THOUGHTS ON “SOUL WINNING”
By Davis Huckabee
By this title, we have no reference to preaching the gospel, nor to personal witnessing, about the duty of which there is no doubt. Rather we wish to deal with what is often nothing better than plain high-pressure proselytism without the least resemblance to Biblical evangelism. No doubt, this will antagonize many who have built up a system of religious service around “soul-winning” which dwarfs all other forms of service, and even looks with utter contempt in many instances upon all other forms of Christian service.
Those who put such a strong emphasis upon “soul-winning” act as if the Bible were full of the subject, when in reality this phrase appears only once in the whole Bible; that once is in the Old Testament, and that one appearance is susceptible of another totally diverse meaning, when the words used are taken in their most common meaning and usage. This verse is Proverbs 11:30: “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise.”
The Hebrew word rendered “winneth” here is loqach, which, in all of its verb forms appears 1,058 times in the Old Testament. The most common rendering of it is “taketh” (and other forms of this word), appearing 708 times, and of these, at least 53 times it is rendered “taketh away,” and many more times this is clearly the meaning. It is also translated “fetch,” “bring,” “receive” (all fairly common), “get,” “marry" (less common, but still appearing several times each), and “use,” “mingled” (participle form), “infolding” (participle form), and “winneth,” all appearing once each.
All modern “soul-winning” is based on this one verse, though it has no other verses that teach specifically the same thought, namely, that one actually persuades another by his own wisdom and oratory to be saved. Such an attitude is a rejection of the work of the Holy Spirit in salvation. At the same time, this verse is susceptible of another wholly distinct meaning which is more in harmony with other texts of Scripture. The word loqach is used both in a good and a bad sense in Scripture, and if we render it as most commonly rendered “take” or “take away,” and reverse the order of the words, as may be done without doing violence to the Hebrew, and as several translations do render it, then we get “He that is wise takes away souls.” This rendering is much more agreeable to the meaning of the words used, and it finds several other texts which agree in teaching the same thing, for it is a perfect description of Satan's work as described in 2 Corinthians 4:4; 11:3; Ephesians 6: 11; 2 Timothy 2:26, et. al.
The Scriptures make it clear that no human being ever has “won” a single soul to the Lord, for this is the work of the Holy Spirit alone. We may witness to, preach to, teach and exhort sinners to repent and believe, but only the Spirit can convict, convince and convert sinners. Unfortunately, many “soul-winners” seem to confuse themselves with the Holy Spirit in this matter. Many, while declaring that God has no right to compel, coerce or use any form of compulsion in salvation, will themselves justify every trick they can muster to get a profession of faith, even pleading the old Catholic maxim that “The end justifies the means.”
It is true that many evangelists do not go to these lengths who use this terminology, but we believe that departure from unquestioned Scripture terminology is the first step toward departure from Scripture practices, just as the first step toward baptismal regeneration in the early centuries of this dispensation was the rise of unscriptural terms for baptism, such as “the laver of regeneration,” “the great illuminator,” “the door to heaven,” etc.
It is at this point that we need to address that evangelical heresy that is not only commonplace, but is of almost universal usage among many “soul-winners.” We speak of that usage of “get” with “saved.” It is common for a person to say, “I got saved,” or for others to speak of someone “getting saved,” or for preachers to admonish sinners to “get saved.” And while we do not doubt that many genuinely saved people use this terminology without realizing the implications of their words, yet this is soul-damning heresy to those that do not know the Bible teaching about salvation.
Scripture never uses the word “get” in any of its forms (“got” “getting,” etc.) with the word “save,” and to use this is to use thoroughly unscriptural terminology. Let the reader take any concordance and run the references on “save,” and he will find that this is the case. It could not be otherwise for “get” and its cognates are words of active signification, and they represent the subject as doing the acting. Hence, “I got saved” means literally “I saved myself,” for “got” represents the subject as doing the acting, and that is heresy of the worst sort, and robs God of His glory as Saviour. And the Lord says in Isaiah 42:8 that He will not share His glory with any, nor give His praise to graven images. (And that is what man is - the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 11:7)).
The word “save” in an evangelistic sense is used in but two senses. When man is the subject of the verb, it is always passive, for man has no active part in saving himself (except in the distorted thinking of Arminians). On the other hand when God is the subject of the verb, it is always active, for “Salvation is of the Lord,” in its commencement, its continuance, and its completion. He and He alone does the saving. These are the two consistent usages of the verb “save” in all of Scripture. There are no exceptions to this. Scripture says that God saves (active), and that man is (or was) saved (passive).
