Stacks Image 385


CHAPTER V.


THE CALL TO PREACH THE GOSPEL.


"Preach the preaching that I bid thee." — Jonah ii. 2

THERE is a sense in which every Christian, whether old or young, male or female, is called to preach the gospel. The first impulse of every regenerated soul is to run and tell the good news to others in the same family or neighborhood, shop or school. Andrew findeth Peter, and Philip, Nathaniel. On such informal but effective preaching, as on the wings of love and gladness, is the gospel of Christ to spread through all the world. Woe to that church which from month to month hears not the voice of the young convert in its assemblies. Its lease of life is short. God has no use for a sterile gospel. All may not be called to expound God's word or to define doctrines; but all are called to preach by example and testimony. Even the mutes are not excluded from this privilege and duty, for they can communicate with the slate and pencil, or with the dumb alphabet, and can all be persuasive by holy living. The relation of experience is the most convincing preaching. A little girl of eight years came from her chamber to her mother, radiant with joy, and said, "Mother, God has pardoned my sins and given me a new heart; may I run across the street and tell the old cobbler?" "It will do no good, my child, for he is a confirmed and outspoken infidel," said the mother. "But it will do me good to tell him, and it may do him good, too; may I not go?" "Yes, if your heart is so much set on it." She went and told in artless simplicity of her sense of sin and guilt, of her repentant tears and prayers, of her trust in Jesus Christ who died to become her Saviour, of the light and joy which sprang up in her heart, of the feeling of love towards God, and of a voice sounding within saying, "Father, Father;" and whenever she thought of God he seemed no more like a policeman to arrest her, but a person more loving and tender than her mother. Before she finished her account of her joyful conversion her solitary hearer was in tears, which did not cease to flow until they were wiped away by the hand of divine mercy writing forgiveness on his believing heart. When Paul rose to the summit of his eloquence, whether as a prisoner before Felix or Festus, or addressing the riotous Hebrews in their temple, he presented no elaborate chain of reasoning, but narrated in unadorned style his own experience of the transforming power which arrested him and, when he was obedient to the heavenly vision, made a new man of him when he had still in his pocket a commission to arrest and handcuff and drag to Jerusalem all the Hebrew disciples of Jesus found in Damascus. Testifying of personal conscious salvation through faith is a kind of effective preaching to which all believers are called. But it is evident from the analogy of the specially called and inspired prophet among the Jews, and from the plain declaration in the New Testament, that the propagation and defense of the gospel are entrusted to a class whose only business it shall be to spread the gospel through the world, to explain its principles, enforce its duties and apply its saving truths from age to age down to the end of the world. "It hath pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." "Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel shall live of the gospel." This requires a class of men who shall have no other occupation. The apostle Paul gave directions respecting their qualifications, ordination and work. It is everywhere assumed in the New Testament that the preacher is to be a man called of God to one work, being set apart from secular employments, except in peculiar cases where, after the example of Paul, labor with the hands is resorted to until converts can be raised up and trained to support their preacher. Paul was usually preaching the gospel "in regions beyond" all established churches where a demand for pecuniary support would obstruct his access to the pagans by awakening the suspicion that he was actuated by mercenary motives and not by self-sacrificing love.

Reason also demands that Christianity should have a class devoted exclusively to its advocacy. In all departments of human effort division of labor is requisite to the best results. Every calling needs a preparation, a period for the attainment of skill and of adjustment of the workman to his work by the dexterities of muscle and of mind. He who combines several trades is proverbially master of none. Success waits on singleness. There is surely enough in the deliverance of souls from sin and in their pastoral care to employ all of a man's energies through all his life.

"'Tis not a work of small import
The pastor's care demands;
Enough to fill an angel's heart,
It filled the Saviour's hands."


We are not pleading for a priesthood, — Christianity has but one Priest, — but for a pastorate devoted exclusively to the proclamation of saving truth and the care, or cure, of souls. "Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all nations, . . . teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you."

