WISDOM IN WINNING SOULS
By CHARLES G. FINNEY
Proverbs. 11:30: The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise.
[All Scripture verses after the text have been added to the original lesson, and all comments in brackets are mine, Daniel ]
It is both a wise things to wins souls to Christ, as well as something that takes wisdom, and power and love.]
THE GREAT END OF PREACHING IS TO GLORIFY GOD IN THE SALVATION OF MEN.
But the very end for which preaching is appointed is one against which is arrayed the most powerful opposition of the very sinners themselves, who are in perishing need of salvation. Hence they are often ingenious in their efforts for defeating the means employed to save their souls.
And yet, in the very face of such dire infatuation and depravity, and of such formidable obstacles to the work to be achieved, God has ordained that the work of conversion and sanctification shall be mainly promoted by appropriate and forcible preaching.
For this reason, the wise and successful laborer in winning souls cannot ordinarily be indifferent and careless in the matter and manner of proclaiming saving truth to his hearers. He may not reasonably expect the divine blessing to crown his labors with great success, unless he aims definitely to awaken the careless, convict the sinful, and direct them in the shortest way to Christ, for salvation.
And under our first general division, let us consider the matter of preaching which is especially adapted to saving men.
1. In the first place, all preaching should be practical.
The proper end of all doctrine is practice. Anything brought forward as doctrine, which cannot be made use of as practical, is not preaching the gospel. To preach doctrines in an abstract way, and not in reference to practice, is absurd. God always brings in doctrine to regulate practice.
What can a minister preach, who preaches no doctrine? All preaching should be doctrinal, and all preaching should be practical.
Titus 1:3: But hath in due times manifested his word through preaching, which is committed unto me according to the commandment of God our Saviour;
Ps. 5:23: Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me: and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I show the salvation of God.
1Cor. 1:18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.
Acts 3:9: .. And all the people saw him walking and praising God:
1Ths. 1:9: .. how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God;
Rev. 16:9 And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory.
2. PREACHING SHOULD BE DIRECT. THE GOSPEL SHOULD BE PREACHED TO MEN, AND NOT ABOUT THEM.
The minister must address his hearers. He must preach to them about themselves, and not leave the impression that he is preaching to them about others. He will never do them much good, farther than he succeeds in convincing each individual that he means him.
He must preach in reference to the sins of the congregation, in order to reform their lives and save their souls.
Mk. 1:22: And they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes.
Jn. 7:46 The officers answered, Never man spake like this man.
Acts 14:15: And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein:
Acts 26:20b: ..that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.
3. HE SHOULD HUNT AFTER SINNERS AND CHRISTIANS, WHEREVER THEY MAY HAVE ENTRENCHED THEMSELVES IN INACTION. It is not the design of preaching to make men easy and quiet, but to make them act rightly.
[The Lord Jesus comforted the afflicted, but afflicted those who were comfortable in their sins. Biblical preaching will do likewise.]
Mt. 21:12: And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,
13 And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.
Lk. 14:23: And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.
Jn. 18:20 Jesus answered him, I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing.
Amos 6:1: Woe to them that are at ease in Zion,
Rm. 15:20: Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man's foundation: 21 But as it is written, To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand.
1Cor. 15:34: Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.
4. THE SINNER SHOULD BE MADE TO FEEL HIS GUILT, AND NOT BE LEFT TO THE IMPRESSION THAT HE IS MERELY UNFORTUNATE. HE SHOULD BE MADE TO BLAME AND CONDEMN HIMSELF, IN ORDER THAT HE MAY SEEK PARDON.
Mt. 23:14: Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.
Acts 2:34 For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, 35 Until I make thy foes thy footstool. 36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.
37 Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?
Acts 7:51: Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. 52 Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which showed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers.
5. A PRIME OBJECT WITH THE PREACHER MUST BE TO MAKE PRESENT OBLIGATION FELT.
Very few, indeed, in ordinary times, in ordinary congregations, feel the pressure of immediate obligation to repent.
Very few ministers make the impression upon sinners that they are expected to repent now. And until the sinner's conscience is reached, on this point, the preaching affects him but little.
2 Cor. 5:11: Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; ... 20 Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God.
Rev. 2:5: Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.]
