Evangelism

A Picture of a True Minister (from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress)

In Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan describes a scene in which Christian enters the house of one called “Interpreter” (who represents the Holy Spirit). In this house he is shown many “profitable” things. The first such is a picture which is described as follows:

Christian saw the picture a very grave person hang up against the wall; and this was the fashion of it: It had eyes lifted up to heaven, the best of books in his hand, the law of truth was written upon its lips, the world was behind its back; it stood as if it pleaded with men, and a crown of gold did hang over its head.

After Christian asked what the picture meant, Interpreter explained:

The man whose picture this is, is one of a thousand: he can beget children (1 Cor. 4:15), travail in birth with children (Gal. 4:19), and nurse them himself when they are born. And whereas thou seest him with his eyes lift up to heaven, the best of books in his hand, and the law of truth writ on his lips: it is to show thee, that his work is to know, and unfold dark things to sinners; even as also thou seest him stand as if he pleaded with men. And whereas thou seest the world as cast behind him, and that a crown hangs over his head; that is to show thee, that slighting and despising the things that are present, for the love that he hath to his Master’s service, he is sure in the world that comes next, to have glory for his reward. Now, said the Interpreter, I have showed thee this picture first, because the man whose picture this is, is the only man whom the Lord of the place whither thou art going hath authorized to be thy guide in all difficult places thou mayest meet with in the way: wherefore take good heed to what I have showed thee, and bear well in thy mind what thou hast seen, lest in thy journey thou meet with some that pretend to lead thee right, but their way goes down to death.

The footnote in this edition adds:

This is a true picture of a gospel minister, one whom the Lord the Spirit has called and qualified for preaching the everlasting gospel. He is one who despises the world – is dead to its pleasures and joys; his chief aim is to exalt and glorify the Lord Jesus, his atoning blood, justifying righteousness, and finished salvation; and his greatest glory is to bring sinners to Christ, to point him out as the one way to them and to edify and build up saints in him. But there are many who profess to do this, but turn poor sinners out of the way, and point them to a righteousness of their own for justification in whole or in part. Of these the Spirit teaches us to beware; the former, he leads and directs souls to love and esteem highly for their labours and faith in the Lord, and zeal for his honour and glory, and for the salvation of souls. Take heed what you hear. – Mark iv.24.

What a beautiful and convicting picture of a true gospel minister! May God grant multitudes of such, while delivering us from those who would lead astray.

Billy Graham’s Favorite Hymn

Yesterday (November 7th) was Billy Graham’s 96th birthday. As Evangelist Billy Graham nears the end of what by any estimation has been a remarkable life, some scholarly analysis is being given to where his life and ministry fit into the broader context of church and American history. One such study is America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation by noted American religious historian Grant Wacker. Another, more personal, study of Graham has also appeared recently. It is a collection of the transcripts of the television interviews conducted between Graham and Sir David Frost over thirty years. Billy Graham: Candid Conversations with a Public Man offers unique insight into Billy Graham and his perspective over the years on everything from biblical issues and contemporary (now historical) events. Between the book’s introduction and its first chapter there is a fascinating short exchange between Graham and Frost from 1997 in which the famous evangelist indicates his favorite hymn. Here’s the exchange:

Frost: What is the hymn that means the most to you?
Graham: You have a hymn in England that I first learned when I was there in the early fifties, “And Can It Be.”
Frost: “— that I should gain—”
Graham: “— that I should gain—”
Frost: “— An interest in the Savior’s blood; died He for me who caused His pain, for me who Him to death pursued.”
Graham: Good for you. That’s the one that is my favorite hymn.

April 1997

Sir David Frost, Billy Graham: Candid Conversations with a Public Man (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2014), 15.

This hymn by Charles Wesley also happens to be one of my favorites. I wrote a theological and devotional analysis of the hymn here. If you don’t know the hymn already, you should check it out. You can listen to the song and follow along with the theologically rich lyrics below.

Evangelistic Letter to Benjamin Franklin from George Whitefield

On August 17, 1752, the famed Great Awakening preacher George Whitefield penned a letter from London to his Colonial American friend, Benjamin Franklin. Franklin and Whitefield had become close friends during a previous preaching tour of Whitefield in the colonies. They had collaborated on publishing projects and Franklin was fascinated by Whitefield’s preaching, though he remained unconverted. As the following letter reveals, Whitefield had an obvious concern for his friend’s soul. I believe this letter is a model of ways to engage unconverted friends and family. I love the line: “As you have made a pretty considerable progress in the mysteries of electricity, I would now humbly recommend to your diligent unprejudiced pursuit and study the mystery of the new-birth.” Understated on so many levels!

