Exhorting People to Respond
Connie W. Adams
Jesus gave the greatest invitation of all when he said "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Mt. 11:28-30).
Two Classes Who
Need To Respond
When the gospel is preached in the hearing of sinners, it is in order to not only teach them what they need to do to be saved, it is also in order to make it known in some way that help is avail-able to assist them in that obedience. Paul spoke of an assembly when "the whole church was come together in one place" in which there would be "unlearned" and also "unbelievers" present (1 Cor. 14:23).
On the day of Pentecost, Peter's sermon, along with that spoken by the other apostles, brought forth the agonizing question "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" Peter's answer was prompt and to the point. They were told to "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:37-38). There was a great response. "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls" (v. 41). I do not know exactly how they proceeded to determine which ones wanted to be baptized as opposed to those who did not, but there had to be some means of determining the will of those who desired baptism.
At Samaria Simon the magician was converted. Some time later Peter and John came down from Jerusalem and laid hands on some, imparting to them spiritual gifts. Simon was amazed and offered them money for that power. He was told that his heart was "not right in the sight of God" and that he must "repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee." Simon then asked them to "pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of those things which ye have spoken come upon me" (Acts 8:18-24). Their message to Simon reached his heart and brought forth a response.
So then, those in sin who have not repented and been baptized need to do so. Those who have at one time repented, been baptized and then fallen into sin, need to take steps to correct the matter. In the latter case, it may be that the sin is known only to God and the one who sinned. No public response is necessary. In the case of Simon, there were at least some of the brethren aware of his sin and he was not only to confess his sin, having truly repented, but he called upon these who knew of his sin to "pray ye to the Lord for me."
Offering a public invitation at the end of a sermon and singing a song at such a time, commonly called a song of invitation or a song of encouragement, is an expedient. Paul said concerning public assemblies, in which there were "unbelievers" present, "Let all things be done decently and in order" (1 Cor. 14:40). A public invitation is not the practice among brethren in some countries, or perhaps in some places in this one, nor does it have to be. It is an expedient means of urging those who need to bring their lives into harmony with
God's will to do so. The book of God virtually closes with the great invitation of the Saviour. "And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst say, Come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely" (Rev. 22:17).
If we have compassion for the souls of lost people which moves us to take the message of salvation to them, then we need somehow to let them know that we are ready to help them obey the Lord. A public invitation is an orderly way to do it.
Some brethren are excellent preachers. They have their material well organized, work hard at presenting it in a clear and forceful manner. But they do not know how to exhort the sinner. If an invitation is offered at all, it is done almost as an after-thought, or as a trite little speech while the audience scrambles for song books and much of what is said is not heard. In earlier years in this country during protracted meetings, one brother would present the sermon and another would exhort to obedience. Some-times the exhortations were long and ardent and there were often much public response with people requesting baptism. The danger in this is that emotion can override reason and understanding. And yet, there is a danger of treating the whole matter so matter-of-factly that all genuine emotion is lost. It ought to be a moving experience for one to decide, in a public gathering, to make a lifetime commitment to serve the Lord, to confess the name of the Saviour and to put him on in baptism. It often evokes tears from those making such decisions as well as from concerned friends and loved ones in the audience.
Avoiding the Song Book Shuffle
I preached a sermon once on worship and made a point about the usual distraction when a preacher mentions the word "faith" near what is perceived as the end of his sermon. A good brother came out and said, "Your point is well taken. But people do have to get their song books. Why don't you just ask them to get their books and turn to the invitation song, and then ask for their attention again and offer the invitation?" It sounded so simple, I marveled that I had not thought of that before. I have been doing that ever since. That is one way to avoid this problem. If there are lost souls in need of obedience to the Lord, they need to hear what is being said.
Parents with young children also need to think about the fact that, if they allow an upset child to talk or cry aloud for an extended period while lost souls are being urged to obey the Lord, they may bear a heavy responsibility should those who need to listen at that very moment be hindered from doing so.
