I'm a graduate of Bob Jones University (1975). No, that's not the confession!! As a member of the "Preacher Boys" class--BJ senior's endearing moniker--if I were to distill their instruction down to one central driving issue, it would be this, we must go out there and "win souls!" We heard this a lot! And I sometimes felt guilty. I say this is my confession, not that they pushed this, but that after a while I wondered if that really is to be our driving passion. And I think that there is merit in denying that it is, on the basis of God's superior glory. What I mean is that one could go after souls and not do it for God's glory. So seeking God's glory in all we do must take precedence. (There's much more to this argument, but we'll save that for a later post). Now, having given this disclaimer (as it were), let me hasten to add that inculcating such a passion into future preachers is a most noble aim and one to be commended. Further, one would certainly be off-base to suggest that no BJ prof believed in the centrality of God's glory. We would not want to so "pigeon-hole" anyone. Nor do we wish to so mince words that the very import of a most worthwhile goal is lost in debate.
Why bring this up? Well, because of the following quotation culled from the writings of the revered Puritan, Thomas Brooks. Well before we were graduated from any biblical institution, Brooks published this (1662). Hear him out . . . It'll be worth your time.
Beloved! the salvation of souls is that which should be first and most in a minister’s eye, and that which should always lie closest and warmest upon a minister’s heart. O sirs! our dear Lord Jesus was infinitely tender of the souls of men. He left his Father’s bosom for souls; he trode the wine-press of his Father’s wrath for souls; he prayed for souls; he paid for souls; he sweated for souls; he bled out his heart’s blood for souls; and he made himself an offering for souls: and oh, what an encouragement should this be to all his faithful messengers to woo for souls, to mourn for souls, to pray for souls, to study for souls, and in preaching to spend and to be spent for the salvation of souls! Ah, friends, there is no work nor wisdom on earth to that of winning souls, Prov. 11:30, and ‘he that winneth souls is wise.’ There is no art, no industry to that of winning souls, of ‘taking’ souls, as fowlers take birds, as the Hebrew word ולקח imports. Now, though there is a great deal of art required to take birds, yet there is ten thousand times more art required to take souls. In a word, to convert a soul is a greater work than to sway a sceptre, or than it is to pour out ten thousand talents into the baskets of the poor.Do you see how Brooks makes his point? Still, I think we'd be reading too much into what he says to infer that winning souls is his greatest aim, even if it seems as though that is what he saying. After all, the above statement occurs in the introduction he made at the head of volume 4 of his works wherein is recorded 58 sermons on the Christian's pursuit of holiness based upon Hebrews 12:14, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” In short, Brooks was saying that he was aiming at "winning souls" by preaching on the pursuit of holiness in people's lives. The lost need it, and the saved need to keep living it. So, winning souls, at least in Brooks' mind meant far more than getting someone converted; it meant converting them to a changed life, a life lived godly.
Brooks, T. (1867). The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, Volume 4 (A. B. Grosart, Ed.) (35–36). Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert.