We are counseled that no evangelist should "dismiss a congregation without presenting before them Jesus Christ, the sinner's only refuge, making earnest appeals that will reach their hearts. He should feel that he may never meet these hearers again until the great day of God."—Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 316. (Italics mine.) We are also reminded by the messenger of the Lord that we should dwell more upon "practical godliness" in connection with the theory of truth. (Ibid., p. 375.) It is through the appeal that men and women are brought to the place of decision. How important it is, then, to present the appeal in such a manner as to win the hearts of those who hear.
By all means the evangelist should make an appeal in connection with the presentation of every phase of our distinctive message. Many hesitate to do this. As a result, souls are left in the darkness of the valley of decision. The young evangelist, perhaps because of timidity, sometimes neglects this important instruction. He may feel that the people are not in an attitude to respond, and wait until his series of lectures is nearly concluded befov appealing to them.
I have found that it pays to make appeals from the very outset of the evangelistic series. Get people to respond each night. This will help tremendously when they are brought to the place where they must make a decision for the keeping of the Sabbath and church membership.
I like to conclude every discourse with prayer. It is in this way that the hearts of the hearers are prepared for an appeal to respond to the particular phase of the truth presented on that particular night. While the heads of all are bowed in prayer, I make my appeal. This is an ideal moment in which to reach those who have never accepted Christ as a personal Saviour. I ask such to raise their hands, indicating their desire to be remembered in prayer. I appeal to others who have once been Christians to return. These also are invited to respond by raising their hands for prayer.
Then, too, there are men and women in the audience who have been living up to all the light that has come to them. These should be appealed to. God has more light for them, and their hearts need to be prepared to receive the added instruction that will naturally follow. While the heads of the people are still bowed, I ask for a showing of hands. Then I conclude my prayer, asking God to remember especially each one who has indicated his desire to be remembered in prayer. In this attitude of prayer the Holy Spirit has an,opportunity to impress the truth home to the heart, and a good spirit is shown by all at the conclusion of the service.
Here is an example of an appeal that might well be used on week nights for general decisions at the beginning of an effort.
"And now, friends, there may be some in this audience who have never accepted Christ as a personal Saviour. While all heads are bowed in prayer, I invite you to raise your hand, if you desire to be remembered in our closing prayer. As the Spirit of Christ appeals to your heart, remember the words of Jesus, 'And him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.'"
(As the hands of individuals are raised) "Yes, I see your hand. May God help you. Now, we'll wait a moment longer. There may be others. I'm not asking anyone to stand or come forward or join a church. I'm simply asking you to indicate your desire to be remembered in the prayer."
I try to vary the appeal each night, but include each group. Later on in the meetings, depending on the situation that presents itself and on the impression the Holy Spirit makes on the heart of the speaker, I find it a good plan to get the people to stand instead of raising their hands. These nightly appeals, and the responses that follow, make it easier to have a later altar call for prayer, which I generally make on a Friday night.
Sabbath Afternoon Appeals Important
One of the most important appeals is the Sabbath afternoon appeal. I make a point to appeal for definite decisions to keep the Sabbath and join the church at this time. While I believe that it is absolutely essential to appeal personally to men and women in their homes to come to a decision for the truth, I also believe that strong appeals should be made at the special Sabbath afteinoon services so that men and women may have opportunity to make their decision public.
After a good spiritual sermon has been delivered, I find it worthwhile to present a heartwarming appeal. Singing is very helpful, especially of such hymns as "Pass Me Not, 0 Gentle Saviour," "Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling," and "Just as I Am, Without One Plea."
At the conclusion of the sermon I again have the people bow their heads in prayer. In this prayer I pray that the Spirit of Christ will help those who are impressed to make a definite decision to walk in the light of the truth God has revealed to them. I ask God to give them courage to go all the way, and then conclude the prayer. Immediately after this I invite the audience to turn to one of the appeal songs, and, as the pianist is playing softly, I explain in a few words that we are now going to give those who wish to do so an opportunity to take a definite stand while the first stanza is being sun... I invite such persons to come forward and he seated in the chairs in the front row.
Then I appeal to each one who has determined in his heart that by Christ's help he will keep the Sabbath, to come to the front while the hymn is being sung. As individuals come forward, I clasp the hand of each one and speak a word of courage. Between each stanza of the hymn I invite others to come. I appeal to those who may be hesitating for one reason or another. I try to impress upon the minds of the people present the importance of their influence on others who may be waiting to see what decisions will be made, and suggest that if someone starts forward others who have been holding back may follow.
Many times the Holy Spirit impresses such words home to hearts, and a responsive chord is touched. In every appeal we should remember the words of Jesus, "I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me." It is the drawing power of Christ that brings conviction to the hearts of listeners.
The words of certain hymns can be used to good advantage in making an appeal at these times. Take for instance the words of that beautiful hymn
"Softly and 'Lenderly Jesus Is Calling." After a stanza is sung, I like to make a practical application of the words. I try to impress on those present that the Spirit of God is speaking to hearts to yield fully, and help them realize that all heaven is interested in the decisions that are about to be made; that it is a Biblical fact that the Spirit is "waiting and watching, watching for you and for me." Then I suggest that those whose hearts have been impressed by the pleading of the Spirit of God come forward as we sing another stanza.
We should not give up too quickly if people do not respond at once. We do not know the struggle that is going on in the hearts of those present. I do not mean to suggest, however, that the appeal be made so long that people will dread to return to the Sabbath afternoon meetings. After a few stanza's are sung, with appropriate comments between the stanzas, I announce another hymn. I usually include the hymn "Just as I Am, Without One Plea." With reverent attitude I try to help men and women to feel that Jesus is ready to welcome them just as they are right then; that it is impossible to make ourselves appear what we are not; that only as we come to Him in our needy condition can He cleanse us by His, blood.
I feel that we should remind them that the promise of cleansing is granted on this condition : "If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin." I John :7. It is necessary to help them to see that the messages they have heard place a responsibility on them to walk in the light. I let them know that Jesus is not present to appeal to them personally, but He is present by His Spirit, inviting them to open the doors of their hearts.
"Just as I am, though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt." Truly, this expresses the condition of many hearts who hear our message. Remember, as the Spirit of God pleads, Satan is present to confuse the mind. In the spirit of love and tenderness we should ever seek to help by lifting up Christ.
In making our appeals to our audience, we should remember that there are those present who have real problems in connection with the observance of the Sabbath. Let them know that there is no problem too difficult for Jesus to solve, and that as they step out by faith, the blessing is theirs to claim. When making an appeal, we should anticipate the problems that face those who are trying to make the right decision. In this way people will realize that our preaching is not all theory but very practical.
Some face problems in their homes. Opposition from husband or wife, mother or father, sometimes makes one hesithte to decide to follow the message for this time. I take a minute or two to comment on the words of Jesus found in Matthew 10:36: "A man's foes shall be they of his own household." I then try to impress upon such that Jesus, their Saviour, will stand with them, even if others forsake them; that "he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after Me, is not worthy of Me." I find it appropriate to invite others to come forward while we sing the next stanza.
After I bring the appeal to a close, I ask how many in the congregation will continue to pray that God will give them wisdom and courage to make a right decision. Generally every hand is raised, and a good spirit is left at the end of the service.
I believe that appeals for definite decisions should be made at the close of every Sabbath afternoon service. Even if there are but few present, an appeal should be made. If no one responds the first Sabbath, some may do so the following Sabbath. I feel that if Christ is exalted in every appeal, men and women will come out of the valley of decision into the sunshine of God's love.