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by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Evening, July 24, 2011

“It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (I Corinthians 1:21)

“How shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14).

I have tried nearly every method of soul winning during my 53 years in the ministry. I have preached on street corners in San Francisco, West Los Angeles, and Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles hundreds of times without seeing a single lost soul come into the church and stay! I have passed out tracts by the hundreds with no tangible results. Our people passed out nearly one million tracts without adding a single convert to our church. We have gone door to door giving an abbreviated plan of salvation and praying with people, throughout Los Angeles, without getting more than three or four people into the church as solid Christians. I preached on the radio for over a year without adding a single convert to our church. Years ago, in Sacramento, California I taught a large group of young people “The Evangelism Explosion.” We put it into practice, but we did not see any fruit from it. No one came into the local church and stayed. We had a bus ministry for several years but, again, no lasting fruit came from it.

I am not saying that these methods are wrong. I am simply saying that they don’t work. At least they do not work in Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Sacramento, where I tried them for years. Perhaps they may produce some fruit in rural areas, or in small communities, but I know that they do not produce many Christians in the large cities of America.

At long last we discovered a way to win some unsaved sinners to Christ. I refer to this new way as “local church-centered evangelism.” What we mean is this – instead of saying a “quick prayer” with people and then “following up” on them, we do it the other way round. We follow up on them first, before we present the Gospel to them. That is, we get them into church first, and then they hear me preach the Gospel.

Nearly every member of our church has been won to Christ using this “new” method. I put quotation marks around “new” because it is really a very old method. I know there are a few instances in the Book of Acts where one person gave the Gospel to another and got them saved, such as Philip with the Ethiopian eunuch, Paul with the Philippian jailer, and Peter with Cornelius. But it should be remembered that Philip was an ordained deacon (Acts 6:5-6) and Peter and Paul were Apostles. Philip (Acts 8:5), Peter and Paul were preachers, not ordinary Christians. Philip was called “the evangelist” in Acts 21:8. He was an ordained deacon and an evangelist. While there are a few instances of these God-called Apostles and evangelists leading individuals to Christ, by far the vast majority of the thousands of people who were saved in the Book of Acts were converted by hearing preaching – including the three thousand who were converted at Pentecost under the preaching of Peter, the five thousand that were converted under the preaching of the Apostles (Acts 4:4), the great crowd that was converted under the preaching of Philip the evangelist in Samaria (Acts 8:5, 8), and the many Gentiles who were converted through Gospel preaching in Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:44, 48). All of these thousands were converted through preaching and were formed into local churches at once, “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47). So, that seems to me to be the old way, not a new way at all!

Search through Christian history books and you will find that this has been by far the most greatly used method of evangelism across the ages of time: get lost sinners into the church first, and then preach the Gospel to them. In the seventeenth century the evangelistic pastor Richard Baxter said,

When God gives any man saving grace, he usually gives it through the means of grace...One particular means of conversion is, hearing the word preached by the ministers of Christ in the public assembly [the church]. “How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?”...Look through the Scriptures, and see whether the common way of conversion was not by hearing the word of God preached (Richard Baxter, 1657, A Treatise on Conversion, The American Tract Society, pp. 320, 321, 325).

“It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (I Corinthians 1:21)

“How shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14).

The idea that every Christian should present the Gospel and say a “quick prayer” with the lost at their doorstep – and then try to “follow up” on them – came out of Finney’s “decisionism” only about 170 years ago. Moody followed Finney in the belief that anyone can be saved at any time, so Christian people were pressed to lead souls to Christ with a quick presentation of the Gospel and a quick prayer. Yet time and experience have taught us that this method seldom works. That's why many churches today are giving up this method and turning to a form of hyper-Calvinism, where Christians are not expected to do anything to reach lost sinners. They just come to church to learn the Bible! Click here to read my sermon, “Evangelism in the Early Churches – a Model for Today.” You will learn more about the difference between five-point Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism in that sermon.

Hyper-Calvinism is what William Carey faced when he proposed to a committee of pastors that he felt called to go to India as a missionary. A hyper-Calvinist Baptist preacher in that committee stood up and said, “Sit down, young man. When God chooses to save the heathen He will do so without your help or mine.” That is the attitude of hyper-Calvinism. Although today they send out foreign missionaries, I am afraid that many Reformed pastors have a hyper-Calvinistic attitude toward the lost in their own communities.

