The "Prevailing Seriousness" of a Soul-Winner
The following is a quote from Spurgeon's great work on evangelism, The Soul Winner, in a chapter called "Qualifications for Soul-Winning- Manward":
->I think also that, if we are to be soul-winners, there must be about us a seriousness of manner. Some brethren are serious by nature. There was a gentleman in a railway carriage, some time ago, who overheard a conversation between two of the passengers. One of them said, "Well, now, I think the Church of Rome has great power, and is likely to succeed with the people, because of the evident holiness of her ministers. There is, for instance, Cardinal ________, he is just like a skeleton; through his long fasting and prayers, he has reduced himself almost to skin and bone. Whenever I hear him speak, I feel at once the force of the holiness of the man. Now, look at Spurgeon, he eats and drinks like an ordinary mortal; I would not give a pin to hear him preach." His friend heard him very patiently, and then said quite quietly, "Did it ever strike you that the Cardinal's appearance was to be accounted for by the fact of his liver being out of order? I do not think it is grace that makes him as lean as he is, I believe it is his liver." So, there are some brethren who are naturally of a melancholy disposition, they are always very serious; but in them it is not a sign of grace, it is only an indication that their livers are out of order. They never laugh, they think it would be wicked to do so; but they go about the world increasing the misery of human kind, which is dreadful enough without the addition of their unnecessary portion. Such people evidently imagine that they were predestinated to pour buckets of cold water upon all human mirth and joy. So, dear brethren, if any of you are very serious, you must not always attribute it to grace, for it may be all owing to the state of your liver.
->The most of us, however, are far more inclined to that laughter which doeth good like medicine, and we shall need all our cheerfulness, if we are to comfort and lift up those who are cast down; but we shall never bring many souls to Christ, if we are full of that levity which characterises some men. People will say, "It is all a joke; just hear how those young fellows jest about religion, it is one thing to listen to them when they are in the pulpit, but it is quite another matter to listen to them when they are sitting round the supper table." I have heard of a man who was dying, and he sent for the minister to come and see him. When the minister came in, the dying man said to him, "Do you remember a young man walking with you one evening, some years ago, when you were going out to preach?" He said, he did not. "I recollect it very well," replied the other. "Do you not remember preaching at such-and-such a village, from such-and-such a text, and after the service a young man walked home with you?" "Oh, yes, I remember that very well!" "Well, I am the young man who walked home with you that night; I remember your sermon, I shall never forget it." "Thank God for that," said the preacher. "No," answered the dying man, "you will not thank God when you have heard all I have to say. I walked with you to the village, but you did not say much to me on the way there, for you were thinking over your sermon; you deeply impressed me while you were preaching, and I was led to think about giving my heart to Christ. I wanted to speak to you about my soul on the way home; but the moment you got out you cracked a joke, and all the way back you made such fun upon serious subjects, that I could not say anything about what I felt, and it thoroughly disgusted me with religion, and all who professed it, and now I am going to be damned, and my blood will lie at your door, as sure as you are alive:" and so he passed out of the world. One would not like anything of that sort to happen to himself; therefore, take heed, brethren, that you give no occasion for it. There must be a prevailing seriousness about our whole lives, otherwise we cannot hope to lead other men to Christ.
This "prevailing seriousness", is something which all too few Christians give much thought to. There are many examples that could be given in which it is obvious that too much "kidding around" tends to obscure matters that are crucial to peoples' eternal salvation. I have personally heard my more doctrinally sound brothers and sisters make biting jokes about "mega-churches" much more often than I have heard them pray for these congregations. Many times I have heard sarcastic nicknames given to particular "seeker-sensitive" congregations and I have thought, "If the theology of these congregations is really a corruption of the Gospel, then we should weep that so many people are being deceived, rather than make jokes that are likely to inflate our own pride." I was therefore very thankful to God when my good friend Nathan White had the opportunity to interact in a serious manner with Johnny Hunt, pastor of the mega-church First Baptist Woodstock, concerning doctrinal issues centered around the Gospel of Grace.
Another example of the danger of unbridled levity that many who frequent the "blogosphere" are aware of resulted in escalating the infamous "Blog War" around this past Thanksgiving. Many nasty comments were made at this time and the use of sarcastic humor only seemed to confuse the real issues at stake as well as the relationship of these issues to the Gospel. For this reason, I was again grateful to God to see Phil Johnson rethink his use of humor on his blog- not wanting to get rid of all reason for laughter, but being more careful to avoid any unnecessary offense. In the post "Six Month Reckoning", Mr. Johnson included the following section:
This is a weblog, not a pulpit or seminary class, so I have deliberately included some personal-journal-style entries, a high percentage of humor (or well-meant attempts at merriment), and occasional lighter-than-usual fare. But I have lately wondered whether so much farce and frivolity is wasted effort, or even counterproductive to what I really hope to accomplish with the blog. For one thing, American humor doesn't always translate well into other cultures. And I think Southern California humor sometimes isn't even funny in other North American climates. I'd have a lot less 'splainin' to do if I just throttled my humor reflex whenever possible. I like the mildly droll graphics. The trademark comic-book covers may have to go, though.
In conclusion, we all need to remember that there is "a time to weep and a time to laugh" (cf. Ecclesiates 3:4) and that our blessed Savior was also known as "a man of sorrows" (cf. Isaiah 53:3). Though we have much to be joyful about as Christians, the glory of God and the eternal destiny of those around us is no laughing matter.
-To the glory of God alone.