Life’s Magnificent Obsession
“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the holy Spirit, and teach them to obey all the commands I have laid on you. And all the time I will be with you, to the very end of the world.” — Matthew 28:19, 20 (Moffatt)
In the year 1929 there was published a book that had for its theme the idea that all philanthropies or kindnesses or gifts had value to the giver in direct proportion to the secrecy involved in the transaction. The author of that book is Lloyd C. Douglas. The title of the book is Magnificent Obsession.
The idea that an obsession could be called “magnificent” came as a surprise and shock to many people. For it was generally understood that a mind obsessed was a mind insane or, at least, a mind irrational. But looking for dictionary definitions we come to realize that an obsession is “an urgent and inescapable preoccupation with an idea or emotion.” The word “magnificent,” of course, means supreme, sublime, noble, or exalted.” Thus a “magnificent obsession” is the urgent and inescapable preoccupation with a supreme idea or exalted emotion.
In a real sense, all men who have helped or hindered humanity have been men obsessed — men with an urgent and inescapable preoccupation with an idea or emotion. Some men have been obsessed with the idea of power, like Napoleon and Mussolini and Hitler and Stalin. Others have been obsessed with the idea of wealth, like Morgan and Rockefeller and the Nizam of Hyderabad, and countless thousands of others in lesser degree. It is not necessary for one to possess great wealth to be obsessed with it.
Today, Paul Robeson, Eugene Dennis, and many thousands of others are obsessed with the idea of Communism. Others are obsessed today with the pursuit of pleasure. But of all these obsessions — power, wealth, fame, pleasure, authority — not one can properly be called “magnificent,” because not one of them is concerned with ideas and endeavors that are supreme or sublime or noble or exalted.
Those men, however, who have helped humanity heavenward have also been men obsessed. Christ himself was obsessed — how gloriously He was preoccupied with the urgent and inescapable task of redeeming lost humanity! Paul, too, shared that obsession, as did Peter and Wesley and Brainerd and Moody and the other thousands of men and women who have given themselves unstintingly and unselfishly in that supreme endeavor of helping Christ help humanity.
There is only one obsession in the whole wide range of human endeavor that can properly and rightly be called “magnificent,” and that “magnificent obsession is the urgent and inescapable preoccupation with winning men and women to Jesus Christ! Soul winning and soul winning alone is life’s magnificent obsession!
I. SOUL WINNING IS LIFE’S SUPREME ENDEAVOR
Soul winning is life’s supreme endeavor because it enables man to participate in God’s redemptive purpose and plan. In this chrome-plated, gadgety age of ours, man is constantly confronted with a sense of futility — a feeling that life doesn’t mean anything. The evidences of this inner anxiety and frustration are everywhere abundant. What we desperately need, as Robert
Maynard Hutchins says, is “a mooring to something that is lasting, something that gives Us a sense of place in the world, of stability of purpose and significance in life. And,” he continues, “if you have a chance to tie up to something lasting, something effectively representing the effort to ennoble human experience, you had better get a firm hold on it without delay. You will need something of that sort before you are through with life.”
What could be more lasting, what could be more eternally significant, than that great redemptive endeavor that began long before the morning stars sang together, and that will continue long after time has spilled over into eternity? For “the Lamb [was] slain from the foundation of the world,” and throughout eternity God will be busy making man more like Jesus.
God’s first purpose now is not creative, but redemptive! God’s great purpose now is not to create more stars or spark more suns; God’s first purpose now is to redeem lost men!
It did not bankrupt heaven’s resources to make man. But it did take heaven’s brightest jewel to redeem man. Creation came from the mind of God. But redemption came from the heart of God. Out of the mind of God came the world to nourish and sustain man, but out of the heart of God came Jesus to redeem man.
God did not send His only Son into the world merely to teach ignorant men or merely to guide groping men or to feed hungry men or to heal sick men. God did send His Son to die on the cross to redeem sinful men!
Oh, the lift and lilt and fullness it gives to life to share in God’s eternal purpose and plan in redeeming lost men! We are not spectators; we are participants in the divine plan. And so it is that we fulfill our own highest destiny only as we bring lost men and women to Christ.
