Great Texts of the Bible
The Winning of Souls
He that is wise winneth souls.—Proverbs 11:301. There is a striking difference between the translation as given above from the Revised Version and that with which we are more familiar in the Authorized Version. The clause ran formerly, “He that winneth souls is wise.” Thus rendered its meaning was not very clear, and was rather suggestive of credit laid to a man’s account for winning souls. But the transposing of the sentence in the Revised Version gives a much more illuminating thought, at the same time carrying out the idea contained in the preceding clause of the verse. “He that is wise winneth souls.” Does not this imply that the man who is walking in the true wisdom shall win souls, not by specific effort directed to that end or from thought of credit or reward, but as a consequence, a natural result, of the influence of his character and life? We are reminded of our Lord’s picture-lesson of a lamp placed on the stand which “shineth unto all that are in the house.” “Even so,” He says, “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
2. In the New Testament we find the Apostle James, with whom religion is nothing if not practical, beautifully describing the true wisdom. “Who is wise and understanding among you? let him show by his good life his works in meekness of wisdom.” Here again the Revised Version is more telling in its simple directness, and the whole passage strikingly bears out the thought under consideration. The Apostle goes on to say that if there are bitter feelings and jealousy in the heart this wisdom is not a wisdom that comes from above, but is earthly and animal. “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without variance, without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by them that make peace” (Jam 3:13-18). Here we are brought back to our starting-point in Proverbs, “the fruit of the righteous!” The “good life,” the daily walk in meekness of wisdom—it is this that is full of good fruit and becomes a tree of life. The fruit scattered brings forth fruit in other lives, and souls are attracted by its beauty. A tree of life must impart nourishment and health and joy to all who come into contact with it. In the Apocalypse we read of the tree of life whose “leaves were for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:2). If our lives were thus fragrant, shedding peace and love around, should we not prove in our experience the truth of the saying, “He that is wise winneth souls”?
The Value of the Soul
1. The value of a thing depends upon its intrinsic worth; upon what it costs of time, labour, sacrifice, and means to secure it. For gold man leaves home, loved ones, and native land, sails over seas, crosses continents, overleaps yawning chasms, climbs dizzy mountains, digs and delves in storm, heat, and cold, faces perils, famine, and sword to reach the El Dorado of his fond hopes. For the precious diamond he passes through the same rough experience, satisfied only when he snatches from the depths of a Golconda the Koh-i-noor which in time flashes from the jewelled hand of a princess, or the golden crown of a king. But gold and diamonds and political preferment and professional glory are not all there is in this world: they are only the things of a day that perish with the using. Put all material things, known and unknown, in the one scale, and the immortal soul of man in the other, and what is the result? The spiritual outweighs the material!
During the World’s Fair in Chicago there was one place in the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building—in the Tiffany exhibit—that one could never approach, day or night, when the building was open because of the great crowd gathered around it. I was there time and time and time again, but never could I get at the place; I always had to stand on tiptoe and look over the heads of the crowd. What were they looking at? Nothing but a cone of purple velvet revolving upon an axis, and toward the apex of the cone a large, beautiful diamond of almost priceless worth. It was well worth looking at. But I have never recalled that scene but the thought has come to me that the single soul of the raggedest pauper on the streets, of the most degraded woman, of the most ignorant boy or girl on the street is of infinitely more value in God’s sight than ten thousand gems like that.1 [Note: R. A. Torrey.]
2. But there is another and truer method by which to determine the soul’s value—God’s estimate. The real worth of anything depends on what the one knowing its value is willing to pay for it. He who created the soul knew its worth, and so in exchange gave His only begotten Son. The redemptive price paid, “not with corruptible things as silver and gold,” was “the precious blood of Christ,” the highest gift and the brightest glory that Heaven could afford. To win souls, then, should be the animating principle underlying the work of the Christian in pulpit or pew. Soul-winning should be the ruling passion of our lives, and the highest ideal of the most ambitious religious zealot. Indeed, it is the sum total of all wisdom. “He that is wise winneth souls.”
Some years ago in Salt Rapids, Minnesota, two farmer brothers were digging a well. The one was down in the well with a bucket, and the other at the top with the windlass. The man who was digging down in the well struck a quicksand, and the sand commenced to pour into it. Fortunately there was a good broad plank down in the well, and the man at the bottom got underneath that plank, but the sand silted in from every side. His brother at the top could hear his voice, and knew that he was living. He sent word out for help, and from all over the township the townspeople gathered at the mouth of the well to try and dig the man out. They dug on throughout the day, and at night torches were brought, and in relays through the long night all the men in the township worked on and on, digging out the sand as it kept pouring in, and before dawn they succeeded in getting the man out. I afterwards saw him alive and well. A whole township working all night to dig out one man, to save one life! Was it worth while? I say it was. And Christ dug very deep to save our souls.2 [Note: Ibid.]
