The Evangelistic Pastor

By J. Wilbur Chapman

John Wilbur Chapman (1859-1918) Presbyterian evangelist. John W. Chapman was born in Indiana and educated at Oberlin College and Lane Seminary. He received the LL.D. from Heidelberg University. He held pastorates in Ohio, Indiana, New York, and Pennsylvania. He conducted evangelistic campaigns in Canada, Hawaii, the Fiji Islands, Australia, New Zealand, England, Scotland, Japan, Tasmania, and the Philippine Islands.

In 1877 he went on to Lake Forest University where he graduated with a B.A. in 1879, then he completed his training at Lane Seminary in Cincinnati in 1882. He was later given a D.D. degree by the University of Wooster and an LL.D. by Heidelberg University. While at Lake Forest studying for the ministry, he attended a Moody crusade meeting in Chicago in 1878. Chapman had some doubts about his commitment, sometimes feeling saved, sometimes not. So he went forward and into the inquiry room, where Moody personally dealt with him using John 5:24 to give Chapman the assurance that he needed.

Chapman is noted for helping Billy Sunday get his start in evangelism, and writing numerous hymns such as "One Day" and "Our Great Saviour" which are found in most standard hymnals. No one had had such a successful dual ministry as both pastor and evangelist as did Chapman as he spent about eighteen years in each of these fields. Through 1912 it was estimated that he had preached 50,000 sermons to some 60 million people. (from an online biography).

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Just what is an evangelistic pastor?

Perhaps we shall better reach an understanding concerning his position if we answer the question negatively.

First: He is not of necessity one who preaches constantly along what is known as evangelistic lines. There are very many people to-day who seem to think that the pastor is not doing evangelistic work unless he is regularly giving an invitation in so many words and all the time calling men to repent. This is not necessarily true as we shall show later, for frequently the best invitation is not spoken by the lips - but by the very presence of the man of God.

Second: He is not always one who is conspicuous because of great additions to his membership. There are men to-day whose additions have been exceedingly small who are as thoroughly evangelistic as those whose success has been far more remarkable. With the minister as with the Church it is the spirit that counts. If he has a real concern for the lost, if he lives a life of fellowship with Christ, he could choose any theme for his people and it would be apparent to all his hearers that he was longing for the lost to know Christ.

He need not of necessity close every sermon with an appeal, although that is frequently the best thing to do, for in so doing we impress our hearers with our confidence in our message and our expectation of results.

The minister of the seminary church where I was a student one evening preached a sermon and then returned to his home utterly discouraged because he felt that he was a failure in the ministry and he practically determined that he would never preach again, yet at the same time he was conscious that he had been greatly burdened for the lost. Some time past midnight his door-bell rang and the leader of his choir, who had been counted a skeptic, came to him to say, "Doctor, I am in an agony concerning my soul. Your sermon to-night has convicted me of my sin and I must have help or I shall die." In a very short time he was rejoicing in Christ. Then said the minister to him, "What was it in my sermon that moved you, I should like to have you tell me." The man replied,,, It was not so much, sir, what you said but the way you said it. I could see by the look in your eye and by the very pathos in your voice that you were longing for men to be saved and I could not resist your message." But there is a positive answer to the question today. Let us consider that side of it.

First: That man is evangelistic who is truly a man of prayer and Bible study, and yet at the same time one of intense earnest action. The greatest fanatics I know are those who study the Bible and pray almost without ceasing and then stop with these devotions. They do not fit into practice in their daily lives the message God gave them in his Word and the vision he vouchsafed unto them in their prayers, so on the one side there must be prayer and Bible study; we cannot have too much of it, while on the other side there is the translation into life of those things which God has given us. It was thus that Finney prayed, read God's word and worked, and it was thus that Mr. Moody lived and preached.

Second: That man is evangelistic in his preaching who realizes that men are lost without Christ and that the Gospel is the only way of salvation. He believes that it is not so much a question either of character or conduct primarily as of the new birth. He realizes that, the wages of sin is death, and the soul that sinneth it shall die." With such a conviction as this if he is true to his ordination vows and also true to the word of God he can preach in no halting, hesitating way.

