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Charles Trumbull
Taking Men Alive


“Winning at the Start”


Initial Thought Questions

I. State the ultimate purpose of the work in which we are seeking to gain proficiency.
2. Why, should you say, does much depend upon the way in which we approach a person?
3. What should we try to accomplish in our approach?
4 What is the best kind of approach to make?
5. What is the worst kind of approach to make?
6. Give your own definition of tact
7. What place has tact in this work? Why?
8. Was Jesus tactful? Can you give any illustrations of his tact?
9 What place has personal criticism in this work?
10. Mention two or three sure ways to win people to us.


IV Winning at the Start

When we are face to face with an opportunity, which means face to face with one whom we would win to Christ, how shall we begin? What shall we be thinking most about as we prepare to come into close quarters? Shall we be hunting in our memory for a Bible text to quote? Shall we be running over in our mental notebook the various groups or classifications of “cases,” so that we may decide in which pigeon-hole this “case” belongs? Shall we try to remember how this or that noted soul-winner worked? If we concentrate on any of these lines at the moment of beginning, we shall be missing the most important factor in the situation. When a man is fishing with rod and line and fly, and is about to cast, what holds his chief attention then, and from then on? It is the fish, is it not? When a man is after game in the woods, and is about to attempt to bring his game down, what is the one thing in the world on which his eyes and thoughts and interests are riveted? The game itself. He must forget everything else in an absorbed, alert watching of the animal and its every movement. He must know his game, and its interests, if he would capture it.

If we would take a man alive for Christ, we must first of all know something, be it ever so little, about that man and his present interests. Our knowledge may be gained in ten seconds; again, it may take ten months to gain. But we can never have this needed knowledge of the man, as a first step toward winning the man himself, unless we devote our whole energy, for the time being, to knowing the man. Therefore it is that he must fill our whole horizon as we prepare to come into close quarters with him. We must be thinking not about others, but about this other; just this one in the whole universe.

This is the simple secret of “tact,”—that mysterious power which a few favored ones seem to possess, and which, if one does not happen to have the “gift,” is regretfully supposed to be beyond one’s reach. But “tact” is simply “touch”: a touch on the right spot rather than the wrong; a touch which will win another, rather than antagonize him; a touch in keeping with, rather than opposed to, his present interests. And it is impossible to touch one at a point that will interest him unless we know something of what his interests are. The art of taking men alive calls for tact at the very beginning, which means, first of all, studying your man.

This concentrating all our attention on the individual at the outset, so that we may know what interests him, is to enable us to put forward something that shall attract and hold his attention. In fishing, the attractive thing thus put forward by the fisherman is called bait. And bait is a prime essential in the man-fishing to which Christ called his disciples, and in which he promised to train them to expertness. For let us bear in mind that we are in the business of winning men to Christ. We cannot win by antagonizing. And we must win by drawing men to us, as a first step in drawing them to Christ

The Other Man’s Interests as Bait

It is the other man’s interests, just where they are, and as they are, not as we think or know they ought to be, that we must recognize and work with. We cannot expect others to cross over from their interests to ours until we have first crossed over from our interests to theirs.

The Master Fisherman has given us a striking instance of the use of this bait-principle, in the record of the training of some of his first disciples. He had the whole world to choose from, when he began the special training of the few men with whom he was to entrust the continuance of the winning of the world to himself. Several of these chosen few were fishermen. That was not an accident, nor was their fishing a mere incident in their previous life. The principles of successful fishing were already dominant factors in their lives. And one of their earliest lessons in soul-winning was taught through a miraculous fishing experience that Jesus gave them. Still more clearly there was no accident in this. Our study of Christ’s methods of winning men to himself, and our study of what one of his followers was permitted to do in the same work, reveal something of why Christ chose fishermen to be his apostles, and how he trained fishermen to become fishers of men.

