Two great questions press upon us: First, How shall we reach the masses in the large cities? and second, How can we impress them with our message? The second question grows out of the first and becomes the greater; for our work essentially is to win souls, not merely to warn them. To accomplish this soul-saving work, God has chosen "the foolishness of preaching." Whatever help other activities may be in extending the knowledge of a saving Christ, the special messenger for God is the preacher. But to reach the masses in the large cities of this age, and bring them to Christ in preparation for His return, will require a special study of both the message itself and the methods best suited to its powerful proclamation.
"In the cities of today, where there is so much to attract and please, the people can be interested by no ordinary efforts. Ministers of God's appointment will find it necessary to put forth extraordinary efforts in order to arrest the attention of the multitudes. . . . They must bear messages of a character so out of the usual order that people will be aroused and warned. They must make use of every means that can possibly be devised for causing the truth to stand out clearly and distinctly."—"Testimonie,s," Vol. IX, p. 109.
This is a distinct call to a more effectual proclamation of the message. But having gathered and impressed the congregation, how can we hold them sufficiently long to bring them into the full message? This is of the greatest importance, for the real test of evangelism is not how many listen, but rather how many have continued to listen. It is not the getting of an audience that counts so much as the holding of the audience. People are usually born with enough curiosity to want to know something of the message of any teacher, false or true. But the real test conies, when, having awakened the desire to come once, we can hold those who come, and ultimately bring them into the fullness of the light of truth. If they do not continue to come, whose fault is it? In answer let me quote again from the counsel in the "Testimonies," Volume VI, page 57:
"Those who will study the manner of Christ's teaching, and educate themselves to follow His way, will attract and hold large numbers now, as Christ held the people in His day."
It is some years since that statement arrested me, and perhaps nothing has influenced me more than these few words. It seemed as if the Lord spoke them to me personally, and I could not get away from His message. I had been associated with evangelistic efforts in theaters, tents, and halls, all of which seemed to expect and plan for the time when the interest would fall away; when through sheer apathy to the truth the audience would dwindle down till "the few honest in heart" (as we called them) would be left. The inference was, of course, that all those who dropped away were not honest in heart. This was the usual order, and nobody questioned it. When it came, we naturally looked for another place to work.
On this point it may not be out of place to suggest that it is net always possible for us to know who are the "honest in heart." There were seven thousand more in Elijah's day than he reckoned on; and I am confident that in this matter of the Elijah message for today there is many another seven thousand that we know nothing about.
Faced as I was with such a statement from the Spirit of prophecy, I had to admit that this way of working was not Christ's way; for His interest continued to grow, some, of course, falling away, but many more taking their places. That the Lord used better methods was certain. Then I cried to God earnestly, asking Him to teach me better methods—to show me "His way." What could His methods be? He had neither money nor prestige, but He held the people. He took the broken timbers of a shipwrecked world, and with His own hands built a bridge between earth and heaven. How I longed to understand His way! And as I read and studied, I discovered that "the Lord's methods are to be followed."—"Testimonies," Vol. IX, p. 141.
Anxious to learn, I began to study the work of admittedly great preachers, discovering often that they, too, held the people, even without the message which we have. How much more powerful would their work have been if they had had the truth as we know it! But again, how much more could we do if only we adapted their methods to the preaching of our message! The thought lived with me. To preach this grand message with a power both to attract and to hold the masses, became the passion of my life, and
I believe it still is. But to do that, I knew I must "educate" myself "to follow His way."
I began, and in some measure at least have continued, that self-education. It meant a definite reconstruction of my whole program. Every feature of the work had to be restudied with a view to holding the people. I tried to "learn to meet the people where they are."—"Testimonies," Vol. VI, p. 58. "Christ crucified,—talk it, pray it, sing it, and it will break and win hearts. This is the power and wisdom of God to gather souls for Christ. Formal, set phrases, the presentation of merely argumentative subjects, 4s productive of little good."—Id., p. 67.
In this new study, the message itself became dearer and more real. I say it to the glory of God, that ever since then I have never experienced that distressing realization that "the interest has died down." Why should it? The Lord is "the same yesterday, today, and forever." I have worked in many places since then, and always with the same result,—having the largest attendance at the last meeting.
By the Lord's help I try not to look upon the people as dishonest in heart; but, seeking to follow His way, I try to see them as He did, as "sheep without a shepherd," looking for the very message the Lord has given us for them. We are evangelists first, and educators second. If once we can lead souls to the Saviour in real conversion, it will then be a joy to teach them all the way of righteousness.
"Talk to the sinner with your own heart overflowing with the tender, pitying love of Christ. Let there be deep earnestness; but not a harsh, loud note should be heard from the one who is trying to win the soul to look and live."—"Testimonies," Vol. VI, p. 67. "O, Christ is able, Christ is willing, Christ is longing, to save all who will come unto Him!"—Id., p. 66.
What McCheyne says is true today: "It is not great talents God blesses so much as likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God." May the Lord give us zeal, wisdom, tact, and love commensurate with the tremendous task before us.