The concept of the invitation is as old as God’s recorded word. It is in the opening chapters of Genesis; it is in the closing verses of Revelation. All the way throughout the scripture God is appealing, seeking, inviting and persuading men to come to Him.
The Foundation for Invitations…
Invitations are biblical. The Bible is filled with invitations for men to come to God. In Exodus 32:26, when Moses returned from Mt. Sinai and destroyed the golden calf, he said, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Let him come unto me.” It was a clear invitation to make a public stand. After the conquest of the Promised Land, Joshua called upon the people to “choose you this day whom you will serve… as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15).1 It was a personal, public invitation to follow God. After the Book of Law had been found, King Josiah gave a public invitation to the people to make a covenant to keep God’s commandments (2 Chronicles 34:30-32). Ezra invited the people to swear publically to carry out the reforms of God. (Ezra 10:5). At the close of his great message at Pentacost Peter gave a classic invitation. Peter delivered the body of his message and the climax is described in these words, “And with many other words did he testify and exhort” (Acts 2:40). Peter exhorted the people to act upon what they had heard. Paul reminded the people, “I ceased not to warn everyone night and day with tears” (Acts 20:31). Jesus invited, “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28-30). If a preacher fails to invite his listeners to respond to Christ, he is departing from the practice of the Bible.
Invitations are historical. Through the centuries representatives of Christ have in one form or another publically urged men to respond to the gospel. Those who preach for a verdict also call for a decision. The practice of giving a public invitation was revived and given widespread use in the Great Awakening and in the evangelical revivals in America and England.2 If a preacher fails to invite his listeners to respond to Christ, he is departing from the practice of history.
Invitations are logical. It is the outgrowth of the unfolding message. The invitation is prepared through prayer, music and proclamation.3 It is a real and vital part of the message. All that has transpired has been done to make ready for the invitation. Politicians present a platform and point to their record of service. Then, you are asked to decide and vote for them. Life is a continual series of decisions demanding action. Looming above all other decisions is the primary, supreme decision to “seek first the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33).
Invitations are practical. The purpose of the invitation is commitment of the listeners. Decision declares that it is in favor of a certain action, but commitment pledges itself to the action.4 The preacher who preaches for a decision without an invitation for commitment creates confusion in the listener. The invitation brings a crisis of conscious commitment in the mind and heart of the individual.
The Mechanics of Invitations…
While there are many books about the mechanics of sermon preparation, there is very little help on the mechanics of giving a public invitation. The book entitled, Sixty-five Ways To Give An Invitation by F.D. Whitesell, is the most complete book in print. Dr. C.E. Matthews, great evangelistic preacher and first Director of Evangelism of the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board, referred to the invitation as “drawing the net.” Dr. George W. Truett often said that most preachers did not know how to draw the net. While generally good at preaching, he thought they were poor at the point of giving the invitation.5
Give the invitation planning. It is not something to be tacked on at the end of the message. It should be as carefully planned as the body of the message. The Holy Spirit uses a well planned message more effectively than a poorly planned one. Plan the invitation and remain alert to the Spirit.6 Follow sensatively the Spirit in the use of the plan, ready to move at the direction of change.
Give the invitation clearly. The preacher needs to be specific about what he wants the people to do. He must make the message plain. He will want to speak the language of the people. The people must know and understand what they are being asked to do. Jesus spoke clearly, using language easily understood, and the multitudes of people heard Him gladly.
Give the invitation smoothly. There should be a smooth transition between the message and the invitation. Bridging between the message and the invitation as smoothly as between the introduction and the message is vital. The message fails unless it carries to the hearer the summons to his whole being to be brought together in the will of God.
Give the invitation completely. Ample time should be taken. The invitation should be open as long as people are responding and the Spirit is working. The preacher will not stop too soon or rush through the appeal. A wise preacher will not hesitate to change the direction of the invitation and will discern when to close the invitation.
Give the invitation courteously. Respect the rights of people, and don’t attempt to embarras them into the Kingdom of God. They have the right to die in their sins, if they persist. Honesty in what is said and done in the invitation is vital. If the hearers know that they can trust the preacher, he can lead them to trust in Christ. Speak with love, kindness, patience and gentleness. Although the invitation is a form of persuasion, it is persuasion carefully guarded by the Spirit.