Even the Son of God did not take it for granted that men would be interested in him or his message until he had first interested himself in them. Shall we expect to do better than he? If not, we must be willing to work as he did. Let us watch him at work on the 1akeside.l

He is teaching the eager multitude the word of God. But, always more interested in the individual than in the crowd, he is watching some fishermen nearby whom he knows and whom he has been trying to awaken to a sense of his mission, and to the need of taking part in it. So he asks one of them to help by permitting the use of his boat as a pulpit; and then he goes on with his message to the multitude. With what indication of response or interest from the fishermen? None at all. The reason is plain enough. They had had a profitless, exhausting night of it in their trade. A fisherman does not mind getting tired out by hard work if he has a boat-load of fish to show for his efforts. But to work all night and take nothing! The physical exhaustion then is doubled by the discouragement. And the nets have to be cleaned, too, just as though the catch had been a big one! Washing nets, at its best, is pretty dull business; but washing nets that have stayed empty all night is enough to take the heart out of any man.

It was a cheerless, discouraging day that was just breaking for those tired men by the sea. What if a great teacher was expounding precious spiritual truth within earshot? Human nature wanted none of that just then. Could any human being fairly have been expected to be interested in spiritual matters under those circumstances?

Jesus knew how it was. It did not call for his supernatural insight into “what was in man” to appreciate that the men he was trying to train were more interested in the fish they had failed to catch that morning, than in anything else in the universe. Yet this fact, instead of making him impatient, or deterring him from any attempt to go on with their training, was to him a challenge, an invitation. It was his opportunity to use tact, to use bait. He must touch them at the point of their present interests, unworthy though these interests might seem in comparison with higher spiritual matters. He must use a bait that would attract these men just as they were, without waiting until they should come, of their own accord, to worthier interests.

Fish—the fish they hadn’t caught—were their present interest. Fish, then, must be the bait. So his first word to them is, “Put out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught” They remonstrated, of course.

But because his very manner showed them that he was intent on giving their own temporal interests his supreme attention, they yielded. And then, after he had given them such proof of his genuine interest in them as they never forgot, and they had taken care of the nets that were breaking and the boats that were sinking from the draught of fishes which he had helped them to catch, they were ready to think of other things than fish. They were ready, then, to be interested in anything that Jesus had to offer, because he had first interested himself in them.

Now, and not until now, can Christ hope for a response as he says, in effect: “I have helped you to catch fish; I want you to help me to catch men. From henceforth thou shalt take men alive.”

It is so easy to miss the principles of Christ’s methods of soul-winning if we will not look for them. One of the most prominent commentators of this generation has actually written, of this incident: “There was absolutely no purpose, either of demonstration of Christ’s mission or of help to human needs, to be served by the miracle. Its only significance is symbolical.” But is it, indeed, either necessary or reasonable to suppose that the Master turned aside from his spiritual teaching and caused the miraculous draught of fishes simply in order that he might have a good illustration of what he wanted these disciples to take up as their life-work? They were already fishermen; he could easily have said to them, with their nets empty, “from henceforth thou shalt take men alive,” and they would have understood him. But the empty nets would effectually have killed their interest in the invitation. They were not interested in taking men alive then; they were absorbingly interested in catching fish. To be sure, this was not nearly so worthy an interest as the saving of men’s souls; but Christ took men as they were, not as he would have liked them to be. How differently most of us would have handled that situation! How we should have stormed and protested and argued with those men, indignantly urging them to forget their fish for a few minutes and turn their attention to something worth while! How surprised or hurt or discouraged we have been, in our own experiences, because those upon whom we have urged the blessings of life in Christ are obviously and persistently more interested in the unworthy affairs of this unworthy world! Have we ever given ourselves in any absorbing way to a study of what we are pleased to consider their “unworthy” interests, in order to be of genuine service to them? If we have not, we are failing in a first principle of the art upon which depends our success in the Great Commission.

The Bail of Honest Commendation

We cannot do today just as Christ did by the lakeside,—work a miracle to win men’s interest. But there is another kind of bait that is within the reach of us all, and that calls for no miracle to use. It is a bait that Jesus himself used freely in his soul-winning (See pages 176-179 in the printed volume). This is the bait of honest commendation. It will land the most slippery human fish alive. No man can resist it. A word, heartily spoken, of sincere commendation for a fellow-being, will disarm opposition and draw him to us more effectively than any other method. It is the best human bait in the world.
Perhaps one reason why honest commendation is so effective in challenging a person’s interest is because it is so rare. A friend of the writer’s, passing through a town on his travels, saw an old gray-haired colored man hard at work in the roadway. He greeted the toiler pleasantly:

“Uncle, that’s a good piece of work you’re doing.” The old man stopped, straightened up, looked the other over, then said slowly:

“Say, boss, you doan live in this town, do you? “No, why?” asked the visitor.
“I been workin’ hyar twenty years, and yo’ the fust man ever told me anything like that.” Which was probably sober fact.

