To win souls is also to convert men.
- Several passages of Scripture ascribe conversion to men, and that:
- This is consistent with other passages that ascribe conversion to God.
- Great practical wisdom is necessary to win souls to Christ.
THE BIBLE ASCRIBES CONVERSION TO MEN.
There are many passages in the Scripture where the conversion of sinners is described as the work of men. In Daniel 12:3 it is said: “They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars forever and ever. ” Here the work is ascribed to men. So also in 1 Corinthians 4:15: “Though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the Gospel. ” Here the apostle explicitly tells the Corinthians that he made them Christians, with the Gospel, he preached.
James 5:19, 20, taught that “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. ” Thus we can establish the fact, that the Bible does actually ascribe conversion to men.
THE BIBLE ASCRIBES CONVERSION TO GOD.
We should not see this as an inconsistency with the previous point. In fact the Scriptures ascribe conversion to four different agencies –
- to men
- to God
- to the truth
- and to the sinner himself.
The passages which ascribe it to the truth are the largest class. The Bible speaks on this subject, precisely as we speak on common subjects. If a man who has been very ill should talk about his healing. It is natural for him to say of his physician: “That man saved my life. ” Does he mean to say that the physician saved his life without reference to God? Certainly not, unless he is an infidel. God made the physician, and He made the medicine too. And it never can be shown but that the agency of God is just as truly concerned in making the medicine take effect to save a life, as it is in making the truth take effect to save a soul.
Though we could say that the physician saved him; and it is also true that God saved him.. It is equally true that the medicine saved his life, and also that he saved his own life by taking the medicine; for the medicine would have done no good if he had not taken it.
In the conversion of a sinner, it is true that God gives the truth efficiency to turn the sinner to God. The gospel is an active, voluntary, powerful agent, in changing the mind. But the preacher who spoke to the sinner is also an agent in his conversion. The soul winner is a voluntary, responsible agent in the business of winning a soul.
Think of a man who was lost in deep thought, approaching the verge of a Falls, unconscious of his danger. He approaches nearer and nearer until he actually lifts his foot to take the final step that shall plunge him in destruction. Suppose another man was standing on the banks of the Falls, who behold this man approaching the verge. He lifted his warning voice above the roar of the foaming waters, and cry out: ‘Stop!’ The voice pierces the ear of the man in danger, and breaks the charm that binds him; he turns instantly upon his heel; quivering, from the verge of death. He reels and almost swoons with horror; turns, and walks slowly to the hotel; you follow him; the manifest agitation in his countenance calls numbers around him; and on your approach, he points to you, and says: ‘That man saved my life.’ Here he ascribes the work to you, and certainly, there is a sense in which you had saved him. But, on being further questioned, he says: “‘Stop! ” How that word rings in my ears. Oh, that was to be the word of life!’ Here he ascribes it to the word that aroused him and caused him to turn.
“But on conversing still further, he says: ‘Had I not turned at that instant, I should have been a dead man.’ Here he speaks of it (and truly) as his own act. But you directly hear him say: ‘Oh, the mercy of God! If God had not interposed, I should have been lost!’ Now, the only defect in this illustration is this: In the case supposed, the only interference on the part of God was a providential one; and the only sense in which the saving of the man’s life is ascribed to Him, is in a providential sense.
However, in the conversion of a sinner, the providence of God commissioned it that the preacher should cry: ‘Stop!’ and the Spirit of God urges the truth home upon the sinner with such tremendous power as to induce him to turn. “
As the minister cry: “Stop! ” the Spirit also cries: “Stop! ” The preacher cries: “Turn ye, why will ye die? ” The Spirit sends the expostulation home with such power that the sinner turns. So then, it is perfectly proper to say, that the Spirit turned him; just as one would say that the truth converted him; as, in a case when the political sentiments of a man were changed by a certain argument, we should say that argument brought him over. So, also, with perfect propriety, may we ascribe the change to the preacher, or to him who had presented the motives; just as he would say of a lawyer who had prevailed in his argument with a jury: “He has won his case; he has converted the jury. ”
It is also with the same propriety ascribed to the individual himself whose heart is changed; we should say that he has changed his mind, he has come over, he has repented. Now it is strictly true, and true in the most sense; the act is his own act, the turning is his own turning, while God by the truth has induced him to turn; still, it is strictly true that he has turned, and has done it himself. Thus you see the sense in which it is the work of God; and also the sense in which it is the sinner’s own work.
