8 Quotes From “Words To Winners Of Souls”

I don’t say this very often, but Words To Winners Of Souls by Horatius Bonar is a must-read for those in pastoral ministry. You can check out my full book review by clicking here. 

“The question, therefore, which each of us has to answer to his own conscience is, ‘Has it been the end of my ministry, has it been the desire of my heart to save the lost and guide the saved? Is this my aim in every sermon I preach, in every visit I pay? Is it under the influence of this feeling that I continually live and walk and speak? Is it for this I pray and toil and fast and weep? Is it for this I spend and am spent, counting it, next to the salvation of my own soul, my chiefest joy to be the instrument of saving others? Is it for this that I exist?’” 

“It is not opinions that man needs: it is truth. It is not theology: it is God. It is not religion: it is Christ. It is not literature and science; but the knowledge of the free love of God in the gift of His only-begotten Son.” 

“Our power in drawing men to Christ springs chiefly from the fullness of our personal joy in Him, and the nearness of our personal communion with Him.” 

“Why so many meetings with our fellow men, yet so few meetings with God?” 

“Our life has not been a lying-in-wait for the voice of God. ‘Speak, Lord; for Thy servant heareth,’ has not been the attitude of our souls, the guiding principle of our lives. Nearness to God, fellowship with God, waiting upon God, resting in God, have been too little the characteristic either of our private or our ministerial walk. Hence our example has been so powerless, our labors so unsuccessful, our sermons so meager, our whole ministry so fruitless and feeble.” 

“It is easier to speak or write about revival than to set about it. There is so much rubbish to be swept out, so many self-raised hindrances to be dealt with, so many old habits to be overcome, so much sloth and easy-mindedness to be contended with, so much of ministerial routine to be broken through, and so much crucifixion, both of self and of the world, to be undergone. As Christ said of the unclean spirit which the disciples could not cast out, so we may say of these: ‘This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.’” 

“These must be days of strenuous, ceaseless, persevering, and, if God bless us, successful toil. We shall labor till we are worn out and laid to rest.” 

“It is unbelief that makes ministers handle eternal realities with such irreverence. It is unbelief that makes them ascend with so light a step ‘that awful place the pulpit,’ to deal with immortal beings about heaven and hell.” 

Words To Winners Of Souls (book review)

Horatius Bonar has given us a collection of sermons preached to pastors, which have been collated in a book under the title Words To Winners Of Souls. 

Although these were words by a pastor to pastors, this shouldn’t be a book exclusively read by pastors. Anyone who wants to successfully share their Christian testimony with unsaved friends and loved ones can find much to digest in these sermons. That being said, this is still a must-read (and I don’t say that very often) for those in pastoral ministry. 

Bonar was a no-pulled-punches preacher! He spoke candidly and forcefully, but he also spoke out of a love for the Body of Christ and its ministers. Early on in this book he says, “We take for granted that the object of the Christian ministry is to convert sinners and to edify the body of Christ. No faithful minister can possibly rest short of this. Applause, fame, popularity, honor, wealth—all these are vain. If souls are not won, if saints are not matured, our ministry itself is vain.” Wow: “our ministry itself is vain”—you cannot get more gut-level honest than that! 

In this collection of messages, Bonar helps us diagnose what may be hindering our soul-winning practices, and he also proposes the remedy for those shortcomings. These words are honest and often hard to hear, but they are so needed for everyone who desires, as Jesus does, “that none should perish but all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). 

Pastors, please read this book! 

Parishioners, please get a copy of this book for your pastor and then offer to prayerfully read through it with him or her. I promise you: this book will pay eternal dividends. 

Spirit-Empowered To Do Good Works

Micah the prophet’s name means who is like God, or more literally: “who but God?” The implied answer, of course, is no one! 

Micah opens his letter by telling us his name, and then he closes his prophetic words with a play on his name when he says, “Who is a God like You?” (7:18-20). Who else but God could…

  • …pardon sin?
  • …forgive transgressions? 
  • …not stay angry at sinners? 
  • …delight to show mercy? 
  • …have such boundless compassion? 
  • …tread our sins under His foot?
  • …hurl our iniquities into the sea?  

