1. Who can engage in this work of personal soul-winning?
Fortunately, no Christian, however insignificant he may feel himself to be, or however limited his talents, is shut out from the opportunity of soul-winning. Inasmuch as God holds all Christians responsible for this work, it must be possible for all to do it. Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:26-28) are good illustrations of the opportunities that are afforded every individual Christian. Philip (Acts 8) and Paul (Acts 20:31) show us how preachers may engage in this work. 2 Kings 5:1-5 tells of a housemaid doing this kind of work. It is said that Lord Shaftesbury was led to Christ through one of his housemaids. John 1 gives a picture of a teacher leading his pupil (v. 29); a brother, his brother (vs. 40,41); and a friend, his friend (vs. 43-45) to Christ as the Saviour of the world. 2 Timothy 1:5 and 3:15 afford us a splendid example for parents to lead their children to Christ.
Every Christian should be a personal worker for Christ just as every sinner is a worker for Satan. No one is excluded from this great work.
2. Where may personal soul-winning be done?
Is there any place in which it cannot be done? is a more fitting way to put it. Jesus did it in the temple, in the streets, on the seaside, in a boat, on the mountain-side, and in the house.
Mr. Moody, who was perhaps the greatest personal soul-winner of his day, made it a practice of his life to speak to men on the street-cars. In thus dealing with a man in a Detroit street-car, he asked him the question: "Are you a Christian?" The man answered: "No, sir; but I wish I were." Mr. Moody there and then led the man to Christ.
According to Oriental thought and custom, one with whom you break bread, or with whom you sit at meat is, by that very fact, in covenant with you, and you have sacred duties toward him which must not be shirked or avoided. Has not the Christian similar relations under similar circumstances? Yet how often, yea, rather how seldom, if at all, do we realize these privileges and responsibilities! We talk to friends on other topics, such as politics, and the weather: why not speak to them of Christ?
Governments have two ways of saving life: the lifesaving station and the lighthouse. The rescue mission is the life-saving station and crew; but the ship must be on the rocks, or the man be in the water, before this agency can render help. The Sunday-school is a lighthouse; it warns the ship before it gets onto the rocks. What an opportunity both the rescue mission and the Sunday-school worker have to do personal soul-winning work! Yet how incomparably greater is the opportunity of the Sunday-school teacher. Jesus put a little child in the midst, and he has been in the midst, the center of attraction, ever since; the world revolves around the little child. It is said that on nineteen different occasions Jesus sat down and taught one scholar.
The close of the regular church service affords a splendid opportunity for speaking to souls. Already hearts have in all probability been touched by the preached word, and may be longing to have someone deal definitely with them, and point them individually to Jesus Christ. It was at the close of a great service that Philip won his convert (Acts 8:37,38).
If you want a field of labor,
You can find one anywhere.
3. How personal soul-winning work may be done.
By the use of the mails. Write letters. Here is a vast and almost unemployed agency for the advancement of the kingdom of God. Dedicate your pen to the work of postal evangelism. A Christian Japanese telegraphed to his brother to come home because of important business. The brother came. He found out that the "important business" was in the nature of a great revival that was then in progress in Tokyo. After some hesitancy he decided to stay at home and attend the meetings. On the last night of the meetings he was converted.
Nothing, however, takes the place of the personal heart-to-heart, face-to-face talk. This can be had in the shop, office, store, hall, church, on the street, in the home. Make it your business to talk with your friends about Christ.
Tracts may be effectively used. One day a man riding on a street-car in New York was handed a tract which read, "Look to Jesus when tempted, troubled, or dying!" The man read the tract carefully. As the car reached its destination and the passengers were getting off, he who received the tract said to the man who gave it to him: "Sir, when you gave me this tract, I was on my way down to the river to drown myself. My wife and son have both died, and there is nothing for me to live for. God bless you for giving me this encouraging message." Seventeen hundred people are said to have written to Dr. Chickering, the author of the tract, "What is it to believe on Christ?" stating that they were led to Christ by the use of this leaflet. Many people who may feel themselves too timid to speak a word for Christ, may be thus able to give the word in this manner.
If you have a tract in your possession — and, by the way, all Christians should carry a supply of evangelistic literature with them ready for such use — you may give it. Let your friend read the tract, and then ask him what he thinks of it.
How to Begin.
How to begin a conversation along personal soulwinning lines is not always easily determined. A suggestion or two in this direction may not be out of place.
Generally, men should deal with men, and women with women; the young with the young, and the old with the old. This rule applies particularly to adults, and not to adults dealing with children. Unless it is absolutely necessary, this rule should not be broken.