Requires Total Response
Soul winning is life’s supreme endeavor because it requires a total response from man. No one can be a part-time soul winner any more than one can be a part-time Christian. One of the more pathetic sights in life is to see a person with wide talents and a wonderful potential merely puttering around with a task that requires only a fraction of his energies and abilities.
Success in soul winning, however, can never be achieved without total response to its demands. Redeeming men required God’s best effort, and it requires man’s all-out best. There is no other task in all of life that is so total in its demands upon the energies of the individual. Nothing else so drains the energies as soul winning. The forces and energies and abilities of the whole personality are required in the high and sacred business of winning men to Christ.
Soul winning is not just a pouring out of the emotions. It is not just an exercise of the mind. It is not merely the activity of the will. Soul winning demands all three — emotions that are pure, a mind that is alert, and a will that is quick to respond to human need.
Soul winning is not a Sunday supplement to life. It is not a task reserved for revivals. Soul winning is a seven-day-a-week responsibility, and it demands our best and it demands our all!
Demands Divine Assistance
Soul winning is life’s supreme endeavor because it demands divine assistance. There is no one intelligent enough, or educated enough, or cultured enough, or forceful enough to win a lost soul to Christ. There is no one who through sheer ability alone can really win a lost soul. It takes God’s help to do that!
Jesus said that if we would follow Him He would “make” us “fishers of men.” In other words, no one, regardless of ability or talent or intellect, is sufficient to win souls. Christ must “make” us soul winners. Again, Jesus said, “I will make you to become fishers of men,” implying that no one without God’s help and power is a ready-made soul winner. That very fact should be an encouragement to those who say, “I am not talented enough to win souls.” Exactly! No one is! Christ must “make” us soul winners!
There are those, of course, who feel that they are sufficient in themselves. They feel that they are educated enough or talented enough to win souls. Education may help. But no one can become a soul winner merely by reading a book on soul winning. One must not only have the “know-how”; one must also have the “wherewithal,” and only God can supply that!
T. DeWitt Talmage said: “I never knew a man to be saved by a brilliant argument. You cannot hook men into the kingdom of God by the horns of a dilemma. There is no grace in syllogisms.” Education in itself is not the equipment for soul winning. Technical know-how does not make one a soul winner. Smooth, facile speech is not the real requirement. Even the desire to win souls does not equip one to be a soul winner. The one essential and indispensable equipment of the soul winner is the Holy Spirit.
The apostles, of course, were weak and inadequate men. But Jesus told them that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon them and then they would be witnesses and soul winners. It took the filling with the Holy Spirit to make the apostles soul winners, and it will take that for us to be soul winners! It takes human personality plus God to win souls!
II. SOUL WINNING IS THE CHRISTIAN LIFE’S INESCAPABLE ENDEAVOR
Soul winning is inescapable because Christ commands it.
Soul winning is not a pious extra. Soul winning is not a sanctimonious side line. Soul winning is not a segment on Christianity’s circumference reserved for the enthusiasts. Soul winning is the one central vocation and duty and privilege of every true child of God.
So many professing Christians have diluted the Great Commission until their service is not only weak and inadequate, but their concept of responsibility and service does not even challenge them. There has never been a cheap and easy way to win men to Christ. There was no short cut to Calvary, and there is no short cut in bringing men to the foot of Calvary’s cross. But to bring men there is Christ’s central command.
There is absolutely no way to compensate for our failure in winning souls. We can’t teach our way out of that failure. We can’t sing our way out. We can’t testify our way out. We can’t administrate our way out. We can’t preach our way out. We can’t finance our way out. We can never fully discharge our soul-winning responsibility with a checkbook!
There is an increasing number of church members who will pay to see souls saved, but they themselves will not provide one ounce of spiritual momentum to get souls saved. Christ didn’t merely say send or pay. Christ said Go!
It is never enough to be a church member. We must be soul-winning church members. It is never enough to be a Sunday-school teacher. We must be soul-winning teachers. It is never enough to be a church board member. We must be soul-winning board members. It is never enough to be a song leader. We must be soulwinning song leaders. It is never enough to be a superintendent. We must be soul-winning superintendents. It is never enough to be a preacher. We must be soulwinning preachers! For only as we win souls are we obeying Christ’s first and central command!
