The Lord has given us, in the Spirit of prophecy, most important guidance on public evangelism. This counsel should be the controlling factor in guiding us to some very definite convictions regarding evangelistic work in our cities. We are told:
"Our message is a life-and-death message, and we must let it appear as it is, the great power of God. We are to present it in all its telling force. Then the Lord will make it effectual. It is our privilege to expect large things, even the demonstration of the Spirit of God. This is the power that will convict and convert the soul."--"Testimonies," Vol. VI, p. 61.
What a call this is to an effectual ministry ! A "life-and-death message" to be presented "in all its telling force." Such is God's commission to the ministry of His remnant church.
Let us note two great questions that press upon us. First, how shall we reach the masses in these large cities ? And second, how can we impress them with our message? The second question grows out of the first and becomes the greater, for our work essentially is to win souls and not merely to warn them. To accomplish this soul-saving work, God has chosen "the foolishness of preaching." Whatever help other lines of work may be in extending the knowledge of a saving Christ, the special messenger for God is the preacher. But to reach the masses in the large cities of this age and bring them to Christ in preparation for His return will require a special study both of the message itself and of the methods best suited to its powerful proclamation.
"In the cities of today, where there is so much to attract and please, the people can be interested by no ordinary efforts. Ministers of God's appointment will find it necessary to put forth extraordinary efforts in order to arrest the attention of the multitudes. . . . They must bear the messages of a character so out of the usual order that the people will be aroused and warned. They must make use of every means that can possibly be devised for causing the truth to stand out clearly and distinctly."—Id., Vol. IX, p. Iog.
"By the use of charts, symbols, and representations of various kinds, the minister can make the truth stand out clearly and distinctly. This is a help and in harmony with the word of God."—Id., p. 142.
"Write the vision plainly, that he that runneth by may read." Nab. 2:2 (Luther's translation).
All this is a distinct call to a more effectual proclamation of the message. But having gathered and impressed the congregation, how can we hold them sufficiently long to bring them into the full message ? This is of the greatest importance, for the real test of evangelism is not how many people listen, but rather how many have continued to listen. It is not the getting of an audience that counts so much as the holding of the audience.
People are usually born with enough curiosity to want to know something of the message of any teacher, false or true. But the real test comes, when, having awakened that desire to come once, we can hold them, and ultimately bring them into the fullness of the light of truth. If they do not continue to come, whose fault is it? In answer let me quote again from the counsel of God's Spirit "Those who will study the manner of Christ's teaching, and educate themselves to follow His way, will attract and hold large numbers as Christ held the people in His day."—Id., Vol. VI, p. 57.
It is some years since that statement first arrested my attention. Perhaps nothing has influenced me more than these few words. It seemed as if the Lord spoke to me personally, and I could not get away from it. I had been associated with evangelical efforts in theaters, tents, and halls, and in all these we seemed to expect and plan for the time when the interest would fall away. When through sheer apathy to the truth the audience would dwindle down till "the few honest in heart" (as we called them) would be left, We would naturally look for another place to work. The inference was, of course, that all those who had dropped away were not honest in heart. This was the usual order and nobody questioned it.
But faced as I was with such a statement, I had to admit that it was not Christ's way, for His interest continued to grow, some, of course, falling away, but many more taking their places. That the Lord used better methods was certain. Then I earnestly cried to God, asking Him to teach me better methods—to show me "His way." What could His methods be ? He had neither money nor prestige when He was here on earth, but He held the people. He took the broken timbers of a shipwrecked world and with His own hands built a bridge between earth and heaven.
How I longed to understand His way ! But more, I longed to follow it ! "The Lord's methods are to be followed."—Id., Vol. IX, p. 141. Anxious to learn, I began to study the work of other great preachers, discovering often that they, too, held the people. They did it without the message we have. How much more powerful would their work have been if they had had the truth as we know it ! But again, how much more could we do if only we adapted their methods to the preaching of our message ! The thought lived with me. To preach the grand old message with a power to both attract and hold the masses became the very passion of my life. But to do that I knew I must "educate" myself "to follow His way."
And so I began. It meant a definite reconstruction of my whole program. Every feature of the work had to be restudied with a view to holding the people. I tried to "learn to meet the people where they are."—Id., Vol. VI, p. 58.
"Christ crucified,—talk it, pray it, sing it, and it will break and win hearts. This is the power and wisdom of God to gather souls for Christ. Formal, set phrases, the presentation of merely argumentative subjects is productive of little good."—Id., p. 67.
In this new study the message itself became dearer, and, too, it became more real. Why should the interest die down? The Lord is "the same yesterday, today, and forever." I have worked in many places since then, with the same result, that is, the last meeting having witnessed the largest attendance of any.
By the Lord's help I try not to look upon the people as dishonest in heart, but seeking to follow His way. I long to see them as He did, as "sheep without a shepherd"—looking for the very message the Lord has given us for them. We are evangelists first, and educators second. If once we can lead souls to the Saviour in real conversion, it will then be a joy to teach them all the way of righteousness.
"Talk to the sinner with your own heart overflowing with the tender, pitying love of Christ. Let there be deep earnestness ; but not a harsh, loud note should be heard from the one who is trying to win a soul to look and live." "O, Christ is able, Christ is willing, Christ is longing, to save all who will come unto Him !"—Id., pp. 66, 67.
What McCheyne said is true today : "It is not great talents God blesses so much as likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God." May the Lord give us the zeal, the wisdom, the tact, and the love commensurate with the tremendous task before us.
R. A. A.