Serampore Reflections: The Infinite Value of Immortal Souls

This is the first of several posts reflecting upon the Serampore Form of Agreement, signed in 1805.

It is absolutely necessary that we set an infinite value upon immortal souls; that we often endeavour to affect our minds with the dreadful loss sustained by an unconverted soul launched into eternity.

Two great concerns are foundational to any missionary endeavor or evangelistic effort: a love for God and a concern for souls. As the famed C.S. Lewis once wrote in The Weight of Glory (1949), “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.”

The first statement demonstrated the Serampore missionaries’ utmost commitment—to seek the salvation of the lost in their midst. Far too many pastors have become distracted by the needs around them and have lost focus. As my childhood youth minister would often say, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

The fourth item on the list reads, “To watch for every chance of doing the people good.” Service and care are important aspects of the missionary duty. They are, however, not the ultimate priority.

Increasingly, it has become common to see churches with established programs to feed the hungry, build homes, partner with clean water ministries, and any number of other service-oriented programs while lacking an evangelistic impulse. This must not be. Community needs and societal justice are important, to be sure. But not most important.

Like the Serampore missionaries, our first concern must be that the lost around us are given the opportunity to hear the gospel. As I have been told the late Roy Fish said, in 100 years, the only thing that will matter is where a person stands with Jesus. Building from that statement, we must remember that in 100 years, a person will either be standing with Jesus or suffering the torment of hell.

And the Serampore missionaries’ efforts were spurred, in part, by the the reality of hell. To speak of eternal punishment in our culture is to draw the ire of many—among Christians and non-believers. It is not a pleasant thought, but it is an inescapable thought if we are to take the words of Jesus seriously. The existence of a place of eternal torment should motivate us to share the gospel, and to do so with urgent appeals that the lost respond to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith.

If hell is real (and it is) and hell is hot (and it is) and those enter into eternity apart from Christ go there (and they do), then the value of each soul demands our unceasing efforts. This was evident in the Serampore mission and must be so among us as well.

As John Stott was careful to remind us, however, “The highest of missionary motives is neither obedience to the Great Commission (important as that is), nor love for sinners who are alienated and perishing (strong as that incentive is), but rather a burning and passionate zeal for the glory of Jesus Christ.” The value of souls should be a driving motivation, but not the ultimate motivation.

Adjunct Professor for @MBTSonline.
@SWBTS alumnus.
PhD in Theology.
Head Barista at Caffeinated Theology.
Just give me Jesus . . . and coffee.

The Serampore Form of Agreement

I am often encouraged and inspired by the actions of the men who participated in the Baptist Missionary Society during the late-18th and early-19th centuries. Their commitment to the gospel serves as an example worthy of emulation.

In 1805 (twelve years after William Carey had initially sailed to India), nine missionaries gathered and added their signatures to William Ward’s initial draft listing their shared commitment. William Carey’s name was affixed first, followed by Joshua Marshman and William Ward. Below their names, those of John Chamberland, Richard Mardon, John Biss, William Moore, Joshua Rowe, and Felix Carey (William’s son) were added.

Respecting the great principles upon which the brethren of the Mission at Serampore, think it their duty to act in the work of instructing the heathen.

  1. To set an infinite value upon men’s souls.
  2. To acquaint ourselves with the snares which hold the minds of the people.
  3. To abstain from whatever deepens India’s prejudice against the gospel.
  4. To watch for every chance of doing the people good.
  5. To preach “Christ crucified” as the grand means of conversion.
  6. To esteem and treat Indians always as our equals.
  7. To guard and build up “the hosts that may be gathered.”
  8. To cultivate their spiritual gifts, ever pressing upon them their missionary obligation, since Indians only can win India for Christ.
  9. To labor unceasingly in biblical translation.
  10. To give ourselves without reserve to the Cause, “not counting even the clothes we wear our own.”

Such was their devotion to these principles that the signers committed to reading the agreement publicly at each mission station at least three times per year.

In my reading, perhaps what stands out most is not that their endeavors were unique, but instead how applicable these policies are to our present-day missions and evangelistic efforts. Simply by substituting our present contexts for India, every church—every believer—should be eager to advocate for such policies.

In upcoming posts, I hope to explore some of the theological commitments that seem to have undergirded this statement, but before doing so, it seems worth asking,

What about these principles stand out most to you?

*Historical note: The list appears to be drawn from the headings provided by Samuel Pearce Carey (1862–1953)—grandson of both William Carey and Samuel Pearce.

Adjunct Professor for @MBTSonline.
@SWBTS alumnus.
PhD in Theology.
Head Barista at Caffeinated Theology.
Just give me Jesus . . . and coffee.

What’s In Your Witness?

