The Winner of Souls
January 12th, 1975 @ 8:15 AM
THE WINNER OF SOULS
Dr. W.A. Criswell
1-12-75 8:15 a.m.
We welcome you who are listening on radio to this service of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Winner of Souls. There are two sermons that remain in my preaching through the Book of James. The one delivered this morning, and the one delivered next Sunday morning. The next Sunday morning will be entitled The Coming of the Lord, from James 5:7, “Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord,” the return of our blessed and living Savior, and the message today, The Winner of Souls.
He concludes the epistle that he writes with these words:
Brethren, if any of you do err . . . 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.
Is that not an unusual way to say it, and just the opposite of how we think and how the Bible presents it? “Let him know, that he that converteth the sinner . . . shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins” [James 5:20]. That we do it, if any one of us saves a man from the error of his way, he saves a soul from death. He does it, and he hides a multitude of sins. Why, it is plainly written here in the Word of God. For example, in Psalm 3:8: “Salvation belongeth unto the Lord.” God does it: Salvation belongeth unto the Lord, He does it.
Yet, we are also taught that God uses us to achieve that sublime and heavenly purpose. God does it, but He does it through us, and the Bible will so state that in emphatic and poignant instance. Paul will write to his son in the ministry, Timothy, who is now pastor of the church at Ephesus. He will write to him, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” [1Timothy 4:16].
Isn’t that a remarkable encouragement to a pastor and to a preacher? Be true to the faith; preach the doctrine, the teaching of God, for in doing it, “thou shalt save thyself—your own soul—and thou shalt save them that hear thee” [1 Timothy 4:16]. These that come to the house of God, when they listen to the man of God deliver the message of God, their souls will be saved. Seems to me that would be encouragement enough for a man who stands in the pulpit to try to preach the Word of the Lord; why preach something else, when the people listening go away lost? When a man could preach the doctrine of God, and the people who come and listen go away saved! Timothy does it, Paul writes. When you are true to the faith and when you preach the doctrine of God, you save yourself and you save those who listen [1 Timothy 4:16].
Take just once again, Paul will write in the seventh chapter of the 1 Corinthian letter about a man who is married to an unbelieving wife, or a wife who is married to a man who is not saved, not a Christian. And he says, in no case are you to break up your house or your home; you are not to divorce. “For,” he says, “what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? Or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?” [1 Corinthians 7:16]. Isn’t that a remarkable way that God will say it? God saves us; “Salvation belongeth unto the Lord” [Psalm 3:8], but a believing wife can save her husband and a believing husband can save his wife. It is both God and we.
It is like a man who is walking toward an awful event, a high and precipitous cliff, and a fellow traveler, seeing this man inadvertently, unknowingly, walks at the edge of the cliff, he calls to him, and the man turns, and is saved. So in speaking of it, the man says, “Did you know I was just about to fall to my death and this man saved me? He called to me.” And then in a prayer service somewhere, in a testimony service, the man said, “I had almost fallen to my death, but the goodness, and providence, and graciousness of God saved me and delivered me.” Both of them did it.
I remember a report of a testimony meeting in which a young doctor who was not a Christian, had joined a clinic of Christian doctors. And the eldest doctor, being a profound and dedicated Christian, prayed for the young man and wept over him, and won him to the Lord. And in a testimony meeting the young man said, “I was saved by the preaching of the pastor on John 6:37, He that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out.” I was saved by the preaching of the pastor and by the tears of this good doctor here.”
We both have a part, and that is why in the Bible in one place it will say, “Salvation belongeth unto God” [Psalm 3:8]. Only God can save us, forgive our sins [Isaiah 43:2; Mark 2:7], write our names in the Book of Life [Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27], but God uses us to achieve the holy purpose. We both do it; God does it and we do it. Now that is why it is written here in the text, “Let him know, that he that converteth the sinner shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins” [James 5:20].
Now we look even more closely at the inspired Word. First: the greatest tragedy; the soul in death and buried beneath a multitude of sins [Ephesians 5:20], there is no loss like the loss of a man’s soul. And for the soul to die and be buried beneath the multitude of unforgiven sins, that is the greatest tragedy that can overwhelm a human life. When it says, “a soul in death” [James 5:20], it does not mean cessation of existence of being. Life in the Bible refers not to existence, but life in the Holy Scriptures refers to one’s life with God. And contrariwise, the reverse is true; death in the Scripture does not refer to non-existence, but death in the Scriptures refers to separation from God.
For example, Paul will write in Ephesians 2:1, “Being dead in trespasses and in sins.” Yet the man is living here; he walks up and down before you, “but he is dead,” says the Scriptures, “in trespasses and in sins,” that is, he is separated from God. Paul will write in 1 Timothy, “She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth” [1 Timothy 5:6]. Why, she is not dead; she is there in some harlotry! But Paul says, the Scriptures say, that she is dead, living in sinful pleasure [1 Timothy 5:6].
