[THE DIVINE ART OF SOUL-WINNING
by J. Oswald Sanders–fourth file]
AN OLD TESTAMENT ILLUSTRATION AND A NEW TESTAMENT EXAMPLE
My brother, I do not know how any Christian Service
is to be fruitful if the servant is not primarily baptized
in the spirit of a suffering compassion. We can never heal
the wounds we do not feel. Tearless hearts can never be
heralds of the passion. We must bleed if we would be
ministers of the saving blood. “Put on, therefore, as God’s
elect, a heart of compassion.”
–J. H. Jowett,D.D.
THE OLD TESTAMENT ILLUSTRATION
The word WIN used so frequently in connection with the theme
of these studies, may legitimately be applied to the
captivating of human affections. The figure of the
bridegroom wooing and winning his bride is elevated to the
spiritual realm by the apostle Paul, who speaks of the
believer as one who is married to another,” even to Christ
(Rom. 7:4). No more beautiful illustration of the work of
the soul-winner can be found in Holy Writ than the winning
of Rebekah for Isaac by Eliezer, Abraham’s servant. The
delicate task entrusted to ELIEZER–THAT OF WINNING A BRIDE
FOR ISAAC–has a present-day parallel in the task of the
Christian worker who seeks to win for Christ a bride. Let
us study this servant and his methods as recounted in
Genesis 24, first reading the chapter through.
I. HIS QUALIFICATIONS
1. He was born in Abraham’s house (Gen 15:3), and
thus had AN INTIMATE KNOWLEDGE OF HIS MASTER, AND OF HIS
PLANS for Isaac, his only son. The soul-winner too must,
through close and intimate fellowship with God, enter into
His purposes for His only Son.
2. His whole life was unreservedly YIELDED TO THE
SERVICE OF THE ONE WHO SUPPLANTED HIM, for Eliezer would
have been heir to all Abraham’s wealth had Isaac not been
born (cf. Gen 15:2-4; 24:36, with John 3:30).
II. HIS MISSION
1. ABRAHAM REVEALED TO HIM HIS SECRET PURPOSE to
obtain a wife for his son, and God has similarly given us to
know His secret purpose for His only begotten (Acts 15:14).
2. ELIEZER RECEIVED DEFINITE INSTRUCTIONS where to
go, and where not to go. It was useless to go where the
chosen bride was not. He was not bound to approach EVERY
young woman he met. So the soul-winner is not called upon
to speak to EVERY person who crosses his path, but only to
those to whom he is directed by the Holy Spirit.
Willingness to press the claims of Christ on anyone,
anywhere, together with an attentive ear to the guidance of
the Spirit, will bring the worker into a glorious liberty in
3. HE WAS ROBBED OF ALL HONOR, BUT FREED OF ALL
RESPONSIBILITY. An angel was to precede him (v.7), who
would prepare the heart of the chosen bride for the
favorable reception of the message–a gracious ministry
fulfilled for the soul-winner by the Holy Spirit. In the
event of the woman being unwilling to accompany him after he
had given the invitation, he was freed from all
responsibility (v.8). Our responsibility extends only to
the faithful delivery of God’s message.
III. HIS ATTITUDE
1. HE DID NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE DIFFICULTY of
persuading a woman to go with him, a stranger, to be the
bride of one whom she had never seen. He knew the gain and
glory of being a bride of Isaac, but she had no such
knowledge. So the Christian worker knows the unsearchable
riches of Christ; but as he has nothing to appeal to the
senses of his “prospect,” he sometimes fears that his Master
will meet with rejection. It is just here that he must rely
on the ministry of the angel.
2. HE PROPOSED A CARNAL EXPEDIENT–to take Isaac
with him. Abraham indignantly rejected the proposal (v.6).
