The Importance of Personal Evangelism T he American philosopher-humorist, "Mr. Dooley," once compared Christian science to the guinea-pig which, he said, has not come from Guinea and is not a pig. He failed to see where Christian science is essentially either Christian or scientific. Similarly what generally passes for "personal work" is a double misnomer in that it does not really take account of the personal equation, and it is not work. Along with Bible study and prayer we include personal work as one of the three primary essentials of the Christian life, but in our hearts do we not often rejoice that those to whom we recommend these practices do not know how shadowy and sporadic is their presence in our own lives?

Personal work! Bible study! The kind of "work" in which we engage in connection with the former phase of our activities would no more be accepted as work in a twentieth century business office than would the kind of "study" which we pursue in relation to the Scriptures, be accepted as study in any true school or college. Is personal work, then, not equal in importance to our regular activities, that we judge it by lower standards, and slight it so continually? Our chief witness both to the difficulty and the rarity of this form of service shall be that one, the influence of whose mind and spirit upon the student world of his generation in Great Britain and America was unrivaled. In his essay on "Spiritual Diagnosis," which marked the beginning of the modern movement of scientific personal evangelism, if not of the psychology of religion as well, Henry Drummond wrote in 1873: "The true worker's world is the unit. Recognise the personal glory and dignity of the unit as an agent. But the capacity of acting upon individuals is now almost a lost art. It is hard to learn again. We have spoilt ourselves by thinking to draw thousands by public work—by what people call 'pulpit eloquence', by platform speeches, and by convocations and councils, Christian conferences, and by books of many editions. We have been painting Madonnas and Ecce Homos and choirs of angels, like Raphael, and it is hard to condescend to the beggar boy of Murillo. Yet we must begin again and begin far down. Christianity began with one. We have forgotten the simple way of the founder of the greatest influence the world has even seen—how He ran away from cities, how He shirked mobs, how He lagged behind the rest at Samaria to have a quiet talk with one woman at a well, how He stole away from crowds and entered into the house of one humble Syro-Phoenician woman, 'and would have no man know it'. In small groups of two's and three's, He collected the early church around Him. One by one the disciples were called—and there were only twelve in all."*


* Drummond: The New Evangelism and Other Essays, p. 258. London.

Can we say that the situation throughout the Christian Church in general has altered materially since Drummond gave it as his deliberate judgment, forty-five years ago, that the capacity of acting upon individuals is now almost a lost art?

With regard to the importance of this form of Christian service, which was the method followed primarily by our Lord and the early Christian Church, let us listen to the most authoritative voice in the student world of the generation succeeding Drummond, Dr. John R. Mott. In his most recent book, The Present World Situation, in the chapter entitled, "Where to Lay the Chief Emphasis," Dr. Mott writes: "Some missionary methods are more highly productive than others. These may be characterized as the most vital processes, and in all cases where other methods are employed, these vital processes should be employed with them or related to them. The most important and productive method of all is that of relating men one by one through reasonable and vital faith to Jesus Christ. By 'reasonable faith' is meant a faith for which men can give reasons which will stand. By 'vital faith' is meant a faith which actually transforms life. This individual work for individuals was the method most constantly employed by Christ Himself, and has ever been given a large place in the activities of the most helpful spiritual workers. It is the crowning work, the most highly multiplying work, the most enduring work. The most influential converts in India were won by this personal seige work. The largest and most satisfactory results in conversions, both in colleges and hospitals, have come from the use of the same method."*


* Mott: The Present World Situation, pp. 215-216. Student Volunteer Movement, N. Y.

The man who convinced Dr. Mott of the primary importance of personal work was the late Henry Clay Trumbull, whose classic volume, Individual Work for Individuals, sums up the experience of forty years of successful personal evangelism.† In that book, after summarizing his varied activities as chaplain, Sunday school missionary, editor and author, he gives it as his deliberate judgment: "Looking back on all my work, in all these years, I can see more direct results of good through my individual efforts with individuals, than I can know of through all my spoken words to thousands upon thousands of persons in religious assemblies, or all my written words in the pages of periodicals or of books."‡ In another place Dr. Trumbull quotes Dr. Nevius, a missionary leader in China, indirectly, to this effect: "He said he wanted no great preachers in his field. That was not the sort of missionaries who were needed in China. If he could find a man who could talk familiarly, face to face with another man wherever he met him, he had missionary work for that kind of a man in China."§


† Cf. Mott: Individual Work for Individuals (pamphlet), p.13 Association Press, New York.
‡ Quoted in C. G. Trumbull: Taking Men Alive, p. 41. Association Press, New York.
§ Ibid., p. 33.

