By Alfred P. Gibbs
We have already mentioned that each preacher must be gifted, called and equipped by the Lord for "the work of the ministry." All Christians are "saints by calling," but not all are "preachers by calling." (I Cor. 1:2). Let us therefore consider some things regarding this Divine "call" to preach the Word.
I. It is individual, or personal.
It is purely a matter between each Christian and his Lord and Master. The authority of the call is the prerogative of Christ alone, for He calls whomsoever He wills. He said to His disciples: "Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain" (John 15:16). We read that Christ called "unto Him whom He would" (Mark 3:13-14). Of Paul, the Lord said: "He is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel" (Acts 9:15). Both secular and theological education are utterly useless, apart from this call of the Lord.
The fact that a person possesses a natural fluency of speech and facility of expression does not, in itself, qualify that person to preach. It is good, but not sufficient, to have natural gifts and possess physical, mental and educational fitness. Alexander MacLaren spoke of a certain preacher who was "fatally fluent in speech." Though these natural gifts are necessary, they are not enough. The fact of their possession does not constitute a call to preach.
1. It involves personal heart-dealing alone with God. God is the God of the individual. There is no such thing as "mass production" in this matter. Preachers are not turned out by the dozen. The Lord burdens the heart of an individual, impresses him personally with the necessity of preaching the gospel, and gives him that holy urge to be a mouthpiece for Deity. It is not without significance that Isaiah, called of God to preach His word, speaks repeatedly of his message as "a burden" which must be delivered (Isa. 13:1, 14:28, 15:1, 17:1, etc.). Paul spoke of it as a "necessity" laid upon him and exclaimed: "Yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!" (I Cor. 9:16). Joshua, as he fell upon his face before the Captain of the host of the Lord, asked: "What saith my Lord unto His servant?" There, all alone with his Lord, his shoes removed, for it was holy ground, Joshua bowed his head, received his call and commission and then went forth to do exploits for God. (Josh. 5:13-15).
2. It is born in the atmosphere of spirituality. It comes when the soul is enjoying fellowship with God through the reading and meditation of His word and prayer. The carnal believer, or the worldly Christian, will know nothing of "the still small voice" which falls upon the soul under such circumstances. Samuel's word to Saul has a message for each believer: "Stand thou still a while, that I may show thee the word of God" (I Sam. 9:27). This atmosphere of spirituality is made possible as the believer deliberately presents his body as "a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service" (Rom. 12:1-2). It comes through fervent supplication at the throne of grace to know the will of God for one's life. It is maintained by prompt obedience to the known will of God, as found in the holy Scriptures. This, then, is the spiritual atmosphere of the call.
3. It comes usually in the midst of Christian activity, not in monastic isolation. It does not come to lazy Christians. It was while Barnabas and Saul ministered to the Lord that the divine call came: "Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereto I have called them" (Acts 13:2). It was while Moses tended his flock, that he was commissioned to be a leader of Israel (Exod. 3:1-2). It was while Gideon threshed the wheat, that he was selected to deliver Israel from the oppressors (Judg. 6:11). It was while Elisha was busy plowing, that the mantle of Elijah was thrown on his shoulders and God claimed his life (I Kings 19:19). It was while Peter was busy with his fishing, and Matthew with his business, that the voice came and called each to service for Christ (Matt. 4: 18,19; Luke 5:27). It is as the believer is doing what already lies to his hand, that the call comes for further service. "If any man will do His will, he shall know," said Christ (John 7:17). Prompt, unquestioning obedience to what we know, will lead to further revelations of His will. Hosea's message should have a voice to each believer: "Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord" (Hos. 6:3).
II. It is definite.
Though the call may come in various ways and under different circumstances, it is none the less distinct. It leaves the believer with the assurance that God desires him for a certain specific work. This, in turn, gives a joyous confidence and a holy boldness to the preacher, as he realizes the authority that lies behind the message and the messenger. The promise: "My presence shall go with thee and I will give thee rest," nerves the soul to courageously face the opposition that will inevitably show itself. The cheering assurance: "The Lord is with thee!" sustains the servant of the Lord, who now realizes that Omnipotence is on his side (Exod. 33:14; Judges 6:12).
