The Soul Winner: How To Lead Sinners To The Saviour, by Charles H. Spurgeon
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Aneko Press. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
In understanding and evaluating a book like this, one needs to know both the author and the intended audience of such a work. Like several other great books, this volume is published under the Aneko Press Christian Classics Series , and unlike many books in this series (at least those I have read so far), this book is aimed clearly at an audience of teachers of the Word. As someone involved in Sabbath School efforts at my own particular congregation, as well as the occasional efforts of public speaking, usually in smaller and more isolated areas , I was quite surprised to see that for once I was actually part of the intended audience of this book as it was originally conceived, and as someone for whom this message is particularly relevant, I found there was much to catch my own interest concerning the way someone goes about being an effective instrument in the hands of God for provoking reflection and repentance among others through one’s conversation and conduct. Additionally, this book is a good volume to examine in order to find a great deal about Mr. Spurgeon himself and his approach to evangelism, and this account is full of humor and shows his personality in a great deal of complexity. Indeed, at times the book was more full of the personal thinking and human reasoning of the author rather than the light and understanding of God’s word, but there are enough solid scriptural quotes and examinations that this book is worthwhile, and even where the author waxes long in his own eloquence and engages on his own reasoning apart from the grounding of scripture, at the very least he is an entertaining and engaging writer despite the fact that there would be some disagreement between us on some of the matters discussed in this book.
The contents of this book consist of fifteen chapters that take up close to 180 pages of text. Many of these chapters were examples of the author’s attempts to educate other ministers and teachers engaged in the religious education of children in an attempt to better equip them to “win souls” to Christ. The author begins, quite appropriately, with a discussion of what it means to win a soul to Christ, and what it looks like when a soul is won in the redeemed and godly life of a believer who demonstrates progressive sanctification after initial conversion and justification by grace. The author then discusses the importance of conviction of sin in the life of a new believer before discussing the qualifications for soul winning in a vertical direction towards God, the importance of having a living faith, the qualifications for soul winning in a horizontal direction towards other people, and the vital importance of holiness in character among those who would preach God’s word effectively. After this the book takes a turn to the practical efforts of winning souls, containing the author’s humorous advice on what kind of sermons are most likely to convert people, how speakers should take out everything from their sermon messages that distracts the reader from the core of the message, what obstacles are in our path as we seek to win souls for Christ, how to encourage brethren to win souls, as well as the important matter of cultivating a favorable atmosphere for soul winning. The book then closes with a series of chapters on such matters as raising the (spiritually) dead via an extended exegesis of the passage of Elisha raising the widow’s son, a how-to guide on winning souls for Christ, the importance of believers and speakers being a good example of God’s ways, and the cost of being a soul winner in terms of the struggles that often come from being conspicuous in service to God in a world ruled over by our Adversary.
In many ways, this book has a somewhat loose feel, as the materials are all clearly related to the topic of evangelism (conceived as soul winning, a phrase repeated over and over again in this book’s pages, a term that is comparatively rare at least in my own religious background) but there is a certain freshness and humanity in the author’s discussions on various aspects of evangelism. It is clear, for example, that the author wishes for his audience to cut a narrow path between ignorance and overly cerebral tendencies, and that it is vital that religious instructors to children or adults, brethren or outsiders need compassion and understanding for those they are speaking to. Perhaps most on point is the author’s gentle discussion about what is necessary to reach young people: “Your mouth must find child’s words, so the child can understand what you mean. You must see things through a child’s eyes. Your heart must feel a child’s feelings and become his companion as friend. You must be a student of juvenile sin as well as a sympathizer in juvenile trials. As far as possible, you must enter into childhood’s joys and griefs, so you can relate (136).” This is a book where the author’s tendency towards stridency and harshness is moderated by a sense of gentleness and warmth and compassion for the audience in ways that readers would do well to cultivate and emulate themselves.
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