The "Ancient" Inquiry Room (Enquiry Room and Praying Through)

The “Ancient” Inquiry Room
Robert Wurtz II

The inquiry room is an example of a once novel measure that has come and gone from mainstream Christian practice. It began prior to the ministry of Charles Finney (1800s) and continued on until early in Billy Sunday’s ministry (early 1900s). This was a room or church sanctuary set apart for the sole purpose of counseling and praying with anxious sinners in an attempt to help lead them to genuine conversion. “Anxious sinner” is a term that used to describe people who had heard the Gospel and came under great conviction of sin. We don’t use this term any more mainly because we rarely encounter anyone who is anxious for their soul. Nevertheless, we have an account of the use of such a room taken from the May 1834 edition of The Religious Intelligencer:

In all of our protracted meetings we have had the “anxious seat,” and the meeting for inquiry, and have desired those who had submitted to God to manifest it. The same measures have been adapted at this meeting, and only one new measure has been added; viz: giving liberty in the public assembly to ask prayers. And very numerous requests have been preferred, and many gracious answers have been obtained, and the influence of this measure, both upon saint and sinner, has been happy. Our measures have been those, viz: In the forenoon, meetings for prayer in different parts of the congregation, and a meeting for inquirers in the anxious room (inquiry room). At 2 o’ clock P.M. and in the evening—public preaching. At the close of the evening sermon, the impenitent were invited to present themselves on the front seats as subjects for prayer. 

Then they were sometimes addressed in a few words of instruction, and at the close, they were affectionately urged to be present the next day, at the inquiry room. This same course was pursued during the whole meeting. The inquiry room was the place for the most heavy and successful labor, because here the attention could be fixed. We did not invite into this room visitors, lest the attention should be diverted. Here the character and the claims of God were presented, and each one singly conversed with, and urged to an immediate and honest submission to God

After this interview with individuals, the whole were instructed by presenting divine truth under a variety of illustrations. These measures, whether new or old is immaterial, have been signally blessed. They are pre-eminently calculated to lead sinners into the kingdom of Christ; and to fit and to prepare souls for heaven. Any church with a minister who loves and who faithfully preaches divine truth, with a believing reliance upon the Holy Spirit, which will adopt and pursue these or similar measures, may expect certain and blessed success.[1] (emphasis added)

The Inquiry Room Experience

The use of the inquiry room became so popular, that it became necessary to provide those who labored with the anxious sinners a guide on how to conduct themselves. In 1884 George Soltau (1847-1909) of England wrote a handbook on the subject entitled, Enquiry Room: Hints for dealing with the anxious. He moves first giving basic directions.

As a company of workers desiring to engage in the solemn and important work of dealing with the anxious in the enquiry room, we all are agreed at the very outset that the Holy Spirit alone can lead a sinner to the Savior; that each of us must look to Him for the right word, the fitting text, the wise counsel; and that we are to be but the mouthpieces through whom He will speak. Our constant attitude must be one of communion with God; our memories and minds must be well stored with Scripture, that we may be ready for the Master’s use. Before entering into the details of our subject, the following general suggestions will be found worthy of consideration:

1.     Do not be too eager to lead a soul into peace. In Jeremiah 6:14, and 8:11, we find the words, “They have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace; when there is no peace.’” It is not desirable to use the expression, “Have you found peace?” seeing that the anxious soul needs a Person, rather than a blessing.

2.     Avoid the expression, “You have only to believe, to be saved,” until you have very fully stated and explained the facts and promises to be believed; and then point out that it is a person in whom the soul’s trust is to be placed, and not your statements about Him.

3.     Always read your quotations from the Bible, turning to the passage; so that the Enquirer may be able to distinguish between your statements and the Word of God. The latter has an authority that your statements can never possess.

4.     Avoid telling your own experience or that of others; as the Enquirer must lean on the Word of God, and not on any one’s experience of it.

5.     Do not try to apply to the need of the Enquirer any text, the truth of which you have not yourself experienced.

6.     Make it clear that at conversion the Lord Jesus claims possession and control of the entire being. Show that it is not merely the salvation of the soul that is needed, but also deliverance for mind and body from all the power of sin in every direction.

7.     If an enquirer baffles you with difficult questions, hand such an one over at once to a more experienced Christian.

8.     As far as possible converse only with persons of your own age or younger; of your own sex and walk in life.

9.     Do not tell a person he is saved. Let the Holy Spirit be the witness in the heart of the believer, telling him that he is delivered from sin and its penalty.[2]
        George Soltau then gives directions as to the importance of making sure the anxious person recognizes their sinfulness. He continues:
An inexperienced worker, having a few favorite texts, would probably speak to each person in this way, “You must just believe that the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses from all sin. You know He said, ‘Him that cometh to Me, I will in no wise cast out.’ Cannot you believe that ‘Now is the accepted time,’ that ‘Now is the day of salvation’? ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son.’ Just kneel down, and say from your heart, ‘Take me as I am’” We would not say that none of those thus addressed would get any blessing through such treatment: but what we ought to do is to – First ascertain the cause of this blindness; and lameness; and numbness, etc.; and then by God’s help apply the right remedy.

Our first questions then should be, “What brings you into the Inquiry Room?” “What do you think you need?” The answer may be, “I want to be saved,” or “I want to become a Christian,” or “I don’t feel I am quite right,” or, “I think I ought to turn.” In none of these replies is there any very definite statement concerning sin, or any apparent consciousness of sin. Therefore the first thing to be arrived at is to convict deeply of sin. The Gospel is not designed primarily to make people happy, and give them peace; but to deliver them from sin, its presence, power, and penalty; and to bring them into communion with a Holy God. Sin is not an accident or a misfortune, but a disease. Active in its principle, permeating every fiber and tissue of mind and body; hideous and loathsome as a foul leprosy; abominable and irremediable; not to be dealt with piece-meal, but to be attacked at this root. All the restlessness of soul, the craving for excitement, the love of the world, the dislike of holy things, the reluctance to come forward for Christ, are the effect of sin dwelling in the heart. What, then, is the state of the heart of a sinner?”[3]
    We will not continue to quote from this book as the reader may acquire it free since it is now in the public domain. Nevertheless, I have shown the approach to leading an anxious sinner to Christ in an inquiry room type environment as late as 1884. This method was similar to D.L. Moody, Charles H. Spurgeon, and many others. As we already read in the Religious Intelligencer

The inquiry room was the place for the most heavy and successful labor, because here the attention could be fixed.” Indeed it is “heavy labor” working with God to lead souls to a genuine conversion experience in Christ. There is nothing haphazard or slapdash about it. These counselors pressed the anxious to make a decision for Christ, as had been being done for almost 100 years.
As with Finney, and then with D.L. Moody, we there was an up tick of the notion that a person just needs to make a “decision for Christ” and a down tick of the New Covenant necessity of being born again of the Holy Spirit. These things happened so slowly over the course of time that they would have been almost imperceptible to anyone living in that day. New Measures serve as inflection points, but emphasis on regeneration (new birth) steadily dies out. The emphasis was shifting totally towards man and the minister. Indeed, there is a sense in which God does the work; the Word of God does the work; the minister does the work; and the anxious does the work. When this reality is forgotten the whole process is thwarted, and the result is often a spurious conversion.

[1]N. Whiting, Religious Intelligencer XVIII, 1833, P. 220 emphasis added
[2]George Soltau, The Enquiry Room: Hints For The Anxious, 1884, P. 8-10
[3]Ibid, P. 13

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Powered by

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: