There is a Jewish legend which says that the phylacteries of the great Baal Shem Toy, the cabalist, were miraculous. At prayers, when he fastened them to his forehead, the world unrolled before him like a scroll and he saw the doings of men, good and evil. It is told how one morning he left them on his bench in the synagogue and a simple merchant hurried in from the marketplace. His mind filled with his trading, and starting a hasty, perfunctory prayer, he picked up the Baal Shem’s phylacteries and put them on. And behold, all the world of men moved before his astonished eyes, and he saw all the evil on the earth; in a distant place he saw men bent on destroying one another; he saw oppression, and murder, and torture.
He cried out in horror and anguish at what he saw; “Stop them! I cannot bear this,” and turned to find the Baal Shem at his elbow. “If you cannot bear the sight,” said the Baal Shem gently, “you have only to take off the phylacteries.”
Jesus Christ, when He left this earth, directed that the Holy Spirit should come to dwell within the heart of the believer. He gave His Word to be our guide, and to be the revelation of Himself. There are many believers who look through the Word, and who are guided by the Spirit. They see, therefore, the great need of the world. They see the horror of life and know that only the Gospel can reach the need. That is why they are obedient to the command to “preach the word, be instant, in season and out of season . . .”
There are thousands of Christians who have found the vision too exacting and who have torn the Word out of its rightful place in their lives. The result is that they are carnal, sleepy Christians, being carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease. God says (Amos 6) that He hates such case.
There arc also those who look at the world through the Word of God. The burden of lost souls is, therefore, upon them. These will ever be the ones who cry, “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel!” These will be the ones who, if they are led of the Lord to stay at home, will be the prayer partners of those who carry the message of salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth. These will be the ones for whom no sacrifice is too great, if only the Word can be spread a little farther abroad.
Such Christians are so few in number because very few believers have a real love for souls. In fact, probably not more than four or five out of each thousand church members ever ask unsaved people to come to hear the preaching of the Gospel. Probably not more than the same number really give sacrificially to the extension of the rule of God over the hearts of men. How many who read this could honestly repeat to God the words of David? “Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law” (Ps. 119:136).
Two men in the Bible went much further than this. Moses and Paul told the Lord that they would be willing to go to hell providing unsaved people could be brought to salvation. Here is true love for souls. It is something that cannot be pumped up out of the emotions. It is something that should never be spoken of to men, but we should ask the Lord to search our hearts to reveal to us where we are lacking.
Moses saw the terrible sin of the people and realized that they should be punished. In his prayer to God for grace he could not even finish the sentence. It is perhaps the one unfinished sentence in the Bible. It is a sigh, a groan, a cry. “Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now if Thou wilt forgive their sin . . .” The grace of God cannot be turned by logic. It is sovereign. But Moses continues, in a new sentence: “and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written” (Exod. 32:30-32). It was a prayer to be sent to hell. To be blotted out of the book of God would mean to be a lost soul. Moses wasn’t putting on an act; his heart was bare before God. He loved souls.
Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to give a true account of his love for Israel when he wrote, “I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Rom. 9:3). To be accursed from Christ would also mean being a lost soul. Paul wasn’t saying pretty words for a sermon illustration. His heart was bare before God. He loved souls.
Christ said, “No man taketh my life from me, but I lay it down of myself’ (John 10:18). In laying down His life He showed His love for souls. It was impossible for God to blot Moses out of His book, or to count Paul accursed, but Christ drank the cup of the second death (Matt. 26:39; Heb. 5:7) and became a curse for us (2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13). He did this because of the joy that was set before Him (Hcb. 12:2). He loved men.
There is only one way to develop a true love for souls. If we study the Word of God and surrender to the life of Christ within, we shall be more like Christ. His life within us can then do its work of loving souls and bringing them to Himself. We can never do it by ourselves.
1. Think of an unbeliever that you know, would you be able to trade places with them?
2. Why do most Christians not take seriously the charge to evangelize and preach the good news?
3. Would the world look any different if the Gospel was being preached by each Christian?
Donald Grey Barnhouse