Over a century ago, the founder of the Hawes Creamery (famous for Wensleydale Cheese) was a teenager when he noticed a piece of paper on the street in Hawes. Inquisitively, he picked it up, read it and was converted to Christ. The discarded tract had done its work.
James Hudson Taylor, pioneer missionary to China, was so bored with his life in Barnsley he took a tract with him to the outhouse of his home with the intention of simply reading the opening story. But, reading on, he came to the words ‘the finished work of Christ’. He trusted Jesus as his Lord and Saviour — and the rest is history.
It was a pamphlet written by Martin Luther that fell into the hands of John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim’s progress, which helped him to Christ. There are many other stories like this, but are tracts valuable today? I would answer a thousand times, ‘Yes!’
The vast majority of people in the United Kingdom have never heard a clear explanation of the gospel message. They pass through life and into eternity with a religion that has been shaped by their home, school assemblies and the BBC. Their attitude to Jesus, if they believe in him, is to benevolently respect him as a good teacher from history, who has no relevance to them individually. But they must hear the news that only he can save, and they urgently need to repent and believe.
Millions to reach
Of course the ideal would be for each person to hear the gospel, either in church, a mission or from a Christian, but there are millions of people to reach. That is where tracts are so valuable.
A good tract — or Christian leaflet, as I prefer to call it — attractively designed and faithfully explaining the gospel, can be a powerful proclaimer of the gospel. It never gets tongue-tied; it is not cowardly or compromising in its presentation; it can quote and explain Scripture, and leads its reader to a prayer of true repentance and faith.
It does not answer back or become irritated when ignored. It doesn’t wait until Sunday to present the good news. It can be read in the bustle of a busy life or in quietness at any time of the day or night. Tracts, like dynamic evangelists, have a personality and power of their own. They are like missionaries, going into all situations to testify of Jesus.
Long ago, God commanded his people to care for the materially poor and debtors, but it seems to me that the words equally apply to us with regard to the spiritually poor debtors: ‘If there is among you a poor man of your brethren … you shall surely give to him … for this thing the Lord your God will bless you … therefore I command you, saying, You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy in your land’ (Deuteronomy 15:7,10-11).
Key to conversations
I have disciplines in my life, which I seek to follow — a key one is to never go anywhere without a pocket Bible and a few tracts; I then use them and ‘lose’ them!
I use them as the key to open the door of conversation. If there is no queue behind me, I will offer the attendant at the garage, or the supermarket check-out, or the bank or newsagent ‘a small Christian leaflet that simply explains how Jesus came into the world for people like you and me’.
Quickly judging their reaction, I see if the conversation will lead to speaking more of Jesus. I pray each day that I will be able to turn inconsequential chatter into significant conversations about Jesus.
I aim to be winsome, genuine, chirpy and warm; I don’t want people to be put off the gospel because I come across as odd. And if they don’t want to talk, I leave the subject and simply try to remain friends.
Other times, I will use a tract to close the door of conversation. So that, after having had the opportunity to witness, I leave the person with a suitable leaflet ‘which goes over some of the things we have just chatted about’. I try to stress that this is ‘the ordinary Christian message, not some strange new religion’.
As well, though, I like to ‘lose’ tracts. I put them in all my correspondence when paying bills, returning forms or simply sending a letter. I ‘lose’ them on the seat of a bus, train or plane on which I may have travelled.
Sometimes I leave them in telephone kiosks, library books, pre-paid envelopes or places where I know they will be found. Then I pray that the Lord will use them.
Sowing the seed
If I travel overseas, I always obtain some tracts or Gospels in the native language, to pass on to waiters, hoteliers and contacts.
For me, tracts are one of the most helpful tools to keep me diligent in scattering gospel seed each and every day. They are not expensive, and are easy to pass on. And I am encouraged by truths in the Bible like: ‘Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days’ (Ecclesiastes 11:1); and ‘those who sow in tears shall reap in joy. He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing bringing his sheaves with him’ (Psalm 126:5-6).
Some years ago, I had the privilege of leading to Christ, at Bath University, a Vietnamese PhD student. He had recently arrived in the country, but felt lonely.
In Bath town centre one Saturday afternoon, a very elderly lady (as it happens, she was the daughter of the famous Bible teacher, W. E. Vine) gave him a tract and an invitation to her Gospel Hall. He regularly attended for several weeks, and it was my privilege to be with him at his conversion. And it began with a prayerfully given tract.
In Musselburgh, I interviewed a man in his forties who had been converted through reading tracts that had been sent in pre-paid envelopes to the Royal Mail in Edinburgh where he worked. He had had no other contact with the gospel.
Another man I knew had come to Christ as railway carriage cleaner. Working through the night, he saw and read a tract, and there and then prayed to trust the Lord.
There’s a work for Jesus,
Ready at your hand;
’Tis a task the Master
Just for you has planned.
Maybe that work for you is to seek to regularly give away gospel leaflets, some of which may lead to significant conversations that count for eternity. I have found that one of the greatest sources of joy of each day is to give away a tract!