An Inner Compulsion
Soul winning is inescapable because of an inner compulsion. Jesus said, “Tarry, then go.” If we tarry long enough, we will go! — we’ll have to! It is impossible to love Christ and not love lost men. Only loving hearts are burdened, and only burdened hearts can win men. You can deal with a soul without a burden, but you can’t win a soul without a burden. It is love for God that nourishes and sustains and necessitates burden for men. If we have the joy of salvation in our own soul, we have to let others know about it!
Every help toward soul winning is welcome. But it is never necessary for a burdened heart to join a club or league or society in order to witness for Christ or to win souls to Christ. From the first disciples to the present time, men and women with the great gladness of God in their hearts have been constrained by an irresistible inner compulsion to win others to Christ.
There is no external pressure, no external compulsion that can sustain the burden for souls. Out of the deep reservoir of spirituality flow the compassion and love for lost men that make soul winning a spiritual necessity. It is that inner compulsion, that holy urge from within, that drives us on when all external pressure is released. Without that inner “must,” without that inner joy that finds outlet only in witnessing and winning, all revivals and crusades and campaigns are but weak and temporary stimulants.
We don’t need more P-80’s. We need more B-29’s. P-80’s are jet-fighters that have great bursts of speed for a few minutes. B-29’s carry heavy loads over long distances. We don’t need more people who get stirred to activity only during revivals. We need more men and women who will carry heavy burdens for lost souls for the long pull — beyond any revival or campaign or crusade.
While in Honolulu I met a young Japanese woman by the name of Alice Kimoto. Alice was formerly a singer in a tearoom, and she was also a Buddhist. But when her pagan gods failed her,
she turned to Christ and Is now one of the most radiant Christians one could meet. She goes out several days each week from house to house to tell the people about Jesus and what He has done for her — witnessing to people of all nationalities, telling them how happy she is now that she has accepted Christ and is wholly surrendered to Him.
Her pastor didn’t ask her to do that. She didn’t sign a pledge card that she would do it. No one told her to go out and win people. But she witnesses and wins because of a sense of great debt and because of a great love for God in her heart that simply must find outlet in service to others.
We are always ready and willing to ring doorbells when the joy-bells of heaven are ringing in our own souls! Oh, for that inner joy and compassion and compulsion that will make us soul winners everywhere and all the time!
Challenge from Without
Soul winning is inescapable because of the constant challenge from without. The story is told of a Hindu philosopher who was discoursing beautifully to some friends on his religion, when he was interrupted by the cries of a little child dying of cold and hunger and exposure just outside his window. He rose quietly and went to the window, closing it — shutting out the sound!
How many professing Christians are like that! They can pronounce all the shibboleths of their religion. They can talk beautifully about Jesus. They know and sing all the pretty songs about Him. They can even get very sentimental about their religion — and yet, while they talk, they close the windows of their hearts, shutting out the cries of lost and dying souls pleading for help. They can’t be bothered with that!
Oh, the cries of hurt hearts that are drowned out by high and pious talk about religion!
You there, Christian, do you hear the cries of those neighbors who are without Christ and dying in sin? Do you hear the cries of the man behind the counter who is dying without God? Do you hear the cries of the one just outside your window — or even beneath your own roof — who is cold and hungry and destitute and dying without God? Or have you drowned out their cries by your incessant professing and by the constant whir of your religious routines?
Or do you, Christian, hear the cries of lost souls and shut the window and resume preaching? Or shut the window and start singing? Or shut the window and start testifying? Or shut the window and start praying? Yes, you can drown out the cries of the lost and dying by preaching or singing or praying or testifying when you know in your heart you should go out and bring those souls to Christ!
Oh, that God might help us to go out and, with arms of love, lift those poor souls who are cold and hungry and dying and bring them to Christ — where their shivering souls may be warmed by His love, and where their hungry hearts may be fed by His bread, and where their hurt hearts may be healed by His blood.
How can any true Christian look out upon a world rotting in sin, cold and hungry and confused and perplexed and fearful and frustrated and sinful and lost, and then be complacent and dry-eyed and halfhearted and lukewarm? O God, that we might rise to the challenge of the lost souls not only in India and China and Africa, but those also who are crying and dying just outside our own window!