Rev. Iain H. Murray, himself a five-point Calvinist, said, “ would appear that the priority which soul-winning had in Spurgeon’s ministry is not commonly seen to be our priority. The revival of [Reformed] doctrine has scarcely been matched by a revival of evangelism. While not accepting the tenets of Hyper-Calvinism it may well be that we have not been sufficiently alert to the danger of allowing a supposed consistency of doctrine to override the biblical priority of zeal for Christ and the souls of men. Doctrine without usefulness is no prize” (Iain H. Murray, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1995, p. xiv).

I am saying that we need to emphasize every-member evangelism in a different way – that everyone be sent out to invite lost people to church, to hear the Gospel preached because,

“It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (I Corinthians 1:21)

“How shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14).

This method was recommended by Spurgeon, who said,

What can you do to win souls? Let me recommend...the bringing of others to hear the word. That is a duty much neglected...persuade [people] to come forth to the place of worship; look after them...entice them, persuade them...Get them under the word, and who knoweth what may be the result? Oh what a blessing it would be to you if...what you could not do, for you could scarcely speak for Christ, was done by your pastor, by the power of the Holy Spirit, through your inducing [persuading] one to come within gunshot of the gospel (C. H. Spurgeon, “Soul Winning,” The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Pilgrim Publications, 1976, volume XV, pp. 32-33).

By this method Spurgeon saw his people bringing the lost into his church to hear the Gospel. Yes, to hear him preach the Gospel! The pastor is motivated to preach whole sermons on the Gospel of Christ when he sees his people bringing in the lost. Some have been surprised to find that I preach the Gospel every Sunday. I am moved to do so by the fact that our people bring in the lost, and there are lost people in every service.

Someone may think that so much evangelistic preaching, preaching the Gospel to the lost, will make the Christians weak, that Sunday School teaching and Bible teaching after the prayer meeting is not enough, that they must also devote the Sunday morning service to more Bible study directed to the saved, that this will make the saved people strong. But I found this to be a false idea. Some of the strongest Christians I have ever known are people in our church who hear the Gospel preached every Sunday morning, year in and year out. And some of the weakest people I have known come from churches where they sit under verse-by-verse Bible study every Sunday, and never hear whole sermons devoted to the Gospel of Christ.

Over one hundred years after his death, Spurgeon’s sermons are still in print, and are read by thousands. Yet most of Spurgeon’s sermons are evangelistic, Gospel sermons. Spurgeon preached them with great vigor and zeal, even when he was sick toward the end of his ministry. Dr. John R. Rice said, “Spurgeon was a pastor all of his days and never called himself an evangelist. Yet multiplied thousands were saved under his ministry, and the Metropolitan Tabernacle [his church] was called a ‘soul trap’” – because so many were converted under his preaching (John R. Rice, D.D., Why Our Churches Do Not Win Souls, Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1966, p. 68).

Oh, may we follow the example of the Apostles, Richard Baxter, Spurgeon, and other great Gospel preaching pastors of the past. May God help me to preach Christ to the end of my days! As the Apostle Paul said,

“I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:2).

“It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (I Corinthians 1:21)

“How shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14).

And may you, dear brothers and sisters, work with me by doing all you can to bring the lost into our church to hear the Gospel preached! Sing the chorus of “Bring Them In” as we stand together.

Bring them in, bring them in,
   Bring them in from the fields of sin;
Bring them in, bring them in,
   Bring the wandering ones to Jesus.
(“Bring Them In” by Alexcenah Thomas, 19th century).

And now, my friend, if you are not yet converted, we plead with you to come to Jesus. He died on the Cross to atone for your sins. He shed His precious Blood to wash away your sins. He rose from the dead to give you life. He prays for you up in Heaven, at the right hand of God. Come to Jesus and He will save you, He will save you now!

If you are not saved, or if you have a question concerning your salvation, the deacons and I will be glad to speak with you for a few minutes. Please go to the back of the room now and Dr. Cagan will lead you to a quiet place where we can talk. Amen.

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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Romans 10:14-17.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Here Am I” (by Dr. John R. Rice, 1895-1980).