Don't Give Up
If this expedient is to be used then let us make the most of it. Song leaders often give a signal that this is not very important. They sometimes will sing every verse of several songs with a two-page spread, and then sing two verses of an invitation song. Why? What's the hurry? Or, a song leader will sit far back in the audience, and then take his own good time getting to the front, get his pitch and lose a powerful moment when the audience first stands. Gentlemen, have your song ready and come out of your seat singing! Sometimes it is said that most people who respond do so right at the first of the song. That is not always the case. Sometimes, I think it necessary to stop the song after two or three verses and exhort a little more. That depends on what is observed as I look out over the audience. Sometimes you can see those who are really struggling with themselves as an added word of encouragement is sometimes all that is needed. In today's world, hearts are not as easily stirred and moved with the gospel as in other times. I have seen a number of occasions when the song had ended, but after a word of exhortation, another stanza would be sung and several would respond. I recall two occasions when there were 10 souls who responded after the song was finished and added words of encouragement were given, followed by another song. Care must be taken not to over persuade. But Paul said, "Knowing the tenor of the Lord we persuade men" (2 Cor. 5:11). Pray tell, what is wrong with urging lost people to flee to the loving arms of Jesus who said to the heavy laden, "Come unto me"?
Sometimes preachers minimize the invitation. They may say, "Let's just sing one verse of an invitation song." Is this a guilt compensation for preaching too long? Or, some will invite those needing to respond to do so without any instruction as to what they are asked to do. Sometimes there are people present who know they are lost but they do not know what they ought to do. Denominationalists do not teach the sinner what to do to be saved. They have scrambled the message. It could be a very instructive time for them. It is true that Christians have heard it many times. But others have not. And what of our own family members yet unsaved? Are they unimportant? Preachers minimize the invitation by giving up and walking out the aisle before the last verse is even finished. Brother, don't do that! Dig in and stand your ground and act like you hope someone will respond! I know one young preacher who turned around on the last verse to take his place on the front row and four people came up and sat down, all wanting to obey the gospel. He was really surprised. He does not do that anymore! If we are going to invite people to obey the Lord, then let's genuinely show them that we are anxious and expect them to do what is right. I firmly believe the poor manner in which public invitations are handled has contributed to a reduced number of public responses.
Sometimes I hear that this expedient is no longer expedient. Yet, when I ask audiences how many present obeyed the Lord in a public gathering, I see the hands of 1/2 to 2/3 of those present, and it doesn't matter what part of the country I am in when the question is posed. This includes people of all ages, many of whom have obeyed the gospel in recent times.
Once in Aprilia, Italy where my good friend and brother Rodolfo Berdini effectively works, at the end of a sermon (they do not sing an invitation song), an elderly man stood up near the back and in Italian asked, "Why can't I be baptized here tonight?" Brother Berdini hastened to tell him he could. Then while we waited for a little more water to run in the baptistry, a young man came to the front while brother Berdini was presenting several Scriptures on the subject, interrupted the speaker and said he was also ready to be baptized. It was a great service and though we stayed a long time that night, it was a memorable occasion for all.
Public Responses Teach
A few months ago an elderly man responded to the gospel invitation at Manslick Road while we were singing an invitation song. In the audience that day was a young man reared as a Catholic. He had never witnessed an immersion. He was much impressed and after the service had a number of questions which led to some Bible study. Two weeks ago I had the great privilege of baptizing him into Christ. He is our son-in-law. Other factors were certainly involved and several people had a great hand in teaching him, including his wife, but he did learn some things from the public response to an invitation which prompted questions all of which in time led him to "repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins."
Brethren, if we are going to employ this expedient in urging the lost to obey the truth, then let's take a good look at how well we are doing this. If we can make a few adjustments and make it more effective, then we ought to do it. After all, we have nothing to lose but the souls and men and women.
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 16, p. 19-20