III. SOUL WINNING IS LIFE’S MOST URGENT ENDEAVOR
Soul winning is urgent because Jesus is coming soon. One does not need to know all the theories concerning the second coming of Christ to know that that climactic event is at hand. For the whole wide world today is full of the signs of His coming.
The very fact of His soon return should give to every Christian a keen sense of urgency in winning men and women to Christ. For us to know that the darkness of night will soon envelop us should charge us with an intense and holy urgency in the accomplishment of our first and central task.
What if He should come tonight? Would He find us urgently preoccupied in winning souls? You, teacher, if Jesus should come tonight, would He find you thinking first of all about winning souls? You, businessman, if Jesus should come tonight would He find you preoccupied with life’s biggest business — that of soul winning? You, farmer, if Jesus should come tonight, would He find you urgently busy in the all-important harvest of souls? You, housewife, if Jesus should come tonight would He find you working at winning your family to Christ? You cook for them, you sew for them, but are you really working at the first task of winning them to Christ? You, preacher, if Jesus should come tonight, would He find you all-out for souls?
Oh, that everyone would make absolutely certain that if Christ should come tonight He would find us urgently preoccupied with life’s greatest endeavor — that of winning souls!
Threat of Impending Doom
Soul winning is urgent because of the awful threat of impending doom. Man lives today under constant fear of atomic destruction. The awful power of the unleashed atom is so mysterious and horrible that the merest mention of the atomic bomb sends shudders through the soul.
Men, with their brains and hands, have finally devised a destructive force that can literally blow them off the face of the earth. It is not the preachers who are scared now; it is the scientists and the military men who are most effectively drawing the outlines of doom.
People used to think that the preaching of imminent doom was just a false emotional scare that preachers exploited. Today the preachers don’t have to talk about it; the theme has become highly scientific, and the scientists and the military men and the statesmen are doing the preaching.
President Truman says: “We cannot stand another global war. We can’t even have another war unless it is a total war, and that means the end of our civilization as we have known it”
Raymond Fosdick says: “At long last we have come to the end of the road, face to face with our final choice. This time we cannot postpone the issue. This time the stakes are life or death on a terrestrial scale.”
General MacArthur warns: “We have had our last chance. If the flesh is to be saved now, it must be by the spirit.”
There is one tremendous truth piercing the gathering clouds and it is this: Only Christ can save us now! It is no longer Christ or confusion. It is no longer Christ or chaos. It is now Christ or doom! Christ or death! Christ or damnation!
As an individual sinner must often come to the brink of disaster before he awakens to his sense of need, just so God, in His vast providence, may be letting this shattered and sinful world come to the very lip of disaster to bring men to their senses and cause them to realize that it is not more culture that they need, but Christ. Not more science, but salvation!
Cry it out in the United Nations Assembly: “Deliberation is not enough. Only Christ can save us now!” Speak it in the congresses and parliaments of the world: “Legislation is not enough. Only Christ can save us now!” Preach it from the pulpits of the earth: “Social program is not enough. Only Christ can save us now!” Whisper it to every sin-weary soul: “New resolution is not enough. Only Christ can save you now!” Shout it out everywhere and all the time: “Either Christ saves us or we perish!”
Let us go into this darkening, divided, dying world and with cool heads and hot hearts and resolute wills point men and women to the Christ who is Light and Love and Life.
The Opening Doors
Soul winning is urgent because of doors opening today that have been closed for centuries. There are in the world today immense vacuums. Russia rushes into the political vacuums. America pours her billions into the economic vacuums. But the greatest and most significant vacuum in the world today is the spiritual vacuum. No one knows the full extent of it, but it is vast.
Old patterns of life are breaking up. The allegiances of men today are very fluid. Everything is in flux. What a tremendous challenge for the church with a world vision to move into that vacuum with the powerful and glorious gospel of Christ!
The call from Macedonia is coming from every country of the world today. Yes, even in Russia, where thousands of true Christians have gone underground rather than to surrender their faith. But the Early Church proved the power of its faith — underground. So the paganism of the present may be defeated and overthrown by the seeds of living faith sown in the Christian cells driven underground by that godless government.
