“…the wisest evangelists of the past never regarded professions of conversion as a safe guide to the true number. George Whitefield’s biographer writes that Whitefield did not pretend to know when persons are justified. ‘It is a lesson,’ the evangelist said, ‘I have not yet learnt. There are so many stony-ground hearers which receive the word with joy, that I have determined to suspend my judgment, till I know the tree by its fruits.’ Similarly, when Whitefield heard cases of a sudden change in individuals under his preaching, he would say, ‘I shall wait, until we see how the physic works.’ Commenting on reported ‘results’, Spurgeon was to say, ‘Lay aside such numberings of the people, such idle pretence of certifying in half a minute that which will need the testing of a lifetime.’”
Iain Murray, The Old Evangelicalism: Old Truths For A New Awakening, p. 21.
I am thankful for the pastoral wisdom that God gave these and other evangelists through the history of the church. I believe we have much to learn from them in our day.
Jesus taught that the gospel is spoken to many people who initially like the sound of it but later turn away from it showing that they were never truly converted to begin with (Luke 8:4-15). The true convert (as opposed to the one who merely makes a profession of faith) is the one that will “bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15). Jesus teaches us not to count our chickens before they hatch.
Note: I believe the phrase used in this analogy of “counting chickens before they hatch” comes from Whitefield also but I couldn’t remember where I read it. If any one knows the source please let me know.