The first death is when the soul is separated from the body [2 Corinthians 5:8]; that is what the world calls death. The second death is when the soul is separated from God; that is “the second death” [Revelation 20:11-15], not cessation of being or of existence, but being shut out from the presence of the Lord. And some of the words in the Bible, describing that separation, that state of exclusion, are sad and tragic beyond description. To be shut out from God, the estate of being separated from the Lord is called, “Living where the worm never dies and where the fire is never quenched” [Mark 9:48], “where there is weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth” [Matthew 13:42], “where the smoke of their torment arises for ever” [Revelation 14:11], where they cry for a drop of water that they might be somehow assuaged in the torment of that pain [Luke 16:24]. Oh, the sadness of one who dies away from God! [Revelation 20:11-15].
What a blessedness! How is it that word could not say it, the worth and praise of the Savior who can deliver us from so great a death? The wrath of God, we shall never know, we who have found refuge in our Lord. The separation from God, we shall never experience, for we have been joined to Him in Christ our Savior [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17], and the sadness of the suffering and punishment of those who reject the Lord, we shall never feel or experience. We have found the forgiveness of our sins in Christ [1 Corinthians 15:3].
Not only does it speak of the greatest tragedy: the soul that dies buried beneath a multitude of sins, but it also speaks of the greatest work. “Let him know,” consider this, ponder this, “Let him know, that he that wins the sinner from the error of his way, shall save a soul from death, and hide a multitude of sins” [James 5:20]. “Think of it,” the Scriptures say; “Ponder it,” the Scriptures say; this is the greatest achievement, the greatest assignment, the greatest work in human life, to win somebody to the Lord [James 5:20].
I would think if we were all on a ship sinking at sea, the man who could man the lifeboat and invite us to come in, what a wonderful thing when the ship was going down. I would think that a man who ran into a burning house and rescued those who were perishing therein had done a marvelous work, but there is no work of saving comparable to that one who rescues a soul from death [James 5:20].
In the last century there was an incomparably great and gifted preacher named Lyman Beecher. Someone asked him one day, “Mr. Beecher, what is the greatest thing that a man can do in this life?” And without hesitation the far-famed scholar, preacher replied, “To bring another to the Lord Jesus.”
What do you think of that? As I read the Bible, the preacher was correct. The greatest thing that one can do in this life is to bring somebody to the Lord Jesus, to introduce him to our Savior. This is according to the Word of the Lord; this is according to the inspired Holy Scriptures. Does it not say in the Book of Proverbs, “He that winneth souls is wise?” [Proverbs 11:30]. The man who is wise in his own conceits is contemptible, the man who is wise in the wisdom of the world is acceptable, but the man who is wise in the judgment of God lives in heavenly benediction and blessing; and that man is the man who wins souls. Daniel wrote it like this, “And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and for ever” [Daniel 12:3]. According to the Holy Scriptures, to bring somebody to Christ is the greatest thing he can do, and, if we can follow the example of our Lord and of His apostles, it is no less emphasized and no less so.
John the Baptist pointed out the Lord Jesus to his disciples [John 1:29, 36], the greatest thing John ever did. And Andrew and John, the son of Zebedee, listened to the great Baptist and followed Jesus [John 1:35-40]. And Andrew found his brother, Simon, and brought him to Jesus [John 1:41]. And John found his brother, James, and brought him to Jesus. And when the Lord had personally won Philip, Philip brought Nathanael, and won him to the Lord Jesus [John 1:43-49].
This is the greatest work that a man can do. The apostle Paul wrote of it like this:
To the Jews I am become a Jew, that I might win the Jew; to those
who are under the law . . . I am become under the law . . . that I might win them who are under the law; To those who are without the law, I am become as one without the law that…I might win one without the law.
I am become in all things, in all ways as they are, that I might win some.
[1 Corinthians 9:20-22]
When he was then with the Romans, he identified with himself as being a Roman, that he might win the Romans. When with the Jews, he identified himself as being a Jew, that he might win the Jews. When he was out there in the pagan world, he identified himself with the heart, and aspirations, and crying, and needs of the pagan world that he might win some of those who are pagan.
That’s why I think it a tragedy when the children of God wrap their righteous skirts around them and say, “I am too holy to touch you, you sinners, you lost, you condemned and unworthy; don’t come nigh me.” How different the spirit of the apostles to befriend them, to love them, to associate with them, that in God’s grace we might, maybe win some of them. What a glorious spirit! Open-hearted, sympathetic, understanding; not full of superiority or pharisaical condemnation, but always moved by the spirit of sympathy and understanding, humility. Forgiving one another, remembering that God hath forgiven us seventy times seven times if need be [Matthew 18:21-22]; thus, identifying ourselves with others that we might win some.
