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Personal Evangelism (Living Messages-1948)

by H. N. Rutherford

This came from “Living Messages,” and was delivered  at the Louisville Bible Conference, the week of September 6-10, 1948. This was the first annual Fellowship conference. This year, 2017, is the 70th  day sessions will be held at Portland Christian School, Westport Road Campus and evening sessions at Sellersburg Church of Christ.

    Evangelism embraces the whole responsibility of the Church, as individuals and as a corporate body, to spread the Gospel of .Jesus Christ to lost men and women. Personal evangelism is wonderfully effective and worthwhile. Thousands have been won to Christ by personal dealing. To lead one soul to Christ by personal testimony is a great triumph; first, to the person who is led into the light, and second, to the person who enjoys the thrill of seeing the light of pardon break on a human face.      Great preachers sometimes fail just here. But most men are led to Christ in precisely this way, one by one. Moody and Broadus have said that they knew of more conversions in their experience from conversation than from preaching, great preachers as they were. There are men of God who are greatly blessed in mass evangelistic campaigns. Still others have been led to specialize in intensive programs of personal soul winning. There is certainly no room for competition. Paul, the peerless evangelist and apostle, preached both “publicly and from house to house.” (Acts 20:20). Nor is the work of God promoted by denunciation of one another’s ministry. Every Christian must, in the final analysis, give answer to God for his motives and methods.


We are nowhere led to believe that evangelism is a duty reserved only for a select group of people. Every Christian is to be a witness. There is an interesting confirmation of this in Acts 8. There we are told that a persecution against Christians in Jerusalem arose, causing them to be “scattered abroad . . . except the apostles .. . Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the Word.” It is evident that in this instance it was not the apostles, but ordinary men and women who did the preaching.


The story of evangelism is the specific history of the Cross of Christ. Slowly and quietly through the years and centuries the Evangel has won, as men and women have led their fellow human beings to repentance and obedience of faith and have by precept and example followed in the footsteps of their Lord. Jesus Christ won most of

His followers and chose the apostles one by one. He called men to Himself, and they heard and heeded His call. The multitudes sought Him and heard Him gladly, but He sought individuals, and those individuals sought others and brought them to Him.  John the Baptist said, “Behold the Lamb of God,” and Andrew his disciple heard and followed. Andrew found his own brother Simon and brought him to Jesus. That was a marvelous “find that  Andrew made that day,” and when at His coming the rewards are distributed Andrew will have his own reward and the reward of Simon Peter in the day when he that soweth and he that reapeth rejoiceth together. What joys must have surged through Andrew’s soul as he stood on Pentecost and heard Simon Peter preach that first gospel sermon and saw three thousand souls respond to the Lord by gladly receiving it and being baptized! How he must have bowed his head out there in that great crowd and thanked God for the opportunity of leading his brother Simon to the Lord in personal evangelism!

Jesus the next day found Philip and bade him follow Him; Philip found Nathaniel and answered his questionings by the Savior’s previous reply, “Come and see.” The Master called Matthew from his unworthy work, and so the other apostles. An outstanding example is furnished in the account in John 9 of the blind man whom Jesus healed. He knew little about Jesus, though he came to know more as he bore testimony to the little he already knew. But he refused to be silenced or talked down in declaring what he did know. “This one thing I know,” he persistently stated, “that whereas I was blind, now I see.”

All through the first decades of the early church, and on through the ages, individual work for individuals has progressed and accomplished results. How largely the Gospels, the Acts and the Epistles verify this fact! Even the marvelous work of Philip in Samaria was not the immediate plan of God, but the Spirit sent him past Jerusalem, down into the desert at Gaza, that he might win the Ethiopian Eunuch to

Christ, and through him no doubt countless hosts of Africa.


The Almighty could have so arranged His divine plan that He Himself, without human help, might arrest and enlist followers as He did Saul of Tarsus, but this was not His plan. By man He would reach man. Human mediums of power must do His wondrous work. “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God, and not from ourselves.” Man must go, in the power of His Holy Spirit “into all the world, to preach the Gospel to every creature.” And His promise was sure and permanent. “Lo, I am with you always.” The tragic shortcoming of Christians today is their failure to bear testimony to Christ, their failure to live consistently with their. Spoken profession. Certainly the work of evangelism would be multiplied a thousand-fold if Christians as a whole presented a consistent witness to the world.


