YEARS ago there lived by the Sea of Galilee a young man by the name of Simon Bar-jona. He loved boats and nets and the sea. It seemed that he was born to be a fisherman. This was his ambition—to catch fish, to be a master fisherman. Since he was very active and a successful man, no doubt in a few years there would appear a gleaming new sign on a certain boatshed in the cove, "Simon Bar-jona, Master Fisherman."
But something happened to his plans for the future. His brother, Andrew, had found Jesus Christ and was eager for Simon to meet Him.
"And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephus, which is by interpretation, A stone" (John 1:42).
Peter's name was changed, and not only his name, but his occupation. After Simon Peter had fished all night and taken nothing, Jesus instructed him to launch out into the deep and to let down his nets for a draught. Peter followed the instructions of the Lord without a question. As a result "they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net break" (Luke 5:6). Peter and his partners were astonished. But Jesus said unto Peter, "Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men."
Decision Involves the Will
As ministers of the gospel, we have been set apart as fishermen to catch men for Christ. In fishing for men, decision for Christ is the supreme object. Therefore, how to secure decisions is the concern of every soul winner. Decision involves an act of the will. And we are told that the will is the supreme court of the human mind. So we must recognize in our appeal that we are entering the sacred precinct of the soul, and must seek only voluntary, favorable action.
As preaching fishermen, we must not only declare what God has done but also preach what God commands men to do. We can take Christ as our example.
"Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel" (Mark 1:14, 15).
Our preaching must have urgency and immediacy. Christ's teaching was in the imperative. He said, "Follow Me. . . . Believe in Me. . . . Come after Me. . . . Take up your cross. . . . Forsake all that you have." In other words, He was continually pushing for a decision. So must we.
Impression Without Expression Leads to Depression
Some refuse to make any public invitations because of the theological issue concerning God's sovereignty and man's responsibility. I do not believe that the theological issue is what is keeping some of us from making public invitations. It is the emotional issue. I do not believe in emotionalism that is emotion for emotion's sake. But when Christ is lifted up, not only the intellect is affected as we give mental assent to His demand but also the emotions. We will love Christ.
Leighton Ford in his book The Christian Persuader makes a very pointed observation on this subject.
"I am convinced that the giving of some kind of public invitation to come to Christ is not only theologically correct, but also emotionally sound. Men need this opportunity for expression. The inner decision for Christ is like driving a nail through a board. The open declaration of it is like clinching the nail on the other side, so that it is not easily pulled out. Impression without expression can lead to depression." —Page 124.
In holding our Voice of Prophecy Bible crusades in cities and towns from coast to coast, I find that people in various social strata will respond in different ways. There are many in the upper echelons of society who would not respond to a public invitation of any kind. When visiting these individuals in their homes, I attempt to get the decision right there.
In presentations from the pulpit it is very important that we uplift Jesus Christ and His Word continually and not try to appeal to the emotions of the people through some pathetic or tear-jerking story.
"The minister is not merely to present the Word of God in such a manner as to convince of sin in a general way, but he is to lift up Christ before his hearers. Christ's claims upon them are to be made plain. The people should be urged to decide just now to be on the Lord's side."--Evangelism, p. 283.
Invitation After Each Sermon
I make a point of having some type of invitation after each sermon. A preacher never knows when there will be someone in his audience who will be there for the last time.
While holding a meeting recently in Shafter, California, a man and wife had attended two nights. On the third night, after having attended the service and retiring for the night, the wife suddenly passed away. Her husband came to me the next day and told me what the meetings had meant to his wife, and how she had responded to the invitations from night to night. What if there had been no invitation given? What if a decision had not been made by her?
I have determined since then to give an opportunity for a decision after every sermon that I preach.
"In every discourse fervent appeals should be made to the people to forsake their sins and turn to Christ."—Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 396. (Italics supplied.)