The Way to Win Souls
1. What is meant by winning souls? To the writer of the text, we may be quite sure, the soul meant nothing less than the entire individuality, with all its faculties, and whoever would win souls, as he understood the term, would have to address himself to the whole man or woman, not to some rarefied, ethereal, intangible part of their being. To win a human being is, we may take it, tantamount to winning him over to some point of view, to a certain resolution, to make him take his stand on a certain side. Now, we all know what is meant by a winning manner—how often we have envied the fortunate individuals who seemed naturally endowed with that gift, who could state their case and advance their claims in a way it was difficult to resist, who could make you do things without hurting your feelings, convincing you somehow that those were the right things to do, though you had not thought so previously! Some one else may urge just the same course of action on you, but his manner, his very tone, has an aggressive quality which rasps you, ruffles you, rouses your opposition, and he fails to carry you with him, however cogent his arguments may be. Now souls—men and women—have to be won, not hustled, not coerced, not threatened. The appeal even of religion, however majestic, must respect man’s reason, and not seek to carry the inviolable sanctuary of the soul by force; no one has ever yet been driven into heaven as into a sort of concentration camp, at the point of the bayonet or the crack of the whip, and He who understood the human soul as no one else has ever done used the note of appeal rather than of command or menace. Soul-winning—the influencing of men and women for the better—which is not first and last persuasive is a contradiction in terms.
(1) The word “win” is used in warfare. Warriors win cities and provinces. Now, to win a soul is a much more difficult thing than to win a city. Observe the earnest soul-winner at his work; how cautiously he seeks his great Captain’s directions to know when to hang out the white flag to invite the heart to surrender to the sweet love of a dying Saviour; when, at the proper time, to hang out the black flag of threatening, showing that, if grace be not received, judgment will surely follow; and when to unfurl, with dread reluctance, the red flag of the terrors of God against stubborn, impenitent souls. The soul-winner has to sit down before a soul as a great captain before a walled town; to draw his lines of circumvallation, to cast up his entrenchments, and to fix his batteries. He must not advance too fast, or he may overdo the fighting; he must not move too slowly, or he may not seem to be in earnest, and may thus do mischief. Then he must know which gate to attack, how to plant his guns at Ear-gate, and how to discharge them; how, sometimes, to keep the batteries going, day and night, with red-hot shot, if perhaps he may make a breach in the walls; at other times, to lie by and cease firing, and then, on a sudden, to open all the batteries with terrific violence, if peradventure he may take the soul by surprise, or cast in a truth when it was not expected, to burst like a shell in the soul, and do damage to the dominions of sin.
The Christian soldier must know how to advance by little and little—to sap that prejudice, to undermine that old enmity, to blow into the air that lust, and at the last, to storm the citadel. It is his to throw the scaling ladder up, and to have his ears gladdened as he hears a clicking on the wall of the heart, telling that the scaling ladder has grasped and has gained firm hold; and then, with his sabre between his teeth, to climb up, spring on the man, slay his unbelief in the name of God, capture the city, run up the blood-red flag of the cross of Christ, and say, “The heart is won, won for Christ at last.” This needs a warrior well-trained, a master in his art. After many days’ attack, many weeks of waiting, many an hour of storming by prayer and battering by entreaty, to carry the Malakoff of depravity,—this is the work, this is the difficulty. It takes no fool to do this. God’s grace must make a man wise thus to capture Mansoul, to lead its captivity captive, and open wide the heart’s gates that the Prince Immanuel may come in. This is winning a soul.1 [Note: C. H. Spurgeon, The Soul-Winner, 254.]
(2) We use the word in love-making. We speak of the bride-groom who wins his bride. There are secret and mysterious ways by which those who love win the object of their affection, which are wise in their fitness to the purpose. The weapon of this warfare is not always the same, yet where that victory is won the wisdom of the means becomes clear to every eye. The weapon of love is sometimes a look, or a soft word whispered and eagerly listened to; sometimes it is a tear; but this I know, that we have, most of us in our turn, cast around another heart a chain which that other would not care to break, and which has linked us twain in a blessed captivity which has cheered our life. Yes, and that is very nearly the way in which we have to save souls. That illustration is nearer the mark than any of the others. Love is the true way of soul-winning, for when we speak of storming the walls, and when we speak of wrestling, those are but metaphors, but this is near the fact. We win by love.
I believe that much of the secret of soul-winning lies in having bowels of compassion, in having spirits that can be touched with the feeling of human infirmities. Carve a preacher out of granite, and even if you give him an angel’s tongue, he will convert nobody. Put him into the most fashionable pulpit, make his elocution faultless, and his matter profoundly orthodox, but, so long as he bears within his bosom a hard heart, he can never win a soul. Soul-saving requires a heart that beats hard against the ribs. It requires a soul full of the milk of human kindness; this is the sine qua non of success.1 [Note: C. H. Spurgeon, The Soul-Winner, 256.]