     Evangelism must be done in the light of the cross. When the risen Christ appeared among His disciples the doors shut for fear of the Jews-“He showed them His hands and His side,” and then He commissioned them saying, “As my father hath sent me, even so send I you.” (Jn. 20:20, 21). Now this is always the divine method. First vision, then commission. The sight of the suffering Savior was preparatory to their being sent to seek for souls. All their service had to be done out of love to Him and with His love for a world possessing them. They had to enter into the deep inner meaning of these wounds before they could possibly declare the evangel of the Cross to the world. There is first the “showing” and then the “sending.” Years ago, an artist desired to copy a famous picture which hung in a certain cathedral. Taking his easel,

brushes and paints to the spot he began to work. But he was soon stopped by the verger who told him that such a thing was not allowed within the precinct of the cathedral. There was nothing else to do but to visit it every day and gaze upon the treasured work of art. For hours at a time he would sit before the picture and study every line, every detail, and every shade of coloring, absorbing it into his mind, meditating upon it in his heart, so that he was able to go to his own studio and put on canvas a good reproduction of the picture.

Likewise, it is only as we gaze at the crucified Lord of glory that we can ever reproduce to others the story of His love. We must meditate upon the many aspects of the cross before we can minister to others the profound truths which center in it.

Every great evangelical truth is rooted and grounded in Calvary. If, for instance, you would declare the sinfulness of sin, you must first of all see for yourself its hideousness and heinousness in the suffering Son of God. Only as you measure the depth of His agony can you realize how great is the guilt of sin that required such a penalty to be borne for its atonement.

Would you lead men to understand the value of their souls? Contemplate Calvary and you will begin to estimate the worth of the soul, counted out, not in silver and gold, but in the drops of sacred blood from the Savior’s wounds. Would you tell of heaven with all its glories, and woo men to seek for those pleasures which are forevermore? Then go to Calvary and think of the depths to which our Savior went that He might open the kingdom of heaven to all believers, humbling Himself even to the death of the cross that He might “unlock the gate of heaven and let us in.”

Would you warn men of hell and all its darkness and gloom? Then meditate before the cross, and as you plumb the depths of His passion, you will perceive the guilt of those who reject His love, and thus begin to understand what must be the punishment of those who do “despite to the Spirit of grace,” and have “trodden underfoot the Son of God.” (Heb. 10:29.)

WAS THERE EVER SUCH AN EVANGELIST as the apostle Paul? Listen to him as he refers to his own ministry. “I labor ..strive.. yearn .. suffer.. travail.” Did anyone ever so embody the Calvary-spirit for lost souls? In comparison, how slow and slack are we; how dull and dilatory; how lukewarm and listless? ‘What was the secret of Paul’s enthusiasm, devotion, and self-sacrifice? He has told us quite clearly-“the love of Christ constraineth us.” (2 Cor. 4: 14), and again, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, for that He counted me faithful, appointing me to His service, though I was before a blasphemer and a persecutor, and injurious.” (II Tim. 1: 12-14). “Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” (I Tim. 1: 15.)

Paul could never get over the wonder of God’s mercy to him. The very record of his past, now cleansed, became an urge to evangelize the world. His deep sense of indebtedness to the Christ who suffered and died for him was the incentive of all his

evangelism. The cross was the motive animating all his zeal and fervor to spend and be spent in the service of Christ.

The recollection of all that has come to us through the cross will inspire us also. If Christ had never died and saved me, where would I be today? What evil habits would have gripped me? What worldly pleasures would have seduced me? What fleshly appetites would have enslaved me? What sinful indulgences would have debased me? What hellish temptations would have overcome me? To ask such questions is to call forth the answer:

“Oh, to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be!”

Such a sense of indebtedness can only be repaid in the glad abandon of all our time and strength to make known the Gospel. An oculist who was not doing very well in his profession saw a blind man one day in the street. He stopped him and asked him if he might look at his eyes. Convinced that he could restore sight, he invited him to his consulting room the next day. A comparatively-slight operation proved successful, and the man exclaimed, “How can I thank you enough?” “You must pay me,” said the oculist. “But I cannot,” replied the man. “I am poor. I have no money.” “Oh, yes, you can,” said the oculist. “You can pay me in one way. You can search for others who cannot see clearly, and tell them what I did for you, and bring them to me.” You and I can never repay Jesus for what He has done for us, but He expects us to tell others about Him and bring them to Him. The sense of gratitude for Calvary is the strongest motive for Christian service.


“The sacrifice of Calvary is only propagated by the sacrifice of Christians.” That explains why Paul was such a successful evangelist. He said, “I bear branded on my body the marks of Jesus.” (Gal. 6: 17). To the Colossians he said, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His body’s sake, which is the church.” (Col. 1 :24). Someone has said, “Christianity without sacrifice is the laughingstock of hell.” “The Gospel of a broken heart demands the ministry of bleeding hearts. We can never heal unless we are ministers of the saving blood.” It is this Calvary-spirit that the world is looking for in the followers of Christ. The modern church has so little of it that the crowd passes by unheeding.

