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Walter L. Wilson: the Physician Personal Worker

by Faris Daniel Whitesell

Walter WilsonWho but a Christian physician would illustrate saving faith to an earnest inquirer in the following terms?

"You know that I am a physician, Mrs. Jarvis, but I am not your physician. I suppose you believe that I am a good doctor, able and efficient, and yet I am not your doctor. Why am I not your physician?"

She replied, "Because I never engaged you, nor turned my case over to you."

"You are right," I answered, "and I will never be your physician unless you turn your case over to me personally."1

Or to a seeking nurse:

"You turn your case over to the Lord Jesus somewhat in the same way that the patient turns her case over to the physician, or as the drowning man turns his case over to the life guard."2

Walter L. Wilson (born 1881; [died 1969]), president of Kansas City Bible College, is a physician, manufacturer, preacher, evangelist, conference speaker, writer and schoolman. His ministry carries him into evangelical circles all over the United States. He is always unique, fresh and popular, but humble, gracious and scriptural. He writes:

I was saved December 21, 1896, and became personally acquainted with the Holy Spirit, January 14, 1914. I began to preach on the streets in Kansas City in 1897. I never went to seminary or Bible Institute or college of liberal arts. Therefore, my education has been largely one picked up from reading books and listening to messages. 3

We learn from Who's Who in America, Vol. 26, 1950-51, that Dr. Wilson did graduate from high school in Kansas City, Mo., studied medicine in Northwestern University, and received his M.D. degree from the University of Kansas in 1904. Bob Jones College (then in Cleveland, Tenn.) gave him the L.H.D. degree in 1937.

Dr. Wilson is a fine example of an exceedingly busy man who has not neglected to put first things first (Matt. 6:33). He has reared a family of eight children to maturity; has practiced medicine in Kansas City since 1904, part of that time as physician for the Baker Lockwood Manufacturing Co., makers of large tents and awnings, and was general manager of this concern from 1912-20, and its president from 1926-28. He helped to found the Kansas City Bible Institute in 1932, now the Kansas City Bible College of which he is president. Associated with the Plymouth Brethren, he has served as preacher at Central Bible Hall, Kansas City, for many years.

He carried on a daily Bible exposition broadcast from station WDAF, Kansas City, from 1926-35, and from station WHB, Kansas City, from 1943-44, which rated as one of the most popular radio programs in the area. He is the author of a number of books and pamphlets, all on Christian subjects. Several of them relate his personal work experiences, namely, Romance of a Doctor's Visits, Miracles in a Doctor's Life, Strange Experiences of the Dortor, and Remarkable New Stories; while his 140-page book, Let's Go Fishing with the Doctor, gives his principles and instructions in personal evangelism.

Success in personal soul-winning has been his because he has taken the business of "fishing for men" seriously through the years. He has studied it intensely and works at it constantly. His years of experience in personal evangelism, his detailed and practical knowledge of the Bible, and his rich fund of illustrations have not only made him an expert but an authority in the area of personal soul-winning.

Dr. Wilson is a man of medium stature with a wholesome personality, a kindly face, a fatherly attitude and a genuine interest in people. His whole bearing quickly disarms people, even the most reticent. It is hard for anyone to dislike him. His medical background, his business experience, his power to think clearly and logically, his keen mind, and his wide range of information make him an easy conversationalist. He would be the last one to claim any superiority in any spiritual achievement, for he is a very humble man who relies always on the Holy Spirit for wisdom and guidance.

In preparation for personal work, he says there must be a God-given desire to win souls, and this desire will be generated in the believer who lives in close fellowship with Christ; there must be a knowledge of God's gospel, of what it is and how God saves sinners; the worker must carry a Bible with him and know where to find things in it, and he must know the various aspects of the Gospel and how to apply them to differing types of people.

He believes that the worker for souls must keep in daily, even hourly, spiritual attunement with God. In his own experience, when this has not been true, he has not done his best. One of his stories is called "The Spirit Used a Sewed Finger," in which he relates how a lady purposely put her finger under a factory sewing machine needle three different times.

