The Soul-Winning Church
August 10th, 1980 @ 10:50 AM
THE SOUL-WINNING CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-10-80 10:50 a.m.
It is a privilege for us in this First Baptist Church of Dallas to share this hour with the uncounted thousands and thousands of you who listen on radio and who are watching on television. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Soul-Winning Church.
In the context of the passage that you read this morning, in the second chapter of the Book of Acts, beginning at verse 36, Simon Peter, the Pentecostal preacher, says:
Let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.
Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart—convicted in their soul—and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, turn, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ—the Greek word is eis—because of the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, and as many as our Lord God shall call.
And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves . . .
Then they that gladly received his word were baptized; and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.
They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in the prayers.
. . . and they had all things common . . .
And continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they did eat their food with gladness and singleness of heart,
Praising God, having favor with all the people. And the Lord added unto the church daily those who were being saved.
[Acts 2:36-44, 46-47]
The soul-saving church: in my reading I came across someone in his testimony of the description of his church, and I wrote it down. “I go to God’s house, but I 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 do I see it in the faces of the people. There is no God in the temple where my people worship.” I have never read a sadder thing than that testimony in all of my life. The soul-winning church is first of all and above all a warm-hearted and Spirit-filled assembly of the Lord.
When we come together, each one of us brings in his heart the Holy Spirit of God. And conjoined in a koinōnia, in a communion, we feel the presence of the moving of the Spirit of God so much so that sometimes we openly and unashamedly weep. God is in our presence. The spiritual mercury of the church determines its life-giving qualities. When the temperature is low, God’s engine is ice-bound. The traffic in God’s kingdom moves slowly.
In the tremendous ice storm of last winter, the whole city of Dallas came to a sudden halt. The machinery was silent. The wheels of industry didn’t move. We had to move out of our house. It was cold and dark. The power lines were down. There was no heat, and we sat in cold and in gloom; temperature. How true that is in life itself.
It’s the warmth of the springtime that moves and soothes even the rose shrub to bloom and to smile in the face of God. The refrigerator is for something dead. It doesn’t generate life. It just preserves what is already slain. It takes the warmth of a mother hen to hatch eggs or an incubator to bring them into life. It is thus with the church.
It’s the warmth of the womb bathed in blood, sometimes in tears that brings a child to the birth. Sons and daughters are born into the kingdom of God in the warm, blood-bathed, tear-stained womb of God’s house and assembly of the Lord. And without the tears, and the warmth, and the love, and the care, and the labor, and the concern, children are not born. The only difference between the iceberg that sank the Titanic and the bosom of the water that bore the great ship up was temperature. It is so in the house of the Lord.
The feeling of care, concern, warmth, interest, love, and compassion are the qualities that make for a church where people are saved and God adds to His redeemed family. There are some things, as I read these holy and heavenly pages; there are some things that make for the soul-winning church: its warmth, its motherhood and fatherhood.
Number one, as I can read and understand the Bible; number one and first of all is a love for our Lord. I see that in this Pentecostal preacher, Simon Peter. The twenty-first chapter of the Gospel of John is an addendum. John brought his gospel message to an incomparable climax in the twentieth chapter of his message. Then he added a chapter. It is a tribute to his old friend Simon, and it depicts the preparation of that cursing and denying disciple [Matthew 26:74], as the Lord prepared him for his great assignment at Pentecost [Acts 2:14-40], and in the promulgation of the message of Christ in the Greco-Roman empire [1 Peter 1:1]. Do you remember how it went? [John 21:15-17].
Simon, son of, Bar-Jonah, lovest thou Me?”
And Simon replied, “Lord, You know that I love You.”
And He asked again, “Simon, lovest thou Me?”
And Simon replied, “Lord, You know that I love Thee.”
And the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, lovest thou Me?”
And Simon replied, “Lord, You know everything. You know all about me. You know that I love You.”
