Billy Graham Center
World Congress on Evangelism, 1966
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THE URGENCY OF EVANGELISM AND ITS RELEVANCY TO THE MODERN WORLD
There is widespread confusion today over the meaning of the word "evangelism."
We would use the term in its scriptural meaning, I. e., to announce, declare,
or bring good tidings, especially, "the Gospel." This announcement may be person
to person, informal or formal, by the spoken word or through the printed page,
publicly or privately, in a church or a hall, in a home or in a hovel, indoors
or outside, to one or more, anywhere.
by Dr. Ishaya Audu
It is of the utmost importance that this announcement be made "to every creature,"
that it be accurately and clearly stated in language understandable to the hearers,
and that It be announced in the assurance that it is the Gospel of God, and
"the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.1' It is God's
good news, God's plan that it be announced to every creature, and God's Spirit
who will quicken men by it. There is, therefore, an urgency to the gospel beyond
what most churches or individuals seem to feel.
Perhaps, before we go further, a word regarding what constitutes the Gospel
is in order. It is not a few verses from one or the other of the four gospels.
The four gospels give us a portrait or portraits of the Saviour and record the
important events which form the historical background of the evangel. But the
epistles reveal the significance of the events recorded In the four gospels.
The Gospel is not a system of religion nor the dogmas of one or more churches.
It is a divine communication, "the Gospel of God, which He had promised afore
by His prophets in the holy scriptures concerning His Son Jesus Christ, our
Lord" (Rom. 1:1-3). It is beamed to sinners; not to the worthy- but to the unworthy;
not to those who deserve heaven, but to the hell-deserving. It is the Gospel
of the grace of God (Acts 20:24) because its theme is unmerited divine favour
to sinners. It is the Gospel of our salvation because it is the power of God
unto salvation to everyone that believeth (Eph. 1:13; Rom. 1:16). It reveals
the only remedy for sin, and the only way of deliverance for the sinner. It
is the Gospel of peace because by believing it, men are reconciled to God. "Being
justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord. Jesus Christ" (Rom.
Paul speaks of it as "my gospel" (Rom. 2:16) because he was in a special way
its messenger. But it did not originate with Paul. He could say of it, "The
gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it
of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ" (Gal.
Since it is a communication from God to man, and since its propagation is committed
to men, we have a divine mandate to- give ourselves to the task. Paul considered
himself under obligation to preach the Gospel to every creature. He wrote, "I
am debtor both to the Greeks and to the barbarians, both to the wise and to
the un- wise". "So," says he, “as much as in me is, I am ready to preach
the Gospel to you that are at Rome also; for I am not ashamed of the Gospel
of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.11
He said of the urgency of it, "Necessity is laid upon me: yea, woe is unto me
if I preach not the Gospel." As he went up to Jerusalem knowing that bonds and
afflictions awaited him there, he said, "None of these things move me, neither
count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy,
and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus to testify the Gospel
of the grace of God."
There was no other course for Paul and there is no other course for the faithful
servant of God today.
The urgency for evangelism is underscored by the fact that the message of the
Gospel is urgently needed by every creature because sin is both universal and
ruinous. I am one of many thousands of Africans who would all have been hopeless-
ly lost in sin were it not for the prospect of salvation first carried into
Africa by the Ethiopian Eunuch in the earlier days and in more recent times
by Livingstone, Miller, Bingham and many other faithful servants of God, whose
names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life. My ancestors were Muslims and
my fate would have been tragically sealed but for the Grace of God which through
the written word in the Arabic script revealed the Saviour to my Grandfather
and some of his contemporaries. I have had the privilege of a Christian home
and education in a Christian school, for which I am eternally grateful. I was
moved to become a doctor by the example of a devoted Christian missionary doctor
who looked after me during a period of illness. In spite of that, Satan kept
me away from true faith and salvation. With elementary knowledge of science,
I thought the scriptures couldn't be relied upon. I thought I could work out
my own salvation by good works. God, in His infinite goodness and mercy, very
soon showed me the futility and utter impossibility of that course and led to
accept salvation by faith in Christ as a free gift "not of works lest any man
Regarding the universality of sin, the Bible is clear, "The Lord looked down
from heaven upon the children of men to see if there were any that did understand
and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are altogether become filthy: there
none that doeth good, no, not one" (Psalm 14:1-35' eludes Jews and Gentiles
(Romans 3:9-12); those under the law and those without law (Romans 2:12);.for
there is no difference - for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of
God (Romans 3:22, 23). This includes the self-righteous and religious represented
by the Pharisees in Luke 18:9-14, as well as the self-condemned represented
by the publican in the same passage.
