The Amazing Story of Sowing Gospel Seed

Evangelist Dwight Smith


They tell us the oldest farm in the United States has been operating since 1636 and is located just outside Boston between Rockport and Newburyport, Massachusetts. Its name? Appleton Farms. It is one thousand acres and was originally deeded to Sam Appleton nearly four centuries ago1. This is surely a record for our young country, but it doesn’t hold a candle to those who have sown Gospel seed for over two thousand years. These, of course, are Bible-believing Christians, and you might be encouraged to know their story.

Ever since the Lord of the harvest spoke to His disciples, saying, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15), they have spread across the globe sowing the good news of Jesus Christ. In Acts 2, while people were visiting Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost from several nations, they heard Peter and the other apostles proclaiming the message of the gospel in their “own language.”2 Many believed that day, and numbers of them took the life-giving seed of the gospel back to their friends, family, and hometowns.

In Acts 8, when persecution against the church increased, the disciples were driven from their homes in Jerusalem. “Therefore, they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). Later in that same chapter, Philip was led by the Lord to preach the gospel to the Ethiopian eunuch, the treasurer in the court of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. The eunuch trusted Christ and introduced the good news of salvation into the continent of Africa for the first time.

Just a chapter later, Saul of Tarsus, the persecutor in previous chapters, was converted and became a flaming preacher of God’s amazing grace! He would take three missionary journeys to Asia Minor, modern day Greece and Turkey, and be transported on a final journey all the way to Rome, Italy, to appeal to Caesar. He preached to those on his journey: to the guards to which he was chained, to the ones who came to visit him, and to anyone who would listen. Finally, his enemies would lop off his head on the Appian Way, but not before much fruit had been produced!

At the same time the Good News was traveling west, Thomas was taking this message to as far away as India. In just seven decades, the gospel had spread to Africa, Asia, and Europe. Truly the gospel is “the power of God to salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”3

In the late fourth and early fifth centuries, Vigilantes took the gospel to what is now France and Spain. From 1195 to the 1530s, the Waldensians, our Baptist forbearers, proclaimed salvation through Jesus Christ all across Europe. They were incredibly evangelistic. During a six-month period of fervent evangelism under incredible persecution, over 10,000 people in Italy’s northern alps and surrounding areas came to Jesus and were saved. After a while, you could walk from the Italian alps of Italy across Europe and stay in a different home each night of someone who had been led to Jesus by one of these zealous believers.

The Waldensian preachers, called Barbas and meaning Uncle, would train their younger preachers for three to four years. The average age of those trained was thirteen to fifteen. Then they sent them out in twos, an older Barba with a younger Barba. They would travel across Europe on foot as stonecutters or traveling merchantmen, selling their wares. When presenting their merchandise, they would say, “This is a beautiful item, but it is nothing compared to the rare gem I have yet to show you.” As they kept the attention of their audience, they would lead into the message of the cross and the empty tomb and present truly the greatest treasure in the world- the gospel of Jesus Christ! While doing this, these preachers would pass out Scripture portions they had written down on parchment or leather in a language that pre-dated French. Much of this was done at the cost of their freedom and even life. The Waldensian young men who trained at the Barba College in Torre Pellice, Italy, and left to proclaim the gospel, on average, only lived three to five years before they were caught and killed by the Roman Catholic soldiers.

Yet the gospel prevailed and spread widely throughout Europe! The Albigensians of France, the Anabaptists of Germany, the Lollards of England, the Moravians of Hernnhut, and more, were all responsible for, under fierce persecution, sowing the gospel seed. In the 14th century, John Wycliffe wrote Tracts and Treatises that stirred the whole of England with the good news and against the heresy of the Pope. In 1415, thirty-one years after his death, his writings were banned and sought to be confiscated and destroyed. He was such a threat to the evil of the Catholic church that his body was exhumed from its grave and burned! Oh, to be that much of a terror to the Devil! Wycliffe’s enemies would burn his body and attempt to burn his writings, but gospel seeds had already been planted “that even the most vigilant and powerful adversaries could not uproot.”4

All the witness prior to 1455 was either spoken or handwritten, but this year brought a complete game changer: moveable type print, perfected by Johannes Gutenberg. In this year, he completed his 42-line Bible, known as the Gutenberg Bible.5 This would change the world forever and become a major catalyst in the spread of the gospel. Now instead of carefully penning the words of the glorious message, they could be printed, and mass produced! John Fox, of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, declared, “God hath opened up the press to preach.”6

The great reformers discovered that when tracts were printed and distributed widely, they were a powerful river through which their ideas could flow to the masses. And flow they did, to the great consternation of the pope and his Roman Church. An adversary of the reformation complained, “The Gospellers of these days do fill the realm with so many of their noisome little books, that they be like to the swarms of locusts which did infest the land of Egypt.”7

Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, many tract societies were formed for the spread of the gospel. In 1662, King Charles II granted a new charter to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England and Parts Adjacent to America. It was known as the New England Company.8 Other societies were formed around Europe for the purpose of carrying the gospel to those who had not yet heard.

The First Great Awakening renewed support for tract societies already in existence. The Second Great Awakening, sparking in the early 1800s, spawned the organization of several new efforts to reach the lost in this young country. The “Female Cent Associations” became popular where members gave one cent each week to support the gospel tract effort.9 Many of these efforts made way for the different Bible Societies that formed to get the Word of God to the general population. They would lead the way for some of the great missionary endeavors like the Haystack Prayer Meetings and the modern missionary movement. In 1799, the Religious Tract Society was formed to get gospel tracts to “women, children, and the poor.”10 The American Tract Society began in 1825, and continues today, nearly two centuries later.

