Laying Ourselves Out For God And For Souls
By James A. Stewart
The church in its first twenty-five years of existence accomplished more than at any other time in the history of Christianity. As Dr. Graham Scroggie points out:
“The period covered by the Acts is approximately 53 years (B.C. 4 – A.D. 50), thus showing how intense were the activities of this first generation of church history. Had that later generations of the church followed the example of the first, the world would have been well evangelized.”
They succeeded where we have failed. Surely the crying need of the present hour is to get back to apostolic evangelism. The startling fact is this, that is the apostolic church had continued as she began she would have evangelized the whole world.
There were only 120 members in the first local church, and then in one day they had 3,000 additions, and in a few days more they numbered 5,000. Yet, from the human viewpoint, they were doomed to fail in their mission; year, their very existence was a living miracle of the power of God. Who would believe the fantastic story that Jesus of Nazareth, that man who died such an ignoble death of shame as a criminal on a felon’s gibbet, had risen from the dead, and that He was the Son of God?
They Challenged the Powers of Hell
Right at the very outset, on the birthday of the church, Peter flings down the gauntlet, as it were, and challenges the enemy to spiritual warfare. By the mighty power of the Holy Ghost this transformed disciple courageously calls upon the Jewish nation to repent of its sin of the crucifixion of its Messiah. Defying the whole nation of Israel this single warrior of the Cross commands them, in God’s Name, to repent.
Said the apostle, “God has reversed your decision and has raised Jesus Christ from the dead and set Him at His own right hand, an exalted Redeemer” (see Acts 2:32-33). The fight is now on between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. The early church gives no quarter or compromise; it is war to the finish!
What a weak, anemic group of compromisers we are in contrast!
Nobody can read the pages of the Acts of the Apostles and not feel the holy thrill of their testimony. The risen Savior was their Redeemer, Friend, Shepherd, Lord, Prince, High Priest, and General. Their very lives glowed with their joy in the Lord.
“Christ! I am Christ’s! And let the name suffice you,
Ay, for me, too, He greatly hath sufficed;
Christ is the end, for Christ was the beginning,
Christ the beginning, for the end is Christ.”
The Living Christ Was in Their Midst
“Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” They did not worship or serve an historical Christ. They believed and fellowshipped with an exalted Lord, their lives and words giving a continual, glowing witness to this fact. Even the enemy reluctantly took knowledge of their vital witness, because they had been in company with Jesus (see Acts 4:13).
How amazing! The crucified Redeemer, marred beyond recognition on the Cross, was not only seated at the Father’s right hand, but also lived amongst His people. The unsaved were convicted of their sin because of the presence of the living Christ in the church.
How strange it would seem to the average evangelical church today if a believer solemnly announced, “Beloved saints, the living Christ is actually in our midst this morning.”
They Lived Lives Separated unto the Lord
Their power was their holiness. Sanctification means practical separation. As the Sabbath is a sanctified day and the sanctuary is a sanctified place, so a saint is a sanctified person.
One of our great weaknesses is our mixture with the world. We are flattered when worldlings of high position testify to our Gospel, even though they still live in the camp of the enemy. We sadly weaken the spiritual power of a holy church when we compromise on the issues of a holy life.
Second Corinthians 5:17 is the acid test of the new birth. To be in Christ means to be a new creature, and to be a new creature means to experience the thrill of longings for a life of holiness and separation unto God. As A. J. Gordon has said, “If perchance the church shall attract men, without at the same time transforming them, if she shall attach them to her membership without assimilating them to her life, she has only weakened herself by her increase, and diminished herself by her additions.”
“He that is not with Me is against Me,” said our Lord. Our Lord did not say it was difficult, but that it was impossible to serve two masters. The world thinks that you can serve two masters, and a large number of evangelicals also believe that it is possible.
They Were Fiercely Persecuted
As one carefully reads the history of the church in its early beginnings, one is struck by the fact that it was daily persecuted and only had an occasional rest from the onslaughts of the enemy. Acts 9:31 is an illuminating verse, because here we have a picture of the church free from persecution. It is a unique situation. In the early days of the church, men were converted and afterwards put in prison; today, most prison experiences are before conversion.