2. What is this wisdom that wins souls? It is the wisdom not of the schools, but of the heart. It comes from experience and sympathetic insight. The Hebrew word for “winneth” may also be rendered “taketh” and with this we may compare Christ’s promise to His disciples that they should “catch men” (Luke 5:10). This suggests the art of fishing or bird-catching. We must have our lures for souls, adapted to attract, to fascinate, to grasp. We must go forth with our bird-lime, our decoys, our nets, our baits, so that we may but catch the souls of men. Their enemy is a fowler possessed of the basest and most astounding cunning; we must outwit him with the guile of honesty, the craft of grace. But the art is to be learned only by Divine teaching, and herein we must be wise and willing to learn.
Washington Irving tells us of some three gentlemen who had read in Izaak Walton all about the delights of fishing. So they must needs enter upon the same amusement, and accordingly they became disciples of the gentle art. They went into New York, and bought the best rods and lines that could be purchased, and they found out the exact fly for the particular day or month, so that the fish might bite at once, and as it were fly into the basket with alacrity. They fished, and fished, and fished the livelong day; but the basket was empty. They were getting disgusted with a sport that had no sport in it, when a ragged boy came down from the hills, without shoes or stockings, and humiliated them to the last degree. He had a bit of a bough pulled off a tree, and a piece of string, and a bent pin; he put a worm on it, threw it in, and out came a fish directly, as if it were a needle drawn to a magnet. In again went the line, and out came another fish, and so on, till his basket was quite full. They asked him how he did it. Ah! he said, he could not tell them that, but it was easy enough when you had the way of it.1 [Note: C. H. Spurgeon.]
“I used to judge the worth of a person,” writes George Gissing, “by his intellectual power and attainment. I could see no good where there was no logic, no charm where there was no learning. Now I think that one has to distinguish between two forms of intelligence, that of the brain and that of the heart, and I have come to regard the second as by far the more important.” Indeed, I must give my heart to the sinfullest soul, the most pithless and the most provoking, if I am to entice it home to God. I must love it, as God has loved me, out and up from the pit of its corruption.2 [Note: A. Smellie, In the Secret Place, 9.]
(1) We must be wise first of all, in the grand old Scripture sense of the word; we are to be good. The successful winner of souls must himself have found the truth. This is what the first clause of the verse asserts. “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life.” The fruit of the righteous—that is to say, his life—is not a thing fastened upon him, but it grows out of him. It is not a garment which he puts off and on, but is inseparable from himself. The sincere man’s religion is the man himself, not a cloak for his concealment. True godliness is the natural outgrowth of a renewed nature, not the forced growth of pious hothouse excitement. Is it not natural for a vine to bear clusters of grapes? natural for a palm tree to bear dates? Certainly as natural as it is for the apples of Sodom to be found on the trees of Sodom, and for noxious plants to produce poisonous berries. When God gives a new nature to His people, the life which comes out of that new nature springs spontaneously from it. And that which to the believer himself is fruit becomes to others a tree. From the child of God there falls the fruit of holy living, even as an acorn drops from the oak; this holy living becomes influential and produces the best results in others, even as the acorn becomes itself an oak, and lends its shade to the birds of the air. The Christian’s holiness becomes a tree of life. It yields shade and sustenance to all around.
I remember in the Rijks-Museum at Amsterdam seeing a picture, “The Soul-Fishers”—a very crude and naïve affair, boats manned by monks tossing on the billows, and the monks, equipped with fishing-rods, hauling out as many as they could of the innumerable souls perishing in the waters. That is an extremely crude pictorial rendering of a truth which concerns us all—not merely one class or profession. We can all win souls, touch lives to finer issues, and that by nothing more miraculous than by our own daily walk. The one transforming uplifting force whose attraction never fails to tell is personal goodness, doing its work without advertisement, diffusing its fragrance without an eye to effect or consciousness of an audience; the one contagion that cannot be stamped out is what has been called the contagion of character.1 [Note: J. Warschauer, The Way of Understanding, 236.]
(2) We must be wise in the knowledge of the human heart. In their inmost nature the heart of a child and the heart of a man are much alike; you may study one in the other, and to know one is to know the other. And here we are speaking not of that knowledge which can be had only by great labour and research, but of that which any one may gain who, with a prayerful, sympathizing nature, goes out into the world, and keeps his eyes open. We have no need to purchase costly volumes in order to possess this wisdom, the books we are to read lie all about us; and within ourselves we carry what ought to be to us an open volume—our own hearts. No doubt it needs patience and practice to be able to speak a word in season; here, as elsewhere, we must learn to do well; but then how precious is the result, upon what a vantage ground we are put for casting our net to purpose! The teacher who knows how his children live, who has taken the measure of their several characters, can give to each his portion of meat in due season as none other can; he has an incalculable advantage over the preacher, in that he can deal in personal applications; he need not draw his bow at a venture, for he can urge his point of rebuke or entreaty right home.
