What Is It to Win a Soul?
Written by: Spurgeon, C.H. Posted on: 04/01/2003
For more than a century, Charles Haddon Spurgeon's sermons have been
consistently recognized, and their usefulness and impact have continued to
the present day, even in the outdated English of the author's own day.
Why then should expositions already so successful and of such stature and
proven usefulness require adaptation, revision, rewrite or even editing?
The answer is obvious. To increase its usefulness to today's reader, the
language in which it was originally written needs updating.
Though his sermons have served other generations well, just as they came
from the pen of the author in the nineteenth century, they still could be
lost to present and future generations, simply because, to them, the
language is neither readily nor fully understandable.
My goal, however, has not been to reduce the original writing to the
vernacular of our day. It is designed primarily for you who desire to read
and study comfortably and at ease in the language of our time. Only
obviously archaic terminology and passages obscured by expressions not
totally familiar in our day have been revised. However, neither Spurgeon's
meaning nor intent have been tampered with.
All Scripture references are taken from the HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL
VERSION (C) 1978 by the New York Bible Society, used by permission of
Zondervan Bible Publishers.
What Is It to Win a Soul?
Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892)
Soul-winning is the chief business of the Christian minister; indeed, it
should be the main pursuit of every true believer. We each should say with
Simon Peter, "I'm going fishing," and with Paul our aim should be, "That I
may somehow save some of them."
What is it to win a soul? This may be answered by describing what it is not.
We do not regard it to be soul-winning to steal members out of churches
already established and train them to follow our peculiar customs: we aim
rather at bringing souls to Christ than at making converts to our church.
There are sheep-stealers out there, concerning whom I will say nothing except
that they are not "brethren," or, at least, they do not act in a brotherly
fashion. To their own Master they must stand or fall. We count it utterly
contemptible to build up our own house with the ruins of our neighbor's home;
I hope we all sympathize with the big-hearted spirit of Dr. Chalmers, who, when
it was said that such and such an effort would not be beneficial to the
special interests of the Free Church of Scotland although it might promote
the general Christianity of the land, said, "What is the Free Church compared
with the Christian good of the people of Scotland?" What, indeed, is any
church or what are all the churches put together, as mere organizations, if
they stand in conflict with the moral and spiritual advantage of the nation,
or if they impede the kingdom of Christ? It is because God blesses men
through the churches that we desire to see them prosper, and not merely for
the sake of the churches themselves. There is such a thing as selfishness in
our eagerness for the exalting of our own party; and from this evil spirit may
grace deliver us!
In the next place, we do not consider soul-winning to be accomplished by
hurriedly inscribing more names on our church roll in order to show greater
numbers at the end of the year. This is easily done, and there are brethren
who take great pains, not to say arts, to effect it; but if it be regarded as
the beginning and end of a minister's efforts, the result will be deplorable.
Let us by all means bring true converts into the church, for it is a part of
our work to teach them to obey everything that Christ has commanded them; but
still, this is to be done to disciples and not to mere professors; and if we
aren't careful, we may do more harm than good at this point.
To introduce unconverted persons to the church is to weaken and degrade it;
and therefore an apparent gain may be a real loss. I am not one of those who
"bad mouth" statistics, nor do I consider that they are evil; for they do a
lot of good if they are accurate and if men use them rightly. It is a good
thing for people to see the lostness of our nation through statistics that
show dwindling numbers, that they may be driven on their knees before the Lord
to seek the salvation of souls; and, on the other hand, it is by not an evil
thing for workers to be encouraged by having some accounting of numbers
set before them. I would be very sorry if the practice of adding up, and
deducting, and giving in the net result were to be abandoned, for it must be
right to know our numerical condition. It has been noticed that those who
object to the process are often brethren whose unsatisfactory reports should
somewhat humiliate them: this is not always so, but it is suspiciously
frequent. I heard of the report of a church the other day in which the
minister, who was well known to have reduced his congregation to nothing,
cleverly wrote, "Our church is looking up." When he was questioned with
regard to this statement, he replied, "Everybody knows that the church is on
its back, and it cannot do anything else but look up."
Do not consider that soul-winning is or can be secured by the multiplication
of baptisms and the swelling of the size of your church. What do these
reports from the battlefield mean? "Last night fourteen souls were under
conviction, fifteen were saved, and eight rededicated their lives." I am
weary of this public bragging, this counting of unhatched chickens, this
exhibition of doubtful treasures. Lay aside such numberings of the people,
such idle pretense of certifying in half a minute that which will need the
testing of a lifetime. Hope for the best, but in your highest excitements be
reasonable. Inquiry rooms [rooms provided after the preaching service for
those who would "inquire" about the message or other facets of Christianity
Today they have mostly been replaced by one of man's traditions--the "Altar
Call"], in the whole all very good; but if they lead to idle boastings, then
they will grieve the Holy Spirit and work abounding evil.