Hear Japan’s eighty million crying for the gospel. Listen to China with her four hundred million crying for Christ. Who can fail to hear the call of India with her three hundred and forty million souls in heathen darkness? Listen to Africa’s one hundred and seventy-five million crying,
“Come over and help us.” And what of the cries of the millions of lost, sinful, weary, fearful men and women of Europe who need Christ? And the voices of seventy million unchurched in America together with the other millions of church members who have never been saved!
O God! O great God! Have mercy upon us if we fail in this, our greatest opportunity. Have mercy upon us if we go on about our business as usual. Great God in heaven, forgive us if we waste these fateful hours and days in running through our little routines and giving our little reports and patting one another on the back and saying we’re doing a great job, when the whole wide world of suffering and sinful men cries to high heaven for help and hope and salvation!
Soul Winning Is Everybody’s Job
There are always those, of course, who feel that this challenge of soul winning is only for the evangelists and the enthusiasts. Great God! Help us to realize that soul winning is everybody’s job! A number of months ago, some preacher wrote to Dr. J. B. Chapman saying that, since he was more of the intellectual type, he had trouble in making his preaching evangelistic. As though those two words were exclusive! I admired Dr. Chapman even more than before when he answered in the Preacher’s Magazine that he had always found it easier to be evangelistic in his preaching when he himself was most conscious of the nearness of Christ.
Was Paul intellectual? Indeed so. For sheer brain power the world has seldom, if ever, produced his equal. Yet the fires of holy evangelism blazed so intensely in his mind and soul that he burned his way across his world preaching, crying, cajoling, threatening, begging, entreating men and women to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour. How magnificently obsessed was Paul! As I knelt before the tomb of Paul’s headless body in Rome, I prayed, “O God, if it be possible will You somehow spark my feeble heart by the fire of Your apostle’s burning zeal!”
Was Wesley intellectual? Indeed so. For breadth and scope of intelligence, England has seldom produced a greater. Yet Wesley was so inflamed by the fires of holy evangelism that in spite of all hell that was marshaled against him, and in spite of scoffing ecclesiastics and jeering critics, he traveled on foot and on horseback over two hundred thousand miles, preaching over forty thousand sermons, warning, witnessing, and entreating by life and logic the godless men and women of his day to accept Jesus Christ and to accept Him in all His fullness! O Wesley, teach our puny little minds and our stuffy, stuck-up little souls the real meaning and grandeur of evangelism!
Yes, Jonathan Edwards and Charles Finney and Dwight Moody and Dr. Bresee, you who were obsessed with the idea of winning souls, teach us by all the powers of your great minds and vast lives that it is never a mark of intelligence to be cold and complacent. Teach us that it is never a mark of intelligence to be dry-eyed. Teach us that it is never a mark of intelligence to be unmoved and unconcerned over a world of lost and dying men. Teach us by all the wisdom at your command that it is never dignified to be dead!
No. The task of soul winning is not reserved for the professional enthusiasts. It is not reserved for the emotional and erratic fringe. Soul winning is so great and so urgent a task that it demands the best from everybody!
If the awful and urgent and terrific challenge of this day does not compel us to action, then what will?
If we who profess holiness of heart cannot be stirred, then who can be?
If we cannot be bothered over lost souls, then who will be?
If we do not care, who will?
The Lost Child
In April of 1949 the whole nation was stirred and moved by the tragedy of a little girl falling into an abandoned well. Time Magazine ran the story under the title “The Lost Child.” It happened in San Marino, California. Little Kathy Fiscus, aged three, was running with her sister and her cousin across a vacant lot when all of a sudden Kathy vanished out of sight. She had fallen into an abandoned water well. The pipe was only fourteen inches across, and it was rusted and corroded. The mother frantically called down into the hole, and Kathy answered once or twice. Then there was silence.
The police rushed to the scene and put down a rope, but it was useless and so they gave up. Drills, derricks, bulldozers, and trucks were rushed to the lot from a dozen towns. Three giant cranes came from Los Angeles. Firemen ran an air hose down the well, and pumped air down the hole by a rotary pump. Little more than an hour after her fall a power-drill crew began to sink a shaft alongside the abandoned well. On the other side, big, clam-shell shovels clawed an open pit for exploration. Fifty floodlights were rushed from Hollywood studios. Volunteer workers, engineers, sand hogs, retired miners rushed to help.
