1. Exalt Christ, Not the Preacher
I wish to emphasize that Christ and the message are—or should be—one, and that they should never be separated. In the Spirit of prophecy we are told that "Christ is Christianity." We may well say that our specific message is Christianity in its application to this present generation. Regardless of that fact, the time has come when we must cease any separation of our message from Christ, and put Him where He belongs as the very center of all. He is the living Word; He is the living law. Christ is Himself the message. More than that, Christ is the messenger, and we are only the spokesmen, the ambassadors, as we go forth in His stead and plead, "Be ye reconciled" to Him.
The whole purpose of the gospel and the message we preach, is to bring men to decide to obey Christ and His message. The great commission to go into all the world is not merely to warn men, but to make disciples of all men—to make Christians. That should be our sole objective. We are not merely to warn, but to save; not merely to convince but to convert; not merely to give the message, but to bring men and women to Christ and His message. I think that many times we go out with the view of getting men to make a decision, rather than to save them by bringing them to Christ. And we think that when the message is given, whether results are seen or not, the evangelists have accomplished their task and discharged their responsibility toward the people.
I shall never forget the time when I first entered the work, in a town where we had no church. The conference had sent a minister to hold a series of meetings. The effort was a complete failure. Nobody came out to hear. And that minister used the expression, when he left, that he was shaking the dust from off his feet. After a few years I was asked to conduct another effort, and we raised up a little church, that has not ceased to grow. Brethren, nobody is ever lost until the Holy Spirit speaks to him and brings him to the crisis of decision.
I knew a man who attended three series of public meetings just to be entertained—he liked the preacher. But there came a time when, in connection with a certain meeting, the Holy Spirit brought him to conviction and complete surrender. There are thousands of people like that—waiting for a decision for Christ, not a decision in favor of the evangelist. I think that is one reason for the disappointing results that follow many evangelistic campaigns. The speaker has exalted self instead of Christ. He has made himself the center. He has made Christ secondary, and has put himself in the foreground. He has exalted the speaker and won men to himself, and has failed to put Christ into the forefront all through his preaching.
Many men have the idea that they must advertise themselves in order to get a crowd. They must announce themselves as great evangelists, learned Bible students, or famous preachers. Sometimes one makes himself appear as something of an evangelistic peer—but he is usually such only in his own opinion. He may ascribe to himself a national or an international reputation. But a national or an international reputation involves even more than having one's name in "Who's Who."
Man's effort does not amount to much when he is exalted as the center of it all. It is our business to win men to Christ, and teach them about the great God and His message. We do well to let them know that we are only small men by reputation, but that we have a great Saviour and a life-and-death message. If we do not do that, and people are converted to us, then we leave an impossible task for the man who follows us.
There is a class of converts who will never believe there is a preacher like the one who brought them into the truth. They do not care to have another man follow up the work and establish them in the message. That is one reason why so many drop away—they have been converted to the man, instead of to Christ and His message. But when people take their stand under the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, they stand firm. Preachers may move on, but they remain faithful. The Holy Spirit alone can touch the heart and bring men to decide for Christ in this way. The Holy Spirit is in the world to exalt Christ and Him alone.
Man can convince the mind without the aid of the Holy Spirit. That is comparatively easy, for the arguments cannot be gainsaid.
It is not difficult to convince anyone who will listen to us, that we have the truth. I have tried it out many times. I have asked for all who believed that what they had been hearing was the truth of God to stand. I have seen the whole audience stand without a moment's hesitation. Again I have asked, "How many here will decide to obey the truth to which you have listened? And comparatively few have stood up. If everyone who becomes convinced that we have the truth would obey it, we would doubtless have one of the largest denominations in the world. The problem is to bring them to a decision, and the Holy Spirit alone can do that. One sermon on the day of Pentecost, by Peter, brought in thousands, and greatly multiplied the membership of the church. That was because the Holy Spirit was there, and the men and women brought to a decision on the day of Pentecost had the truth of God in their hearts.
We are told that all the scriptures that were fulfilled in the former rain will be fulfilled again in the latter rain; and the statement is made concerning the early rain that the arguments had all been presented, and the Holy Spirit was poured out to bring them to decision. Children and parents took their stand. It is the presence and power of the Holy Spirit that can bring people to a true decision, and to seek this should be our very first work.
