Method of Personal Evangelism

If then we accept this definition of personal work as the "Cure of Souls" (to quote the title of "Ian Marclaren's" Yale Lectures on Preaching), we do not need to argue for a scientific as against a haphazard method of procedure. A prominent member of the Chinese Church, after hearing Mr. Buchman lecture on this subject, in 1917, said: "I know what you mean, you don't believe in the chemist's shop method of personal work". That analog will describe much that passes under the name of personal work, i.e., giving perfunctorily our spiritual specific, our cure-all, to ailing souls around us, and perhaps wondering why the Gospel does not prove more efficacious. The true physician only after careful scientific diagnosis administers a remedy, and then he follows the case through with conscientious care. Have we (and I mean now not simply clergymen, whose work is preaching, but all of us whose work is winning men and women to their highest selves in Christ) looked at our business of curing souls in this conscientious way? I once heard Dean Jacobus, of Hartford Seminary, in America, say that a man ought to prepare as carefully for a vital interview with one man as for a sermon to one hundred. In view of this the seminary with which he is connected now has a "spiritual clinic", compulsory for all students, conducted by Dr. John Douglas Adam, one of Scotland's many valued gifts to the religious life of America, in which personal evangelism is studied, as law is studied, by the case method, instead of through vague generalization and exhortations.

In the kindred sphere of philanthropy there is a new technique which has transformed it into a science through emphasizing this same individualized study, as illustrated by a recent publication from the pen of Mrs. Richmond, director of the organization department of the Russell Sage Foundation. It too has adopted the clinical method based on "social diagnosis", of which we read that "In social diagnosis there is the attempt to arrive at as exact a definition as possible of the social situation and personality of a given client."*


* Article in Current Literature for December, 1917, pp. 394, 395, based on Social Diagnosis, by Mary E. Richmond. Russell Sage Foundation, New York.

It was for the use of just this clinical principle in individual work that Drummond pleaded in his essay on "Spiritual Diagnosis", and it was this method that he himself followed in all his unparalleled work for individuals to the end of his life. In a letter to a friend in 1882, he wrote: "I must say I believe in personal dealing more and more every day, and in the inadequacy of mere preaching. The inquiry room this time, as before, brings its terrible revelation of the vast multitude of unregenerate church members. I have dealt with several men of position who knew the letter of Scripture as they knew their own names, but who had no more idea of Free Grace and a Personal Christ than a Hottentot."*

To further illustrate the use of this method of approach, let us take an illustration from the field most familiar to us in India; in our missionary work to-day there is a growing appreciation of the need of studying scientifically the best way of reaching the people of these other religions, in the light of their pre-conceptions and past strivings and attainments and failures in the realm of the religious life. The detailed report of the Edinburgh Missionary Conference of 1910 showed the vast diversities in the missionaries' task, and the need of the most careful preparation before the work is undertaken. Further results of that epoch-making conference are appearing in the careful findings of boards of missionary preparation in Great Britain and the United States, and in the establishment, present or prospective, of schools of missionary preparation, on both sides of the Atlantic, which are setting their standards as high as the professional schools in other departments of the world's work. The "chemist shop" method is not considered adequate to the missionary propaganda of the twentieth century. Can we continue to use it in our approach to the individual, where each case is so different, so delicate, so difficult?


* Smith: Life of Drummond, pp. 145.

