Sharing Our Faith Effectively
(The causes of failure in Christian witnessing)
The following letter written to believers in South Africa regarding their witnessing efforts is very instructive and worthy of prayerful consideration. Written in 1890, it is still relevant today. It points out that God cannot bless our witnessing efforts if we are not living in a manner that will lead others to live in a godly manner. Among hindering factors pointed out are faultfinding, unresolved differences, lack of unity, and lack of personal godliness. Also mentioned are effective ways to share one's faith.
“And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; and should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.” Mark 4:26-29
My dear Brethren and Sisters,
I would address you who have come to a knowledge of the truth in Africa. You are young in the faith, and there is great need of your walking humbly with God, and of learning daily in the school of Christ by dwelling particularly in meditation and conversation upon the lessons which He gave to His disciples. Walk in all humility of mind, distrustful of self, seeking wisdom from the God of wisdom, that all your ways and methods may be in firm and close connection with the ways and the will of God, that there may be no confusion.
A way has been opened through Jesus Christ by which wisdom and grace and power may be obtained. He is an example in all things. The very first lesson for those who embrace the message of truth to learn, is to be in union with Christ and to have the power of His grace in the soul, melting away all dross of character, bringing into subjection even the thoughts. This must be done through the subduing of the heart, that Christ may impress and write His law upon it. This is the work to be accomplished for every soul, that all who love the truth will reveal its sanctifying, refining, ennobling power upon the character, in the spirit, in the words, and in the actions. Each will be a channel of light through which Christ will communicate. This is what the apostle meant when he said, “We are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building.”
We must never forget how hard it is to remove long-cherished errors from the minds of men, which have been taught from childhood. We must bear in mind that earth is not heaven, and that there will be discouragements to meet and to overcome, but forbearance and tenderness and pity should be exercised toward all who are in darkness. If we bring them to see the light, it will not be solely by arguments; it must be by the work of the grace of Christ on your own hearts, revealed in your own characters with firmness, yet with the meekness and simplicity of Christ. Through much prayer you must labour for souls, for this is the only method by which you can reach hearts. It is not your work, but the work of Christ who is by your side, that impresses hearts.
As you seek to obtain a knowledge of the truth, you should seek to obtain an experimental knowledge of Christ, that you may work after His methods. You should pray as did Moses, Lord, reveal to me Thy glory. A revelation of the goodness, the tenderness, and love of Jesus toward fallen man, will cause self to sink into nothingness, and will exalt Jesus. Lift Him up, the Man of Calvary; talk of Jesus and His matchless love. There is where many who present the truth fail. They talk doctrines, but do not dwell upon the matchless, forbearing love of Jesus.
Be determined that you will not be at variance among yourselves, but will have the peace of Christ in your own hearts, and then it will be an easy work to have it brought into your own families. But when the garden of the heart is neglected, poisonous weeds of pride, self-esteem, self-sufficiency, obtain a rank growth. We individually must watch unto prayer.
The characters we form will speak in the home life. If there is sweet accord in the home circle, the angels of God may minister in the home. If there is wise management at home, kindness, meekness, forbearance, combined with firm principles, then be assured that the husband is a house band; he binds the family together with holy cords and presents them to God, binding himself with them upon the altar of God. What a light shines forth from such a family!
That family, properly conducted, is a favourable argument to the truth, and the head of such a family will carry out the very same kind of work in the church as is revealed in the family. Wherever severity, harshness, and want of affection and love are exhibited in the sacred circle of the home, there will most assuredly be a failure in the plans and management in the church. Unity in the home, unity in the church reveals Christ's manner and grace more than sermons and arguments. The servants of God must not strive, but in meekness instruct those who oppose themselves against the truth that they may see the errors of their ways and be converted. But let your light shine in good works; in careful, patient, brotherly words speak to those with whom you associate in good works.
All differences, all fault-finding must be put away through the grace of Christ which you receive through faith. All envy, all jealousy, all evil surmising, is of the enemy. All evil-speaking, all bitterness, all impatience, all malice, must be purged from the soul temple, and kindness, compassion, forbearance, meekness, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, hope, love, must be cherished every day in order that you may fulfil the prayer of Christ to His Father that His disciples might be one as He is one with the Father. The harmony and the unity of the church are the credentials that must be presented to the world to prove the God has sent His Son into the world to give grace and light and truth.
