It happened at a Sunday night evangelistic meeting. The preliminaries had concluded with a soul-stirring gospel solo rendered by our song leader. I had finished the introduction and was getting to closer grips with the subject of the evening—Spiritualism—when I became aware of a subdued murmur which seemed to come from the rear of the large gathering. As I proceeded to outline the Scripture teaching of the unconscious sleep of the dead, the murmur changed to an angry cry as a man half rose from his seat to shout, "That is a lie!"
Ignoring the interruption, I continued to preach. Meanwhile our chief usher had speedily made his way to the objector and quietly reminded him that the speaker had offered to meet with anyone at the close of the lecture who cared to discuss or dispute any point. (I make such a statement in introducing a topic which might be controversial.) He then warned the offender that this was a religious service and we could not allow any disturbance. Should he persist, we would request him to leave the auditorium.
It now became apparent that there was a group of Spiritualists present, of whom this man was the leader. With their support he was emboldened to continue raising his voice in objection. Other ushers were moving in the direction of the disturbance. The chief usher, in a kind but firm manner, was urging the demonstrators to leave the meeting. I had continued preaching, raising my voice to drown out the sounds of dissent, leaving it with the ushers, if possible, to handle the situation.
Since the disturbance continued, I stopped my lecture and said, "I have already offered to discuss any point with any person after the meeting. If our friend wants to give a lecture in opposition, it is his privilege to hire a hall and do so. It is not fair play to take advantage of this meeting to air his views." I had hardly resumed the lecture when again there were further sounds of protest. Immediately I turned to the audience and said, "Freedom of speech is one of the great principles for which this nation is fighting, and for which our boys are giving their lives on the battlefield. You people have come here tonight to hear my lecture. All who want to have me continue, please say 'Aye.'" The loud volume of "Ayes" that resounded through the 'auditorium effectively silenced the opposition. In a few moments they filed'out looking somewhat shamefaced.
I think of another experience we had during a theater effort in another country. One night a band of young men filed in and sat together in a group. As I began to preach, they hurled critical comments and sneering remarks. This was organized opposition. Our ushers were equal to the situation. The chief usher gathered his men together and stood near the group while he gave me the signal. (We had arranged that in case of need he would raise his right hand as a signal to me to announce a hymn, during the singing of which he would persuade the opposition to retire.) While the audience sang, led by the booming notes of the pipe organ, the ushers efficiently and expeditiously conducted the hecklers through a side door of the theater, and we were free once again to continue the lecture in peace. We later learned that this band of young communists had come with the intention of breaking up the meeting.
Occasionally, as in the first experience, it is necessary for the speaker to stop his lecture to deal with interrupters. This should be avoided if possible, as it only serves to break the continuity of the service and further advertise the disturbance. Looking back through twenty years of evangelistic experience I remember but few occasions in which the ushers could not adequately handle the situation when they had been carefully prepared and instructed beforehand meet such emergencies.
In fearlessly proclaiming a reform message that cuts across popular beliefs at so many points there is always the likelihood that someone in our audience will take exception and audibly express his disapproval. Then there is the constant possibility that some person may faint or be overcome with sickness, or a "drunk" may straggle into the meeting. Once a man died of heart failure during one of my meetings in London. All such contingencies demand that ushers should have a well-understood plan of action which will go into operation quickly and calmly as soon as any disturbance arises.
We can arouse opposition in a meeting by preaching in a manner which is too provocative and challenging. And when opposition is roused, a tactless, harsh, or unkind word can swing the sympathies of the audience over to the side of our opponents.
Let us be careful always to maintain a high spiritual tone in our meetings, and we shall not then be reduced to the necessity of adopting the direct and violent method used by one redoubtable preacher in the early days of the message. His eyes ablaze with righteous anger he would descend from the rostrum and take off his Prince Albert coat. Carefully folding he coat, he would place, it on a front seat and then proceed to eject the interrupters from his tent by physical force; afterward he would don his coat and resume his sermon. This method would not be fitting today.