The Certain Success of Evangelism
W. G. T. Shedd
Inasmuch as each and every disciple of Christ is bound to contribute his share towards the evangelization of the globe, it becomes an interesting and important question, "Is the work feasible?" May it not be that the church is attempting too much? The greater part of the world is still pagan and totally ignorant of God in Christ. And a considerable part of nominal Christendom consists of unrenewed men who are as distant from heaven as the heathen, so far as the new birth is concerned.
How can the church at large, and the individual Christian, be certain that they are not undertaking a work that is intrinsically impossible of performance? No laborer desires to spend his strength for naught. It was one of the torments of pagan hell perpetually to roll a stone up a hill, and just as it reached the summit, perpetually to see it slip from the hands and roll back to the bottom.
We propose to mention some reasons that make it certain that evangelistic labor will succeed. The effort of the church to preach Christ crucified will no more fail of its effect than the rain will fail to water the earth and cause the seeds that are sown in it to germinate (Isa. 55:10).
We argue and derive the certainty of success in evangelistic labor, in the first place, from the nature of God's truth. There is something in the quality and characteristics of the doctrine which we are commanded to preach to every creature that promises and prophesies a triumph.
We need to keep this fact in view if we would see any ground of certainty for the success of the Christian evangelist. Unless he is commissioned to teach something that is superhuman; something that did not originate with the sphere of earth and of man; something that is not found in the literatures of the world; he will spend his strength for naught. The apostles of human reason, the inventors of human systems, and their disciples, have labored for six thousand years without radically changing a single individual man, or converting any of the sin and misery of earth into the holiness and happiness of heaven. And if the Christian herald does not go entirely beyond their sphere and proclaim truths from another and higher world, he will only repeat their futile endeavor. He must teach the Word and commandments of God-a higher doctrine than the commandments of man, a wisdom superior to that of any people, Hebrew or Hindu, Greek or Roman.
God's Special Interest in His Word
We argue the certain success of evangelistic labor, in the second place, from the fact that God feels a special interest in his own Word.
This fact is clearly taught in Isaiah 55. "My word," says God by his prophet, "shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it." Here is personal interest and personal supervision. These doctrines relating to the salvation and destiny of man are not sent forth from heaven as lonely messengers to make their way as best they can. The Third Person of the Trinity goes with them. He exerts an influence through them that is undefinable but is almighty and irresistible within its own sphere and in its own way. For there is not a human heart upon the globe, whose hardness cannot be penetrated by the combined operation of the Word and Spirit of God.
In this fact, then, we find a second ground of certainty of success for evangelistic endeavor. You may proclaim all your days, your own ideas, or those of your fellow men, but you will say with Grotius, at the close of a long and industrious career: "I have spent my life in laboriously doing nothing." But if you have passed your days in teaching the unevangelized and conveying into their dark and blinded understandings the truths of the law and gospel, you may say, at the close of life, as you sum up your work: "I have erected a monument more durable than brass. I have taught the Word of God that liveth and abideth forever, to many human souls."
The same law that rules in the individual experience prevails in the larger sphere of mission. There must be a ceasing to look at the creature and an absorbing, empowering looking to the Creator and Redeemer. No sinner obtains peace until he sees that God's grace is greater than his sins. So long as his sins look larger than God's mercy, so long he must despair. Precisely so is it with efforts to save the souls of men. The church will not be instrumental in evangelizing the globe, unless it believes that God the Holy Spirit is more mighty than man's corruption. So long as the work looks too great to be accomplished; so long as the ignorance, vice, brutality, and apathy of the sinful masses all around seem insuperable by any power human or divine; so long there will be no courageous and confident labor for human welfare. No missionary would ever have gone upon his errand of love, had his eye been taken from God and fixed solely upon man and man's hopeless condition.
Do you think that the apostles would have started out from the little corner of Palestine to convert the Greco-Roman world to a new religion if their vision had been confined to earth? Apart from the power and promise of God, the preaching of such a religion as Christianity, to such a population as that of paganism, is the sheerest quixotism. It crosses all the inclinations and condemns all the pleasures of guilty man. The preaching of the gospel finds its justification, its wisdom, and its triumph, only in the attitude and relation which the infinite and almighty God sustains to it. It is his religion, and therefore it must ultimately become a universal religion.
Excerpted from Professor Shedd's Sermons to the Spiritual Man (1884). Reprinted from New Horizons, May 2003.