Nor is it soul-winning merely to create excitement. Excitement will
accompany every great movement. We might rightly question whether the
movement was earnest and powerful if it was as serene as a quiet reading of
the Bible. You can't very well blast great rocks without the sound of
explosions, nor fight a battle and keep everybody as quiet as a mouse.
Friction and action are the natural result of force in motion. So, when the
Spirit of God is present and men's minds are stirred, there must and will be
certain visible signs of movement, although these must never be confounded
with the movement itself.
Do not aim at sensation and "effect." Flowing tears and streaming eyes, sobs
and outcries, crowded "after the service" meetings and all kinds of confusion
may occur and may even be accepted as being a genuine moving of the Spirit;
but please do not try to make it happen.
It often happens that the converts that are born in excitement die when the
excitement is over. They are like certain insects which are the product of
an exceedingly warm day, and die when the sun goes down. Certain converts
are like salamanders that die when the temperature reaches a reasonable level.
I do not delight in religion which needs or creates a wild emotional outcry.
Give me the godliness which flourishes upon Calvary rather than upon a
volcano. The utmost zeal for Christ is consistent with common sense and
reason: raving, ranting, and fanaticism are products of another zeal which is
not according to knowledge. We should prepare men for the chamber of
communion and not for the padded room at an insane asylum.
What is the real winning of a soul for God? What are the processes by which
a soul is led to God and to salvation? I take it that one of its main facets
consists in instructing a man that he may know the truth of God. Instruction
in the gospel is the beginning of all real work upon men's minds. "Go and
make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and
of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I
have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the
age." Teaching begins the work and continues with it to the very end of the
new Christian's life.
The gospel, according to Isaiah, is, "Give ear and come to me; hear me, that
your soul may live." It is ours, then, to give men something worth their
hearing; in fact, to instruct them. We are sent to evangelize or to preach
the gospel to every creature; and that is not done unless we teach them the
great truths of God's revealed Word. The gospel is good news. To listen to
some preachers you would imagine that the gospel was like "smelling salts" to
make them wake up. It is nothing of the kind; it is news, there is
information in it, there is instruction in it concerning matters which men
need to know and statements in it calculated to bless those who hear it. It
is not a magical incantation or a charm whose force consists in a collection
of sounds; it is a revelation of facts and truths which require knowledge and
The gospel is a reasonable system, and it appeals to men's understanding; it
is a matter for thought and consideration, and it appeals to the conscience
and to the power of reflection. So, if we don't teach men something, we can
shout all day, "Believe! Believe! Believe!" but what are they to believe?
Each exhortation requires a corresponding instruction, or it will mean nothing.
"Escape!" From what? This requires for its answer the doctrine of the
punishment of sin. "Fly!" But where? Then you must preach Christ and His
wounds; yes, and the clear doctrine of atonement by sacrifice on the cross.
"Repent!" Of what? Here you must answer such questions as, What is sin?
What is the evil of sin? What are the consequences of sin? "Be converted!"
But what is it to be converted? By what power can we be converted? From what?
To what? The field of instruction is wide if men are to be made to know the
truth which saves. "It is not good to have zeal without knowledge," and it is
ours as the Lord's instruments to enable men to know the truth that they may
believe it and feel its power. We are not to try and save men in the dark,
but in the power of the Holy Spirit we are to seek to turn them from darkness
And, don't believe, dear friends, that when you go into revival meetings or
special evangelistic services, you are to leave out the doctrines of the
gospel, for you ought then to proclaim the doctrines of grace rather more
than less. Teach gospel doctrines clearly, affectionately, simply, and
plainly, and especially those truths which have a present and practical
bearing upon man's condition and God's grace.
Second, to win a soul it is necessary not only to instruct our hearer and
make him to know the truth, but to impress him so that he may feel it. A
ministry which always appeals to the understanding and leaves the emotions
untouched would certainly be a limping ministry. "Like a lame man's legs,"
says Solomon; and the unequal legs of some ministries cripple them. We have
seen such a ministry limping about with a long doctrinal leg but a very short
emotional leg. It is a horrible thing for a man to be so doctrinal that he
can speak coolly of the doom of the wicked, so that, if he does not actually
praise God for it, it costs him no anguish of heart to think of the ruin of
millions of our race. This is horrible!
