PHOENIX — Johnny Hunt, former Southern Baptist Convention president and pastor of First Baptist Church of Woodstock, delivered a powerful message from Romans 9:1-3 at the beginning of the Tuesday afternoon session of the annual SBC meeting in Phoenix on June 13.
Hunt typically preaches with fire and passion and his message on this occasion was accented with the same fervor that has characterized his pulpit ministry for 41-years.
The Woodstock pastor was asked to preach on the significance of soul winning and his topic was “Paul, the Soul-Winner.” Hunt proclaimed, “The Apostle Paul writes (Romans chapter 9) with a burdened heart, because his own brethren, those near and dear to him had refused to accept the Lord Jesus as their own personal Savior and Messiah.”
Hunt continued, “It is not without significance that Paul’s words in chapter 9 follows hard after chapter 8, for only a man who knows the Spirit-filled life of Romans 8 can appreciate the evangelistic heart throb of Romans 9.
“I have come to believe through my own experience that you can never win people to the Lord unless somehow you develop deep down in your heart a genuine real life burden and compassion that they come to know the Lord.”
Melt down the saints
The fiery preacher indicated that at one point he confessed to his church, “The longer I am in the faith the further removed I seem to become from those for whom Christ died… The crying need today is for us to have a burden for people who are on their way to hell. We must lovingly urge them to follow Christ and flee the wrath to come.”
Hunt made reference to George Sweeting’s book on witnessing and the story he told about Oliver Cromwell. During Cromwell’s reign, there was a shortage of currency in the British Empire. Representatives carefully searched the nation in hopes of finding silver to meet the emergency.
After one month, the committee returned with its report. “We have searched the Empire in vain seeking to find silver. To our dismay, we found none anywhere except in the cathedrals where the statues of the saints are made of choice silver.”
To this, Oliver Cromwell eloquently answered, “Let’s melt down the saints and put them into circulation.”
Hunt added, “We need a meltdown brought on by the burning compassion for lost sinners and a fiery zeal motivated by the love of Almighty God to lead others to Christ.”
A union with Christ, a passion for souls
“There are three brief statements I want to highlight in this passage. Notice the sincerity of Paul’s passion for the lost. First, he calls for the witness of the Son of God. He said, ‘I say the truth in Christ.’ This speaks of his union with Jesus. Paul had a testimony based on a changed life in Jesus Christ. His union with Christ was an inseparable part of his passion for lost souls.
“Then Paul calls his own conscience as a witness. He says, ‘My conscience also bearing me witness’ – that inner voice coincides with the Spirit of God in man. We must pray that our conscience will be ever sensitive to the needs of the lost.
“Then he calls the Spirit of God as a witness. He says, ‘In the Holy Spirit.’ The Holy Spirit activates the conscience to have a passion for the lost.”
Hunt then emphasized the second statement – The sorrow of Paul’s passion for the lost. “Paul said, ‘I have great sorrow’ or great pain or grief for the souls of men.
“The text indicates that every day the pain, the burden Paul felt grew heavier and heavier,” Hunt explained.
Hunt thundered, “So often, when we get saved God gives us a burden for souls, but over the years that burden becomes lighter and lighter. That was not true with Paul. His burden for the souls of men grew heavier and heavier. So, we need to pray for God to give us the same sorrow for the lost that Paul had.
“John Knox had that kind of passion. He cried out to God, ‘Give me Scotland or let me die.’ And when he was old he was led to the pulpit and he would begin to pray for the lost of Scotland and almost shook the pulpit to pieces as he prayed for them.
“David Brainerd wrote, ‘I was making my way through the snow and God burdened my heart for the Indians. I prayed for them until sweat poured from my body. It was like a fire burning inside for souls.’”
To get people saved
“The third thing is Paul’s sacrificial heart of passion for the lost. He wrote, ‘I could wish myself accursed from Christ.’ Paul is saying that he is willing to be separated from Christ and spend eternity in hell himself if that is what it would require to get people saved.
“Some would say that is impossible for Paul to be accursed from Christ, because of the Bible’s teaching on the eternal security of the believer and Paul had just written Romans 8 describing that nothing can separate us from the love of God. However, Paul was simply saying, ‘I am willing to do whatever it takes to reach the lost.’”
Is his own inimitable way Hunt soared to the height of ardent oratory when he explained, “Don’t try to analyze Paul’s statement, for it is not spoken under the coolness and calmness of logic; and maybe sometimes there is too much coolness and too much calmness of logic. Here is the eruption of a man who is so in love with lost people that he loses all sense of reason and logic and his heart bursts out in compassion and in substitutionary flames and he says, ‘I would be willing to go to hell to reach them.’”
Good news gets there on time
Hunt related that after he was saved that he was eagerly seeking to win folks to Christ. One of his professors at Gardner Webb College described his newfound faith and passion for the lost as “ignorance on fire.” When Ken Hemphill, who had been a member of the Woodstock church for seven years and was aware of that description of Hunt, once introduced Hunt by saying, “I had rather be ignorance on fire than an intellect on ice.”
Hunt concluded by saying, “We must proclaim the Gospel, but remember, it is not good news unless it gets there on time.
“The powerful soul-winner and founder of the Salvation Army, William Booth, was once asked, ‘Do you think you have the best training program to teach people how to witness for Jesus Christ and win souls to Jesus?’
“William Booth replied, ‘No, I don’t think my methods are the best methods. I think the best method of giving people a burden for lost souls would be to take them to the devil’s hell and allow them to experience what it is to be lost in hell, separated from God for an eternity in the fire that could never be quenched. Then I believe men would truly have a burden and know what it is to be soul-winners because they would see what it is to be lost.’”