that you strive for, and sometimes agonize for, prepare for. The whole gamut of that word “win,” however you apply it, is like that. Well, that’s the way it also means here; to win souls in wisdom, in the directive knowledge of God, there must be preparation, and planning, and stated dedication toward it.
And that leads me to my next avowal of the text. This means, I would think, by divine inspiration, that our great mandate and assignment is this: winning souls, bringing the lost to Jesus. That is what we are for; that is what we are do. This is the great primary fundamental dynamic mandate for God’s people; winning the lost, winning people to Christ. This is our first goal. Now we may have many others incidentally, but they are yet incidental; they’re not dynamically, primarily the heart of the church. Take our own church, for example. I love the church giving itself to a multitudinous facet of programming, and enlisting the families and the people.
That was one of the funniest things last night that they had here. Everybody paid a dollar to get in to see the staff make fools of themselves. Well, that’s all right, that’s all right; you’re going to be a fool for Christ’s sake [1 Corinthians 4:10]. It’s something Paul said he would like to do. But you see, last night there was something in it that I think ought always be of the church. What they did was to support a mission appeal, to support a soul-winning appeal in Thailand, with the sweet missionary couple who belong to our congregation. Now, I like that.
Whatever we’re doing in our recreational program, ultimately it has as its chief and greatest end to introduce somebody to Jesus. Even our business administration is that; our men in the church, our people in the church, have great confidence in our business office. And they turn over to the business office in the course of a year over five million dollars, in this one church, because of a confidence they have in it. I love that. We have a fine administrative business procedure here in the church.
And yet I like to think, and I think not unjustly or incorrectly so—I like to think that the entire effort of the business office is also that. We’re using it to win people to Christ. It was a delight to my heart when the personnel committee brought to me Mr. John Shank, the one they chose to be our business administrator, and said to me, “Pastor, he’s an ordained minister.” Why, I just love that. Here is a man working in the house of God; he presides over the business administration of our church, but he’s an ordained minister. He’s a man of God on whom an ordaining presbytery has placed its hands of consecration and separation.
I like that! Kind of reminds me of the wonderful, glorious messianic prophecy in the fourteenth chapter of Zechariah, where describing the house of the Lord, it says even the pots and the pans have written on them “Holiness unto the Lord” [Zechariah 14:21]. Isn’t that just great? All of it, all of it is dedicated to the winning of souls, everything that we do.
I want to point out to you something that happens to a church when it turns aside from that great heavenly mandate. It is easy for a church to turn aside from it and give itself to something else. And when it loses that seeking note, that evangelistic appeal, there is one of two things that will happen to the church.
Number one: when the church turns aside from its great commission to win people to Christ, it can do one of two things. One: it can turn worldly. It doesn’t win the world, but the world wins it. Worldliness is a spirit. Many times the minister in the pulpit will point out this as being worldly, and that as being worldly, and this is being worldly, and this is being worldly, and that’s correct. This, that, and the other, they are worldly things, worldly habits, worldly practices, but this is not actually what it is. This is just an outside token; it is just a showing forth of the heart, of the spirit, of the inside. For worldliness is a spirit and it can get in us, it can get in a whole church! Our goals can be wrong; our visions can be wrong; our programming and planning can be wrong; it can be worldly, it can be of this world—not of heaven, not of God—but of the world!
I sometimes think of some of the churches that boast of certain things about themselves. You have to be careful about that. Oh, sometimes it’s of the flesh, sometimes it’s of the prideful spirit, it’s not of God! You got to be careful; a church can be worldly in many, many areas of its life. And the people can get worldly. Our whole interests are just out there, they are down here; they’re not up there, we haven’t set our affection upon things above, but upon things down here. When we turn aside from soul-winning, our great evangelistic mandate from heaven, a church can become worldly! Just it belongs down here, is down here; no difference ultimately between it and a country club. It’s just like joining a club to join the church. That’s one thing that can happen to it.
Here’s another thing that can happen to it. When a church turns aside from its great, first, heavenly mandate to win souls to Christ, it can become, on the other side of the spectrum—it can become coldly orthodox. The minister, the congregation, the official board and family, they believe every syllable of the faith; can recite every part of the creed just as judiciously correct in all of their sibilants as though a seraph from heaven were repeating what God has revealed to us; but at the same time, without love, without moving, without persuasiveness.
I remember some time, a long time ago, we had a young woman who stayed in our home; she was helping us with our little girl. And as a member, somewhat, of the family—living there at the house, working there at the house—why, she’d go to church where she pleased. So she went to such-and-such church, and upon a Sunday at the noon meal, I asked her about the services at the church. And as I talked to her about it, I asked her, “Does your pastor ever give an invitation?” She said, “No. No.” Well, I said, “What do you do when you go to church? And what do you listen to, and what does the pastor preach when he stands in the pulpit to preach?” And she said, “Well, he preaches prophecy, and we’re interested in prophecy, and we love to listen to prophecy.” Well, I said, “That is wonderful, that is glorious. So much of the Bible is the sovereign will of God revealed in human history and in human life. But,” I said, “when he gets through preaching prophecy, then what does he do?” She said, “We have the benediction.” I said, “He never gives an appeal?”
“No, he never extends an invitation.”
You know what I thought? I thought that is exactly, exactly like an insurance man. And he goes to a family, and he says to the father in the home, “Here is your wife and these are your darling children, and you have a mortgage on the house. If an accident was to overwhelm you and you were taken away, what would happen to the home? What would happen to the house and the mortgage, what would happen to your wife, what would happen to your children? You need insurance to protect them.” And all he needs to do is just to say it, and it is its own apology, its own defense. So he says it. Then he describes how beautiful the insurance policy is; what fine paper it’s written on; something about the illustrious company and other things about the business of insurance, and then leaves, and never gives an appeal for the man to do something to insure himself against the loss of the house, and the widowing of his wife, and the orphaning of his children. Why when I say that, you say, “Pastor, that is unimaginable! That is unthinkable! There is no man in his judgment of good sense that would do that! The purpose of the insurance man is, ‘You need this! Now sign this dotted line here. Now this is the first payment here. Now you insure yourself against these exigencies.’”
That is what it is! That is exactly the pulpit preacher and a minister of Christ; stand in the pulpit and preach the gospel, and present the Word, and never make an appeal—it is unthinkable! For that is ultimately what it’s all about. Could I use these kids’ words? “That’s where the action”—wait a minute—“That’s where the action is at!” That’s it. That’s it!
Many people will say to me about the coming of Brother Jimmy Draper, “We supposed that he has come to stand by the pastor and to relieve him of the many of the onerous burdens and details of the work, and to give length of days to him; that’s why the coming the associate, Brother Draper.”
And I would say, “Yes, that’s right, he’s come to stand by my side, and to work with me and with our staff.”
But there is something else, an over, and above, and beyond: he’s also come to guide us into a tremendous outreach, the implementing of our heavenly assignment to guide our people into a soul-winning program; something we can get our hands on, something we can actually do. And oh, how that is needed! Not just to say it, not just even to publicize it, or advertise it, or put it in language and words, but to do something to reach people for Christ.
Judge Williams, I read a court case in England, and it was one of the most interesting you could ever read. What happened was, a long time ago there was a ship that foundered on the rocks on the English shore, and it went down, and everybody on the ship was drowned, everybody was lost. But the bizarre facet to the story was that happened within two hundred yards of a life saving station on the shore. So the captain of the life saving station was haled before court for the neglect of duty. And he was on the witness stand, and the prosecuting attorney was interrogating him and asking him questions. All right, judge, here are the questions. They went like this.
The lawyer said, the prosecuting attorney said to the captain of that life saving station on the shore, “Did you see that ship out there pounded against the rocks, sinking, and its people drowning?”
And he said, “Yes, I was there. I saw it.”
And the lawyer said, “Well, did you send out a boat to rescue them?”