I hate to hear the terrors of the Lord proclaimed by men whose hard
expression, harsh tones, and unfeeling spirit betray a very dry doctrine: all
the milk of human kindness is dried out of them. Having no feeling himself,
such a preacher creates none, and the people sit and listen while he keeps to
dry, lifeless statements, until they come to value him for being "sound," and
they themselves come to be sound, too: and I need not add, sound asleep also,
or what life they have is spent in sniffing out heresy and criticizing men who
earnestly preach the gospel. May we never be baptized into this spirit!
A sinner has a heart as well as a head; a sinner has emotions as well as
thoughts, and we must appeal to both. A sinner will never be converted until
his emotions are stirred. Unless he feels sorrow for sin and unless he has
some measure of joy in the reception of the Word, you cannot have much hope
for him. The Truth must soak into the soul and dye it with its own color.
The Word must be like a strong wind sweeping through the whole heart and
swaying the whole man, even as a field of ripening corn waves in the summer
breeze. Christianity without emotion is Christianity without life.
But, still, we must be careful how these emotions are caused. Do not play
upon the mind by exciting feelings which are not spiritual. Some preachers
are very fond of introducing funerals and dying children into their
discourses, and they make the people weep through sheer natural affection.
This may lead up to something better, but in itself what is its value? What
is the good of opening up a mother's griefs or a widow's sorrows? I do not
believe that our merciful Lord has sent us to make men weep over their
departed relatives by digging anew their graves and rehearsing past scenes of
bereavement and woe.
If our hearers will weep over their sins, and after Jesus, let their tears
flow in rivers; but if the object of their sorrow is merely natural and not
at all spiritual, what good is done by making them weep? There might be some
virtue in making people joyful, for there is enough sorrow in the world, and
the more we can promote cheerfulness, the better; but what is the use of
creating needless misery? What right have you to go through the world
pricking everybody with your surgeon's knife just to show your skill in
surgery? A true physician only makes incisions in order to effect cures, and
a wise minister only excites painful emotions in men's minds with the
distinct object of blessing their souls.
I have already insisted on instruction and impression as being most needful to
soul-winning; but these are not all they are, indeed, only means to the
desired end. A far greater work must be done before a man is saved. A
wonder of divine grace must be acted upon the soul, far transcending anything
which can be accomplished by the power of man. Of all whom we would eagerly
win for Jesus it is true, "No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is
born again." The Holy Spirit must work a new birth in the objects of our
love, or they never can become possessors of eternal happiness. They must be
quickened into a new life, and they must become new creatures in Christ
Jesus. The same energy which accomplishes resurrection and creation must put
forth all its power upon them; nothing short of this will work.
Regeneration, or the new birth, works a change in the whole nature of man,
and, so far as we can judge, its essence lies in the implanting and the
creation of a new principle within the man. The Holy Spirit creates in us a
new, heavenly, and immortal nature, which is known in Scripture as "the
spirit" by way of distinction from the soul. Our theory of regeneration is
that man in his fallen nature consists only of body and soul and that when he
is regenerated, there is created in him a new and higher nature--"the
spirit"--which is a spark from the everlasting fire of God's life and love;
this falls into the heart and lives there and makes its receiver a partaker
of the divine nature. From that time forward, the man consists of three
parts, body, soul, and spirit, and the spirit is the reigning power of the
Since this God bestowed spiritual life in men is a mystery, we will speak to
a more practical effect if we dwell upon the signs following and accompanying
it, for these are the things we must aim at. First, regeneration will be
shown in conviction of sin. This we believe to be an indispensable mark of
the Spirit's work; the new life as it enters the heart causes intense inward
pain as one of its first effects. Though nowadays we hear of persons being
brought into a certainty of their salvation without ever having lamented
their condemnation for their sins, we are very dubious as to the value of
such salvations. This style of things is not according to the truth. God
never clothes men until He has first stripped them, nor does He arouse them
by the gospel until they are first slain by the law of God. When you meet
with persons in whom there is no trace of conviction of sin, you may be quite
sure that they have not been convicted by the Holy Spirit, for "When he
comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness
It is equally certain that true conversion may be known by the exhibition of
a simple faith in Jesus Christ. You don't need me to tell you that, for you
yourselves are fully convinced of it. The production of faith is the very
center of the target at which you aim. The proof to you that you have won
the man's soul for Jesus is never before you until he has rejected himself
and his own merits and has trusted only in the work of Christ. Great care
must be taken that this faith is exercised on Christ for a complete salvation
and not for a part of it. Numbers of persons think that the Lord Jesus is
available for the pardon of past sin, but they cannot trust Him for their
preservation in the future. They trust Him for past years but not for years
to come; whereas no such a subdivision of salvation is ever spoken of in
Scripture as the work of Christ. Either He bore all our sins or none; and He
either saves us once for all or not at all. His death can never be repeated,
and it must have made full payment for the future sin of believers, or they
are lost, since no further atonement can be supposed and future sin is
certain to be committed. Blessed be His name, "Through Him everyone who
believes is justified from everything." Salvation by grace is eternal
Together with undivided faith in Jesus Christ there must also be wholehearted
repentance of sin. Repentance is an old-fashioned word not much used by
modern revivalists. "Oh!" said a minister to me, one day, "It only means a
change of mind." This was thought to be a profound observation. "Only a
change of mind"; but what a change! A change of mind with regard to
everything! instead of saying, "It is only a change of mind," it seems to me
more truthful to say it is a great and deep change--even a change of the mind
itself. But whatever the literal Greek word may mean, repentance is no small
thing. You will not find a better definition of it than the one given in the
Repentance is to leave
The sins we loved before;
And show that we in earnest grieve,
By doing so no more.