III. It is varied in circumstances.
A study of the ways by which God called some of .His servants for the work He had for them should be a profitable exercise of the soul. Let us look at just a few out of many.
1. Abraham. We are told: "the God of glory apped. unto him and a definite call was given him, with the-unto the promise of his own blessing and, through him, to all the families of the earth (Acts 7:2; Gen. 12: 1-3).
2. Moses. Exod. 3-4. This is most instructive, for God had to overcome the reluctance of the one He called. Moses had many objections to offer, but every objection was met with a definite promise, until Moses was convinced that God knew what He was doing in calling him.
3. Joshua. To this man, God first gave a commission with a promise and then granted him a vision of the One who had commissioned him (Josh. 1:1-9; 5:13-15).
4. Gideon. He was a humble man, who was hailed by God as a "mighty man of valor," and who was sent forth to deliver Israel with these words ringing in his ears: "Go, in this thy might . . . have not I sent thee?" Not until the Lord had wrought two miracles on his behalf was this man convinced of his call and commission (Judg. 6:11-24).
5. Elisha. Here was a prosperous and energetic young man, who was suddenly called by God, from the midst of a busy life, to leave all his rosy prospects of worldly success for the comparative obscurity of menial service for Elijah, the prophet of the Lord. For years he was unheard of, until the time that his master was to be translated. Then his years of faithful service, in secret, was "rewarded openly" and his name became a household word in Israel (I Kings 19:19-21; II Kings 3:11).
6. Isaiah. The moving description of this great prophet's vision, call and commission has stirred the hearth of the people of God for two and a half milleniums and led
many, like him, to say in response to the call of God: "Here am I, send me" (Isa. 6:1-13).
7. Peter. This man, naturally impulsive and energetic, was brought by Andrew to the Savior, thus evidencing the value of personal evangelism. The miracle of the miraculous haul of fish served to provide the circumstances under which his call and commission came (Luke 5:1-11).
While the circumstances of the call were different in each of these cases, for God is a God of infinite variety; yet the purpose and results were the same: the glory of God, the blessing of the one called and the benefit of those to whom he was sent with the message. Each of these people had an experience that was distinctly his own, and from which he emerged with the conscious assurance of God's call to him.
IV. It does not necessarily involve full time service.
The great need today is for Christian preachers or teachers who can support themselves by secular employment, and devote their spare time to the preaching and teaching of the word of God. Thank God for the noble army already thus engaged, but there is plenty of room for more, for the field is large, the need great and the laborers few. William Carey, "the father of modem missions," was once asked what his business was. He replied: "My business is preaching the gospel, and I cobble shoes to pay expenses!"
1. There is no distinction made, in the New Testament, between so-called "clergy" and "laity." Every Christian is viewed as "a minister," which simply means "servant." The terms "clergy" and "laity," are absolutely foreign to New Testament language, which knows nothing of either! The word 'clergy' comes from the word, "cleros," translated "heritage" in I Peter 5:2, 3. It thus refers to all the people of God and not to a small section of believers. The present distinction of clergy and laity, as now seen in Christendom, is purely the invention of man, and doubtless at the Devil's instigation. It has wrought untold evil, for it has blinded Christians to the fact of their gift, and of the necessity to use it for the glory of God and the blessing of others. There are literally thousands of Christians, who ought to be teachers and preachers of the Word but, because of this false theory, remain silent. It is to be feared that, in many cases, they are sitting under the ministry of unsaved "clergymen" who are attempting the impossible task of expounding the Scriptures.