“But,” says some one, “that’s all well enough with a person whom you can commend, but suppose you are working with one whom you can not commend?”
Wait a moment! Say that again! “One whom you can not commend?” That person does not live. If we think that we have ever met such a one, the fault is with ourselves, not with the seemingly unlovely person. This truth is brought out in the further study of Christ’s methods (See Chapter IX in this volume): and it will become plainer as we go on in our other studies in this series.

Commending a Whiskey-Drinker

An illustration of the possibility and the gain of using honest commendation at the outset with one whose confidence we would win, is found in a railroad train experience resulting from such an opportunity as might come to any traveler.

Entering, one November morning, at the Grand Central Station in New York, a crowded train for Boston, I found the only vacant seat was one alongside of a pleasant-faced, florid-complexioned, large-framed young man, and that seat I took, and began to read the morning paper. After a few minutes my seatmate took from his valise a large case bottle of whiskey and a metal drinking-cup. Before drinking himself, he proffered it to me. As I thanked him and declined it, he drank by himself (See pages 31-32).

Not a particularly hopeful outlook for soul-winning, most of us would feel, and still less did there seem to be any chance for the bait of commendation. But the fisherman was doing all that he could do as yet, by studying his man and holding himself in readiness. I still read my paper, but I thought of my seatmate, and I watched for an opportunity. In a little while he again turned to his valise, and, as before, took out his whiskey bottle. Once more he offered it to me, and again I declined it with thanks. As he put away the bottle, after drinking from it the second time, he said:

“Don’t you ever drink, my friend?”

“No, my friend, I do not.”

“Well, I guess you think I’m a pretty rough fellow” (See page 32). Perhaps some of us, if we had felt any responsibility at all for speaking a word for Christ to this seatmate, would have already pointed out the danger and the wrong of his drinking. Or if not, we might have felt that he himself had now made the opening for a word of honest reproof, and with that we would have begun. Surely there was no opportunity to commend anything in this whiskey-drinking stranger. But Dr. Trumbull had learned the first principle of man-fishing, and here was his friendly, honest answer, based on the one admirable quality in this man that loving penetration had discovered:

“I think you’re a very generous-hearted fellow.” And then a frank suggestion could be made in the same instant, because the first word had won, not repelled, the man.

Even now it must be made in a way that should not repel by giving offense, so he continued:

“But I tell you frankly I don’t think your whiskey-drinking is the best thing about you.”

Nor did the whiskey-drinker ever live who was in any doubt on this point, and promptly came the answer:

“Well, I don’t believe it.”

“Why do you keep it up, then?” was the friendly question. And from that skilful, loving, winning start it was not difficult to have an earnest talk with this young fellow.

At this he told me something of his story. He was a Massachusetts country boy, now a clerk in a large New York jobbing house. He was just going to his old country home to spend Thanksgiving. He confessed that he had fallen into bad ways in the city, very different ways from those of his boyhood in Massachusetts. I asked him about his mother, and he spoke lovingly and tenderly of her. He said he knew she was praying for him constantly. This brought us into close quarters. I told him that I was sure his mother would be happy if he prayed for himself, and that he knew that he ought to do this. I urged him to do it.

He was evidently surprised and touched by my expressions of interest in him. Then he spoke gratefully of another show of interest in him. He said:

“I was coming up Broadway, the other night It was about midnight. I had been having ‘a time!’ I’ll own up, I’d been off on a regular ‘bum.’ A little ahead of me I saw a fellow in a doorway, and he came out as if he were coming for me. I squared away towards him, as I came near him, for I thought he was ‘laying’ for me. But as I got opposite to him he just gave me a card, and asked me to accept it, and I passed on.

