by Dr. James Willingham
“We persuade men.” So wrote Paul in II Cors.5:11. In that instance, he preceded his remark with these words, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord.” However, the term for persuade means that we seek to win people by reason and reason alone. We do not pull stunts. We do not manipulate. One evangelist of whom I heard many years ago told a deliberate lie. Having called for a show of hands after a week of preaching without any results, he was determined to get decisions. When no one raised a hand, he acted like they had and said, “I see you young man. I will pray for you. I see you young lady. I will pray for you.” He continued that way for some time, and the pastor and his deacons who had not bowed their heads saw that none raised their hands. Finally, someone did raise a hand. Finally, some one came forward. But the pastor and deacons took the evangelist to task for such evil. I told the incident in a seminary class on evangelism, and one of my fellow students spoke up and said, “Well, he got them forward, didn’t he?” It was as if a lie did not matter. The ends justify the means. That philosophy was the philosophy of Communism: The end justifies the means.
The truth is, however, that God has commissioned us as Paul said to “persuade men.” Persuasion is a reasoned approach; it makes use of logic, of legitimate means, to get people to change their minds about the doctrines of the Christian faith. Today, we are so ignorant of our history that we do not realize that the idea of persuasion is a part of the faith of our predecessors in the Baptist ministry (and in some cases our ancestors)(and we should note other denominations as well, regardless of their practice of infant baptism). In any case, Roger Williams and Dr. John Clarke of Rhode Island were the first people to put religious liberty into law and practice. While Williams was a practicing Baptist for only a short period, he held to Baptist beliefs most of his life and declared so in his writings near the end. Clarke was a Baptist minister during most of his life. Both men were strong believers in Sovereign Grace or Calvinism as some call it. Interestingly enough, Dr. George W. Truett stated in his Address at the Spurgeon Centennial in London where he was introduced by the Prime Minister of the British Empire in 1934 that Calvinism places on the brow of men the crown of responsibility. One Intellectual historian on the Puritans which I read many years ago declared that the Puritans were some of the most responsible people in history. There are those who like to call attention to the witchcraft trial in which 19 (I think it was) died in a miscarriage of justice. That was a blot on the history of the Puritans, but few people have asked, “How many died in Europe on the charge of witchcraft during that time?” I saw the statistics long ago, but cannot recall them now. At least, the Puritans were able to criticize themselves and make a change.
All of the truths of the Christian Faith must be inculcated by persuasion, by reason from the facts of revelation. Emotions necessarily take a very distant second place. They are not primary, but secondary. It is immoral to use them in an end-run attempt to get around the issues that people have in their minds. Conversions not based upon facts, changes of mind not based upon truth, are of no value whatsoever. It is like being married. Many people consider themselves as married, because they are living together in a relationship which does not acknowledge the hand of God in the matter. Children of such relationships might well find themselves without an inheritance or even a name. It is when the parties involved, male and female only, agree freely and willingly, decide together that they want the relationship of marriage and are willing to abide by the Divine rules for such a relationship, and then they not only affirm as much in public and they sign their names on the dotted line (as the saying goes). That is the practice of our predecessors and ancestors in this nation. Gandhi and King could have only succeeded as the former said, in a Christian nation. Let our prayers and our labors be directed toward persuading the American people of the truths of what we believe about every truth of God’s revelation.