Explain Why Appeal Is Made
When an appeal is given, it is very important to explain the reason why you give it. In the audience there will be persons from various communions of faith, and some who have never been Christians. Perhaps you will have atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, Moslems, et cetera. It is important to explain that accepting the invitation is a means of obeying Christ's commands, of confessing Him before men. Avoid vague appeals. If your object is to reach people who are making a first-time commitment to Christ, be sure to say so. If you are also including those who are corning back to Christ or those who have a burden on their heart, say so.
It is helpful sometimes to speak of the symbolism involved. For example, a man makes a promise, and he says, "I will keep my word," and shakes hands as a sign. Or a soldier sees a flag go by. In his heart he says, "I will be loyal to my country." He salutes. This is a sign. A young couple commit themselves to each other and pledge their loyalty in the giving of self; they stand at the front of the church and pledge themselves publicly in word and in a kiss. This is a visible sign of their inward commitment.
So when people come from their seats and stand at the front, as in an altar call, it is an open sign that they are giving their hearts to Jesus Christ.
The types of calls are these:
1. HAND RAISING: My sermons are always closed with prayer, during which I invite all, with bowed heads, to talk to God and to ask forgiveness of Him. I usually say something like this: "And now, as our heads are bowed in prayer and our eyes are closed, and we are talking with God about our problems, I am going to ask Gordon Henderson to sing just one stanza. When he has finished his song, we will close our prayer." Then at the close of the invitation song, I may say, "The words of this song are the desires of our hearts. As we close this petition to God, those who would like to say, 'Pastor Richards, please include me in that closing prayer. My desire is to have my sins forgiven and life renewed,' would you raise your hand heavenward?" Then I conclude the prayer. "Heavenly Father, Thou hast seen the hands raised heavenward tonight.
Please reach down and grasp these hands and these hearts and lives of ours. We thank Thee for this, for we ask it in Christ's wonderful and powerful and loving name."
2. STANDING CALL: The second type of call is to ask individuals to stand. I use this
only once or twice during an entire crusade, usually when I speak to the young people and ask if they are willing to stand for Christ and be a nonconformist in an age of conformity.
3. ALTAR CALL: This is a call to come forward. I have used this type of call in consecration services, in church meetings, and in evangelistic meetings after I have covered the basic points of faith and have come to the last few nights of the meetings. The invitation for the altar call must be made very clear. There are times when I have made a general altar call, and as the people have come forward and we have closed the service, I have asked them to remain for just a moment in front so that I can talk with them and have special prayer with them. A card is handed to each one, and he is invited to fill in, the card, giving his name and address, his need, whether he desires further Bible study, victory over habits, or is looking forward to baptism in the future, rebaptism, or to become a member of the church on profession of faith. These cards are collected, and are placed in my open Bible on a verse of promise that I read to them. We kneel, and I have a short prayer for them. I ask them to follow me in a prayer of commitment, which goes something like this: "Heavenly Father, I kneel before Thee tonight, realizing that I am a sinner and in need of a Saviour. I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour. I choose tonight to follow Jesus every day. I thank Thee for victory and for a new life in Jesus. Amen."
4. AFTERSERVICE: Sometimes during the altar call, as we close the service in prayer, I invite those coming forward to go into a side room instead of waiting in front. Team members meet with us in the after-service. It is much quieter this way, and helps to relieve any embarrassment some might feel by standing in front. In these afterservices I give a few points on how to grow in grace and how to keep the experience they have received, stating that in the physical realm three items are essential: first, nourishment; second, exercise; third, rest. The same is true in the spiritual realm: we need nourishment—that is, we need to feast on God's Word, some every day; we need exercise—that is, we need to share this faith and let others know what Christ means to us. In this way we will grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus. And third, we need rest—and a loving Creator has provided this in His holy Sabbath day.
Sometimes I present the gospel in terms of the three "R's." In coming to Christ we must first Recognize our need; we must be prepared to Renounce our sins; we must Receive Christ. Or I might speak of the ABCD's of a victorious life: A is Admit that I have sinned, that I cannot save myself, that I need a Saviour. B is Believe. We must believe that Jesus Christ is our Saviour and that He is able and willing to save us..0 is Consider. Consider the cost of becoming a Christian—the Lord wants all of us. D is Do. Not only am I to believe about Christ, but I must entrust myself to Him, I must open the door of my life and ask Him in.