After years of untold sacrifices, privations and exploits in the Name of his Lord, David Livingston returned home for a short furlough. The University of Glasgow, wishing to recognize his achievements, conferred upon him an honorary degree. On the day of the ceremony, the students crowded the gallery bent on ragging at the missionary’s expense. They planned to greet him with sticks and rattles, peashooters and catcalls. But when he appeared on the platform of the auditorium-gaunt, worn, and wrinkled

from twenty-seven fevers, his arm hanging useless from the lion’s bite-the rattles and catcalls ceased. Who could poke fun at such a man? And when he spoke to that crowd they listened breathlessly. There was not an interruption. The marks of the sufferings

which he had endured commanded their respect, and many hearts were moved, for they saw the spirit of the cross so exemplified in Livingstone, that they could not but heed his message. Our greatest need.cis this Calvary-spirit. We will preach,” not to improve men’s minds merely, but to save men’s souls. Church officers and Sunday school teachers will become personal soul-winners. Song leaders and singers will sing, not to entertain, but to convert. Parents will revise their own lives for a testimony before their children to bring them to Christ, and young Christians will renounce every worldly compromise and every doubtful pastime that hinders from being the very best for God. We need the Calvary-spirit for personal evangelism.


“For the love of Christ constraineth us.” (2 Cor. 5: 14.) The motivating power of evangelism, I believe, is first, our great salvation. You recall the fascinating story of II Kings 7, of the terrible siege of Samaria when starving people ate their own children. Four lepers at the gate discussed their desperate need and decided to throw themselves at the mercy of the enemy. Note what happened: “And they rose up in the twilight. to go unto the camp of the Syrians: and when they

were come to the outermost part of the camp of the Syrians, behold, there was no man there. For the Lord had made the hosts of the Syrians to hear a noise of chariots, and a noise of horses, even the noise of a great host: and they said one to another, Lo, the king of Israel hath hired against us the kings of the Hittites, and the kings of the Egyptians to come upon us. Wherefore they arose and fled in the twilight, and left their tents, and their horses, and their asses, even the camp as it was, and fled for their life.

And when the lepers came to the outermost part of the camp, they went to one tent, and did eat and drink, and carried thence silver, and gold, and raiment, and went and l hid it. Then they said one to another, we do not do well; this day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace; if we tarry till the morning light,

punishment will overtake us; now therefore come, let us go and tell the king’s household.” (2 Kings 7:5-9). “We do not well: this day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace.” If any of us knew a sure cure for cancer, and would silently watch others suffer of the disease, refusing to tell of the cure, we would be considered monsters, and so we would be.

     We are debtors, necessity is laid upon us; yea, “woe be unto us if we preach not: the gospel.” “We are debtors to our race. God holds us bound to one another; the gift and blessings of His grace were given thee to give thy brother. we owe to every child of

sin, one chance at least for hope of heaven. Oh, by thy grace which brought us in, Let hope and help to them be given.” How shall we escape if we neglect to tell of so great salvation?

THE LAST MOTIVATING FACTOR AND DYNAMIC OF PERSONAL EVANGELISM IS OUR FUTURE EXAMINATION. I Cor. 5:1, 10, 11. The student who knows that he has amply prepared feels no terror in the face of testing. I don’t mind confessing that I have a very healthy respect for that hour when I shall stand before my Lord to give account of my stewardship. Those clear eyes will look into mine, and that nail-pierced hand will point at me, and that matchless voice will speak to me, “Did you feed my lambs?” “Did you feed my sheep?” “Did you faithfully seek to win those that were lost?” “What did you do with the life that I saved and gave back to you?” “Knowing the fear of the Lord we persuade men.” And as we shall give in the account

of our stewardship, the Lord will greet us with, “Well done, good and faithful servants, enter ye into the joy of thy Lord.” What a festal welcome we shall receive from those whom we have turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, and who shall be our crown of rejoicing in the presence of the Lord!


“Would you care if some soul you have met day by day Should never be told about Jesus? Would you care that if he in the judgment should say, nobody told me of Jesus? “Nobody told me of Jesus, nobody told me of Jesus, How many I’ve met, but they all seem to forget To tell the sweet story of Jesus.”

-Bro. H. N. Rutherford preached for many years at the Cramer and Hanover Church of Christ in Lexington, KY  – he also preached in Lynnville, TN and Jacksonville, FL

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Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

2 corinthians 1:3-4