The Lost Agony For Souls
By H. C. Van Wormer
George Whitefield cried, “Give me souls, or take my soul.... There is a passion for souls, a depth of burden for men, a care for the flock of God that beggars words and sighs and tears.”
An old saint before the days of automobiles said that he quit his work in the middle of the afternoon, hitched up his horse and drove twenty miles to pray with a man whom he felt was drifting from God. Listen to him: “I could scarcely help it, my love and concern for him was so great I could not rest until I had done my best to bring him to God.” Beloved, this agony for souls is what we must recover!
David Brainerd said, “I care not where I go or how I live or what I endure so that I may save souls. When I sleep, I dream of them; when I awake, they are first in my thoughts.... No amount of scholastic attainment, of able and profound exposition, of brilliant and stirring eloquence can atone for the absence of a deep, impassioned, sympathetic love of human souls.”
John Fletcher, praying man of God, said, “Love, continual, universal, ardent love is the soul of all labors of a minister.”
Agony of Soul in the Welsh Revival
One evening during the great Welsh Revival, Dr. F. B. Meyer saw a young minister come to a crowded meeting. This young man stood up and prayed to God in behalf of two of his mates who were scoffing behind. One of these men immediately arose and said, “No, that is not true; I was not scoffing. I simply said I was not an infidel, but an agnostic, and if God wants to save me, I will give Him a fair opportunity. Let Him do it!”
The boast seemed to strike Evan Roberts so that he fell on his knees in a perfect agony of soul. It seemed as though his very heart would break beneath the weight of this man’s sin.
A friend of Dr. Meyer’s who stood near him, said, “This is too dreadful! I cannot bear to hear this man groan so! I will start a tune to drown it!”
Dr. Meyer said, “Whatever you do, don’t do that. I want this thing to sink into my heart. I’ve preached the Gospel these thirty years with dry eyes. I’ve spoken to great masses of people without turning a hair, unmoved. I want the throb of this man’s anguish to touch my own soul.”
Evan Roberts sobbed on and on and Meyer said, “My God, let me learn that sob, that my soul may break while I preach the Gospel to men.”
A Fight Between Heaven and Hell
After about ten minutes, Roberts arose and addressed the men in the gallery, “Will you yield?” They said, “Why should we?” Then he said to the people, “Let us pray.” The air became very heavy with sighs, tears, and groans. Everybody seemed to be carrying these two men upon their hearts, as if their hearts must break beneath the strain. Meyer declares that he never felt anything like it. He sprang to his feet. He felt as though he were choking. He said to his friend, “We are in a very fight between heaven and hell. Don’t you see heaven pulling this way and hell that? It seems as though one heard the beasts in the arena.”
After that, one of the men yielded while the other, like an impenitent thief, went his way, but Meyer could not believe but that afterwards he came back to God.
If it took that to reach men in the great Welsh Revival, will it not take the same today?
If you will read about the great revivals and the hundreds of men and women who were brought to God under the ministry of the great Methodist evangelist, John Wesley Redfield, you will discover that the people of that day had not lost “the agony”; that is, some of them still had it. Here are two instances:
“He (Redfield) began to have some of his own peculiar experiences again that had often attended his most successful efforts. He began to be burdened for the work. He had often had these struggles, and sometimes with a severity that threw him upon his bed as if with a fit of sickness, and held him there until victory came. One night in the church he was filled with unspeakable agony for souls. If he could have howled like the old prophets, it would have relieved him; but this he could not do. He thought he could not endure it. He attempted to go out of the church, but was checked by the Holy Spirit. He then said, ‘Lord, I’ll try to hold on.’ He then began to cry out, ‘O my God, this people must be saved.’ At this he was instantly relieved. The whole church was now in a commotion. Screams for mercy mingled with shouts of rejoicing were heard on every side.”
The result of this was that hundreds were brought to God in this meeting and the work was so deep and thorough…years later it was stated: “Some of the fruit of this revival still remains.”
The secret of Mr. Finney’s revivals was in the fact that he (and others) knew how to travail – “as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children” (Isa. 66:8). Listen to Mr. Finney:
“It loaded me down with great agony. As I returned to my room, I felt almost as if I should stagger under the burden that was on my mind; and I struggled, and groaned, and agonized, but could not frame to present the case before God in words, but only in groans and tears. The Spirit struggled within me with groanings that could not be uttered.” How near this is to what is given in Romans 8:26.
Whole Nights of Prayer
In the Hebrides some recovered the lost agony. People gathered for whole nights of prayer, but it was no ordinary prayer meeting. The leader said that in those prayer meetings they moved out of the realms of the common and the natural into the sphere of the supernatural.
In one of their services the preacher stopped in the midst of his message and asked a little lad by the name of Donald to lead them in prayer – “He stands; he is not praying more than five minutes when God sweeps into the church....
