John Wesley tells in his Journal for May 20, 1742, of overtaking a man on the road and engaging him in conversation concerning religious themes. After realizing the man's views were very different from his, Wesley suggested that they keep to practical things lest they grow angry with each other. "And so we did for two miles," he continues, "till he caught me unawares, and dragged me into the dispute before I knew where I was. He then grew warmer and wanner; told me that I was rotten at heart, and supposed I was one of John Wesley's followers. I told him, 'No, I am John Wesley himself.' Upon which ... he would gladly have run away outright. But, being the better mounted of the two, I kept close to his side, and endeavored to show him his heart, till we came into the street of Northampton."
It is such confidence and sheer persistence—such passion—that explain much of the power of Wesley's movement. And it is the lack of these same qualities that explains much of the weakness of present Christianity.
It is good for us to compare our compassion and concern for others with that of Jesus. How long has it been since you wept over the community in which you live? How long since you wept over the spiritual needs of your church? How long has it been since you were disturbed so much you were unable to sleep and spent entire nights in prayer?
It was Jesus' deep, yearning, compassionate love for men that drew them to Him. And to the extent that this same love and compassion motivate us, men and women will be drawn to Him by our ministry. Every man understands the language of love on fire. I am a great believer in using the most up-to-date evangelistic methods in the most aggressive way possible; yet I strongly believe there is one indispensable ingredient that, when missing, does more to hinder our work than anything else—a passion for Christ, for spiritual realities, and for eternal realities. The attitude of complacency does more to hinder us than everything else combined.
The early church was born in an age of corruption when every moral law was violated without conscience. Its members had little wealth, no social prestige, and no help from Christian institutions. They were without most of the privileges and advantages we have today. But they were possessed with a passion to save men!
As we study the Acts of the Apostles, we become aware of a deep, driving passion in the lives of these early followers of Christ. The fervor with which they delivered the message entrusted to them is inspiring to behold. They had a passion that made their preaching and witnessing positive, persistent, and persuasive. Nothing could deter them. Threatenings and severe punishment only served to fan the flame of their passion for Christ. Would that we in this day might have that same passion!
The word passion is often in bad company today. It has almost taken on an exclusively negative connotation. But passion, of course, refers to any strong feeling or emotion by which a person is swayed. And when we look at Christ, we see passion at its highest. The Bible says of Jesus: "When he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd" (Matt. 9:36). Without passion we become static, and our service for the Lord becomes commonplace.
Over the centuries the church has seen the flame of evangelistic passion rise and fall. There have been days of triumph when it swept over entire continents, fanned by the Holy Spirit and fed in the hearts of Christians by the words of Jesus: "Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring" (John 10:16).
And there have been times—tragic times—when the flame flickered and nearly went out. This may be such a time. It is certainly true that evangelism is given scant notice by much of contemporary religion. If evangelism is indeed the heartbeat of the church, the heartbeat is barely detectable in vast segments of the church today.
When evangelism is a passion, it is concerned primarily with souls. When evangelism is promotion, it is concerned chiefly with statistics.
When evangelism is a passion, it is used of God to advance His kingdom. When evangelism is promotion, it is used by men to enlarge an institution.
When evangelism is a passion, joy and exhilaration are found in the performance of its privileges. When evangelism is promotion, pressure and strain exist in the performance of its duties.
When evangelism is a passion, there are spontaneity and urgency in witnessing. When evangelism is a promotion, witnessing must be coaxed and coached.
When evangelism is a passion, it is a spiritual exercise of the caring heart. When evangelism is promotion, it is religious "gimmickry" to achieve ecclesiastical success.
It was a passion for souls that led David Livingstone into the jungles of Africa. Years later when his countrymen sought his return in order to lavish comforts and honors upon him in his declining days, this unearthly passion led him to choose rather to pour out the last dregs of life in darkest Africa.
It was this holy passion that caused Wesley to leave the marble cathedrals of the state church and go out into the fields where he could pour out his burdened soul to a spiritually starving populace.
It was this spiritual passion, utterly unknown by the natural man, that sent Whitefield through England and America preaching and weeping as he preached.
And so we might continue. But let this suffice: There has never been a man or a movement that had power with God and with men that did not share this heavenly vision and this impelling passion.
Long ago God declared in His Word: "Where there is no vision, the people perish" (Prov. 29:18). One of the primary elements of vision is a passion for souls. Unless we have a genuine burden and passion for souls, we will never have a vision of our field and the task to be done.
In the midst of the wail of jet engines, the crash of old orders, the mesmerism of materialism, the savage competition of modern life, and the great pull of worldly pleasure and programs, have we lost an ear for the cry of millions dying, "having no hope, and without God in the world" (Eph. 2:12)?
How is the world to be won for Christ and His kingdom? Jesus said, "Go ye into all the world" (Mark 16:15). That may mean next door, the next block, or the next row of seats as well as some unfamiliar land on the other side of the globe. It may mean to speak to the person working at the next machine or bench or desk.
General Booth is reported to have said to King Edward VII: "Your Majesty, some men's passion is gold, and some men's passion is fame; but my passion is souls,"
Passion! That is the need. We need holy passion. We need a heavenly vision with all its accompanying passion. Such passion was characteristic of the early church. We read in Acts 8:1-4, "They that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word." If we twentieth-century Christians were called upon to face such a scattering as this, what would the record be? Would it be, "They went everywhere, and—backslid?" Not so with those early New Testament Christians. They had the spirit of their Master. Paul caught the same spirit and shared it with the young pastor Timothy: "I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ. . . preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. . . . Endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry" (2 Tim. 4:1-5).