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2. In regard to the manner of doing all this:
(a) When you approach a careless individual, be sure to treat him kindly.
Let him see that you address him, not because you seek a quarrel with him, but because you love his soul, and desire his best good in time and eternity. If you are harsh and overbearing in your manner, you will probably offend him, and drive him farther off from the way of life.
(b) Be solemn. Avoid all lightness of manner or language. Levity will produce anything but a right impression. You ought to feel that you are engaged in a very solemn work, which is going to affect the character of your friend or neighbor, and probably determine his destiny for eternity.
Be respectful. Some seem to suppose it necessary to be abrupt, and rude, and coarse, in their intercourse with the careless and unrepentant. No mistake can be greater. The apostle Peter has given us a better rule on the subject, where he says: "Be pitiful, be courteous: not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing" (1 Peter 3:8, 9). A rude and coarse style of address is only calculated to create an unfavorable opinion both of yourself and of your religion.
(d) Be sure to be very plain. Do not suffer yourself to cover up any circumstance of the person's character, and his relations to God. Lay it all open, not for the purpose of offending or wounding him, but because it is necessary. Before you can cure a wound, you must probe it to the bottom.
Keep back none of the truth, but let it come out plainly before him.
(f) Bring the great and fundamental truths to bear upon the person's mind.
Sinners are very apt to run off upon some pretext, or some subordinate point, especially one of sectarianism. For instance, if the man is a Presbyterian, he will try to turn the conversation on the points of difference between Presbyterians and Methodists. Or he will fall foul of "old school" divinity. Do not talk with him on any such point. Tell him the present business is to save his soul, and not to settle controverted questions in theology. Hold him to the great fundamental points, by which he must be saved or lost.
(g) Be very patient. If he has a real difficulty in his mind, be very patient till you find out what it is, and then clear it up. If what he alleges is a mere cavil, make him see that it is a cavil. Do not try to answer it by argument, but show him that he is not sincere in advancing it. It is not worth while to spend your time in arguing against a cavil; make him feel that he is committing sin to plead it, and thus enlist his conscience on your side.
(h) Be careful to guard your own spirit. There are many people who have not good temper enough to converse with those who are much opposed to religion. And such a person wants no better triumph than to see you angry. He will go away exulting because he has "made one of these saints mad."
(I) If the sinner is inclined to entrench himself against God, be careful not to take his part in anything. If he says he cannot do his duty, do not take sides with him, or say anything to countenance his falsehood; do not tell him he cannot, or help him to maintain himself in the controversy against his Maker. Sometimes a careless sinner will commence finding fault with Christians; do not take his part, do not side with him against Christians.
Just tell him he has not their sins to answer for: he had better see to his own concerns. If you agree with him, he feels that he has you on his side.
Show him that it is a wicked and censorious spirit that prompts him to make these remarks, and not a regard for the honor of the religion or the laws of Jesus Christ.
(j) Bring up the individual's particular sins. Talking in general terms against sin will produce no results. You must make a man feel that you mean him. A minister who cannot make his hearers feel that he means them, cannot expect to accomplish much. Some people are very careful to avoid mentioning the particular sins of which they know the individual to be guilty, for fear of hurting his feelings. This is wrong. If you know his history, bring up his particular sins; kindly, but plainly; not to give offense, but to awaken conscience, and give full force to the truth.
(k) It is generally best to be short, and not spin out what we have to say.
Get the attention as soon as you can to the very point; say a few things and press them home, and bring the matter to an issue. If possible, get them to repent and give themselves to Christ at the time. This is the proper issue. Carefully avoid making an impression that you do not wish them to repent NOW.
II. THE MANNER OF DEALING WITH AWAKENED SINNERS.
Be careful to distinguish between an awakened sinner, and one who is under conviction. When you find a person who feels a little on the subject of religion, do not take it for granted that he is convicted of sin, and thus omit to use means to show him his sin. Persons are often awakened by some providential circumstance; as sickness, thunderstorm, pestilence, death in the family, disappointment, or the like; or directly by the Spirit of God; so that their ears are open, and they are ready to hear on the subject of religion with attention and seriousness, and some feeling. If you find a person awakened, no matter by what means, lose no time to pour in light upon his mind. Do not be afraid, but show him the breadth of the Divine law, and the exceeding strictness of its precepts. Make him see how it condemns his thoughts and life. Search out his heart, find what is there, and bring it up before his mind, as far as you can. If possible, melt him down on the spot. When once you have got a sinner's attention, very often his conviction and conversion are the work of a few moments. You can sometimes do more in five minutes, than in years - or a whole lifetime - while he is careless or indifferent.
