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SOUL WINNING FIRE IN THE EARLY CHURCH

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Evening, April 28, 2013

“For since I spake, I cried out, I cried violence and spoil; because the word of the Lord was made a reproach unto me, and a derision, daily. Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay” (Jeremiah 20:8-9).


Jeremiah had prophesied that the Jews would go into Babylonian captivity because of their sins. The people rejected his preaching. They agreed not to listen to him. Pashur was the chief officer of the temple police. Pashur had him beaten and put in the stocks. The beating was forty lashes with a whip, similar to the scourging Jesus received from Pontius Pilate. The stocks were used to hold him, with his hands, feet and neck fastened in holes which bent his body into a very painful position. When Jeremiah was released from the stocks he told Pashur that he and his family would go into Babylonian captivity, with the rest of Judah. Then the prophet experienced a period of great depression. He complained to God that he had been mocked and ridiculed. He said, “Cursed be the day wherein I was born...[Why] came I forth out of the womb to see labour and sorrow, that my days should be consumed with shame?” (Jeremiah 20:14, 18). He complained that the Word of God that he preached resulted in reproach and derision all day long.

“Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name” (Jeremiah 20:9).

I personally know how he felt, or at least pretty close to it. At Golden Gate Baptist Seminary near San Francisco in 1972, I did exactly what Jeremiah did. I quit the ministry. I felt that everyone was against me, and no one would listen. I literally said in my heart, “I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name.” But that only lasted for a few days. Then one night at about 2:00 AM, God called me to preach a second time. I could have said almost the same words as Jeremiah,

“Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay” (Jeremiah 20:9).

He was weary of holding back from preaching. God’s Word was a burning fire in his bones. He was compelled to preach again! He couldn’t stop because God’s Word burned like a fire in his bones! Dr. Rice said, “Only the preacher who preaches because he must, with fire in his bones, will preach to men who hate him, or deride him, or ignore him” (John R. Rice, D.D., “The Soul Winner’s Fire,” The Bible Garden, Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1982, p. 343). The Apostle Paul felt the fire in his bones when he said,

“For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (I Corinthians 9:16).

The early Christians felt that same fire in their bones when the Holy Spirit came, “like as of fire, and...sat upon each of them” (Acts 2:3). The fire burned so hot in Peter’s bones that he cried out to the Sanhedrin, “We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). A very famous Baptist pastor, John Piper, “retired” a few weeks ago. The day after he resigned he felt so relieved that he said, “The only tears that came were tears of thankfulness...It is finished.” I simply cannot understand a man like that. He is a good man in some ways, but where is the fire in his bones? Where is the holy unction that compelled the persecuted Apostles to cry, “We ought to obey God rather than men”? (Acts 5:29). Where is the fire in the bones that moved Paul to say, “Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (I Corinthians 9:16)? As Dr. Rice said, “Only the preacher who preaches because he must, with fire in his bones, will preach to men who hate him, or deride him, or ignore him.” I say we’ve had enough soft Bible teaching. We need preachers like Whitefield and Wesley – men with fire in their bones!

Years ago, as we drove into Washington, D.C. after midnight, I composed a chorus that we used to sing a lot.

Lord, send tongues of fire,
   Let them rest on me.
Send me forth with holy power
   To win lost souls for Thee.
(“Lord, Send Tongues of Fire” by the Pastor).

Sing it with me!

Lord, send tongues of fire,
   Let them rest on me.
Send me forth with holy power
   To win lost souls for Thee.

The early Christians had the fire of God burning in their bones. Dr. Philip Schaff said, (History of the Christian Church, Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976 reprint, volume II).

      It is a remarkable fact that after the days of the Apostles no names of great missionaries are mentioned till the opening of the middle ages...There were no missionary societies, no missionary institutions, no organized efforts...and yet in less than 300 years from the death of St. John the whole population of the Roman empire which then represented the civilized world was nominally Christianized.
      To understand this astonishing fact, we must remember that the foundation was laid strong and deeply by the apostles themselves. The seed scattered by them from Jerusalem to Rome, and fertilized by their blood, sprung up as a bountiful harvest...
      Christianity...was its own best missionary. It grew naturally from within. It attracted people by its very presence. It was a light shining in darkness and illuminating the darkness. And while there were no professional missionaries devoting their whole life to this specific work, every congregation [church] was a missionary society, and every Christian a missionary, inflamed by the love of Christ to convert his fellow-man.

“Lord, Send Tongues of Fire!” Sing it!

Lord, send tongues of fire,
   Let them rest on me.
Send me forth with holy power
To win lost souls for Thee.

      Justin Martyr was converted by a venerable old man whom he met walking on the shore of the sea... “Every Christian,” says Tertullian, “both finds God and manifests him...” Celsus scoffingly remarks that [those who sold cloth] and workers in wool and leather, rustic and ignorant persons, were the most zealous propagators of Christianity...Women and slaves introduced it into the home-circle...Origen informs us that the city churches sent their missionaries to the villages. The seed grew up while men slept...Every Christian told his neighbor, the laborer to his fellow-laborer, the slave to his fellow-slave, the servant to his master and mistress, the story of his own conversion, as a [sailor] tells the story of the rescue from shipwreck.
      The gospel was [spread] chiefly by living preaching and by personal [conversation]...

“Lord, Send Tongues of Fire!” Sing it again!

Lord, send tongues of fire,
   Let them rest on me.
Send me forth with holy power
   To win lost souls for Thee.