Do I know that I know this is the greatest assignment that we could have? Ah, yes! What is it that rings the bells of glory? We are plainly told in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Luke, the Lord Jesus Himself says, “Verily, verily, truly, truly, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that turns, than over a whole vast throng who think they need no turning” [Luke 15:7]. What makes heaven sing, and the angels rejoice, and the redeemed in heaven be glad, is when somebody comes down this aisle and says, “Pastor, today I give my heart to the blessed Jesus” [Luke 15:7]
I must hasten to this one other thing that the inspired pastor of the church at Jerusalem writes, you look at this, not only the greatest tragedy that a soul be lost, not only the greatest work that we win that somebody who is lost, but look at the greatest blessing: “If any of you do err . . . 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” [James 5:19-20].
Do you notice that all the way through, there is a consistency in the number that is used? It is never plural; it is singular, singular. “If any and one convert him, “Let him know, that he that converteth the sinner shall save a soul.” It is “one,” any “one,” somebody “one,” you. Does it say in the inspired text, “Let that one eloquent divine; let that one evangelist, that one preacher, that one ecclesiastic?” Why, it does not even refer or approach that; it says that one anybody, anybody you, you—not referring to the preacher or the evangelist or the ecclesiastic—you, let anybody one, somebody you, one [James 5:19-20].
And then, where are these throngs that you think he would be mentioning? O Lord! If I could be like a John Chrysostom, or like a George Whitefield, or like a John Wesley, or a Dwight L. Moody, or if I could be like a Billy Sunday, or a Billy Graham, or if I could be like a George Truett, oh! how I could sway the thousands! I know God is pleased with those mighty men of the Lord, but the text says, “a” sinner, “the” sinner, and “a” soul [James 5:20]. If there is just one somebody anywhere who wins a sinner anywhere he saves a soul from death—and look—“and hides a multitude of sin” [James 5:20].
I think, in my studying and praying over the text, I think it refers to two things, that hiding a multitude of sin. First, I think, it refers—if we win somebody who is deep in sin, we not only save his soul but all of the sins of his life are covered over; they are hidden away [James 5:20]. The prodigal son, when he came back home [Luke 15:18-21], the first thing the father said is, “Bring a new robe, and put it on him. Hide those old rags and the marks of the pigpen. Hide them away. Put a beautiful robe on him” [Luke 15:22]. That is the way we are going to be in heaven, clothed in beautiful robes. I think it refers to that, a sinner who is deep in sin; God put the beautiful robe on him.
One time, I was locked up with a famous criminal in Alcatraz, in the Bay of San Francisco. He said to me, when I had done preaching, and testifying, and praying with him, he said, “The first thing I will do if I ever get out of this prison, I will walk down that aisle in your church, and I will confess my faith, and you can baptize me.” And after the years, of the years, of the years, when finally he was out of prison, he walked down this aisle here and confessed his faith before you, and I baptized him. And the Lord hid the multitude of sin, put a robe upon him; I think it refers to that, “shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sin” [James 5:20].
I also think it means something else, something further; I think it means that when we win a soul who is not steeped in sin, that we save the soul from death, and shut out, take away, blot out, the multitude of sin that people who don’t know Christ fall into. May I say it like this? It is a wonderful thing to save the prodigal, but it is a better thing to keep him from being a prodigal. It is a fine thing to save a thief, it is better to keep the boy from being a thief. I think it means that also, “and shall hide a multitude of sins.” They will never appear; they never characterize the life. He is saved, and those things he never knows.
You know, I used to think—shows you how wrong a young man can be in his thinking—I used to think, “O Lord! Would to God I had been a vile sinner.” Man! That I had killed people, and robbed banks, and murdered, and oh! what all; so that when I was converted, man! I could stand up there and say here I was a murderer; here I was a thief, and a bank robber, and a violent man, “and now I have been saved.” I used to think that. Oh, how much greater, how infinitely better was God to me, when, as a small child, I gave my heart to Jesus; and all of that life of hurt and violence I have never known. God was good to me. That is why it is marvelous to win the child to Jesus. Think in the Bible of the Josephs, and the little Samuels, and the Davids, and the Daniels, and the Josiahs, and the Timothys, who were brought up in the love and nurture of the Lord. What a precious blessedness, saving the soul from death and shutting out, hiding away the multitude of sins [James 5:20].
Our time is far spent. This blessed Lord’s Day morning, thus to give yourself to the Savior [Romans 10:8-13], or to come into the fellowship of His church, as the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, on the first stanza, come. In the balcony, the topmost row, there is time and to spare; make the decision in your heart and come now. In a moment when we stand up to sing, on the first note of the first stanza, “Here I am, pastor, and here I come.” Do it now; make it now, while we stand and while we sing.