Genuine conversion is transformation of character. New purposes, new moral tastes are created. Defects of character are overcome. Truth, with its sanctifying power, brings the entire man into obedience to Christ.
The day of solemn trust and sacred responsibilities is ours. We have a work to do for God. Great light is shining upon us, which we must diffuse to all with whom we come in contact, not by starting arguments at once on doctrinal subjects, but by learning to talk of the lessons of Christ. Be sure and be wise in dealing with the souls for whom Christ has paid the price of His own precious blood. Is the truth, the advanced truth we have received, producing in our own hearts the fruits of patience, faith, hope, charity, and thus leaving its saving influence upon human minds, revealing that we are branches of the true Vine because we bear rich clusters of fruit?
Are integrity and amiability of character, and solid attainments in the Christian growth, made manifest? Never be discouraged in your efforts to save souls, because those who have been educated in error and darkness do not immediately respond to your efforts. You must show that you are God's workmen who are never to faint or be discouraged. The pity and Christlike patience manifested will reveal to those with whom you associate that you have a living connection with God, that you are pure in heart, tender in word, earnest and fervent in spirit.
This spirit of Christ will make its way among the gross ignorance that you will meet. But remember the words of Christ, “Without me ye can do nothing.” It is not enough to speak readily upon controverted subjects; God calls for men whose hearts have been moulded after the divine similitude. Through sanctifying truth we can bear to others the cup of salvation. Through an earnest hold upon God, a prayerful life mingled with persevering faith, the truth will cut its way through seemingly impossibilities.
We will not be speaking of what cannot be done, but of what can be done. “Go forward,” is the word of our Leader. We are distinctly told by the Lord Jesus Christ through His apostle that He “gave some apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” Here is represented constant growth of knowledge in Christ Jesus, and it is a matter that deserves careful attention.
Personal religion reaches a low standard because there is more preaching than there is personal effort to guide the souls of men by careful instruction. Christ presented lessons in the conversation by the fireside that were of practical interest. He did not dwell upon the doctrine when a soul was in perplexity as to how to find Him and to be made acquainted with His constraining love, which can alone enable the soul to discern the unpopular truth. Bear in mind that heart must come close to heart in warm, genial persuasion and entreaty, that they may enlighten as to how to believe and how to receive the promises of God. The method of growing into conformity with the will of Christ must be made plain.
Great men, learned men, can be reached better by the simplicity of a godly life than by all the sharp arguments that may be poured upon them. Good impressions will be given when religion is full of vitality which will give life and progress. Where the precious seed of truth finds lodgement in the heart, through the workings of the Spirit of Christ the receiver will discover the sinfulness of human passions, vanities, ignorance. All these must be cleansed from the soul temple and the grace of God become an abiding principle. Then all the principles of truth bloom in the garden of God — humility, meekness, patience, and love.
The evidences of the grace of Christ in the human heart always tend to unity. But because some errors and inconsistencies are seen in those whom we think should be perfect, shall we cast them aside? No, Christ does not cast us aside because of these things, although His Spirit is grieved. It is not wise to sink the soul in pettish despondency, because we see errors in the characters of others. If we discern their faults and inconsistencies, then we are to see the sinfulness of similar things in our own characters, and from these things we are to learn not to practise the unchristlike conduct of any man. We should remember that Jesus discerns all these defects, and is more wounded and grieved than we possibly can be, because His children do not represent His own character to the world, but in some things they represent the impatience, the fretfulness, the malice, the accusing spirit of the great deceiver. What could hurt the heart of Christ more than to be thus wounded and put to open shame in the person of those who claim to be His children? Then when you see wrong in any one, pity them, and say, I will never do after their works, and make Christ ashamed of me.
All self-righteousness must be given up, for we have no righteousness of ourselves. It is the gift of God; therefore we should not be exalted, or buy any means pretentious, for it is an offence to God. What have we that we have not received? Man cannot rely upon himself for anything good or righteous. Christ, only Christ and His righteousness, will obtain for us a passport into heaven.
Obstructions will meet the advancement of truth in Africa as they have in all places of the world, and it may be that the Lord suffers obstructions and obstacles to appear because He sees that if He makes your way smooth before you in the presentation of truth, it would do you harm; you would take the glory and become self-sufficient.