The Spirit of God, by the truth, influences the sinner to change, and in this sense is the efficient cause of the change. But the sinner actually changes, and is therefore himself, in the most proper sense, the author of the change. it is that in which man is not passive.
While God is the author of the new heart, God also commands the sinner to make themselves a new heart. He expects them to do it; and, if ever it is done, they must do it. Whosoever did not do it, will go to hell.
Dividing the word of the truth.
Great practical wisdom is indispensable to win souls to Christ.
In regard to the matter of preaching the gospel. There things to considere such as:
- First, all preaching should be practical.
- Preaching should be direct.
- The minister should hunt after sinners and Christians, wherever they may have been passive.
- A preacher should dwell most on those particular points which are most needed to convert his hearers.
- If a minister means to promote a revival, he should be very careful not to introduce controversy.
- The Gospel should be preached in those proportions, that the whole Gospel may be brought before the minds of the people, and produce its proper influence.
- It is of great importance that the sinner should be made to feel his guilt and not left to the impression that he is unfortunate.
- Sinners ought to be made to feel that they have an obligation to repent;
- Sinners should be made to feel that if they now grieve away the Spirit of God, it is very probable that they will be lost forever.
I wish to make a few remarks on the manner of preaching.
- it should be conversational.
- It must be in the language of common life.
- Preaching should be parabolical.
- The illustrations should be drawn from common life and the common business of society.
- Preaching should be repetitious and emphatical.
- A minister should always feel deeply upon his subject,
- A minister should aim to convert his congregation.
- A minister must anticipate the objections of sinners, and answer them.
- If a minister means to preach the Gospel with effect, he must be sure not to be monotonous.
- A minister should address the feelings enough to secure attention, and then deal with the conscience,
- If he can, it is desirable that a minister should learn the effect of one sermon, before he preaches another.
Common Mistakes in Preaching the gospel
There are ways by which one can preach and would not make any effect on the hearers. Though the Holy Spirit converts souls to Christ by means of truth adapted to that end, the preacher should skillfully adapt means to convert souls to Christ.
When a preacher’s supreme motive be to secure his own popularity, he will direct his preaching to that end, and not convert souls to Christ. Such a preacher would aim at pleasing men and not God.
Any preacher who wants to impress the people would easily be adapted to preparing his sermon as a beautiful literary piece with a style that is flowery, ornate, and quite above the comprehension of the common people.
If a sermon does not contain enough truth enough to convert a soul, it would have no distinct propositions or heads, that will be remembered, to disturb the consciences of its hearers. It will make no distinct points, and take no disturbing issues with the consciences of your hearers, lest they remember these issues, and become alarmed about their souls.
A sermon that lacks a logical division and sub-division of its subject mighty be sermon only in the form and substance of a flowing, a beautifully written, but never-to-be-remembered essay; so that the hearers will say “it was a beautiful sermon,” but can give no further account of it.
Preachers who avoid doctrines that are offensive to the carnal mind would probably denounce sin in the abstract only, but make no allusion to the sins of their present audience. Keeping the spirituality of God’s holy law out of sight is to hide the knowledge of sin that would have made the sinner see his lost condition, and flee from the wrath to come.
Sometimes when salvation by grace is presented; it often ignores the condemned and lost condition of the sinner that could have made the sinner understand what it means by grace, and feel his need for it. Thus the Gospel is presented as a remedy, whereby the fatal disease of the sinner is concealed or ignored. This preaches Christ as an infinitely amiable and good-natured being, but ignore those scathing rebukes of sinners and hypocrites which so often made its hearers tremble.
