Every Christian should consider it the highest honor, and the greatest privilege to assist in the growth of the kingdom of God, by personal effort in individual soul-winning. He should realize, too, that it is not only his privilege to thus work for God, but that a most solemn responsibility rests upon him to do so. The true Christian, having found Christ to be precious to his own soul, desires, or at once seeks, as did Andrew and Philip of old, to get someone else to taste and see that the Lord is good.
And what is true of the individual Christian should be true of the whole Church. What is the true position of the Church according to the teachings of Christ? Is she not to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world? Should she not be as the woman seeking the lost coin, the shepherd seeking the straying sheep, and the father on the constant lookout for the wayward son? That church, the members of which are not interested in, and putting forth personal effort in behalf of, a lost world, has in truth forfeited its credentials and its right to exist. In seeking to save its own soul, it has really lost it.
An anonymous clipping contains the following suggestive remarks along this particular line:
"'What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?' That is to say, the alpha and omega of Christianity is soul-winning, and every letter between the first and last should be permeated by the spirit which seeks the lost.
"It is not enough to be evangelical. We must be evangelistic. The evangelical church is a reservoir of pure water without a pipe running anywhere. If you will take the trouble to go to it and climb the embankment, you will get a good drink. The evangelistic church is a reservoir of pure water with a pipe to every heart in the community, and every nation in the world. Evangelical may mean truth on ice; evangelistic means truth on fire. Evangelical may be bomb-proof for defense; evangelistic means an army on the march with every face towards the enemy. Evangelical sings, 'Hold the fort, for I am coming'; evangelistic sings, 'Storm the fort, for God is leadin.' The need of the Church is not evangelicalism as a thing to fight for, but evangelism as a force to fight with. The evangelical creed merely held and defended becomes a fossil, only a thing of interest.
"Several miles above Milton, Pennsylvania, [United States], when the ice was breaking up, a farmer got into one of his boats, purposing to pull it out of the river. A floating mass of ice struck it, breaking it loose from the bank, and carrying it and him out into the current. A neighbor, seeing the danger, mounted a horse and with all speed rode down to Milton. The people of the town gathered all the ropes they could secure, went out on the bridge, and suspended a line of dangling ropes from the bridge across the river. They could not tell at just what point the boat with the farmer would pass under, so they put a rope down every two or three feet clear across. By and by the farmer was seen, wet and cold, standing in the boat half full of water, drifting down the rapid current. When he saw the ropes dangling within reach, he seized the nearest one, was drawn up and saved. Now, one rope might not have answered the purpose. The pastor hangs the rope of salvation from the pulpit, and sinners present do not seem to get near it; but if the business men will hang out ropes, and you young men and women, mothers and wives, hang out ropes, sinners will certainly be saved."
Greater stress is here laid upon winning men to Christ by individual effort rather than upon any other method of accomplishing the same purpose, revivals, for example. Not that we do not believe in revivals, for how can one be a believer in the Bible and not believe in revivals? But personal soul-winning is much greater than revivalism. Indeed, is not the purpose and end of a true revival to make the individual Christian worker more interested in souls? A revival that does not accomplish this end is not a success. Both evangelist and pastor agree on this.
Revivalism is fishing with a great net; personal soul-winning is fishing with a single hook. Both are right; but all Christians cannot handle the big net, while all can use the single hook. All Christians are to be fishers of men. That form of Christian activity, therefore, is most important, which excludes none from participation in it.
Much is said today about winning "the crowds" for Jesus Christ. Every such effort is to be encouraged; but we must not forget that men can enter into the kingdom of God only as individuals. Religion emphasizes personality. In what is a man better than a sheep? In this: that he is a personality, and must be dealt with as such, personally, individually. It is for this reason that the intelligent evangelist lays such emphasis upon a good corps of personal workers who shall deal with the crowds who come forward under the impulse of the invitation, individually and personally. Indeed, we do not consider that converts have been dealt with properly until they have been dealt with personally.
Religion emphasizes personality. Recently a photograph was left in my office. It was that of a converted convict. It had no name on it, only a number. Personality is lost in jail; it is a number that is there recognized. It is a number that paces up and down the cell, a number that walks out to work in the yards, a number that sits down to eat, a number that takes sick and dies, and a number that is buried in the potter's field. Personality, not numbers, counts in the kingdom of God; the Church is made up of that innumerable host which no man can number, but who carry upon their foreheads the name of Him whose they are and whom they serve. All talk about a social salvation, and a sweeping of men into the kingdom by crowds, is to be received with some apprehension, to say the least.
Jesus Christ Our Example
Jesus Christ won most, if not all, of His followers by personal effort. Do you recall a single instance of what we, in this day, would call a great revival taking place during Christ's ministry? He enlisted Matthew at the toll-booth, and Peter, James and John at their nets, by personal invitation: "Come, follow me!" One by one, man by man; that is how Christ's cause grew.
What is the great lesson taught in the first chapter of John, the chapter commonly called the "Eureka" or "I have found" chapter? Is it not that the Church of Christ grew and is to grow by personal effort? Does not the Holy Spirit set forth at the beginning of the Christian dispensation the divine method of extending Christianity, the law of the kingdom's growth, namely, the finding of one disciple by another?
The supreme business of the Christian is to individualize the Gospel. No distinction, such as clergy and laity, is here recognized. As followers of Christ we are all to be personal soul-winners. Every Christian layman is "ordained" to go and bring forth fruit, and is a "minister" in so far as every man who has received a gift — and every Christian has received one — is called upon to minister therewith (John 15:16; 1 Peter 4:10,11).
The Apostles' Example
How personal soul-winning is emphasized in the Acts of the Apostles! Pentecost is passed over with comparatively small mention; but the Church of Jesus Christ going out as individual personal workers — John here, Peter there, Philip yonder, the ordinary Christian layman going from house to house, seeking to extend the kingdom of the Christ — this is given in detail, and to its narration is devoted much space.
The church at Colosse began not with a great revival under Paul, but as the result of the faithful personal work of one man, Epaphras. The church at Rome was undoubtedly founded in the same way. Pastors acknowledge that the best additions to their churches are those won to Christ by personal effort. ...Dr. J. O. Peck is reported to have said, that if he had the certainty that he was to live only ten years, and as a condition of gaining heaven at the end thereof, he had to win a thousand or ten thousand souls for Christ, and he was given his choice of winning them either by preaching sermons or by individual effort, he would choose the latter method every time.
Copied for WholesomeWords.org from Personal Soul-winning by William Evans. Chicago: The Bible Institute Colportage Association, 1910. Photo courtesy of Moody Bible Institute Archive.
Selections from Personal Soul-winning