Below see a transcription of the letter and below that an image of the letter as it appears in the 3 volume A Select Collection of Letters of the Late Reverend George Whitefield (London: Edward and Charles Dilly, 1772), 2:440. This letter is accessible on Google Books here.

Dear Mr. F——,                      London, Aug. 17, 1752

Inclosed you have a letter for Mr. R—–. I hope that promotion will do him no hurt. May God help him to make a stand against vice and prophaneness, and to exert his utmost efforts in promoting true religion and virtue! This is the whole of man. I find that you grow more and more famous in the learned world. As you have made a pretty considerable progress in the mysteries of electricity, I would now humbly recommend to your diligent unprejudiced pursuit and study the mystery of the new-birth. It is a most important, interesting study, and when mastered, will richly answer and repay you for all your pains. One at whose bar we are shortly to appear, hath solemnly declared, that without it, “we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” You will excuse this freedom. I must have aliquid Christi in all my letters. I am yet a willing pilgrim for his great name sake, and I trust a blessing attends my poor feeble labours. To the giver of every good gift be all the glory. My respects await your whole self, and all enquiring friends, and hoping to see you yet once more in this land of the dying, I subscribe myself, dear Sir,

Your very affectionate friend, and obliged servant,
G. W.

Letter to Franklin from Whitefield

Make plans to join us in Louisville, Kentucky on October 21-22 for a concentrated two days focused on George Whitefield and his legacy.

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“Satan…will do anything to hold up evangelism and divide Christians.” J.I. Packer

e&sJ.I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God should be required reading for all who desire to understand and discuss the relationship between divine sovereignty and human relationship with its implications for evangelism. It is at once a plea to take Scripture’s teaching regarding both divine sovereignty and human responsibility seriously and a call to declare the gospel indiscriminately to all. In the paragraph below, first published in 1961, Packer presciently responds to the current debate between Calvinists and Traditionalists in the Southern Baptist Convention. His words are a stern warning against the tendency of both sides “to grow self-righteous and bitter and conceited as they criticize each other.”

This is a question that troubles many evangelical Christians today. There are some who have come to believe in the sovereignty of God in the unqualified and uncompromising way in which (as we judge) the Bible presents it. These are now wondering whether there is not some way in which they could and should witness to this faith by modifying the evangelistic practice which they have inherited from a generation with different convictions. These methods, they say, were devised by people who did not believe what we believe about God’s absolute sovereignty in salvation; is that not of itself reason enough for refusing to use them? Others, who do not construe the doctrine of divine sovereignty in quite this way, nor take it quite so seriously, fear that this new concern to believe it thoroughly will mean the death of evangelism; for they think it is bound to undercut all sense of urgency in evangelistic action. Satan, of course, will do anything to hold up evangelism and divide Christians; so he tempts the first group to become inhibited and cynical about all current evangelistic endeavors, and the second group to lose its head and become panicky and alarmist, and both to grow self-righteous and bitter and conceited as they criticize each other. Both groups, it seems, have urgent need to watch against the wiles of the devil.

J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (InterVarsity Press, 1961, rev. ed. 2008), 94.

The Evangelistic Fervor of a 17th Century Particular Baptist

When Andrew Fuller was wrestling with the question of whether or not the gospel should be preached indiscriminately to all, he found a model for promiscuous gospel preaching in the seventeenth-century English Particular Baptist John Bunyan. Fuller noted that Bunyan, contrary to the contemporary Particular Baptist examples of preaching he knew, regularly addressed the unconverted directly and appealed to them to trust in Christ’s saving work. Fuller would eventually realize that the hyper-Calvinistic approach was an intrusion into Particular Baptist life and not faithful to its original heritage. Seventeenth-century Particular Baptists preached the gospel to all, calling upon all to believe and repent.