Any preacher whose aim is to make his hearers pleased with themselves and pleased with him would be careful not to wound the feelings of anyone. He would avoid especially preaching to those who are present. He would preach about sinners, and not to them. He could say they, and not you, lest anyone should make a personal and saving application of his subject.
At times no searching sermons are preached, which could have convicted and converted the worldly members of the church. The preacher tends to avoid awakening uncomfortable memories by not reminding his hearers of their past sins. There is no urgency in their message that makes the impression that God commands his hearers now and here to obey the truth.
Whenever a preacher does not make the impression that he expects his hearers to commit themselves upon the spot and give their hearts to God. He would be leaving the impression that they are expected to go away in their sins, and to consider the matter at their convenience.
25th. Dwell much upon their inability to obey, and leave the impression that they must wait for God to change their natures.
26th. Make no appeals to the fears of sinners; but leave the impression that they have no reason to fear.
27th. Say so little of Hell that your people will infer that you do not believe in its existence.
28th. Make the impression that, if God is as good as you are, He will send no one to Hell.
29th. Preach the love of God, but ignore the holiness of His love, that will by no means clear the impenitent sinner.
30th. Often present God in His parental love and relations; but ignore His governmental and legal relations to His subjects, lest the sinner should find himself condemned already, and the wrath of God abiding on him.
31st. Preach God as all mercy, lest a fuller representation of His character should alarm the consciences of your hearers.
32d. Try to convert sinners to Christ without producing any uncomfortable convictions of sin.
33d. Flatter the rich, so as to repel the poor, and you will convert none of either class.
34th. Make no disagreeable allusions to the doctrines of self-denial, cross-bearing, and crucifixion to the world, lest you should convict and convert some of your church members.
35th. Admit, either expressly or impliedly, that all men have some moral goodness in them; lest sinners should understand that they need a radical change of heart, from sin to holiness.
36th. Avoid pressing the doctrine of total moral depravity; lest you should offend, or even convict and convert, the moralist.
37th. Do not rebuke the worldly tendencies of the church, lest you should hurt their feelings, and finally convert some of them.
38th. Should any express anxiety about their souls, do not probe them by any uncomfortable allusion to their sin and ill-desert; but encourage them to join the church at once, and exhort them to assume their perfect safety within the fold.
39th. Preach the love of Christ not as enlightened benevolence, that is holy, just, and sin-hating; but as a sentiment, an involuntary and undiscriminating fondness.
40th. Be sure not to represent religion as a state of loving self-sacrifice for God and soul; but rather as a free and easy state of self-indulgence. By thus doing, you will prevent sound conversions to Christ, and convert your hearers to yourself.
41st. So select your themes, and so present them, as to attract and flatter the wealthy, aristocratic, self-indulgent, extravagant, pleasure-seeking classes, and you will not convert any of them to the cross-bearing religion of Christ.
42d. Be time-serving, or you will endanger your salary and, besides, if you speak out and are faithful, you may convert somebody.
43d. Do not preach with a divine unction, lest your preaching make a saving impression.
44th. To avoid this, do not maintain a close walk with God, but rely upon your learning and study.
45th. Lest you should pray too much, engage in light reading and worldly amusements.
46th. That your people may not think you in earnest to save their souls, and, as a consequence, heed your preaching, encourage church-fairs, lotteries and other gambling and worldly expedients to raise money for church purposes.
47th. If you do not approve of such things, make no public mention of your disapprobation, lest your church should give them up, and turn their attention to saving souls and be saved themselves.
48th. Do not rebuke extravagance in dress, lest you should uncomfortably impress your vain and worldly church-members.
49th. Lest you should be troubled with revival scenes and labors, encourage parties, picnics, excursions, and worldly amusements, so as to divert attention from the serious work of saving souls.