NO ONE! 

In light of this, how should we respond to this amazing God? Micah asks a series of rhetorical questions about what sort of religious practices would somehow “balance the scales” for God’s amazing gifts to us. But here’s the deal: there is no way for us to balance the scales! Instead, Micah tells us this, “God has showed you what is good. What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” 

In other words, our response to God’s invaluable gifts must transition from a have to lifestyle to a get to lifestyle! Micah makes it clear that God’s Spirit empowers us to live this way (Micah 3:8). 

It is the Holy Spirit who empowers Christians to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. 

The apostle Paul agrees with Micah, even echoing some of Micah’s own phrases—God’s great love, His rich mercy, His unearned grace, His forgiveness of sin, His kindness, and His salvation (Ephesians 2:4-10). Why did God do all of this? So that we could “do good works”—like acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly—“which God prepared in advance for us to do”!

I am saved by grace SO THAT I am free to do grace-filled, Spirit-empowered, good things. 

All of this prompts me to ask myself three introspective questions:

  1. Do I continually remind myself that I was saved by grace and not by works? I need to check my have to vs. get to attitude. 
  2. Am I aware that people are watching me? What are they seeing? Do they see godly justice, loving mercy, and humility? 
  3. Am I living like Jesus? Peter explained that Jesus “went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with Him” (Acts 10:38). Can that be said of me too? 

Who but God could call us, forgive us, and forget our sins? NO ONE! 

Who but God could empower us to live in such a way that others see His greatness too? NO ONE! 

Let’s never, ever become self-reliant or works-dependent (that’s have to living), but let’s stay so Spirit-reliant that we cannot help be get to people! 

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in our series about major lessons from the minor prophets, you can find the full list by clicking here

The Role Of Prophecy

Micah may be classified as a minor prophet, but the prophecies in his book are fulfilled in a major way in as little as 20 years and as far out as 2700+ years! 

Here’s a question for us to consider: What exactly is the role of prophecy in the life of a Christian? 

Micah introduces himself in the opening verse. He was ministering in the country while Isaiah was in the city of Jerusalem at the same time. Micah’s ministry spans three kings of Judah in the south, and he overlaps the defeat of Israel in the north.  

Check out some of Micah’s most notable prophecies: 

  1. Judgment is coming to Samaria/Israel (1:6-7). This was fulfilled about 20 years later when the Assyrians defeated Samaria and took the Israelites into exile. 
  2. Judgment is coming on southern Judah (1:9-16). This was fulfilled about 30 years later when Sennacherib attacked Philistia and southern Judah, coming “even to the gate of Jerusalem” (v. 12). At the gate of Jerusalem was the miraculous deliverance God gave during Hezekiah’s reign (see 2 Kings 18-19; Isaiah 37). 
  3. Judgment is coming on Jerusalem (3:12). Micah even prophesied the Babylonians would defeat them (4:10). This is noteworthy because Assyria was the dominant world power at this time; it would be another 100 years before Babylon would even begin to rise to power. This prophecy was fulfilled about 160 years later, and this prophecy actually saved Jeremiah’s life around that same time (Jeremiah 26:7-19). 
  4. The Messiah will be born in Bethlehem (5:2). This prophecy was fulfilled about 700 years later when Jesus was born (Matthew 2:5-6). 
  5. How people will respond to the Messiah’s Advent (7:4-6). This prophecy was partially fulfilled 700 years later in a direct quotation from Jesus (Matthew 10:34-36). 
  6. The coming of the final Kingdom of God (4:1-3). This prophecy will be fulfilled at Christ’s second Advent. 

[you can read all of these prophecies yourself by clicking here

So what is the role of prophecy? 

First of all, fulfilled prophecy reminds us that God is sovereignly in control of everything (Isaiah 46:10). But right on the heels of that, fulfilled prophecy reminds us that there is still more prophecy left to be fulfilled (2 Peter 1:20-2:3). 