As we have mentioned before, sin is ruinous. It is not only an offense against
God, it is like a deep-seated, dreadful disease for which there is no human
remedy. Apart from the Saviour, it gets worse and worse and will end in death
and the lake of fire.
The urgency for evangelism is increased by the fact that there is a sure remedy
for sin offered in the Gospel and that it is a divine remedy purposed and provided
by God Himself through the sacrifice of His own Son on the cross. The suffering
and the shame and the sorrow which the Son of God bore on the cross for our
sins (John 3:14; Gal. 3:13, 14; Isa. 53:5) demand an urgency in announcing the
good news of redemption to those for whom He died.
To withhold from others the benefits of redemption that has been provided at
so great a cost shows lack of appreciation for what we have received, and indifference
to our role in God's plan of redemption.
Evangelism is urgent because Christ's command is to preach the Gospel (to announce
the glad tidings) to every creature, to withhold the message from any creature
by our neglect or dis- obedience is criminal and cruel. What would you think
of a doctor who refused to sacrifice the comfort of his easy chair in order
to go to minister to a patient who was distressingly ill, especially if he had
a sure remedy for his condition?
It is one of my very great privileges to be a practicing medical doctor (pediatrician)
in one corner of Africa. My job can be very satisfying because in such situations,
humanly speaking, one virtually holds the key of life and death. I recalls one
particular situation, a child was admitted with very high fever and convulsions
due to cerebral malaria. It was the first time that a pediatrician was available
in that station. The ward nursing sister said very despondently, "I have never
seen any one of them admitted that bad who have ever recovered.” That
child did survive, but it meant not only giving of one's skill, but also of
one's much needed sleep for that night. I had more than an adequate exe-,,@se
to give it up. It was the end of the day and I was tired,,, Such cases have
always died, hence no one would have blamed me. Those few hours given up made
all the difference between life and death for that child. What would you truly
have thought of me if I had not attended to that child? The most severe condemnation
would not be adequate. It would have been very well deserved. If this were so
In the physical realm, how very much more important it must '6e in the spiritual
realm! Our Lord Jesus Christ laid aside His glory and became man, even a lowly
carpenter, and then went to the cross to make salvation possible. Should we
do less to make it known?
If we face the facts, we must admit with the Apostle Paul that we are debtors
(Romans 1:14), that we owe it to both Greeks and barbarians, to the learned
and to the ignorant, to make known to them the glad tidings which are intended
for all people (Luke 2:10). How then can we, with impunity, limit the announcement
to the few while we pursue our own earthly comforts, wealth or pleasure?
The urgency for evangelism is further increased when we consider what salvation
is. It Is more than a fire escape, an escape from the lake of fire, though it
affords that' If it were no more than that, it would demand all that @e have
or are to make it known to every creature because hell is a dread reality and
the Gospel reveals the only way of escape.
But the salvation which the Gospel reveals is more than that. It is a present
salvation. It is not only that we shall be saved at last, but that the believer
is saved now. He or she is forgiven, justified and accounted righteous now,
"being justified freely by God's grace through the redemption that is in Christ
Jesus." (Rom. 3:24). For them who are in Christ Jesus-there is now no condemnation
(Rom. 8:1; John 3:18).
The believer in Christ, moreover, has passed from death to life already John
5:24). He has the very life of God in his soul now @l John 5:11, 12). He is
born again and has been made a partaker of the divine nature. He is begotten
again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to
an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved
in heaven for him (I Pet.1:3, 4).