The Holy Spirit Held Sway in Their Lives
The Upper Room was the Spirit’s baptistry. They were all filled with Him. They lived, testified, and prayed in the power of an ungrieved Spirit. Acts 9:31, which we just noted, is a key verse of this blessed Book. They walked “in the comfort of the Holy Ghost.” Yes, they walked in all the blessed ministries of the third Person of the Trinity; hence their supernatural power.
They seemed to live on their knees. Prayer and prayer meetings were the order of the day. Before and after great times of persecution and witness, they retired to the Throne of Grace. Today our prayer meetings are deserted and very few know anything about intercession. Hence we have lost the supernatural presence of the Lord in the church.
The difference between revival and the ordinary days of the church is a real consciousness of the mighty operations of the Holy Spirit in supernatural manifestations.
They believed with all their heart that Christ was the answer to the world’s needs. They believed they were commissioned by the living Christ to spread this message to every creature. They lived for this one thing alone. This conviction led them to a holy crusade. Day and night, in season and out of season, they fearlessly and sacrificially crusaded into the enemy’s territory with the message of the great Evangel.
This burning passion crowded all secular things out of their lives. Social prestige and money held no charms for them unless such could be used for the spread of the message. They not only lived for Christ, but went to prison and even died for Him.
What a contrast to ourselves! We say we believe the same as the early church, but our lives deny this fact. We have many ambitions and many pursuits and pleasures which take first place in our hearts’ affections and our intellectual exercises. The Gospel comes second. What a transformation would come to the church of God today if we really put first things first and dedicated all that we possess to worldwide evangelization.
They Believed That It Was the Supreme Business of All to Witness for Christ
If every creature is going to hear the Gospel, then every believer must preach the Gospel. The word “witness” comes from our English word “martyr” – one who bears witness by his death – denoting one who testifies of what he has seen, or heard, or knows. Surely this is a striking illustration of the simplicity of New Testament evangelism.
The word “preach,” which occurs more than one hundred times in our New Testament, means “to proclaim.” It is the accepted equivalent for six different Greek verbs. Three of these are from a common root which means “to bear a message, or bring tidings,” and this statement covers about sixty cases. As to the other three Greek words, one is used over fifty times and means “to publish or proclaim”; and another, six times, and means “to say, speak, or talk about.” The other, which means “to dispute or reason,” is the only one of the six which suggests a formal discourse or argument, and this is only used twice.
The word used in Acts 11:19-20 is very impressive. It is suggestive of “gossiping the Gospel,” of the ordinary, everyday witnessing in casual conversation, or the first attempts of a child to speak. Search the pages of the New Testament, and you will find that to be a herald of the Glad Tidings was not the exclusive prerogative of a special class of paid clergymen.
In the New Testament there is no distinction between clergy and laity. This distinction is a relic brought over from Romanism. John Huss fought and died in Czechoslovakia for the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, and the Hussite symbol to this present day is the communion cup standing upon the open Bible.
It was this truth of a royal priesthood and every believer a witness that was the dynamic force in the early church. Without the aid of any modern equipment, or transportation or translation and publication of the Word, the Gospel of God’s grace shook the whole Empire until there were saints even in Caesar’s household. God is calling us back to primitive Christianity.
Crusade to Win the World
What we need in the church is a crusading fellowship to undertake anew the conquest of the world for Christ!....
We must do more than simply invite the unsaved into our religious auditoriums. We must be more dynamic and aggressive and original. We must go out into the highways and byways and witness. The apostles preached under the blue canopy of heaven. Christ used a fishing smack for a pulpit.
John Wesley preached on the top of his father’s tombstone in a graveyard. Paul heralded forth the glorious Gospel on Mars’ Hill amid the temples and statues of the Greek philosophers. Philip won a soul to Christ sitting in a chariot in the heart of a desert. John McNeil was won to Christ in the office of a railway station in Scotland where he worked. Moody was saved in a shoe shop….
