RETHINKING THE OLDER WAY OF EVANGELISM
by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
We can learn a great deal about preaching and evangelism by studying the Puritans, and especially the men who followed them in the First Great Awakening (1740-1770) and the Second Great Awakening (1800-1830).
C. H. Spurgeon was one of the last preachers to follow the Puritan way of evangelism. I personally believe that it would be wise to return to Spurgeon’s method. Too often today people are baptized without being converted. I think the best way to avoid this is for pastors to follow Spurgeon’s method. He strongly urged every Baptist preacher to have a quiet place where he could talk at length with the lost. He told the students at his Pastor’s College:
If you wish to see results from your sermons you must be accessible to inquirers. It is shocking to think that there are ministers who have no method whatever for meeting the anxious. From the very first you should appoint frequent and regular seasons for seeing all who are seeking after Christ, and you should cordially invite such to come and speak with you. Seek out the wandering sheep one by one, do not grudge your labour, for your Lord in His parable represented the good shepherd as bringing home his sheep, not in a flock, but one at a time.1
Speaking on the same subject, the seventeenth-century preacher Richard Baxter said to pastors:
The work of conversion is the first and great thing we must drive at; after this we must labour with all our might…We must be ready to give advice to inquirers, who come to us. A minister is not to be merely a public preacher, but to be known as a counsellor for their souls, as the physician is for their bodies…To this end it is very necessary that you be well acquainted with practical cases, and especially that you be acquainted with the nature of saving grace, and be able to assist them in trying [testing] their state, and in resolving the main question that concerns their everlasting life or death. One word of seasonable, prudent advice, given by a minister to persons in necessity, may be of more use than many sermons.2
These two men from the past strongly urge pastors to love the lost enough to spend time with them and help them. This outline on conversion is given to help pastors in the counselling work which Spurgeon and Baxter described. We do not believe that people are saved through our methods alone. Anyone who comes to Jesus is saved (John 6:37). But we believe that the following outline can be helpful in making sure inquiring souls actually do come to Him. What we present here is quite close to the methods used by Richard Baxter, Asahel Nettleton and C. H. Spurgeon. This can easily be proved by reading what these men wrote on the subject.
What is Conversion?
A. We must have in mind a definition of salvation through Christ.
Conversion gives a man a new nature and standing before God and, thus, produces a new direction in his life.
Conversion is the result of that work of the Holy Spirit which draws a lost sinner to Jesus Christ for justification and regeneration, and changes the sinner’s standing before God from lost to saved, imparting divine life to the depraved soul, thus producing a new direction in the life of the convert. The objective side of salvation is justification. The subjective side of salvation is regeneration. The result is conversion.
We believe that this definition will help to clear up the confusion caused by decisionism.
1. Historically and objectively (what Christ did).
“For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (I Corinthians 15:3-4).
2. Personally and subjectively (what the convert does).
“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31).
As Spurgeon said, “That faith which saves the soul is believing on a person, depending upon Jesus for eternal life.”3
3. The act of believing on Christ (also called trusting Christ) is the means by which the atonement historically given for all mankind is received by the individual sinner and applied to him. Christ died for all men and women, yet not all are saved, because most people do not trust Him.
4. This act of believing on Christ or trusting Him is not a mere agreement with the historical facts of the gospel. It is instead an act in which the sinner trusts in Christ the person, Christ Himself (John 1:12). A. T. Pierson was quoted by H. C. Thiessen in his Lectures in Systematic Theology. Dr. Pierson wrote:
“Here, then, is the starting point for any who would exercise saving faith; he must receive Jesus as Savior, Christ, Son of God; not simply the witness God gave concerning His Son, but the Son of God Himself.”4
Or, as C. H. Spurgeon put it, “The mere knowledge of these facts will not, however, save us, unless we really and truly trust our souls in the Redeemer’s hands.”5
5. This act is unique among all the things that a human being can do. Although called a “work” in John 6:29, it is in a class of its own and is distinguished from all human works such as going to church, giving up sins, witnessing, fasting, giving money, praying, and so on. Believing on Jesus is the only thing that will save a person (John 6:29).
The act of trusting Christ is actually supernatural:
a. It reaches from earth to heaven, going outside of a person and even outside of this earthly universe.
While a sinner can by his own power give up sins, pray, come to church, read the Bible, and so on, he cannot perform either aspect of salvation: he cannot pay for his own sins (I Corinthians 15:3-4) and he cannot by his own abilities, without the grace of God, come to Christ (John 6:44), who is in Heaven (Mark 16:19; Hebrews 10:12).