The Bible tells me that when I sin, God’s first response is not anger toward me but broken-hearted grief. In a similar fashion, the prophecies of coming judgment on sinners are intended to show us the incredible mercy of God in the forgiveness of sin that He made available (Micah 7:18-20). 

Prophecy is never, never to be used as a club to beat people into submission to God. When Micah prophesied the destruction of Israel and Judah, he wept (Micah 1:8). 

So did Jesus (Matthew 23:37). 

And so should we! 

We live in an age today—as Micah experienced and as the apostle Peter said would be coming—where people won’t want to hear the news that unforgiven sin brings God’s judgment. Our response to this should be brokenhearted grief, tears, and a steadfast commitment to speak the truth in love that Jesus has provided the only means to be rescued from that judgment. 

If you’ve missed any of the other posts in this series on the major lessons from the minor prophets, you can access the full list by clicking here.

The Lord Has Provided

At different times when people encountered Jehovah God in a profound way, they would give Him a name that was representative of what He did. The first instance of this is when God miraculously provided a substitute sacrifice for Issac, prompting Abraham to call God Jehovah Jireh. This name means the One who foresees perfectly and knows just what to provide to meet the need. God’s provision is perfectly proportioned and perfectly timed. 

God’s perfect provision is seen at least five times in the story of Jonah. 

  1. Jehovah sent a great wind on the sea. It was a perfectly proportioned and perfectly timed storm that caused pagan sailors to fall on their knees in worship of the one true God. 
  2. Jehovah provided a great fish to rescue Jonah. It was a perfectly proportioned and perfectly timed vehicle of rescue that caused Jonah to acknowledge salvation only comes from God. 
  3. Jehovah provided a uniquely-prepared prophet. He became a perfectly prepared and perfectly timed messenger of God’s mercy. Prior to Jonah’s visit, Nineveh had experienced two plagues (765 and 759 BC) and a solar eclipse (763 BC), which put the people in a state of heightened expectation. When Jonah arrived in the city, he was a whale-bleached prophet[*] of Jehovah which showed up with a message of God’s impending judgment unless the people repented. The response: the Ninevites believed God. 
  4. Jehovah provided a vine that shielded Jonah from the sun, even though Jonah was waiting for God’s judgment to fall on Nineveh. 
  5. Jehovah provided a worm to destroy the vine and get Jonah’s attention. 

I believe this story gives us three important lessons and three introspective questions—

  1. God is sovereignly in control of everything—storms, fish, prophets, plants, worms, astrological events, and agricultural calamities. God foresees perfectly and knows just what to provide to meet the need or to get someone’s attention.  

Question: Will I let Jehovah Jireh be Jehovah Jireh for others, or will I try to tell Him what to do and when to do it?

  1. God is supremely merciful—God cares about everyone, as the apostle Peter reminds us.

Question: As Peter asked, “What kind of people ought you to be?” Will I allow God to extend as much mercy as is necessary to others, just as He extended it to me? 

  1. God’s saving grace is boundless and undeservedSalvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. (Ephesians 2:9 NLT) 

Question: I love that this book ends with an unanswered question from God Himself, because it is our question to answer today: Should I not be concerned about that great city? What will I do with the good news that Jehovah Jireh has gone the full measure to make His grace and mercy and love and forgiveness available to ALL people? 

I hope you will take the time to prayerfully consider these questions. 

[*] “Ambrose John Wilson in the Princeton Theological Review for 1927 mentions a case of a sailor on a whaling ship near the Falkland Islands who was swallowed by a large sperm whale. The whale was later harpooned, and when it was opened up on the deck the surprised crew found their lost shipmate unconscious inside its belly. Though bleached from the whale’s gastric juices, he recovered, though he never lost the deadly whiteness left on his face, neck, and hands.” —Walter Kaiser 

If you have missed any of the other messages in our series Major Lessons From Minor Prophets, you can access the full list by clicking here. 

Don’t Let Prejudices Rob You

Imagine you had a family member killed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City or Washington, DC., and then after that horrific event God asked you to go to Osama bin Laden’s headquarters to talk to him about a personal relationship with Jesus. 

