Wiliam Wistar Hamilton served as General Evangelist with the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1909 he published a collection of articles by various Southern Baptists under the title “Sane Evangelism.” Contributors included George W. Truitt, L. R. Scarborough, B. H. Carroll,, E. C. Dargan, and others. Lord willing, I will place the public domain text online in the future, but I wanted to share the following quote where Hamilton begins to explain what he means by “sane evangelism.” He urged his readers to build their aggressive evangelistic efforts on a firm doctrinal foundation and to center their message on the cross.
In our Southern States among the different churches there has been a denominational movement set on foot. This question was brought to our Convention some three years ago, and again the next year, and then at the Convention in Chattanooga May, 1906, the movement was definitely launched, and in September last it was my privilege to begin the work. Now then, as I understand the temper of our people, and as I understand the movement, I want to present to you what I consider their idea of what a sane aggressive evangelism is.
First of all, it must have a correct doctrinal basis. We cannot build an evangelistic house that will be any good on a foundation of sand. It must have a correct doctrinal foundation. The great doctrines as to God himself, as to the Bible, as to sin, as to hell, as to the atonement, as to the cross, as to heaven — the great doctrines of the word of God must stand underneath if we are to build a structure that is to be of any account in the storms of life and to last through eternity. There must be a correct doctrinal basis, and when we have the correct doctrinal basis in our church and evangelism, then that which we do as evangelists and pastors, working together, will be like the house built upon the rock, but when our perspective is wrong, when like some people, we have the idea that man is well, that there is nothing the matter with him, all that he needs is to have brought to him the fact that he is well, let him believe it and he will be well; or, if we have the idea that man is sick, true, he is sick; but he isn’t very sick, not much the matter with him, all he needs is a little culture or a good example to follow; if we have that idea our work will fail.
On the other hand, if we believe that man is dead in trespasses and sin, then something supernatural is needed. If he is well, or if there is very little wrong with him, then there is no need of divine help. But if he is dead in trespasses and sin, there must be a divine power to bring him to life. When we have failed to realize the condition of man, or have gone wrong as to the responsibility of our position, we have started to build our house upon the sand.) We will be like the boy with his wagon made from the running gear of a cast-off baby-carriage, an umbrella handle for a tongue, a soap box for a wagon-bed, and for wheels, disks cut from the end of a log. As he drew it along, an onlooker was amused to see how the wagon wobbled from side to side. The boy looked back questioningly to see what was the matter, knowing that something was wrong. The onlooker saw that in making the holes in his wheels the boy had failed to strike center. And I tell you, friends, in our evangelistic work and in our pastoral work, if, on the great doctrines of the word of God, of the condition of man, of the place of our Lord and his atoning work, we fail to strike center, we will go all sorts of ways except the right way. Somebody has said that if we stay right at the cross and right at the tomb, we will never go very far wrong anywhere else. I believe that to be true.