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A Master Sketch…

April 7, 2010

Spencer begins his work of recollections with the sentence, “This is a work of truth.”  He is referring to the fact that these stories which he is about to lay out actually happened, they were factual occurrences.  One could argue though that this book is as much about The Truth as it is about fact.  The Truth of Jesus Christ and how His gospel interacts with and arrests individuals through the faithful ministry of Spencer is at the heart of this work.

Spencer’s Approach to Evangelism

Spencer’s approach to evangelism, in the opinion of this writer, can be divided into three main characteristics.  First is his availability to entertain conversation.  This element appears to be essential in ministering the gospel.  He frequently is summoned to speak to someone on the behalf of a friend or relative; and he is always available to discuss the need a sinner has to repent and receive Christ.  Rarely if ever does he state in the book that he is too pre-occupied with something else to attend to the ministering of the gospel message.  Even when he is on his way to another engagement and briefly puts up resistance he ultimately and quickly seeks to address the need. (104)  One can see Spencer’s commitment to the gospel not in his mental grasp of concepts or even scripture but that he votes with his time and seems little distracted by things other than ministry.  Even in his ministry conversations, where it would be so easy to talk about surface matters he always moves to the core concern, “Have you given Christ your heart…?”(78)  Spencer is not distracted nor does he make excuses, as he says, “The human heart will weave an excuse for impenitence out of anything…. It makes them think they lack time, while, in fact, they only lack heart.”(68)

The second characteristic Spencer displays in his evangelism could best be termed discernment.  Throughout his work he comes across a variety of different people each with unique circumstances, and he approaches each with tact and deftness.  To those who require reasoning and intellectual debate Spencer engages in debate as in the Young Irishman (11) and Total Depravity (116).  Where people are dying or near death his approach is firm but not exploitive.  When the subjects seem unclear as to the elements of the Gospel he can offer step by step approach, as in Waiting for Conviction (69) and The Welsh Woman and her Tennant (89).  One of the most touching instances is in The Persecuted Wife (143), here Spencer ministers to a woman who desperately wants to attend church and seek after God but is threatened by her unbelieving husband.  Spencer encourages her to trust God and seek after Him not regarding the cost.  He explains to her, “He will not turn you out of the house. If he should, remember ‘Blessed are ye when men revile you…”(147)  Spencer displays faith in God and in a way that is counter to what contemporary ministry might stress, he places the highest priority not on the family but on obeying God despite the potential cost.  He is ultimately proved right in the story, and God worked things according to his purpose.

This discernment would even lead him to leave a person and allow the Spirit to convict and direct. Where we might feel compelled to continue on until a decision was made, he recognized that the Holy Spirit is a much more effective influence than any words a man can utter.  In fact, “…the very urgency and influence of the Holy Spirit consist in bringing sinners to embrace Jesus Christ.”(56)  We are not in this fight for souls alone; Spencer recognized this and relied upon it.

Each of these varied accounts displays a range of ability to deal with the diverse people one must address when one preaches the gospel, there can be no ‘one fits all’ approach.  Indeed we must, “become all things to all to all men that by all possible means (we) might save some.”(I Cor. 9:22)

The Third mark that characterized Spencer’s approach is that of Faithfulness.  Faithfulness to the message but also to those whom he preached pastured.  This trait is displayed in the overall image given of a man who spent years in the ministry and saw the fruits of those years.  One sees it, as well, in the commitment he had to return again and again to individuals as they struggled through the elements of faith. In the first account that of the Young Irishman Spencer make five visits over the course of several weeks, and saw the fruit of that labor in the eventual salvation of the man prior to his death.  Even when the first attempts are unsuccessful Spencer continues to sow, and rarely did he fail to see growth.

Strengths and Weaknesses

The Strengths to Spencer’s approach to evangelism are really outgrowths from his approach.  The fact that he would take as much time as was necessary to interact, that he stayed faithful to the message and was consistent from person to person; these are real strengths.  His reliance on the Holy Spirit, in as much as he partnered with the Spirit and sought to discern the persons condition and need and address that need with the gospel.  Also that he on God’s sovereignty, once the gospel was preached it was up to God and the Spirit to convict and bring to faith.  “If anyone thinks that he has turned to God without the special aids of the Holy Spirit, it is probable that he has never turned to God at all.”(109)  One never gets the impression throughout the book that Spencer feels the weight for their conversion.  He bears the weight of delivering the message and the call to repent, but it is up to God to draw.

The weaknesses are really a matter of opinion.  Spencer lived in a time of greater biblical literacy and religious respect.  These elements were instrumental in his interactions during his life.  Today, due to failings and mistrust, Preachers must do a great deal of groundwork to gain respect of those to whom they preach.  In addition one can not assume that individuals have any knowledge of the Bible.    He would often call on women alone and un-accompanied, which certainly one would be ill-advised to do today.  He also failed to use his ministry opportunities to teach and disciple other pastors, or lay people in the art and practice of evangelism.  This particular criticism is mitigated somewhat in the publication of Sketches.

Personal Strategy

Upon reflection of Spencer’s insights, I am greatly encouraged to pursue four goals to develop my own strategy for personal evangelism.  The first is the vital importance of interaction.  It is hard to preach to those whom we don’t see and meet.  Paul admonishes us in Romans 10:14, “How will they call upon Him in whom they have not believed?  How shall they believe in him whom they have not heard?  And how shall they hear without a preacher?”  So I must resolve to put my self in front of non-believers and pray that God will guide my meetings and place the message within me in contact with those who need the message.  Second I must resolve to know and learn more Scripture.  A page is not turned in Spencer’s work that does not have a scripture on it.  Throughout every conversation he would quote scripture in calling people to repent, and repent today.  Christ attests in Matthew 12:34 that “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.”  And it is clear that hidden in the heart of Spencer was the living and abiding word of God, “able to save men’s souls.”(James 1:21)  Third, I must be willing to take the time and not allow myself to get distracted with less important matters.  Conversations take time, prayer takes time, people take patience, and I must endeavor and pray that God will remind me that the lack of time I may have to do all that I want is the same lack of time an unbeliever has to hear the message.  Time is running out for both me and for the lost, and whatever I can construct to take up my time matters little against a souls need to hear the gospel.  That is a convicting sentence but none the less true.  Finally I must have faith.  A Faith that God will effectively call those whom he knows and those whom he has predestined.  Again Paul instructs in Romans 8:29-30, “For whom He foreknew, he also predestined…and whom he predestined these he also called, and whom He called He justified, and whom He justified He also Glorified.”  I must trust that I am to preach and God is to call, and justify and glorify as he has promised to do.  It is easy to take the responsibility on one’s self and rely on one’s abilities or skills.  To be effective, however, one must rely solely on God and relies that the very faith I profess and the very faith I possess is in itself a gift; a gift which came by a shear act of grace.

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