I bet you would have felt much like Jonah did when God said, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before Me” (Jonah 1:2). The Assyrians were some of the most brutal peoples of history, perpetrating almost unspeakably grotesque torture on everyone they attacked. 

And if you or I feel that way, it’s a good bet we would have responded like Jonah responded: “Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish” (v. 3). You probably know the rest of the story: Jonah spent three days in the gut of a huge fish before he finally agreed to obey God’s directive. 

It’s interesting to note that God was sending Assyria as His agent of punishment against Israel for all their vile idolatry, AND He was sending Jonah from Israel to Assyria to call them to repentance for their grotesque torture practices.

That tells me something we all need to remember: God cares for ALL people, and He will use whatever means necessary to get the good news of His mercy and love to them. 

Why is the story of Jonah in the Bible? Perhaps to teach us that although we think some person or people group is so beyond hope, God still loves them. It’s a reminder that God extends grace and mercy to everyone—even to those who are the least deserving of His grace and mercy. People like you and me (Romans 3:23, 5:8). 

In Hebrew literature, the main point of the story is found in the middle. In the case of this story, the middle is the prayer in chapter 2, especially verses 8-9 where Jonah contrasts the worthlessness of trying to cling to our prejudices versus trusting who God is and what He says. 

In light of that, I think this story should prompt us to ask three introspective questions: 

  1. What prejudices am I clinging to that are out of alignment with God’s Word? David’s prayer in Psalm 139 is one we should regularly pray. 
  2. Who have I thought is beyond God’s reach? God’s grace isn’t earned by anyone, but no one is beyond the reach of it! 
  3. Can I say as Jonah did, “But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will obey You, God. What I have vowed I will make good” (2:9)? It’s better not to make a vow to God than it is to make the vow and not follow through on it. 

Let’s all learn from the life of Jonah how much God loves ALL people. Don’t get so hung up on your prejudices that you miss out on the incredible things God has for you, as well as the incredible things God wants to do through you. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in this series on Major Lessons From Minor Prophets, you can access the full list by clicking here. 

History Matters

The minor prophets cover a span of about 300 years, from 760-450 BC, and Jonah appears right in the middle of that. Jonah overlaps Amos and Hosea in northern Israel, and he finishes his ministry just before Isaiah’s ministry begins in southern Judah. 

Jonah is the only narrative in the minor prophets. He was a prophet during the reign of Jeroboam II when Israel was temporarily growing in strength. He is the first of Israel’s prophets to be sent to a non-Jewish population. 

Critics have raised questions about this book. Questions like: Did Jonah write this book himself or is it just a story about him? Is this book historical or allegorical? 

The five biggest objections that are raised to Jonah’s historicity are: 

  1. The hyper-nationalistic feel is more like when Ezra and Nehemiah led people back to Jerusalem after their captivity in Babylon, and not during the time of Jeroboam II. 
  2. Parts of Jonah appear copied from the prophet Joel. 
  3. There are no (or incorrect) details about the major city of Nineveh that Jonah visited. 
  4. There are no extra-biblical historical records of a revival in Nineveh. 
  5. Jonah was swallowed by a fish?! 

I think there are very good reasons to believe that Jonah was both autobiographical and historically accurate. 

First, there was a revival of sorts (although not religiously) in Israel during the time of Jeroboam II. This was a time that Israel felt like it could flex its muscles again, so Jonah would not be acting out of character to be so pro-Israel. 

Second, Jonah 3:9 and Joel 2:14 sound similar, but scholars cannot tell which was written first. Couldn’t God amplify a message? Consider how many parts of the Gospel of Mark are used in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. And it’s a regular practice for authors even today to directly quote other sources. 

Third, regarding the lack of details about Nineveh, the biblical writers give very few details of any places outside of Israel or Judah. The only “incorrect” detail skeptics point to is Jonah 3:3 stating that the city was so big that it would take three days to walk around it. Nineveh was a city of about 120,000 inhabitants, so it could easily take three days of walking and preaching in order to get the message to everyone. 