6. SINNERS SHOULD BE MADE TO FEEL THAT THEY HAVE SOMETHING TO DO, and that is to repent, and that this something they must do for themselves, because neither God nor any one else can do it for them. They should obey God, and not wait for anything. For religion is something to do, and not something to wait for. *
Mk. 1:15: And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.
Mk. 6:12: And they went out, and preached that men should repent.
Acts 3:19: Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out,
Joshua 24:15: choose you this day whom ye will serve;
7. ALL THE EXCUSES OF SINNERS SHOULD BE ANNIHILATED.
They should be shown that the plea of inability to love and obey God, is the worst of all excuses, because it is a wicked disinclination. It charges God with tyranny in commanding men to serve Him, when He has given them no capacity to strive to please Him. Hence sinners should be shown that all pleas in excuse for continuing in impenitence and unbelief a single moment, are acts of rebellion against God.
[Here we enter into the controversy regarding predestination, between Calvinism and Arminianism, and which dispute i will not detail much here. The debate is not only whether God offers grace to all, and which grace man can resist (Arminianism), or whether the Lord withholds grace from some, only giving it to the elect, and which grace they cannot resist (Calvinism), but it is also upon what basis the elect are chosen that is critical (though what is truly critical is to be one of the elect). Bless the Lord. In either case, both may preach “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). Which gospel declares that as sinners we are utterly destitute of any merit of iur own (or that of a church, etc.) whereby we may merit Heaven not escape Hell, and so we must look to the Son sent by the Father to be “the propitiation for our sins” and “the Savior of the world” (Rm. 3-5; 1Jn. 4:10; 14). That sinners are dead in sin and unable to repent unless the Lord grants them repentance is incontrovertible, as is the fact that the Bible commands men to repent as if it where within their ability. And as the Holy Spirit calls men by such Biblical preaching, then so must we. Souls cannot offer inability as an excuse, and the Lord condemns those who resist His word, while the soul that admits his inability to save himself and looks in faith to Christ finds salvation. Praise ye the Lord!
Acts 17:30: And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:
Rm. 1:20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse
Ezekiel 22:30: And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none. 31 Therefore have I poured out mine indignation upon them;
8. SINNERS SHOULD BE MADE TO FEEL THE DANGER OF GRIEVING THE SPIRIT OF GOD.
They should be made to understand that unless they yield, and are made willing in the day of God's power, the Holy Ghost may leave them forever, and their damnation may be sealed long before death.
Gn. 6:3: And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man,
Acts 13:40: Beware therefore, lest that come upon you, which is spoken of in the prophets; 41 Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you. cf. Prv. 122:33).
2Cor. 6:2b:...behold, now is the day of salvation.
Let us now consider the manner of preaching effectively.
1. IN THE FIRST PLACE, PREACHING SHOULD BE CONVERSATIONAL. In order to be clearly understood it should be colloquial in style.
In manner, a minister should preach more as he talks in earnest, familiar conversation, if he wishes to deeply impress and interest his hearers.
2 Cor. 4:2: But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.
2. PREACHING SHOULD BE IN THE PLAIN LANGUAGE OF COMMON LIFE. It should be intelligible to the hearers. It should be like the language of the gospels, easily understood by the common people.
1 Cor. 14:9: So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air.
3d. IT SHOULD BE PARABOLICAL IN STYLE. ILLUSTRATIONS SHOULD BE FREQUENTLY DRAWN FROM INCIDENTS, REAL OR SUPPOSED.
Mt. 13:3: And he spake many things unto them in parables,
4th. PREACHING SHOULD BE MODERATELY REPETITIOUS. A minister should repeat his main points, and whatever he perceives is not perfectly understood by his hearers.
Said an eminent lawyer: "In addressing a jury, I always expect that whatever I wish to impress upon their minds, I must repeat, in the same or different language. Otherwise I do not carry their minds along with me, so that they can deeply feel the force of the subsequent arguments or considerations."
[That the Lord and His apostles did so is evident even by many reiterations of commands, etc., and thus we are given four gospels.]