Isn’t that a strange way to prepare a preacher for a great Pentecostal assignment? And isn’t that an unusual thing for us to remember as God prepares His people for a great soul-winning dedication, “Lovest thou Me?” That is first and above all, a relationship, personal, intimate with our living Lord. If I don’t know Him, how can I introduce someone else to Him? If I’m not moved by His compassionate love, how could I be used of the Spirit to move anyone else to love our blessed Savior? It begins, first and above all, in a personal love for our Lord; the qualities, the characteristics of a soul-winning church [John 21:15-17].
It is, second, a love, a compassionate, sympathetic concern for the lost. How did the Lord speak to Simon Peter when Simon avowed his devotion to the Savior? Do you remember it? “Do you love Me? Feed My lambs [John 21:15]. You love Me? Shepherd My sheep [John 21:16]. You love Me? Take care of My little ones. You love Me? Feed My flock” [John 21:17]. In every sermon and in every song, in every assembly, in every lesson, there are always to be the felt, teaching, seeking, wooing, appealing note.
For us to be mechanical, and indifferent, and professional, and removed in our witness for our Lord is to deny His own heart and His own Spirit. “And Jesus, when He saw the multitude, had compassion upon them” [Matthew 9:36]. Jesus, moved with compassion, is His ever-enduring name [Mark 1:41]. “Simon, you love Me? Feed My lambs. Take care of My sheep” [John 21:15, 16, 17]. And if I can follow the teaching and example of our Lord, is it not this that He said, “There were ninety and nine in the fold, and the shepherd left the ninety and nine and went after that one that was lost?” [Matthew 18:12-14].
This is our Lord in compassion, weeping over Jerusalem [Luke 19:41]. This is His great apostle Simon Peter weeping in repentance before God [Luke 22:60-62]. This is the gospel message of the New Testament, an apostle Paul weeping over the lost in the great Greek city of Ephesus [Acts 20:19, 31].
In this service and in all of our assemblies, there ought always to be that yearning, seeking, wooing, praying, appealing note, and it ought to be felt. When a man comes to church, he ought to feel the pull of the Holy Spirit in his heart. There ought to be that in it, that woos, that appeals, that lifts him up, that turns his face God-ward and heavenward. The church that is like that has in it the presence of God and will always be blessed with the assembly of His people. They’ll be there, and they’ll be back again.
That’s a remarkable thing about the Spirit of God. The preacher could stand in the pulpit and lecture on economics. Two or three Sundays the people would come, and you’d never see them again. He could talk about any of the varying interests of life, literature, science, whatever, and for a while, they’d be present, and then you’d never see them again.
But let a man stand in the pulpit and preach the grace and love and mercy of God in Christ Jesus, and miracle of miracles they’ll be there, and they’ll come again. They’ll be there for a year and for two; they’ll be there for the lifetime of the pastor. It’s a miracle of God, the wooing and the blessing of the Spirit of the Lord in a seeking ministry; interested. Look at that baby. We’ve got a place for that baby. We’re interested. That little child; we have a place for that little child, interested. You have a little family, we want to help you rear that family in the knowledge and love of the Lord. God is in it.
The third: not only love for the Lord [John 21:15-17], not only love for the lost [John 21:15-17; Matthew 18:12-14; Luke 19:41; Acts 20:19, 31], third, a love for the church. Ephesians 5:25 begins a marvelous passage on the part of the apostle Paul as he writes about the mustērion of God, the mustērion, the secret that God kept in His heart until He revealed it to His holy apostles. What is that great mustērion? Paul says, “I speak concerning Christ and His church” [Ephesians 5:32]. And how does the passage begin? “[Christ] loved the church, and gave Himself for it” [Ephesians 5:25]. That’s a remarkable thing about our Lord.
The work of Christ can be done in many areas out there. It can be done in a publishing house. It can be done in a university campus. It can be done in an arena. It can be done in a great stadium. It can be done on television and in media. Oh, in how many ways is the message of Christ broadcast! But it’s a strange thing; if it is to abide, if the foundation is to be unshaken and unshakable, somehow God made it that it must rest in the assembly of God’s people. These are adjuncts. They are addendum. They are corollary. They are concomitants. But the thing itself is the assembly of God’s people, the koinōnia, the ekklēsia, the church that Christ loved. And in our ministry, always they ought to ensue in a church; “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved [Acts 2:47]. And they that received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto the church three thousand souls” [Acts 2:41]:
I love Thy kingdom, Lord,
The house of Thine abode,
The church our bless’d Redeemer saved
With His own precious blood.
