Soul Surgery: Part 6
Part 6 of a 9-part series by Pastor Alan Redpath given over the course of 1959.
Confession In Soul Winning
Last month our subject was winning of Confidence in soul-winning, and now this word Confession is really the logical conclusion which denotes that the personal worker has won through to the innermost need of the life of another. He has been privileged to see the room in his life, the door of which is usually closed and barred.
Even where there is abundance of confidence the work may be a comparative failure because we have stopped short of the genuine confession of sin that is needed in order to bring victory.
The diagnosis of the physician cannot be complete until the patient has given him his entire confidence. This may involve revelation of past history or present habits which he would naturally shrink from disclosing. Every doctor knows the importance of getting to the root of trouble to avoid the danger of false diagnosis and superficial treatment which might have fatal results.
The trouble with so much of our evangelism, public and personal, is that we are not actually touching people at the real root of the trouble. The arrow of God’s Word must be directed to the life center, and the Cross applied there—not simply to symptoms, but to the disease itself. It is a very real temptation to seek to argue a man into the kingdom by dissipating his intellectual doubts, when the real root of the trouble is far deeper. One cause of the failure of many professed converts to justify previous expectations, and one reason for frequent lapses into sin, is the fact that the soul operation has never been performed at the root, and the healing, cleansing power of the blood of Christ never brought to bear at the center of the spiritual infection.
A man can have no sense of the power of the living Christ if that power has not saved him from the sin that in his heart of hearts he knows lives on, and is festering and poisoning his spiritual life. It is the easiest way to argue with a man about his doubts, of which he even may be half proud; it is the most difficult thing to win a confession of the sin of which he is absolutely ashamed.
Ten simple suggestions for personal work might be the following:
- Get a point of contact.
- Diagnose the person’s real difficulty.
- Apply the moral test.
- Avoid arguments.
- Aim to conduct the interview yourself.
- Adapt the truth to the hearer’s need.
- Bring the person face to face with Christ.
- Show the way out of the special difficulty from Scripture.
- Bring the person to the point of surrender and action.
- Start him on a new life with simple, concrete, and definite suggestions regarding prayer, Bible study, overcoming temptation, and service.
Will you please notice the third of these 10? I have found in personal counselling that 90% of ultimate sin and problems around us is on the physical level to which we penetrate very rarely, and with great hesitancy and uncertainty. I have spoke to many people who profess to be full of intellectual problems and doubts, but the root of the problem was not intellectual but moral. Others, incapable of making a decision about anything, not knowing what or how to believe and to make up their mind, are often in that condition because of a deep-rooted moral problem. This requires a bold thrust in the name of the Lord to the very heart and citadel of the soul of another.
Of course, there is another side to this subject. Not only is this entire self-disclosure needed in order that the spiritual surgeon may possess all the data for his diagnosis, it is also required by an imperious law in the dealing of God with every one of us that will not leave to the sinner one shred of pride, behind which he had for so long shielded his iniquity. The secret thing must be exposed before it can be dealt with effectually, and so permitting the repentant sinner to go forward on a new basis of honesty and openness before God and man.
I want to be very clear that this is a very different thing from the confessional of a Roman Catholic priest. This is a clinic, not a confession. The Roman Catholic confessional may become a mechanical advice, serving as a means by which the priest can get to know the sins of professing Christians, prescribe the penance, but give them no power to overcome, and he can do it all without knowing the identity even of the confessing party. The clinic about which I am speaking is the innermost shrine of Christian friendship. It brings the Word of God to bear upon the recesses of the soul. It sweeps aside the camouflage and pretense behind which men hide. It brings human pride down to the dust, and so enables the application of the message of the Gospel to be real and vital.
Up to this point we have been thinking of the personal confession made between one soul and another, but that does not by any means cover the issue. What about the matter of public confession which is sometimes as necessary as the other? Every genuine revival furnishes fresh evidence of the value of this factor in religious experiences. Now, of course, it also illustrates the truth that the tendency to confession could run to unwholesome lengths, but the value of this experience when carefully safeguarded is inestimable. I have been present, witnessed, and taken part in meetings of this character which have just brought utter brokenness of heart and humility before God, and which have led to the wonderful healing of wounds between Christians: a brokenness of heart, a contrition of spirit, and a remaking of fellowship that was like Heaven itself.
I remember a meeting where a pastor was led by the Spirit of God to make a public confession of his failure as a minister. Then and there he walked across the church toward one of the elders with whom he had not been on good terms for seven years, and publicly asked for forgiveness. He declared that while there was wrong on both sides, his was by far the greater. That humiliating act led to a tremendous movement of revival and blessing in the church. I have heard of the same thing happening on mission stations, and seen it in Christian homes and at Bible conventions.
Only God can show a man when and where and to whom he must confess. Only He can show the personal worker when he ought to press for such a thing. When he is certain that the need for confession exists, the soul surgeon must be lovingly relentless in insisting that it must be made when and where it is needed. That is often the only kind of drastic spiritual operation which can prevent superficial repentance and unreal conversion.
