"A Passion For The Lost, Or A Lost Passion?"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2008 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
I want you to turn with me to Romans chapter 9, and I've entitled my message this morning: 'A Passion For The Lost, Or A Lost Passion?'. Romans 9, beginning to read at verse 1, and I had this message in mind before even last weekend, and our brother Alistair Quigley, in the morning in particular, had a very similar message concerning the need to reach out to the lost. I really feel that in the shadow of next weekend, and indeed every opportunity on a regular basis that we have to reach the lost, we need to be reminded about the passion we ought to have for them, and ask ourselves whether or not we have lost it.
So: 'A Passion For The Lost, Or A Lost Passion?'. Chapter 9 of Romans verse 1, Paul says: "I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises", and we'll end our reading there at verse 4.
Let us pray for a moment: Lord, speak to me, that I may speak in living echoes of Thy tone. Lord, speak to all our hearts this morning, reveal Christ to us. We're here with many needs, and maybe that matter that is at the forefront of our mind is not the need to win souls, it's maybe a problem that we have, an ailment, a predicament, a trial we're going through. Yet, our Father, we pray that just for this moment or two we would set aside those things if we can, and by Your help we will focus on this great need. Oh God, help us we pray, and even now in this next half hour or so, give us a heart for the lost, a heart like our Master's heart. For we ask it in the Saviour's name, Amen.
Now let me say first of all, before I do anything regarding these four verses - three we will concentrate on - that someone has said rightly that if you preach into your own heart, you're likely to hit a few others. So please don't be thinking that I have it made up here, I very much feel convicted by what I'm about to share with you - but it is heart-to-heart from the Lord, I believe, to my heart and then to yours.
Someone has said that the epitaph of our society should be this: 'This civilisation died because it didn't want to be bothered'. In New York City, a mailman was shot by a sniper. He staggered into the lobby of a hotel, and because he was dripping blood on the carpet he was thrown out, and he died. In Oklahoma City a woman gave birth unexpectedly on the sidewalk, and bystanders turned their heads away from her. A taxi pulled up and saw what was happening, and then drove away. In Dayton, Ohio a dozen people saw a woman drive her car into the Miami River, and they watched indifferently as she climbed onto the car roof and screamed that she couldn't swim, and she drowned. So many incidents like that have happened that the Chicago Sun Times has actually in their library a special file entitled 'Apathy'. 'This civilisation died because it didn't want to be bothered'.
Dr Lawrence M. Gould, the President Emeritus of Carleton College, said these words, I quote: 'I do not believe the greatest threat to our future is from bombs or guided missiles. I don't think our civilisation will end that way, I think it will die when we no longer care'. Arnold Toynbe, the British historian, has pointed out that 19 out of 21 civilisations have died from within and not by conquest from without - that's an interesting one to think of on Remembrance Sunday. 19 out of 21 civilisations died from within, rather than conquest from without. He goes on: 'There were no bands playing and flags waving when these civilisations decayed. It happened slowly, in the quiet and in the dark, when no one was aware'. Now that's the world we've been talking about, but my question to the church this morning is: is carelessness the problem with the church? Is the church dying on her feet because she just doesn't want to be bothered? There is apathy in the world, has that apathy of the world infected the church? Do we have a 'take it or leave it' mentality with the things of God, and particularly with evangelism?
Now when we turn to Paul, particularly in Romans 9 that we've read this morning, we find the absolute antithesis and opposite of apathy. Indeed, even before Paul's conversion, the Bible says he was full of zeal, persecuting the church - and after his conversion, he was full of zeal propagating the gospel and building the church. So before he was saved he was a zealous blasphemer, and after he was converted he became a zealous proclaimer of the good news. He was wholehearted in the service of Satan, and then when God got hold of him he became wholehearted in his service to Christ. But I think it has to be said, and I find this is a problem myself, that so often when it comes to reaching out to others with the gospel, our hearts are just not in it! The best we can do, it would seem, is to drum up an artificial concern for special occasions like next weekend.
I don't want to be harsh, but so often it seems that as soon as the occasion disappears, so does the concern and the exercise. Paul was different, for in these first three verses of chapter 9 we find that he had an all-consuming passion for lost souls that was always there within his breast - especially for his kinsfolk, his Jewish brothers and sisters, whether it be in his immediate family, or in the vicinity of the neighbourhood where he grew up, or where he was at the present moment. Wherever it was, he particularly had a heart for his own countrymen. I wonder can we say that? Do we have a passion for lost souls, or have we lost the passion? That convicts me. Can we say with Mary Booth:
'Oh! for a heart that is burdened!