Isaac had to be offered to the woman in a verbal message by
the chosen messenger. Sometimes the Word of God seems
painfully inadequate to lure a soul away from the world to
Christ. Yet, when this sword is wielded in the power of the
Spirit, it is “quick and powerful.” It is still true that
“faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
3. HIS DEPENDENCE ON THE ANGEL DID NOT CUT THE
NERVE OF HIS OWN ENDEAVORS. He prayed and acted as though
all depended on him. He knew that God had chosen Isaac’s
bride, but he still prayed that he might be led to the one
of God’s choice, and put himself in the way of God’s
leading. He ventured forth in faith. “I, being in the way,
the Lord led me.” The pilot cannot guide the ship while it
is moored to the wharf.
4. HE SUBORDINATED HIS OWN COMFORT AND INTERESTS to
those of his master. He never obtruded himself. He speaks
of “my master” (vv. 12,27,34). He would not so much as
satisfy his hunger till he had unburdened his heart (v.33).
The lesson is obvious.
IV. HIS METHOD
1. HE PRAYED before he made the proposal (v.12),
and during the negotiations (v.26), nor did he forget to
praise God as he saw his prayers being answered (v.15).
2. HE DELIVERED HIS MESSAGE CLEARLY AND SIMPLY.
Abraham had one wonderful son, on whom he had bestowed all
his wealth. He desired a bride for his son, and Rebekah was
the bride of divine choice. Would she consent? “The Father
loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand.”
The worker’s task is to present clearly and winsomely the
facts of the Gospel, in order to induce souls to accept the
3. HE USED NO UNDUE PRESSURE, although he was most
anxious for the answer to be “Yes.” He left that to the
angel. There is always a thrilling pause when a soul is
brought to the point of decision for Christ, but it is the
work of the Spirit to draw that soul to say “Yes” to Christ.
The wise worker will not force a decision. Eliezer even
tarried a whole night to give her time to reflect on the
offer. (Doubtless he spent most of it in prayer.) He was
well rewarded for an anxious night when she responded: “I
4. HE EXPECTED SUDDEN SUCCESS. Less than a day had
elapsed before the bride was on her way to meet Isaac! But
she had opposition. Her mother and brother wanted her to
stay at least ten months. Eliezer would not hear of it.
“Hinder me not!” Satan is the prince of delays, but a soul
is too precious to win and nearly lose again. Expect sudden
Our last glimpse of Eliezer is in communion with
his Isaac (v.56). He has fulfilled his mission. He has
brought the bride to the bridegroom. He gives an account of
the way he had been prospered, and then fades out of the
picture, leaving Isaac alone with Rebekah. When we are
granted success in our mission, let us emulate his
THE NEW TESTAMENT EXAMPLE
Has it ever occurred to you that the greater part
of the harvest of our Lord’s earthly ministry was
hand-gathered fruit? Seven out of the eleven apostles, and
probably the other four as well, were won by individual
appeal. In both Matthew and John, at least SIXTEEN PRIVATE
INTERVIEWS are recorded for our instruction. Surely this is
sufficient evidence that the Master considered personal
soul-winning as of primary importance. In this, as in
everything else, He is our Exemplar.
Christ was THE MASTER SOUL-WINNER. Knowing, as He
did, what was in man (John 2:25), and the workings of the
human mind which He had fashioned, His methods in dealing
with various classes will be of the greatest interest and
importance to His followers. Let us learn some lessons from
1. HE WAS NOT CLASS-CONSCIOUS. He had
conversations with the ruling class, e.g., Nicodemus and the
young ruler. He conversed with businessmen, men of the
middle class, e.g., Zaccheus. But He did not neglect to
deal with the outcasts, e.g., the woman of Samaria. He gave
of His very best to each class.
2. HE MADE A TACTFUL APPROACH. It was His frequent
habit to commence with some point of common interest, from
which He could lead the conversation on to spiritual
realities. His question to the leper was: “Wilt thou be
made whole?”–a matter of burning interest. He met
Nicodemus on the ground of his interest in the Kingdom of
God. He led the conversation with the woman of Samaria from
well water to living water. He told fisherman Peter that He
would make him a fisher of men.
3. HE COMMENDED RATHER THAN CONDEMNED. Honest
commendation is one of the quickest avenues of approach into
the human heart. Our Lord doubtless perceived many defects
in the character of Nathanael, but He opened the
conversation by commending him on his freedom from guile.
