Desire to arrest and engage the attention of one's hearers or readers is laudable. Every worker, yes, every child of God, should have as his aim in life the giving of the gospel to those whom he meets who do not know or do not appreciate it. It is trite to say that no other joy equals that of leading souls to the Master ; no other work approaches this in the satisfaction it brings. Everyone who has tried to labor for God, even in a small way, knows that this is true.
In our literature work the leaders spend hours upon hours endeavoring to assist workers in learning how to approach prospective purchasers. Unfavorable mannerisms are pointed out; uncouth speech is corrected; a grim countenance is changed to a pleasant smile. All in all, the whole aim is to help the salesman to cultivate every engaging manner, so that a favorable feeling toward him may prepare the way for him to show his literature.
Actually, the work of the preacher is not unlike that of the colporteur evangelist. It is his main business to make the gospel seem attractive, so that men will turn to it rather than from it. If he is wise, he will continually be studying the individual with whom he talks, or the congregation he is addressing. He will be quick to note a loss of interest. He will exercise his mind to the limit in his endeavor to make what he says seem not only interesting, but convincing.
Years ago in Ohio there was a minister who was known for his logic. One time he was preaching on the Sabbath question. A storm came up which made it necessary for him to shout to be heard. I think that no one who was present on that night will ever forget the talk because each point was driven home with all the force of his being. As one point was finished and he was ready to turn to another, he would shout, "Is that enough ? If that is not enough, I will give you some more !" Such a discussion might convince the mind, but it could hardly move the heart. It is never enough to set forth facts to convince the mind without stirring the heart to action. Men must not only know what is right; they must feel in their souls that they must obey.
Of course this was an extreme case and few would follow such a method. On the other hand, some have such a deep desire to please that they preach nothing but soothing platitudes which provoke no thought and stir no emotion.
There is another method of preaching that has many adherents. These rely upon startling, extravagant statements. Judging by what one sees and hears, the temptation to exaggerate assails all men sometimes. Maybe this is a holdover from childhood. How often the small boy reports some incident to his father that seems wonderful to him. But father, because of more experience and observation, is not particularly impressed with the recital. The little fellow senses that he has failed. For father's sake, and that he himself may be given proper standing, he adds a few trimmings when he tells the story again. It is not that he wants to lie; it is only that he wants to impress father.
Frequently speakers and writers are, to say the least, careless, and to say the worst, sensational and unreliable. I myself had a recent experience that reproved me. During a talk I quoted a preacher of another denomination who had said that it was impossible to secure, in a certain city of over 450,000 population, a single attorney who would undertake a case that involved some conflict with the Roman Catholic Church. After my talk an Adventist brother came to me and told me that his brother, a non-Adventist, had heard my talk and said he did not believe what I had said.
I could not prove my assertion. I had only accepted the unsubstantiated statement of a man who felt angered by a condition he could not correct. I acknowledged that I had been careless. I think if I had said no reputable attorney could be secured, there would have been no question raised. I refer to this because the Adventist brother was plainly perturbed. His brother had been bitter toward the truth. He had not gone to hear any of our speakers for a long time, and I am afraid he will not go again soon. What I said may have been absolutely true. The point I am trying to make is, I could not prove it when called upon to do so.
Because of this recent experience I resolved to watch my words, and am moved to urge our brethren everywhere to exercise care in what they say. For instance, a sensational headline may be used to prove a statement. But public press accounts cannot always be taken at full face value. Everyone knows that the second day's story of an incident as given in the newspapers may be very different from the original report of it. To convince thinking men, understatement is always better than overstatement.
Recently I saw something that had been written concerning intoxicants. I think everyone who is candid will admit that there is an increase of liquor drinking in our country. But this writer, attributing many of the evils of our country to drink, and endeavoring to drive home drink's curse, referred to France, using these words: "Prior to the war, the drink bill in France was ten times the baker's bill." I have no doubt that our brother saw that statement some place, or heard it made by one who he thought could speak with authority, but I must 'say I cannot believe it.
Not long since I saw these words which had been prepared for publication by one of our publishing houses : "As a commentary upon the indictment, 'lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God,' note the following items from the Federal records at Washington." Then followed a list giving the amount that was spent for gambling in a certain fiscal year, the amount spent for liquor in the same year, and the estimated amount that was spent for bootleg liquor and tobacco in the same year, all these totaling over $16,000,000,000. Reference was then made to large sums spent for cosmetics, soft drinks, chewing gum, tea, and coffee.
But can anyone really believe that the use of an after-shaving lotion—a cosmetic—is proof that one is a lover of pleasure more than a lover of God? or that the putting of a little powder on one's face after the lotion is a sign that one is a lover of statement was made to the effect that four million workmen had been affected by "major" strikes during the years 1937 to 1939, and that these strikes represented a loss of fifty million hours of labor. Actually, this showed that the average loss per man was only twelve and a half hours. Probably the writer did not stop to think what the figures really revealed. A day and a half of working time lost hardly constitutes a "major" strike. Four million is a large figure and fifty million is much greater, but as used, these figures were not striking.
It is not necessary to indulge in extravagant or reckless statements. Men who are accustomed to thinking carefully and reasoning accurately will be repelled by loose, unreasonable assertions. All classes must be reached, and some may be stirred by an excess of zeal that carries one past the bounds of facts, gently putting this down to impulsiveness. But the gospel does not need such methods.
Let us exercise care to be as honest in our preaching as we are in our ordinary affairs. Let us preserve a name for strict veracity.