Chapter 3 - Conviction by the Spirit
Every soul-winner becomes aware, sooner or later, of the fact that the vast company of unsaved people do not realize the seriousness of their lost estate; nor do they become alarmed even when the most direct warning and appeal is given to them. They may be normally intelligent and keen to comprehend any opportunity for personal advancement in material or intellectual things; yet there is over them a spell of indifference and neglect toward the things that would secure for them any right relation to God. All the offers of grace with the present and future blessedness of the redeemed are listened to by these people without a reasonable response. They are, perhaps, sympathetic, warm-hearted and kind; they are full of tenderness toward all human suffering and need; but their sinfulness before God and their imperative need of a Saviour are strangely neglected. They lie down to sleep without fear and awaken to a life that is free from thought or obligation toward God. The faithful minister soon learns, to his sorrow, that his most careful presentation of truth and earnest appeal produces no effect upon them, and the question naturally arises: "How, then, can these people be reached with the Gospel?"
The answer to that question lies in a right understanding of the cause of their indifference, and in an adjustment of methods in work so that there may be co-operation with the Spirit in following the divine program in soul-winning.
One of the greatest foes to modem evangelism, which has been treated far too lightly, is described in the following passage: "And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled in them that are perishing: in whom the God of this age hath blinded the thoughts of the unbelieving, that the illumination of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn upon them" (2 Cor. 4:3, 4, R.V. with margin).
This passage scarcely needs comment beyond a slight reference to the exact meaning of the word "gospel" as that word is here used.
That body of truth which Paul received as a special revelation (Gal. 1:12), and afterwards called "my gospel," "the gospel of Christ" and "the gospel of God" (Rom. 2:16; Phil. 1:27; 1 Thes. 2:2), is a far more limited theme than the life story of Jesus, as recorded in the Four Gospels of the New Testament. It is rather the exact grounds of salvation by the cross of Christ and through the grace of God. It is the whole revelation of the divine propitiation for sin. While this Gospel had a larger mission than the Jew could anticipate, in that it was to be a new revelation from God, and was to be extended to the Gentiles also, it is the divine offer of all of God's provisions for man's salvation in this age; and by it life and immortality were brought to light (2 Tim. 1:10). It is simply the offer of redemption and the statement of those conditions under grace, by which a soul may "turn from darkness unto light and from the power of Satan unto God" (Acts 26:18); and being the point of deliverance "from the power of Satan unto God," it is veiled by Satan and is opposed by all satanic wisdom and strength. Satan's doctrine (1 Timothy 4:1,2; Revelation 2:24; cf. 1 Corinthians 2:10-12) has always been one of moral perfection secured by self-effort or personal works (Isaiah 14:14; Genesis 3:4, 5). His program of self-fitting, resulting only in self-glory, is in complete contrast to the true principle of saving faith, through which one depends on God alone for all needed transformation (Romans 8:29; 1 John 3:2).
True to this revealed fact of Satanic blindness, we find unregenerate men unable to conceive of any relation to God other than that based on the merit of their own self-made character (John 3:1-8; 1 Corinthians 2:1-16). They do not comprehend that "Christ has become the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth," and that it is only Satanic blindness which leads them to "go about to establish their own righteousness"; rather than to come under the bestowed righteousness of God (Romans 3:21, 22: 4:1-6; 10:3, 4; Philippians 3:8, 9; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21).
Saving faith may thus be defined as a voluntary turning from all hope and grounds based on self-merit, and assuming an attitude of expectancy toward God, trusting Him to do a perfect saving work based only on the merit of Christ. Such an attitude of anticipation toward God alone is reasonable in the light of the fact that salvation is a divine creative act, and therefore, humanly impossible. But the reasonableness of the case is of no force to one whose reason is blinded at this vital point. It is this solemn fact that evangelism must face. A divine illumination is demanded. No human power or argument is sufficient to enlighten a darkened soul concerning the necessary steps into the way of life. This is a part of the work assigned alone to the all-sufficient Spirit.
It is clear from Scripture that the Gospel of the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ is the only possible ground of salvation and escape from "the power of Satan unto God." It is therefore suggestive that Satan is imposing his blindness upon the unregenerate mind only at this one point. The demons in the days of Christ's earthly ministry bore faithful testimony to His deity as the Son of God; just so Satan is now directly witnessing to the value of the only offers of salvation by thus centralizing all his blinding power upon the way of the coss.