Another proof of the conquest of a soul for Christ will be found in a real
change of life. If the man does not live differently from what he did
before, both at home and in society, his repentance needs to be repented of
and his conversion is a fiction. Not only action and language but spirit and
attitude must be changed. "But," says someone, "grace is often grafted on a
wild tree." I know it is; but what is the fruit of the grafting? The fruit
will be like the graft, and not after the nature of the original stem.
"But," says another, "I have an awful temper, and all of a sudden it
overcomes me. My anger is soon over, and I feel very ashamed. Though I
cannot control myself, I am quite sure I am a Christian." Not so fast, my
friend, or I may answer that I am just as sure the other way.
What is the use of your soon cooling down if in two or three moments you
scald everyone around you? If a man stabs me in a fury, it will not heal my
wound to see him grieving over his madness. Quick temper must be conquered and
the whole man must be renewed or conversion will be questionable. We are not
to hold up a modified holiness before our people, and say, "You will be all
right if you reach that standard." The Scripture says, "He who does what is
sinful is of the devil."
There must be a harmony between the life and the profession. A Christian
professes to renounce sin; and if he does not do so, he is an impostor. A
drunken man came up to Rowland Hill, one day, and said, "I am one of your
converts, Mr. Hill." "I believe you are," replied that shrewd and sensible
preacher; "but you are not a convert of the Lord's, or you would not be
drunk." To this practical test we must bring all our work.
In our converts we must also see true prayer, which is the vital breath of
godliness. If there is no prayer, you may be quite sure the soul is dead.
We are not to urge men to pray as though it were the great gospel duty and
the one prescribed way of salvation; for our chief message is, "Believe on
the Lord Jesus Christ." It is easy to put prayer into its wrong place and
make it out to be a kind of work by which men are to live; but this you will,
I trust, most carefully avoid. Faith is the great gospel grace; but still we
cannot forget that true faith always prays, and when a man professes faith in
the Lord Jesus and yet does not cry to the Lord daily, we dare not believe in
his faith or his conversion.
There must also be a willingness to obey the Lord in all His commandments.
It is a shameful thing for a man to profess discipleship and yet refuse to
learn his Lord's will on certain points, or even dare to decline obedience
when that will is known. How can a man be a disciple of Christ when he lives
in open disobedience to Him?
If the professed convert distinctly and deliberately declares that he knows
his Lord's will but does not plan to obey it, you are not to pamper his
presumption, but it is your duty to assure him that he is not saved. Has not
the Lord said, "Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be
my disciple?" Mistakes as to what the Lord's will may be are to be tenderly
corrected, but anything like willful disobedience is fatal; to tolerate it
would be treason to Him that sent us. Jesus must be received as King as well
as Priest; and where there is any hesitancy about this, the foundation of
godliness is not yet laid.
Faith must obey her Maker's will
As well as trust His grace;
A pardoning God is jealous still
For His own holiness.
Thus, you see, my brethren, the signs which prove that a soul is won are by
no means inconsequential, and the work to be done before those signs can
exist is not to be lightly spoken of. A soul-winner can do nothing without
God. He must throw himself before the Invisible God or be a laughing-stock
to the devil, who regards with utter contempt all who think to subdue human
nature with mere words and arguments. To all who hope to succeed in such a
labor by their own strength, we would address the words of the Lord to Job,
"Can you pull in the leviathan with a fishhook or tie down his tongue with a
rope? Can you make a pet of him like a bird or put him on a leash for your
girls? If you lay a hand on him, you will remember the struggle and never do
it again! Any hope of subduing him is false; the mere sight of him is
overpowering." Dependence on God is our strength and our joy: in that
dependence let us go out and seek to win souls for Him.
Transcribed and edited by Tony Capoccia of
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