Infused with a passion to pray;
Oh! for a stirring within me;
Oh! for this power every day.
Oh! for a heart like my Saviour,
Who, being in agony prayed.
Such caring for others, Lord, give me;
On my heart let burdens be laid'.
She goes on:
'My Father, I long for this passion,
To pour myself out for the lost -
To lay down my life to save others -
To pray, whatever the cost.
Lord, teach me, oh teach me this secret,
I'm hungry this lesson to learn,
This passionate passion for others,
For this, blessed Jesus, I yearn.
Father, this lesson I long for from Thee -
Oh, let Thy Spirit reveal this to me'.
Is that your desire? Was it your desire, but now it's a lost desire? What a preacher of the gospel the apostle Paul must have been! We don't even need to hear one of his sermons, all you need to do is read these three verses, because in them we find three things that are essential to gospel preaching and gospel outreach in general. First we see his love, then we see his compassion, and then we see his earnestness for the lost. Now I know it was said of the apostle that his speech was contemptible, and his bodily presence weak - but one thing is sure about the apostle Paul: however he spoke, he never delivered the good news of the gospel with icicles on his lips, never! Indeed, he preached with a melting love, a Calvary love - and his words, as they went forth, were like sparks that would set the coldest heart aflame for Jesus Christ. If I could put it like this: Paul's heart was in his mouth. You've heard that expression, haven't you? Well, Paul's heart was in his mouth.
Listen to a couple of verses. Galatians 4:19: 'My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you'. He likened his love to the saints that he had birthed by the preaching of the gospel, to childbirth and the agony of it. What a passion! Philippians 1 verse 8 is another example: 'For God is my record', Paul says, 'how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ', or 'with the heart', in other words 'with the passion of Jesus Christ'. F.B. Meyer, that great Bible teacher, said these words: 'The apostle had got so near the very heart of his Lord that he could hear its throb, detect its heat, nay it seemed as though the tender mercies of Jesus to these Philippians were throbbing in his own heart'. He was so close to the Lord Jesus that he had got the Saviour's passion for the lost - not to His extent, of course, but here we see a Christ-like spirit in the apostle.
Remember the Lord Jesus, who looked over Jerusalem and said: 'O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!'. He wept over a rebellious, gainsaying people. Here we have Paul doing the same in Romans 9:1-3. It's as if the heart of Christ were dwelling in Paul, and if that's the case - by that I mean that we get so close to the Master that we are infected by His passion for dying, lost souls; we will find ourselves like Paul. We will be transformed in every way, all our human relationships will be turned round, our love for our kith and kin, and for strangers and foreigners will go on to such a supernatural plane that we'll be able to love the unlovely, the unthankful, and the indifferent - for that, of course, was the love of Christ.
Now you're sitting here, perhaps, I hope, saying: 'Well, how do you get that?'. Maybe you're someone who doesn't have a passion for the lost, like me so often. You've lost that passion that you once had, and you wonder: 'How can I get it?'. Well, let me answer that question by asking another question: how do you get to know someone's heart? Take a husband and a wife: you get to know someone's heart by spending time with them, by dialoguing, communicating, by being intimate. That is exactly how you get to know the love that Christ has, and have it rub off on you - it's to spend time with the Lord Jesus in His word, and before Him in prayer. Now some of you husbands and wives will know what I'm talking about when you often know what your partner is thinking. You can second-guess them, why? Because you've been intimate with them for so long that you've got to know them, and there has been that communion between you - it's exactly the same: Paul is feeling the compassion of Christ for lost souls, why? Because he has such an intimacy with the Lord Jesus! That's the secret to evangelism - not running ragged, like headless chickens, all over the place! Yes, we need to wear ourselves out and be spent for the lost, but primarily we need to get the Saviour's heart! That is found in communion.
Now let's look at this first verse, Paul says: 'I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost'. What he is wanting to do is lay stress on the fact that this love for lost people, this passion, is not pretentious. Do you understand? He wants these Romans that he's writing this epistle to to know that this is a genuine love. These aren't crocodile tears he's shedding. Sometimes we shed tears in the prayer meeting - very seldom, mind you, and I'm guilty of that even at home - but often when we do shed tears, we're not thinking about lost souls going to hell, we're thinking about somebody that's not well; and we take and adopt these feelings, and place them on something else. Everybody thinks we're crying for lost men and women, and we're not!
