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Thabiti Anyabwile on Winning Souls With C.H. Spurgeon

03 May

At the conclusion of T4G, a dear brother approached me to give me a copy of Spurgeon’s classic, The Soul Winner: Advice on Effective Evangelism.  Perhaps he felt sorry for me because I didn’t have any Spurgeon quotes for my sermon.  But I suspect, having gotten to know him and his wife a little, it was one of those loving gestures that so often occur in the brief exchanges God blesses us with at our churches and at conferences.  Praise the Lord.

I’ve been reading the book slowly, enjoying Spurgeon’s unique gift and praying the Lord would make me a better evangelist.  In God’s grace, I’m feeling fresh stirring and I’m praying the Lord would not stop until He gives me real fire.

From time to time, I’m hoping to reflect a little on The Soul Winner and I hope you’ll join me.  We begin today with chapter 1, “What Is It to Win a Soul?”

That’s a foundational question, isn’t it?  We have to be clear about the “it” before we can do “it.”  And it’s important that we maintain a sense of the priority of evangelism.  Spurgeon writes, “Soul-winning is the chief business of the Christian minister; indeed, it should be the main pursuit of every true believer” (p. 5).  Amen.  But what is soul winning?

What Soul-Winning Is Not

Spurgeon identifies three things soul-winning is not:

(1) “We do not regard it to be soul-sinning to steal members out of churches already established, and train them to utter our peculiar Shibboleth: we aim rather at bringing souls to Christ than at making converts to our synagogue.”  

He continues, “We count it utter meanness to build up our own house with the ruins of our neighbors’ mansions” (p. 5).  How often do we hear boasts of swelling numbers added to the ranks of the converted (or more often baptism and church membership) at the expense of neighboring fellowships?  I agree with Mr. Spurgeon; that’s not soul-winning as much as its plain ol’ competition.  I love Spurgeon’s charge:

There is such a thing as selfishness in our eagerness for the aggrandizement of our own party; and from this evil spirit may grace deliver us!  The increase of the kingdom is more to be desired than the growth of a clan.  We would do a great deal to make a Paedo-baptist brother into a Baptist, for we value our Lord’s ordinances; we should labor earnestly to raise a believer in salvation by free-will into a believer in salvation by grace, for we long to see all religious teaching built upon the solid rock of truth, and not upon the sand of imagination; but, at the same time, our grand object is not the revision of opinions, but the regeneration of our natures.  We would bring men to Christ and not to our own peculiar views of Christianity.  Our first care must be that the sheep should be gathered to the great Shepherd; there will be time enough afterwards to secure them for our various folds.  To make proselytes is a suitable labor for Pharisees: to beget men unto God is the honorable aim of ministers of Christ. (p. 6)

(2) “We do not consider soul-winning to be accomplished by hurriedly inscribing more names upon our church-roll, in order to show a good increase at the end of the year (p. 6).  Here!  Here!

(3) “Nor is it soul-winning, dear friends, merely to create excitement” (p. 9).

What Soul-Winning Is

Having dispelled the imitation acts, Spurgeon then turns to positively defining “soul-winning” as he sees it.  He brings his students’ attention to three positive aspects of evangelism:

(1) ”I take it that one of its main operations consists in instructing a man that he may know the truth of God (p. 10).

To try to win a soul for Christ by keeping that soul in ignorance of any truth, is contrary to the mind of the Spirit; and to endeavor to save men by mere claptrap, or excitement, or oratorical display, is as foolish as to hope to hold an angel with a bird-lime, or lure a star with music.  The best attraction is the gospel in its purity. The weapon with which the Lord conquers men is the truth as it is in Jesus. The gospel will be found equal to every emergency; an arrow, which can pierce the hardest heart, a balm which can heal the deadliest wound.  Preach it, and preach nothing else.  Rely implicitly upon the old, old gospel.  You need no other nets when you fish for men; those your Master has given you are strong enough for the great fishes, and have meshes fine enough to hold the little ones.  Spread these nets and no others, and you need not fear the fulfillment of His Word, “I will make you fishers of men.” (p. 13)

(2) “Secondly, to win a soul, it is necessary, not only to instruct our hearer, and make him know the truth, but to impress him so that he may feel it (p. 13).