Avoid introducing your subject by an abrupt question. Lead naturally up to the question of the inquirer becoming a Christian. Jesus, in his dealing with the Samaritan woman (John 4), and Philip (Acts 8) are good examples to follow. To begin by asking at once: "Are you a Christian?" or "Are you saved?" or some such question may, in exceptional cases, be effective, but usually such an approach antagonizes. It is better, especially if you have time enough to do it, to begin on some other topic and gradually lead up to the question of the acceptance of Christ. Philip asked, "Understandest thou what thou readest?" (Acts 8:30). Christ spoke to the Samaritan woman on the general subject of water to begin with (John 4:7).
If you should be dealing with the inquirer at the close of a sermon or service, you may introduce your subject by asking him how he liked the sermon, etc.
Get the inquirer alone, and do not allow yourself, if you can prevent it, to be interrupted. The presence of a third person is usually fatal to the effectiveness of personal work with souls. Often an inquirer who has been opening his heart to the worker has closed it at once as a third person has appeared. As a general rule, no one is convinced in the presence of a crowd; certainly no man will unbosom himself to a spiritual adviser in the presence of others.
To be interrupted while dealing with an inquirer is ofttimes disastrous. Some well-meaning but poorly instructed people seem to find delight in seeking to encourage the inquirer and the worker by saying "Oh, yes, my friend, what the worker is saying is true; do believe it; we are praying for you," or some such words. To do this may be fatal. The worker may have been dealing with the inquirer along a certain line of thought until he is at the point of yielding. For some one not acquainted with this method to come and ignorantly interrupt the conversation may be to neutralize all that the worker has thus far done. Do not interrupt others; do not allow others to interrupt you.
Aim to bring about a decision as soon as you can. Get the inquirer on his knees at the earliest possible moment. This posture of the body has much more to do with the element of submission on the part of the will than we think. As a rule, the bended knee is the end of all argument.
Emphasize the immediate acceptance of Jesus Christ as personal Saviour. Do not be content until the inquirer has definitely settled his personal relationship to Jesus Christ. As many as receive Him become children of God. To receive Christ as personal Saviour is the all important thing. It is not enough to answer the inquirer's questions, to dissolve his doubts, or to enlighten his ignorance. All this the worker may do and still leave the man unsaved. To leave the inquirer with the question of the acceptance of Jesus Christ as his personal Saviour settled — this is the aim and end of all personal dealing.
Do not enter into a heated argument. Men are not usually convinced by this method of dealing. "The servant of the Lord must not strive" (2 Tim. 2:23,24). Hold yourself well in hand. Keep your poise; control yourself; do not lose your temper; be courteous at all times and under all circumstances. Remember Jesus Christ — how graciously He received the contradiction of sinners. When, He was reviled, He reviled not again. Do thou likewise.
Be courageous. Do not fear the face of man. Remember that in spiritual matters the Christian worker possesses the confidence that comes from a settled conviction of a right relation to God. The sinner does not possess this, and consequently does not have the courage that issues from it. The sinner is the fearful one; the Christian is bold and courageous. Some Christians, however, are naturally timid, and, therefore, find it an almost impossible task to approach people in this way. We would recommend to such for their consideration the case of Peter and his timidity (or cowardice) before Pentecost (Mark 14:66-72), and Peter and his courage after Pentecost (Acts 2:14). We would also suggest that the prayer of the early Christians for courage be pondered and appropriated (Acts 4:23-31).
Get the inquirer to read, for himself the verses you use in dealing with him. It makes a much deeper impression upon his mind if he sees and reads the Scriptures for himself. Christian workers of the longest and largest experience particularly emphasize this point.
Looking at the great number of Scripture references in this volume, it would seem like asking something that was impossible, to suggest the memorizing of them all. Yet it is a comparatively easy task if undertaken in the right manner.
A few suggestions will be helpful here.
1. Memorize the location of the verse together with the verse. You will find it just as easy to say, "John 1:29, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world," as you would if you merely said, "Behold the Lamb of God," etc., omitting to state the reference.
2. Learn it. Don't get a faint, indefinite idea. If you want to remember any text in after years, let it make a deep, clear and vivid impression on your mind the moment you learn it.
3. Read the verse over, say twenty times; close your Bible and see if you can repeat it correctly, then to be sure, read it again. Once writing the verse is worth a dozen repetitions of it by mouth.
4. Review. This is the secret of memorizing. Review every day, every week, every mouth, and every year.
5. Practice. Use the passages of Scripture. Seek occasions for talking to persons who have difficulties.
From Personal Soul-winning by William Evans. Chicago: The Bible Institute Colportage Association, 1910. Photo courtesy of Moody Bible Institute Archive.
>> More Personal Soul-winning