Dealing with enquirers

DEALING WITH ENQUIRERS.       From the book, “Duncan Matheson The Scottish Evangelist” by Rev J Macpherson (1871) pages 249-252

At an early period of his course as an evangelist, Mr Matheson was led to follow the practice of meeting with enquirers at the close of every service. “He came to preach at Stirling in 1858,” writes the Rev. W. Reid, editor of the British Herald, “when two meetings were got up for him, and at the close those who were anxious were requested to remain to be spoken to personally in the pews—a thing unknown before in Scotland. We remember how shy our dear departed friend looked when one said to him, ‘Will you speak to those in that pew?’ He did so with some hesitation; he said nothing about it at the time, but years afterwards he referred to it, and said it was the first time he had seen or done such a thing, ‘and I thank God that it was forced upon me, and the neck of the thing was broken, and that I was no longer content to fire at long range, but to come face to face with souls.’ He found it, he said, one of the steps by which the Lord prepared him and led him on in his work, and it was no strange thing for him ever afterwards, as long as he lived, to come into personal contact with awakened souls.”

Being a true fisher of men, he not only let down the net for a draught, but drew it up again to see if any were caught. Some may be too hasty in searching for results; but even a little impatience of zeal is better than the dozing indolence of those who, under pretence of honouring divine sovereignty, make no enquiry, and cannot so much as tell whether their net has enclosed minnows or monsters. The meeting for directing enquirers was a necessity of the sudden and widespread awakening (referring to1859-62); and, notwithstanding its occasional abuse or mismanagement, has served important ends in the work of God and the salvation of souls.

Many Christians will remember with gratitude and joy the first time they were brought face to face with a soul grappling with the tremendous realities, sin, eternity, and God. It forms an epoch in the life of a pastor, or of any Christian. You feel you are in the presence of an immortal spirit in the very crisis of its being. You see the battle, the agony, the portentous despair of a soul wrestling with invisible powers of overwhelming might; and you tremble as you behold the fainting spirit toiling betwixt wisdom and madness to roll back the rising billows of infinite sorrow and ill. You know you are in the presence of the Divine Worker, and you seem to feel upon your own spirit the very breath of the Life-giver as He breathes on the dry bones, and evokes a fairer form than Adam’s from poorer, sadder dust than the freshly bedewed soil of Paradise. Wise and patient dealing with enquirers is to a well-instructed believer one of the choicest means of grace.

Not many Christians, however, are qualified for this difficult work. During the period of religious awakening there was more or less patching of old garments and filling old bottles with new wine. The wound was sometimes too slightly healed, and comfort was given where blows were needed. If that old piece of legalism was abandoned, “Go home and read your Bible, and use the means of grace,” which in effect is to say, “Go and work yourself into a state of grace,” there was a rush to the opposite extreme in a species of bribing simpler ones into saying they believed, the great question being not answered, but hushed up. “Only just believe; just believe.” Very good; but what am I to believe? What is it to believe? How am I to believe? There is often an anchor in the deep that binds the struggling soul to the shores of sin and death. Not every Christian can grapple in the depths for the mysterious hindrance that binds the awakened spirit in unbelief. Some are gifted by the Holy Ghost for this part of the work.

In dealing with enquirers Mr. Matheson always took care to discriminate between those who, as he was wont to say, “had only a scratch” and those who were deeply wounded. To the former he would speak a word fitted to deepen conviction and pass on; to the latter he never failed to preach Christ. He also found two very different classes who spoke the same language, both declaring they had no conviction. One of those classes had indeed little or no conviction of sin, and he dealt with them accordingly. The other class were penetrated with a sense of sin, but could see nothing in themselves but utter hardness of heart. These often prove to be the best cases. He never failed to bring enquirers to the Word of God and the cross of Christ. His own experience was ever of great use in giving direction and enco1ragement. A full, free, and present salvation in the Lord Jesus was held out to every soul. If they were sinking in deep waters, Jesus was at hand to help them. If they had no right conviction of sin, as they said, they had the greater need to come at once to Christ to receive conviction, pardon, holiness, and every blessing freely from Him. Christ is the good Physician, and can deal effectually with broken hearts and unbroken hearts, hard hearts, proud hearts, fickle hearts, and all kinds of wicked hearts. “I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh,” is the gracious and true word of Him who came to call not the righteous, but sinners to repentance. “There was once,” said our evangelist, “a little bird chased by a hawk, and in its extremity it took refuge in the bosom of a tender-hearted man. There it lay, its wings and feathers quivering with fear, and its little heart throbbing against the bosom of the good man, whilst the hawk kept hovering over head, as if saying, ‘Deliver up that bird, that I may devour it.’ Now, will that gentle, kind-hearted man take the poor little creature that puts its trust in him out of his bosom, and deliver it up to the hawk? What think ye? Would you do it? No; never. Well then, if you flee for refuge into the bosom of Jesus, who came to seek and to save the lost, do you think He will deliver you up to your deadly foe? Never! never! never!”

In dealing with enquirers, his power lay not so much in the clear, terse way in which he stated the plan of salvation, as in his homely genial manner of applying, like a kind and skilful physician, the balm to the wound. Not seldom, when others reasoning out of the scriptures failed, he would come and try his easy, off-hand method, in which there was profound knowledge of human nature and true Christian wisdom, without any show of either. A young man of talent, now a devoted follower of Jesus, found himself at the close of a meeting in deep distress. “Downcast and sad,” he says, “I was stealing away from Mr. Matheson, whom I did not wish to meet. Wonderful love of Jesus! who marks our wayward steps, and still, in tenderness and love calls after us, ‘Come unto Me,’ I was unexpectedly confronted by Mr. M., who introduced me to a minister. Hesitatingly I began, in answer to kind enquiries, to state my case, when Mr. M. laying his hand on my shoulder, said, ‘Oh, I know what’s wrong wi’ James. I know what James is wanting. It was a’ settled eighteen hundred years ago; but James is not satisfied with that: he would like something more. Isn’t that it now? But that’s enough, man. Let that suffice for you.’ In this way he held up the finished work of Christ, and relief followed.” Such was the manner of his life and work.

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