Why Dr. Nevius spoke so emphatically we begin to realize when we survey the history of the modern missionary advance of the church, and note how every great forward movement has been due to an awakening in some quarter to the fundamental importance of work with individuals.

It was my privilege to be travelling through Korea in the later months of the great revival of 1906-1907, a revival which in a sense is not yet ended, and I remember how the Korean converts were constrained to bear personal witness continually to what Christ had done for them—were not, indeed, admitted to full fellowship in the church until they had demonstrated by actual souls they had won the genuineness of their professions of faith. Such a witnessing church becomes of necessity a growing and a power-filled church. Rev. H. A. Popley, who has been so intimately concerned from the beginning in the great evangelistic forward movement of the South India United Church, initiated in 1915, testifies to the fact that in all the preparation for, and progress of, that truly remarkable and most heartening manifestation of the power of God, working in co-operation with the zeal of man, personal evangelism has held the central place. The same emphasis on personal work has characterized the week of simultaneous evangelism, on the part of the Presbyterian Church in India, in 1917 and 1918. We are beginning to realize how true were Dr. Mott's words, written sixteen years ago: "If the Christians of India would adopt this method, it would be a comparatively easy task to preach the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ throughout the entire country within a generation."* All this is equally true of every successful evangelistic effort in the West. Personal work was the corner-stone of the mammoth evangelistic campaign conducted by Rev. William A. Sunday in New York City in 1917, through which no less than 100,000 men and women confessed to receiving a spiritual quickening in Christ during the month that Mr. Sunday was preaching in the tabernacle, and Mr. Frank Buchman was conducting personal workers' groups in all parts of the city. Finally, to come down to the present moment, real personal work is the keynote of the nation-wide movement of intensive evangelism, which is in progress in China, under the inspiring leadership of Messrs. Eddy, Buchman and Day, together with many Chinese Christian workers and missionaries. In connection with this movement, Rev. George Davis, in charge of the evangelistic work among the Methodists of Peking, tells of how in one week over 8,000 people attended a series of special meetings and 4,488 signed cards saying that they wished to become Christians, of whom 288 united with the Church on a single Sunday. He adds that they were all won by personal work, in which 400 Chinese were engaged. Mr. Robert R. Gailey, one of the oldest Y.M.C.A. secretaries in China, writes of Mr. Eddy's latest visit to China: "This recent campaign has been different from others. It was not a one-man campaign. It was not even a one-team campaign. A new spirit, a new idea, a new inspiration has been sweeping over the whole of Asia in the last few months. Mr. Eddy's campaign was only a part of this movement. It can be characterized more nearly by the phrase 'personal evangelism' than any other, though of course no few words can adequately express the depth of the full meaning of the movement. The old-time hit-or-miss revival is gone. Each meeting was 'covered'. Every non-Christian who attended was personally invited by a Christian, who accompanied him, sat with him and followed him up. Men were not swept off their feet by the sudden force of arguments or emotions. Each man had been prepared for several months: otherwise he was not eligible to obtain a ticket. There was no mass action; everything was sane, normal and on an individual basis."


* Mott: Individual Work for Individuals, p. 1.

From this and other signs it is becoming evident to many that the next great advance of the Christian Church—already indeed under way—is to lie along the line of world-wide lay mobilization for universal service, in the sphere of personal evangelism, of all the forces of the Christian Church, so that to the next generation, at least, Drummond's indictment may not apply.

Some may feel that we are over-emphasizing the importance of personal work in comparison with prayer and Bible study, but the experience of many will bear out the statement that when one is actually engaged in the work of winning souls, he is driven continually to God in prayer and the study of His revealed Word. On the other hand, one main reason why there is such laxity in prayer and Bible study among Christian people is, that those practices are considered to be ends in themselves instead of preeminently the means of daily equipment and guidance for effective personal evangelism.

With regard to the comparative importance of personal and public evangelism, let us listen again to Drummond, who has known few peers in either field, "The past has indeed no masses. Men, not masses, have done all that is great in history, in science, and in religion. The New Testament itself is but a brief biography; and many pages of the Old are marked by the lives of men. Yet it is just this truth which we require to be taught again to-day, to be content with aiming at units. Every atom in the universe can act on every other atom, but only through the atom next it. And if a man would act upon every other man, he can do so best by acting, one at a time, upon those beside him".* And Drummond lived what he preached. His biographer, George Adam Smith, says that in this paper on "Spiritual Diagnosis", written at the age of twenty-three on the eve of his participation in the great Moody and Sankey Mission of 1874: "Drummond enumerated the principles and laid down the methods upon which, beginning from this very month onwards, he conducted all his wonderful ministry to men."† Dr. Trumbull quotes America's most eloquent preacher of civil war days, Henry Ward Beecher, as saying in his hearing: "The longer I live, the more confidence I have in the sermons preached when one man is the minister and one man is the congregation; when there's no question who is meant when the preacher says, "Thou art the man."‡ How many a public evangelistic campaign, conducted by a distinguished speaker, has accomplished little because it was not undergirded by a continuous campaign of personal evangelism in which large numbers of Christian workers participated. In like manner very many isolated evangelistic sermons and addresses fail of permanent results, because not driven home and riveted in individual lives by carefully conducted personal interviews. So much for the widespread neglect and the fundamental importance of personal work.