Fourth, the revival in Nineveh was clearly short-lived. Jonah was probably in Nineveh around 760 BC. Assyria was rising politically and militarily during that time and defeated Israel just 40 years after Jonah’s preaching. Assyria itself was then defeated in 605 BC. 

Finally, Jonah was swallowed by a fish?! The root word for fish in Hebrew means something that has grown to such an enormous size that it overshadows everything else. But notice that what caused the sailors to be in awe of God was not the whale/fish swallowing Jonah, but the immediate calming of the ocean when Jonah was thrown overboard (Jonah 1:15-16). Miracles appear throughout this book. And throughout the entire Bible! 

Why should the appearance of miracles surprise us? Some people have a bias against the supernatural, where they wrongly believe that we can know everything through naturalistic means. C.S. Lewis pointed out, “I use the word Miracle to mean an interference with Nature by supernatural power. … Nature as a whole is herself one huge result of the Supernatural: God created her.” 

I don’t think this story is a parable or an allegory because nowhere else in the Bible are such details given in the form of a parable. 

I believe this story is historical because Jesus talked about the historicity of Jonah in the same breath as He talked about other historical people: the Queen of the South and Solomon (Matthew 12:38-42). Jesus clearly viewed Jonah as historically reliable and accurate. To call Jonah into question is to call into question the truthfulness of Jesus Himself! 

History matters because all of History is God’s story! 

Our belief in the message of the Bible is not based upon “once upon a time” or “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” It’s based upon real people in real places, especially the historicity of Jesus (notice all of the historical details Luke lists in the birth account of Jesus). 

Jonah was clearly one of those historical people, in an historic place, and at a precise moment in world history that tells the story of Jesus and our redemption which He purchased! 

If you want to check out all of the messages in our series on the major lessons from the minor prophets, you can find that list by clicking here.

Major Lessons From Minor Prophets (continued)

Sometimes the naming of things gives us an inaccurate picture of the thing being named. For instance, many people think the “old” in Old Testament means outdated or perhaps updated by the “new” in the New Testament. When in fact, both Testaments are needed to give us the full picture of God’s love and glory. 

A similar thing happens with the headings “major prophets” and “minor prophets.” It makes it sound like the major prophets have something major to say to us, while we could take or leave the minor messages of the minor prophets. 

In reality, they were given these headings simply because of the volume of writing—the five major prophets consist of 182 chapters, whereas the 12 minor prophets only have 67 chapters. The volume of their writing may be minor, but their content carries major messages of meteoric power! 

Join me this Sunday as we rejoin this highly informative series. You can check out the topics we covered last year by clicking here.

If you have missed any of the messages in this current session, check them out here:

Now And Not Yet

Psalm 68 is a Christological Psalm. That means it points to Jesus and it is fulfilled through Christ’s First and Second Advents. These types of psalms don’t make sense if they are restricted strictly to the Old Testament. 

As I have explained previously, Hebrew literature often puts the key point in the middle—in the case of this psalm, that’s verses 18-20. The opening verse sets the stage, or the scene of battle, and then right in the middle of this psalm of David is the description of God’s victory won through Jesus. 

There are three Selahs in this psalm, and I want you to notice what’s happening at each one: 

  • When You marched through the wasteland (v. 7) 
  • Who daily bears our burdens (v. 18) 
  • Sing praise to the Lord (v. 32) 

Do you remember the three definitions of Selah? A pause to consider; a breath before the crescendo; a time to weigh what’s valuable. In this case, I believe we should lean more to the second definition. Why? Because all three of these Selahs shows us what God has done, what He is still doing, and what He will ultimately do in the eternity of Heaven. I believe we are living in the breath/Selah after Christ’s First Advent and leading up to the crescendo of His Second Advent. 

Jesus is BOTH the Immanuel that came to earth at His First Advent AND the returning King at His Second Advent. We are living in an era of BOTH “now” AND “not yet.” 

