Few will dispute the fact that there is something seriously wrong with the methods employed by popular holiness evangelists and workers at the altar services. Popular evangelists have those who desire to be saved sign a card, lift the hand, come forward and shake their hand, have them kneel at the altar and pray a short prayer for them, have the seekers repeat it after them and then pronounce them saved, or have the seeker testify that he was now saved.
Because of defective altar work multitudes leave the altar disappointed. It is not uncommon for the seeker to be told by the personal workers, "I believe Jesus saves you, or takes you back," or, "He sanctifies you now, just believe it."
I am sorry that I have to state that many of the old holiness "war horses" have been drawn into the mainstream of this modern deceiving business at the altars and are now trying to save and sanctify the seekers themselves instead of letting the Holy Ghost do it.
Catherine Booth wrote, "Never tell a seeker that you think he is saved or sanctified, that is God's business." To say that my heart has often been grieved during revival meetings is putting it mildly. I am certain many souls are being deceived because of erroneous and unscriptural instruction at the altar. I have seen evangelists pull seekers up from their knees against their will; some were even pulled over the altar railing and forced to profess something against their own convictions. It is amazing how man will get in the way of the Holy Spirit and try to usurp the place and power of Him who alone is able to let the soul know when the work is done.
A few days ago I witnessed how a prominent holiness preacher insisted on a man and his wife testifying to sanctification against their own wills. He told them that the witness would come if they would testify to being sanctified. But the witness did not come and they went home convicted for lying. I visited them a day or so later and asked the lady about it. She began to weep, telling me just what I have told you. She said she and her husband quit going to the altar because when they did they were not left alone. "We have scarcely reached the altar," she said, "and begun to fix our minds on God, when the people get around us and talk to or pray at us so loud that we get confused, and we feel we do better to stay away altogether and pray at home or where we sit."
What a calamity! Is it not time that we stop and find out why people do not pray through at the altar? God help us to realize that the salvation of immortal souls is at stake. I was told by one of the young people from a certain popular holiness church that they had decided not to got to the altar any more because they did not get anything when they went. "We have no confidence in those who come to pray with or for us, for their lives prove they themselves do not have what they profess," he said.
A young girl was heard to say sometime after she had professed religion, "I am disappointed in Jesus; I did not find in Him what I sought for." The fact is that she did not find Him at all. No one has ever found the real Christ and been disappointed. It is the devil who disappoints them. He gives them his counterfeit and then they think they have salvation, but their hearts are void of love and they are unhappy because the devil has deceived them.
All truly born again souls have peace with God. They have the witness of God in their hearts that they have forgiveness of sins. Furthermore, they have no condemnation. They love to pray and have communion with God and fellowship with His people. The sense of their acceptance with God is registered on their conscience and they obey and please Him.
What then is the real fundamental cause of all the shallow altar work? The reason is that both the workers and the seekers do not know that it is by the "faith of God" that we are saved and sanctified. They think it is by their own human intellect. If they knew that it is by the faith that God imparts, they would never say to a seeker, "Take it by faith," because he cannot take it before he has this faith given to him of God. God does not give it until every condition of that faith has been met. If the seeker knew that he must pray until God gives this faith, he would not permit himself to be deceived by the shallow altar work, but would turn from him and pray on until God gave the faith. Once God grants the faith by which we receive the blessing we seek, we need not be told to "just take it by faith" or "only believe" or "don't wait for feeling." When faith comes, we can't help but believe and we will have all the feeling we can take care of.
Another reason why souls are deceived at the altar is they mistake the voice of their own imagination for the voice of God and idly presume they are born of God while they continue to walk in darkness. All born again people have the fruit of the Spirit. This is positive evidence that they have experienced a change of heart.
The question may be asked, Since there is danger of being deceived and receiving a false witness, how are we to distinguish between the presumption of the natural mind, the delusion of the devil, and the genuine assurance of the Spirit of God? Mr. Wesley answered that we may know from what precedes our assurance, from what accompanies it, and from what follows. According to Scripture, awakening, conviction, repentance, and restitution precede salvation. If these have preceded the impression that we received, it must be genuine, for we have met the conditions of faith. On the other hand, if we have not truly repented of all our sins, turned from them to God, made restitution, asked forgiveness of those we have wronged and from the heart forgiven those we have wronged, and made everything right as far as possible, or at least have in our hearts the willingness to make them right, then whatever our impression or good feeling may be, it is false and will not last. A better way is to pray and wait before God until the Holy Ghost comes and the fire really falls, then you will have not doubt. You will know the work is done, because the Comforter has come to abide.
Editorial Note: This article was adapted from a two-part article first published at Greensboro, NC in "The People's Herald" in November and December, 1948.