I have been re-reading this precious book, “Words to Winners of Souls” little by little, using it to fire my soul, especially on days of prayer and fasting. Horatius Bonar was a Scottish minister from the past who had a zeal to see pastors awake and alive to the issues of eternity and the need to win souls. This book is aimed at pastors, but beneficial to others. My copy was given to me over 1o years ago by Pastor Michael Crawford, and I can remember reading it together and praying in his study. You can get it at amazon.com or a discount version at Chapel Library.
I read some of it yesterday and it lead me to pray and seek God with earnestness. He is one of the “old boys” that lays it down straight. Bonar (1808-1889) was not a puritan, but quoted them extensively. It is interesting to me that of all the interest in puritanism and the theology of the past that has been reborn in the last 50 years, there are precious few that have sought to emulate their lives when it comes to soul-winning. Bonar says some remarkable things:
- Having good theology and a cold heart can be worse than having bad theology or an open life of sin. ” Even when sound in the faith, through unbelief, lukewarmness and slothful formality, they [ministers] may do irreparable injury to the cause of christ, freezing and withering up all spiritual life around them. The lukewarm ministry of one who is theoretically orthodox is often more extensively and fatally ruinous to souls than that of one grossly inconsistent or flagrantly heretical.” (p. 1-2)
- “The object of the Christian ministry is to convert sinners and to edify the body of Christ.” That sounds like part 1 and 2 of the great commission to me. Sadly many people who are “concerned” about too much evangelism in the church, and strong evangelistic preaching to the lost attempt to justify this stance from a posture of “respect” for the preachers of the past. They seem to think that the pastor should only be concerned with part 2 of the Great Commission– tending the sheep. Nothing could be further from the truth. Bonar quotes the famous Puritan John Owen: “Ministers are seldom honored with success unless they are continually aiming at the conversion of sinners.” (p. 5)
- The most important aspect of being a soul-winner is a close and lively walk with God. By this Bonar means a life of complete consecration to prayer and the word. We fire our souls during time alone with God. He quotes John Berridge, “It is much to be feared that we are weak in the pulpit because we are weak in the closet.” (p.11) He says with great skill that we should study the lives of great men of the past more than their sermons, because the power of their closeness to Christ is was brought blessing.
I was struck while looking through a hymnal that Bonar thought about this a lot. He also wrote this hymn which is a poetic expression of these ideas. I just printed a copy of this and taped it above my desk to stir me to this kind of zeal.
Go, labor on: spend, and be spent,
Thy joy to do the Father’s will:
It is the way the Master went;
Should not the servant tread it still?
Go, labor on! ’tis not for naught
Thine earthly loss is heavenly gain;
Men heed thee, love thee, praise thee not;
The Master praises: what are men?
Go, labor on! enough, while here,
If He shall praise thee, if He deign
The willing heart to mark and cheer:
No toil for Him shall be in vain.
Go, labor on! Your hands are weak,
Your knees are faint, your soul cast down;
Yet falter not; the prize you seek
Is near—a kingdom and a crown.
Go, labor on while it is day:
The world’s dark night is hastening on;
Speed, speed thy work, cast sloth away;
It is not thus that souls are won.
Men die in darkness at thy side,
Without a hope to cheer the tomb;
Take up the torch and wave it wide,
The torch that lights time’s thickest gloom.
Toil on, faint not, keep watch and pray,
Be wise the erring soul to win;
Go forth into the world’s highway,
Compel the wanderer to come in.
Toil on, and in thy toil rejoice!
For toil comes rest, for exile home;
Soon shalt thou hear the Bridegroom’s voice,
The midnight peal, “Behold, I come!”