Probably nothing will more quickly dissipate prejudice than
this approach. Condemnation always alienates and closes the
heart against further advances.
4. HE CONSTANTLY ILLUSTRATED His talks with simple
parables which were within the range of knowledge of His
auditors. One of the evangelists said that “without a
parable spake he not unto them.”
5. HE REFUSED TO BE DRAWN INTO PROFITLESS ARGUMENT.
When faced with an argumentative lawyer who demanded an
answer to his quibbling question: “Who is my neighbor?” the
Lord so completely disarmed him with the parable of the Good
Samaritan, that he had no further argument to present. He
refused to be side-tracked from the main issue.
6. HE WEPT AND PRAYED over the souls of men,
believing that unless He sowed in tears He would not reap in
joy. He gladly inconvenienced Himself if He could only be a
blessing to someone.
7. HE NEVER FAILED TO MAKE A PERSONAL APPLICATION
OF HIS TEACHINGS. In inducing her friends to come to see
Christ, the woman of Samaria said: “Come, see a man who
told me all things that ever I did.” To Nicodemus He said:
“Ye must be born again.”
8. HIS BLAMELESS LIFE constituted the power of His
In concluding this study, a representative
illustration of our Lord’s method is given in the words of
Robert Lee, of the OUTLINED BIBLE.
THE CASE–The Woman of Samaria (John 4)
(b) Sensitive, not shameless. This is seen
in her going at noon, when no one in the East thinks of
going for water.
(c) Religious formalist.
(d) Proud of her descent (v.12)
(e) Frivolous (v.15). She had a tongue
quick to turn grave things into jests.
(a) He went out of His way.
(b) He was not bound by conventionality.
“Let no one talk with a woman in the street; no, not with
his own wife” (Rabbis).
(c) Acted circumspectly. Did not arrange
to meet her at dusk, but at noon.
(d) Put Himself to inconvenience to meet
(e) He was tactful.
Did not interview her in the presence of
Did not reproach or scold her.
He asked a favor.
Sought to teach spiritual truth through
After a while ceased to beat about the bush
(v.16), getting into close quarters.
He refused to be diverted (vv.19,20).
Yet He did not ignore the point she had
It is interesting to notice further the barriers
which the woman raised in self-defense. The sex barrier
(v.9). The racial barrier (v.9). The religious barrier
(vv.19,20). But the Lord ruthlessly demolished them all,
and exposed her heart to her own gaze. She tried in every
way possible to avoid the issue, but Christ kept her to it.
She appealed to her ancestry (v.12), told a half-truth in an
endeavor to conceal her guilt (v.17), concurred in what He
said and endeavored to flatter Him (v.17); but in each case
He brought her back to her guilt and need.
The culmination of the interview is seen in verses
25, 26–the revelation of Himself as the Messiah–the sole
objective of all personal work.
When I am dying how glad I shall be
That the lamp of my life has been blazed out for
I shall be glad in whatever I gave,
Labor, or money, one sinner to save;
I shall not mind that the path has been rough,
That Thy dear feet led the way is enough.
When I am dying how glad I shall be,
That the lamp of my life has been blazed out for
OPPORTUNITY, APPROACH, AND DIAGNOSIS
All our natural endowments, all our
personal histories, all our contrasted
circumstances, are so many opportunities
for peculiar work.
Although this theme has already been briefly
mentioned in a previous study, it is deserving of more
In the studio of an ancient Greek sculptor stood a
rather peculiar piece of work. It was a statue, the hair of
whose head was thrown around to cover the face; on each foot
there was a wing, and the statue was standing on its toes.
The visitor asked for its name, and the sculptor said it was
“Why is its face veiled?” he asked.
“Because men seldom know her when she comes to
them,” was the reply.
“And why does she stand upon her toes, and why the
“Because,” said the sculptor, “when once she is
gone, she can never be overtaken.”
A great Christian worker entered a store and
‘something’ said: “Speak to the clerk; speak to the clerk!”
