Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Epistolary Evangelism

If you have been keeping up with recent posts, you noticed that I have mentioned Robert Murray McCheyne, a Scottish pastor who lived and ministered in the 19th century. After heart palpitations took him from the pulpit to the sickbed, McCheyne wrote letters to minister to his church, other pastors, friends, and even the lost. On March 20, 1840, McCheyne was burdened with someone mentioned as being in need of salvation. From his sickbed, he wrote this letter. I'll make at least one comment afterward. For now, just read his words to a stranger:

"I don't even know your name, but I think I know something of the state of your soul. Your friend has been with me, and told me a little of your mind; and I write a few lines just to bid you to look to Jesus and live. Look at Numbers 21:9, and you will see your disease and your remedy. You have been bitten by the great serpent. The poison of sin is through and through your whole heart, but Christ has been lifted up on the cross that you may look and live. Now, do not look so long and so harassingly at your own heart and feelings. What will you find there but the bite of the serpent? You were shapen in iniquity, and the whole of your natural life has been spent in sin. The more God opens your eyes, the more you will feel that you are lost in yourself. This is your disease.

"Now for the remedy. Look to Christ; for the glorious Son of God so loved lost souls, that He took on Him a body and died for us - bore our curse, and obeyed the law in our place. Look to Him and live. You need no preparation, you need no endeavors, you need no duties, you need no strivings, you need to look and live. Look at John 17:3. The way to be saved is to know God's heart and the heart of Jesus. To be awakened, you need to know your own heart. Look at your own heart, if you with to know your lost condition. See the pollution that is there - forgetfulness of God, deadness, insensibility to His love. If you are judged as you are in yourself, you will be lost. To be saved, you need to know the heart of God and of Christ. The four Gospels are a narrative of the heart of Christ. They show His compassion to sinners, and His glorious work in their stead. If you only knew that heart as it is, you would lay your weary head with John on His bosom. Do not take up your time so much with studying your own heart as with studying Christ's heart. 'For one look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ!'

"Look at Romans 15:13. That is my prayer for you. You are looking for peace in striving, or peace in duties, or peace in reforming your mind; but ah! look at His Word. 'The God of hope will you will all joy and peace in believing.' All your peace is to be found in believing God's Word about His Son. If for a moment you forget your own case altogether, and meditate on the glorious way of salvation by Christ for us, does your bosom never glow with a ray of peace? Keep that peace; it is joy in believing. Look as straight to Christ as you sometimes do at the rising or setting sun. Look direct to Christ.

"You fear that your convictions of sin have not been deep enough. This is no reason for keeping away from Christ. You will never get a truly broken heart till you are really in Christ. (See Ezek. 36:25-31.) Observe the order: First, God sprinkles clean water on the soul. Then He gives a 'new heart also.' Third, He gives a piercing remembrance of past sins. Now, may the Lord give you all these! May you be brought as you are to the blood of the Lamb! Washed and justified, may He change your heart - give you a tender heart, and His Holy Spirit within your heart; and thus may He give you a broken heart for your past sins.

"Look at Romans 5:19. By the sin of Adam, many were made sinners. We had no hand in Adam's sin, and yet the guilt of it comes upon us. We did not put out our hand to the apple, and yet the sin and misery have been laid at our door. In the same way, 'by the obedience of Christ, many were made righteous.' Christ is the glorious One who stood for many. His perfect garment is sufficient to cover you. You had no hand in His obedience. You were not alive when He came into the world and lived and died; and yet, in perfect obedience, you may stand before God righteous. This is all my covering in the sight of a holy God. I feel infinitely ungodly in myself; in God's eye, like a serpent or a toad; and yet, when I stand in Christ alone, I feel that God sees no sin in me, and loves me freely. The same righteousness is free to you. It will be as white and clean on your soul as on mine. Oh, do not sleep another night without it! Only consent to stand in Christ, not in your poor self.

"I must not weary you. One word more. Look at Revelation 22:17. Sweet, sweet words! 'Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.' The last invitation in the Bible, and the freest - Christ's parting word to a world of sinners! Anyone that pleases may take this glorious way of salvation. Can you refuse it? I am sure you cannot. Dear friend, be persuaded by a fellow worm not to put off another moment. Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world.

"You are sitting, like Hagar, within reach of the well. May the Lord open your eyes, and show you all that is in Christ! I pray for you, that you may spiritually see Jesus and be glad - that you may go to Him and find rest."

What a letter! I have only a few lessons we can learn from such a letter to help us along as we seek to have hearts of evangelism.

(1) Rely on the Word of God. Did you catch how McCheyne took His reader to the Word? Oh, his letter is powerful, but it is the Word of God that can give wisdom that leads to salvation.

(2) Make no excuses. If anyone had an excuse to stop his evangelistic work, it was McCheyne. His heart palpitations made him so weak that he could not continue his pulpit ministry. He was quite sick, and yet he continued to make disciples with pen and paper. For those who know him, take a lesson from David Maynus, who is battling pancreatic cancer. What was his prayer request when I asked? That he might stand for Christ and people would be saved because of his cancer. Make no excuses.

(3) Make the most of every opportunity. Not even knowing this man's name, McCheyne writes a letter and hands it to the lost man's friend to deliver. Relational evangelism is wonderful and powerful, but we should never shy away from an open door simply because we haven't become friends yet.

(4) The Gospel is for everyone. Did you catch the "whosoever" from Revelation 22? The Gospel is not just for people who look like you and talk like is for all! Let us live like it is!

(5) Eyes must be opened. 2 Corinthians 4:4 says that the enemy has blinded those who are lost, and the Lord is the only One who can let light shine into the darkness of the lost heart. As you obey the call to evangelize, intercede for the Lord to open the eyes of those who hear.

Whether it's epistolary evangelism, preaching evangelism, or personal evangelism, let us be about the task of evangelizing the home, at work, at church, at the grocery store, on the mission field...even from our sickbed, if we must.