50th. Ridicule solemn earnestness in pulling sinners out of the fire, and recommend, by precept and example, it jovial, fun-loving religion, and sinners will have little respect for your serious preaching.
51st. Cultivate a fastidious taste in your people, by avoiding all disagreeable allusions to the last judgment and final retribution.
52d. Treat such uncomfortable doctrines as obsolete and out of place in these days of Christian refinement.
53d. Do not commit yourself to much-needed reforms, lest you should compromise your popularity and injure your influence. Or you may make some branch of outward reform a hobby, and dwell so much upon it as to divert attention from the great work of converting souls to Christ.
54th. So exhibit religion as to encourage the selfish pursuit of it. Make the impression upon sinners that their own safety and happiness is the supreme motive for being religious.
55th. Do not lay much stress upon the efficacy and necessity of prayer, lest the Holy Spirit should be poured out upon you and the congregation, and sinners should be converted.
56th. Make little or no impression upon your hearers, so that you can repeat your old sermons often without its being noticed.
57th. If your text suggest any alarming thought, pass lightly over it, and by no means dwell upon and enforce it.
58th. Avoid all illustrations, repetitions, and emphatic sentences, that may compel your people to remember what you say.
59th. Avoid all heat and earnestness in your delivery, lest you make the impression that you really believe what you say.
60th. Address the imagination, and not the conscience, of your hearers.
61st. Make it your great aim to be personally popular with all classes of your hearers.
62d. Be tame and timid in presenting the claims of God, as would become you in presenting your own claims.
63d. Be careful not to testify from your own personal experience of the power of the Gospel, lest you should produce the conviction upon your hearers that you have something which they need.
64th. See that you say nothing that will appear to any of your hearers to mean him or her, unless it be something flattering.
65th. Encourage church sociables, and attend them yourself, because they tend so strongly to levity as to compromise Christian dignity and sobriety, and thus paralyze the power of your preaching.
66th. Encourage the cultivation of the social in so many ways as to divert the attention of yourself and your church-members from the infinite guilt and danger of the unconverted among you.
67th. In those sociables talk a little about religion, but avoid any serious appeal to the heart and conscience of those who attend, lest you should discourage their attendance, always remembering that they do not go to socials to be earnestly dealt with in regard to their relations to God. In this way you will effectually so employ yourself and church-members as that your preaching will not convert anybody.
The experience of ministers who have steadily adhered to any of the above rules, will attest the soul-destroying efficacy of such a course, and churches whose ministers have steadily conformed to any of these rules can testify that such preaching does not convert souls to Christ.
We see why so few of the leading minds in many communities are converted.
Professional men were rarely reached by preaching, and they were almost all infidels at heart. People almost understood the Bible to warrant the idea that they could not be converted. The reason is obvious. The Gospel had not been commended to the conscience of such men. Ministers had not reasoned so as to make that class of mind see the truth of the Gospel, and feel its power; consequently such persons had come to regard religion as something unworthy of their notice.
However, this class of persons could converted, if they were made to understand the claims of the Gospel. The preacher should grapple with their minds, and show them the reasonableness of religion. And when this is done, it would be found that this class of mind is more easily converted than any other. They have so much better capacity to receive an argument, and are so much more in the habit of yielding to the force of reason, that as soon as the Gospel gets a fair hold of their minds, it will break them right down, and melt them down at the feet of Christ.
Before the Gospel takes general effect, we must have a class of extempore preachers, for the following reasons:
- No set of men can stand the labor of writing sermons and doing all the preaching which will be requisite.
- Written sermons are not calculated to produce the requisite effect. Such preaching does not present the truth in right shape.
It is impossible for a man who writes his sermons to arrange his matter, and turn and choose his thoughts, so as to produce the same effect as when he addresses the people directly, and makes them feel that he means them. Writing sermons had its origin in times of political difficulty. The practice was unknown in the apostles’ days. No doubt written sermons have done a great deal of good, but they can never give to the Gospel its great power.
