Use Honest Commendation
Behold an Israelite indeed," Christ said of Nathanael, "in whom is no guile!" What, no sin? Of course there was sin; for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. But instead of condemning Nathanael's doubts, Christ's first words were words of appreciation that Nathanael was free from deceit and craftiness.
A woman who had been brought up a Catholic had well-nigh lost her faith in God, and slipped into infidelity. She consented to receive Bible studies, but in response to the first personal appeal she said: "Truly, I cannot see how you can believe such nonsense." The tone of her voice gave one reason to believe that she was honest in her conviction. She contested every step of the way.
Her arguments were all given due recognition, but often allowed to pass unrefuted until future studies automatically undermined them. "Oh, I could never be a Seventh-day Adventist; but I wish to study the Bible merely as a matter of education," she said. She was commended for her frankness, and assured that she would not be unduly urged to become an Adventist. Nevertheless, convincing truths were clearly presented. Finally the love of God laid its mighty grasp upon her soul, and she surrendered. Then she related how the worker's appreciation of her frank, honest objections, in the face of their absurdity, helped to win her confidence and expel her doubts.
Jesus tried to find points of agreement. He led people to think of their beliefs, not their doubts. He recognized the good in men, and often gave it honest commendation. For example, when the Roman centurion asked Jesus to heal his servant by speaking the word only, Christ did not start a tirade on the man's sins, but said, "I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel."
To the sinful woman at the house of Simon, he said, "Thy sins are forgiven. . . . Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace."
To Nicodemus he declared: "God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved."
Even to the chief among the publicans, Zacchmus, a man detested by his countrymen, Jesus offered no criticism. Instead He said: "This day is salvation come to this house."
Nothing will so quickly cut off one's avenue of approach to a human heart as to show signs of disapproval. Early in my experience in soul winning, I learned a severe lesson on this point. A fine-appearing, cultured lady attended our meetings. She expressed her appreciation of the services, but admitted that not all points were clear to her. An appointment was arranged. The Bible study was progressing well, when a reference was made to the price paid by Christ on the cross. She took exception, and added that the blood of Christ was repulsive to her. Such an unexpected declaration startled me. In my foolish inexperience, one expressing such unbelief appealed to me as hopeless. She read my thoughts in the expression of my countenance. From that moment my influence with her was lost.
One of our evangelists was taken by a farmer to see his prize bog. "Well, I never saw such a big hog. What did you feed him?" The man's face beamed with pride that the visitor recognized his expert hog husbandry. It would have been very easy to utter a rebuff that would have made any future contact unprofitable.
We can always find some trait worthy of honest commendation if we look for it. In a crowded train, a drunkard sat down beside a soul winner, and offered him a drink. Later the offer was repeated, after which the stranger drank alone. By and by he said: "I guess you think I am a pretty rough fellow." It might seem a bit puzzling to find a trait worthy of honest commendation here, where the man himself recognized his waywardness. But with a kindly smile, born of tact, the Lord's servant replied, "I was just thinking how generous you are." Before the journey's end, the drunkard had promised to give his heart to God.
Of Christ it is said, "A bruised reed shall He not break, and the smoking flax shall He not quench." Jesus reproved, warned, and cautioned His disciples. "But there was one of the twelve [Judas] to whom, until very near the close of His work, Christ spoke no word of direct reproof."—"Education," p. 91. His policy was not to drive men, but to lead them. Only by love, is love awakened.
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