A young man came to see me some time ago who had been trying to get into the ministry and failed, and he wanted advice about alternative careers. I asked him why he could not get into the ministry. He said, “Well, I want my own way too much.” I said, “Are you quite sure there is not some other reason?” And he said, “No.” Then I said, “What about your own personal life, your moral life? Are you quite sure your trouble is not…”” Somehow the barrier of that man’s pride crumbled away, and he burst into tears, and a new beginning was made on a sure foundation. He is back in the ministry now. When he left my room he said to me, “Pastor, I would have cursed you if you had not got at my real need!”
I suggest, therefore, on the matter of confession one or two principles:
1. Take nothing for granted. It does not matter what a man may be—preacher, personal worker, Sunday school officer, church officer, anything—he may still be standing in need of real soul surgery. Far too readily we have come to accept the two classes, theologically speaking, of the lost and the saved. The saved need no personal help; the lost need textual formulas wherever you can get at them. While, of course, theologically there are only two classes, experimentally I would rather put them as the sick and the whole.
There is only one infallible test by which we must be judged: “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His,” Romans 8:9. “By their fruits ye shall know them,” and we are told what the fruit of the Spirit is in Galatians 5:22. The Spirit of Jesus Christ is one of redemptive holy love expressed in the continuous, faithful, honest effort to bring men one by one to vital relationship with God. If we are not true sharers in that purpose and program, can we honestly claim to possess His Spirit, and to be worthy of bearing His Name? Are we genuine Christians? If a life is not bringing forth fruit somewhere, according to his opportunity, there is something wrong altogether, is there not, judged by the standard of the Lord Jesus Christ? For practical purposes, therefore, instead of the saved and the unsaved, think of people as the whole and the sick: those that are living a normal, growing, contagious Christian life, owned and inspired by the Spirit of Christ; and those who are not living such a life.
2. Never betray an appearance of being shocked. That attitude will dry up confidence at the root, and militate against any continuance of friendly, helpful testimony on your part. The wider your knowledge of the world, of men as they really are, the less you are likely to be aghast, however deeply pained you may be in spirit at anything that may be necessary for you to hear from the lips of another. You need go no further, usually, than the honest examination of your own heart to recognize that the potential, at least, is all there. The Lord Jesus commanded us to be in the world but not of it, but the trouble is that we live so often in a spiritual hot-house of our own creation apart from, and largely ignorant of, people who are the very people whom Jesus came to save. The sins of other people may be perfectly revolting, and the way of self-indulgence for us is to shut them away from our knowledge as far as possible. But how different it was with the Lord Jesus Christ! Isaiah 53:4–5: “Surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed.”
The only certain way to know human life as it surges around us constantly, and to be lifted out of the possibility of shocked surprise, is through constant contact with people as they really are.
3. Be ready to acknowledge your own shortcomings and failures honestly. James 5:16: “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” Nothing will more surely obviate an appearance of self-righteousness in you than your willingness to acknowledge where you too have fallen before the onslaughts of temptation, but also how you have found salvation and security in the power and presence of Christ. Nothing else than that will break through the barrier of pride behind which the patient is shielding his sin.
There was a certain student in a mission college on the mission field for whom a number of Christians were praying because of his influence on the others, and because they had reason to believe that he was guilty of dishonesty in his work. He needed to make a new beginning altogether, but the confession of sin would not come. Finally one day it came, and with it complete repentance and a desire for a new heart. And how did it come? When one of the teachers who had just arrived on that mission station, a recent graduate of a university in this country, told that student how he himself had yielded to the temptation of being dishonest in examinations, and how he had been brought to see the way in which that dishonesty was undermining his whole Christian character. The pride of the professor as well as that of the student had to be melted away. In this way God often uses our temptation, and maybe even our early failures and ultimate victories, to make and keep us human in these delicate, spiritual operations that we have to perform. How often people will say after acknowledging some failure, “You will never like me or trust me again.” How immeasurably helped they are to know that they are one of hundreds who are in the same boat, not least the one to whom they are talking. To know that you too have fought their fight is a tremendous spur toward victory as nothing else can be. Remember that the Lord expects every one of us to reveal Him. The value of public confession of sin in response to the clear leading of the Spirit of God is not only the effect upon the one who confesses, but also upon those who hear.
4. Keep every confidence absolutely sacred. This may seem superfluous because it is so obvious, and yet we do not often realize how easily we may let slip a remark about somebody into whose confidence we have come which may reveal to another more than we think. The professional honor of the physician is of the utmost importance here, and so it is for the personal worker. Unless people come to feel an absolute reliance on your silence, assuredly they will never trust you. Many a potential personal worker is severely handicapped because he has never acquired this costly gift of silence. We need to pray not now for a new heart, but for a new tongue.
One paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13:7 concerning love reads as follows: “Love knows how to be silent.” That is a rare achievement. The soul winner must be one who is the absolute master of his tongue, a man of studied silence and large reserve of knowledge. James 3:8: “The tongue can no man tame; it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” We can only become certain of keeping, and deserve to receive the confidence of others, when we appropriate the power of the Lord Jesus to master and guide the tongue which nobody of himself can tame. Be careful of shallow judgment. When the Lord helps us to draw aside the curtains which have covered the chamber of another life, we are sure to find many surprises and to be rebuked for shallow, biased judgment. From that time forth our lips must be sealed by love, and our hearts be bound over to prayer and faith and redemptive friendship of others.