The great mass of sinners is careless, unconvicted. One should not assume their conviction and preparedness to receive Christ. When preachers are eager to urge sinners immediately to accept Christ, is to begin the work of soul-winning at the wrong end. The sinner needs to hear the whole truth of the word. Though in some cases, there may be a conviction in some men, which is already ripe, and the preacher just needs to present Christ, with the hope of His being accepted; but at ordinary times such cases are exceptional.
Through the eyes of the law, sinners may see the hopelessness of their self-righteousness, and the need to open up to the mercy of God. Thus they are made to understand the delicacy and danger of dispensing with the execution of the penalty when the precept of law has been violated. A sinner should then understand that from the benevolence of God he cannot justly infer that God can consistently forgive him. For unless public justice can be satisfied, the law of universal benevolence forbids the forgiveness of sin. If public justice is not regarded in the exercise of mercy, the good of the public is sacrificed to that of the individual. God will never do this.
This teaching will shut the sinner up to look for some offering to public justice. This offering to public justice is a revealed fact in the atonement work of Christ as our sin offering. Thus without the shedding of blood, there can never be forgiveness of sin (Hebrews 9:22). This is because God has accepted the death of Christ as a substitute for the sinner’s death and that this is to be received upon the testimony of God.
When a sinner is already crushed into contrition by the convicting power of the law, the revelation of the love of God manifested in the death of Christ will naturally beget great godly sorrow. A sinner knows he cannot forgive himself but need to be saved by sovereign grace. It was not by accident that the dispensation of law preceded the dispensation of grace; but it is in the natural order of things, in accordance with established mental laws, and evermore the law must prepare the way for the gospel. To overlook this in instructing souls is almost certain to result in false hope, the introduction of a false standard of Christian experience, and to fill the Church with spurious converts.
When the preaching is perceived as directed to the person present, it will rivet attention, and cause your hearers to lose sight of the length of your sermon. They will tire if they feel no personal interest in what you say. To secure their individual interest in what you are saying is an indispensable condition of their being converted. And, while their individual interest is thus awakened, and held fast to your subject, they will seldom complain of the length of your sermon. In nearly all cases, if the people complain of the length of our sermons, it is because we fail to interest them personally in what we say.
If a preacher failed to interest his hearer personally, it is either because he was not addressing them personally, or because he lacks unction and earnestness, or because there is a lack of clearness and force.
However earnest piety alone cannot make one successful in winning souls. This is only one condition of success. There must be common sense, there must be spiritual wisdom in adapting means to the end. Matter and manner and order and time and place all need to be wisely adjusted to the end in view.
The preacher needs to introduce the truth to the souls in accordance with the measure of their intelligence. A few simple truths, when wisely applied and illuminated by the Holy Ghost, will convert children to Christ. I say wisely applied, for they too are sinners, and need the application of the law, as a schoolmaster, to bring them to Christ, that they may be justified by faith. It will sooner or later appear that supposed conversions to Christ are spurious where the preparatory law work has been omitted, and Christ has not been embraced as a Savior from sin and condemnation.
Whereas sinners who are vast in education and culture but unconvicted and skeptical in their hearts need a vastly more extended and thorough application of truth. Professional men need the gospel net to be thrown quite around them, with no breakthrough which they can escape. A proper application of the truth is more likely to lead to conversion when thus dealt with in proportion to their real intelligence.
A successful soul winner needs to be observing and studying individual character, to press the facts of experience, observation, and revelation upon the consciences of all classes. Be sure to explain the terms you use. Urge the fact that repentance involves the voluntary and actual renunciation of all sin; that it is a radical change of mind toward God. Also the fact that saving faith is heart trust in Christ; that it works by love, it purifies the heart, and overcomes the world; that no faith is saving that has not these attributes.