In addition to the exercise of his own power in directly blinding the unsaved to the value of the cross, Satan is increasingly active, through his ministers, in attempting to expel this central truth from the Christian faith. To do this he is now, as predicted, forcing great counterfeit religious systems and restatements of doctrine upon the world. It is also suggestive that in all these the only revealed basis of salvation is carefully omitted.
The blinding or veiling of the mind, mentioned in 2 Cor. 4:3, 4, is then a universal incapacity to comprehend the way of salvation, and is imposed upon unregenerate man by the arch enemy of God in his attempts to hinder the purpose of God in redemption. It is a condition of mind against which man can have no power. Yet God has provided a means whereby this Satanic veil may be lifted, the eyes opened (Acts 26:18), the eyes of the heart enlightened (Eph. 1:18, R.V.), and the soul come into the illumination of the Gospel of the glory of Christ. Then, after this "opening of the eyes" is accomplished, the way of life, which is the Gospel, will seem, to the enlightened person, to be both desirable and of transcendent import. This great work is accomplished by divine energy, and is one of the mightiest movements of the "power of God unto salvation." It is spoken of in Scripture as the drawing of God and the convicting of the Spirit: " No man can come unto me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him" (John 6:44). "And when He [the Spirit] is come, he will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment" (John 16:8).
This individual and particular drawing and convicting should be distinguished from the universal drawing and illuminating of all men that is mentioned in other passages: "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me" (John 12:32), and "That was the true Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world" (or, "That was the true Light which coming into the world, shineth for every man")—John 1:9. The former passages refer to a special divine work to be accomplished in each individual, and they present the only sufficient means by which a Satan-ruled soul (Eph. 2:2) may be inclined unto God, and by which, Satan-blinded eyes may receive a new vision of the Gospel of Grace.
This divine unveiling of the individual mind and heart to the Gospel is spoken of at length in Heb. 6:4-9. While this passage is Jewish in its character, it is an important statement of a phase of the truth under present consideration. The passage is as follows: "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame. For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: but that which beareth thorns and briars is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned. But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak."
It would seem impossible that so much could be accomplished in any person as is here described, and yet that person remain unsaved, were it not for the phase of truth which is under consideration; for the passage states that those described have been "once enlightened," "have tasted of the heavenly gift," and have been made "partakers of the Holy Ghost." They have "tasted the good word of God" and the "powers of the world to come"; yet this is all true of unregenerate persons who have been "drawn" and "convicted" by divine power in preparation for salvation.
When the passage has been interpreted as being a description of regenerate people, it has been used as a proof text to substantiate that unscriptural and God-dishonoring theory that a saved person can "fall away" and find it impossible to renew his repentance. That the passage does not describe a true child of God is evident, for the description is wholly inadequate for a Christian. All that is here said is, in a sense, true of a believer; but very much more is true of him also. The believer has received, not "tasted," the heavenly gift; he has been "sealed by the Holy Spirit," which is more than to have "partaken" of the Spirit in conviction or illumination. The "tasting of the Word of God" is a poor substitute for the believer's "washing of regeneration by the Word"; and "tasting" of the powers of the world to come is insignificant compared with the power of God in salvation.
But again, it is clearly stated in the closing verse of this passage that this is not a description of the "better things" that "accompany salvation." It is therefore a description of the condition into which a soul is brought when divinely prepared for an intelligent choice of Christ as Saviour. This condition is, to some extent, a sphere of probation (which is never the relation of a true believer to God); for, as the life-giving rain waters the earth and causes it to yield herbs or thorns, so that soul that has been so favored with the vision of life and salvation in preparation for yielding to the saving power of Christ, may "bear thorns and briars" by continually resisting the vision, and finally "fall away" and find no place for repentance; seeing he crucified to himself the Son of God afresh and put him to an open shame. While he is rejecting God's best gift and his only hope, there remains no more "a place of repentance." "If therefore, the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness."
The importance of this truth will warrant a reference to three other brief passages. In each of these this divine drawing, or calling, may be seen in its true place and order among the other aspects of "the power of God unto salvation." In these passages, this phase of truth is mentioned by the words, "to open their eyes," "called me by His grace," and "called." The passage reads: "To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them that are sanctified by faith that is in me" (Acts 26:18). "But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood" (Gal. 1:15, 16). "Moreover, whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified" (Rom. 8:30).