Furthermore, he is now no longer a stranger or outside-, but a fellow citizen
with the saints and of the household of God.
It is not only that the proclamation of the Gospel affords salvation to the
sinner who hears and believes it, it also glorifies God (Rom. 15:8-13). It reveals
something of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God. It reveals
H4- infinite love and the glory of His matchless grace (Eph. 1 2:1-10). It reaches
us in the horrible pit, brings us up o@'o of the miry clay, sets our feet upon
the rock and establishes our goings and puts a new song in our mouths, even
praise to God. It turns the sinner's night into day, his darkness into light
and his distress into unexpressible joy. When the battle is over and our race
is run, the message of -It-#he Gospel wi"Ll be the theme of our song in glory
to the praise of the glory of God's infinite grace.
Evangelism has all the urgency of the faithful physician when someone is desperately
and dangerously ill, of the surgeon when only an emergency operation will save
a patient's life, of the fire brigade when someone is trapped in a burning building,
of an army of emancipation hastening to rescue captives held by a cruel tyrant
and of someone who has news too good to keep. It must be told, necessity is
laid upon us, cost what it may.
In 2 Kings, Chapter 7, we read how Samaria was under siege by the armies of
Benhadad, King of Syria. Food supplies were cut off and the most distressing
famine conditions prevailed in the city. But God's prophet Elisha had foretold
that the morrow would bring relief. That evening, there were four leprous men
outside the gate of the city. They reasoned that even if they were allowed to
enter the city, they would die of hunger. Why no-@ go forth to the Syrians?
This they decided to do. When they came to the camp, they found that the Syrians
had fled. They had left their camp as it was. There was plenty of food. They
ate their fill. Then they thought of hoarding what they did not need. As they
began to do so, they became convicted and said to one another, "We do not well:
this is a day of good tidings and we hold our peace: if we tarry till the morning
light some mischief will come up- on us: now therefore come that we may go and
tell the King's household" (2 Kings 7:9).
Sin has brought men very low. Terrible distress is on every .hand. Even in
the churches there is famine--distressing famine. If God in His providence has
disclosed where there is plenty, we have no right to keep this intelligence
to our- selves. The good news which we have in the Gospel message is not meant
for us alone. It is to be shared with all people. It is knowledge which is urgently
needed by all classes and conditions of people everywhere. Dar6 we by our neglect
keep this intelligence from those who need it so sorely and whose right it is
to have it?
Many are giving a fraction of their income and some few a larger portion of
their income, but very few indeed are giving their capital. But even if it costs
us our position, our popularity, yea, our very lives, we will be the richer
if we leave all and go forth from one person to another or from one village
or town to another announcing with all possible urgency the good news of a Saviour
come, of redemption accomplished, of forgiveness provided, or life offered or
of heaven opened.
If possible the urgency for evangelism is greater today than at any time in
history because time is running out, people are multiplying, the world situation
is worsening, and distress and unrest are increasing by the minute.
The situation in my country, Nigeria, is a particularly sad one. Here is a
country of 55 million people who have been set on the road to democratic living
as free men and women. Here is a country that almost holds the key to the very
survival, peace and happiness of the people of the whole continent of Africa.
When one looks at so many of the other countries of Africa, one by one embracing
dictatorships even under the guise of the so-called African democracy of the
one party political system, Nigeria has remained one country that seems to have
held out to the principle of freedom for the individual. Recent events have
cast doubts in many minds about the promise of peace for Africa and for the
world that Nigeria epitomized. There is loss of ground on every side. Why? Is
it not because we are all looking up to materialism and preach-' ing it as the
key to peace and happiness, while we deny the world around us the only hope
of peace, the Prince of Peace Himself who died, that believing in Him we might
have peace with God?
It has been my privilege to have done a fair
amount of travelling around the world* The story everywhere is the. same, the
situation is worsening hour by hour. We who have the good news that Christ died
to save sinners of whom I am chief, what are we doing about telling it to others?
We are not responsible for results, but we are responsible to announce the glad
tidings and we are responsible to be accurate and clear in making the message
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