Difficulties in Personal Evangelism
Two facts should be settled in our minds immediately to keep us from false expectations ending in disillusionment and discouragement One is, soul-winning is not easy; the other is, it will not become easy. Even those who seem to have a remarkable gift in this respect have their struggles; and practice, however it may improve our technique, never reduces soul-winning to an easy formula.
There are several factors involved which make the work of personal evangelism always difficult. Four of these factors we shall consider.
Every man is his own greatest problem, and we certainly stand in our own way when it comes to winning souls.
1. Our lukewarmness, for one thing, is a constant drag. The apostle Paul exhorts us to be “fervent in spirit,”‘ or as another has rendered it, “always at boiling point in the spirit.” Not many of us can claim that we have attained to that happy estate. More of us, if we are honest, will feel that we come within the condemnation of the Laodiceans, and that, if the Lord were to deal with us as our condition calls for, He would spue us out of His mouth.’ Our lack of fervor induces an apathy which is hard to conquer. How we need to call on the Holy Spirit for a baptism of fire!
2. Our variableness of disposition and temper militates against a steady work of soul-winning, making us spasmodic in our efforts. We can be ablaze with zeal today, and utterly cold tomorrow. We only have to examine our own ways to acknowledge the need of Paul’s exhortation: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”‘ It is true that some are more temperamental than others, and in them the difficulty is aggravated, but we all need the steady control of the Holy Spirit to overcome this ebb-and-flow way of living.
3. Unpreparedness of mind and heart through the neglect of waiting upon
God is a difficulty known by all too many of us. Even such a godly man as Robert Murray M’Cheyne complained of this difficulty. He has this to say in his diary: “Often when I sleep long, or meet with others early, and then have family prayer and breakfast and forenoon callers, it is eleven or twelve o’clock before I begin secret prayer. This is a wretched system… Family prayer loses much of its power and sweetness; and I can do no good to those who come to seek for me.”‘ The other side of the picture is given by Bishop Hall: “If my heart be early seasoned with His presence, it will savor of Him all day after.” How, then, can we expect to be in readiness for the sacred task if we rarely commune in secret with God?
4 Perhaps fear is our most formidable difficulty. Where a thousand fire one’s courage, a solitary individual will often make him quail This fear may assume various forms: fear to offend, fear of saying the wrong thing, fear of ridicule, fear of being worsted in discussion, fear of being rebuffed. Most of the time it is just indefinable fear. We rebuke ourselves, we tell ourselves that with the Lord on our side we have nothing to fear, but we go on fearing, and secretly despise ourselves for it. We surely need the perfect love that casts out fear, and the boldness of the Holy Spirit.’
5. We are very much creatures of extremes. We see some zealous souls manifesting a complete lack of wisdom, and to all appearance harming the very cause which they have eagerly espoused, and their tactless boldness drives us to the other extreme of overcaution. It is hard for us to find the happy mean, the right balance.
B. The Unconverted.
Even Christians are difficult to deal with, especially when it comes to touching their pet sins. It is no easy thing, then, to deal with the unconverted on such a revolutionary matter as conversion. If we remember some things which are told us in the Bible concerning the natural man, we shall not be surprised at the difficulty of our task, but rather we shall make up our minds that what we seek to accomplish is possible only by the power of God.
1. The human nature with which we are dealing is natively incapable of apprehending the things of God. Our Lord said to Nicodemus, a learned, upright, religious man, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”‘ Notice that word see. The kingdom of God is something foreign to his vision and his apprehension. The apostle Paul enlarges on this fact: “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”‘ The unconverted man does not have that peculiar faculty which enables him to understand the things of God. That is why it is such folly to put any stock in a man’s religious opinions because he happens to be a great scientist or a great philosopher or a great mind in any earthly sphere. Unless he is “born from above” his great mind is as dark as night with respect to eternal truth. It is only as the Holy Spirit accompanies the word at our lips that we can expect any understanding to dawn on the minds of sinners.
2. The human nature with which we are dealing is natively at enmity with God. We do not mean that it was so in the beginning. As God created man, there was a perfect affinity between the two, but the entrance of sin drove man from his Creator and made him the enemy of God. The atheist, the infidel, the blasphemer and other such profane persons outwardly show their enmity; but less voluble sinners, even if they dress themselves up in the respectable garments of morality and religion, are still alienated and enemies in their minds,’ as their conduct reveals. They may pay formal respects to God so long as God stays at a respectable distance from them; but if God comes too near and touches their lives, they resent the interference. They may be glad enough to know that there is a God who will ultimately bring everything out all right, but they will not have a God who demands obedience, who claims the right to govern in the life of the individual.
Thus it is something more than “sales resistance” with which the soul-winner has to contend. It is a deep-seated antagonism, nurtured through long generations, which can be overturned only by the power of the Holy Spirit.
