Only a small percent of those who become interested in our message take their stand immediately, and many never make their decision for Christ. So often we excuse ourselves for failing to get decisions by referring to the parable of the Sower and inferring that most of the seed we have sown has fallen on unprofitable ground. But we cannot escape the fact that it is possible to have "one hundred conversions to the truth where now there is only one" (Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 189).
What can be done on our part to make us more effective soul winners? Is it possible that we have been satisfied merely to sow the seed, to preach the message, to scatter our literature, and to enroll others in the Bible courses, but have given too little thought to bringing men to a decision for Christ?
In The Ministry of Healing, page 398, we read: "The highest of all sciences is the science of soul saving." We need to give much more thought and study to this important science. What are the best methods of securing decisions? What can we do that we are not now doing to cause sinners to turn to Christ?
As a pastor I have been much concerned about reaching the hundreds and even thousands in our large cities who have heard our message and believe it but who have never done anything about it, and the many others who at one time were numbered with us but who have since drifted away. In these troublous times many of these are finding their way to our churches on Sabbath mornings or are indicating their interest by asking questions of their friends and others who are church members. Here is a large field of evangelism, ready to harvest, and we must not overlook it. What about all those who have taken our Bible correspondence courses, read our truth-filled literature, heard the Voice of Prophecy or viewed Faith for Today? The seed has certainly been sown and a harvest awaits our reaping. Why are we not getting more of these across the line? With such a harvest awaiting us, why do many of us come up to the end of the year with so few won to Christ? We recognize that there are circumstances that make it far more difficult in some places than in others, but every man who is consistently having trouble bringing men to a decision should certainly give serious thought to revising his methods of finding and winning men to Christ.
Recently a successful layman came to me much concerned over the fact that he had not been able to hold the interest of one of his best prospects. He felt that he was doing something wrong, although he was carefully following the method he had been taught. The difficulty was that his prospect was almost ready for a final decision. He recognized this but felt that he was obliged to begin at the first Bible study and complete the series. Somewhere in the long series the prospect became bored, lost interest, and fell out by the way. This man was already acquainted with and had accepted most of the material that he was hearing. He was looking for something new to challenge him. He should have been led gently and carefully from the point of highest interest to a complete understanding and acceptance of the great truths that were not yet clear to him, then into a final decision for Christ and the message. But this was not done. Without doubt this is an error often repeated. We must learn to recognize an interest, find what the prospect now believes and has already accepted, and begin at that point to develop the interest, securing a decision on each subject as it is presented. Otherwise many who should be making their decision for Christ and the message will be lost.
This is in harmony with the following quotation from Historical Sketches, page 148: "Many a precious soul balances for a time, and then takes his position on the side of error, because he does not have this personal effort at the right time." How necessary it is that we recognize this important fact. Because we have failed on this very point, could it be possible that some of us have been responsible for precious souls making their decision on the side of error instead of on the side of truth? It is true that the Holy Spirit brings conviction, but the human instrument also plays an important part. "It is the work of the Holy Spirit to convince the soul of its need of Christ. Many are convicted of sin, and feel their need of a sin-pardoning Saviour; but they are merely dissatisfied with their pursuits and aims, and if there is not a decided application of the truth to their hearts, if words are not spoken at the right moment, calling for decision from the weight of evidence already presented, the convicted ones pass on without identifying themselves with Christ, the golden opportunity passes, and they have not yielded, and they go farther and farther away from the truth, farther away from Jesus and never take their stand on the Lord's side."—Evangelism, p. 283.
Much could be said here on the importance of presenting the message and making our appeals in a positive way. Jesus Christ has far more to offer the sinner than He asks him to give up. But so many times the negative side of the message is emphasized, and people get the impression that here is a religion that is based to a large degree on one's ability to live up to certain rules the church has laid down. This is unfortunate. Every truth must be built around Christ. Paul said, "I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2). How can we present a lesser doctrine or make our appeal for surrender on any other basis? "The sacrifice of Christ as an atonement for sin is the great truth around which all other truths cluster. In order to be rightly understood and appreciated, every truth in the Word of God, from Genesis to Revelation, must be studied in the light that streams from the cross of Calvary. I present before you the great, grand monument of mercy and regeneration, salvation and redemption,—the Son of God uplifted on the cross. This is to be the foundation of every discourse given by our ministers."—Gospel Workers, p. 315.
"Christ crucified—talk it, pray it, sing it, and it will break and win hearts."—Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 67. When one accepts the Lord Jesus Christ and He lives in the heart, it is the natural thing for him to desire, above all things, to live as Christ would have him live and do as Christ would have him do. Jesus said, "I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me" (John 12:32).
What part should altar calls play in bringing men to a decision for Christ? There was a time in our history when many of our pastors and evangelists felt that this was not the best method, that it was too emotional an approach. If men were led to a decision in this way, they would not be stable. It would be a decision made on the spur of the moment or under emotional pressure, and they would soon drift away. Now it is true that the message that Seventh-day Adventists preach demands far more of those who accept it than does the average message. It presents a much more complete study of God's Word than is presented by most churches today. But our message has now been preached for one hundred years. One can hardly meet a person today who has not had some contact with Seventh-day Adventists, through relatives or friends or through our literature. Many of these have heard the message presented by one or more of our evangelists and are convinced of its truthfulness. The statement found in The Acts of the Apostles, p. 109, is certainly true today: "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."
We cannot fail to extend to these an invitation to surrender their lives and their all to God when they attend our services on Sabbath mornings in our churches or during an evangelistic effort. It took a consecrated veteran Bible instructor in one of our large city churches to convince me of the importance of frequent altar calls at the Sabbath morning service. She felt, and did not hesitate to voice her conviction, that one should never end a service without extending an invitation and "opening the doors of the church." After the service, if the call was not made, she would come to me and say, "Oh, Elder, there were several here this morning who were ready to make their decision for Christ, and you did not give them an opportunity. Why didn't you do it? If I were a minister I'd never close a service without opening the doors of the church." I have found that the altar call on Sabbath morning pays large dividends in decisions for Christ.
During the past three months we have seen the following take their stand for Christ as a result of the Sabbath morning altar call: 1. A family of six had known the message for ten years. They happened to drop into the church one Sabbath morning, and the call was extended. Their decision was made. They are all baptized now and all the children are in church school. 2. A woman had a sister in another city who was a Seventh-day Adventist. This sister had interested her by visiting in her home and by sending her our literature. She just happened to come to church one Sabbath and made her decision. 3. Three former Seventh-day Adventists who had drifted away quietly found their way to the Sabbath morning services. One had given up the message thirty years ago, the others during the past five years. All three made their decision as a result of the altar calls on Sabbath morning. Besides these, several of our youth and juniors have given their hearts to God during the Sabbath morning altar call, and many of our members who were having special problems have come forward for prayer and reconsecration.
"There are souls in every congregation who are hesitating, almost persuaded to be wholly for God. The decision is being made for time and for eternity."—Evancrelism, p. 279. What a great responsibility rests upon the minister as he stands there presenting a life-and-death message. "With an unction of the Holy Spirit upon him, giving him a burden for souls, he will not 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."—Ibid., p. 280.
Too often fear of failure causes us not to make a public call for surrender. But in God's cause there is no failure. It is true that there comes a time to each of us when we see no outward response, but we can be sure the Holy Spirit is there, working and pleading with men and women to turn to God. And the times of success far out-number the times of seeming failure. If we were to wait until we were assured of complete success, we would never launch out in any new endeavor, never conduct a Bible study. We would never preach a sermon and we would never accomplish anything for God. Call for decisions!