5th. IN ORDER TO BE DEEPLY IMPRESSIVE, A MINISTER SHOULD DEEPLY FEEL HIS SUBJECT. Then he will suit the action to the word, and the word to the action, so as to make the full impression which the truth is calculated to make. he should be in solemn earnest in what he says, and he will be effective.
Mark 9:45: And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:
Rm. 9:1: I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, 2 That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. 3 For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh:
6th. HE SHOULD AVOID MONOTONY IN DELIVERY. If he preaches in a monotonous way, he will be very liable to preach the people to sleep. Any monotonous sound, loud or faint, if continued long, disposes people to sleep. You never hear this monotonous manner from people in earnest conversation.
Neh. 8:8: So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.
John 7:46: The officers answered, Never man spake like this man.
7th. HE SHOULD ADDRESS THE FEELINGS ENOUGH TO SECURE ATTENTION, AND THEN DEAL WITH THE CONSCIENCE, AND PROBE IT TO THE QUICK. THE ONLY WAY TO SECURE SOUND CONVERSIONS IS TO DEAL FAITHFULLY WITH THE CONSCIENCE.
[Feelings here are not simply emotions, but spiritually awakening interests.]
Mark 10:21 Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow Me. 22 And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.
Acts 24:25: And as he [Paul] reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.
8th. IN ORDER TO BE NATURAL AND IMPRESSIVE IN DELIVERY, PREACHING MUST BE IN SOME DEGREE EXTEMPORANEOUS; especially should this be done briefly at the termination of the main points, and at the conclusion.
Lk. 4:20: And he closed the book, and he gave it again
to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears
9th. IN ORDER TO [HAVE] SUCCESS IN WINNING SOULS, THE MINISTER MUST ANTICIPATE THE OBJECTIONS AND DIFFICULTIES OF SINNERS AND ANSWER THEM.
What does the lawyer do, when pleading before a jury?
He anticipates every objection which may be made by his antagonist, and carefully removes or explains them.
Mk. 12:13: And they send unto him certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, to catch him in his words. ... 15b But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, Why tempt ye me? bring me a penny, that I may see it. ...
10th. A MINISTER SHOULD AIM DEFINITELY AT THE CONVERSION OF HIS CONGREGATION.
But you may ask, "does not all preaching aim at this?" No. A minister always has some aim in preaching, but many sermons do not seem to be aimed at the conversion of sinners. And if sinners were converted under them, the preacher himself would be amazed.
Acts 2:38: Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. 40 And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.
1 Cor. 9:22b: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.
11th. AND HENCE, IF MINISTERS ARE WISE IN WINNING SOULS, SUCH PREACHING WILL BE REVIVAL FIRE PREACHING - IT WILL BE BLESSED "TO THE SANCTIFICATION OF CHRISTIANS AND THE CONVERSION OF SINNERS."
Acts 2:41: Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. 42 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43 And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. 44 And all that believed were together, and had all things common;
“O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good; for His mercy for ever” (Ps. 107:1)!
*[It seems evident that in Finney's time a form of Calvinistic doctrine had brought many to believe they could/should wait for some stirring in their heart before they repented. Or that God would have revival in His time, with no need for faith-full souls to earnestly labor in prayer and preaching as His instruments to that end.
Though man, being “dead in trespasses and sins,” has no natural fleshly ability to love and obey God, God offers grace – even grace to yield to grace - and the man is without excuse who spurns such grace. Calvinism holds that no man can resist grace (see Rom. 8 + 9), and the damned are not given such to be saved by, while Arminianism holds that the damned are those who can and do resist such grace (see Prv. 1:23-33; 2Pet. 3:9).
In either case, preachers are to preach just as the Bible does, which both states that repentance and faith are granted and given by God (Acts 11:18; Eph. 2:8), and yet commands men to repent and believe, as if they were had been given the grace to do so. And while the form of Calvinism Finney saw likely made the Sovereignty of God into something that excused mans responsibility to act, Finney in response at times seems to exclude the need for Supernatural workings for conversion and revival. But a fuller reading of his works shows that he stated such was necessary, and manifested utter dependence upon the Lord, trusting that He would keep His promise if we obeyed His precepts in faith. However, Finney surely held that man can resist God to damnation, which does seem to contradict Rm. 9 in particular. I can make a case for both, but presently invoke Ps. 131 on this.
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