The apostle Paul looks back to this psalm (especially those middle verses of 18-20) even as he looks forward to the Second Advent. He captures the essence of “now” and “not yet” in all these passages:  

Jesus paid the price for our sin.
He broke the bonds of hell and death.
He prepared the way to Heaven.
He showed the way to Heaven.
He built our mansions in Heaven.
He WILL return to take us to be with Him in Heaven!

 

So how shall we now live in this time of “now” and “not yet”? In a word: AWARE… 

  • …of His ultimate victory (Psalm 68:1) 
  • …of the desperation of the enemy. Death, sin, and the devil have been defeated! We now deal with a broken army, a scattered foe in the final death throes, a wounded, dying warrior desperately lashing out. The prince of this earth is quickly failing, while God is liberally pouring out rewards that were purchased by Christ our King! 
  • …of the brevity of this life (v. 2)
  • …of the joy of living in God’s presence (v. 3) 
  • …of the power of worship (v. 4) 
  • …of our confidence in being heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ (vv. 5-6) 

Now is not the time for fainting, but fighting the good fight. Our Immanuel has won the battle, He will continue to strengthen us every day that we walk this Earth, and He will keep us by His side as He reigns for all eternity as King of kings and Lord of lords! 

If you’ve missed any of the previous posts in this series, you can check out the full list by clicking here. 

The EGO That God Blesses

Have you ever noticed that it seems a lot easier to say, “God bless you” than it does to say, “God bless me”? Why is that? 

Do I feel unworthy of His blessing? If I am a Christian, I need to remind myself that I am in Christ, and He is in me, and He has brought me into the Father. This means that I am as blessed as the Father blesses the Son (John 14:20; Ephesians 1:3-6). God is blessed by our being blessed! 

Or perhaps I feel that “God bless me” is an arrogant prayer, while saying “God bless you” is a humble prayer. There is an EGO that God always blesses, and He delights to show us what that is!   

In Hebrew literature, the key point is found in the middle of a poem or story. In Psalm 67, that would make the middle verse: May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for You rule the peoples justly and guide the nations of the earth. Selah. (v. 4)

The nations rejoice because God judges fairly and God guides the nations. Selah—pause and take that in. The natural attitude is actually a God-negative attitude—“I prefer to be in charge … I don’t like anyone telling me what to do!” But the unnatural attitude is a God-positive attitude—“I trust God more than I trust me, so I’m glad He is in charge … I trust God to judge justly more than I trust world institutions, so I’m glad He is the final Judge!” 

This is very good news: Only God can rule and judge correctly! Men have biases and agendas; men are selfish and self-seeking; men seek their own glory and their own advancement. So the psalmist wants us to Selah/pause to remember that only God can lead and judge in a way that brings Him glory and brings us blessing. God is blessed by our being blessed! 

Working outward from verse 4, we see verses 3 and 5 are identical, teaching us that our God-honoring desire should be for all peoples in all nations to experience the blessing of an intimate relationship with God. 

A similar theme is sounded in the “bookend” verses of 1-2 and 6-7: We are asking God to bless us so that “all the ends of the earth will fear Him.” Once again we Selah/pause to consider this: Do I have the right EGO to request this blessing? Remember: There is an EGO that God always blesses.  

In his book Lead Like Jesus, Ken Blanchard identifies two types of E.G.O.s in our relationship with God:

  • Negative E.G.O.—Edging God Out 
  • Positive E.G.O.—Exalting God Only

The negative EGO says things like, “Bless me” and “Shine on me.” The positive EGO says, “Bless me so that I can be a blessing to others” and “Shine Your light on me so that others will see You.” 

Jesus told us to not let the light of our life be hidden. We are blessed by God so that we can be a blessing to all of the peoples in all of the nations. We desire that all may know the joy of serving a Righteous King. We want everyone to know the praise that comes from Exalting God Only. 

Oh God, be merciful to me. Cause Your face to shine on me. Bless me indeed so that I may teach others to fear You, so that they may come to know You as their All-Righteous, Good, and Loving King! 

If you have missed any of the messages in this series exploring the Selahs in the Psalms, you can find the full list of messages by clicking here. 

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