Instead of doing it he went out. But the voice kept
speaking for an hour, and at last he went back and asked for
the clerk. The proprietor said: “We had an awful tragedy
here a few minutes ago. Immediately after you went out the
clerk that waited on you went into the back room and shot a
bullet through his brain. He is back there now if you wish
to see him.”
Thus was opportunity irretrievably lost–and with
what eternal consequences. Our path is bestrewn with
opportunities, most of which are unseen or unembraced.
“While thy servant was busy here and there, the man was
1. IN THE HOME. A friend, anxious to serve her
Lord, saw in the man who came to blow out her gas meter a
candidate for eternity, pressed on him the claims of Christ,
and had the joy of leading him to her Lord. Another friend
saw and seized a similar opportunity with the milkman who
came weekly to collect her account, with a similar blessed
result. Have you no such opportunities? And what about
your own children? Have you improved the numberless
opportunities you have had of definitely leading them to the
feet of the Savior? In 2 Kings 5:1-5 we are told how a
housemaid brought salvation to the home of the Syrian
General. Lord Shaftsbury was led to Christ through one of
his housemaids. Andrew brought his own brother Peter to
Christ. The home circle has a prior claim on our witness.
2. IN THE SUNDAY SCHOOL OR BIBLE CLASS. It is not
sufficient to put the way of salvation before the class in
general. It is the teacher’s privilege and duty to lovingly
press the claims of Christ on the individual scholar, not in
the presence of others, but perhaps at the teacher’s home.
What a joy it would be to win your whole class for Christ.
One leader known to the writer recently began a Bible class
for his schoolboys. Today thirty of them have been won for
3. AT AFTERNOON TEA-PARTIES. “I am not satisfied
with our At Homes,” said one lady to another. “We talk of
our neighbors, the latest picture or book, but surely it is
a great waste of time. Why should we not pray over our
callers and then set to work to bring some better influence
to bear on them.” Next day, amid the rustle of silks and
mingled odors of flowers, there somehow came to be felt a
consciousness of God which made talking about Him perfectly
natural. Nor was it surprising that one should have said:
“We have stayed an unconscionable time today, but one seldom
gets a talk like this, and one hungers for it without
knowing it.” Few see such openings on social occasions.
4. IN THE CHURCH. An invitation from the preacher
for any who desire conversation on spiritual matters to meet
him in the vestry, has been a fruitful method of
soul-winning. A wise and winsome inquiry as to how they
enjoyed the service, by a member of the congregation, may
reveal the fact that the stranger is anxious to converse on
5. IN TRAVEL. Buses, trains, and boats, will each
provide the zealous soul-winner with opportunities of making
his Master known. Sir George Williams, founder of the YMCA,
when crossing the Atlantic, made a point of speaking to
every soul on board from captain to stoker, from card-player
in the smoking room to emigrant in the steerage, and the
remarkable thing is that he could never recollect a single
instance when he received a rude or mocking retort. The
writer has had many remarkable experiences and evidence of
God’s leading in conversation with fellow travelers, or with
others when waiting for trains.
D. L. Moody made it the practice of his life to
speak to men on the streetcars. It is related of him that
in thus dealing with a man on a Detroit streetcar, 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.
6. AMONG YOUR OWN CLASS. A soldier can most
effectively reach a soldier, or a society woman one of her
own class. An invalid would have a fine point of contact
with another shut-in, and a nurse with a nurse.
The soul-winner should covet and cultivate an easy
manner of approach to religious subjects, for it requires
tact and skill to turn the conversation from secular to
sacred subjects. He must be always ready to converse about
Christ, and a few suggestions as to how best to do this
Be natural in manner and in tone of voice. Let it
be seen that your religion forms a joyous part of your
everyday life. Some onlookers at an open-air service a few
days ago remarked: “They don’t seem to get very much kick
out of it.” Let us show by our manner that we enjoy Christ.
Study the art of diverting conversation to
spiritual topics as did Jesus with the woman of Samaria. A
few days ago a student was taking a photograph of the
“LURLINE” as she lay alongside the wharf. A youth standing
near volunteered the statement, “I suppose she’s as safe as
Hell.” The student immediately asked him if he considered
Hell safe, diverted the conversation into spiritual
channels, and led him to Christ.