2. The evils of professionalism in the Lord's work. This cannot be too strongly condemned. The only difference between the whole-time preacher and the parttime preacher, is merely the amount of time which each spends in preparation and preaching and the matter of his financial support. The Lord deliver us from all thought of professionalism in the Lord's work, or the separation of the Lord's people into two classes! An understanding of I Peter 4:10 should deliver every believer from this travesty of the Scriptural pattern. Mark the words carefully. It will be noted there is not even the remotest suggestion of professionalism implied in it: "As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God."
The Christian who teaches and preaches, is only discharging the stewardship which God has entrusted to him. "All believers are "ministers," or servants of the same Master, and are engaged in the same service, the work of the Lord. The New Testament clearly teaches the priesthood of all believers. It knows nothing of the priest-craft of a few believers as seen in Christendom today. See I Pet. 2:5-9; Rev. 1:5; 5-10. The story is told of a young Christian who approached an older believer with the remark: "I want to enter the Lord's service." The older brother asked: "How long have you been saved?" He replied: "Three years." At this, the old believer enquired: "Then whose service have you been in for the past three years?" The moral of the story is surely obvious!
V. The elements that combine to constitute a God-given call.
There are many things that enter in and combine to constitute this definite call of God.
1. There is the inward urge of the Holy Spirit, who indwells each believer, and who desires to "guide him into all truth" (John 16:13; Rom. 8:14). As this "holy heavenly Guest" dwells ungrieved within us, He can impress our hearts and guide our thoughts into certain definite convictions as to the will of God for the life. (Read Rom. 8:26-27). This leading of the Spirit is difficult to define and describe. The Scotch have a proverb: "It's better felt than telt," or: "it is better experienced than described." Each believer, who is called to preach or teach, must experience it for himself and undoubtedly will, if he is walking in fellowship with Christ, in the enjoyment of God's word, in obedience to the known will of God, and in communion with Him by prayer. This urge of the Spirit must not be confused with a passing whim, or a "hunch," or an idea generated by fleshly enthusiasm, which will soon pass away. Many have been carried away by a tide of mere emotionalism and mistakenly imagined it was God's call to full time service.
2. Some definite word from the Scriptures will serve to deepen this conviction. The word of God has been given for this very purpose. As we seek to know the will of God, He will leave us in no doubt, for He never leads contrary to the principles He has laid down in His word. God will not leave His people to flounder in confusion, but will guide them, in His own good time and way. Prompt obedience to what we know, will lead to further knowledge. "Then shall we know, if we follow on to know" . . . "If any man will do His will, he shall know" (Hosea 6:3; John 7:17). Habbakuk learned the value of this and said: "I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what He will say unto me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved" (Hab. 2:1). Samuel also was taught this truth by Eli and, in response to God's fourth call replied: "Speak, for Thy servant heareth" (I Sam. 3:10).
3. The compassions of the heart. As one is brought to realize the deep need of the unsaved and views them, in the light of Scripture, as lost and guilty, helpless and undone and thus in danger of eternal ruin; the conviction is borne home to his soul of the dire necessity for them to hear the soul-emancipating message of the gospel. This is what Christ meant when He said to His disciples: "Lift up your eyes and look on the fields, for they are white already to harvest" (John 4:35). Doubtless, as He said these words, the woman of Samaria was returning to the well, bringing with her many of the Samaritans who had heard her glowing words of testimony to Christ. Thus, in this sense, the very need of the sinner becomes part of the call to the saint to meet that need. Both Prov. 24: 11, 12 and Ezek. 33:1-6 should be read upon one's knees, alone in the presence of God, and the words allowed to sink deep into the heart. Properly speaking, the need does not in itself constitute the call, but simply provides the opportunity for the believer to respond to the previous call of God.
4. The advice of godly Christians. Let no one belittle this. These older believers have seen some evidence of a gift for preaching in a Christian's life. They will now seek to encourage this person by their advice, which is based on a riper knowledge of God's word, a longer experience in God's work, and a more mature realization of God's dealings both with themselves and others. This counsel, though not in itself conclusive, should be valued as a contributing factor in God's call to preach the word. Let no one despise the godly counsel of experienced Christians. Even Paul did not neglect this (Gal. 2:2). Their superior discernment in the things of God will aid them in the giving of this godly counsel.