Here this important question arises, Who are to constitute this class? Is it left to be determined by inclination and sense of fitness, as ordinary secular vocations are chosen? Or is the church to make the selection? Neither. No government would long exist which divests itself of the right to appoint its own agents to execute its will. The President of the United States selects all officers in the civil and military service. Jesus Christ, the head of the church, appoints his own heralds to proclaim the conditions of salvation, his own pastors to feed and guide and guard his flock. For prudential reasons the church may license and ordain. But he is not a true preacher of Christ's kingdom who has not been ordained by the imposition of a mightier hand. This vocation is from on high. It is the Holy Spirit which says, "Go preach." tie also imparts the most essential qualification, "the anointing which abideth and teacheth." He endows and equips for effective service. The next question is, How is the call made known? "There are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all." The Holy Spirit speaks in divers manners now as he did in times past. Various are the ways in which our risen Saviour and Lord at the right hand of God can make known his will to those whom he selects for the establishment and universal spread of his kingdom. We do not live in the age of miracles. Hence it is not reasonable to expect a supernatural call to preach. A voice from the sky addressed to the bodily ear and distributed to myriads through modern telephonic receivers might greatly assist in arriving at certainty in this important matter. But in religion as in nature God uses no labor-saving machines to save effort on the part of men who desire to know his will. Labor, whether of the hand or the mind, is still a blessing in disguise. Effort is development in the spiritual life. "Then shall ye call "upon me, and ye shall go away and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart." This is God's ordinary way of revealing himself to inquiring souls. When he pardons a penitent he does not hang out in the heavens a scroll with these letters of fire blazoned thereon, "Thy sons are forgiven," but he promotes the spiritual development of the convert by requiring him to turn his ear heavenward and to listen intently for a still, small voice, crying in his heart "Abba, Father," a voice which is to be corroborated by inferential proofs drawn from the marks of regeneration manifest in himself exactly tallying with the Holy Scriptures. So it usually is with the call of the Holy Spirit to the Christian ministry. At first it comes to the new-born soul, not in a voice of thunder, but in a gentle whisper. It must not be neglected because it is faint and feeble. It must be heeded and tested with prayer and patience, that it may be known whether it is the voice of God's Spirit or of our own suggestion. For in our times when the sacred office is honored it is possible that it may be sought as a stepping stone for social advancement or as means for a livelihood through the promptings of selfishness. Hence the need of great caution and self-examination under the illumination of the Spirit. Of all misplaced men he who becomes a herald of Christ before he is sent is most to be pitied. He not only "goes a warfare at his own charges," but he goes into battle without the Captain of his salvation to meet certain defeat. On the other hand a more frequent mistake is made by those who disregard the Spirit's call because it is not sufficiently loud and distinct. They invariably suffer spiritual loss, and frequently they meet with disappointment and failure in the secular business or profession to which they have turned aside. They supposed that a genuine call of the Spirit would, like the trumpet of Sinai, "wax louder and louder." The gentle call would have increased in clearness and positiveness if its first intimations had been received in the spirit of perfect obedience. It is the duty of every youthful Christian to listen to every intimation of duty and to give it a prayerful and earnest hearing. Then will the voice of the Spirit calling you to preach become more and more distinct as you climb the mount of devotion and get nearer and nearer to the most excellent glory. In other words, if God is calling you to preach, you will find that the more spiritually minded you are, the more distinct is the Holy Spirit's call. Thus you may be assured that you are called to this glorious work, this highest honor among men on the earth. Strong desire alone is not sufficient proof of heaven's call, since desire may not be born from above, but from beneath, as we have intimated. Yet we are thus commanded, "Covet earnestly the best gifts." That this includes the office of the ministry of the gospel we are assured by the same inspired apostle, "Covet to prophesy," or preach (1 Cor. xii. 31 and xiv. 39). "He that desireth the once of a bishop [i. e., elder or pastor] desireth a good
work" — not "a good thing." We have quoted these scriptures to refute the mischievous error widely prevalent that no one should desire to preach and that it is modest to hold back and refuse to go till God thrusts you out; that you are to refrain from preaching till he hangs a heavy woe like a millstone about your neck, or shakes you over hell fire. The advice is frequently given, "Don't preach unless you cannot help it." This advice is well meant, but it seems to savor of obstinacy. The attitude of the prophet Isaiah is preferable: "I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, here am I; send me." With perfect willingness to go, and possibly with strong desire, he was waiting for his divine commission. A model attitude of mind is this. It is more in accordance with the example of Jesus Christ, who evinced the spirit of service to others, than the position of resistance up to the point of yielding as the only escape from the perdition of ungodly men. A reluctant assent to the divine call under the pressure of fear of punishment, after the style of Jonah, has never seemed to be a commendable method of settling this question. God has nowhere rebuked an expressed consciousness of unfitness, if attended by a desire to obey as soon as the will of God is made known. Isaiah had the good sense to confess that his lack of qualification was a heart not yet entirely sanctified. For this is the inner sense of his statement, "I am a man of unclean lips." Language is the index of the heart. He confessed his need of heart purity, and immediately received it, and also received that assurance which always accompanies this grace, whether mediated by "the Holy Spirit shining on his own work" or by a seraph warbling in his ear these delightful words, "Lo, thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin is purged." There was another difficulty in the way of Isaiah's mission, the unsanctified state of the Hebrew people: "I dwell among a people of impure lips." The seraph was not commissioned to lay his coal upon their lips also, because they were not in a state of earnest desire for purification. It was the mission of Isaiah to proclaim their sinfulness and to direct them to seek the fiery purgation, Men are generally sanctified through the agency of men. Isaiah was not forward, he did not blow his own trumpet. The announcement that an agent was wanted was enough to awaken desire in his heart glowing with pure love. The very fact that the vineyard of the Lord is lying waste, that the fence between it and the world is broken down, and that laborers are wanted to build it up again, should prompt every converted soul to seek that thorough cleansing which will prompt him gladly to volunteer, saying, "Here am I; send me." Let us suppose that there were two brothers who were prodigals in the land of want; that one returned and is met by the father's kiss, with ring and robe and festive banquet. Let us further suppose that amid the banquet expressing the father's rejoicing over the return of one of his lost sons, he should with tremulous voice say respecting the unrepentant son, "Whom shall I send to that land of wretchedness and starvation?" and the returned son, sitting at the feast in the best robe, should make no response because he had not been called by name, what would be the inference respecting his character? Would it not be that he was an ungrateful wretch, more worthy of a place in the swine's pasture with his sinning brother than in the old homestead with the forgiving father? The absence of the direct appeal to the brother who had returned is purposely designed to afford him a chance to volunteer in the gladness of his heart. Thus our Father in heaven, in the presence of all true believers, who are truly returned prodigals, says, "Whom shall I send" to your lost brother feeding on husks? God loves volunteers. He accepts conscripts. It is better by far to preach under the anointing than under the "woe unto me" (1 Cor. ix. 16). It is God's prerogative to reject or to elect; it is the privilege of every converted soul to offer himself or herself for the ministry of the Word. The gift of persuasive address no candid man can limit to his own sex after listening to such a woman as our translated Frances E. Willard, the apostle of Christian temperance and purity to the whole world.