HC Funeral Sermon pageAlong with Bunyan, Fuller could have also read the writings of men such as Benjamin Keach, Thomas Harrison, William Collins and Hercules Collins. Each of these men were convinced Calvinists soteriologically, subscribing to the Second London Confession of Faith. Yet, each of these men pleaded with sinners to be saved. In his funeral sermon for Hercules Collins, John Piggott commented upon the evangelistic zeal of Collins by saying that “no man could preach with a more affectionate regard to the salvation of souls.”[1] He later called the regular attenders of the Wapping-street Church who remained unsaved as witnesses to the gospel fervor of Hercules Collins: “You are witnesses with what zeal and fervour, with what constancy and seriousness he used to warn and persuade you.”[2] Piggott then began to plead with the lost present himself by crying out, “Tho you have been deaf to his former preaching, yet listen to the voice of this providence, lest you continue in your slumber till you sleep the sleep of death.” He then closed with these forceful words:

You cannot but see, unless you will close your eyes, that this world and the fashion of it is passing away. O what a change will a few months or years make in this numerous assembly! Yea, what a sad change has little more than a fortnight made in this congregation! He that was so lately preaching in this pulpit, is now wrapped in his shroud, and confined to his coffin; and the lips that so often dispersed knowledge amongst you, are sealed up till the resurrection. Here’s the body of your late minister; but his soul is entered into the joy of his Lord. O that those of you that would not be persuaded by him living, might be wrought upon by his death! For tho he is dead, he yet speaketh; and what doth he say; both to ministers and people, but “Be ye also ready, for in such an hour as you think not, the Son of Man cometh?”[3]

Historical evidence such as this should put to rest the claims of some that Calvinism necessarily inhibits evangelistic fervor. Hyper-Calvinism, indeed, is an error that must be rejected by Calvinist and non-Calvinist alike. Those who refuse to call upon all sinners to believe and repent are not only disobedient to the clear teaching of Scripture, they are also not living up to the best of their Calvinistic Baptist heritage exemplified by men such as John Bunyan, Hercules Collins, and Andrew Fuller.


[1] John Piggott, Eleven Sermons, 236.

[2] Ibid., 240.

[3]Ibid.

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This post previously appeared at the blog of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies. It is also posted at HerculesCollins.com.

“Look and Live!” Isaiah 45:22

Yesterday, at the church where I pastor, the guest speaker was unable to make it because of inclement weather. Naturally I thought of the events surrounding Spurgeon’s conversion and the text God used to bring him to faith, so I pulled this sermon from my files and preached it. Audio version here.

Just this past week there was an anniversary of sorts. On January 31, 1892, the famous British preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon died at the age of 59. During his lifetime, Spurgeon preached enough sermons to fill 63 volumes. The sermons’ 20-25 million words are equivalent to the 27 volumes of the ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. The series stands as the largest set of books by a single author in the history of Christianity.

On January 6, 1850 (or 13th, see Lewis Drummond’s case for this date in his Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers), just less than 163 years ago, Charles Haddon Spurgeon experienced salvation on a snowy day in England.

The snow was so bad that the young Spurgeon could not make it to the church he had planned to attend that day. So he turned into a small Primitive Methodist chapel. The minister was snowed in and couldn’t make it there, but that day a lay member of the congregation took as his text Isaiah 45:22 and read, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” (AV)

In this short text three important aspects of the gospel message are evident:

1. The Exclusivity of the Gospel Message;

2. The Simplicity of the Gospel Message; and,

3. The Universality of the Gospel Message

I. The Exclusivity of the Gospel Message, “Look unto me!”
This text is a very exclusivistic one. In this text the LORD says, “Look unto ME!” He does not say look anywhere you please, one look is as good as another. No, He declares that “there is none else.” The context of Isaiah 45:16-25 is very clear. Notice the exclusivistic claims there.

The New Testament Parallel to this passage is John 3:14-15 which refers to the account recorded in Numbers 21:4-9 of the children of Israel’s experience in which they were bitten by poisonous snakes. This plight had come upon the children of Israel because of their continuous complaining against Moses and God. After many people had already died from their snake bites, the ones who had been bitten but had not yet died cried out to Moses acknowledging their sin. God then provided a means of healing from the deadly serpent’s bites. It involved the construction of a serpent of brass placed upon a pole (the debatable source for the medical symbol). Anyone who looked upon the serpent on the pole would be healed and escape death.

The serpent symbolized the sin of Israel. Because of the Israelites sin of unbelief God sent the serpents in judgment. The serpent was a reminder of judgment which in turn was a reminder of the sin. Those who looked on the brazen serpent were acknowledging that their sin was the cause of their judgment and death.