Thus, it would be impossible for a person to come to, trust, or otherwise contact Jesus, if it depended upon purely human faculties: but the grace of God actually makes saving trust possible (Ephesians 2:8-9). How wonderful is the love of God!
b. Furthermore, the sinner in his depraved state cannot be saved, and does not even want to be saved. He is “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1) with the “understanding darkened” (Ephesians 4:18).
It is only God that awakens a sinner and places within him both a desire to come to Christ and the ability to do so, John 6:44.
Were it not for the grace of God, no lost sinner could or would trust in Christ, or even want to.
But God’s love is so marvellous and so great that not only did Christ die for us (Romans 5:8) but that God draws a person (through prevenient grace) at least once in his life and makes it possible for him to trust Christ (Titus 2:11). “He first loved us” (I John 4:19).
“Herein is love, not that we loved God [we did not] but that he loved us [first], and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (I John 4:10).
6. When a person trusts Christ, he receives (whether he feels it or even knows it) all the benefits associated with Christ: forgiveness of sins, the new birth, and so on. Christ Himself thus takes priority over all the results that go along with trusting Him: joy, peace, assurance, a new life, and even the new birth. If a person comes to Christ, he gets all the benefits of Christ thrown in, I Corinthians 1:30-31.
7. The act of trusting Christ or believing on Christ or coming to Christ is the goal to be sought. The lost sinner must seek to trust Christ, and the pastor or personal worker must speak to the lost sinner with the intention of persuading him to trust Christ, Acts 8:30-37; Romans 10:14.
B. There are many errors regarding salvation, making it come through something other than Christ, Himself.
1. Salvation not necessary at all, with a person’s “life-interest” or “life-trust” somewhere else: money, friends, family, knowledge, sex, self, etc. Often combined with a denial of Christian doctrine openly or practically; the person may think the Bible isn’t true, deny the existence of Hell, think there is no afterlife, and so on.
2. Salvation necessary, but obtained without Christ; by works, holiness, study, attendance at meetings, religiosity, abstaining from sins, prayer, confession, and so on (Judaism, Islam, etc.).
3. Salvation allegedly by Christ, but in fact Christ is subjected to or “piped through” something else.
a. Catholic: Christ obtained/mediated through baptism, communion, confession, church attendance, etc. (Worse: salvation through saints or the Virgin; Christ distant.)
b. Muslim: salvation obtained by good works, prayers, obedience to the Koran, etc. Christ left out as Saviour.
c. Evangelical and Baptist: Christ obtained/mediated through the sinner’s prayer (without saving faith in Jesus), doctrinal belief, study, church attendance, a Lordship commitment, or something else; doing one of these things confers Christ or proves that a person has Him.
d. Pentecostal: Christ obtained/mediated through experiences, tongues, good feelings, life going well, etc.
These errors are ontologically wrong; that is, they put Christ under or “pipe Him through” something less than Himself, such as church attendance, the mass, the sinner’s prayer, or doctrine. In fact we are saved by a “direct” trust in Christ, who is greater than these other things: “And he is before all things, and by him all things consist” (Colossians 1:7).
C. All of these errors come short of actually trusting Christ, although His name may be used. Just as a Catholic who names Jesus but in fact trusts baptism is not saved, in the same way an evangelical who names the name of Jesus but in fact trusts the sinner’s prayer or doctrinal belief instead of directly trusting Christ is not saved. This explains why many professing “born again” believers have no real Christian life, live in habitual gross sin, and in general give no evidence of union with Christ – simply because they have in fact not trusted Christ, not rested in Him, not entered into a saving union with Him, John 5:40; John 6:40.
Thus, the pastor is to guide the lost person towards a salvation experience through trusting Christ. This may happen while a person prays a sinner’s prayer, but never happens because he prays the prayer. The key element is trusting Christ, not the prayer. John R. Rice wrote that a person can be saved without prayer in his tract, “What Must I Do To Be Saved?” C. H. Spurgeon, John Wesley, and I myself were saved without saying a “sinner’s prayer,” by a simple act of faith in Jesus Himself, John 3:18. Spurgeon, Wesley and I did not pray when we were saved, but simply put the trust of our hearts in Jesus. “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness” (Romans 10:10).
Two Sides of Salvation
A. The subjective side of salvation – regeneration (John 3:3; I John 3:9). “Subjective” refers to what happens within the convert.