“When I got to the next lamp-post I looked at that card, and it told about a place on Twenty-third Street, called a ‘Young Men’s Christian Association,’ where they liked to have young men come in any time, and make themselves at home. And there that fellow, that I’d squared away to, was out there at midnight ‘laying’ for just such ‘bummers’ as I was, to invite ‘em to come in and make themselves at home in that place. I ‘swow,’ I mean to go up to that place, when I get back, and give ‘em five dollars for the good they’re doing.” I told my seatmate that those who love Christ love such as he, because Christ loves them. And I urged him to make his Thanksgiving Day at his old homestead a real day of thanksgiving, by telling his good mother that her prayers for him were answered

‘That would make my old mother pretty happy, if I did that,” he said heartily.

“Wouldn’t you like to make your old mother happy, as you go home to have a Thanksgiving with her?” I asked. “Indeed I would,” he said.

As we came to my Hartford home, where I was to leave the train, I took his hand and urged him again to do what he knew was his duty, and which would gladden his good mother’s heart He thanked me for my interest in his welfare. He promised to talk with his mother of our conversation. He assured me that he would endeavor to profit by our talk. I urged him to commit himself to Christ as the all-sufficient Saviour, and we parted (Read more about this on pages 32-35 of the printed volume).

What shall we say of denouncing another’s specific sin, or criticizing for some shortcoming or fault? Would that be a good way to begin? Would it have been so in the case of the whiskey-drinking seatmate? Is criticism or denunciation likely to draw two people close together? There is grave doubt whether it ever does. It certainly has no place in the work of individual soul-winning. Christ himself did not use it in that work. The instances where he did use it are considered later (in Chapter IX on page 176). Let us bear ever in mind that the first principle of this work is the drawing of men to us, not the driving of men away. Fishermen do not thrash the water or throw stones at the fish when they begin.

Another illustration of the bait-principle of commendation, showing the importince of first winning a man to ourselves if we would later win him to Christ, and illustrating the skill by which honest commendation may be made effective, is found in a wartime experience of the chaplain’s.

Army-transport life gave many an opportunity of personal work with souls, as well as did public preaching. Along the Atlantic coast the Civil War demanded frequent and varied use of transports. At one time in North Carolina our division made a raid into the interior of the state, cutting itself off from its base of supplies, and exposing itself to capture by a force of the enemy in its rear. It seemed, both to us and to the enemy, that we were hopelessly hemmed in; but, at the close of the day in which we had accomplished the main object of our raid, we turned directly toward a river, and on reaching its banks found a number of small vessels waiting there to receive us, in accordance with the plan of our commanding general. These transports had been brought up to this point so that we might board them, and quietly slip down the stream during the night, thus flanking the force that had come into our rear.

Boarding those vessels and getting under way was an exciting movement If the enemy discovered our position in season to attack us before we were fairly started, there was little hope of escape for us. The skipper of the craft on which our regiment embarked was a character. He felt the responsibilities of the hour, and he gave evidence of this in his superabundant profanity accompanying every order which he issued I had never heard such abounding and varied oaths as he poured out in the half-hour from the time we began to come on board till we were fairly afloat and were moving down the stream. Of course, then was no time to begin preaching to him (See pages 81-82 in this regard).

That was where ordinary common sense needed to be used, and was. If the chaplain had attempted a word of personal appeal just then, the chaplain might have gone overboard. But he was none the less measuring the man, and preparing.
I could merely watch and study him. But that I did, with real interest.

When, at last, all was quiet, and the evening had come on, and the old skipper was evidently gratified with the success of the movement so far, I accosted him with complimentary words as to the skill and energy he had shown in his command (See pages 82-83).

The bait was cast. But suppose, instead, that the chaplain, even now in the quiet of the evening, had commenced his conversation with an expression of regret at the skipper’s profanity, and had called his attention to the bad example he was setting, and the harmful influence he must be exerting among the other men, if he did not reform. How much farther, and with what profit, do you think that conversation would have gone? The bait of commendation, on the other hand, was readily taken, as it always is. This opened up a conversation, in the course of which he told of other exciting experiences he had had in other parts of the world. I listened attentively, and he saw that I was appreciative and sympathetic.

To be a good listener is one of the surest ways of winning and holding men. The “I can help you” attitude is fatal in this work; the “you are helping, or interesting me” spirit is one of the secrets of success. Presently he spoke of a particularly perilous time he once had on the coast of Africa.

“Ah, Captain! I suppose you had charge of a slaver then,” I said.