I have been amazed at the conduct of those cruel parents, and other heads of families, who will let an awakened sinner be in their families for days and weeks, and not say a word to him on the subject. They say: "If the Spirit of God has begun a work in him, He will certainly carry it on!"
Perhaps the person is anxious to converse, and puts himself in the way of Christians, as often as possible, expecting they will converse with him, and they do not say a word. Amazing! Such a person ought to be looked out immediately, as soon as he is awakened, and a blaze of light be poured into his mind without delay. Wherever you have reason to believe that a person within your reach is awakened, do not sleep till you have poured in the light upon his mind, and have tried to bring him to immediate repentance. Then is the time to press the subject with effect.
In revivals, I have often seen Christians who were constantly on the look-out to see if any persons appeared to be awakened; as soon as they saw any one begin to manifest feeling under preaching they would mark him, and (as soon as the meeting was over) invite him to a room, and converse and pray with him - if possible not leaving him till he was converted.
A remarkable case of this kind occurred in a town at the West. A merchant came to the place from a distance, to buy goods. It was a time of powerful revival, but he was determined to keep out of its influence; and so he would not go to any meeting at all. At length he found everybody so much engaged in religion that it met him at every turn; and he got vexed, and vowed that he would go home. There was so much religion there, he said, that he could do no business, and would not stay. Accordingly he booked his seat for the coach, which was to leave at four o'clock the next morning.
As he spoke of going away, a gentleman belonging to the house, who was one of the young-converts, asked him if he would not go to a meeting once before he left town. He finally consented, and went to the meeting. The sermon took hold of his mind, but not with sufficient power to bring him into the Kingdom. He returned to his lodgings, and called the landlord to bring his bill. The landlord, who had himself recently experienced religion, saw that he was agitated. He accordingly spoke to him on the subject of religion, and the man burst into tears. The landlord immediately called in three or four young converts, and they prayed, and exhorted him; and at four o'clock in the morning, when the coach called, he went on his way rejoicing in God! When he got home he called his family together, confessed to them his past sins, avowed his determination to live differently, and prayed with them for the first time. It was so unexpected that it was soon noised abroad; people began to inquire, and a revival broke out in the place. Now, suppose these Christians had done as some do, been careless, and let the man go off, slightly impressed? It is not probable he ever could have been saved. Such opportunities are often lost for ever, when once the favorable moment is passed.
III. THE MANNER OF DEALING WITH CONVICTED SINNERS.
By a convicted sinner, I mean one who feels himself condemned by the law of God, as a guilty sinner. He has so much instruction as to understand something of the extent of God's law, and he sees and feels his guilty state, and knows what his remedy is. To deal with these often requires great wisdom.
1. When a person is convicted, but not converted, and remains in an anxious state, there is generally some specific reason for it. In such cases it does no good to exhort him to repent, or to explain the law to him. He knows all that; he understands these general points; but still he does not repent. There must be some particular difficulty to overcome. You may preach, and pray, and exhort, till doomsday, and not gain anything.
You must, then, set yourself to inquire what is that particular difficulty. A physician, when he is called to a patient, and finds him sick with a particular disease, first administers the general remedies that are applicable to that disease. If they produce no effect, and the disease still continues, he must examine the case, and learn the constitution of the individual, and his habits, diet, manner of living, etc., and see what the matter is that the medicine does not take effect. So it is with the case of a sinner convicted but not converted. If your ordinary instructions and exhortations fail, there must be a difficulty. The particular difficulty is often known to the individual himself, though he keeps it concealed. Sometimes, however, it is something that has escaped even his own observation.
(a) Sometimes the individual has some idol, something which he loves more than God, which prevents him from giving himself up. You must search out and see what it is that he will not give up. Perhaps it is wealth; perhaps some earthly friend; perhaps gay dress or gay company, or some favorite amusement. At any rate, there is something on which his heart is so set that he will not yield to God.
(b) Perhaps he has done an injury to some individual that calls for redress, and he is unwilling to confess it, or to make a just recompense. Now, until he will confess and forsake this sin, he can find no mercy. If he has injured the person in property or character, or has abused him, he must make it up. Tell him frankly that there is no hope for him till he is willing to confess it, and to do what is right.