* The New Evangelism, pp. 258-259.
† Smith: Life of Henry Drummmond, p. 53. Hodder & Stoughton, London.
‡ C. G. Trumbull: Taking Men Alive, p. 33.

We will not here canvass in detail the reasons why this form of Christian service is so rare among members of the Christian Church. Dr. Wright told his personal workers' class in Yale University last year that most men are not doing personal work because of spiritual laziness, cowardice or impotence. They do not wish to do it or they are afraid to do it, or they are not able to do it, because sin of some kind has paralyzed their energies. Ober and Mott, in their pamphlet on Personal Work, first published in 1892, four years after Mott graduated from Cornell University, gave the following hindrances to personal work: Natural diffidence, self-conceit, love of ease, consciousness of an inconsistent life, an inconsistent life though unrecognized by the man himself, false courtesy, lack of experience, ignorance of the Bible, failure to recognize opportunities, Satan's active interference."* This list probably includes the most important hindrances, all of which point back to the lack of vital experience of the living Christ, out of which must flow the zeal, courage, tact and consistent Christian living which make personal work possible and fruitful. The terms "Christian" and "Personal Worker" ought to be interchangeable. A professed Christian who is not busy to some extent in the work of witness-bearing to individuals, can be no true follower of Christ, who declared "My Father worketh even until now, and I work" (John 5: 17), who bade us "Go, and make disciples of all nations" (Matt. 28: 19), which includes the people who live closest to us as well as those in distant lands. The one to whom the Gospel is genuine "good news" inevitably passes it on to others, and it is through such personal witnessing primarily that the Christian religion (and for that matter the Buddhist and Muhammadan religions also) spreads abroad in the world. In this paper we are assuming that the desire and the courage and the capacity are present, at least potentially, and that it is a question of right and wrong methods of personal work—yes, let us dare to say, of a scientific and an unscientific way of carrying on this all-important work for the Master.


* C. K. Ober and J. R. Mott: Personal Works How Organized and Accomplished, p. 32. Association Press, New York.

Church members are coming to realise the meaning for them of Jesus' words: "The sons of this world are for their own generation wiser than the sons of light" (Luke 16: 8); and we are witnessing a happy application of scientific efficiency—the shibboleth of the modern business world—to methods of Church management and missionary organization; but as yet we have been lagging behind in making the kindred idea of conservation an integral part of our Christian programme. Amid all this war-time talk of the conservation of daylight, of shipping facilities, of man-power for fighting purposes, etc., we of Christ's army need to remember our great task of the conservation of personality for the highest ends, as we seek to prevent the fearful human wastage taking place all about us through the ravages of sin. This task is not just the comparatively simple one of passing on a word of testimony that "Jesus saves". We are the human engineers by whom what is wrong with these intricate spiritual machines around us should be corrected. Viewed in this light we see at once how inevitably and necessarily personal—to a certain extent "technical"—our work must be.

But perhaps even a more helpful figure is the one which Jesus used when He said of Himself: "They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick" (Matt. 9:12). He was speaking at the moment to the Pharisees, whose coat of self-esteem was so thick that they doubtless missed the sarcasm which sought to tell them that they, most of all, needed healing. But a physician is powerless to help a man who, however ailing he may be, recognizes in himself no defect, so that Jesus' work of healing—both spiritual and physical—was chiefly confined to the class that was recognized, by themselves and others, as "sinners"—sin-sick. Jesus' language here is in line with the whole thought of the Bible regarding sin and salvation. The English words "heal", "whole" and "holy" come from the same root, and in the translations of the Hebrew and Greek originals they are to some extent used interchangeably. Modern psychology also has adapted this classification, as witness the titles of two of the chapters in William James' The Varieties of Religious Experiences;* The Religion of Healthy-mindedness" and "The Sick Soul."


* William James' The Varieties of Religious Experience. Longmans Green & Co., N. Y.