Seeing that he had “given himself away,” he replied, with a quiet chuckle:

“Yes, Chaplain, I’ve been up to purty nigh ev’rythin’, in my time, ‘cept piety.” (See page 83).

Is it not remarkable how sure the “opening” is to come when we are looking and praying and planning for it?

“Well, Captain,” I responded, “wouldn’t it be worth your while to try your hand at that also before you die, so as to make the whole round?”

“Well, I suppose that would be fair, Chaplain!” The way was now open for a free and kindly talk. As we stood together there, on the vessel’s deck, going down the stream by night, we talked pleasantly and earnestly, and I got at the early memories of his boyhood life in New England. Then I knew I was near his heart (See pages 83,84).

There might not have seemed to be much in common, a few hours earlier, between the young Connecticut chaplain and the weather-beaten, profane sea-captain. But that the younger man had already succeeded in winning the other to himself personally, was a powerful aid in winning him later to Christ, comes out in what happened that first night.

By and by, all of us made ready for the night. There was but one berth in the cabin. That was the captain’s. Our officers were to sleep on the cabin floor. The captain said to me:

“Chaplain, you turn in in my stateroom. There’s a good berth there.”

“No, no, thank you, Captain,” I said. “Let the Colonel take that”

“It isn’t the Colonel’s room; it’s mine, and I want you to take it”

“It would never do,” I said, “for the Colonel to sleep on the floor while I slept in a berth. But I thank you just as much for your kindness, Captain!”

I lay down with the other officers on the cabin floor. While I was asleep I felt myself being rolled around, and I found that the captain had pulled his mattress out of his berth, and laid it on the floor, and he was now rolling me on to it. I appreciated the gruff kindness of the old slaver-skipper, and my heart was drawn the closer to this new parishioner of mine. Nor did I lose my hold on him when we were fairly at New Berne, at the close of this trip. I was again with him in the waters of South Carolina, and he came again and again to our regimental chapel tent on St. Helena Island to attend religious services there. I saw that I had a hold on him (See pages84,85).

The most hopeful indication we can ever have in this work comes when one whom we would win shows an interest in the spiritual welfare of another. How the chaplain’s heart must have been gladdened at this sign from his skipper-parishioner! One week-day he called at my tent, having a brother skipper with him, whom he introduced to me, and then fell back, leaving us together. He joined my tent-mate, the adjutant, and stood watching while I talked with the new comer. He told the adjutant, with a string of oaths, that his foolish friend didn’t believe there was a God, so he’d “brought him over here for the chaplain to tackle.” It was fresh evidence that life was stirring in him, and that therefore he wanted another saved (See page 85).

Did it pay to begin by seeking and finding something to commend, honestly and heartily, in a cursing old sea-captain, and then to hold lovingly to him in the effort to show him his real Captain? See the end:

When the war was over, I heard of that slaver-skipper in his New England seaport home. At more than threescore years of age he had come as a little child to be a disciple of Jesus; he had connected himself with the church, and was living a consistent Christian life. He was honestly trying his hand at “piety” before he died, and so was completing the round of life’s occupation For this I was glad (See page 86).


Topics and Questions for Study and Discussion
(To test one’s group of the contents of the chapter)

1. What shall we think most about as we prepare to speak with some one on the subject of his relation to Christ?
2. What is “tact”?
3. What is the immediate purpose of our seeking to know the man and his interests?
4. Name two kinds of bait that are effective in man-fishing.
5. By what method, using which kind of bait, did Jesus win certain disciples to the work of his Kingdom?
6. Have you ever known any one whose interests were all and wholly unworthy? Have you ever been surprised to discover worthy interests in one in whom you had supposed they were lacking? Describe the case.
7. When a person’s chief interests are wholly removed from, or even antagonistic to, Christ’s interests, how can you go about helping him?
8. Have you ever tried winning an indifferent or an unfriendly person by commendation? Describe the case.
9. What was the critical point in the conversation with the young whiskey-drinker in the railroad train?
10. What is the chief objection to criticism or denunciation in this work?
11. What was apparently the single possibility of commendation in the whiskey-drinker? In the profane sea-captain?
12. What attitude is fatal in this work? What attitude is sure to draw people to us?
13. Why is it a duty for the soul-winner to strive to draw men to himself personally,—to he liked, in other words?

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