An old Scotch woman went to hear Robert Murray McCheyenne preach for the first time. Some one asked her what she thought of him. She hesitated for a moment and then said, what I am sure any true minister had rather have said about him than that he was the most brilliant preacher among men. She said, "The man preaches as if he was a-dyin' to have you converted." Oh, for such a spirit as this in the ministry to-day. Thank God for the men who have great intellectual power, for those who bear well their scholastic honors to which they are certainly entitled, but is it not true that what we need to-day more than anything else is a gracious outpouring of the Holy Ghost, an energizing of that power which comes only from on high, that we may preach for souls?

The pastor is preeminently the soul winner in his own parish. No one can take his place. If he is not faithful to those over whom God has made him the overseer, he shall be called to account at the judgment seat of Christ. Whatever we may believe concerning the office of the evangelist, and we must believe thoroughly in this, however necessary it may be that we should give him his rightful place in the Church, and many agree that this is almost an absolute necessity, yet no evangelist can supplant the pastor in the matter of soul winning. But if the pastor is to be successful there are certain points which must be emphasized concerning his life and this to a greater degree even than in the experience of the ordinary pastor of a church who may hold a congregation together because of eloquent or intellectual achievements, because of winning social qualities or by a striking personality. No pastor can ever be a soul winner without attention is given to,

First: His private life. One might preach an ordinary sermon and by force of intellect or power of magnetism interest an assembly. I have in mind a man who for years led an impure life yet while he interested his congregation with his masterful gifts he never won a soul to the Master, and if any one should say in answer to this, "But are there not evangelists whose lives are unclean and yet who have a measure of success?" my answer would be, The evangelist may be reaping a harvest the seed of which has been sown by some godly pastor," and so the illustration still holds. But to be a soul winner is entirely different. The private life must be taken into account. There are trees the spread of whose roots under ground equals the spread of their branches above ground, and this leads me to say that no man can be a soul winner in the ministry without he is right in his home, right in his study, right in his devotion, right in his heart, or in other words lives in private what he preaches in public. Our people forget our texts, they frequently forget our particular forms of expression but the spirit of the message we have delivered is about them not infrequently for a lifetime. A prominent American preacher told me that he once preached in Robert Murray McCheyenne's pulpit, and he asked if any one there had heard McCheyenne preach. One old man was brought to the front. "Can you tell me," said the minister, "some of the texts of McCheyenne?" and the old man made reply, "I don't remember them." "Then can you tell me some sentences he used?" and again the reply was, "I have entirely forgotten them." With a feeling of disappointment the great preacher said, "Well, don't you remember anything about him at all?" "Ah," said the man, "that is a different question. I do remember something about him. When I was a lad by the roadside playing, one day Robert Murray McCheyenne came along and laying his hand upon my head he said, 'Jamie, lad, I am away to see your poor sick sister,' and then looking into my eyes he said, 'And Jamie, I am very concerned about your own soul.' I have forgotten his texts and his sermons, sir, but I can feel the tremble of his hand and I can still see the tear in his eye."

Let us remember it is not so much what we say as the way we say it that constitutes the minister the soul winner.

Second: The very greatest attention must be paid to the prayer life if the pastor is to be a winner of souls, and I doubt not but that the most of us fail just here, largely because of the fact that we are so busy, for very few people understand the responsibility and obligations resting upon a pastor; from morning until night and often night till morning he is at the call of his people and of the citizens of the city or town where he may live, and it is such an easy thing to pray in a perfunctory sort of way or not to pray at all. A very few may be unmindful of prayer because of selfishness, a few others because of indifference, but perhaps many of us because we do not appreciate what the power of prayer is.

In the revival of 1857, when Canon Ryle sent out his celebrated appeal to the Church of England he made this statement, that he had looked the Bible through and found that wherever there was a man of prayer there was a man of power; that he had studied the history of the Church and had learned that wherever there was a man or woman of power there was one who knew how to pray. He said some were Armenians, some Calvinists, some rich, some poor, some were wise and some ignorant, some loved the liturgy, and some cared little for it, but all knew how to pray.

Jesus was an illustration of this. In Mark we read, "A great while before day he went away to pray." He was the Son of God yet he would not begin a day without prayer. It is to be noticed, however, that the day begun thus with prayer ended with the healing of the leper. If the Son of God could not start the day without communing with God how dangerous it is for any of us to try it.