3. Men’s minds are full of ideas which are utterly contrary to the truth of the Gospel, and to these ideas they will cling with their last breath apart from the mighty work of the Spirit of God in enlightening and loosing them. For instance, who is going to be willing to regard himself as a lost, depraved, helpless sinner when he has been accustomed to think in terms of the natural goodness of man? Or who will be persuaded that he is on his way to Hell when he has entertained shallow thoughts of the goodness of God, apart from all considerations of righteousness and justice? Or who will consent to say, `Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to thy cross I cling,” when he has fed his ego with the doctrine of the sufficiency of man?
But we have almost trespassed on our next point.
C. Our Message.
We shall have to repeat what has just been said, but now from the point of view of the message we have to deliver rather than from the angle of those to whom we deliver it. It seems strange, indeed, to say that the most wonderful, the most blessed news ever sent from Heaven to earth should constitute a difficulty for the soul-winner, but there are elements in our message which stir human resentment deeply.
1. The Gospel regards men as sinners, worthy of Hell. For sure, this is not the Gospel, but the Gospel was given for men in that condition, and because all men were in that condition. So, to receive the Gospel, men must come to believe and acknowledge, “vile and full of sin I am.” A Gospel which predicates that, to use the language of the world, has two strikes against it from the start. To regard men in this light is unpalatable to their pride and their self-righteousness.
2. The Gospel treats men as helpless, incapable of contributing anything to their own salvation. This is another stunning blow. Men want help, and are frequently willing to accept help, but it must be a type of help which recognizes and supplements their own efforts. We know how many countries have sought the help of the United States since World War II, but they want it in such fashion as not to reflect on their own sovereignty and their own sufficiency. We are all more or less sensitive in such matters. But the Gospel recognizes no contribution from men. It requires that men confess that they are utterly bankrupt, and that they accept a total salvation to which they have contributed absolutely nothing.
3. The Gospel ignores all that men reckon as merit. Men put great store by their philanthropies, their service contributions to the community, their religious affiliations, and reason that these ought to have some weight with God in reckoning up the balance. Moreover, there are religious institutions, such as the Roman Church, which lay great stress on the merit system. Therefore when men come with their hands laden with their merits, only to discover that the Gospel makes no place whatever for their treasured offerings, it is a humiliating and confounding experience. The natural reaction is resentment and antagonism.
4. The Gospel rejects all human reformation. Human religion is essentially autosoteric. It contemplates selfsalvation. The sinner, therefore, is encouraged to reform. But the Gospel will have none of it. The most thoroughly reformed man in the community, considered by his fellows as a veritable paragon of self-improvement, is met by a blunt “ye must be born again.”” The Gospel regards the reformed man as just as far from salvation and Heaven and God as the most abandoned wretch, and calls for the same repentance, the same renunciation of self-trust, the same confession of Christ as Lord, as it requires of the drunkard and the harlot. All this is foreign to the popular
idea of man’s inherent goodness and divinity.
It is apparent from these considerations that our message is not calculated to make personal evangelism easy. It has
in it elements which arouse the fury and the antagonism of the natural man.
D. Our Adversary.
While we must not be so taken up with our adversary that we become paralyzed, it will be equally unwise for us to ignore the fact that we have an adversary who will seek to block us at every turn. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”” The supreme potentate of this great evil, spiritual organization is “your adversary the devil.”” This is not the place to deal with the doctrine of Satan, but we must not be “ignorant of his devices.”” One of his favorite devices is to keep us from thinking about him at all, for then we shall not be watchful against him and his practices. But if we insist on spotting him, he will go to the other extreme of tactics, and try so to fill our minds with him that we shall be seized with fear. It will be good for us, then, to take the measure of our enemy, but to balance every remembrance of him with the assurance that “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.””
In his attempts to overturn the work of evangelism, Satan will stir the resentment of the unsaved; he will focus their attention on the unpalatable features of our message so that they will have no eyes for the loveliness of Christ and the blessedness of salvation; lie will arouse external opposition, perhaps among relatives or in the social circle; he will create difficult and embarrassing situations; he will draw the attention of the one in whom we are interested to the serious failures of some Christian; and he will by numerous means seek to discourage the soul-winner.
All this is not surprising. We must remember that every attempt to turn a man from his sin to the Saviour is a direct assault on the kingdom of Satan, and we can expect resistance. The resistance seems at times overwhelming. If satanic forces could delay the errand of an angel for twenty-one days,” we cannot despise them, nor be surprised if the conflict is at times fierce. But we remember that our adversary has met his superior, and has already been defeated by the cross of Christ. It is our privilege to take victory ground, knowing that we are “more than conquerors through him that loved us.`