The Spirit of Invitations…
Every message should climax with an invitation.7 It completes the presentation of the biblical message. The difference between success and failure in evangelism often lies here. It is not how well the preacher presents the truth or how forceful his sermons, but how adept he is in leading the lost to decide for Christ in the invitation that determines the degree of success.8 The preacher must communicate the call of God based upon the biblical context. This unique spirit of invitation cannot be taught or bought, it can only be transmitted to a preacher by the Holy Spirit.
The invitation requires the preacher to have a spirit of confidence. L.R. Scarbrough called it giving “the invitation with poise.”9 A young preacher told Dr. Charles Spurgeon, “I have no response to my invitations.” Spurgeon asked, “Do you expect response every time you preach?” The young man replied, “No.” Spurgeon exclaimed, “That is why you have no response!” A preacher of the Gospel will expect great things to happen every time he preaches. Billy Graham was asked by reporters, “How do you account for the continuing response to your invitations?” He replied, “I preach expecting people to respond.”
The invitation requires a spirit of dependancy. This is an intangible factor. The preacher is not putting the Holy Spirit aside when he pleads in the invitation any more than when he prepares and delivers the content of the message. Peter was as much under the direction of the Holy Spirit at Pentacost while he exhorted as when he preached. In the invitation the preacher is persuading lost men in the power of the Holy Spirit to accept Christ and Christians to renew their commitment to Christ. Revival almost always begins with the Christian and not with the unsaved.10 In the invitation the lost are brought face to face with the Holy Spirit and His convicting power.
The invitation requires the spirit of urgency. Someone asks, “What is at stake in the invitation?” — the souls of men! The invitation is not something tacked on at the end of the sermon. The burden of the preacher’s soul is not delivered until he urges men to decide for Jesus.11 The invitation is given to get decisions, commitments to Christ. The purpose of Jesus was to save the lost. “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). It is not enough to instruct and warn the lost of their doom, but they must be persuaded. Paul said, “Knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11). Every sentence and paragraph should pull for decision.12 The preacher must realize that he is standing in the breach between a soul and hell. The preacher is persuading people to do right, not to do wrong; to spend life on the Lord’s side, not on the devil’s; to spend eternity in heaven, not in hell; and, to break with the devil and come to God. Paul said, “For the love of Christ constraineth us” (2 Corinthians 5:14). The preacher earnestly pleads with the urgency “of a dying man to dying men.” Dr. C.E. Autrey told his classes in evangelism, “The sight of vigorous manhood on fire for God, pleading humbly but powerfully for Christ, is enough to stir the best emotions and aspirations of hardened hearts.”
Charles Lamb once wrote, “Not many sounds in life exceed in interest a knock at the door.13 Consider the words of Jesus, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” This invitation is applicable to all of life. He knocks at the door of life in the time of crisis, of opportunity, of grief and of joy. The only thing that keeps Jesus from entering these doors is the willingness of people to open their lives to Him. The climax of the message of good news is the knock of the invitation upon the heart of the listener. The climax of preaching is the invitation to respond to Christ.
1. C.E. Autrey, Basic Evangelism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), p. 128.
2. C.B. Templeton, Evangelism For Tomorrow (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1957), p. 163.
3. C.E. Matthews, Southern Baptist Program of Evangelism (Nashville: Convention Press, 1956), p. 93.
4. Elmer J. Homrighausen, Choose Ye This Day (Westminister Press, 1943), p. 67.
5. J. Winston Pearce, The Invitation To Worship (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1949), p. 26.
6. Autrey, op. cit., p. 132.
7. L.R. Scarbrough, With Christ After The Lost (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1953), p. 146.
8. Autrey, op. cit., p. 133.
9. Matthews, op. cit., p. 91.
10. John Rice, How To Have A Revival (Wheaton: Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1946), p. 191.
11. F.D. Whitesell, Sixty-five Ways To Give Invitations (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1952), p. 11.
12. Autrey, op. cit., p. 127.
13. Joseph R. Sizoo, Preaching Unashamed (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1949), p. 10.

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