5. The word and action of some gifted and Spirit-led servant of the Lord. Apparently this was one of the contributing elements of Timothy's call to wholetime service. (See Acts 16:1-3). God used Paul to be the deciding factor in his case, for God had gifted Paul with discernment, and he saw in Timothy one who would become "profitable to him in the ministry." How grateful we should be to those older brethren, who will take a younger man with them and allow them a little part in the meeting, and thus encourage them to develop their gift. Many a grand gospel preacher started out this way. (II Tim. 4:11).
6. The Divine ordering of God's providences, by which He makes His will clear through the circumstances of one's life. God opens up a door of utterance at the right time, or perhaps closes a door of secular employment (Rev. 3:8; I Cor. 16:9). In the case of some believers, their hands became so full with preaching that they could no longer do justice to their secular work, so had to decide which to give up.
However, we must beware of imagining that all the circumstances of one's life represent the Divine ordering of God's providence. Jonah, as he fled from God's call and commission, found a ship leaving from Joppa on which he took passage. He might have argued that the very fact of the ship being there was proof that God desired him to travel by it! It is important to remember that it is the providences of God's ordering, combined with these other factors, that gives the cumulative proof of God's leading.
The late E. J. Pace, for many years the cartoonist for the Sunday School Times, illustrated this matter of guidance in a most striking way. He drew three beams of light which converged on a prism. The name of the first beam was, "The principles of God's word." The second was entitled, "The promptings of God's Spirit." The third was labelled, "The providences of God's ordering." As these three beams of light converged on the prism, they emerged, through it, in one blaze of light which was called, "The will of God." It was thus the sum total of these three factors that indicated it. In our study of it, we are adding four more factors, by which the child of God may come to know the will of God in regard to his path of service.
7. The commendation of one's brethren in assembly fellowship. No one should take the step of going into wholetime service for the Lord unless he has secured the warm-hearted approval, fellowship and commendation of the assembly of which he forms a part. No person is qualified to become a competent judge of the worth of his own ministry, for it is obvious that he will be manifestly predisposed in his own favor!
Spiritual pride has blinded the eye and warped the understanding of many on this question. The scriptural principle is: "Let your prophets speak . . . and let the other judge ... The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets" (I Cor. 14:29, 32). If the spiritually minded elder brethren of an assembly, after due and prayerful consideration, do not feel free to commend the applicant to wholetime service, then that individual would do well to bow to their decision, reconsider the matter and revise his previous estimation as to his call. We need ever to remember that: "God is not the Author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints" (I Cor. 14:33). A willful disregard for this scriptural "decency and order" has resulted in much that is to be greatly regretted. Scripture does not contemplate a "free lance" who, acting in selfwill and in the energy of the flesh, determines on a certain course of action and carries out his own ideas, either in opposition to, or in utter independence of the responsible brethren of his home assembly.
May each believer be led to seek humbly, sincerely, perseveringly, believingly and obediently to know the will of God for his life and then do it! This necessitates prayerful dependence on the power of God, obedience to the leading of the Spirit of God, yieldedness to the will of God, the diligent study of the word of God, and active engagement in the work of God; for, as we have previously noted, it was while Paul "ministered to the Lord," that God's call came to him (Acts 13:2).
The Christian worker, to be spiritually effective in his ministry, should be found doing the work of the Lord, in accordance with the word of the Lord, in obedience to the will of the Lord, while engaged in the warfare of the Lord, offering worship to the Lord, and walking in the way of the Lord. Dr. 3. H. Jowett, concluding his famous Yale lectures on preaching said: "Brethren, your calling is very holy. Your work is very difficult. Your Savior is very mighty, and the joy of the Lord is your strength."