Home > C. H. Spurgeon, J. C. Ryle > Our Conversion: For the Conversion of Others

Our Conversion: For the Conversion of Others


In my recent Sunday morning sermon reading, came some rather unusual remarks from Spurgeon.  This was at the beginning of Volume 4, #169 (“What Have I Done?”), delivered at the year-end of 1857 as he reflected back on Christian service by believers during the past year.  The words sound very much like something an Arminian evangelist would say, and taken by themselves apart from Spurgeon’s other writings, should indeed be troubling.  A brief excerpt:

I will, however, ask a pointed question—are there not many Christians now present who cannot remember that they have been the means of the salvation of one soul during this year? Come, now. Think—have you any reason to believe that directly or indirectly you have been made the means this year of the salvation of a soul? I will go further—there are some of you who are old Christians and I will ask you this question—have you any reason to believe that ever since you were converted you have ever been the means of the salvation of a soul? . . . And yet there are some of you here who have been spiritually barren and have never brought one convert to Christ! You have not one star in your crown of glory and must wear a starless crown in Heaven!

Perhaps one point in properly understanding the above, is his wording “directly or indirectly.”  For at the surface, at least, these words suggest that we should all be actively talking to others about Jesus — and 20th century terms such as “street evangelism” come to mind.  In contrast to this idea, though, I think of the oft-quoted saying from St. Francis of Assissi:  “Preach the gospel daily.  Use words if necessary.”

But soon after considering Spurgeon’s “What Have I Done?” sermon, I read the following great passage from J.C. Ryle, in Holiness chapter 17.  Here is a better explanation concerning our role as Christians, converted not only for ourselves but to lead to the conversion of others:

I believe that just as ‘no man lives unto himself’ (Rom. 14:7), so also no man is converted only for himself and that the conversion of one man or woman always leads on, in God’s wonderful providence, to the conversion of others. I do not say for a moment that all believers know it. I think it far more likely that many live and die in the faith, who are not aware that they have done good to any soul. But I believe the resurrection morning and the judgment day, when the secret history of all Christians is revealed, will prove that the full meaning of the promise before us has never failed. I doubt if there will be a believer who will not have been to someone or other a ‘river of living water,’ a channel through whom the Spirit has conveyed saving grace. Even the penitent thief, short as his time was after he repented, has been a source of blessing to thousands of souls!

a. Some believers are rivers of living water while they live. Their words, their conversation, their preaching, their teaching, are all means by which the water of life has flowed into the hearts of their fellow men.  …

b. Some believers are rivers of living water when they die. Their courage in facing the king of terrors, their boldness in the most painful sufferings, their unswerving faithfulness to Christ’s truth even at the stake, their manifest peace on the edge of the grave—all this has set thousands thinking, and led hundreds to repent and believe. Such, for example, were the primitive martyrs, whom the Roman Emperors persecuted. Such were John Huss and Jerome of Prague. Such were Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer, Hooper and the noble army of Marian martyrs. The work that they did at their deaths, like Samson, was far greater then the work done in their lives.

c. Some believers are rivers of living water long after they die. They do good by their books and writings in every part of the world, long after the hands which held the pen are mouldering in the dust. Such men were Bunyan and Baxter and Owen and George Herbert and Robert MCCHEYNE. These blessed servants of God do more good probably by their books at this moment than they did by their tongues when they were alive. Being dead they yet speak (Heb. 11:4).

d. Finally, there are some believers who are rivers of living water by the beauty of their daily conduct and behavior. There are many quiet, gentle, consistent Christians, who make no show and no noise in the world, and yet insensibly exercise a deep influence for good on all around them. They ‘win without the Word’ (1 Peter 3:1). Their love, their kindness, their sweet temper, their patience, their unselfishness, tell silently on a wide circle, and sow seeds of thought and self–inquiry in many minds.

The last category is certainly the ideal that the St. Francis quote above upholds, and one we can all aspire to.

In category A I think of the “celebrity preachers,” especially those who have influenced many others by their great teaching and preaching, such as John MacArthur, as well as lesser but still prominent names of good preachers whose audio sermons are regularly updated to the Internet, and/or whose online writings encourage many.

By the very nature of things, most of us will not fit in categories B or C.  Perhaps some of us will yet be “rivers of living water” as martyrs in yet unknown persecutions, but the Lord alone knows that matter.

In reading item C and the list of names, I thought of J.C. Ryle himself, another great saint to add to the list of those who continue to guide believers today — “being dead they yet speak.”

As one plenty guilty of Spurgeon’s words above, having never directly shared the gospel with unbelievers (well, except within the format of “Evangelism Explosion” one year in my early Christian days), I yet take comfort in J.C. Ryle’s observation that it is “far more likely that many live and die in the faith, who are not aware that they have done good to any soul” but that even the dying thief on the cross, by his testimony, has brought comfort to many.  It is enough to trust in the Lord and hold steadfast to Him throughout the daily trials, doing even little things in service each day — even the simple blog format as a way to share my insights and encourage others.

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