He could not understand why she let the same accident happen to the same finger three times, for he had warned her and threatened to discharge her if it happened again. As he ministered to her injury the third time, he discovered that she was hoping he would talk to her about her salvation, and had been disappointed that he had sent her away twice without doing it. He says:

You can well imagine how my heart was condemning me as I listened to the heart-cry of this lost soul. What deep sorrow filled my heart as I was so forcefully reminded of the fact that I had been out of touch with the Lord both of those days when this girl came to my office. Evidently, I had come to work on both of those mornings without being in touch with the Holy Spirit. He was not guiding me. I had held my mind away from Him and used my eyes for other purposes. Was it possible that other broken hearts had come to me when I was out of touch with the Lord, and the opportunity to help them was lost?4

However, he did confess his fault to this lady and led her to the Lord.

At another time he was awakened from his sleep by the pullman porter as the train was entering the city of his destination. He had no time for his morning devotions, so went ahead with his business until about four o'clock that afternoon. Having a little time, he went into a hotel to the mezzanine floor. He says:

I confessed to Him my failure that day, my neglect of prayer, and also my omission to read the Scriptures. I then asked Him whether in His infinite grace He would not find some way to give a message through my lips to some troubled heart in that strange city. Having waited on the Lord a while, I felt convinced that He would find some work to do through me that evening.5

The Lord did guide him to a home where three people were waiting for someone to lead them to Christ.

But the doctor is usually prepared. He is a man of prayer, Bible study and quiet waiting on the Holy Spirit. Going to New York City on business one January, he checked in at his hotel, and,

By the time I had refreshed myself and was ready to leave, it was nearly eleven o'clock in the morning. Kneeling beside the bed, I asked the Lord of the harvest to guide me during the day and to use me for His glory. I prayed thus: "My Lord, this is a large city of seven million people, and I am just a weak, unknown servant of Thine with no knowledge of the city and no acquaintance with the hungry hearts that may be here. Thou dost know where the needy ones are. Thou alone dost know whom Thou hast been dealing with. Here is my body—my feet and my lips. Wilt Thou take them today to some troubled heart and speak through me Thy words of light and life? Thank You, Lord. I believe Thou wilt do it."6

In his story, "The Little Man in a Big City," he tells how God led him to make a purchase in a nearby stationery store where he found a man who had been going to church services for some time trying to find out how to be saved. Dr. Wilson led him to the Lord. When he left the store, he looked at his watch and noted that it had been twenty minutes since he had prayed the prayer quoted above.

Dr. Wilson believes that the personal worker must continually seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He makes such statements as these:

The Holy Spirit is the "Lord of the Harvest." He directs the worker to the troubled soul, so that no time need be wasted. He equips the worker with the words to speak so that no effort need be misspent...

The Holy Spirit understands what the trouble is. He also realizes whether or not you are in condition to speak to that soul; whether your heart is right; if you know your Bible; and whether or not you have it with you...

The Holy Spirit deals with men through other men...

Since the Holy Spirit is the One who works in human hearts and knows where they are, it is to Him that we look for instruction concerning our ministry to those hearts...

Most soul-winning is done through personal conversation and those private talks must be from the Spirit. Simply arguing with the friend will not produce divine results. Be quiet in your heart, be calm in your mind, and consciously look to the Holy Spirit... The Holy Spirit must tell us WHAT to say, but He must also tell us HOW to say it. We may say the right thing with such a wrong attitude and with such bitterness, that we drive away the one we should be winning...

He (the Holy Spirit) has not come to HELP YOU to do something, He has come to use you as His servant. He has not come to assist you, but to manage you. Instead of His running at your invitation, you ought to do the running at His invitation.7

His soul-winning stories carry frequent references to waiting on the Holy Spirit, praying to the Holy Spirit, and watching the Spirit work. For example, in the story, "Lillian Was Miserable on the Stage," he says:

Quietly she bowed her head in her hands and meditated on the passage. I remained quiet also, waiting to see what the Spirit of God would do to her heart. While waiting I asked the Holy Spirit to reveal the Lord Jesus to Lillian's heart and to lift the load from her shoulders.8

While riding on the train, he saw a lady dressed in mourning approach the pullman table where he was studying his Bible. He relates:

Quickly looking to the gracious Spirit of God for wisdom and His leading, I greeted the friend by saying, "I observe that you have had a great grief in your life, and I would like very much indeed to share the burden with you. Would you not like to sit down with me and rehearse the story of your sorrows?"