At this point we need to safeguard our use of the word "method" in its application to personal evangelism just because every case is different, has its individual features, and must be dealt with by a method of its own, a method which in each case will emerge not so much out of the Christian worker's past experience as out of his immediate communion with Christ, the Master Physician, who alone fully knows each individual human heart. Vitally important, then, for the spiritual physician is the development of what the mystics of all religions know as spiritual apprehension—the "wisdom that cometh down from above" (James 3: 15). Drummond quotes an old French sage (La Bruyere) as saying: "After a spirit of discernment, the next rarest things in the world are diamonds and pearls", and he also quotes a certain principal of St. Andrew's University to this effect: "There is a faculty of spiritual apprehension, very different from the faculties which are trained in schools and colleges, which must be educated and fed not less but more carefully than our lower faculties, else it will be starved and die."* This spiritual apprehension is the sine qua non of an intimate knowledge of the world and of human nature. I once heard Dr. R. F. Horton, of London, speak on the subject of prayer as a medium of understanding the inner meaning of current events. If, as some one has said, "History is His story", we can only rightly understand history in the past or in the present as we find our way, through spiritual apprehension, into the mind of the Lord whose purposes are being worked out in the affairs of men. And, similarly, we cannot understand the people around us save as it becomes possible for us to view them through the eyes of Jesus. He was the Great Physician because He perfectly "knew what was in man" (John 2: 25) , and that knowledge came primarily through His uninterrupted communion with the Father. It is an indubitable fact that the deeper and richer our prayer life becomes, the less are misled by appearances and professions, and the clearer becomes our insight into the hidden soul of the man before us. Moreover, this relation of practiced prayer to personal work is more immediately useful when we are laying spiritual siege to a particular soul.


* The New Evangelism, p. 263.

In the first place, through early morning prayer our own spirits are brought into tune with the infinite, and made spiritually sensitive and strong and resourceful, to meet all the unknown opportunities that await us of influencing individual souls in whom we are interested in the hours of the day to come. Our sense of perspective is corrected afresh, so that we are likely to view things in right proportions, looking at certain seeming interruptions that may come as god-sent opportunities for service, and refusing to allow the most important work of all to be crowded into a corner or out of the day altogether. We can all plead the excuse of business, but many of the busiest men are the greatest soul-winners; they have learned to "put first things first" at all costs. We have time usually to do the things we really wish to do. As a matter of fact, if wve refuse to let the early morning prayer be crowded out of our lives, as it almost certainly will be if we follow the line of least resistance, the very discipline involved in our making time for that pristine spiritual exercise is likely to have its influence in leading us also to find time for the no less important work of soul-winning, to which the prayer time is so essential by way of preparation. Some years ago I had a small part in a series of evangelistic meetings in a large middle western university in the United States. The chief burden of the meetings rested on the shoulders of the general secretary of the University Christian Association, a man of unusual spiritual force. The days were so crowded with activity that it seemed as though surely this was the time when the early morning prayer might have been intermitted or at least shortened. In conversation with the secretary's wife, I discovered that instead of shortening his period of prayer, he had lengthened it during that week to two full hours, rising, like his Master, "a great while before day". I asked him later how he could do it, and he replied that he was simply driven to it by the burden he was carrying, the necessity of being at his best intellectually for the perplexing problems to be solved, and at his best spiritually as he came face to face and heart to heart with men all through the day in individual interviews. Martin Luther once said, that when any day promised to lay upon him a special burden of work or responsibility, he found it necessary to rise an hour earlier than usual for prayer on that day. When we read in the lives of great winners of men like John Wesley, Henry Martyn, Hudson Taylor, Kieth Falconer, Forbes Robinson, William Booth and Philips Brooks, the place given to believing, persistent, sacrificial prayer, we cannot remain in doubt of the cause of our own comparative lack of spiritual apprehension and power in winning individuals to Christ.