For years, masterfully orchestrated Capital One credit card commercials have produced 30-second persuasive sound bites—from creatively using cheeky Vikings raiding modern scenarios to Samuel L. Jackson’s sleek, suited appeal asking the viewing audience, “What’s in your wallet?” Each commercial connects the audience’s emotional ties to greater financial success with the rewards and/or interest rates of this or that card and in mere moments, these commercials convince many people that a void in there financial portfolio exists that can only be filled by the adding of a Capital One credit card to their wallet.

Admittedly, the gift of salvation is free to all who believe on the name of Jesus Christ—the Son of God. A Christian witness is not akin to door-to-door salesmen, but similar to television commercials, it is critical to present a clear and direct Gospel presentation during each witness opportunity. The messenger carrying such an important word to a lost person need not beat around the bush, but should state their business and jump into the Good News as soon as possible. The gospel doesn’t need gimmicks or smoke and mirrors, but an honest effort on the part of the witness of Christ.

In this post, I want to draw what I believe to be important observations about evangelism from the account of Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian official in Acts 8.

Sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ is not as complicated as some may assume. Few Christians in the “Bible Belt” share their faith—if ever, but even then, they usually lack confidence in the message of the gospel that comes from seeing God at work and spending time consistently in the Bible. Acts 8:25 states, “So, when they had solemnly testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they started back to Jerusalem, and were preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.” In this verse, we read that Phillip, Peter, and John are continual witnesses for Jesus Christ. Their experience having been affected by the gospel led them to testify to the grace they had experienced. They testified to what they had seen, heard, and done in Jesus’s name.

1. Make your appeal personal

A personal testimony with Scriptures woven throughout can be an effective witnessing tool. Every born-again believer in Jesus Christ has a unique story. A personal appeal to a lost person by simply sharing how you came to saving faith in Jesus Christ may steer conversations into a full gospel presentation and invitation to trust Christ.

2. Allow the Lord to interrupt your plans

Witnessing encounters often come as a complete surprise to the believer. God sometimes interrupts good works being done in the name of Jesus in order to turn our attention to a greater need. Phillip and his companions were busy in the region of the Samaritans sharing the message of the gospel, but the Lord chose to send a witness to one in need of hearing the message of God’s grace. “But an angel of the Lord spoke to Phillip saying, ‘Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a desert road.)” God often interrupts and prompts believers to share the gospel with someone merely crossing their path. Phillip was sensitive to the Lord’s leading in his life and and willing to be obedient to the Lord. The Bible says nothing about a moment’s hesitation, but rather indicated that he got up and went to the place where God had directed him. Just as Phillip was prepared to allow the Lord to redirect his steps, so we too must be prepared.

3. Be willing to be obedient

Witnessing is to be the main task of the whole church in the whole world. . . . We can never expect the world to come to us. We must go to it. -Roy Fish

Jesus expects his followers to be obedient and to carry the gospel message to the ends of the earth. He empowers his witnesses for this task with the Holy Spirit. Phillip had been filled with the Holy Spirit and was sensitive to his leadership in evangelism. Jesus is a personal savior and each individual receives his gospel message personally. 

Phillip met the Ethiopian eunuch on the road and was instructed by the Spirit to “Go up and join this chariot.” Often during community outreach programs by local churches, witnessing teams will encounter many negative responses at homes and find themselves discouraged and ready to give up for the day, only for the Holy Spirit to prompt them to visit one more home or person. And many who proved themselves willing to heed that prompting receive an opportunity to present the gospel message and invite that person to trust Christ as their Lord and Savior!

4. Draw the gospel message from the Word of God

Engaging the lost is frightening for many because of all of the questions they expect to receive. Generally, the lost have some familiarity with misunderstood, or worse, blatantly false messages concerning the teachings of Christianity including the Triune Godhead and the way of salvation. In addition to their personal testimony, Christians need to be able to explain the Bible to the lost. Such knowledge of the Scripture comes only from consistent study in God’s Word. During a witnessing opportunity, the witness must stay rooted in the Words of Life (1 John 1:1). I have found it to be beneficial to allow the lost person to read the Scriptures aloud for himself, thereby allowing the Holy Spirit to affect his heart with the power of the gospel. Many evangelists have used different gospel presentations, including, Steps to Peace with God, by Billy Graham or The Four Spiritual Laws. While these presentations are many times very effective, they can never overshadow the value of reading and explaining the Bible. Instead, they should be used in addition to it.

Witnessing is not difficult; nor is it the responsibility for a select few within the church. Everyone called by the name of Christ is responsible to proclaim the name of Christ. As Charles Spurgeon wrote so long ago, “Every Christian . . . is either a missionary or an impostor. Recollect that you are either trying to spread abroad the kingdom of Christ, or else you do not love him at all. It cannot be that there is a high appreciation of Jesus, and a totally silent tongue about him.”

Reader, what’s in your witness?

Jesus Follower. Husband. Father. Evangelist. PhD Evangelism @SWBTS. Woodturner. Cyclist. Cast-Iron Culinarian.