"Yes, I would," she answered, and at once seated herself at the table opposite me."9

He had found a hungry soul, and he soon led her into saving grace.

Writing about another case, Dr. Wilson informs us:

There is a time to keep still when dealing with souls, in order that the Holy Spirit may do His own good work in the heart without hindrance. It is a wise thing to deal rather slowly with cases that are under conviction.10

The good doctor is a master at opening conversations. He begins with some theme of interest to the other person. He believes in arousing this curiosity and using the surprise element. He has formulated possible tactful approaches to people in almost every walk of life.

To a stranger reading a newspaper, he would comment about the advertising in the paper, and then about God's advertising of the birth of His Son by leading men to use A.D. time on all documents and datings. He would ask a school teacher whether or not she was using the same textbooks as twenty-five years ago, and then would go on to tell how the great textbook on salvation, the Bible, never changes.

To the laundryman, he would put a question concerning the removal of spots, stains and wrinkles from garments, then he would relate how God cleanses the sinner from spots, blemishes and wrinkles. He suggests talking to a watchmaker about a hypocrite watch with no works.

With a bookkeeper, one may talk about balancing books, and then turn the talk over to God's books. A lawyer can be engaged in conversation about the Supreme Court of the United States, and from that to God's supreme court at the Great White Throne. The grocer will admit that the labels on his goods are testimonials. God requires a testimonial from us about Christ (Matt. 10:32-33), if He is to confess us in Heaven. A policeman can be told that he is one of God's ministers (Rom. 13:4), as a preserver of law and order. Then discuss penalties for broken laws, and especially God's laws.

Riding along with the undertaker to a funeral, Dr. Wilson asked, "What do you suppose the Bible means by saying, 'Let the dead bury their dead'?" (Matt. 8:22). The undertaker denied that there was such a passage, and when Dr. Wilson explained it to him, he found a man willing to receive Christ as Saviour.11 To a nurse in a hospital he addressed this question, "Are you a saved nurse, or are you a lost nurse?" A conversation followed wherein she admitted that she was only a nominal Christian—really a lost person needing salvation.

After engaging in a conversation, the personal evangelist must diagnose the case. Dr. Wilson's medical experience undoubtedly makes him very emphatic about this point. He says, "To be a successful soul-winner, it is necessary to study the case and also the Scriptures. By studying the case, a proper diagnosis is made, and by studying the Scriptures, a proper remedy is found."12

Again, he says:

It is well to go slowly in diagnosing the case with which you are dealing. Observe carefully his statements and hold him to his statements. By carefully analyzing that which he may say to you, it is often an easy matter to arrive at the mental processes of his mind.13

In diagnosing a case, Dr. Wilson advises not to try to correct the other person's ideas immediately, nor to interrupt his conversation. Ask him questions. What does he mean? Why does he say this? Find out all you can about your prospect. If he talks about what he does not believe, ask him what he does believe. "Do not be so anxious to tell what you think as you are to hear what he thinks." Then, be a good listener. Draw him out by active listening.

Dr. Wilson devotes one of his fifteen chapters in Let's Go Fishing with the Doctor to "Listening is learning." He says:

A diagnosis is best made by listening to the story which the patient may be willing to tell. If you do not learn enough from the voluntary statements of the patient, then ask wise questions in order to bring out obscure points...14

What should we listen for? He says to listen for attitudes of the mind, listen for attitudes of the heart, listen for attitudes toward the Bible, and listen for attitudes toward himself.

