By Elmer Ellsworth Shelhamer
SUPERFICIAL ALTAR WORKERS
By E. E. Shelhamer
"For they have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.
And now we come to still another class of preachers and -Christian workers. This class are not only "sound in doctrine," and "exemplary in life," but they minister in the Spirit and preach with unction and power. Nevertheless, there is somewhat against them; they fail at a vital point; they "heal slightly)" and the result is a lot of reformed sinners professing religion, and others professing holiness who are worldly and powerless and know nothing about crucifixion.
It is surprising how some holiness preachers and evangelists can preach good and straight and then upset the whole thing by skimming over and being so superficial in altar work.
Until preachers and Christian workers discriminate between the Spirit encouraging seeking souls, and that same Spirit coming into their hearts, bringing the clear, unmistakable witness to their acceptance with God, just so long they will do shallow altar work. There is a vast difference between the Spirit coming upon a person from without, and taking up His abode within. God will draw near to every soul as fast as he submits and surrenders; this encouragement of the Spirit, along with the anticipation of being saved and prepared for glory, may be so great at times as to cause the seeker to shout aloud for joy, and yet with all this he may not have a satisfactory assurance that all is right between him and his God.
Every truly repentant soul will have the witness of his own spirit to the fact that he has yielded on every point revealed to him, and this will bring a sense of relief, but this is not enough, unless the Holy Spirit comes in) witnessing that he is made "partaker of the divine nature." Because of unwise dealing, thousands of souls stop short with the witness of their own spirit, and this accounts for so many barren, joyless professors of religion.
In nine cases out of ten, the seeker has wrongs to make right, is clinging to some idol or besetting sin, or rebelling on some other point, and even though he does say he is given up in every respect, the very fact that God does not set His seal to it proves that his heart is still "deceitful above all things and desperately wicked." That is why souls should not be rushed through and urged to "believe," "believe," right over unconfessed, unrepented sins. How can they believe until they meet the conditions of faith? If souls were left to pray their way through, the Holy Spirit would lead them step by step to glorious victory.
While there is no virtue in length of time, yet it is impracticable to think that every person who submits to a proposition and goes forward for prayers, can and must of necessity profess what he is seeking, the first time he goes forward. True, God can save or sanctify in a moment of time, but the seeking soul must approach the point of appropriating faith, step by step. We have heard ministers tell what a time they had seeking salvation, also what dying out they had when they were sanctified. But they lay, "You need not have such a hard and long time, since you have the benefit of our experience and advanced light." The same brother goes on to say that if he had had some one to teach him the simplicity of faith, he would not have had such a long struggle. He seems to think that the soul who is groping in the dark, feeling after God, should immediately see and understand things as he does and in urging this he seems to utterly forget that every soul must learn the same lessons and travel over the same road. Every soul must get to the end of himself before he finds God. Of course some souls reach the point of victory more quickly than others, but as a rule, this is because such souls comprehend the conditions of faith more readily and submit and surrender more fully. But the lessons must be learned and the determination tested, either before or after victory ground has been gained. God can trust some before, while others must prove their integrity. As Fletcher say, "The deeper the repentance, the more solid and lasting the victory."
This same principle holds good in dealing with those seeking heart purity. It is misleading and unscriptural to hold that souls who have not been previously groaning for heart purity can come forward from a promiscuous congregation and seek and obtain such an experience in a few minutes. Wesley taught that it was necessary to see the "groundwork of the heart, the depths of pride, self-will and hell." Adam Clarke says, "Few are cleansed from all sin or sanctified because they do not feel and confess their own sore and the plague of their own hearts." Fletcher says, "By frequent and deep confession drag out all these abominations," etc.
Now the question is, how can a soul who has not yet seen the "groundwork of his heart," or "by frequent and deep confession" denounced and loathed the "envy, jealousy, fretfulness, anger, pride, impatience, peevishness, formality, sloth, prejudice, bigotry, carnal confidence, evil shame, self-righteousness, tormenting fears, uncharitable suspicions, idolatrous love," etc., etc.,, how can such a soul get an experience at a single altar service? True, God is able and does do His part instantaneously, in striking the death blow to the "old man" and applying the blood, but not until the conditions to such appropriating faith are met, and it is misleading as well as unscriptural to urge souls to try to exercise that faith over unconfessed carnality.
Rev. F. D. Brooke says: "The efforts of some well-meaning persons to get seekers for holiness to consecrate have proven hindrances rather than helps to them in obtaining the experience. A man comes to the altar seeking holiness. He has been a happy, shining pilgrim. There is not an issue between his soul and God relative to future conduct. He has been blest time and again during his Christian experience as he would rededicate his soul and body's powers to God forever to live and die for Him. Now some one tells him to consecrate. He is all broken up over his burden of inward defilement. He is anxious to do anything to obtain deliverance. He goes through a careful dedication of himself to God, his friend altar worker suggesting some things which may not have occurred to his mind before. His mind is diverted from his difficulty. He feels a sensation of peace in his soul, as any one will who rededicates himself to God, whether he is regenerated or wholly sanctified. He accepts this as holiness, and soon awakens to the fact that he was deceived, by allowing his mind to be diverted from the object for which he came to the altar, which was not to reconsecrate, but to be made pure."
We have been pained to see altar workers compel a poor seeker to insist (against his own consciousness) that the work is done, and then to make the lie more secure, he is told never to doubt nor to depend so much upon feeling. He is urged to "take it by faith" and say it is done anyway and the witness and the feeling will come later.
Should the seeker get wonderfully blest the belief is then confirmed by all that it is a very clear case of sanctification. The tide and sentiment are so strong in favor of the seeker's having it, that should an eagle-eyed soul be present and not join in the shout, but rather be pained to see such shallow work, he is at once looked upon as being stubborn or jealous. This is where a faithful worker is lynched (spiritually) by his brethren. But he takes it gently rather than be accessory in healing the hurt of the daughter of Zion "slightly."
We once heard a backslidden presiding elder say he attended a meeting where one of the leading holiness evangelists in the land was in charge. The backslider went forward to get help in his soul, but after asking him a few questions the evangelist said, "You're all right! The Spirit reveals to me that all you need, is to brace up and go to work." This ex-preacher declared he was backslidden and living in open sin at the very time.
Now there is a reason for all superficial dealing with souls.
As a rule every one tells and teaches his own experience. At least he does not go higher or deeper than he himself has gone. When you hear a person instruct another and he tells the seeker to "make a full, unconditional surrender," "consecrate everything to God for time and eternity," etc., you can safely set it down that he knows nothing by experience of real death to self.
If a man is void of the genuine experience himself, no difference how radical he may be in his teachings or practice, his lack will be made manifest in his personal dealing with souls.
Deep spirituality is accompanied by keen discernment. There is no better sign that a person is void of the experience of holiness than that of not being able to detect shallowness and lack of power wherever it is manifest. Carnality is blinding and renders its subjects "like other men."
Not that we should sit in judgment upon other's experiences, and look for defects. No! Perfect love will hope for the best in every person. But it will also enable its possessor to detect in an instant that which is tainted with carnal self, whether it be in prayer, testimony, preaching or conversation.