3. The wise man will have a passion for souls. He knows that he must take men one by one. The gospel plan is that people are to be saved, not in masses, but individually. Telling of Jesus before crowded audiences may be inspiring to a speaker, but it is face to face, hand to hand, work that reaches the heart. Christianity always has grown and always will grow on this line of personal finding. A wins B, B wins C, and C wins D; thus “the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” The feet of every one of us who love the Lord Jesus were turned to the Cross through the influence of some one person—some neighbour, friend, mother, teacher, or pastor. In the first chapter of the Gospel of John how strikingly is this point demonstrated! There stands that rugged, kindly faced wilderness preacher with two of his disciples. He humbly introduces to them the Lamb of God; then Andrew “findeth” the Messiah; then he first “findeth” his brother Simon: Jesus then “findeth” Philip, and Philip “findeth” Nathanael. The wise man who is to win souls one by one must have a passion for soul-winning.
The true soul-winner must be an enthusiast. This is not a task which the perfunctory and the lethargic can perform. Those are not victories achieved by the man who is prompted only by a cold sense of duty. On the altar of the heart the fires must blaze at white heat. “With a rush the intolerable craving must shiver throughout me like a trumpet-call.” The thought of the depths to which souls may fall and of the heights to which they may rise, the conviction of the responsibility laid on me to benefit them, the summons of One who deserves a thousand times more than I can repay Him—these motives are to give hands and feet and wings to my endeavour. I cannot gain recruits for science, unless its fairy tales have enchanted my own mind; or for history, unless I have followed its turnings and windings through the centuries; or for poetry, unless I am fascinated by its melody and music; and it is useless trying to gain recruits for Christ, till Christ is personally my Chiefest and my Best. My sin, my death, my hopelessness, His forgiveness, His redemption, His glory: the vital meaning of these the Gospel and the Holy Ghost must teach to myself. There can be no true soul-winner who is not a pupil at the feet of Jesus.1 [Note: A. Smellie, In the Secret Place, 9.]
4. The successful winner of souls must rely less on his own wisdom and more on the wisdom of God. One of the principal qualifications of a great artist’s brush must be its yielding itself up to him so that he can do what he likes with it. A harpist will love to play on one particular harp because he knows the instrument, and the instrument almost appears to know him. So, when God puts His hand upon the very strings of our being, and every power within us seems to respond to the movements of His hand, we are instruments that He can use. It is not easy to keep in that condition, to be in such a sensitive state that we receive the impression that the Holy Spirit desires to convey, and are influenced by Him at once.
If there is a great ship out at sea, and there comes a tiny ripple on the waters, it is not moved by it in the least. Here comes a moderate wave, the vessel does not feel it. But look over the bulwarks; see those corks down there, if only a fly drops into the water, they feel the motion, and dance upon the tiny wave. May you be as mobile beneath the power of God as the cork is on the surface of the sea! For this self-surrender is one of the essential qualifications for one who is to be a winner of souls.2 [Note: C. H. Spurgeon, The Soul-Winner, 66.]
My soul is drawn out to the hungry soul,
But what have I to give, of wine or bread,
Who hunger, thirst, myself, and scarce am fed,
So small my portion, and so scant my dole?
Is it enough that I should hold my cup
To starving lips, and, with a touch divine,
Wilt Thou transmute its water into wine,
To heavenly food the crumbs I offer up?
Oh Thou, compassionate, who on the rood
Thyself, our mystic Bread and Wine didst spend,
I and my brother low before Thee bend.
Fill Thou his soul—my hungry soul—with good.3 [Note: M. Blaikie, Songs by the Way, 47.]
Brandt (J. L.), Soul Saving, 7.
Campbell (A.), in The World’s Great Sermons, iv. 81.
Norton (J. N.), Every Sunday, 418.
Oosterzee (J. J. van), The Year of Salvation, ii. 178.
Smellie (A.), In the Secret Place, 9.
Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xv. (1869), No. 850; xxii. (1876), No. 1292.
Spurgeon (C. H.), The Soul-Winner, 219.
Stuart (J. G.), Talks about Soul-Winning, 7.
Warschauer (J.), The Way of Understanding, 231.
British Friend, xix. (1910) 3 (E. M. Westlake).
Christian World Pulpit, ii. 289 (E. Medley); xv. 334 (J. Morgan).
Churchman’s Pulpit: Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, iv. 216 (J. E. Vaux), 218 (S. A. Northrop).
Free Church Year Book, 1902, p. 29 (A. C. Dixon).
Homiletic Review, li. 453 (R. A. Torrey).