2. Elemental Principles in "Catching Men"
When Jesus spoke to Simon, He said, "Fear not, from henceforth thou shalt—" Entertain men? No. Interest men? No. Teach men? No, not even that. When He called Simon He said, "Henceforth thou shalt catch men." I believe that this promise will be fulfilled for all who rightly labor for Christ.
The prime requisite in bringing people to a decision for Christ and this message is to teach that message in the demonstration and power of the Holy Spirit. What we need above all things is to seek until we find that power, to ask until we receive it in our ministry.
Tame, lifeless preaching will not bring men to a decision. On the day of Pentecost, as we have been reminded, Peter preached a sermon which resulted in the addition of three thousand members to the church. Why? Because he preached in the power of the Holy Spirit. While he was preaching, the people were pricked in their hearts, and cried out, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" They were ready, when the Holy Spirit worked on their hearts, to do whatever the Holy Spirit directed. It is the Holy Spirit that must talk to the heart and bring a lasting decision for Jesus Christ. I would offer three suggestions-to-that end.
1. Seek to make each sermon contribute to the ultimate decision that we wish people to make,—to become full-fledged Seventh-day Adventist Christians. We should begin the very first night to pave the way for the ultimate decisions that we are sent there to bring about. The man who delivers a series of lectures, and does not call for decisions until near the close of that series, will be disappointed. At least the results from his work will not be as large as they ought to be.
We all know that we cannot cut down a mighty oak with just one stroke of the ax. In order for a great tree to be felled, there must be a series of blows, rightly timed and rightly directed, to accomplish the result. And to my mind, our whole series of sermons must be just as the successive blows of an ax, rightly timed and directed, to bring about the ultimate decision to become a full-fledged Seventh-day Adventist Christian. Each sermon must be given its allotted part. People who do not aim at something seldom hit the mark. So, before we preach a sermon, we should study the question: "How can I make this sermon contribute toward the making of the decisions which I hope to secure before this series closes?" We should not expect final results from every sermon. Decisions are usually progressive.
2. Make frequent calls for some kind of expression. Begin the very first night. Study how to take an expression so it will not become an old story. And take frequent expressions. For instance, when preaching on the second coming of Christ, first establish the fact of His coming. Then ask those who really believe Christ is coming again to hold up their hands. That is an expression. Then emphasize the manner of His coming, and take another expression. On another night preach on the signs of the times, and take an expression as to how many really believe Jesus is coming soon. -It is-a-great help in getting- a -final cision, to get the people into the habit of putting up their hands in acknowledgement of a given truth. After they have put up their hands from night to night on these different questions, when you come to the supreme question, it is easier to get the hands up again.
3. Labor to get people really converted to Jesus Christ. If you can get men and women to really become Christians, they will keep the Christian Sabbath, they will eat, drink, and dress in the way Jesus Christ would have them. They will hold the Christian hope, seek Christian baptism, and so forth. I think we should emphasize that point—preach the truth as it is in Jesus, and get people really converted to Christ. Then they will accept all these different points of truth as we go along.
3. Believe in Your Message
A man said, "I am going to hear the Adventist preacher."
"Do you believe what that man is preaching?" he was asked in reply.
"I am not going because I believe it," the man said, "but because he believes what he is preaching." It takes sincerity and earnestness to make people know that you believe what you preach. Tame, lifeless sermons have no place in the ministry of Seventh-day Adventists. When you get up to preach without depending on the Lord, without interceding with Him in prayer, your words don't mean much. But when you know the Lord is standing by your side, the people instinctively feel that you are interested in their souls' salvation, and the message grips their hearts.
You cannot help anyone until you have convinced him that you are his friend, and that you are interested in his soul's salvation. The Scriptures tell us, "He that winneth souls is wise." I believe the art of winning souls is something we all need to know in increasing fullness. When Jesus Christ was here, He gave His disciples a most thorough training. He took those men with Him day after day, and they watched Him as He met the different situations and problems. The man who is to be a successful soul winner must learn to put himself in the place of the other man, have sympathy for him, understand his problems, and thus win him.
I believe it is important, in asking people to make decisions, to make them know that such a step means something, that it is a fundamental thing. Evangelists should be careful to let people feel that they are themselves making the decision, instead of using high-pressure methods, and getting them to say they are going to do something to which they will not adhere afterward. Emphasize that decisions for or against Christ are inescapable. Stress the fact that you want them to be saved, but that they themselves must make the decision.