Now as we said before, there are many, many genuinely saved people that use this incorrect terminology, often thinking that it is biblical because “The Most Self-Exalted Right Reverend Doctor Know-it-all Evangel uses that language,” and surely he cannot be wrong. So what if he so speaks! If anyone speaks not according to “the Law and the Testimony,” it is because “there is no light in them” (Isa. 8:20). Tragically, prominent preachers influence their listeners greatly by any error that they preach or practice. Some would protest that this is all done in innocence, and so, why should we make such a big to-do over one word? The answer is that whereas this terminology may be used without harm to self by those that are otherwise sound in the faith and they would never consider that anyone but God is Saviour. But if this usage is heard by people of scant knowledge of the Scriptures, and who, as lost people are grasping at straws of justification to continue to trust in self anyhow, they may take this in its literal sense, and therefore refuse to repent and come to Christ for salvation. After all, how many good Christians have they heard boast that “I got saved!”
It is a part of man's fallen nature to be proud. The “pride of life” is one of the three main avenues of temptation (I John 2:16), and often human pride manifests itself even in genuinely saved people by them almost unconsciously wanting to take some proud credit for their salvation. “I got saved” is a way of doing so. But is it worth it if one's pride causes a lost person to continue to trust in himself instead of trusting solely in the gracious salvation that God has wrought for sinners, and so, is lost forever? Let us always be biblical in all of our language, for it is easier to offend in our speech than in almost any other way, (Jam. 3:2).
The Scriptural terms for evangelism- “preaching,” “witnessing,” “exhortation,” etc., which do not emphasize the personal accomplishment of another's salvation, are to be preferred over “soul winning,” which is susceptible of a wrong meaning, and which appeals to man's proud nature which always seeks self-glory. But there can be no self-glory for man if salvation is of the Lord in its commencement, continuance and consummation.
We are assured from Scripture that all of God's elect will come (not be brought) to Christ: “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). “No man can come to me, except the Father (not the 'soul-winner') which hath sent me, draw him” (John 6:44). Yet some confidently affirm that many souls are in hell today because of the failure to “win souls.” What a travesty upon the justice of God, to claim that He sends souls to hell for the sins of neglect of the saved! We do not serve such a God. Every one of those for whom Christ died will ultimately be saved, for Christ has entered into a covenant of redemption with the Father and the Spirit to give eternal life to them (John 17:2), and it is the believer's duty and privilege to be an instrument of making this salvation known to men (John 17:3). But the Lord will not fail because His people are negligent, and the only loss will be the joys and rewards that the saved would have had if they had been obedient.
This writer is not against sound evangelism; indeed, he glories in it. Nor does he dogmatically assert that Proverbs 11:30 has nothing to do with evangelistic work; possibly it may, but it is too uncertain of meaning to build up an inverted pyramid of evangelism upon it. Only one such rendering of a word out of 1,058 appearances in the Bible is a terribly shaky foundation for a system of evangelism, and it shows the desperation of the system that has to resort to a departure from the common meaning and usage of a word in order to find justification for its practices.
Paul draws an analogy in Galatians 4 from the two sons of Abraham, which illustrates Scriptural evangelism and unscriptural evangelism. Abraham, the father of all believers (Rom. 4:16; Gal. 3:7), was given the promise of a son, but he got in a big hurry for the fulfillment of the promise, and he ran ahead of the Lord and tried to obtain the promise through fleshly means, and Ishmael was born, who was henceforth a problem until he was finally cast out with his Egyptian mother. In His own due time, God brought forth Isaac, the child of the promise, by the exercise of His own power. So it is today; too many people get impatient for God to save souls, and so they resort to the Egyptian handmaiden-worldly ways-to bring forth souls, but all they ever get are Ishmaels - sons in name only, but whom God will not recognize as sons, and who will only blight the churches they belong to until God finally casts them out in the day of judgment.
It is not uncommon, for unsaved people to get into the membership of churches, no matter how cautious the churches may be, but it will be observed that those who yield the Ieast fruit, who cause the most trouble in the churches, and live the most carnal lives, are those who have been led to make professions of faith by over-zealous “soul-winners.” Almost every church has a few such “Ishmaels,” and some churches are made up almost entirely of such.
It is not enough to quote Romans 10:9-13, and then exhort the sinner to “believe;” we must remember that there are nine full chapters of groundwork laid previous to the grand truths of Romans 10, and these constitute the context in which men must believe in order to be saved. There must be the recognition of the nature of sin, (chapters 1-2), the universality of sin (chapter 3), the high cost of redemption, and its nature (chapter 4), the blessings of salvation (chapter 5), the duties of the new life (chapter 6), the warfare of the new life (chapter 7), the salvation life in relation to God's purposes, (chapters 8-9).
The Bible is a very practical Book, and the book of Romans guards against the extremes of Arminianism on the one hand, and Antinomianism on the other. It does this by showing that salvation is wholly of the Lord, and while he condescends to use human instrumentality, He does not depend upon it. The overzealous “soul winner” who thinks to save men by his own powers of persuasion, only deceives the unsaved into thinking that he is saved when he isn't, and adds to churches empty professors of salvation, whose carnal lives will discredit those who truly are saved people. Therefore, let us be faithful to declare the gospel to men, but leave the application of it and the regeneration by means of it, to the Spirit, whose work it is.