The Conversion of the World

P.D. Wilmeth

Churches of Christ will never succeed in converting the world. Nevertheless, it is our duty to evangelize it—to tell all men. Such a statement may fall strangely upon some ears, but suspend judgment and final conclusions until after the evidence is all in.

Those who expect the church to convert the world have not a line in all the Bible to justify such a contention. The Lord Jesus expressly told His disciples in the parable of the sower (soils) that only a part of those who heard the gospel would receive it and become genuine Christians.

Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower. When anyone heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he that received seed by the way side. But he that received the word into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended. He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty (Matt. 13:18- 23).

In the light of Christ’s plain, positive teaching in the above parable, it is foolish to charge the gospel with failure simply because not all who hear believe it or are saved by it. The man in the street has about come to the conclusion that the church has failed because it has been here so long and the world is still in a terrible condition.

The argument runs like this: If a certain kind of bait does not attract or catch fish, then it is time to change bait. Such may sound wise, but is quite foolish. Only recently a fisherman had been out for a whole day without anything but fisherman’s luck. Did he use the wrong kind of bait? No. The previous week he had caught more than 100 in a short time, using the same kind of bait. His failure was due to rough waters. The wind was blowing quite a gale, and the fish were not biting.

Or, to turn the figure around and make another application, a farmer who would cease sowing wheat because it only bore fruit on his good ground and not on his rocks would be foolish indeed. He must not change the seed (wheat) if he still wishes wheat. He must take into account his soils.

The gospel of Christ is not bait. It is food and medicine. Jesus told His apostles that He would make them “fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19) but He did not give them hook, line, and bait with which to fish. He gave them a net, which is the kingdom of heaven, and into this net He told them they would gather both good and bad fish (Matt. 13:47-48). And the disciples did not consider the net a failure because not all the fish in the sea would come into it.

The apostles had the word, which is called the seed (Luke 8:11). This word produced Christians. One today who wants to produce Christians must sow that same word. It is foolish to try to change the message of the gospel in order to make it more palatable to modern ears. There is no other seed that will produce the desired crop. Unbelief and the social gospel will not produce Christians.

Jesus explained the causes of failure in the parable of the sower. The story presents two views of life. Under one may be written the most tragic word in our language—failure. Under the other may be inscribed a most glorious word—success. The causes of failure are all human, not divine. The seed fell “by” the wayside, “on” the rocky ground, and “amidst” the thorns. All of this concerns soils. The church has not failed, the gospel has not failed, nor has Christ failed. It is at once conceded that it seems all have failed, but this is not to be charged to the divine side. The causes are all human.

Men were converted by the thousands on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of our Lord. This question now forces itself: “Why are not men turning to the Lord as they did in the first century?” It was Jesus who said, “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” (Matt. 24:12). And Paul said, “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous… having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away” (2 Tim. 3:1-5). From these statements and many more we can see that the soil is more depleted. There is more wayside ground and more ground occupied by the thorns. In the words of W.M. Davis, “The world spiritually is becoming like the famous dust bowl of the west. It is suffering intense erosion. The word of God falls on men’s hearts in vain, because their hearts are so corrupted that they have lost their power to respond to things divine.”

Yes, the seed of the kingdom is still as vital as it ever was, but there is certainly a shortage of honest and good hearts among men in which it may fall. Indifference, shallowness, and mixed motives, prejudices, and evil stand guard at too many hearts these days. The two most fiendish cohorts of the devil are indifference and prejudice. And where these reign, either singly or together, the end is the same—a tragedy.

But the fact still remains that it is our joyful duty to evangelize the whole world, to tell all men that Christ died as God’s sacrifice for their sins, and that complete forgiveness is obtainable through faith in Him. Complete obedience to His will produces a child of God and provides the hope of life eternal. We must constantly and aggressively press and proclaim the message of life to the lost denizens of the earth and leave the results to Him. Paul puts it this way: “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase” (1 Cor. 3:6).

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