Invitational and anecdotal preaching today largely displaces textual and expositional preaching. The “invitation” used in connection with a sermon is a mere additive foreign to true preaching. What can the “invitation” furnish that true preaching does not? Where the latter is a reality, why would anyone want to append an opportunity to “take it or leave it”?—which is what an “invitation” is. Today, the “invitation” tacked on at the end of a “message” is usually one to come forward and accept Christ. Hence the “invitation” is also referred to as an “altar call.” What is the implication of an “altar call”? Are there altars in Protestant and Christian churches which seeking sinners are to approach on their way to God? Are there still in such churches remnants of “the anxious seat,” the “mourner’s bench” or the “enquiry room?” The great C.H. Spurgeon regarded the use of the “enquiry room” as a pandering “to popular superstition. We fear that in those rooms men are warmed to a fictitious confidence. Very few of the supposed converts of enquiry-rooms turn out well. . . God has not appointed salvation by enquiry-rooms. . . ” Latent in such sensationalist practices is legalism, a subtle form of Romanism.
The “enquiry room” may not be so widely used in this day. The so-called “invitation” to “let Christ come into your heart” is more widely practiced by modem mass evangelism. Who is not familiar with the gospel hucksters who put Christ up for grabs like a peanut scramble? The “evangelist” may announce, “This is what we are going to do—Ask you to come right now, right up to the front. Wherever you are, there in the back, up in the gallery, come quickly. That’s a long aisle, but Christ went all the way to the cross for you.” Or, “You can come these few steps. Christ went all the way for you. Give your life to Him. You do it now.” Sometimes the “invitation”‘ (the human device) is made to sound as though not complying with it is tantamount to repudiating the command of Christ. “Come now; if you do not receive Him, you will die in your sins; come forward.”
It always makes a hit with the people to ride on the coat-tails of a name-great of former years, especially when it gives the impression of following in the line of the Puritans or Reformers. When, for example, the modem evangelist covers himself and his ministry with quotations from Spurgeon, the impression is given that he stands where Spurgeon stood. But the great prince of preachers held very openly and very uncompromisingly to the truth of the total depravity of man’s nature. Anyone believing that great truth could not beg his hearers to “come to Christ” as though they had the ability to, do so. He would not say, “You have the ability to choose. You stand at the crossroads. You may never be as close to the kingdom again. I believe your heart is specially prepared. . . You get up and come forward.”
Supposed converts can be multiplied by the carloads out of this mill of cheapjack evangelism. But in every age few are saved. The disciples asked the Lord, “Are there few that be saved?” From Him came the words, “Narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” The antediluvian world, we have good reason to believe, was very highly populated, yet there was only one righteous family, in that of Noah’s. Of that generation which entered into the wilderness, not even Moses but only Caleb and Joshua entered the land. When schism split the twelve tribes of Israel, only two followed the Lord, Judah and Benjamin. In the times of Elijah and Isaiah, there was but a very small remnant according to the election of grace. With the advent of Christ, He was in the world, the world was made by Him, but the world knew Him not. He came unto His own and His own received Him not. The seed of the Word is sown on four kinds of ground, but only one is good ground.
The masses are ignorant of a true and saving grace, believing that all kinds of “common grace” (a human fiction) enable them to “accept or reject Christ.” Everyone ought to be suspicious of a “grace” which puts one in a position to reject Christ! Such a “grace” must only be another form of sin! Many take that to be a work of grace when an “unclean spirit is (merely) gone out (not driven out) of a man,” leaving him “empty,” i.e., with no Christ (and so no grace); or, they assume to have grace because they tasted the good Word of God, or because they temporarily went along with the Holy Spirit—things which do not necessarily accompany salvation. Yet these things are rested in as evidences of grace. But true grace, being much higher, is beyond the reach of all natural and common attainments.
At the bottom of modern evangelism is a “common grace” philosophy which flatters the natural man, baits him with a counterfeit, nonsaving “good” and deludes him with a false picture of sin. He often assumes he is converted because he “went forward” and “accepted Christ” in response to an “altar call,” and that he must be truly converted since now he does not drink, nor swear, nor lie, nor gamble, nor have a troubled mind. Personal “testimonies” reveal satisfaction with this negative sanctification, and indicate a looking to self and to some act of man for salvation, rather than to “look unto Me and be ye saved.” He may have and look to his good desires which do not spring from motives that arise from love to Christ, the true Christ (and not an Arminian Christ) and from the aim to glorify God. It may be that his conversion has come very easily because of a very superficial view of sin. It may then be discovered to be only a mirage. In reality, sin is not just a wrong which creates problems and upsets in life, bringing grief and tragedy, even damnation. Being “saved” from such sins seems to many to be evidence of grace. For they deem the remaining sin in them to be but “infirmity,” and since there is always indwelling sin in the best Christian as long as he lives no matter how much he may strive against it, this does not trouble the modem convert because, he reasons, no child of God can completely overcome sin in this life. But this is not to see sin as man’s worst enemy, neither to see it in its exceeding sinfulness as an offence against God’s holiness and justice, nor to see that the best Christian does not mourn the less, but the more for indwelling sin.