Yes, we must witness in unconventional places, at unconventional times, with an unconventional approach. It is striking to notice that there is no sanctified building in the New Testament except the believer’s body. The house of God is no longer composed of brick and mortar, as God does now dwell not in temples made with men’s hands….
During the mighty days of revival such as have never been known in Britain since, Reginald Ratcliff, a lawyer; Richard Weaver, a miner; John Hambleton, a converted actor; Henry Moorhouse, a factory hand; and David Rea, a craftsman – invaded the kingdom of Satan by preaching in the market squares, circus tents, village greens, prisons, public houses and everywhere that the unsaved frequented.
Dynamic of Personal Evangelism
The evangelism of the early church was dynamic in that it was personal. Mass evangelism will never be a substitute for personal evangelism. Handpicked fruit is always the best. This is God’s method. As I have already emphasized, an ordained, paid ministry alone will never evangelize the world.
Think of the mighty Methodist revival. Ninety percent of the harvesters were ordinary, common believers: grocers, gardeners, bootmakers, street cleaners, policemen, miners, fishermen, mill workers, and professional men. The same can be stated concerning the Moravian Brethren Missionary Movement, of which the late Dr. Chalmers, the mighty Scot theologian, said, “Their missionary zeal cannot be equaled since Pentecost.” Carpenters and farmers went forth with flaming fire.
J. E. Conant gives this fine illustration: There was a terrible wreck off the coast of Italy. The captain of the lifesaving crew, instead of manning the lifeboat, stood on shore and shouted instructions through a trumpet to the drowning sailors. The report that went to the government said, “We rendered what assistance we could through the speaking trumpet, but the next morning there were twenty bodies washed ashore.”
And the church that uses its pastor as its speaking trumpet and fails to man the lifeboat with the entire crew and push out to save the lost who are going down, will be responsible for a great company who will one day be thrown up on the shores of a Christless eternity who might have been saved if the Lord’s people had gone after them.
The following testimonies concerning the early church are deeply interesting. Historian Gibbon said, “It became the most sacred duty of a new convert to diffuse among his friends and relations the inestimable blessings he had received.”
In the year A.D. 110, Pliny wrote to Emperor Trajan: “The number of the accused is so great as to call for serious consultation. Many persons are informed against, every age and rank of both sexes, and many more will be accused. Nor has the contagion of this superstition seized cities only, but the lesser towns also and the open country. The temples are almost forsaken, and the sacred rites abandoned.”
Eusebius (266-340 A.D.) writes: “For a very large number of the disciples, carried away by fervent love to the truth which the divine Word had revealed to them, fulfilled the command of the Savior to divide their goods among the poor. Then, taking leave of their country, they filled the office of evangelists, coveting eagerly to preach Christ and to carry the glad tidings of God to those who had not heard the word of faith.
“After laying the foundations of the faith in some remote and barbarous countries, establishing pastors among them and confiding to them the care of those young settlements, without stopping longer they hastened on to other nations, attended by the grace and virtue of God.”
Let us dedicate our lives, talents, possessions, and time to the sacred task of worldwide witness. We are couriers of the Cross. The task is great but not impossible. The Holy Ghost is here to empower us. Without the baptism of power, our ministry is in vain.
In 1835 in Hamburg, Germany, seven men in a shoemaker’s shop determined to evangelize the world themselves. Within twenty years, fifty churches and ten thousand converts was the result. Besides this, they preached the Gospel to fifty million people and disseminated eight million tracts and one-half million Bibles. This would mean, at that rate, two hundred and fifty believers could evangelize the whole population of the world within thirty years.
The sunset burns across the sky;
Upon the air its warning cry.
The curfew tolls from tower to tower –
O children, ’tis the last, last hour!
The work that centuries might have done
Must crowd the hour of setting sun;
And through all lands the saving Name,
Ye must in fervent haste proclaim!
– Taken from Evangelism by James A. Stewart. Used by permission of Revival Literature, P.O. Box 505, Skyland NC 28776. revivallit.org