Our contention is that every disciple of Christ, male or female, should covet the Christian ministry and in this attitude of mind sit down to examine the question of a personal call. Thus Christian parents in prayer and consecration should offer their sons and daughters to the Head of the church for the best possible service in the establishment of his universal kingdom. Should one in every Christian family be accepted the world would not be overstocked with ministers of various kinds, pastors, evangelists, teachers and deaconesses proclaiming saving truth to all nations, peoples and tribes. Such is the present disproportion between the harvest and the laborers. Timothy was well prepared to be the successor to St. Paul in the care of the churches, because his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois had diligently instructed him in Christian truth and dedicated him to the ministry of the gospel. Thousands have been trained in the theological seminary of a pious home. Bishop Simpson says that when an eminent preacher is needed the Lord first calls some praying mother, some Hannah to train her Samuel for the service of his holy temple. Others who have toiled all their lives in small churches in obscure places, unknown to fame, and others who have become world-renowned preachers, have come into the Christian ministry through the gateway of a mother's faith in God and careful spiritual training of her offspring. It may not be an unpardonable infraction of the canons of sacred rhetoric for the writer of these lines to give this public expression of his gratitude to God for leading him into this sacred vocation through such a portal. In many instances the stars which are supposed to belong to the minister's crown rightfully belong to his faithful mother, some Monica wrestling with God for the conversion of her wayward Augustine, or some Susannah Wesley closeted weekly with each of her children in prayer and spiritual counsel. It is no wonder that from the nest which she builded and brooded in the humble Epworth manse there flew upward two eaglets till they were seen first by all England, then by all the world; the one "the greatest ecclesiastical organizer of a thousand years," and the other the writer of hymns for all the coming generations. If there were more of this offering children to God in the closet instead of sacrificing to the Moloch of fashion or of mammon, there would be fewer downfalls in the slippery paths of youth, and no scarcity of reapers in the ever-widening harvest field of the church of Christ.

