The messenger of the Lord once said : "My heart is filled with anguish when I think of the tame messages borne by some of our ministers, when they have a message of life and death to bear."—"Testimonies," Vol. VIII, p. 37. Eternity is just before us, and God has placed in our hands the bread of life for this perishing world. Yet—
"The ministers are asleep ; the lay members are asleep ; and a world is perishing in sin. May God help His people to arouse and walk and work as men and women on the border of the eternal world. Soon an awful surprise is coming upon the inhabitants of the world. Suddenly, with power and great glory, Christ will come, Then there will be no time to prepare to meet Him. Now is the time for us to give the warning message."—Ibid.
The question which faces us as a ministry is, How shall it be done ? What are the methods that must be employed for the finishing of our task ? The principal means which God has chosen for the evangelization of the world in any generation is the preaching of the word of God to the masses. We are never to forget, the messenger of the Lord has said, that "God's appointed means of saving souls is through the 'foolishness of preaching.' "—Id., Vol. V, P. 300.
If we scan the New Testament, we find that Christ was a mighty preacher. He came to earth to make known to man the plan of redemption, and He undertook to do it through the method of public evangelism. We see Him preaching in the synagogue and on the hillsides. He went about continually, teaching and preaching in every city. He was the peerless leader of public ministry.
We turn to the life of the apostle Paul, and find that, with the exception of Jesus, he was perhaps the greatest preacher who ever lived. Paul not only preached in churches which other men had started, but he also had a consuming zeal to go out and establish new churches by the labors of his own hands, rather than always to build on other men's foundations. Rom. 15:20, 21. We find him starting out on one missionary journey after another, holding evangelistic meetings wherever he could gain an audience, raising up new churches, ordaining elders and deacons, appointing officers in the churches and training them for their responsibilities, and then passing on to other fields.
Thinking back to the experience at Pentecost, . we find that the three thousand souls won to the gospel that day and added to the church were won by a sermon preached by the apostle Peter. Then there was Philip, who went to the city of Samaria to preach Christ. The Samaritans were a people looked down upon by the Jews, but Philip went to proclaim the gospel to them, and it was said that "the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. . . . And there was great joy in that city." It sounds as if he converted almost the whole city and countryside.
We go on to the days of Wycliffe, Luther, Whitefield, Wesley, and other Reformers. These men were mighty preachers of the Word, and were able to gather great congregations together and proclaim the word of God in a powerful way. It was the preaching of such men that was largely responsible for ushering in the great period of revival and reformation which swept over the world in the sixteenth century.
We cannot substitute anything for public evangelism and succeed in the gigantic task which God has given to us. It is impossible successfully to substitute institutionalism or departmentalism or emphasis upon any single line, or even accumulated lines of endeavor, in this great task which God has given to His people in gathering the masses and proclaiming the truth to them from the public platform.
All the means that God has placed in the world to further His cause are useful. All our institutions are given to us of God. We believe in every one of them. They are mighty auxiliaries to the work of the ministry. Without them the work of the ministry would be as crippled as that of the body without its members. And yet, if we endeavor to substitute institutional and departmental lines of work for the great work of public evangelism, we shall surely fail in our endeavors to warn this generation of the coming kingdom of God.
When I was in the Orient in 1931, I met a Mr. Jackson, of the Methodist Mission Board, and we talked at length about mission policies and the work of his denomination as compared with ours. One day, as we rode through Japan on the same train, he said:
'Mr. Branson, I want to tell you something that may be of help to you and your people. You are an evangelistic people; you seem to be pushing evangelism very hard in your work. As long as Methodism followed that same plan, it prospered. Methodism was born in evangelism. But twenty-five years or more ago it ceased to make evangelism the chief method of endeavor and substituted institutionalism in its place, and its preachers settled down into pastorates. Now we have very few evangelists, and our pastors have no time for evangelism. Methodism has been losing in every field in the world. Whatever you do, do not give up the evangelistic plans and policies that your church is pushing so vigorously."
As we look over the history of our work in the various mission fields, we see that the greatest gains have been made in those fields where public evangelism has been most strongly pushed to the front. The increase in our membership in the North American Division, which at the present time has more members than ever before in our history, is largely the result of increased efforts in evangelism by our ministers and departmental workers, and by our laymen. A question which naturally arises in our minds is whether, in all our activities and efforts, we are always consistently putting first things first. I believe we are learning to do that, and more and more are getting on the public platform. Because of this we have seen far greater gains during the last six years than we have seen in previous periods.
Yet, somehow, it seems to me that we have but barely touched this line of endeavor with our finger tips. It seems to me that there are a thousand acres of possibilities, with only a few acres under cultivation. I believe that if our ministry and our executives were awake to these vast possibilities, we would see greater power in this movement than has yet been seen at any time in the past.
As we look out over the field, even in North America, we see great territories—hundreds and hundreds of counties—where there are no representatives of this message. We see vacant places—cities and spaces uninhabited so far as God's people are concerned. And I want to leave the question with you, When are we going to warn these people and work these vacant places? How are we going to reach the people in these cities and towns and counties—people we do not know, people into whose faces we have never looked? They have never heard the sound of this message; they have never read a book that contains the message of truth. How are we going to reach them?
This is the greatest question that we face today. If we are sincere in our belief that God has given us the only message to meet the world's need in this crisis hour, then surely it is high time for us to plan definitely to reach the masses who are standing on the border of eternity. I appeal for a definite swing back to the public platform on the part of the preachers of this denomination. We must maintain two things—spiritual life and public evangelism. We are engaged in a relentless world conflict, and the charge to lead in giving this message is Onward, ever onward, until every nation, kindred, tongue, and people has heard the loud cry of the message. Other denominations may depend for the permanency of their church on the establishment of great institutions, but our duty is to hasten on and on for the accomplishment of our world task.
I read from the "Testimonies," Volume V, page 187, a message that comes to us with great appeal at this hour: A great work is to be accomplished; broader plans must be laid; a voice must go forth to arouse the nations." And I believe, brethren, that the time is here when that "voice" is to be heard. You ask, "Isn't it being heard?" Yes, it is. And I thank God for our preachers, for our evangelists, for the leaders in our departments and institutions. I thank Him for the mighty influence that these men and institutions are already exerting in all the earth. But I say that the scenes of Pentecost must be repeated, and that the experiences and results of the repeated Pentecost are to surpass former experiences. But if we are to surpass that experience, when thousands were converted in a day, we must surely make broader plans than we have yet made.
May God give us a new determination and zeal, that we may go out with lips touched with living fire from on high and give the greatest message that God has ever given to men to save a lost world.