This is what is called the new birth itself; when the Holy Spirit imparts new life to the person who has trusted Christ. This gives him the power to live the Christian life and the new (divine) nature. This new life reflects itself in the convert, I Corinthians 6:11.
B. The objective side of salvation – justification (Romans 5:1, 6-9; Romans 4:5; Isaiah 53). “Objective” refers to what happens in Heaven, before God.
This refers to the forgiveness of sins through the shed Blood of Christ who died on the Cross to pay for sins, Romans 5:8-9.
The proper order – justification precedes regeneration. This order places Christ in the most important place, where He ought to be. (The order is logical rather than chronological, since both happen in an instant when a person trusts Christ.)
C. The result – conversion.
1. A person who turns to Christ and trusts Him (believes on Him, unites with Him, comes to Him) for forgiveness (justification) is objectively justified and subjectively receives the new birth, Romans 4:5. As a result, he is converted, Matthew 18:3.
2. A person who looks to Christ for a mere spiritual “experience,” for personal power (even to overcome sin), for feelings, for a change, and so on, will get neither justification nor regeneration, Acts 8:18-23. As a result, he will not be converted.
3. So, we want the inquirer to turn to Christ for the forgiveness of his sins, which are written in God’s books in Heaven (e.g. Revelation 20:12-15). These sins will accuse the lost sinner at the Judgment even if he no longer commits them, because they are recorded in Heaven (Revelation 20:12). They can only be “purged” by the Blood of Christ, Hebrews 9:14, 22.
Stages of Conversion
A. Introduction: Preliminary considerations.
1. The only thing needed to be saved is to trust Christ. Thus, a person does not need to pass through a noticeable or discernable period of awakening or conviction of sin in order to be saved.
a. Some have been saved without being under conviction of sin at the moment of their conversion such as blind Bartimaeus, Mark 10:47-52, though he was undoubtedly aware of his sinful and miserable state and in that sense was prepared for conversion.
b. However, in most cases people do need to see their sins at the moment of conversion, or they will not trust Christ. As Dr. J. Gresham Machen wrote:
“Without the consciousness of sin, the whole of the gospel will seem to be an idle tale.”6
c. Some wish to focus on the details of salvation and “how to” trust Christ, but have no sense of sin, so the entire process is an “idle tale” at best, John 5:39-40.
d. Some with to analyze themselves and seek for a consciousness of sin as an end in itself rather than looking at Christ. This too is fruitless, Ephesians 4:18-19; II Timothy 3:7.
2. Trusting Christ is instantaneous.
a. The “stages” suggested here usually come to pass over time. As Spurgeon wrote, “There may be such a thing as faith at first sight; but usually we reach faith by stages: we become interested, we consider, we hear evidence, and so are led to believe”7 (cf. Mark 8:22-25). But the moment of belief itself is instantaneous (Mark 8:25).
b. However, these stages can happen quickly at times and be a logical order rather than an order in time, Acts 8:30-38. My own wife and two of our deacons were converted after hearing only one evangelistic sermon. The important thing is to lead the person to Christ rather than to make an idol out of a process of awakening and conviction, and seek awakening or conviction as though they were the goal itself, instead of union with Christ.
B. The unawakened or careless sinner
Almost everyone who comes for counselling the first time or two is in this state. To be in this state does not mean that a person is not religious, does not have an outwardly clean life, or is not interested in the Bible, the church, or the external things of God. Nicodemus and the Apostle Paul were unawakened yet religious and clean-living before their conversions, John 3:10; Acts 26:4-5; Acts 9:5.
Richard Baxter pointed out that it is the pastor’s job, through the use of the Bible, to be instrumental in moving a sinner into an awakened and convicted state, and finally to conversion.8
Unawakened sinners, whether they are new to the church or whether they have been coming to church for a long time, tend to have this characteristic:
1. They have preconceived religious opinions about God (the Father), Jesus Christ, salvation (how to get to Heaven), Heaven and Hell, and so on. Unawakened sinners hold to these opinions even though they may have been sitting under gospel preaching for years. They may outwardly profess orthodox Christianity but in fact, upon examination, have an entirely different religion (true of lost but orthodox Christians before the First Great Awakening, the 1859 revival, etc.).
These opinions can be acquired at any time in life, usually by attending a church or religious meeting and hearing the gospel preached.