Other passages which emphasize the necessary illumination of the Spirit should also be quoted: "No man can come unto me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me" (John 6: 44,45). " Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed; and that no man can say that Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Ghost" (1 Cor. 13:3). “He saith unto them: But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 16:15-17).
This special aspect of the divine work, which has been seen in these passages already quoted, is more particularly dwelt upon in John 16:8-11. The whole context of this passage (16:8-15) announces, in addition to the three-fold work of the Spirit for the unsaved, or "world," a special instructive and illuminative work of the Spirit for the saved, here addressed as "you." As these two classes have had to be distinguished in connection with a previously quoted Scripture, their difference should be noted here also. In this connection it will be seen that the saved are to be led into "all truth"; while the unsaved are to be instructed along but one particular line. To the saved the "all things" of Christ and of God are to be shown; while the unsaved are to see only that which first concerns them, which is the way of life in Christ Jesus. This passage referring to the work of the Spirit for the unsaved is as follows: "Nevertheless I tell you the truth; it is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged." (John 16:7-11).
In considering this passage it may first be noted that the word "reprove" [R.V. convict] is not limited, as is often supposed, to the first word "sin," but applies to the words "righteousness" and "judgment" as well. This suggests a much larger meaning to the word than an acute mental agony for sin, though that might follow. The word "reprove," as here used, suggests a process of illumination concerning three distinct facts, rather than the creation of a feeling of remorse for sins that have been committed. There is no warrant for assuming that this three-fold divinely wrought vision is divisible, or in any way subject to a partial fulfilment. It would, therefore, be unreasonable to limit our thought of this ministry of the Spirit to anyone aspect of this work.
A careful study of, in all, about sixteen passages where the original of the word "reprove" is used, will reveal that it is usually descriptive of a condition of mind resulting from the impartation of truth; and so this convicting work of the Spirit for the world is identical with the enlightenment by the Spirit already considered.
At this point much depends upon an adequate understanding of the whole scope of the action of the Spirit as suggested by the three words, "sin," "righteousness" and "judgment."
"Of Sin, because they believe not on me." "Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. 2:14).
It is just this incapacity and blindness of the unregenerate mind which is stated in these passages that demands the illuminating work of the Spirit in "convincing of sin." It is evident from the word "because they believe not on me" that they do not comprehend the way of life in Christ Jesus, nor has the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ dawned on them. The only sin to be revealed, according to this passage, is the sin of personally rejecting Christ (see also John 3:18). The reason that there is but one sin is obvious. Christ has perfectly borne the condemnation of the individual's sins, hence God in no wise lays them back again upon the sinner; but rather holds him responsible for not believing the record of the atoning death of His Son (1 John 5:10-12). Hence it is clear that present condemnation cannot result from the sins which God reckons to be covered by the blood of His Son. The issue is plainly the rejection of the Son Who bore the sins. The fact that the blinded sinner must comprehend that his sins have been borne for him by Christ, and that he has the one responsibility of receiving that Saviour and his saving work, however, demands a further illumination by the Spirit.
The Gospel demands a special revelation for its understanding; since it announces to all humanity a perfect freedom from the penalty of sin, and also presents the corresponding fact that there can be but one reason for condemnation; and that, the rejection of the Saviour, Who bore the sin. Man's relation to God on the question of sin, in the light of the cross, is so unnatural to the unregenerate mind, and is so much the object of Satanic blinding that there can be no understanding of this truth apart from a direct and personal illumination by the Spirit.
The work of the Spirit, it will thus be seen, is to reveal the cure of sin as already accomplished, and to warn against the only remaining possible condemnation that must follow the rejection of the cross. Though the unsaved, "natural man" may be educated, gentle, refined, or gifted, he has no vision of salvation, and thus it is obvious that there can be no adequate conception of the one condemning sin of rejecting Christ as Saviour, until the Christ and His saving work as sin-bearer are made real. This the Spirit accomplishes by convincing of righteousness and judgment; for both the conviction of righteousness and of judgment are but revelations of the Christ and His salvation.
"Of Righteousness, because I go to my Father and ye see me no more." "But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; and killed the Prince of life, qhom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses" (Acts 3:14, 15). Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification" (Rom. 4:25).
In the vision of the Righteous One Who died upon the cross it will be revealed to the unsaved by the Spirit that "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself," and that He, the Righteous One, bore the curse of the sinner's unrighteousness "in his own body on the tree." That it was the Righteous One Who died is for ever assured by His resurrection and present place in glory. This is the all-important vision; for the Righteous One upon the cross is the sinner's only point of contact with the saving power of God. In like manner, also, as the ground of salvation is revealed, by the conviction of the Spirit to be the death of the Righteous One, so the enjoyment of all present blessing in fellowship and security must depend upon as direct and personal a revelation, by the Spirit of the present living Christ.