To help in completing the diagnosis, Dr. Wilson suggests some questions to ask, selecting one or more as may be appropriate. They are:

1. What will the Lord Jesus do with you?
2. Is your faith worth dying for?
3. When did you receive eternal life?
4. Are you bad enough to go to Hell?
5. What excuses will you make to God?
6. Have you a lawyer to defend you in eternity?
7. Have you prepared the proofs of your innocence?
8. Would God be just if He punished you?
9. How good are you in God's sight?
10. How many sins are against you to date?
11. When did you pass from death unto life?
12. When was your second birthday?
13. How long have you been saved?
14. Can you tell me how to be saved?
15. How good must one be to be saved?
16. How bad must one be to be lost?
17. Would you enjoy the holiness of Heaven?
18. Have you prepared for the long journey?
19. Is God satisfied with your religion?
20. Why should God take you to Heaven?15

After making certain of the diagnosis, the next step is the application of the remedy. The Bible tells us what the remedy is. The remedy is Jesus Christ. Dr. Wilson firmly believes not only that Jesus saves, but that He does all the saving. The lost sinner must turn away from everything else and trust Jesus Christ alone. A few quotations will make his position clear:

Salvation is essentially and intimately connected with an intelligent knowledge and understanding of the work of Christ at Calvary and the person of Christ in His deity. Nothing else may be substituted for this.16

It is always well to turn the sinner's eyes away from self, whether good or bad, and cause the gaze to rest on the Lord Jesus. The devil would like to hide from the eyes of the seeking sinner the sufficiency of our wonderful Lord Jesus Christ. It is His Word that teaches the heart. It is His work that satisfies the demands of the law. It is His Person that meets the need of a hungry soul.17

It was my plan and purpose to so present the Lord Jesus to them that they would see that He Himself is the Saviour. It is not His work that saves; it is Himself that saves. It is not believing in His works that brings peace; it is accepting His Person and believing in Him who has done the sufficient work at Calvary.18

Dr. Wilson repeatedly emphasizes the fact that believing the Bible or accepting the facts about Christ is not enough. The sinner must receive Christ personally. There must be a definite act of appropriation. He uses such illustrations as food on the table must be eaten in order to satisfy hunger, medicine must be taken in order to heal, the passenger must get on board the train in order to take the trip, the patient must commit himself to the doctors and surgeons for medical help.

He finds that sometimes the inquirer is seeking an experience rather than the Saviour. Sandy, a Scot, worked in the factory where Dr. Wilson was. He became the object of prayer. Many fellow workmen talked to him about Christ. One evening late Dr. Wilson saw him leaving the plant, called him in and talked to him. He discovered that Sandy had been seeking peace for twenty years. He had prayed often and had been to the altar many times. This is what happened:

I opened my Bible to I John 5:12 and read to him the following words: "He that hath 'peace' hath life; and he that hath not 'peace' hath not life."

He looked at me rather startled, and said, "That is exactly what I believe. I did not know that a verse like that was in the Bible. Would you let me read it myself?"

Of course, I was glad to have him see with his own eyes what the Bible really did say, for "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." I handed my Bible to him with my finger on the verse, and watched the surprise that was plainly visible in his face, as he read the following words: "He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life." Looking up from the passage to me, Sandy said with deep earnestness, "Why did you read the wrong words to me out of this Scripture?"

"It was because you told me you had been seeking for peace," I replied. "God does not want you to seek for peace, He wants you to find His Son. Christ is the 'Prince of Peace,' and 'He is our peace.' Whenever you have Him for your Lord and Saviour, He will blot out the sin stains, He will remove the doubts, He will give you eternal life, He will give rest to your conscience. You have been seeking for peace without the Giver."19

Sandy saw his mistake.

"Will you accept the Lord Jesus now, Sandy?" I asked.
"Yes," he said, "and I will tell Him so."

We then knelt together and Sandy sobbed out to Christ his acceptance. It was not a very orderly prayer. It was broken by long pauses, mingled with his sobs and moistened with his tears. But in accepting Christ, he received the peace he had sought so long.20

Dr. Wilson makes it a habit to speak to every person he can about Christ. Most of them are not responsive, but here and there he finds a hungry heart and is able to win such to the Saviour. He believes that God is always working, and that, if the worker is Spirit-prepared, he will be led by the Spirit to the prepared soul. This was true in the case of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. The worker must speak to the many in order to discover the ones with whom the Spirit is striving, so believes our doctor.