In 1858, Jeremiah Lanphier, a lay missionary commissioned to reach the masses of people in Manhattan, New York, began a noon day prayer meeting for businessmen. It was sparsely attended the first week, but each week it grew, until they met daily and moved to larger venues. This prayer meeting spread to cities across the north and the south and attracted thousands each day. The impact was so powerful, over 1 million people were saved. This was about 3%-5% of the American population at the time. Less than four years later, the Civil War broke out, and over 600,000 soldiers from both sides stepped into eternity.

During the Civil War, a great move of the Holy Spirit happened in both armies. D.L. Moody was involved as a chaplain in some of these efforts to reach men with the gospel and many, many men were saved. One Northern organization alone distributed 30 million tracts and nearly a million Bibles to the troops.11 They were readily received by the soldiers, many of whom never returned home.

The revivals under the evangelists of the late 1800s and early 1900s ignited a flame that would burn for over 100 years. The Pocket Testament League was founded in 1893 by a teenage girl from England named Helen Cadbury with the intent of winning her classmates to Jesus. Eleven years later, she married Charlie Alexander who led songs for Torrey, Chapman and later, Billy Sunday.12 The League was officially formed by her husband and J. Wilbur Chapman at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in March of 1908.13 The Pocket Testament League gave out free, leather-bound New Testaments in exchange for the promise that those receiving it would carry their Testament with them everywhere and read a chapter from it every day. At the close of World War II, missionary work was started in foreign countries and, with the help of the American general, George Marshall, Bibles from the League were distributed among the soldiers of China embroiled in their own Chinese Civil War.14

On February 5, 1918, Ford Porter, a young student at Moody Bible Institute, began an early morning prayer meeting on his 25th birthday. He went to the attic in five below zero weather, took a pillow that he could kneel on next to the warm bricks of the chimney, and began to pray. “Oh God, give me a ministry that will reach souls for Christ, encircle the world, and be carried on long after I am gone.”15 How could he know what God would do in answer to his prayer? About fifteen years later, in 1933, while pastoring the First Baptist Church of Princeton, Indiana, the Lord gave him a tract to write: “God’s Simple Plan of Salvation.” He originally only ordered 2,000, thinking that is all he would need to reach the 1,800 homes in this small Indiana Town. When the printer suggested that he print 5,000 for just a fraction more, Porter refused, thinking he wouldn’t need that many. Well, God had other plans. He began receiving orders through his radio ministry for more and more tracts. He ordered 5,000 then later 10,000.16 Today in 2022, long after the author’s death, this tract has been translated into 129 languages with over 660 million copies in print.

While General Douglas MacArthur was in Japan following the Second World War, he made a plea for thousands of Christian missionaries to come to this nation so humiliated by defeat and so devastated by the atomic bombs. At this time, they were ripe for the gospel. Evangelist John R. Rice became so burdened by this need that “he arranged for millions of his tract “What Must I Do to be Saved?” to be printed in Japanese. He paid for this by mortgaging his house. The eventual number of Japanese tracts printed was 8,489,000, far more than in any language other than English.”17

Today, with the explosion of social media, YouTube, smart phones and more, the gospel is being shared digitally, and thousands are hearing and calling upon Christ for salvation! One young evangelist, while working with a team of likeminded soulwinners, recently developed gospel videos for Instagram and TikTok. The response of people coming to Christ was so overwhelming, they couldn’t keep up with it. So, what have these young preachers done? They are preparing more videos and beginning to flood this ripe harvest field with the gospel. What a blessing!

Truly, the history of gospel tracts is an amazing odyssey! These quiet “preachers” can declare the life-giving message again and again to numbers of hearers as they are passed from one hand to the next. Can you guess how many tracts have been published by Bible-believing ministries and churches in our modern day? Just in the last 100 years at least 7.6 billion tracts have been printed and distributed around the globe!18 That is a blessing to consider: a big blessing!

As you read these words, a growing effort is underway to spread the gospel far and wide across our land. Fill America ( began with a couple of preachers in Michigan encouraging their church members to pass out gospel tracts. They started and haven’t looked back. As the result of concerted efforts each month since just February of 2022, at least 280,000 gospel tracts have been distributed and many have come to salvation! What began with just two churches has now spread to scores of churches, numbers of evangelists, and thousands of believers seeking to fill this world with the only news that is good: the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

The first second after death, what will matter more than anything else is whether we believed the gospel. What will matter next is whether we shared the gospel with those around us. Will you join this great cause of spreading the gospel seed today? Get a stack of tracts! Give them to those you meet! Brag on Jesus! Tell how He saved you! Preach the gospel to those who will listen and plead with everyone to accept Jesus Christ today!

The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:38).


2 Acts 2:7
3 Romans 1:16
7 Ibid
9 Ibid
11 Ibid
12 Helen Cadbury Alexander, Charles M. Alexander – A Romance of Song & Soulwinning (Murfreesboro, TN: Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1995), pgs. 94-95
14 Ibid
17 John Rice Himes, John R. Rice – The Last Revivalist of the 20th Century (Menomonee Falls, WI: Christ Walk Publications, 2021), pg. 183
18 Compiled from fundamental, Bible-believing ministries over the past 100 years.