A sinner has a heart as well as a head; a sinner has emotions as well as thoughts; and we must appeal to both.  A sinner will never be converted until his emotions are stirred.  Unless he feels sorrow for sin, and unless he has some measure of joy in the reception of the Word, you cannot have much hope of him.  The Word must be like a strong wind sweeping through the whole heart, and swaying the whole man, even as a field of ripening corn waves in the summer breeze.  Religion without emotion is religion without life. (p. 14)

You and I must continue to drive at men’s hearts till they are broken; and then we must keep on preaching Christ crucified till their hearts are bound up; and when this is accomplished, we must continue to proclaim the gospel till their whole nature is brought into subjection to the gospel of Christ.  Even in these preliminaries you will be made to feel the need of the Holy Ghost to work with you, and by you; but this need will be still more evident when we advance a step further, and speak of the new birth itself in which the Holy Spirit works in a style and manner most divine. (p. 16)

(3) “Of all whom we would fain win for Jesus it is true, ‘Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’  The Holy Spirit must work regeneration in the objects of our love, or they never can become possessors of eternal happiness” (p. 16).

According to Spurgeon, regeneration will be shown in:

(1) conviction of sin,

(2) the exhibition of a simple faith in Jesus Christ,

(3) unfeigned repentance of sin,

(4) a real change of life,

(5) true prayer, and

(6) a willingness to obey the Lord in all His commandments.  

It’s funny, but many today would regard anything more than “a simple faith in Jesus Christ” as a telltale sign of legalism.  But Mr. Spurgeon was no legalist.  It’s more likely that our own day has so low a view of conversion–equating it only with “a public profession of faith”–that we’ve grown squeamish and downright afraid of insisting that regeneration must entail newness of life, a radical change, a friendly disposition toward God rather than a stubborn refusal (enmity).  If we have any hesitancy at affirming the bulk of this list, might we be unaware of our slippery grip on the magnificence of the new birth?  Might we be in danger of rushing to affirm “professions” while overlooking the fruit of conversion?

It hardly seems necessary to say that the problems Spurgeon identified are with us today, and were with the church during the apostolic era.  The evidence of false converts–biblical, historical, and contemporary–is plentiful.  And one could become discouraged, judgmental, contentious, or indifferent.  But when the Lord of the harvest commands we pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers, we’re meant to understand that the Lord of the harvest plans on reaping and there’s no need for fainting!  We should be encouraged because the problem of false converts simply means the unsaved have been brought near!  We should be encouraged that the cotton has grown so high that by God’s grace we may pick without stooping!  Brother, be encouraged to win souls!

So much more could be said, but Mr. Spurgeon should have the final word of exhortation:

You may say to yourself, at the close of a service, “Here is a splendid haul of fish!”  Wait a bit.  Remember our Savior’s words, “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind; which, when it was fully, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away.”  Do not number your fishes before they are broiled; not count your converts before you have tested and tried them.  This process may make your work somehow slow; but then, brethren, it will be sure.

Do your work steadily and well, so that those who come after you may not have to say that it was far more trouble to them to clear the church of those who ought never to have been admitted than it was to you to admit them.  If God enables you to build three thousand bricks into His spiritual temple in one day, you may do it; but Peter has been the only bricklayer who has accomplished that feat up to the present.

“Do not go and paint the wooden wall as if it were solid stone; but let all you building be real, substantial, and true, for only this kind of work is worth the doing.  Let all your building for God be like that of the apostle Paul According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:10-15; pp. 27-28).

Preach, Mr. Spurgeon! Preach!

About the Author: Thabiti Anyabwile is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman in the Grand Cayman Islands and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. In his own words, “I love the Lord because He first loved me. I love His people because He has given me a new heart. I have received God’s favor in the form of my wife, Kristie. And together we know His blessing through three children. I was once a Muslim, and by God’s grace I have been saved through faith in Jesus Christ. By God’s unfathomable grace I am a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in which I hope to serve Him until He returns or calls me home!”

He earned his B. A. and M. S. degrees in psychology from North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC. Before moving to minister in the Caribbean, he served with Dr. Mark Dever at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. He is married to Kristie and they have three children: Afiya, Eden, and Titus. As a native of Lexington, North Carolina, he has an affinity for Western-NC-BBQ. Thabiti writes regularly at Pure Church as part of The Gospel Coalition blog crew. He has also authored several books, The Gospel for Muslims: An Encouragement to Share Christ with Confidence (Thabiti converted to Christianity from Islam); Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons; Ephesians: God’s Big Plan for Christ’s New People; May We Meet in the Heavenly World: The Piety of Lemuel Haynes; What Is A Healthy Church Member?; The Decline of African American Theology: From Biblical Faith to Cultural Captivity; The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African American Pastors. He has also contributing chapters to the following books: For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper; Holy, Holy, Holy: Proclaiming the Perfections of God; Proclaiming a Cross-Centered Theology; Glory Road: The Journeys of 10 African-Americans into Reformed Christianity; and John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine & Doxology.

The article above is adapted from http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/thabitianyabwile/2012/05/03/winning-souls-with-charles-spurgeon

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