The Mourner’s Bench
Some people of the present generation may not understand the little picture on the cover of this booklet, nor the term, “Mourner’s Bench.” When I was a lad, the term was well understood, especially among Methodists. It was a little bench that sat in front of the pulpit, to which penitent sinners went and kneeled to pray for the forgiveness of their sins and salvation by faith in Christ.
There are many thousands and tens of thousands of souls in Paradise today who found Jesus Christ as a personal Savior at the mourner’s bench. It will be well understood that there is no virtue in a bench, by whatever name it may be called, but it was good for the sinner, before the congregation and community, to rise up in open surrender and come forward and kneel at that humble little altar, as a confession of sin before his fellow beings, throwing him or herself upon the mercy of God.
If the Scriptures teach anything, they teach that human nature is fallen; that the evil effects of sin are as universal as humankind. In order to pardon there must be repentance. Our Lord Christ has said positively, and with repetition that, “Ye must be born again.” This statement of Jesus Christ is applicable, not to humanity in the mass, but to each individual. The religion of Christ is personal. God in some things may deal with the multitude, but when it comes to the forgiveness of sins, and that strange and blessed transaction, which our Lord called the new birth, it is just as personal as a physical birth.
Men are not physically born in the mass, but one by one they come into this world, into a conscious state of existence, and each one grows up as a person, distinct from all other persons. It is just so with reference to repentance. This is not a matter that can be attended to in a great mass of people, a sort of social reform, or uplift; but the individual sinner must repent of his or her sins, must forsake sin, exercise saving faith, and be born of the Spirit. He must pass from spiritual death to spiritual life.
One of the great needs of the times is the mourner’s bench, well crowded with individuals seeking forgiveness, and that new life which comes from Christ in the gracious operation of the Holy Spirit which makes each individual a new creature and, whereas that individual once loved sin and committed it with eagerness and pleasure, it now hates sin, guards against it, watches and prays for deliverance from temptation, and delights in the law of the Lord, keeps the commandments, and communes with the Holy Spirit.
There has been, it appears, a sort of race between the various denominations of this country for members, a boasting of the large number that this or that church enrolls. The emphasis has been laid more upon quantity than quality, and it is evident that the mourner’s bench has been sadly avoided and forsaken, and multitudes of people without any profound conviction for sin, without the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, have come into our churches and continued to live quite like they did before making a profession, receiving baptism without a new heart or any intention or effort to live separate f rom the worldly multitude about them, and walk in humble, glad obedience to the teachings of our Lord and Saviour.
It is plain to see the great numbers of church members who pay no heed to that saying of Christ in which he gives us to understand that if we would become his disciples we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. When the church receives large numbers of people without the regenerating grace of God, they have the same unchanged sinful natures, the same loves and the same hatreds. They look for their pleasures, amusements and pastimes to the same sources from which they derived them before their profession, baptism, and entering into the church. Such large numbers of people of this character have been received into our churches that worldliness abounds; all sorts of entertainments and pastimes, which cannot possibly be a means of grace, are introduced into the church. Devout people are grieved, and sinners on the outside are amused and disgusted.
The reader will readily understand I am not making a plea for the little bench of other days, called the “mourner’s bench;” I am simply using it as a symbol of repentance, of a place of prayer, of earnest seeking of the soul’s salvation by faith in our crucified and risen Christ.
One thing is sure: A worldly church cannot bring a lost world to Christ. And it is well understood by thoughtful people everywhere, within the church and on the outside, that there is a great slump in spiritual life which has resulted in the lowering of moral standards, and is having a fearful effect on individuals, the home, and the entire life of the nation.
The standards that have been set up in preaching and teaching in this great country of ours have been too low. We are in need of the ministry of such men as Charles Finney who, with the sword of the Spirit, searched the lives and hearts of the people and brought great numbers of church members to realize their lost condition, repent of their sins, and seek the peace and rest for their souls which can be found only at the foot of the cross, trusting in the Christ who died thereon for our redemption.
Somewhere for each individual who would be saved, there must be a place of repentance, of sorrow for sin, of deep grief and mourning, because of a profound sense of having sinned against a compassionate, patient and merciful God. One of the greatest needs of this nation is a tidal wave of conviction for sin, a godly sorrowing and turning away from wickedness. Somewhere between the present state of those who are in rebellion and sin against God, and a state of salvation, there must be a time and place of godly sorrow, acceptance of Christ as an only Savior, and a blessed consciousness that sins are forgiven.
If we have a revival that will save this nation, bring back the sacredness of the home and the marriage vow, replace the Bible, and make the house of God a place of communion with the blessed Trinity, that revival must begin within the church. The ministry must sound loud, long, and insistently the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
It was an unfortunate hour in the history of Methodism when Decision Day was substituted for the annual revival in Methodist churches. In the salvation of the individual, there must be a decision, a forsaking of sin, a seeking of Christ and tarrying in prayer for assurance of pardon, which will always be witnessed by the Holy Spirit to those who forsake all sin and trust in Christ for forgiveness.
Children can be converted — and by this word I mean regenerated — very young. It is just as easy to lead them to Christ as it is to teach them the Catechism, which is quite proper, but it cannot take the place of the work of the Holy Spirit, making the child, in Christ, a new creature. I well remember when a small child, I had a deep sense of my need of a Saviour, and I am confident I could have been genuinely saved, had I have had proper instruction, when I was six years of age.
There are those who teach that a child does not need a sense of sin, to repent, to pray at an altar, to seek the Lord, as older persons do, and to have a definite experience of forgiveness and the peace which that brings to the soul. Such teaching is not only wrong, but dangerous, and has become common, and has defrauded a vast number of our church members out of the gracious experience of regeneration.
It should be remembered that this matter of making the individual a new creature in Christ, is wrought by the Holy Spirit, and one of his most gracious works is revealing to the individual, young or old, the fact that that individual is lost in sin, and must experience a change of heart, which will mean a change of the entire attitude, a definite change of life; a child can have a very profound sense of its lostness and its need of a Saviour; and it can easily be led, with proper instruction, to trust in Jesus, and experience a sense of forgiveness and love that it can carry on the voyage of life, both as sail and anchor. There is nothing finer and more helpful in the hour of temptation, than a clear and gracious memory of the time and place where one met with God in the salvation of the soul.
In the fifty-eight years of my ministry I have traveled among the churches as extensively as any other living man, in evangelistic work. I have preached in our greatest city churches, in towns,county seats, villages, country churches, isolated communities, tents, brush arbors, and in this work I have come in close personal contact with thousands of church members; I find numbers of church members who were brought into the church on Decision Day who have never been born of the Spirit, and have no assurance of sins forgiven. They are not hypocrites, but did what they were told to do; but when they read in the Scriptures of the peace and joy, the witness of the Spirit, and those gracious experiences, they know nothing, whatever, of them by experience.
These unfortunate people become the easy victims of modernistic teachers who, in time, may destroy their faith in every essential truth of the Bible; others, in the hungering of their hearts, can be drawn away to the Christian Scientists, Unity, and other false philosophies which promise them peace, which their Decision Day religion fails to bring them. To undertake to prove the Bible Wesleyan doctrine of entire sanctification to these unregenerated people, is like casting pearls before swine. Having not received the first work of grace, the new birth, they are unprepared to receive the second work of grace, the crucifixion of the carnal nature.
One of the greatest needs of our time is a revival within the church; the regeneration of vast numbers of people who have been brought into the church on Decision Day and Easter occasions, and often at the ordinary Sunday services, without any experience of the gracious work of the Holy Spirit, making them the children of God.