It is not necessary to attend a church many times in order to form a religious opinion. Many people have formed their opinions by attending a single religious meeting, or even by watching Christian television or by reading a book, or by conversations with others, during which religious opinions are expressed.
a. It is important for the pastor to ask the sinner what was his church or religion in the past. This will give you an idea of what the sinner thinks.
(i) People with a Catholic background will generally think in terms of salvation by works – stopping sins, which they call “repentance,” going to church, following Jesus, loving Jesus, confession, and generally being good. They will also often think that Jesus and God the Father are one and the same in every respect, and thus do not really understand how Jesus acts as the mediator between God and men in the work of the Trinity (I Timothy 2:5).
(ii) People with a Muslim background will also think in terms of salvation by works – stopping sins, living a better life, etc. They will think that Jesus was only a prophet, not the only begotten Son of God who died to pay for their sins on the Cross.
(iii) People with a Baptist, evangelical or Reformed background will often trust baptism, saying the sinner’s prayer, or mentally believing Christian doctrine, such as being able to recite the plan of salvation. They often abuse the doctrine of the security of the believer to the point of thinking that if they have at any time said a prayer, been baptized, joined a church, or believed Christian doctrine, they have been saved ever since and are now merely “backslidden” even though they have never been converted.
(iv) People with a charismatic or Pentecostal background usually think in terms of feelings and experiences. If a person has had an experience with what he thinks is the Holy Spirit, feels God’s blessing in his life, or feels peace and joy in his heart, etc., he considers himself saved. Many times such people come for counselling seeking assurance or another feeling when in fact they have never been saved by trusting Christ.
b. To explore further, the pastor should ask the sinner, “How do you hope to get to Heaven?” This will reveal what the sinner believes about salvation. It will reveal the sinner’s false hope about salvation – what the sinner hopes to do, or thinks that he has already done, to get to Heaven.
If the sinner already thinks that he is going to Heaven (should he die then), the pastor should ask him what a person should do to get to Heaven. If the time is short, it is better to ask this rather than to have the sinner repeat what he considers to be his salvation testimony, which is often a long story of the experiences in the person’s life, leading up to an abrupt ending, with little or no mention of Jesus forgiving sins by His Blood. Move past all this talk, and simply ask, “What should a person do to get to Heaven? Please tell me in one sentence.” This question alone will usually reveal whether someone is saved or not, and what their false hope is. It is an eye-opener! It will show you how many lost people attend your church!
What we are looking for is this: has the person come to Jesus? Has he come to Jesus because he could not get rid of his sins in any other way? Is he justified through union with the Son of God?
It should be understood that the counselling we advocate must be done with inquirers who have already heard an old-fashioned, sin-condemning, conscience-probing, Christ-exalting sermon before they are counselled. “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (I Corinthians 1:18). Such preaching is necessary prior to counselling or little good will come of it.
Spurgeon said, “When talking to anxious inquirers, I am often amazed at the ingenuity with which they resist the entrance of faith into their hearts…I have tracked these people to their holes as diligently as if I had been a fox hunter, and have tried to unearth them from their hiding places.”9
I believe that we should not instantly baptize people who come forward, but that pastors should interview people the way I have suggested after the services, and again, later, before a baptism service is planned. People should be able to give a clear salvation testimony before they are baptized and admitted into the membership of our churches. We will not have so many fall away if we follow this plan.
1C. H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1889), pp. 60-61.
2Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor (Edinburgh, Scotland: Banner of Truth Trust, 1989, reprinted from the 1656 edition), pp. 94-97.
3C. H. Spurgeon, “The Warrant of Faith,” The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit (Pasadena, Texas: Pilgrim Publications, 1979 reprint), volume 9, p. 530.
4A. T. Pierson, The Bible and Spiritual Life (New York: Gospel Publishing House, 1908), p. 238; quoted in Henry C. Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1949), p. 359.
55C. H. Spurgeon, “The Warrant of Faith,” p. 530.
6J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1923, reprinted 1983), p. 66.
7C. H. Spurgeon, Around the Wicket Gate (Pasadena, Texas: Pilgrim Publications, 1992 reprint), p. 57.
8Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor (Edinburgh, Scotland: Banner of Truth Trust, 1989, reprinted from the 1656 edition), pp. 94-100.
9C. H. Spurgeon, Autobiography (Edinburgh, Scotland: Banner of Truth Trust, reprinted 1976), pp. 243-244.
You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.realconversion.com. Click on "Sermon Manuscripts."