By Kenneth Thomas
Preachers of the gospel of Christ and perhaps many other Christians today lament the fact that the preaching of Christ seemingly doesn’t meet with as much acceptance as it once did in the history of the world. I have heard men such as James P. Miller speak of the numbers who used to obey the gospel in a week long gospel meeting being from fifteen to thirty with several restorations as well. The same message today in a meeting of the same duration often produces “no visible results.” I was privileged to preach for a week in a gospel meeting and spend that week with brother and sister Miller when he was working with the church in Merritt Island, Florida. I shall never forget what brother Miller said the last evening of the meeting. “Brethren, there has been enough gospel preached this week to save the whole world, yet no one his responded.” Brother Miller recognized, as did 1, that the lack of responses was not a fault of the message or of the messenger. It was the type of hearts into which the message fell. Read the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23).
Many Hearts Are Not Conditioned For The Gospel
God desires the salvation of every soul of man (Jn. 3:16; Heb. 2:9; 1 Tim. 2:3-4; Rev. 22:17; 2 Pet. 3:9). But, God has a predetermined plan whereby man may be saved, and the gospel is designed so as to have the desired effect on only that type of heart. Perhaps God knows already who they are, but they are free moral agents nonetheless to respond or reject the preaching of the gospel. Example: The Lord Jesus spoke to Paul on one occasion saying, “For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: For I have much people in this city” (emphasis mine, ket, Acts 18: 10). Our job as Christians and preachers of the gospel is to preach the word and leave the end results to the Lord (I Cor. 3:6). God has promised that His word “will not return unto Him void, but will accomplish that whereunto He sends it” (Isa. 55:6-11). What He sends it forth to accomplish is to convict the honest heart and him them to humble submission to Christ’s will. The gospel is “God’s power to save” (Rom. 1:16) and it hasn’t lost any of its saving power. Maybe we try too hard sometimes to say just the right thing to our listeners when we should be more careful to relate exactly the message found in Scripture, for it is not man’s speaking ability that converts one to Christ, it is still the gospel which both draws and saves (2 Thess. 1:13-14; Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 15:1-2). I am convinced that when we find the kind of person which God has determined will be saved, they will respond to the message from heaven. I believe such is taught also in Ephesians 1:1-4. Due to technology, affluence, denominationalism, humanism, etc., there are not as many honest and good hearts in our present society who will be touched with the love story of the Cross. This accounts for our lack of success occasionally in my estimation.
There is another factor which breeds lack of success in soul winning also, and that is the fact that we have (because fewer per capita will respond) become so negative that we have come to expect failure or non-conversions when we teach and preach, and our lack of confidence is perhaps transmitted to the would be converts. You have to believe in your message and its power! One other factor enters the picture also. It seems to me that more and more members of the body of Christ aren’t completely convinced that folks who haven’t obeyed the gospel and been added to the Lord’s church are really lost. I believe this accounts for the lack of efforts being expended in many cases by the rank and file members of the body of Christ. If we do accept the fact that all who are “out of Christ,” hence out of His church are lost, how can we possibly do so little in many cases to attempt reaching them with the gospel? When faith begins to fail you can just watch and evangelism begins to suffer also. How many times over the last few years have you heard someone say, “gospel meetings are a thing of the past” or some kindred statement?
Churches Where The Members Are Teaching Home Bible Study Classes Are Still Growing
The above being true proves what I have thus far stated. There are still those who will listen, we just have to work more and find those honest and good hearts who are “hungering and thirsting after righteousness” (Matt. 5:6). Show me a person like the Ethiopian of Acts 8 and I too can use God’s word and convert him in one session like Philip did by “preaching unto him Jesus” (Acts 8:27-39).
Prophets And Even Jesus Had Some Failures
The next time you begin to feel down trodden and rejected because the one you attempted to convert went away in a rage, remember Samuel the prophet who, when God’s people wanted a king, thought he was being; rejected. God said, “They have not rejected you, they have rejected me that . . . I should not reign over them” (1 Sam. 8:7). Jesus the Christ was the master teacher of all times and did you know that He too experienced failures in so far as conversions were concerned? Well, He did and you know it wasn’t His inability to “say the proper things,” it was because of the people. See John 6:53-69. Some who did believe were not willing to give up the position they occupied on the religious scene and would not confess Him for fear of being put out of the synagogue because they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God (John 12:42-43). Jesus told why some were not converted “. . . they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which sayeth, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive: For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed-, lest at anytime they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them” (Matt. 13:14-15). You see even Jesus would not force Himself on them; their free will was respected.
The Apostle’s Success Sometimes Discourages Us
How often we read of the first gospel sermon and the 3,000 who obeyed the gospel and were added by the Lord to the church (Acts 2:22-38, 41, 47) and lament the fact that folks just do not respond today as they once did. That is probably true as I have already stated due to various factors, but did you ever stop and think how large that audience was on Pentecost? Besides, they were already believers in the one true God and expecting the Messiah to come. All they really had to be convinced of was that this Jesus of Nazareth whom they had turned over to the Romans to crucify was Him and that He had in fact been raised and exalted. But I’m convinced that it was a small number from among them that accepted Peter’s revealed truth and responded. Later we learn that the number came to about 5,000 men (Acts 4:4). But with Jews (devout men) from every nation under heaven present, this was still a small percentage. My point is, there were many non-conversions on Pentecost so we should not despair just because not everyone will respond favorably to the gospel today. Besides along with all of the successes of the first century preachers and teachers, don’t forget to read of the examples where they were threatened, beaten, imprisoned and where the people rejected their message, contradicted and blasphemed, etc. See Acts 4:1-21; 5:17-42. Paul spoke of the Jews in this fashion, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:1-4). So, for the most part, the nation of Israel rejected God’s plan whereby they could have been saved,. even though we have record that over ~,000 were converted. Things haven’t really changed all that much perhaps after all.
As successful as he was, the apostle Paul even though divinely inspired to speak every word just as given him by the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:7:13) was unable to lead some folks to Christ. Consider for example governor Felix before whom he appeared. We are told, “And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a more convenient season, I will call for thee” (Acts 24:25). Then before King Agrippa, Paul speaks of his own conversion and related the events leading up to it including Christ’s appearing unto him and telling him him what to do and how he was not disobedient. Aggripa said to Paul, “. . .Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” (Acts 26:1-29).
Lest we become discouraged at our lack of success we should consider also what Paul said in the Corinthian letter. “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom (human wisdom, ket): But we (the apostles, ket) preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:21-24). Too often today members of the body of Christ are just shattered if when they teach, folks contradict, blaspheme and consider the message foolish. It will appear so to the one whose heart is not honest and good and we should be prepared for it. We need to learn to “shake the dust from off our feet” and go on seeking those who are God’s people, the honest and good hearts.
In conclusion I hope I have made it plain that the gospel is still God’s only saving power (Rom. 1:16-17). We must believe our message and the fact that all who have not obeyed the gospel and been added to the Lord’s body are yet lost (2 Thess. 1:6-10; Rom. 3:23; 6:23). We must then go forth with zeal to find those honest and good hearted people who will respond favorably to the gospel and while we may have to teach many more today to have results, we will still have the desired results. Brethren, let us “preach the word, be instant in season and out of season . . .” (2 Tim. 4:1-2).
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 7, pp. 208-209
April 4, 1985