“But the remarkable thing about that great meeting is this, that while that was happening in the church, fishermen out in their fishing boats, men behind their looms, men at the pit bank, a merchant out with his van, school teachers examining their papers were gripped by God, and by ten o’clock the roads were black with people seeking after God who were never near me. I went along that country road and found in one place three men lying on their faces, so distressed about their souls that they could not talk to me; yet they were never near the meeting I held. This is revival!”
A Year of Prayer Wrestling
To get the full picture you would have to read about the agonized wrestling for a whole night, four nights a week for a year before the answer came. Agonized wrestling is something more than breathing a two-minute prayer before hopping into bed, or stepping into your car in the morning.
Agonized wrestling means to get down before God and stay down before Him until you get a hold of the horns of the altar and prevail. This kind of wrestling involves pleading, begging, arguing, agony and sweat, persevering, persistent seeking, asking and knocking until something drops from the laden skies. Are mothers and fathers doing this today for their children who are lost?
The sooner we confess that we have lost our agony for souls, the better it will be for the cause of Christ. Let us face the grim, startling fact that we are becoming used to the thud of lost souls as they tramp the road to a Christless eternity. It appears that we have lost the power to weep, to wrestle, to plead, and to agonize over lost souls. The multitudes out of Christ have no conviction regarding their lost condition, simply because we lack deep conviction about their iniquitous condition and eternal woe.
Crusades, Conferences and Man’s Machinery Won’t Bring Revival
Indeed, it is true that we have a multiplicity of evangelistic campaigns, crusades, and what we call revival meetings. These campaigns come and go, but the cities, towns and villages are seemingly as lost as ever. We have become too professional, mechanical and cold in our effort to reach souls. Those we try to win recognize no warmth, no passion, no agony, no real alarm, and no tears over their lost condition. They see no evidence of conflict on our part to warn them of the errors of their way. All they see in our personal witness is a fitful, languid, listlessness, so they continue their godless ways.
God pity us if we are content with forming crusades, convening conferences, going through revival efforts, enlisting men and money for so-called gospel efforts and missionary machinery!
We try to persuade without passion, to win without conquest. It is impossible to win souls with cold hearts and dry eyes.
Instead of mourning, fasting, and intercession, it is eating and drinking, fun, frolic, and rousing hilarity today, and then we wonder why folk are not saved. Deep humility of soul and prayer in the upper room prepare the way for God to come.
The reason there is no intercession, no agonizing, no weeping “between the porch and altar” is that God’s people are not awake to the condition of the day. The majority feel that in every direction there is abundant proof of church growth and real spiritual progression. But the truth of the matter is that with an increased church membership moral standards have fallen to an all time low.
Who Will Sound an Alarm? Where Are the Weeping Intercessors?
Where are there any indications of humility and repentance even on the part of the multitudes who “join the church”? Oh, where are the weeping, agonizing intercessors? Who is alarmed?
As Harold Freligh asked, “Have our preachers’ retreats resolved themselves into intellectual spreads, inoffensively seasoned with a little prayer? Can any minister carry a burden for others when he is pressed with the urgency of getting home from his night service to see his cherished TV programs? Is there any preparation for the Lord’s Day among children of God when their chief talk in the Sunday morning greeting concerns the entertainment of the night before?
“Fellowship over the teacup is becoming more fashionable than fellowship in prayer. The repentance and performance of the first works that accompany the first love are quite obliterated by feasting and frolic.”
Beloved, this is no time for fun, frolic, trifling, but for tears, agony, intercession and mourning “between the porch and the altar.” It is time to call a solemn assembly and go down before God with fasting and prayer. The emergency of this present hour is enough to send us to our knees crying, “Spare Thy people, O Lord!”
To recover the lost agony will be costly. What did it mean for Paul to engage in soul-winning labors? Loss of fame, friends, riches, rest, reputation, and relatives. What separation, sobs, scars and scarcity were his – all because he wanted others to find Christ! His was a passion for souls that flamed up in ardor, and burned steadily in spite of all discouragement. Would we share the apostolic agony for souls of men? We can find it where Paul and all other soul-agonizers found it – at the foot of the Cross. It is impossible to work and witness for Christ with cold hearts and dry eyes if we truly understand what it meant for Him to shed His blood that sinners might be saved from sin and hell.
What Could Two Weeks in Hell Do?
When William Booth founded the Salvation Army in the East End of London, he was not long in gathering around him a few consecrated young people who had caught his vision for the outcast. In time, he had a training school for the sole purpose of teaching his cadets how to win souls. One day, while lecturing to them on evangelism he paused, and in his dramatic fashion said, “I wish I could send you all to hell for two weeks.”
You know what he meant. If those young folk could have lived in the midst of the moans and groans of the damned for a few days, they would have come back to earth with an undying passion to warn men to flee from the wrath to come.
“O God, to think of countless souls that pass away, through each short moment that we live, destined to dwell in heaven or groan in hell for aye. O stir me up, and new strength give, and let not one pass out through death in shame and sin, that I through Thee might seek and win.”
– From Wesleyan Methodist.