He says: 'I speak the truth, and it is the truth in Christ', that means 'in union with Christ' - there's that communion again. Then he gives it to us in the negative: 'I lie not'. He speaks of his good conscience: 'My conscience bearing me witness'. Now you can't trust your conscience, you will know that if you know your Bible - but he stresses that his conscience is illumined by the Holy Ghost. So his conscience is right, as far as this is concerned. He's telling the truth, he's not lying, and the Holy Ghost is a witness to what he is saying - he has this all-consuming passion for lost souls.
Now notice please: in some way Christ, the Holy Spirit, and Paul is involved in that passion. 'I tell you the truth in Christ, the Holy Ghost is bearing witness' - and I'll tell you this: if you ever get a passion for the lost, it will be because of your communion with Christ and being filled with the Holy Spirit, and your conscience being transformed by Him. That's interesting, isn't it? Paul here in verse 1, this is what I want you to grasp, is at pains to stress the genuineness of his love for the lost Jewish men and women of his country. Now, why is he stressing this so definitely? Well, first of all, you see, the Jews hated him. They hated him, he was a traitor. Once he was their greatest propagandist, and now he was a traitor to the cause and had turned to the other side, as far as they were concerned - but he wanted them to know that no matter how much they hated him, he loved them. The second reason he is at pains to stress the genuineness of his passion is: they thought he was anti-Jewish because of his mission to the Gentiles, and he wanted them to know that Christ had sent the disciples first to the Jews, and he still loved them.
Now move on to verse 2, please: 'I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart'. Now literally that could be translated like this: 'Grief to me is great, incessant pain is in my heart', 'Grief to me is great, incessant pain is in the heart of me'. In other words, this Paul the apostle was not an uncommitted bystander - and I challenge you, my friend, are you? Are you? Are you involved in winning the lost? Then he goes on, he had continual - that word 'continual' means 'an unceasing, endless duration' of pain. He uses a combination of two words to describe it, it's the word for 'sorrow' or 'grief', and the word for 'literal physical pain'. He's using these phrases to emphasise the plight of the nation, and his desire that they should be saved. It might well be that the apostle was suffering physical pain! I can't shed a tear, and this man is suffering pain!
The prophets suffered the same. Jeremiah said: 'My bowels, my bowels! I am pained at my very heart; my heart maketh a noise in me; I cannot hold my peace, because thou hast heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war'. Again he says: 'Let mine eyes run down with tears night and day, and let them not cease: for the virgin daughter of my people is broken with a great breach, with a very grievous blow'. Pain, physical pain, emotional pain, travail, agony over the state of God's people and a lost world! Sure, what do we know of that?
I have to be very careful, because I think I can be harsh, at times unnecessarily, and I confess that to you - but it's very hard to know when you're being too harsh, and when you're really telling the truth. If I'm to tell the truth, I think we're playing church 95% of the time, if not more - Sunday nights especially. We'd be better knocking the walls down. Where's my tears? Where are your tears? 'They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him'. Albert Smith said: 'The safety valves of the heart, when the stress is too much and pressure is laid on them, they burst' - and that's when we shed tears. Herbert Lockyer: 'Tears win victories. A cold, unfeeling, dry-eyed religion has no influence over the souls of men!'.
Why are people not getting saved? I'll tell you, there's a whole lot of reasons for that, that would take more than one Sunday morning sermon to explore - and that's only what we know about - but I'll tell you this: my tearless heart, forget about you for a moment, my tearless heart is one of the reasons. My dry eyes. All great men and women of God, who ever did a great work for God were broken spirits with wet eyes. Jeremiah we have read about, he compared his weeping to a fountain of waters, a river of tears. Paul, four times, described himself serving the Lord with all humility and with many tears. Our greatest example surely is the Man of Sorrows...I think our Lord's life was saturated in tears. Here Paul's heart is broken in a myriad of splinters for lost Israel - ach, there are so many applications we could bring, but here's one surely: Paul didn't believe in annihilation. He didn't believe in conditional immortality, that when you die you're done for and your life is blown out like a candle, and you die like a dog. He didn't believe that, he believed that whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. Now, imagine me asking evangelical, fundamentalist Christians in the Iron Hall a question like this: do you believe in hell? I'm not talking about: 'Can you tick a box that describes a theological dogma'. I'm not talking about intellectual assent, I'm talking about an actual belief that people without Christ are lost forever! I have to confess to you this morning that there are times I find that very hard to believe - not because it's not in the Bible, but because my life is so far removed from that as a reality!