I love Thy church, O God;
Her walls before Thee stand,
Dear as the apple of Thine eye,
Engraven on Thy hand.
For her my tears shall fall;
For her my prayers ascend;
To her my toils and cares be given,
‘Til toils and cares shall end.
[“I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord,” Timothy Dwight, 1800]
“Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it” [Ephesians 5:25].
Now, in our soul-winning ministries, there are some things we are ever to remember. One: when I speak, and when I testify, and when I witness, and when I visit, and when I preach, always God and the Holy Spirit is on my side. He is for me. He is with me. The Holy Spirit is witnessing in that man’s heart to whom I’m making appeal. God is for me. He is with me. He is on my side. He helps me.
The man may have ten-thousand reasons why not. He may refuse, and oft times does, but he never refuses and he never rejects without something of a pang in his heart. That’s God. Always I am to remember that when I speak for Jesus, the Holy Spirit is for me. As I stand here in this pulpit and thousands are listening on radio and television, and there are other thousands up here in the congregation, in every heart, in every heart there is the Holy Spirit of God saying, “Amen, that is right.”
This is the blessed gospel from heaven. This is the message of hope. This is the way of life. God is in it. I have, we have, we have that assurance always. In our witnessing, the Lord is with us. He is on our side. He is pulling for us.
Number two, things to remember in the soul-winning church: the Scripture is the power of God. Ah, I can hardly believe the ableness, and the mightiness, and the omnipotence of God’s Word to reach into the very soul of a man! The author of the epistle to the Hebrews wrote it like this, “For the word of God is quick—living—for the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” [Hebrews 4:12]. “For all things are opened and naked before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” [Hebrews 4:13].
The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah said, “Is not My word like as a fire? saith the Lord; and like a hammer that crushes the rock in pieces?” [Jeremiah 23:29]. The power of the word of God is a miracle in itself to behold!
That’s the reason I marvel and wonder at men in the pulpit who turn aside to speak and in how many other ways are they engrossed with book reviews, with their own speculations of time and tide, when if they’d stand and deliver the message from God’s Word, it would be like the power of God Himself in changing human life, in lifting up fallen spirit, in converting lost and wayward souls; the power of the written Word.
Number three to remember: not only that God is with us, and not only the power of His Word, the Holy Scriptures, but a third thing to remember, God answers prayer. He just does. He is a prayer-answering God.
A few moments ago, the second man that you saw baptized, his name Waymon Dugger, he came forward last Sunday morning to confess his faith in the Lord and to ask to be baptized according to the commandment of our Savior [Matthew 28:19-20]. And when he presented himself with his wife, there was another woman standing by his side, and I asked, “And who is she?” And he replied, “This is my mother. She has come all the way to Dallas to be here to see me give my heart to the Lord.”
I turned to her and I said, “Mother, welcome. This is a great day.” And she replied to me, “It is a marvelous day. I have been praying for this boy twenty-three years.” Think of it. “Twenty-three years I’ve been praying for this boy.” God answers prayer. Sometimes it may be when we’re in heaven. We may not see its answer in our lifetime, but God never lets fall to the ground an intercession laid at His blessed throne of grace. God answers prayer.
A last thing to remember in our soul-winning ministry: there is a blessing, and a hallowedness, and a wholesomeness, and a saving grace in the gospel of Christ and in our response to the appeal of the Lord that is unlike anything in the earth. It lifts up to heaven itself. It changes for glory and for God. It remakes on a foundation that stands forever. It is a blessedness not found in any other avenue in all of life; the wonder of the saving grace and the blessedness of our wonderful Lord. When He is received into the heart, into the home, into the life, the whole world changes into glory.
