Public Calls and Personal Appeals

Presentation at Columbia Union Evangelistic Council, Pittsburgh, February, 1942.

By ROBERT L. BOOTHBY, Union Evangelist, Columbia Union Conference

It is a wonderful experience to gather large congregations to hear God's last message of mercy. But a decision to obey God and y.eld the heart fully to Christ must be secured before men and women are started on their way to heaven. The thing that stands between the eternal weal or woe of many a soul is a decision. Every preacher and every Bible worker whose heart is burdened to save men and women anxiously inquires, What can I do to bring more people to a decision?

To get decisions, we must preach a positive i message. The people are not likely to believe what the preacher himself only halfheartedly believes. We read in the "Testimonies:" "Not with tame, lifeless utterance is the message to I be given, but with clear, decided, stirring utter­ances. Hundreds are waiting for the warning to escape for their lives."—Vol. VIII, p. 16. "The real, vital points should be made as plain and forcible as language and proof can make them."—Vol. Ill, p. 34

The hearers must be convinced that they have heard the truth before decisions can really be expected. Make every effort, there­fore, to emphasize and clearly explain the cardinal points of the message. No matter how perfect the mechanics, without the aid of the Holy Spirit, the preacher is powerless to move souls for God. We read in the writings of the Spirit of prophecy :

"Divine power alone will melt the sinner's heart and bring him, a penitent, to Christ. No great reformer or teacher, not Luther, Melanchthon, Wes­ley, or Whitefield, could of himself have gained ac­cess to hearts, or have accomplished the results that these men achieved. But God spoke through them. Men felt the influence of a superior power, and in­voluntarily yielded to it."—"Gospel Workers," P. 34.

"The disciples did not ask for a blessing for them­selves. They were weighted with the burden of souls. The gospel was to be carried to the ends of the earth, and they claimed the endowment of power that Christ has promised. Then it was that the Holy Spirit was poured out, and thousands were converted in a day."

"It is the absence of the Spirit that makes the gospel ministry so powerless. Learning, talent, elo­quence, every natural or acquired endowment, may be possessed ; but, without the presence of the Spirit of God, no heart will be touched, no sinner won to Christ."—"Testimonies," Vol. VIII, pp. 21, 22.

There is nothing more needed among us to make our ministry effective in bringing men and women to a decision than a fuller infilling of the Spirit of God. We need to pray God to vitalize our sermons and to give us an intense passion for lost souls. We need a burning passion that will so surge through our sermons that they will fall as flames of fire upon the hearts of our audiences. There is so little power, so little of that gripping, moving, con­victing spirit in our sermons, that the hearts of men are not impelled to come to God.

Revival Spirit to Be More Prominent

The messenger of God wrote, "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." —Id., p. 37. My own heart cries out to God for a holy passion for the lost, for a keener appre­ciation of the awful doom that awaits those who do not decide to obey God, for such a sur­render to God's will and purpose that the Holy Spirit may come upon my ministry with cloven tongues of fire that will take my feeble, stam­mering words and make them as firebrands from heaven to light the torch of truth and obedience in the hearts of all who sit under my preaching.

We need to bring the revival spirit more prominently into our evangelistic meetings. Jesus said, "I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me." John 12:32. The world has lost Christ. The popular churches have largely lost Christ. Few today know by experience that Christ saves from sin. We need to preach more of Christ in every sermon.

We must present more and more clearly the cardinal points of our great message. But this is not enough. We must preach Christ and make Him the central theme of every message we deliver to men and women. If we do this, hearts will be converted and then the decisions will be as easy and natural as the fruit that ripens on the tree. Bring your audiences to Christ, and they will want to obey Christ's message.

How shall we secure public decisions? Do not wait to urge for decisions until you are ready to present that decision sermon. I believe in special decision sermons. God has mightily used some of these special messages.

But we should make every sermon in a lesser sense a decision sermon. Put some hooks in your sermons with which you can make a personal catch of the hearts of men and women.

I have listened to some sermons which were well delivered. The content of the message was good, but there were no personal heart appeals. The message flowed out eloquently enough, but never once did it bring home to the heart of the listener the question, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" At intervals, somewhere along in the sermon, there should shoot out through the message burning appeals as darts, that will penetrate the hardness and indifference of the human heart, and lead the

Sinner to feel his great need of God. All men and women must not only see the truth in its logic, but they must be impelled to action by having the truth so laid out before them that they realize that their very eternal destiny is at stake by the decision they make, or by their failure to make a decision.