Perhaps many ministers have been so long trained in the use of notes, that they had better not throw them away. Perhaps they would make bad work without them. The difficulty would not be for want of mind, but from wrong training. The bad habit is begun with the schoolboy, who is called to “speak his piece. ” Instead of being set to express his own thoughts and feelings in his own language, and in his own natural manner, such as Nature herself prompts, he is made to commit another person’s writing to memory, and then he mouths it out in a stiff and formal way. And so when he goes to college, and to the seminary, instead of being trained to extempore speaking, he is set to write his piece, and commit it to memory.
I would pursue the opposite course from the beginning. I would give him a subject, and let him first think, and then speak his thoughts. Perhaps he will make mistakes. Very well, that is to be expected in a beginner. But he will learn. Suppose he is not eloquent, at first. Very well, he can improve. And he is in the very way to improve. This kind of training alone will raise up a class of ministers who can convert the world.
But it is objected to extemporaneous preaching, that if ministers do not write, they will not think. This objection will have weight with those men whose habit has always been to write down their thoughts. But to a man of different habit, it will have no weight at all.
The mechanical labor of writing is really a hindrance to close and rapid thought. It is true that some extempore preachers have not been men of thought. But so it is true that many men who write sermons are not men of thought. A man whose habits have always been such, that he has thought only when he has put his mind on the end of his pen, will, of course, if he lays aside his pen, at first find it difficult to think; and if he attempts to preach without writing, will, until his habits are thoroughly changed, find it difficult to throw into his sermons the same amount of thought, as if he conformed to his old habit of writing. But it should be remembered that this is only on account of his having been trained to write, and having always habituated himself to it. It is the training and habit that render it so difficult for him to think without writing. Will anybody pretend to say that lawyers are not men of thought? That their arguments before a court and jury are not profound and well digested? And yet every one knows that they do not write their speeches.
The great reason why it is supposed that extempore preachers more frequently repeat the same thoughts in their preaching, is because what they say is, in a general way, more perfectly remembered by the congregation, than if it had been read. I have often known preachers who could repeat their written sermons once in a few months, without the fact being recognized by the congregation. But the manner in which extempore sermons are generally delivered is so much more impressive, that the thoughts cannot in general be soon repeated without being remembered.
We shall never have a set of men in our halls of legislation, in our courts of justice, and in our pulpits, who are powerful and overwhelming speakers, and can carry the world before them, till our system of education teaches them to think, closely, rapidly, consecutively, and till all their habits of speaking in the schools are extemporaneous. The very style of communicating thought, in what is commonly called a good style of writing, is not calculated to leave a deep impression. It is not laconic, direct, pertinent. It is not the language of nature.
In delivering a sermon in this essay style of writing, it is impossible that nearly all the fire of meaning, and power of gesture, and looks, and attitude, and emphasis, should not be lost. We can never have the full meaning of the Gospel, till we throw away our written sermons. A minister’s course of study and training for his work should be exclusively theological.
Education for the ministry should be exclusively theological. But you will ask: Should not a minister understand science? I would answer: Yes; the more the better. I would that ministers might understand all science. But it should all be in connection with theology. Studying science is studying the works of God. And studying theology is studying God.
Let a scholar be asked, for instance, this question: “Is there a God? ” To answer it, let him ransack the universe, let him go out into every department of science to find the proofs of design, and in this way to learn the existence of God. Let him ransack creation to see whether there is such a unity of design as evinces that there is one God. In like manner, let him inquire concerning the attributes of God, and His character. He will learn science here, but will learn it as a part of theology. Let him search every field of knowledge to bring forward his proofs. What was the design of this plan? What was the end of that arrangement? See whether everything you find in the universe is not calculated to produce happiness, unless perverted.