The “repentance” and “faith” demanded and professed by modem evangelism and its converts are different only in degree from that of Balaam, Herod, Pilate, Judas and Simon Magus. The prophet Balaam had high aspirations. He desired to die the death of the righteous. The trouble was, he did not, could not, live the life of the righteous. Herod heard the Word of God from John, heard him gladly, and did many things, which undoubtedly had to be recognized as good, as the good Jehu performed. Yet he was dominated by sin, and broke not one or two, the sixth and seventh, but all the commandments daily. Judas dreamed of a kingdom, was willing to forsake the world for it, to outwardly conform to the law of God for it. But so far from entering the kingdom of God, he went to his own place.
Today’s evangelism, unlike that of Paul’s first three chapters of Romans, flatters its hearers, buttering them up as generous, honest, religious people, who still retain much good in them, especially the ability to do God a favor and come over to His side; The matter of their sin must be handled with a certain amount of dispatch. Nothing about confession of sin, repentance and coming to Christ must be burdensome or “too strict,” if converts are to be made. The sin question does not take long to settle. To ask in pressing for a “decision” for Christ, “You have sinned, but Christ died for your sins, bore your sins—then where are they?” has the tendency to give men repose in a state of false peace. So, one may conclude he is truly converted because he has heard the Word of God, now reads the Bible, has “accepted Christ,” has a “wonderful Savior,” prays, reforms his life and so doubts not his salvation. He has been led to believe he is in a state of grace because he “came forward” to the rostrum at an evangelistic meeting and “took Christ,” tasted of Christ and of the good Word of God and has a peace never known before. But he had better be sure he is in a state of grace for none of these things, but because he has found the pearl of great price, has sold all and bought it to forsake all for God and Christ.
What bridges men make for themselves to get across to Christ! What inventions modern evangelism call on men to use to get to Christ! Faith conceived of as coming from and originating in man according to his “free will” is one of those human devices. “Faith” is preached as a power of man’s, own production and exertion. Confidence in such a “faith” is like holding on to one’s shadow. True faith is not a native human quality, nor one which human nature can just as well produce. It is a gift of God, as much as repentance, or eternal life; a power which the Lord must sovereignly work in His chosen. But a self-elicited faith will take hold of Christ before made aware of need for him, and before realizing any lack of faith and ability to believe in Him. A “salvation” acquired by such “faith” is a deception and trust to self. A man must know himself to be spiritually dead, and so unable to believe until the Lord makes him alive and endows him with saving faith. Without that work of grace he has no faith at all. When a man realizes he is a sinner, he knows he is vile. The more he understands God’s Word and the closer he gets to Christ the more vileness he discovers in himself. The Christian man does not merely feel sometimes troubled for sin. He is always troubled for it. His praying over it, sorrowing for it and confessing it do not assuage the grief of his trouble. It only reveals to him that he is the more vile. But the hasty, shallow person, affected by hasty, shallow evangelism, after praying, confessing and being troubled for sin will assume these actions are evidences of grace and so feel safe, so much so that he will not find himself anymore to be vile, or at least no more troubled about his vileness. This is to trust to self, to rest satisfied with fig-leaf righteousness. Any evangelism that does not agree with the infallible rule of Holy Scripture we are bound to reject with all our hearts. Let message and method conform to that rule and leave results to God. He is not slower than we are, and will not fail to honor His own Word preached.
Salvation is, from its beginning to its end, a mighty wonderwork of God, no less marvelous, and therefore; no less divine, than the work of creation. It is that wonderwork of the Almighty by which He calls light out of darkness, righteousness out of unrighteousness, everlasting glory out of deepest shame, immortality out of death, heaven out of hell! It is the wonder of grace, whereby God lifts an accursed world out of the depth of its misery into the glory of His heavenly kingdom and covenant. That work is absolutely divine. Man has no part in it, and cannot possibly cooperate with God in his own salvation. In no sense of the word, and at no stage of the work, does salvation depend upon the will or work of man, or wait for the determination of his will. In. fact, the sinner is of himself neither capable nor willing to receive that salvation. On the contrary, all he can do and will is to oppose, to resist his own salvation with all the determination of his sinful heart. But God ordained and prepared this salvation with absolutely sovereign freedom for His own, His chosen ones alone; and upon them He bestows it, not because they seek and desire it, but in spite of the fact that they never will it, and because He is stronger than man, and overcomes the hardest heart and the most stubborn will of the sinner. He reconciles the sinner unto Himself; He justifies him and gives him the faith in Christ; He delivers him from the power and dominion of sin, and sanctifies him; He preserves him. All this belongs to the wonder of salvation, which is accomplished through sovereign grace alone.
—H. Hoeksema, “Whosoever Will” pp. 14, 15