The atmosphere of the Christian home has much to do with the question of ministerial supply. Is mammon your real household divinity in the absence of a Christian altar at which you daily minister as the priest of your family? Would it be strange if your imitative, sharp-sighted son should grow up a worshipper of the almighty dollar instead of a self-denying herald of Christ. Is the preacher of the gospel often spoken of with uncharitable criticism? Is his support treated, in the presence of your children, as so much money given to a beggar? These things will deafen them to the Spirit's call to the proclamation of the glorious gospel of the Son of God. This office was never designed to be a lucrative employment. This would defeat its high purpose. It would attract the worldly and the self-seeking. It is a law of the spiritual kingdom that the greatest good is always done at the greatest sacrifice. The spirit of sacrifice is rarely found in the children of wealth. Millionaires have rapidly multiplied in our country, but who has ever seen one of their sons climbing the pulpit stairs? In saying this let no one suspect that we have sympathy with the doctrine that the wolf howling at the minister's door will make him spiritually minded and that unpaid grocer's bills are a means of grace. We have a superlative contempt for that mean form of avarice which clothes itself in a saintly garb and adds farm to farm and thousand to thousand till the purse becomes plethoric and the soul becomes lean, and then goes to church and prays, "Lord, make our preacher humble; we will keep him poor." There is a class of Christians who imagine that the faithful pastor must preach because a fearful woe is hanging over his head. They think they ought to be commended for furnishing him with an audience before whom he may do the penance of preaching in order to escape the woe. We are quite sure that a weightier woe is suspended over that covetousness which is idolatry. The truth is that the Head of the church has ordained that a competency should be, not given, but paid to his ordained servants as their well-earned earthly wages, a necessary earnest of the exceedingly great reward awaiting his faithful messenger in heaven. "Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for your sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written; that he that ploweth may plow in hope." This is the Oriental way of saying that since God in the true spirit of modern laws against cruelty to animals has shielded the dumb ox against that refinement of aggravation which puts a basket over the mouth of the patient and hungry animal to prevent his tasting the grain that he all day treads, how much more interested will he be to provide for the proper care of his own trusted messengers traversing all lands to tell barbarian, Scythian, bond and free the good news of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. He who has a genius for accumulating money and has the stewardship of his Lord's money is just as accountable as he who is the recipient of spiritual gifts and ministerial callings. Gilbert Haven, in 1840 in Boston, had as great a mercantile talent as his fellow clerk in the same store, Eben Jordan. Jordan died the king of the greatest department store in his city where he piled up millions of gold; Haven, listening to the voice of the Spirit, turned his back on the wealth that was beckoning him, took upon himself the vow of lifelong poverty as a Methodist preacher, and after faithful service to God and man, especially the man downtrodden and oppressed, went triumphant to his reward. One left his treasure, the other went to his crown and throne above the stars. I was one of the invited inmates of the chamber where this good man met, not his fate, but his angelic escort to the skies. There were not many silver nails in his coffin, but he carried in his hands more money that passes current beyond the grave, than Croesus, Jay Gould, Astor and Vanderbilt ever saw. And yet Haven had the only two things which all these money kings had through all their lives — his food and clothes. He was well fed and well clothed while obeying the command, "Be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, nor for your body, what ye shall put on."

O ye Christian young men, if Christ calls you to preach his gospel anywhere do not hesitate to obey with gladness, esteeming it the highest honor to stand by the side of our Lord Jesus and assist him to reap the harvest of the world. The question who will provide for your old age is not prompted by faith. The sparrow Feeder will surely provide for his faithful servants. The disabled preacher who is supported by his church after years of service is no beneficiary. To deny this would be to insult every veteran who hobbles through our streets on his wooden leg on his way to the pension office. Socrates, the city missionary of Athens, told the judges who sentenced him to drink the hemlock poison, that justice demanded that one who had rendered so long and so signal service in elevating the moral tone of Athens ought to be boarded the remainder of his life at public cost in the Prytaneum. Such is the valid claim of every faithful preacher in the days of his physical weakness.