Would the student’s heart get hard and cold in study, as cold and hard as college walls, if science were pursued in this way? Every lesson brings him right up before God, and is, in fact, communion with God, which warms his heart, and makes him more pious, more solemn, more holy. The very distinction between classical and theological study is a curse to the Church, and a curse to the world. The student spends four years in college at classical studies, with no God in them; and then three years in the seminary, at theological studies; and what then? Poor young man! Set him to work, and you will find that he is not educated for the ministry at all. The Church groans under his preaching, because he does not preach with unction, or with power. He has been spoiled in training.
We learn what revival preaching is.
All ministers should be revival ministers, and all preaching should be revival preaching; that is, it should be calculated to promote holiness. People say: “It is very well to have some men in the Church, who are revival preachers, and who can go about and promote revivals; but then you must have others to indoctrinate the Church. ” Strange! Do they know that a revival indoctrinates the Church faster than anything else? And a minister will never produce a revival if he does not indoctrinate his hearers. The preaching I have described is full of doctrine, but it is doctrine to be practiced. And that is revival preaching.
There are two objections sometimes brought against the kind of preaching which I have recommended.
- That it is letting down the dignity of the pulpit to preach in this colloquial, lawyer-like style.
- It is objected that this preaching is theatrical.
A congregation may learn how to choose a minister.
When a vacant Church is looking out for a minister, there are two leading points on which attention is commonly fixed:
- That he should be popular.
- That he should be learned.
These are very well. But the point that should be the first in their inquiries is: “Is he wise to win souls? ” No matter how eloquent a minister is or how learned, no matter how pleasing and how popular is his manners, if it is a matter of fact that sinners are not converted under his preaching, it shows that he has not this wisdom, and your children and neighbors will go down to hell under his preaching.
I am happy to know that many Churches will ask this question about ministers, and if they find that a minister is destitute of this vital quality, they will not have him. And if ministers can be found who are wise to win souls, the Churches will have such ministers. It is in vain to contend against it, or to pretend that they are not well educated, or not learned, or the like. It is in vain for the schools to try to force down the throats of the Churches a race of ministers who are learned in everything but what they most need to know.
It is very difficult to say what needs to be said on this subject, without being in danger of begetting a wrong spirit in the Church towards ministers. Many professors of religion are ready to find fault with ministers when they have no reason; insomuch, that it becomes very difficult to say of ministers what is true, and what needs to be said, without one’s remarks being perverted and abused by this class of professors. I would not, for the world, say anything to injure the influence of a minister of Christ, who is really endeavoring to do good. But, to tell the truth will not injure the influence of those ministers who, by their lives and preaching, give evidence to the Church that their object is to do good, and win souls for Christ. This class of ministers will recognize the truth of all that I have said, or wish to say. They see it all and deplore it. But if there be ministers who are doing no good, who are feeding themselves and not the flock, such ministers deserve no influence. If they are doing no good, it is time for them to betake themselves to some other profession.
They are but leeches on the very vitals of the Church, sucking out its heart’s blood. They are useless, and worse than useless. And the sooner they are laid aside and their places filled with those who will exert themselves for Christ, the better.
Finally. It is the duty of the Church to pray for us, ministers. Not one of us is such as he ought to be. Like Paul, we can say: “Who is sufficient for these things? ” ( 2 Corinthians 2:16.) But who among us is like Paul? Where will you find such ministers as Paul? They are not here. We have been wrongly educated, all of us. Pray for the schools, and colleges, and seminaries. And pray for young men who are preparing for the ministry.
Pray for ministers, that God would give them this wisdom to win souls.
And pray that God would bestow upon the Church the wisdom and the means to educate a generation of ministers who will go forward and convert the world. The Church must travail in prayer, and groan and agonize for this. This is now the pearl of price to the Church – to have a supply of the right sort of ministers. The revival in the body of christ depends on having a different sort of ministers, who are more thoroughly educated for their work. And this we shall have so sure as the promise of the Lord holds good. Such a ministry as is now in the Church will never convert the world, but the world is to be converted, and therefore God intends to have ministers who will do it. “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He would send forth laborers into His harvest ” (Luke 10:2).