From: The Desk of Martyn Lloyd-Jones . . .
I remember being in an evangelistic meeting in which I, and others, felt that on that occasion the Gospel had not really been preached. It had been mentioned, but it certainly had not been conveyed, it had not been preached. And yet to my amazement a large number of people went forward in response to the appeal at the end. The question that arose immediately was, what accounted for this? I was discussing this question the following day with a friend. He said, “There is no difficulty about that, these results have nothing to do with the preaching”. So I asked, “Well, what is it, what was happening?”
He replied, “This is God answering the prayers of the thousands of people who are praying for these results throughout the world; it is not the preaching”. My contention is that there should be no such disjunction between the ‘appeal’ and the preaching, any more than there should be between [the Lord's supper and baptism] and preaching.
My fourth point is that this method surely carries in it the implication that sinners have an inherent power of decision and of self-conversion. But that cannot be reconciled with scriptural teaching such as 1 Corinthians 2:4, “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”, and Ephesians 2:1, ‘You hath He quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins,’ and many other statements.
As my fifth point I suggest that there is an implication here that the evangelist somehow is in a position to manipulate the Holy Spirit and His work. The evangelist has but to appear and to make his appeal and the results follow inevitably. If there were an occasional failure, an occasional meeting with little or no response, the problem would not arise; but so often today the organizers are able to predict the number of ‘results’.
Most would agree with my sixth point which is that this method tends to produce a superficial conviction of sin, if any at all. People often respond because they have the impression that by doing so they will receive certain benefits. I remember hearing of a man who was regarded as one of the ‘star converts’ of an [outreach] campaign. He was interviewed and asked why he had gone forward in the campaign the previous year. His answer was that the evangelist had said, ‘If you do not want to “miss the boat” you had better come forward.’ He said that he did not want to ‘miss the boat’ so he had gone forward; and all the interviewer could get out of him was that he somehow felt that he was now ‘on the boat’. He was not clear about what this meant, nor what it was, and nothing had seemed to happen to him during the subsequent year. But there it was: it can be as superficial as that.
Or take another illustration out of my own experience. In the church where I ministered in South Wales I used to stand at the main door of the church at the close of the service on Sunday night, and shake hands with people as they went out. The incident to which I am referring concerns a man who used to come to our service every Sunday night. He was a tradesman but also a heavy drinker. He got drunk regularly every Saturday night, but he was also regularly seated in the gallery of our church every Sunday night.
On the particular night to which I am referring I happened to notice while preaching that this man was obviously being affected. I could see that he was weeping copiously, and I was anxious to know what was happening to him. At the end of the service I went and stood at the door. After a while I saw this man coming, and immediately I was in a real mental conflict. Should I, in view of what I had seen, say a word to him and ask him to make his decision that night, or should I not? Would I be interfering with the work of the Spirit if I did so? Hurriedly I decided that I would not ask him to stay behind, so I just greeted him as usual and he went out. His face revealed that he had been crying copiously, and he could scarcely look at me.
The following evening I was walking to the prayer-meeting in the church, and, going over a railway bridge, I saw this same man coming to meet me. He came across the road to me and said, ‘You know, doctor, if you had asked me to stay behind last night I would have done so.’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘I am asking you now, come with me now.’ ‘Oh no,’ he replied, ‘but if you had asked me last night I would have done so.’ ‘My dear friend,’ I said, ‘if what happened to you last night does not last for twenty-four hours I am not interested in it. If you are not as ready to come with me now as you were last night you have not got the right, the true thing. Whatever affected you last night was only temporary and passing, you still do not see your real need of Christ.’
That is the kind of thing that may happen even when an appeal is not made. But when an appeal *is* made it is greatly exaggerated and so you get spurious conversions.
As I have reminded you even John Wesley, the great Arminian, did not make appeals to people to ‘come forward’. What you find so often in his journals is something like this: ‘Preached at such and such a place. Many seemed to be deeply affected, but God alone knows how deeply.’ Surely that is very significant and important. He had spiritual understanding and knew that many factors can affect us. What he was concerned about was not immediate visible results but the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration. A knowledge of the human heart, of psychology, should teach us to avoid anything that increases the possibility of spurious results. (Preaching and Preachers)