After leaving Egypt, Israel stood on the banks of the sea and saw their enemies overthrown, and now their triumph was complete. But now the march was in the desert. The first conflict was with Amalek, whose armies opposed their march. They were sorely tried in this conflict, “To humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart.” “To do thee good at thy latter end.” The Lord sees that there is self mingled with everything and He would have His people look to Him. The Lord leads His people by a way that they would not devise or mark out for themselves. Tests are faithfully applied.
“And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; and should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.” There is the work of the truth upon the human heart, constant and gentle, and progress must be made until perfection of human character is reached. This work is carried forward by a firm, divine, supernatural agency. Is your religion a growing one, or is self largely predominant, that the Lord cannot work with your efforts?
The Lord will not bless you in bringing souls to the truth, clearing your way, giving access to many hearts, unless you have made it manifest that you are reaching the standard of character set before you in the gospel. You may be satisfied with your own life and religious growth, but is there growth in the mind and in the image of Christ? You should ask yourself, Am I growing?
You may sometimes be betrayed into indiscretion and then if you repent and humble yourself before God and give Him your heart in humble penitence, and say, Lead me, guide me, O God, that I shall not offend Thee with an unconsecrated life. It may be that you may not have wisdom to guide the souls who shall embrace the truth; it may be that you have much to learn of how to present the truth as it is in Jesus. And should the hindrances be removed and the truth make rapid progress, as you greatly desire, you would not be prepared to labour wisely, patiently after Christlike methods to lead them to obtain a sound, healthful experience, because you have not the knowledge of many spiritual things yourself.
As you reveal wisdom by faithfulness in the home life, as patterns of piety, you will reveal faithfulness in the church as patient, kind, forbearing teachers. The Lord will see that you can be entrusted with souls. You have learned lessons in His school as to how to deal with human minds and to lead them forward and upward to the holy standard of God, that they may grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
When these persons see exemplified in the life fervent piety, unselfish zeal, and the love of Jesus, they will see what it means to believe present truth. When you can carry these souls forward to greater light and knowledge, when you have order, and when the workers strive constantly to be one, as Christ is one with the Father, then God will work mightily through human instrumentalities, because He can trust those who have taken hold of the truth to properly educate both by precept and example. Then you will not leave your own mould upon men, but Christ's mould.
Try it, brethren in Africa. There is no growth in aiming at a low standard, but there is required persevering, untiring effort if you would succeed in winning souls to Christ. Satan and all his hosts, allied with evil men, will oppose the work, and you cannot meet this opposition in your own feeble strength. The Captain of the Lord's host alone can win for you the victory. You cannot be at peace and harmony among yourselves if you have no well concentrated efforts to push the triumphs of the cross.
If we are engaged in contentions and faultfinding when we ought to be doing our best for the Master, how can we expect God to bring souls into the truth, and trust them to our unfaithful, unchristlike guidance? Seek the Lord with all your heart; die to self. God's people must be a unit, and the work must begin in our hearts. The work must begin in our own families. The true witness says, “I know thy works.” You may be constantly imbibing the Spirit of Christ.
If you cannot show the power of the grace of Christ in your character at home, you will fail to show wisdom in the church, and cannot be entrusted with the care of souls newly come to the faith, who are babes in Christ, who need to be fed with milk, and not with strong meat.
You may be inclined to hold before the awakened soul the strong arguments which establish our faith, which are hard for them to understand. But this will not be the right way to do. Just talk the simplest lessons of faith, for even learned persons are hungry to know the ABC of what it means to be a Christian and how they can find Christ, how they can gain Christ. This is the food for which the churches all through the ages are starving.
Please bear in mind, if the minds of believers are not appropriating to themselves the promises of God, and receiving by faith the higher influences, emanating from heaven, they are appropriating the lower influences. Every moral action leaves its imprint upon the moral character. The conversation at the table, the conversation at the fireside, the spirit that pervades the family circle, testifies whether we are faithful in our daily duties. Through the constant culture of correct habits we are becoming qualified for the upbuilding of the church, fitted to feed the sheep and the lambs, and prepared, through a faithful discharge of every duty to hear the heavenly benediction, “Well done, good and faithful servant;... enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”
Even that which appears trifling to us is invested with solemn responsibility. We cannot pass through it without a change for better or for worse.
I commend you, my brethren in a far-off land, to the Lord and to His rich grace; for He will be a help to all who will call upon Him. He is mighty in counsel. Seek Him with all the heart and He will be found of you. —E. White, Letter 6b, 1890.