When Napoleon was leading his troops across the snowy peaks of the Alps to the sunlit plains of Italy a little drummer boy was caught by an avalanche on the mountain and knocked into a crevice. He landed on a ledge unhurt. Far above him the soldiers continued their march. Those who had witnessed the accident looked back, but they dared not turn aside.
The little lad began to play the relief call on his drum, and they heard him Many a father in that French army may have wished the order would come to relieve the lad.
Napoleon was told what had happened, but what was the fate of a little drummer boy compared with his great task of getting the army over the Alps? And so instead of giving the order to save the lad, he cried, "March on!"
The boy heard the tramp of the feet of his comrades becoming fainter and fainter and when he realized that there was to be no rescue, that he had to lie down and die, he began to beat his own funeral march. The veterans in that army heard it and wept. And as they told of the incident years after by the campfires, they wept again.
Thousands in our cities today will be beating their own funeral march unless we take the gospel to them. This can never be done by preaching alone. We ministers must bring the streams of living water to those who are perishing. We may choose to do this by holding public meetings in tents, halls, churches, or in the open air. But a large percentage of the decisions made by the people who attend our public meetings are made in the homes. Paul went from house to house and taught the people (Acts 20:20).When a minister is transferred to a new field of labor, one of the first places he visits is the church. Then in order to get the feel of the city and learn something of its people, he may drive along the main streets and on through the residential section. But we can learn about people best by getting into their homes and seeing how they live, by visiting the hospitals, praying with the sick, saying words of comfort to those who are bereaved, and thus getting close to them. We are told: "If one half of the sermonizing were done, and double the amount of personal labor given to souls in their homes and in the congregations, a result would be seen that would be surprising."—Evangelism, p. 430.
What are the advantages of home visitation? The purpose of all home visitation is to lead souls to make a decision for Christ. The public meetings do not afford the opportunity to get to know people personally. The home visitation plan has proved to be a match that kindles the flame that burned in the heart of the person eventually baptized.
If a minister never held a public meeting as such, he could lead people to a decision to follow Christ by house-to-house labor. A home-going pastor produces a churchgoing people. You can be assured of a good attendance on Sabbath when you visit in the home, where you are given the opportunity to meet those of the family who do not belong to your church and have a chance to invite them to it. These relatives, for the most part, know something of our message, and as a result of personal visitation and by being friendly, they can be led to follow their Lord in baptism.
The minister and Bible instructor should begin to get decisions and create an interest in future meetings front the first visit. A person makes a series of decisions during a campaign. The important thing is to get a decision after each meeting. This can be best done when we visit him by asking how he enjoyed the meeting. We want to know if he has decided to accept what we have tried to make clear in the sermon he heard. When the nightly decision plan is followed, the candidate makes one step at a time, and the final decision for baptism is therefore made easier.
The first indication of progress by the candidate is when he keeps his first Sabbath in our church or place of worship. When the person comes out on the Sabbath it is a good sign that he will follow through to baptism. Here again, the worker must do a convincing job in the home.
The candidate must be assured that this is the most important decision that he will ever make. Here I would urge the positive approach. Mention the fact that already indications are that a large number will be there to keep their first Sabbath and that you know he is making plans to be there too. People like to hear what others are doing. If decisions to attend the Sabbath meeting have been made by some of his acquaintances, mention their names, for this will help. Let him know we have been praying that God would impress him to be present for this first Sabbath celebration. Usually the person will tell us that he will plan to be there. A personal letter thanking him for his decision and assuring him of God's blessing as he keeps his first Sabbath, will be appreciated. A warm handshake and a few well-chosen words after the Sabbath morning meeting will do much to encourage him and bring him back the following Sabbath.
Another decided advantage of personal visitation is to get to know the person so well that you can win your way into his heart by love. This close acquaintance will help lead him to a decision because he has learned to appreciate you. A worker must be the very essence of love and kindness. You also get to know his habits and weak points beforehand, thus you can prepare to help him with his problems. This may be the reason why people who come into the church never tire of talking about the one who led them to Christ.To help a person to make a decision to stop smoking or drinking requires that the worker show reasons why he should quit these habits. Reasons of health, family, and money are all good, but to show that his body is God's dwelling place, and that God will not dwell in an unclean temple, is a better approach to some (see 1 Corinthians 3:16, 17). Try to get the candidate to enter into a contract with Jesus. If he states that he wishes to stop his habit, tell him that Jesus has heard his wish and is willing to help. Show him that he has to do his part. He must be willing to keep tobacco out of his mouth and to keep his promise with God. God's part will be to take away the desire. Show that God cannot do His part unless he does his. The contract can then be sealed by prayer, asking help from heaven. The person is then called or visited each day until he gains the victory.
The personal visitation program creates a love for souls. Those who are on our visiting list are not just names; they are individuals who become a part of us. Our bedside should become a closet of prayer as we wrestle with God nightly for them. I would suggest that we spread these names upon our bed and pray over each name as Hezekiah did the letter he received from Sennacherib. God still answers prayer. John Knox prayed for Scotland, "Give me Scotland, or I die." We need to pray, "Give me souls, or I die." As we pray for a particular family, call them by name. This is personal work of the highest order. When we visit the person, tell him that we believe God has led him to a knowledge of this truth and that He has chosen him for a purpose. Since he is an honest soul, he would not want to say No to God and thus disappoint Him.
Every worker should know when to secure the decision. We should not try to get it until the person is ready. When the testing truths have been presented, and we feel the person is ready to take the important step, then move for a decision. Remove every objection by showing him the right step to take. If we do not get a decision at first, we should suggest praying about the matter. When we rise from our knees, clasp his hand, saying, "I know you will do the right thing for God. I will make your decision a matter of prayer tonight, and will come back tomorrow to see what your answer will be." The chances are you will have the answer when you return.
During the Civil War an Indiana regiment was sent into battle before the recruits had received any training. They were ordered to charge. When they had encountered the fire of the enemy, wavered, broken, and fallen back, one young soldier kept straight on. He had heard the order to capture the entrenchment. When he reached the trench and climbed in, he encountered a gunner ready to fire. He instantly seized him, whirled him about, and finding him alone, started for his regiment with his prisoner. The enemy did not shoot, fearing to kill their own man, and the raw recruit came safely back. To the astonished questioning of his comrades as to where he got the man, he replied: "Why, up there! And there are many more of them there. All of you fellows could have had one if you had only kept on." Saving souls, my fellow worker, is personal work and is the kind that must be carried out to get decisions for Christ.
No matter how great a preacher may be in the pulpit, his work will be weak unless he can sit down in the home and win some soul to Christ by personal endeavor. "It is not preaching that is the most important; it is house-to-house work, reasoning from the Word, explaining the Word. It is those workers who follow the methods that Christ followed who will win souls for their hire."—Gospel Workers, p. 468. "By being social and coming close to the people, you will turn the current of their thoughts more readily than by the most able discourse. The presentation of Christ in the family, by the fireside, and in small gatherings in private houses, is often more successful in winning souls to Jesus than are sermons delivered in the open air, to the moving throng, or even in halls or churches."—Ibid., p. 193.
Remember, Christ used the personal touch to get decisions. Some of the greatest lessons He ever taught were spoken to one person alone. If a woman of Samaria could be used to obtain decisions for Christ, surely we as workers should try the personal touch. If you try, you may have someone say to you, "This day is salvation come to this house" (Luke 19:9).
Like the drummer boy in Napoleon's army, we will either play the rescue or the funeral march. We have the drums. Which will it be?