Do you believe it? Or do you just give mental and emotional assent to it? Well, for Paul, his belief in it meant that his charity began at home, his kinsfolk. 'I', verse 3, 'could wish myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh'. Charity begins at home, our family. The rich man in hell was too late: 'I have five brethren, Abraham, send someone to them, that they come not to this place'. The rich man was too late. Yesterday I received a phone call concerning a distant family member - we're not sure how they are with the Lord - and they were given a very short time to live. I raced up to the hospital, and wasn't able to get in, but on the way up to the hospital - I'm not even sure whether the lady is still living or not - but on the way up the thought was plaguing me: 'Why is it that we wait until people are staring eternity in the face to speak to them about Christ?'. I know - please do not misunderstand me - I know that some of you folk, your hearts are breaking for loved ones, and you've been praying for them for years. I know that, and you've been shedding tears, yea even blood - and keep on doing it, keep on offering them up to the Lord - but I'm not speaking to you at this point. I'm speaking to the many hearts that aren't breaking, and there's more of them! Those who it doesn't affect any more.
How it affected Paul. He says in verse 3: 'I could wish', now notice please it doesn't say 'I would wish', or 'I do wish' - because that was impossible. He has just said in chapter 8 that nothing can separate him from the love of God in Christ, but you've got to understand that it's his emotions speaking here. It's bringing out his deep concern for his fellow Jews: 'I could almost wish', that's the sense, 'that I was accursed from Christ'. The word for 'accursed' is the same word he uses in Galatians 1 verse 8 for anybody that preaches a Jesus or a gospel other than the true one, they are to be an anathema - that's the word, 'accursed', anathema from Christ! He describes delivering up his soul to the judicial wrath of God for sin. The word means 'to bear the curse of sin'. Luther says it seems incredible that a man would desire to be damned in order that the damned might be saved - it is, isn't it? It's incredible to us in our apathy and our unconcerned state, and yet we see it before Paul - for Moses, when he realised the sin of the people making the golden calf when he came down the Mount with the law of God, he was broken by their sin. He says: 'You have sinned a great sin: and now I will go up unto the LORD; and perhaps I shall make an atonement for your sin'. We read in Exodus 32:32 that he said to the Lord: 'Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin--; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written'.
Now there's one word that sums up that spirit of Moses and that spirit of Paul, and we find it in the spirit of Christ, and it's the word 'substitution'. Colossians 1 reads that we are to rejoice in sufferings, and 'fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ', Paul says, 'in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church'. Now what does that mean, 'fill up that which is behind', or 'that which is lacking in the sufferings of Christ'? Sure there's nothing lacking in the sufferings of Christ, the work is finished, there's nothing incomplete about His redemption - that's not what it means. It's saying that we need to live in our lives the love of Christ to personify, to dramatise the sacrificial love of the Lord Jesus to the dying world - for we are the only gospel they will see or even read, perhaps! So in the light of that verse, what is it costing me, what is it costing you to win the lost? Is it costing you any time, any money, inconvenience? Is it costing food on the table, sweat from your brow, blood and tears?
Paul said: 'I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus'. Isaiah, the evangelistic prophet, said: 'As soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children'. I told you this recently in the book of the Revelation, the word 'martyr' comes from the Greek word for 'witness' - which means that our witness has blood involved in it. True love is always costly. Love is the outgoing of the entire nature in self-sacrificing service to Christ and to the lost. Moses and Paul reflect the Lord Jesus Christ, who suffered for the unjust, Thee the just, that He might bring us to God. Paul here in this chapter is like a spark from the heart of Christ, His heart of substitutionary love, His heart that went all the way to Calvary and was broken for us. So I'm not giving Paul the glory, or Moses, but Christ - because it's only Christ's love could make Paul act like this. Didn't he say in 2 Corinthians: 'The love of Christ constraineth us'?
Oh, that David Legge would be like Paul, who was ultimately like Christ - you know, that's a spiritual thermometer if you ever want one: what's your passion like for lost souls? Is it what it used to be? How much do you love the lost? This love of Paul's was no sham, it was no falseness, it wasn't drummed up emotion for a mission or a campaign, it was a constant aching pain within his breast that wouldn't leave. It was compassion that passed the test of Christ, and passed the test of the Holy Ghost - would yours? Would mine? I think if we loved like this, the prayer meeting would be full! Our outreach teams would be overloaded. Our Sunday services, especially when we're preaching the gospel, would have at least some sinners in - and I know it's very hard getting them in. Maybe we have to think of forgetting getting them in, and get out. We would rise early, we would stay up late pleading for souls. We would fast for souls. We would bleed for souls. Paul groaned for souls. What are you groaning about? Oh, Christians do a lot of groaning, believe me. Oversights and assemblies spend a lot of time, waste a lot of time, listening to believer's groans - and yet there are millions of souls going to hell, and very few groaners for them.