The Devil puts many obstacles in the way of the seeking sinner. Many of them are discouraged and disappointed, and they need to be encouraged and to have their confidence established. The doctor says:

I went to some length in thus answering his question in order to arouse a confidence in his heart both toward God in his love, and toward me in my message. Confidence must be established if the individual is to be won.21

The personal worker will run into many questions. He should prepare himself as best he can to answer them intelligently and scripturally, but he must always hold to the main objective of keeping the sinner's eyes on Christ until he trusts Him fully. Dr. Wilson has worked out many striking illustrations from the world of nature to prove the wisdom, power and goodness of God. He uses these effectively with students and those having intellectual difficulties.

Dr. Wilson insists that the soul-winner must keep on studying the Word of God in order to nourish his own spiritual life and in order to increase his spiritual armory. It is not sufficient, though good, to memorize specific passages. The worker should know his Bible in its totality and in all its parts. He should be so at home in it that he can easily and quickly turn to any subject or passage he wishes. The two verses most frequently used by Dr. Wilson in the stories he has written are John 3:16 and John 1:12. Others frequently mentioned are Luke 19:10, 1 Peter 2:24, Isaiah 53:5, Romans 5:6, and I Timothy 1:15.

With atheists or infidels, the Doctor may use the shock treatment. He writes:

In the practice of medicine, I try to speak to every patient in some way concerning his soul. It is remarkable how many of these folks prove to be atheists or infidels. One of them said one day, "Dr. Wilson, I don't believe what you are preaching about eternal punishment."

"Why don't you?" I asked.

"Oh, I just don't," was the reply.

"Then why don't you go and kneel at the feet of Christ and find out where you are going?" I continued. "Go and ask Him."

"I don't care where I'm going," he replied, carelessly.

"Don't you?" I inquired. "Well, if you don't care, why should God care where you are going? No wonder He leaves you out. If Heaven isn't worth wanting and seeking, why should God bother offering it to you? He won't give it to you, because you don't want it. Good-bye."

The next day he looked me up, and said, "Dr. Wilson, I don't want to go to hell. If there is a hell, I don't want to be found there."

"Very well," I said, "you bow your knee to Christ and see if He will take you and give you eternal life."

We knelt together, and he said, "Lord Jesus, I wonder if you will take me?"

What answer do you suppose God gave him? God saved him right then and there.22

But Dr. Wilson believes in making it easy for people to unburden their hearts to him. Therefore, he tries always to be kind, sympathetic, attentive, and courteous.

Several of the Doctor's books narrating his soul-winning stories are published in the Moody Colportage Library series in inexpensive paper covers. We recommend them most highly to all who would catch more of Doctor Wilson's spirit, message and methods.


1—Walter Lewis Wilson, Strange Experiences of the Doctor (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, Ltd., no date), p. 28-29.
2—ibid., p. 53.
3—Walter L. Wilson in personal letter to David J. Williams, dated Nov. 17, 1952.
4—Walter L. Wilson, Miracles in a Doctor's Life (Chicago: Moody Press, 1935), p. 14.
5—ibid., p. 43.
6—ibid., p. 7.
7—Walter L. Wilson, Let's Go Fishing with the Doctor (Findlay, Ohio: Fundamental Truth Publishers, 1936), chap. I.
8Miracles in a Doctor's Life, p. 27.
9—ibid., p. 39.
10Strange Experiences of the Doctor, p. 29.
11—Walter L. Wilson, The Romance of a Doctor's Visits (Chicago: Moody Press, 1935), p. 13.
12Let's Go Fishing with the Doctor, p. 3.
13—ibid., p. 34.
14—ibid., Chap. 8.
15Miracles of a Doctor's Visits, p. 121.
16—Let's Go Fishing with the Doctor, p. 45.
17—Strange Experiences of the Doctor, p. 28.
18—ibid., p. 39.
19Miracles in a Doctor's Life, p. 24.
20—ibid., p. 24.
21Strange Experiences of the Doctor, p. 32-33.
22—Walter Lewis Wilson, A Sure Remedy (Chicago: Moody Press, 1938), p. 116-117.

From Great Personal Workers by Faris Daniel Whitesell. Chicago: Moody Press, [©1956].

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