      Justin Martyr says, about the middle of the second century: “There is no people, Greek or barbarian, or of any other race...among whom prayers and thanksgivings are not offered in the name of the crucified Jesus to the Father and Creator of all things.” Half a century later Tertullian addresses the heathen defiantly, “We are but of yesterday [we Christians have only existed a short time], and yet we already fill your cities, islands, camps, your palace, senate and forum; we have left to you only your temples”...About the end of the third century the name of Christ was known, revered, and persecuted in every province and every city of the empire. Maximian, in one of his edicts, says that “almost all” had abandoned the worship of their ancestors for [Christianity]...At the close of the third...century nearly one-tenth of the subjects of Rome [were Christians], that is about ten millions of souls... But the fact that the Christians were...fresh, vigorous, hopeful, and daily increasing, while the heathen were...daily diminishing, made the true strength of the church much greater (ibid., pp. 19-22).

Remember that Christianity grew and spread without official missionaries, without church buildings, without the protection of the government – in the midst of great persecution. What did these early Christians have that caused their faith to conquer pagan Rome? They had the fire of Christ burning in their bones! That’s what they had! And that is what we must have as well! Sing it!

Lord, send tongues of fire,
   Let them rest on me.
Send me forth with holy power
To win lost souls for Thee.

Now notice how similar their situation was to ours. Dr. Schaff said,

      Until the reign of Constantine [Christianity] had not even a legal existence in the Roman Empire, but was first ignored as a Jewish sect, then slandered, [outlawed], and persecuted...the adoption of it made punishable with...death. Besides...it presented its inexorable demand of repentance and conversion, renunciation of self and the world, that more, according to Tertullian, were kept out of the new [religion] by love of pleasure than by love of life.
      But in spite of these [great] difficulties Christianity made a progress and adaption which furnished striking evidence of its divine origin and to the deeper needs of man...Nay, the very hindrances became, in the hands of [God] means for promotion. Persecution led to martyrdom, and martyrdom had not terrors alone, but also attractions...Every martyr was a living proof of the truth and holiness of the Christian religion. Tertullian could say to the heathen: “All your ingenious cruelties can accomplish nothing; they only lure [more people to become Christians]. Our numbers increase the more you destroy us. The blood of the Christians is their seed.” The moral earnestness of the Christians contrasted powerfully with the prevailing corruption of the age, and while it [drove away the wicked] it impressed most strongly the deepest and most noblest minds...Tertullian asserts that the tenth part of Carthage, and among them senators and ladies of the noblest descent...professed Christianity (ibid., pp. 14, 15).
      Heathenism outwardly held [power], but was inwardly rotten and in the process of inevitable decay [just as it is today!]. The Roman empire rested only on the power of the sword...the moral bonds of society were [broken]; unbounded [greed] and vice of every kind...reigned in Rome and in the provinces...The only star of hope in the gathering night was the young, the fresh, the [bold] religion of Jesus, fearless of death, strong in faith, growing with love [was increasingly seen] as the only living religion of the present and the future. While the world was continually agitated by wars, and revolutions and public calamities...the new religion [of Christianity] in spite of fearful opposition from without and danger from within, was silently progressing with the irresistible force of truth, and worked itself gradually into the very bone and blood of the race.
      “Christ appeared,” says the great Augustin, “to the men of the decrepit, decaying world, that while all around them was withering away, they might through Him receive new, youthful life” (ibid., p. 17).

That is exactly what we offer to young people in the midst of this dying nation. While our culture crumbles, and there seems to be no hope – we offer Christ! We offer the power of prayer! We offer future rewards in Christ’s Kingdom! We offer pure morals! We offer zeal to go out and bring in the lost that they might have hope and life in Christ! These are things they cannot find anywhere else in the dark streets of Los Angeles! Bring them in! Bring them in! Sing it again!

Lord, send tongues of fire,
   Let them rest on me.
Send me forth with holy power
   To win lost souls for Thee.

Those early Christians invited people to come and hear a sermon, and share a meal dedicated to Christ. With the simple tools of love in the church, and meals in the church, and fellowship in the church, the early Christians conquered the mighty Roman Empire! The Christians in China are doing the same thing right now! They are in the process of conquering Communism and overthrowing it right now! Their tools are the same as those of the early Christians. “Come and have a meal with us.” “Come and hear the Gospel of Christ.” “Come with us for we are on the winning side.”

The dirty-minded Hollywood moguls will not win in the end! The scoundrels in Washington will not win in the end! Those who hate Christian morality will not win in the end! The Christ-hating college professors will not win in the end! Even the Muslims are doomed to fail! Go out and bring them in to hear the great good news –

“The kingdoms of this world [shall] become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).

Sing it!

Lord, send tongues of fire,
   Let them rest on me.
Send me forth with holy power
   To win lost souls for Thee.

How many will say, “Pastor, I see it! That’s what I need! I need the fire of the Holy Spirit to fill me – and move me to go after the lost and bring them in.” If that is your desire and your prayer, come down to the front right now. Come quickly while we sing that chorus! Come right up here on the platform. Come on! Everyone who wants the soul-winning power of God, you come. Sing it while they come.

Lord, send tongues of fire,
   Let them rest on me.
Send me forth with holy power
   To win lost souls for Thee.

(Prayer)

You may go back to your seat. Jesus Christ died on the Cross to pay the penalty for your sin. He rose from the dead to give you life. If you would like to talk with us about trusting Him and becoming a real Christian, please step to the back of the room quickly while I pray. Amen.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE VIDEO OF "SOUL WINNING FIRE IN THE EARLY CHURCH"

(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Jeremiah 20:1-9.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Lord, Send Tongues of Fire” (by the Pastor).