In the second place, through the early morning time of prayer we learn each day's programme of procedure as God who, we must believe, never acts or would have us act in a haphazard manner, transfers to our minds such part of His perfect plan as we need to know. From Him alone can we learn to whom He would have us speak some timely word of a personal nature for which some soul is ready and which can come effectively only from ourselves. At that hour there come to us the mysterious "leadings" of God's spirit which, when tested and proved and followed, bring to pass moral miracles in individual lives. Here is where so much of our personal work is lacking: instead of having been "begun, continued and ended" in God, initiated by His Spirit's dictation and mirroring God's purpose throughout, it really begins and ends with ourselves, both in impulse and plan. Furthermore, if in the early morning our spirits are attuned to the Divine Spirit, not only shall we receive "leadings" at that time, but all through the day we shall be sensitive to every summons to service. A letter of Drummond's written on a summer holiday tour in young manhood, chronicles the result of two such leadings in a single day, and is worth quoting as typical of what was with him almost a daily occurrence: "I had some wonderful 'leading' on Saturday—all the more that it was unexpected. It would take too long to tell, but I had two distinct and valuable opportunities of talking personally and in detail about the 'unsearchable riches'. The outline of the first case is something like this: I started in the morning for Ullswater, missed a seat on the two coaches, walked half way, was picked up by a private party, who offered me a seat beside the driver. At first he was very quiet, and after some time I noticed tears in his eyes. I found he had just buried his wife. He was in very deep distress. He was a good respectable man, a teetotaler, but plainly did not know the truth. I did not tell him much then, but I got his address and mean to write him to-night. I hope something will come of it; the poor fellow seemed very anxious. Another of the cases was in coming down Helvellyn. I went to Ullswater, dined, and started for Helvellyn alone about two. It was a lovely afternoon and the view from the top was marvellous. In coming down I met a young fellow who was in great anxiety about a companion whom he had lost on the mountain. He had searched everywhere, night was coming on, and he feared his friend had been seized with a fit. He didn't know what to do, but the question, 'What do you think of praying?' led to a long and earnest talk. He was a Swedenborgian, but had practically no religion. . . . I do not know that any positive good was done: I mean I saw no immediate effect; but we talked the whole matter round very freely and plainly. I am afraid these details will be uninteresting on paper, and I will not trouble you with a third. For my own part, I felt very grateful for them."*


* Life of Drummond, pp. 118, 119.

In the third place, this time of prayer is necessary not only to discipline and refine our spirits and to enable us to receive our great unseen Captain's order for the day: but, in addition, and most important of all, we are there releasing spiritual forces of untold potency which will be serving as allies in our spiritual warfare. "Prayer moves the Hand that moves the world". The work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of men, the work which no human power can compass, follows, we know, certain higher, mysterious laws, in the working of which the prayer of faith is somehow most effectually involved. This is the kind of objective result of our praying to which St. James referred when he wrote: "The heart-felt supplication of a righteous man exerts a mighty influence" (James 5: 16, Weymouth tr.). Someone has said, "The Holy Spirit always works at both ends of the line.', and we may be sure that when we have entered into that Supreme alliance, through prayer, the Sirit of God will not only go with us but before us, preparing the soil of the heart o( our friend for the seed that we are sent to sow. 'Thus did Philip the humble evangelist, bidden to challenge the attention of the mighty Ethiopian official, find that God's Spirit had already prepared the way by prompting the eunuch to read the very passage of Isaiah's prophecy most closely related to the message which Philip was sent to bring (Acts 8: 32, 33). So did Ananias, the servant of God in Damascus, following the summnons of God's Spirit to undertake the fearsome task of interviewing the notorious enemy of the Christian Church, Saul of Tarsus, find that the Spirit had already humbled that proud heart, so that he was indeed "actually praying" (Acts 9: 11, Weymouth tr.). So, on the other hand, is very much of our attempted personal work ineffectual, because we are working alone, unsupported by this mighty ally on whom the early church called so insistently and with such amazing results.

Once we realize that the method comes from God, and is applicable in detail to each individual case confronting us, we can safely proceed to ask whether there is not a certain general line of approach in soul-winning, whether there are not helpful sign-posts on the way, from defeat to victory in Christ, along which we would lead those who have gone astray. The simplest rule I have heard consists in the three words: Woo, Win, Warn. Perhaps, we may better consider what lies behind these three ideas by adopting fuller nomenclature suggested by Mr. Buchman as indicating the normal procedure of the soul-physician: Confidence, Confession, Conviction, Conversion, Conservation. Let us consider in turn these five successive stages the boundaries of which often so merge into each other as to be indistinguishable, although all five are probably present in every success of soul-winning.