In Matthew we learn that after he had fed the multitudes he went away in a quiet place to pray. He had just worked the miracle and yet he prays. I have a friend in heaven who used to say that it is more difficult to use a victory than to gain one, by which she meant that the most dangerous day for us was the day following a mountain-top experience, for we are so liable to try to live upon the past rather than upon the present promises of God. Jesus prayed before the miracle and after the miracle, by day and by night. What a rebuke he is to some of us.

In Luke we read that as he prayed the fashion of his countenance was changed. To my mind this is one of the best illustrations. It will be a glad day in the Church when those of us who know Christ show by our faces that we have been in fellowship with him. There is something about the look of the eye, the ring of the voice and the atmosphere of a man who knows how to pray that carries conviction always.

In John we read that he stooped down at the grave of Lazarus after he lead prayed and said, "Lazarus, come forth."

I had a letter one day from some one who wanted me to write on a postal card the rules for soul winning. This seemed a strange request when I remembered that I had a book in my library larger than my Bible on "How to Win Souls," and yet you can write the rules upon a postal card. Indeed there is but one rule, "Lord, teach us to pray." The man who knows how to pray in the right way is a soul winner always. Whatever may be one's intellectual ability therefore without prayer he is weak in this direction. This is true whether he is in the pulpit or in the pew, whether he is a Sunday-school teacher, or the superintendent or just a member of the Church.

Third: If the pastor is to be a soul winner close attention must be paid to his public life. It must in every sense accord with his message. He cannot preach about prayer and himself be prayerless, nor can he talk of power and be powerless, nor can he speak of consecration and live a selfish life, nor can he talk of the concern of Jesus and himself be unconcerned. Unless the private life and the public preaching strike in unison the preacher is not a soul winner, nor is the Sunday-school teacher, nor the superintendent, nor is any Christian.

Fourth: No minister can be a soul winner without he gives close attention to his pulpit life. This suggests the theme of the sermon which must always and ever be the gospel. It has not lost its power whatever men may say to the contrary, and as a matter of fact it is true that wherever men are really drawing crowds of people and holding them their theme is the glorious gospel of the Son of God. Sensationalism may draw for a time but the gospel steadily wins and always holds. We boast a great deal in these days of our great men and noble women in America, philanthropists, statesmen, missionaries, our honored fathers and mothers, but in so far as they are Christians, and the most of them are, they have drawn their inspiration for holy living from the story of Jesus the Son of God; cradled in the manger, living at Nazareth, preaching in Galilee, suffering in Gethsemane, scourged in Jerusalem, dying upon the cross, buried in the tomb, rising with power, ascending up into heaven, seated in glory and coming again with majesty and power. Could there be a grander message than this, and that minister who delivers it fearlessly and yet tenderly in the very spirit of Jesus himself will be a soul winner. It has always been true, but in addition to this the message must be,

First: Practical. I know that I speak for a great army of busy men and women in this world when I saw that these people have little time to listen to philosophical discussions and mere intellectual discourses. Life is too short for this and as a result of the experiences of the week they are too weary to give the time to listening to what will not help them in their living, and the majority of them come to the Church to hear the truth that will make them better and truer in every way, and more of the people of the world would join them in their worship if they were sure that they would hear from the pulpit the gospel which has ever transformed lives and strengthened character.

Second: It must be personal. A distinguished New York pastor tells of preaching a sermon one day in which he said to his people "every one in this church is either a channel or a barrier for spiritual power in his relation towards God." One prominent man returned to his home, entered his library and determined to find out which he was and learned that he was a barrier.

Before he left the room he determined that from that time on he would be a channel. The next day he began to speak to his employees. The first was a Catholic and he urged him to be a true Catholic. Among them came his private secretary and he asked him if he had kept his promises to him and if he had been a good employer. Thinking that perhaps he was about to be discharged the private secretary asked him what fault he had to find with him, when he said, "It is not that but I am a Christian and I am bound for heaven and I should not like to go without asking you to go with me." Out from that one store thirteen men have been won for Christ by the testimony of this consecrated business man. The time has come when ministers have had given to them an opportunity to speak plainly and personally to their people and if they speak in the spirit of Christ the message will be received gladly and many lives will be completely changed.

--Taken from the book, "Present-Day Evangelism" by J. Wilbur Chapman, 1903, pp. 75-88.

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