The question, "How shall I get my readers to make a decision to obey the truth?" is certain to appear whenever Bible workers problems are considered. While it is impossible to outline a fixed set of rules by which this may be accomplished, yet there are certain fundamental principles which, if applied, will make our work more effective in securing decisions.
The matter of bringing individuals to a decision for Christ and the message for this time is not accomplished in a moment, nor does it come as the result of half-hearted, intermittent effort. There is a background to such a weighty decision which it is well for the Bible worker to recognize. Both the divine and the human element enter into this experience. On the divine side, there is the Holy Spirit and the living word of God ; on the human side there is a child of God dealing with the sinner who knows not God, and often is living in open rebellion against Him.
This work of winning men and women to Christ is not to be undertaken in our own strength or in the wisdom of man. We should realize that God has undertaken to win men from sin to righteousness, and all that human beings can do is to co-operate with the divine agencies already at work for the redemption of a lost world. Of this divine work we are told :
"By an agency as unseen as the wind, Christ is constantly working upon the heart. Little by little,
perhaps unconsciously to the !eceiver, impressions are made that tend to draw the soul to Christ. These may be received through meditating upon Him, through reading the Scriptures, or through hearing the word from the living preacher. Suddenly, as the Spirit comes with more direct appeal, the soul gladly surrenders itself to Jesus. By many this is called sudden conversion ; but it is the result of long wooing by the Spirit of God,—a patient, protracted process."—"The Desire of Ages," p. 172.
Must Be Deeply in Earnest
It should fill our hearts with courage to know that the mighty power of the Holy Spirit is working upon the hearts of those for whom we labor. The life of the "living preacher" is a great factor in the work of soul winning. The Bible worker must teach the truth from a full heart and a deep conviction that every word is true. She must be deeply in earnest, both in and out of season. If she manifests deep earnestness only while giving a Bible reading, or while making an appeal for a decision for Christ, and at other times is light and trifling in manner and conversation, it is very likely that the appeal from her lips will go unheeded. In that case the souls for whom she is working will consider such earnest words as a part of her profession, and not as the result of a burdened heart yearning for their salvation.
The life in which the Holy Spirit dwells cannot be light and trifling at any time. Instead, a holy atmosphere of grace will surround the life, making it a savor of life unto life. Where the Spirit is, there will be a life of prayer and intercession going up to God in behalf of the unsaved. A genuine burden for souls is something that cannot be taken on or put off at will. It is a gift from God. The first matter of importance, then, may be summed up in these words, "Take heed therefore unto yourselves." Acts 20:28.
Must Be Steeped in the Word
Next to a godly life, filled with the Holy Spirit, and a love for souls, is the need of being steeped in the word. "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom." Col. 3 :16. One who would win souls must have a ready working knowledge of the Bible. It is one avenue through which the Holy Spirit works, and the particular phase to which the Bible worker has dedicated her life. We are told that the word is "able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus." 2 Tim. 3:15. The "engrafted word, . . . is able to save your souls." James i :21. It is the "sword of the Spirit" (Eph. 6:17), and a soldier for Christ must know how to wield the sword effectively when the time comes to storm the citadel of the soul. Dwight Mallory Pratt, in "The Master's Method of Winning Men," makes an important contribution on this point, as follows :
"Adequate intellectual and spiritual equipment is gained only by familiar acquaintance with the word of God. The Bible is the Textbook of the spiritual life. It meets every variety of moral need. Its working passages should be at the finger tips and tongue's end of every Christian worker. If fencing with the sword is an art that requires practice and skill, much finer is the mental and spiritual art of using effectively 'the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God.' "—Pages 29, 30.
Understanding of Human Nature
The third step in bringing about a decision may be said to be an understanding of human nature—the ability to read souls. Of the Saviour it is said, He "needed not that any should testify of man: for He knew what was in man." John 2:25. No human being can have such an insight into human nature as Christ had, yet it is well to remember that one of the gifts of the Spirit is "discerning of spirits."
Cor. 12:10. Fenton's translation renders it "discerning of character." In the same epistle we read: "For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him." I Cor. 2:11.
We must remember that "to know men is better than to know books on psychology." How then may we learn to know men and women so as to win them for Christ? We may begin by seeking to understand ourselves and the needs of our own hearts, by carefully studying the Bible characters and their variety of experiences from which to learn, and by sympathetically mingling with all kinds and types of people. One may usually find a good assortment in his own block.
There is no end to such training during a lifetime, for no one is graduated from the school of life. In proportion to the time spent, such study yields greater returns than any other course one can pursue. In this school we learn that no two individuals are alike. Everyone's reaction to the things of this life is different. Unless these facts are taken into consideration in teaching the truth, we shall fail in making the most of our opportunity, and cannot work intelligently for a decision and a finished work.
"No two individuals can be approached in the same way. Unbelievers differ in temperament, training, inheritance, education, moral capacity, motive, and condition. Some are antagonistic to truth, others eagerly searching for it ; some sincere, others hypocritical; some upright in conduct, others vicious and willfully evil; some timid, hesitant, introspective, sensitive in heart and conscience; others brazen, unrefined, and utterly unconscious of any spiritual need."—Id., p. 32. "Scripture that applies to one may not apply to another. To know how to select verses and passages with reference to the special case in hand soon becomes a facile art under the guidance of the Holy Spirit."—Id., p. 30.