Similarly, as Jesus Christ hung on the cross He symbolized God’s judgment upon sin. This was testified in the Old Testament in the words of Deuteronomy 21:22-23:

And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: (23) His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.

Likewise, Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:21 states that God made Christ “to be sin for us”! This means that God the Father treated His own Son as if He had committed all of our sins!

For he hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.

In John 3:15 it is stated that as the wounded who looked upon the brazen serpent were restored to temporary health, so in this case eternal life follows from the faith of the believer on the crucified and exalted Lord. This is the message which Spurgeon heard 163 years ago. He later recalled:

Then the good man followed up his text in this way: — “Look unto Me; I am sweatin’ great drops of blood. Look unto Me; I am hangin’ on the cross. Look unto Me; I am dead and buried. Look unto Me; I rise again. Look unto Me; I ascend to Heaven. Look unto Me; I am sittin’ at the Father’s right hand. O poor sinner, look unto Me! look unto Me!

II. The Simplicity of the Gospel Message, “Look unto me!”
What a simple message! Look and Live! Look to Jesus now and Live! It is a simple message, but not simplistic. They are great depths of truth in the gospel that have occupied the greatest minds in human history, yet there is a simplicity that even a child can understand. As someone said of Scripture there are waters deep enough for an elephant to swim and shallow enough for a child to wade.

Again note the parallel to Numbers 21 and John 3.

To look, to believe, says more than mere cognitive awareness. It includes the recognition of a desperate need (Why else would one look?).

When someone turns to Christ, they are turning away from theirself. They are willing to be transformed. They don’t want to be left in the same state. They want to be changed! Faith and repentance go together!

Listen as Spurgeon describes his first encounter with the simplicity of the gospel:

Then he looked at me under the gallery, and I daresay, with so few present, he knew me to be a stranger. Just fixing his eyes on me, as if he knew all my heart, he said, “Young man, you look very miserable.” Well, I did; but I had not been accustomed to have remarks made from the pulpit on my personal appearance before. However, it was a good blow, struck right home. He continued, “and you always will be miserable — miserable in life, and miserable in death, — if you don’t obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.” Then, lifting up his hands, he shouted, as only a Primitive Methodist could do, “Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothin’ to do but to look and live.” I saw at once the way of salvation. I know not what else he said, — I did not take much notice of it, — I was so possessed with that one thought. Like as when the brazen serpent was lifted up, the people only looked and were healed, so it was with me. I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word, “Look!” what a charming word it seemed to me! Oh! I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away. There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun; and I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them, of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith which looks alone to Him. Oh, that somebody had told me this before, “Trust Christ, and you shall be saved.”

III. The Universality of the Gospel Message, “All the ends of the earth.”
Again, notice the parallels to Numbers 21 and John 3. In Moses’ day the invitation was open to everyone. Any who would look could be spared their violent death. In John 3:15, the text states that “Whoever believes will not perish, but will have everlasting life.”

This is a message that is for everyone of every race, class, gender and background. This the message that young Spurgeon also heard:

The preacher began thus — “My dear friends, this is a very simple text indeed. It says, ‘Look.’ Now lookin’ don’t take a deal of pains. It ain’t liftin’ your foot or your finger; it is just, ‘Look.’ Well, a man needn’t go to College to learn to look. You may be the biggest fool, and yet you can look. A man needn’t be worth a thousand a year to be able to look. Anyone can look; even a child can look. But then the text says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Ay!” said he, in broad Essex, “many on ye are lookin’ to yourselves, but it’s no use lookin’ there. You’ll never find any comfort in yourselves.

Conclusion:
Have you ever looked to Christ alone? Are you still clinging to your righteousness? There must be recognition of your need for healing if you are to look to Christ. Do you realize that you need Christ?

Notice that I didn’t ask if you’re a church member. I didn’t ask if you’re a good neighbor. I didn’t ask if you’re a good father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, child, etc. Have you looked to Jesus?!?!

All of us were bitten by the serpent, the devil, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. As a result the poisonous venom of sin courses through our veins and will eventually lead to eternal separation from God in hell.

There is only one remedy, there is only one antidote! See the man hanging on the cross! See him bleeding and pleading for you! Look to him and you shall live! Look! Look! Look!