The problem of all human destiny is the attainment unto the righteousness of God; for without that perfection man can never hope to stand in the presence of God (Hebrews 12:10, 14). Christ was "made sin for us, He Who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." He, the Righteous One, bore our sins in His death, and thereby satisfied all the demands of the Father. The Christ in the flesh lived and fulfilled every requirement of God's law, and offered Himself a perfect sacrifice for imperfect humanity. In Him Who became visible, died, rose, ascended and is now invisible, but still the living Lord, "God blessed forever," the sinner is made "accepted in the beloved," and stands in the righteousness of God. This position of being clothed in the righteousness of God through the merit and Person of the living Christ must be recognized as wholly due to the fact that He was really made to be sin for us.
Hence, in convincing of righteousness, the vision is created in the unregenerate mind of the Righteous One Who died on the cross as a personal Saviour, Who is now raised from the dead, and seated in glory with all His atoning work accepted before God, and Who is able to "guard that which is committed unto Him against that day." On the cross Christ judged all sin and secured a perfect salvation for all who believe. So in heaven He saves those who have believed from every challenge of a broken law. Christ is "made unto us righteousness." It is rest to a sin-conscious soul to know that there is a perfect righteousness for him in Christ. Such knowledge cannot be gained apart from the illuminating work of the Spirit.
"Of Judgment, "because the prince of this world is judged." "Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out" (John 12:31). "And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath He quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; blotting out the handwritings of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it" (Col. 2:13-15).
The Spirit thus also enlightens the darkened mind concerning the complete and sufficient judgment of all sin in the cross of Christ. This judgment not only met all possible condemnation for sin (Isaiah 53:4-6; Romans 6:10; 2 Corinthians 5:14, 21; Hebrews 10:2-18; 1 Peter 1:18, 19; 2:24), but broke all claim and authority of the rulers and powers of darkness (Colossians 2:13-15). Through the dying Christ it is possible to be forever delivered out of Satan's darkness (Colossians 1:12-14), and through the living Christ it is promised that the child of God shall be forever saved and kept unto the "kingdom of God's dear Son" (Romans 5:10). This is the plan of God's redeeming grace, and it may be concluded, in all confidence, that as certainly as Satan is blinding the minds of the unregenerate men at the point of the redemptive work of Christ, so certainly it is the purpose of God that the Spirit shall unveil their minds concerning that same truth.
The claim which Satan held upon man, before the cross, was the very fact of man's sin and unlikeness to God. That claim was wholly broken by the cross, and the curse of sin was lifted for all. Since the cross, it has been Satan's one advantage to blind those in his power as to the fact of the universal atonement for sin, and to secure an attitude of misunderstanding and rejection of this atonement that will keep man under the last and only condemnation: "that they believe not on me."
Thus all "principalities and powers" were "spoiled" and "triumphed over" in the divine judgment of sin. Now the way of redemption is open to all who will come by the cross. But it is this very value of the death of Christ that is the object of Satan's blinding, and the Spirit alone can unveil the blinded unregenerate mind. This He does by convincing of the judgment of the cross.
It cannot be emphasized too strongly that the phase of the Gospel which Satan has veiled from "those that are perishing" is the way of life through the death of Christ, and that it is the same central truth which the Spirit would make real to "those that are perishing," by convincing them "of sin, of righteousness and of judgment."
In this connection it is not claimed that an unsaved person must come to know every phase of truth about the atonement of Christ before he is divinely prepared for salvation; but it is claimed that the Spirit proposes to make the meaning of the cross sufficiently clear to that person to enable him to abandon all hope of self-works, and to turn to the finished work of Christ alone in intelligent saving faith. The unfolding of redemptive truth was revealed to Paul directly from God, and there is a very real sense in which that truth must be directly revealed to every individual, that he may himself choose it as the only basis of his hope. The atoning sacrificial death of Christ as a distinct and sufficient foundation for salvation must become a reality before it can become a finality in saving faith. And in convincing the world of sin, righteousness, and of judgment that truth is made real by the Spirit.