Soon after the meetings have begun, you can close your sermon by asking those in the audience who wish to be prayed for to raise their hands. Close every sermon with a ringing appeal. Then you can ask the audience to bow their heads in prayer. Ask those who wish to come to Christ for the first time to raise their hands. Ask the backsliders who wish to return to God to raise their hands for prayer. Ask those who have sins they need to overcome to raise their hands. Ask those who are burdened for the soul of a loved one or a friend, to raise their hands. Then close the meeting by pray­ing for these and for the audience.

Several nights later you can ask the audience to stand, signifying that they want to be ready to meet the Lord, or that they have or now do accept Christ, or that they believe the message that they have heard. When they are respond­ing well to these calls, you can ask them to come forward to the altar.

The night you are going to bring them for­ward, you may take some such procedure as follows: Ask those who want to be ready to meet Christ to stand; then call for the audience to bow their heads in prayer. Ask those who wish to accept Christ to raise their hands, and tell them that you will pray for them. When several have raised their hands, tell them that you are going to pray God to do the necessary work in their hearts, but ask them if they are willing, before you pray, to show God that they are ready to do their part by coming forward to the altar and thereby making a complete surrender of their life to God. Then start the singing.

After you have extended several altar calls, you may make the work more definite by calling for an aftermeeting. Tell those who have come forward that you have a few important Bible texts you wish to read to them. Ask them to be seated in the front seats and to remain after you have dismissed the audience. Then when you are standing before them alone, read ap­propriate scriptures to them. Ask all those who meant to make an entire surrender to God to raise their hands. Then tell them, before you have prayer for them, that you have a surrender card to pass to them, and that you feel sure, by the very fact that they came for­ward, that they are ready tonight to sign this pledge of surrender to God.

Vary your appeals from night to night as much as possible. Get the audience in the habit of making decisions before you have presented the testing truths. Seek earnestly in the first part of the meeting to lead men and women to conversion and a genuine experience with God, and that will prepare them to make the final decision that is necessary for them to become a part of God's commandment-keeping church.

God's Word a Mighty Sword

Many never do make their decision in public. There are many who must be sought out per­sonally, perhaps in the home, and there in the quietness of the home be led to a decision. Make sure that they see the need of obeying the truth. Try to analyze, by talking with them, what is keeping them from making a decision. Then take one or a few, not too many, texts of Scripture that fit their need, and press them home until they make the decision. The apostle Paul speaks of "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." O that we might become so familiar with God's book that we could wield this mighty sword of heaven so adeptly as to meet every need when we are trying to lead these souls to make the great decision ! There are wonderful thoughts in the Bible that in themselves press home a decision, if we but knew how to find them.

Oftentimes when a soul is close to a decision, but there still needs to be something more to move him across the line, say to him "Suppose we kneel in prayer and tell the Lord you are going,to make that surrender." If he refuses to do that, you may say further, "Let us pray that God will help you in making that decision." Then pray for him, and when you have finished, ask him if he does not want to tell God in a simple prayer that right now he is yielding.

 In one city, I went out to see a man whose wife had been in the church for nineteen years. He seemed close to a decision, but never re­sponded to any public call. We came to his home about nine-fifteen at night. I talked to him about yielding his heart to God. He said, "I know it is the right thing to do. I believe in all the teachings of Seventh-day Adventists, but I don't feel that I could live it."

I said, "I agree with you. You can't live it, but Jesus Christ can live the life in you if you will give Him a chance." Then I read him scriptures which tell how Jesus wants to come into our life and live our life for us.

He said, "I never heard it like that before." Still he did not decide. I asked him if he would be willing for us to pray. He consented, and we knelt before the Lord. I prayed, my associ­ate prayed, his wife prayed, and I asked him if he didn't wish to pray. He waited. He wiped the perspiration from his brow. He struggled. It was about eleven o'clock when we knelt to pray. I waited for him to rise, but he made no move to do so.

At twelve o'clock he turned to me and said, "I never had an experience like this before." He continued to wipe the dew of struggle from his brow. At twelve-thirty he prayed the most earnest prayer to God. And there and then he yielded his heart to the Lord. It was a touching scene. He rose from his knees and embraced his wife. The next morning he made arrangements to be free on Sabbaths, and later was baptized and joined the church.

Truly there is power in prayer. When every­thing else fails, prayer changes things.

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By ROBERT L. BOOTHBY, Union Evangelist, Columbia Union Conference

June 1942

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