But other questions arise. Is not a lack of literary qualification a proof that I am not called? No. You are called to prepare, Jesus did not begin to preach till he was thirty years old. Why should a stripling of eighteen years, immature in body and mind, rush into so great responsibilities? Wait till you are fully equipped and by drill in the camp have learned the manual of arms. To secure this preparation for your successful career as an officer in Christ's army put forth every effort and make every sacrifice. This is what Christ meant when he said, "He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one." The call to preach is usually given to the young in order that they may amply prepare for their life-work. Let no one defeat this purpose and attempt to fly through the heavens with the trumpet of the gospel at his lips before his wings are sufficiently grown to sustain his flight. This highly intellectual age demands sense as well as sound in the pulpit. The preacher should keep ahead of his people in two things, piety and intelligence.

But another question arises: How much weight must I attach to the opinion of kindred and friends in determining the question of a call to preach? Pay less attention to their negative than to their affirmative advice, because a prophet is generally without honor in his own house. We are apt to underestimate those with whom we have been familiar from infancy. The application of Bishop Ames for a license to preach was voted down, and the vote was reversed by the arrival of a belated Negro local preacher, who was a member of the Quarterly Conference. The author of this essay had a similar experience. His nearest neighbor across the street, who had known him from childhood, freely expressed his opinion that no civilized people would ever endure to hear him preach, and that his only hope for an audience would be in some tribe of wild Indians on the western frontier.

We remark again that it is a good indication of a call to preach when he who hears the whisperings of the Holy Spirit is found filling up his present sphere of influence as a Sunday School teacher, class leader or exhorter with earnest Christian effort. Faithfulness in little things is a stepping-stone to higher responsibilities. This is the divine order: "Because thou hast been faithful over a few things I will make thee ruler over many." Thus thought President Lincoln, who promoted an earnest and thoroughly efficient colonel, Ulysses S. Grant, to be first a brigadier, then a major-general and finally the lieutenant-general of all the armies in the American Civil War. The Republic indorsed the President's estimate by elevating him to the presidency. If a man has not piety enough to keep him active in his present field of Christian service, it is a sign that he has either backslidden since God called him, or that he has not called him to a higher position. For such the pulpit is. The humblest pulpit is higher than the dome of any state house in our country, yea, higher than the Federal Capitol itself. "He that winneth souls is wise. They that are wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness, as stars for ever and ever." Robert Hall once said that if two angels were sent down from heaven, one to sweep the streets of London and the other to be its lord mayor, they would not debate on the way the question, Which is the greater honor? All men are to be equally honored who equally fulfill their duty, whether to rock a cradle or to command the army at Gettysburg. But to do as the God-man did when he preached up and down Galilee and Judea seems to be the most exalted occupation to which mortals can aspire. "I paint for immortality" was the reply of an artist who was asked why he lingered so long over one picture. The preacher who sways souls from sin to holiness preaches for eternity. His theme is the cross of Christ, the central point of human history. Scientific men may sneer at such a preacher as narrow because he confines himself to one theme, Christ crucified, not considering that this theme touches all human interests. It gives the amplest scope to mental, moral and spiritual development. The preacher may apply elevating and transforming truth to every state of society and to every subject of human thought. In God's ancient temple the layman could enter no farther than the court of the Jews, but the high priest could enter every apartment. The preacher is God's high priest in the temple of Christian truth to apply truth to all human transactions from the king on the throne to the beggar on the dunghill.

The demand is becoming imperative for earnest preachers to enter the doors providentially opened to so-called American imperialism, the islands of the sea suddenly placed by the God of nations under the flag of our liberal and progressive Republic. Doors to millions of souls bolted for centuries have been unexpectedly opened to the American churches especially, since the political exigency demands that our flag shall float, in protection, if not in control, over the vast populous islands conquered by our arms. There are times when the call of the Holy Spirit is marvelously reënforced by the call of Divine Providence. Commerce is studying Spanish. Why should not Methodism?