What human argument or influence can convince Satan-blinded minds that to fail to believe on Jesus Christ is the all-condemning sin? Surely that sin will not be seen in all its magnitude until the mind has been enlightened in regard to the Person of Christ and His atoning work. Thus only by the Spirit can any conception be had of all that is being rejected when they "believe not on me."
No understanding of the illuminating work of the Spirit on the minds of the unsaved would be complete apart from the recognition of the important agency or means used by the Spirit in that work.
The Word of God, "which is the sword of the Spirit." Another sharp distinction must be made at this point, as in the enlightening and teaching work of the Spirit, between the whole divine work for the saved and that small part of the same work that may be done for the unsaved as a preparation for salvation. The riches of the work for the saved can only be suggested here.
To the saved the Word of God is a cleansing, sanctifying and reflecting power (John 13:10, 11; 15:3; Eph. 5:25, 26; John 17:17 ; and 2 Cor. 3:18).
To the unsaved, the Word of God is the "sword of the Spirit" (Ephesians 6:17). All those who urge methods in personal work properly lay great stress on the right use of Scripture when dealing with the unsaved. God uses the "Sword of the Spirit," and He has not promised to use anything else in unveiling the blinded mind.
As has been seen, the convicting work of the Spirit involves a radical change in the deepest part of man's being, where his motives and desires are first formed; so that an entirely new conception of the God-provided grounds of redemption and a vision of the glorious Person of Christ are created. As both the Person and the work of Christ are presented in the Scriptures, it is only necessary for the Spirit to vitalize His own Word, either upon the printed page, or through the lips of His messenger, to bring a new light and possibility into the hitherto blinded mind. It is, therefore, said of the Word of God: "For the word of God is quick, and powerful [living and active], and sharper than any twoedged 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). The Word itself is however but the sword, and must be wielded by the Spirit to be effective.
The fact that the Word of God, in the hands of the Spirit, is living and operative is the only warrant for any appeal to the unsaved; and is a warning as well that the message, to be effective, must be in accord with the whole truth of God, that it may be used by the Spirit. It is a conspicuous fact that every successful soul-winner has been a fearless defender of every essential doctrine of the Scriptures.
The skill of the evangelist or the pastor who would do the work of an evangelist, is seen in the ability to present the limited body of redemptive truth repeatedly, yet with freshness and variety.
The evangelist is limited to that evangel which unfolds the cure of sin and the way of life by the substitutionary death of the cross, since that is the only message which the Spirit can use, as His Sword in unveiling those eyes which are blinded to that particular truth. How helpless, then, in true soul-saving co-operation with God, is that person who has a heart of unbelief toward the blood of the cross, or whose message has been beguiled away from the way of life by Christ Jesus, to an appeal for morality, or religious ceremonials, which are the result of human energy and expediencies!
Jesus has commanded His own that are in the world to preach the Gospel of redemptive truth to every creature: yet their preaching is of no avail, save as it is accompanied with the convincing and illuminating work of the Spirit, and this work of the Spirit is dependent upon a ministry of the believer that is more important than preaching. This is the prayer of intercession.
Thus it may be concluded on the question of the use of the Word in true evangelism that it is the work of the Spirit to present the sacrificial judgment of the cross and the living glorious Person of Christ to the unsaved through the preaching of the Word. And when a preacher evades either the message of the cross, or the essential deity of Christ, there has been, and can be, no co-operation of the Spirit in convincing power, though every element of literary merit and human eloquence may be supplied. Evidence of this is on every hand.
It is not a mere arbitrary caprice with God that there must be an intelligent appropriation of the work of Christ as the grounds of redemption: "For there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). On no other grounds can the mercy and grace of God be exercised in righteousness and justice. It follows, therefore, that the grounds of redemption must be sufficiently clear to each individual to elicit a repose of faith, and a willing deposit of all eternal interests into the saving power of Christ. No human argument or teaching can dispel the Satanic darkness that hinders saving faith, or create the new vision that is required. It is quite possible for a blinded soul to be religious, or even to pose as a minister of the Gospel; yet, having never comprehended the way of life, to be "tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine," and, though sincere, and possessing every other degree of human knowledge, to be in his blindness only the minister of Satan (2 Cor. 11:13-15).
