1876: “I believe that God applies one test to all Christian work, and only one—
That is, its success in winning souls. Now here, I do not wish to be misunderstood. I hear some poor child of God say, “Ah well, then indeed my place in the glory will be a low one, and my reward small. I cannot say I have won many souls, maybe not one. How I wish I was like some great preacher, to whom thousands trace their conversion.” Yes, I know men talk thus, but they make a mistake, and a great one.
I confess I feel very strongly, when I hear some one say “Ah, Mr. So-and-So, he has won hundreds of souls, far more than Mr. So-and-So.” I say again, who can tell? What man can step in and award what the great Judge of the universe claims as His sole prerogative—” the day” shall declare it—and till that searching day come, ” when every man’s work shall be tried, what sort it is,” “and the hidden counsels of man’s heart shall be manifested,” let us leave awards alone, remembering that it shall witness the complete reversal of all human judgment, “for the last shall be first, and the first last.”
But for this matter of winning souls, let me make my meaning plain by means of an illustration. Some weeks back, near Lake Erie, a farmer took me into his field to see a new reaping machine at work, and explained to me, with pride, that it would cut fifteen acres a day. Now, suppose that when the sheaves of those acres lay cut and ready to be carried away, the hired laborer who cut them with the machine, had brought his wagon and carted them all to his own home, and claimed the harvest because he had cut it!
What, do you think, would my friend, the farmer, have had to say to him? Nay; it was his land, his seed, his machine, his harvest; and as to the laborer, true, he had cut it down, but what of that? How many others had a hand in the production of the golden grain?
Long months back, in the cold and wet, a man had ploughed the land; then came another, who sowed the good seed; then, as Spring came on, (if it’s the same as in my country,) there came a little boy, and day after day did his work of scaring the crows away. Then it had to be weeded, and many other workers employed before the sheaves made glad the farmer’s heart. And do you think the reaper, coming in a day, going in a day, cutting down fifteen whole acres in a day, shall have all the credit?
I say, when the King distributes the awards of Eternity among His army, He won’t forget one who had but a little part in raising that harvest that is to satisfy Him for the travail of His soul; no, not even the little boy that scared the crows shall be forgotten.
I was sitting once at breakfast with a company of earnest working Christians, and this subject of the seemingly comparative success of some and failure of others in winning souls, came up. I said, that it seemed to me not so much a question of how many souls one man saved, but how many men were employed in winning one soul; and I found out, long after, that God had used that simple word to comfort much, one weary working servant there.
I firmly believe some of the most successful soul-winners are unknown to the church on earth; yet the beds of sickness, or the limited and unnoticed spheres where they are called on to labor, are the battle-fields where great and lasting triumphs—armies of saved souls—are won for God.
Winning souls is laborious work. I find it compared not only to the varied toil of the husbandman, but to the life of the fisherman, full of privation. His work necessitates constant activity, early and late; when others are enjoying repose he must rise; when others seek shelter from the storm, he must face it—not always in the calm you catch fish.
I have seen our herring fishermen, on the east coast of England, holding on to their nets in the wildest storm, while battered ships and diminished numbers in the morning, would bear sad testimony to the terrible dangers of the work. Oh, brothers and sisters in Christ, we are all fishermen, floating for a short day on a changeful sea, surrounded by dying men; every hour, if our eyes arc open, wrecks float past us, from which we may save some.
But, it’s not child’s play, this saving—this winning souls; we must be laborers. Not looking at the work as many do—in the light of a pastime—which we can undertake as an amateur painter does the profession of painting—to wile away time—but as the work, the aim, the purpose of our lives; the One thing in which if we fail, we shall feel the failure throughout all eternity.
I have looked at the salvation of a soul as the great object of the church of Christ’s work here. This indicates its value. But more than this. I see the value of a soul by the relation God enters into with regard to it.
WHAT MUST BE THE VALUE OF A SOUL?
He never sought a kingdom— never looked for man’s praise or honor. But He who was the form of God, who thought it not a thing to be grasped at (since it was already His) to be equal with God—made Himself of no reputation; took the form of a servant; was made in the likeness of man—yet, wonder of wonders, the scale still descends, and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death—even the death of the cross. All to seek lost souls. What must be the value of a soul?
- The devil never seeks earthly honors that I read of. He knows their emptiness; but he goeth about as a roaring lion seeking to devour souls. What must be the value of a soul?
See what a soul is capable of? These bodies we value so highly are not capable of much; they soon wear out, becoming as an old garment, torn, threadbare, moth-eaten: yes, soon I must lay the garment of this body aside. But then the soul shall have lost none of its vigor; but, free from the body’s restraint, as it were, renews its youth.
I open this book of God. I see He who made this soul of mine sets a value on it. He says He intends it for an Eternal crown—a glorious Kingdom, out-lasting Eternity. Nay, more than this. It is to be fitted for the company of God Himself— and in me He finds that which nothing else created can give Him—a companion.
- What, oh, what, must oe the value of a soul?
Surely he that winneth souls is wise I come back to that word with which I started, ” win.” It is a sweet, a suggestive one. I read of winning a battle—and the word implies struggle fierce, deadly and exhausting—so bitter that the conquerers are hailed by friends and country as heroes to be loved and honored.
Yes, souls must be won in battles long and fierce. Here the armies for and against Christ are real; battles real; death and life real; a real armor, needed to guard against a real danger. Here a man cannot saunter on in dressing-gown and slippers, for souls must be won.