And the captain said, “No, the surf was too high.”
The interrogator said, “Sir, did you shoot out a line to try to reach those struggling passengers?”
And the captain said, “No, I felt it was too far.”
The interrogator said, “Well, did you seek to establish a breeches buoy in order to rescue those drowning passengers?”
And the captain replied, “No, sir, I felt it was too difficult to try.”
And after one question after another, the lawyer in exasperation said, “Well, tell me and this court, under high heaven, what did you do to try to save those drowning passengers?”
Now you listen to his reply. The captain of the life saving station replied, he said, “Sir, I did everything I could to help them through the speaking trumpet.”
Now in our language we would call that “through the megaphone.” Standing on the shore, within two hundred yards of a ship going down with all its passengers, he tried to help with a speaking trumpet, a megaphone. Why, if the little boat of rescue had been flattened, I think he still should have launched it. If the line had been too short, he still should have flung it out! When I read that, I thought of us. What we need, what we need is to do, to try, to attempt; not just the use of a speaking trumpet. This is our heavenly assignment.
May I close? “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; And he that is wise winneth souls” [Proverbs 11:30]. There is a wisdom in the godly man that is of God Himself. The wisdom of the Lord, winning souls; there is a blessing in it that is incomparable.
Let me take just one little incident. When we came to Dallas, soon thirty years ago, I asked one of the deacons here, one of the men on the pulpit committee, I asked, “Who is the dentist that Dr. Truett used, to whom he went?”
I take care of my teeth. I have good teeth. I inherited them from my father. My father was an unusual man if there ever was one. He never went to a doctor in his life. He never was in the hospital in his life. And when he died at seventy-six years of age, he had all of his teeth sound in his head, and he never went to a dentist in his life. Now isn’t that something? Well, I inherited my good teeth from my father, but not his inane ways, such as not going to a doctor or such as not going to a dentist. I go to the dentist regularly, and that’s what you ought to do regularly.
So the deacon said, “Dr. Truett’s dentist is Dr. Snowden.” So I called the good doctor and made an appointment with him. And went up there and sat down in the chair, and he began to talk to me about Dr. Truett. And as he talked to me, he broke down and cried. When he gained his composure, he apologized to me. He said, “You must forgive me. I did not mean to weep.” But he said, “Dr. Truett taught me the way of life, and I loved him dearly.” I saw Mamie Snowden, his sweet wife, the widow, he has been dead almost twenty-eight years now—I saw Mamie Snowden after the service this morning at 8:15, and I said, “Mamie, did you know that?” She said, “Yes, I knew that.”
That is one of the sweet little vignettes in my memory of the great pastor. I was so surprised, going to see the doctor, and he break down and weep. “You see,” he says, “he taught me the way of life, and I loved him dearly.” Isn’t that a commentary on the beauty and glory of the passage? “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; And he that is wise winneth souls” [Proverbs 11:30].
It is exactly as the apostle Paul wrote in the second chapter of 1 Thessalonians, “What is our hope? What is our joy? What is our crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you at the presence of the coming of the Lord?” [1 Thessalonians 2:19] Paul said, “In that great and consummating day, our crown of gladness and rejoicing will be you Thessalonians, whom I have won to the blessed, blessed Jesus.” “He that is wise winneth souls” [Proverbs 11:30].
O God in heaven, in mercy and goodness bless our people, our staff, and this pastor, as we give ourselves to that persuasive appeal, come, come, come!”
In this moment we stand to sing our hymn. While we sing it, in the balcony round, you; on this lower floor, you; down a stairway, down one of these aisles, “Here I come, pastor, I have made the decision in my heart. He has won my heart. I have given my heart away. I have given it to God [Romans 10:8-13], and I’m coming this morning, openly, publicly, to avow that faith in the wonderful Jesus.”
Or putting your life with us in the church [Hebrews 10:24-25]; as the Spirit of Christ shall press the appeal to your heart, make it now. Come now. Do it now, on the first note of the first stanza, “Here I am, pastor, here I come.” Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.