The wide difference of appreciation of the Gospel that exists between people of equal mental attainments cannot be explained on the grounds of personal temperament or training, else their various attitudes would be more or less permanent, when in reality the attitude of indifference is often suddenly changed to a glowing fire. It need hardly be pointed out that unsaved men do not weigh the evidence of testimony and fact as accurately in matters relating to salvation as they do in any other sphere of investigation. In matters between men in the world the sworn testimony of two reliable witnesses demands a corresponding conclusion; yet the obvious fact of regeneration and the willing testimony of multitudes, "whereas I was blind, now I see," creates no impression on others who are yet in their blindness.
There is a reality in Satanic blindness. But, blessed be God, there is a reality in divine illumination!
It should be observed that, apart from the power of God, superficial decisions can easily be secured, and apparently great results accomplished; for some minds are so dependent upon the opinions of others that the earnest dominating appeal of the evangelist, with the obvious value of a religious life, are sufficient to move them to follow almost any plan that is made to appear to be expedient. They may be urged to act on the vision of the way of life which the evangelist possesses, when they have received no sufficient vision for themselves. The experience of thousands of churches has proved that such decisions have not met the conditions of grace in "believing with the heart"; for the multitude of advertised converts have often failed, and these churches have had to face the problem of dealing with a class of disinterested people who possess no new dynamic, nor any of the blessings of the truly regenerate life.
It is possible reverently to repeat the most pious phrases and assume devotional attitudes and yet have the inner life in no way correspondingly moved. All such exercise, though producing apparent results, is of no avail in real salvation; for the Spirit has not wrought in such a mind to the end that the utterance of those words become the expression of the greatest crisis of the inner life, and the only adequate relief for that soul's sense of utter helplessness and burning thirst for the water of life.
A few genuine decisions may occur among the many, and these have always justified the wholesale evangelizing method. There is, however, a very grave harm done to those who are thus superficially effected, and this harm may sometimes outweigh the good that is done. In reply to this it is argued that nothing can outweigh the value of one soul that is saved; yet when the harm of a false decision is analyzed, it will be seen that the after-state of bewilderment and discouragement which results in an attitude that is almost unapproachable and hopeless, has its unmeasured results as well.
The Gospel will always prove, in this age, "a savour of death unto death" as well as of "life unto life"; for some, even upon whom the Spirit has wrought in conviction, will reject the way of life. But there is no expectation in the evangelism of Scripture, that souls are to be hurried into unrealities and be misguided in their blindness. God has faithfully provided the one all-sufficient preparation for a full and intelligent decision in the ministry of the Spirit who came to convict the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. God has faithfully provided the one all-sufficient preparation for a full and intelligent decision.
Placing saving trust in the Lord Jesus Christ is an act so definite that the experience must be abiding. A consciousness that this step has been taken will naturally remain. Well may we question our own salvation when uncertain at this point. "I know whom I have believed" is the normal testimony of every saved person. Such trust abides. It is a consciousness that He alone is depended upon as the answer before God for every problem of a sin-cursed soul. This abiding confidence can be formed in the heart only through the illuminating, regenerating, and indwelling work of the Spirit.
The examples of soul-winning in the New Testament present a conspicuous contrast to some examples of present-day evangelism. So far as the divine record shows there seemed to be little urging or coaxing, nor was any person dealt with individually who had not first given evidence of a divinely-wrought sense of need. It is recorded that Peter directed the converts at Pentecost in the way of life after they were "pricked in their hearts, and said unto Peter and the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?" So also there is no record that Paul and Silas pleaded with the Philippian jailor to become a Christian before he had any such desire; but rather, after a great change had taken place in his whole attitude which compelled him to fall tremblingly before them and say: "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" did they personally direct him to "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ." Peter does not send for Cornelius: Cornelius reaches out for Peter. And Saul is led into the light almost without human aid or direction.
In view of this all-important divine preparation for salvation, it is clear that all evangelism, be it public ministry or personal work, which does not wait for the movings of the Spirit in the hearts of the unsaved is insomuch removed from true co-operation with God, and is in danger of hindering souls.
Such a waiting on God and for God as is necessary for true evangelism with the Spirit, although it may shatter the evangelist's claim to large numbers of converts, will tend to wean the church away from her dependence upon spasmodic periods of concern for the lost into a true and more constant attitude of fruit-bearing.
The Scriptures furnish us with examples of true evangelism, the results of which were reported many centuries ago when it was said: "And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved" (Acts 2:47). This blessed condition will always result when believers depend upon the Lord to add to the church and they "continue steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:42).
From True Evangelism, or Winning Souls by Prayer by Lewis Sperry Chafer. Rev ed. Findlay, Ohio: Durham Publishing Co., ©1919.
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