That is the spirit of all great soul winners. David Brainerd, one of the most celebrated Christian missionaries, was labouring among the poor American Indians on the banks of the Delaware River, and he once said these words: 'I care not where I live, or what hardships I go through, so that I can but gain souls to Christ. While I am asleep I dream of these things. As soon as I awake the first thing that is on my mind is this great work. All my desire is the conversion of sinners, and all my hope is in God'. Listen to Whitefield: 'Oh Lord, give me souls or take my soul!'. Praying Hyde, missionary to India: 'Father, give me souls or I die'. John Henry Jowett, that great preacher, said these words concerning passion for souls, it sums up what we have read in verses 1, 2 and 3 of Romans 9. Listen to it carefully, and if you are concerned about your lost passion for lost souls, listen to it and put it into practice: 'We can never heal the needs we do not feel. Tearless hearts can never be heralds of the passion. We must pity if we would redeem; we must believe if we would be ministers of the saving blood. The disciple's prayer must be stricken with much crying and many tears. The ministers of Calvary must supplicate in bloody sweat, and their intercession must often touch the point of agony. True intercession is sacrifice, a bleeding sacrifice'.
For over 30 years the Salvation Army and William Booth particularly were under vile persecution. You may not have known that. They suffered more than many Christians have in modern times, but General Booth lived to see the day that his Army would be honoured around the world, and his own king - Edward VII - invited him to Buckingham Palace to honour him in 1904. All the persecution and trials of the previous decades must have seemed insignificant when Booth heard the King say: 'You're doing a good work, a great work, General Booth'. When the king asked him to sign in his book, the old man - now 75 years of age - went forward, took the pen, bent over, and summed up his life's work in these words: 'Your Majesty', he wrote, 'some men's ambition is art, some men's ambition is fame, some men's ambition is gold - my ambition is the souls of men!'.
Paul's ambition was the souls of men. A chapter later, and verse 1, he says: 'Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they may be saved'. What's your heart's desire? What's mine? Let's bow our heads. I think we'll dispense with the closing hymn. While our heads are bowed and our eyes are closed, let us ask ourselves where we are with our faith in Christ at all. Maybe there's someone here and they're not saved: you need Christ, for the same hell that we're trying to save others from is the hell that you're headed to. You need Him, Him alone. But I think most of us would profess faith, and listen now: this is serious stuff, this is really serious stuff, and it has catapulted me into a great deal of reality of the reason why I came into the work of the Lord in the first place. It's so easy to lose our first love, the things we loved at the beginning. Maybe we need to do the first works again, our love for souls, our love for souls. Ask the Lord, in His presence, to give you that compassion, to give you that unjudgemental spirit of grace and truth, to give you eyes that weep, a heart that breaks, hands that help, feet that go, a mouth that speaks of the love of the Saviour. Ask Him to give it to you - now you can't ask Him to give it to you and then not pray for a week, that's a token gesture that is unworthy not only of the name of the Lord Jesus, but of your name as a Christian. Spend time with Him this week, turn the TV off, don't worry about reading the paper from cover to cover - even if it's only for a week - read of Christ, pray to Christ for this love. I'll tell you, it will make a difference - if one or two people got a grasp of this, including the preacher, things would be different!
Oh Lord, help us Lord, help us, for we need so much help. We've got so intoxicated with the spirit of the age, and so weighed down by material things that we can't run this race any more, and we need to get shot of them. Oh Lord, help us, this is going to be painful, it's going to be unpopular - but pain and unpopularity were the path the Saviour trod, why should we ask any more? It was through His great sacrifice that the world, the world of sin, was taken away. May we follow in His steps, Lord. Even next weekend, may we really pull out all the stops - but not just next weekend, from here on in until the Saviour comes or calls us. Let this message not be wasted or lost on me or on any of us, for we ask these things to the glory of the Lord Jesus. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at the Iron Hall Evangelical Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording titled "A Passion For The Lost, Or A Lost Passion?" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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