A man was endeavoring to sell a stain-remover to a
Christian housewife. After buying it (an important element
in the approach), she said: “I know something which will
remove stains too.” “What is that?” he inquired. The door
was now open and she replied, “The blood of Jesus Christ.”
Have something to offer, whether it be a tract, an
invitation to a service, or a Gospel. Supposing the tract
were “God’s Way of Salvation,” the person could be
approached thus: “Would you mind accepting a little booklet
to read?” spoken with a cheery smile. “It tells God’s way
of salvation. Do you know God’s way of salvation?” “I’m
not sure if I do.” “Would you mind if I told you?” If the
tract were “The Reason Why,” the worker could say: “This
little booklet tells the reason why no one can afford to be
without Christ. I wonder if you know Christ as your
personal Savior. Do you?” In this way it is easy to enter
on a conversation which may lead to the salvation of a soul.
It is often helpful to put the person under some
obligation to you, such as by lending your newspaper on the
train, or doing some other little service which will create
a spirit of comradeship.
Sometimes the direct question, “Are you a
Christian?” leads to a successful conversation. This was
the usual method adopted by Uncle John Vassar, a wonderful
soul-winner who was a member of Dr. A. J. Gordon’s church in
Boston. On one occasion he addressed this question to two
ladies. “Certainly,” they replied.
“Have you been born again?” he asked.
“This is Boston,” said the ladies, “and you know we
don’t believe in that doctrine here.”
He immediately produced his Bible and showed what
God has to say on the subject. In a short time they were on
their knees. That evening one of the ladies told her
husband of her encounter with Uncle John Vassar.
“I wish I had been there,” said the man.
“What would you have done?” asked his wife.
“I would have told him to go about his business.”
“But if you had been there, you would have said he
WAS about his business.”
The first task of the physician is correctly to
diagnose the case, or his prescription will be at random.
So with the soul-physician. The doctor asks questions so
couched as to reveal the inward condition, and the doctor of
souls must do the same. The questions at first may be
general, but must proceed to the particular. Is he a
backslider, a non-witnessing Christian, ignorant of the
simple plan of salvation, ensnared by some cult, clinging to
some sin, skeptical, or hindered by some honest
difficulties? This can be found out only by careful
questioning. Commence by saying: “Have you ever made a
decision for Christ?” If the answer is in the affirmative,
next ascertain whether he was really born again. If the
answer is again in the affirmative, inquire what has led to
his present unsatisfactory condition. But if, on the other
hand, it has been merely a “decision,” deal as though the
person was unconverted, and lead him to Christ. In
subsequent chapters, instruction will be given as to how to
deal with those who have been ensnared by cults, have honest
difficulties, or make dishonest excuses.
The following story related by Howard W. Pope shows
the importance of correct diagnosis. Let me give it in his
words. “I was asked to speak to a certain man in an inquiry
meeting in Northfield. Before I reached him, another worker
began to talk to him, and I turned to others. Later I saw
the other worker leaving him, and approaching him I said:
‘Have you settled the great question?’ ‘No,’ said the other
worker, ‘he is going away unsaved because he will not give
his heart to God.’ ‘What is the trouble?’ I inquired. I
soon surmised that it was not a case of stubborn
unwillingness to yield to Christ, but rather a lack of
confidence in his ability to make the surrender real. I
told him that if he would surrender, Christ would enable him
to make the surrender good. I then suggested that we kneel,
and that he follow me sentence by sentence while I led in
prayer. He said he did not know whether he could honestly
do it. ‘Follow me as far as you can and then stop,’ I
replied. He consented, and we knelt down together and I led
him in a committal to Christ as strong and complete as I
knew how to make it, going cautiously, of course, at first,
but making it stronger as I saw his willingness to follow.
When we arose, he told the first person he met that he had
accepted Christ as his Savior.” The first worker failed
because he had made a false diagnosis, mistaking the man’s
lack of confidence for stubborn willfulness.
The diagnosis, of course, must be followed by the
prescribing of the appropriate remedy, which subject will
engage us in the next chapter.
[end of the fourth file]