By midnight Saturday there were twelve thousand people standing in the chilly spring night. Finally they had to dig by hand. No one thought of pay. The city engineer said, “I haven’t even heard the word mentioned.” All over the nation citizens swamped newspaper and radio stations for news. Midgets, schoolboys, jockeys volunteered to go down. The men worked on regardless of danger or fatigue. Finally at six o’clock Sunday night, the announcement came that Kathy was dead and apparently had been dead since she was last heard speaking. The whole nation grieved and many wept at the news. Yes, a whole nation was shocked and stirred and moved over a little three-year-old girl lost in an abandoned water well. And rightly so. I listened and sorrowed with everyone else.
But wait. While a whole nation was grieving over a little girl lost and dying in an abandoned water well, a hundred million men and women and young people in America were on their way to hell — lost and dying and without God. But who cared about that!
We can’t be bothered about lost souls! We’re too busy! We have other things to do! We have to look after our homes and our business and our jobs; we can’t be disturbed about a few million lost souls!
A man came to the altar a few months ago with hot tears running down his face. Oh, the agony on his face and in his voice as he looked up and said: “There is another soul in hell tonight, and I am partly responsible. I have worked by the side of a man for seven years, and during all that time I never spoke to him about his soul. I invited him to church many times, of course, but I never really tried to win him to Christ. This morning, when I got to work, he wasn’t there, and they told we that he had died last night. He died and went to hell — while I was sitting here in church! Seven years, and I never spoke to him one time about his soul! Oh, what can I do? He’s gone to hell, and I am partly to blame!”
O mother, father, will that son or daughter look you in the face at the Judgment and say, “Why didn’t you talk to me about my soul? You clothed me, you fed me, you schooled me, you talked to me about everything else. Why didn’t you talk to me more about God?” What will you say then?
You, businessman, what will you say when that partner comes up to you at the Judgment and says: “Why didn’t you ever mention God and salvation and heaven and hell to me? You talked to me about everything else, but why didn’t you talk to me about my soul?”
You, preacher, what will you say when those souls come to you at the Judgment and say: “Why weren’t you more interested in my soul? You visited us and you joked with us and you invited us to your church, but why didn’t you talk to us about our souls and pray with us in our homes that we might yield to God? We expected you to. We wanted you to. You talked about everything else. Why didn’t you talk to us about God and heaven and hell and where we were going to spend eternity?”
O Christian, O church member, let us go about our homes obsessed with the idea of winning our families to Christ. Let us go to our work obsessed with the idea of winning our fellow workmen to Christ. Let us go to school obsessed with winning other students to Christ. Let us associate with our neighbors and friends obsessed with the idea of winning them to Christ. To win souls! — that must be our obsession!
Oh, that we might be so magnificently obsessed that we can say with Paul, “I count not my life dear … I am ready to die for the Lord Jesus … But I must warn everyone night and day with tears.”
Oh, that we might be so magnificently obsessed that we can cry with Brainerd, “I care not where I live or what hardships I endure, so that I may gain souls for Christ!”
Oh, that we might be so magnificently obsessed that we can pray and plead with Whitefield, “O God, give me souls — or take my soul!”
That should be our prayer! That must be our prayer! That will be our prayer! “O God, give me souls — or take my soul!!”
Let us then rise with warm hearts and burdened souls to the challenge of our redemptive task, and with the call and command of Christ charging our souls with holy urgency, and with the insistent voice of our own conscience demanding action, and the clamoring cries of sin-sick souls forever shattering our indifference and complacency. Let us go with a burning passion for the lost, with our minds and our emotions and our wills aflame with Life’s Magnificent Obsession!
Show us, O Christ, Thy pierced hands. Show us, O Christ, Thy two spiked feet. Let us feel now the jagged wound of Thy pierced side. Let us look again, O Master, upon Thy broken, bleeding body and that brutal, blood-soaked cross. Then through the holes of Thy hands and feet may we look upon the nice houses we live in, the soft beds we sleep in, the nice cars we drive, and the fine clothes we wear, and the good food we eat; and may we, O Christ, feel that burning sense of shame for having done so little, and cared so little, and cried so little, and suffered so little, and sacrificed so little for such a suffering Christ, and for such a sinful world! This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.