The fact that there is a difference in human nature and heart longings is beautifully expressed in the Spirit of prophecy in the following quotations : "There are thousands upon thousands who give no time or thought to the salvation of the soul."—"Testirnonies," Vol. IX, p. 24. Yet on the other hand: "All over the world men and women are looking wistfully to heaven. Prayers and tears and inquiries go up from souls longing for light, for grace, for the Holy Spirit. Many are on the verge of the kingdom, waiting only to be gathered in"—"Acts of the Apostles," p. 109.
Laboratory for Interpreting Souls
This "science of interpreting souls cannot be mastered without the clinic, any more than chemistry can be mastered without the laboratory. . . . Face to face with souls we become acquainted with their innermost life. In the light of God's word the secrets of the heart are unveiled."—"The Master's Method of Winning Men," p. 31. Just as individuals differ in temperament and general make-up, and just as instruction must be given according to individual temperament and conditions, so also in the end the Bible worker must make her appeal for decision according to each individual need.
Various Methods of Appeal
A few examples from actual contact will be given to illustrate this point. Some Bible readers have such a keen sense of right that to know the truth is to sense their obligation and obey it. A friend of mine who had been attending some meetings remarked to one of her neighbors that she believed the Seventh-day Adventists were right. Her little daughter hearing this said: "Mother, then why don't you do it ?" The decision was made and this woman brought her family to Christ.
1. With others, the infinite love of God through the sacrifice of Christ so touches the heart that the appeal for decision may be made on the beautiful words of Christ : "If ye love Me, keep My commandments." John 14:15. "If ye keep My commandments, ye shall abide in My love ; even as I have kept My Father's commandments, and abide in His love." John 15:10.
2. Again, a sense of loyalty may be the point for decision. Recently one of our ministers told that his decision for the truth was brought about while reading "Daniel and the Revelation." He declared that never again would he honor an apostate power by Sunday observance. The next week end he kept the Sabbath of the Lord. That was the beginning of a life dedicated to the service of God.
3. In order that some may be aroused to a sense of their danger, they must be brought face to face with the terrors of the final judgment of the wicked. Seeing the danger before them, by the study of such texts as Luke 13:3 and Hebrews io :26-31, many have fled to Christ and found protection in His blood.
4. Then again many are fearful and hesitant. They are afraid that they cannot hold out in the Christian warfare, that if they start and fail in finishing the race, the condemnation will be greater than if they had never made a confession of Christ. For such, the promises of God, revealing His keeping power, are needed. (See John 10 :27-29; Jude 24, 25.)
Courage and trust must be instilled in the fearful, and when by faith they lay hold on the promises of God and accept them as their own, they often become beautiful Christians because they know the source of their strength and are not self-confident. From the life of Nicodemus we learn that the hesitant and fearful are not to be considered as hopeless. For three years he hesitated and wavered before he made the final decision which definitely identified him with Christ and His followers. When he did yield, he became a power for good.
All along in our work for souls, and especially at the critical moment when decisions are being made, we need an abiding love for them and infinite patience and gentleness, as well as the sterner qualities of an Elijah and a John the Baptist. There must be no weakness manifested on the part of the Bible worker. Nothing must be said or done to excuse or minimize the responsibility of the soul hanging in the balance.
She must live so near to the Lord that He can teach her when to use the right method for a reader at the right lime.
To present the truth and then say, "You see this is the truth. What are you going to do about it ?" may work at times, but not in most cases. Paul tells us that we as "ambassadors for Christ" are to "beseech" men to be reconciled to God. (2 Cor. 5 :20.) In the same chapter he uses the expression, "we persuade men." In another place we read : "Thou hast loved my soul from the pit of corruption." Isa. 38:17, margin. This was Hezekiah's testimony of praise. There are in these expressions a warmth and loving solicitude worthy of our emulation. Is this too high an aim?
"Christ did not tell His disciples that their work would be easy. . . . But they would not be left to fight alone. . . He bade them be brave and strong. . . . He made full provision for the prosecution of their work, and took upon Himself the responsibility of its success. So long as they obeyed His word, and worked in connection with Him, they could not fail."—"Acts of the Apostles," p. 29.
If the Bible worker does not see all her readers accepting the message, she should not consider that as a cause for discouragement. The Lord has not promised that everyone who hears the message will accept it and be saved. We are still in the time of seed sowing. The work of sowing the seed has been committed to man. He is also to cultivate and nourish the vineyard, but the production of fruit can come only from God. When the "times of refreshing" shall come, the seed sown now, whose fruitage is not immediately forthcoming, will spring up and bear fruit for the kingdom of God. This is very clearly set forth in "The Great Controversy :"
"Servants of God, with their faces lighted up and shining with holy consecration, will hasten from place to place to proclaim the message from heaven. . . . Satan also works with lying wonders. . . . Thus the inhabitants of the earth will be brought to take their stand.
"The message will be carried not so much by argument as by the deep conviction of the Spirit of God. The arguments have been presented. The seed has been sown, and now it will spring up and bear fruit."--Page 612.
When the message has been faithfully delivered, declaring the issue of life and death which is before us, and the appeal is made to choose life, the servant of God can do no more, but must leave the results with the Lord, who knows the hearts of men. In this manner Moses finished his work. ( See Deut. 30:15-20.) In like manner, Joshua, before he lay down to his rest, summoned all Israel before him and put the issue of life and death plainly to them : "Choose you this day whom ye will serve." John the Baptist appealed to the people of his day to "flee from the wrath to come." He told them plainly that those who would not heed the invitation would be hewn down. (Matt. 3 :7-1o.) Now, as then, the power of choice is left with the individual. Let us take courage and go forward in faith and trust in the Lord of the harvest, that His word shall not return void.