One of the most unusual things that I ever felt in my life was on an airplane. I had been in one of the great cities of the East attending the Southern Baptist Convention, and the preacher for the annual convention sermon that year was the pastor of one of the tremendous churches in one of the great cities on the other side of the Mississippi River. I sat there among about twenty thousand others and listened to that gifted and distinguished preacher and pastor as he delivered the annual convention sermon, and I was blessed by the message that he brought. On the plane back returning to Dallas, there was a man seated by my side, and he began talking to me.
And he found out I was a Baptist preacher. He was not a Baptist, but he was interested that I was a Baptist preacher. He said, “Where have you been?”
And I said, “I have been to the Southern Baptist Convention, and I’m returning home to Dallas.”
Well, as he began talking to me, he said, “So you’re a Baptist. Well,” he said, “let me tell you something. In the little town in which I grew up, there was a girl, and without a husband, she became the mother of a little boy. And in those days,” he said, “long time ago, why, that was an awesome disgrace that she was the mother of a boy that didn’t have a father. And the mother moved to the edge of our little town. And for the life that remained ahead, why, she did menial chores. She took in washing, and she sewed, and she did humble ministries to support herself and that little boy on the edge of town.
Then he said, “The reason I think of that is I understand that that little boy that that mother reared on that edge of town is now a great preacher, and he’s a Baptist, I have heard.
“Well,” I said to the stranger, “Do you remember the name of the boy?”
“Why, certainly.” He said, “I grew up with him.”
I said, “What’s his name?”
And he named that great preacher whose message I had just heard at the Southern Baptist Convention. I spoke in that church, and I sought out one of the old deacons, for the distinguished pastor had been translated to heaven. And I sought out that old deacon, and I asked him, “Did you know your pastor very well?”
“Oh,” he said, “so well.”
“Did you love him?”
“Indeed,” he said.
“Well,” I said, “I want to ask you, coming back on a plane from the Southern Baptist Convention, a stranger told me that he grew up in a home without a father, and his mother raised the boy, and he became this great preacher and pastor. Is that true?”
And that old deacon said to me, “Indeed.” And he said, “Our pastor brought his mother to our church and to our city, and he faithfully loved her and ministered to her and took care of her doubly and trebly because of the wonder of God’s grace to him through her.”
That is the message of Christ. There are no illegitimates in the kingdom of God. There are no unwed mothers in the kingdom of God. There are no disowned and disliked and dis-loved in the kingdom of God. But all of us are loved, and welcomed, and blessed, and encouraged, and saved, and redeemed, and washed, and forgiven in the wonderful, redeemed, blood-bought family of God [Galatians 3:27-29].
What a wonder of a way. What a marvelous message of hope. What a glory of the shining of God in the face of Jesus Christ [2 Corinthians 4:6]. And however we may have sinned, or strayed, or been prodigals, or followed afar off, or fallen into shame, God writes a new leaf, makes a new book, offers a new life, opens a new door, and it is heaven walking in the light of the love of our Lord [1 John 1:7]. This is the message of Christ. Bless His name forever and ever. Now may we stand?
Our Lord in heaven, what a glory and what a wonder, when the hand of the Lord reached down, it reached down and touched even me. Bless Thy name forever and ever. O Lord, how good Thou art! How wondrously faithful Thou hast been to us in our every need, to die for us [1 Corinthians 15:3; Galatians 3:20; Revelation 1:5], that we might have life eternal [John 10:27-30], to walk by our sides in friendship and encouragement; someday to introduce us and to present us in the presence of the glory of the heavenly home, “He is one of Mine. She belongs to Me. This is a part of My family”; O Lord, that You have done this for us! Bless Thou this appeal.
In a moment we shall sing our hymn of invitation. And in the balcony round, a family you, a couple you, one somebody you, there is time and to spare. Down that stairway, here to the front, in the press of people on this lower floor, into that aisle, “Here, pastor, I have decided for God, and here I stand.” Make that decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we sing this invitation, on the first note of the first stanza, take that first step. God will strengthen you, and the angels will attend you in the way as you come. And thank Thee, Lord, for the sweet harvest God hath promised us this sacred hour, in His saving name, amen.
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