Decision Only a Beginning
I try to impress upon those who participate in one of these calls that a decision for Christ is only the beginning. It is not the end of all things. I explain to them that they are like newborn babes. We are babes in Christ, and God will help us as we grow up into the full stature of a Christian.
5. CARDS: The fifth method I use is filling in cards. Usually I do this at the last meeting of the series. Just before I begin to speak, the ushers give a plain white card to everyone in attendance. I ask them to fill it in, putting their name and address on the card, and to hold it, as I have something special for them at the close of the service. During the appeal, when all heads are bowed in prayer, I say something like this: "Now as our heads are bowed in prayer, decision time has come. This is election night. In your hands you have your ballot. Your name and address are on your ballot. You are going to cast your vote tonight. The evil one has already cast his ballot. He wants you. And the Lord Jesus Christ has already cast His ballot on Calvary's cross. He voted for you there. Tonight you are to cast the deciding vote. Which way will it be? Those who would like to look forward to baptism in the near future, those who realize that they need to have a little more time to go over the points of faith but at least are looking forward to baptism or rebaptism or to become a part of the body of Christ's church on profession of faith, just put a check mark on your ballot, and turn it over quickly. No one has to see it. Then pass the cards to the end of the row, and the ushers will pick them up. All heads are still bowed in prayer. This is a very important moment."
I have found that this type of invitation and commitment will encourage many who would be rather hesitant or too timid to participate in an altar-call type of invitation. We visit these in their homes, and find that the decisions are good.
Remember that we are not inviting people to come to Christ because of some superiority complex, but as beggars telling other beggars where to get bread. Before we can ask someone to come to the cross of Jesus, we must have been there ourselves. We must give the invitation with great urgency. "Now is the day of salvation. Now is the accepted time." The appeal that we give as fishers of men must include the entire man. "My son, give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways" (Prov. 23:26).
Intellect, Emotions, and Will
Remember that decision for Christ means the consent of the intellect. First, in accepting information about Christ and His teachings, we give mental assent to His claims. Second, we surrender the emotions to Christ. He captures our affections, and we love Him more than anyone else. He teaches us to love the things He loves and to hate the things He detests. Third, it means we completely surrender our will in the realm of our actions. This takes in our programs, our conduct, our service, and our lives.
The servant of the Lord explains this invitation to the complete man, when she says, "By His perfect obedience He has made it possible for every human being to obey God's commandments. When we submit ourselves to Christ, the heart is united with His heart, the will is merged in His will, the mind becomes one with His mind, the thoughts are brought into captivity to Him; we live His life. This is what it means to be clothed with the garment of His righteousness."—Christ's Object Lessons, p. 312.
Through our church doors every Sabbath and into our evangelistic meetings walk individuals who need to make a decision for Christ. There are backsliders who are striving to come back to Christ but who do not have the courage to approach any of us. What are we doing to encourage these individuals and to give them the opportunity to make a commitment to Christ?
Our work is to save men. Christ is calling today for us to launch out into the deep. The harvest is there, just waiting to be drawn in!
Dr. W. Leon Tucker tells of a strange street demonstration in New York City in which twelve thousand people marched. The most remarkable thing he noticed in the procession was three sight-seeing limousines packed full of men, women, and children. In one of them was a judge of the court of appeals and in the last one was a ragged street boy. On the sides of the cars were painted these words: "These people have all been saved from burning buildings by New York City firemen." Behind the cars marched the men who had saved them, wearing their medals. Hundreds of thousands of people cheered them.
Fellow workers, think of the eternal joy that will thrill the hearts of those who, following their Lord and Saviour and disregarding the consequences, have spent their lives pulling men out of the fire! This is what Jesus meant when He said to Peter, James, and John: "Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men."