We speak of winning a race, and if any of you have ever taken part in a race or races as I have, you will bear me witness it is no child’s play—more than passing enthusiasm is necessary to success. Self-denial has its place, training its place, and last but not least, going on when you are tired—Thus, we must win souls.
But there is one more common use of the word. I suppose in this latter connection it is employed more frequently than in all the others—win love. A. man wins his bride; sometimes slowly and by almost imperceptible degrees he attaches her love to himself, till at length she confesses it, is won, and proves her love by a willing self-surrender. God teach us each thus to win souls. It needs perseverance, long and sorely tried—but love suffereth long, and is kind.
It needs Divine tact; the wisdom that cometh down from above. Oh, it needs holy directness of aim, a directness that will not suffer itself to be diverted from its object by anything. God teach us to cast ourselves into the work of winning souls, as a man sets himself to win the love of a woman who commands his heart.
This is a great subject, dear friends, and a man soon loses himself in its vastness. There are many things connected with soul-winning, I should like to speak about had I time, but there is one difficulty that seems to lie on the very threshold of our purpose to do God’s will and obey His voice, in yielding ourselves more completely to Him for the blessed work. Here is an opportunity occurring to win a soul—it comes on me suddenly.
In the daily routine of life, in business, in a railway car, some one is thrown across my path—he may not know Jesus—this soul may not be won. Shall I speak to him, loving and gently? Yes, I ought—my conscience tells me that, and if I don’t, when the precious opportunity is past I will be sorry for it. But then I don’t feel up to it. Has not that foolish thought often staggered ?—it has me. I don’t feel as if I could say anything; my heart is not burning with love—and so on.
I heard a story once, of a young preacher speaking to a large congregation in England. He did not seem to himself to get on at all; the thoughts would not come, and when they did, why then the words wouldn’t, and when he got through, he said to one of the old elders that he felt he had made a mess of it. The old man said, “God gave Gideon two signs, didn’t He? Yes, at one time a wet fleece, and the ground all dry; at another, the ground all wet and the fleece only dry;” then he kindly added “would you not rather, dear young brother, be the dry fleece if the surrounding ground be all refreshed, than be refreshed yourself while all around you be dry?”
Ah, yes, friends, we don’t walk by feeling, nor yet by sight, but faith. God does not need your refreshment, but He does want others to be refreshed by you, and when you feel dry as an old bone, you are probably doing it.
But now I must say a word to those who, in spite of God’s prolonged entreaty, beginning almost at their cradle, and continued till to-day, are still unsaved, unwon. How shall any poor words that my tongue can frame, convince of this deadly lifelong mistake—this real risk you persist in running of eternal damnation.
Has that unanswered question of Jesus, no weight with you? “What shall it profit a man if he should gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” What should it profit in death? What should it profit in judgment? What should it profit in hell?
You are, many of you, occupying several hours of the day considering questions of profit; consider this question of profit;
You have a house. It may be burned; it may be wrecked tonight. A few years your lease will have expired and you must part with it; or, before that comes, they may carry you from its doors, and it parts with you, but the possession of that house cost some of you far more careful thought, more consideration, than your immortal soul.
Yes; you took pains to make sure that your title to that bit of ground, 30 feet x 100, and the stones and mortar erected on it, was good; that you had security for it, while for a soul, vast as eternity itself, at this moment you have no security whatever—none, absolutely none!
- Oh man, think on the value of thy soul! Many bitter tears have been shed over lost wealth—but it may be regained.
- Sad to see a man lose health, but, blessed be God, there is a land where they never say, I am sick—there he may bid good-bye to pain.
- Sadder still to see a lost reputation—but even for this there is a solace—since Jesus Receives A Man Without Any Reputation.
But if a man dies without Christ, ah, then indeed, I can find no ground of comfort, no vestige of hope. Now the saltiest tear you can shed is none too bitter. You stand by the grave of a lost soul!
Oh man, may the present Spirit of God make this truth real to you now. You see a boy swing a stone round his head in a sling —thy soul is as that stone—the moment that frail thread of life snaps, forth flies thy soul—But Where? Where?
I was walking down the street of a large town in the east of England lately, my thoughts running on the subject I have tried to speak to you to-night about, when my eye caught sight of a notice in an adjoining shop window—” Good workmen wanted” Ah, thought, I, our Lord Jesus seems to put up another and say “Good workmen wanted;” men wise in counsel, warm of heart, strong of body, the best of earth’s intellect; men who will sanctify wisdom, opportunity, gifts, wealth, all! all! for Jesus and the souls of men.
I passed on, and in another window saw ” Women and girls wanted,” and so I again thought our Jesus in His great harvest field needs help of all. Oh, women, good, pure, loving women, Jesus needs you. He accepted woman’s service when on earth, He demands it now. His members weak, sin-smitten, helpless, shuddering under the shadow of death, still remain here. Any service done to them, He enters it as done to Himself. Won’t you do your great part in winning, as you only can win, perishing souls?
And yet. one more notice I saw at the foot of the street. “Good workmen wanted. None but good workmen need apply.” Ah thought I then, Jesus never said any such thing as that. He takes them bad and good, all who come; they may have only a few years, the tail end of a mis-spent life to give. He won’t turn them back. And if they don’t know the trade at all, why even then He bids them welcome, and under His teaching they soon will learn.
Yes “Somebody wanted” that is the cry. Somebody wanted—to be a fellow-worker with the Eternal God, in saving His fellows; somebody wanted who will make all things second to this great thing. May each from his very heart say:— Here am I, Oh Lord, teach, and send me.”—A Sermon By; Rev. Wm. S. Rainsford, B.A.; Delivered On Sunday, August 20, 1876.