WHAT IS AN EVANGELICAL CALL TO THE MINISTRY?

ELDER G. BEEBE: – I have been reading religious trash for several years, and now I want something pure and devotional. My dear and venerable man of God, if it will not be taxing you too much, please write on what is an evangelical call to the ministry, as many are anxious to see it. Different ones of the Missionaries have been called on to write on it, but they defer it from one to another, apparently not willing to undertake it. Whether it is because they have not experienced it, I know not. I feel certain you will have no dread to engage in it, and I do hope, for the gratification of many, that we will see it in the SIGNS OF THE TIMES.

A. J. GUYTON.
Cottonplant, Miss.

On page 615 of the first volume of the Editorials, those who have access to that work will find an article contrasting the evidence of the divine calling to the ministry of the gospel with the popular calling to minister to the gratification of the devotees of falsehood. But as the subject here proposed is not fully discussed in that article, we submit the following remarks for the consideration of our readers generally, and of our friend Guyton in particular.

It is unquestionably true that the answer to this inquiry is included in the perfect record of the inspired rule, and therefore it is important that we should diligently examine ourselves by that rule whether in this particular we be in the faith. Clearly, none can minister to the comfort and profit of the children of God without personal and experimental participation in the truth ministered. – 2 Cor. i. 4. Therefore it may be safely assumed that none are called of God to that work but such as are subjects of divine grace in the pardon of their sins, and have been made to trust in that salvation which is of God by grace through the mercy that was given to the saints in Jesus Christ before the world began. No careful training or diligent study can obviate the necessity of this first qualification, without which the natural man has no capacity to receive the things of the Spirit of God. Then there are particular qualifications specified by the divine rule, all of which are highly important to the subjects of this calling. Some particular instruction on this point may be found in the letters of Paul to Timothy and Titus, and in his solemn charge to the elders of Ephesus, as recorded in Acts xx. 17-35. Any one seeking to understand the solemn order on this point which bears the seal of infallible truth, cannot do better than carefully to examine the standard as there recorded, remembering that whatever may be the decision of men esteemed good or great, this inspired word is the final authority in that kingdom which ruleth over all. Hence, “an evangelical call to the ministry” is a call to proclaim the truth as it is in Jesus; and the calling of God to this great work always qualifies the subject so called to render the service required. It would imply the same charge against the King in Zion, which was preferred against his lord by the slothful servant in the parable (Matt. xxv. 14-30), if it were said that he called one to a work for which he failed to give the ability requisite to its performance. It is very certain that the Lord knows too well what is in man to require of any poor, weak child anything but what he himself bestows. So that if in any case there is no gift bestowed, it is safe to infer that the Lord has not required of that one to labor in the exercise of that ability which he has not given. Otherwise, the glory would not be due to the name of the Lord, but to the ability and industry of the minister. But the word still further gives instruction that the one who is called of God to speak is not authorized to judge of his own message. “Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge.” – 1 Cor. xiv. 29. This is alike safe to determine when we should speak or when we should be silent. It is still true as written by Solomon, “A man’s gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men.” – Prov. xviii. 16. The ways of the Lord are equal. When he calls and qualifies one of his servants to preach the truth of the glorious gospel, he has a people prepared to hear that truth and to be profited therein. It may be that the gift is to serve in another field, and that those among whom it is first developed are not to receive the benefit of its exercise; but if there are none of the people of God prepared to hear any one preach, the indication is that he is not called of God to serve in that capacity.

“There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.” Some churches, ignoring this truth, may have erred in deciding that gifts developed among them are ministerial gifts, for no better reason than the ability to talk indefinitely as to time or ideas. The consequence of such indiscreet (not to say unfaithful) action is sometimes extremely annoying, and an unprofitable waste of time in the meetings of the church; or what is still more deplorable, one so encouraged will perhaps urge himself upon the churches abroad, and even manage to secure the formal indorsement of his gift by a presbytery, who may without due consideration ordain him as a minister fully authorized to take the care of churches and administer the ordinances, in direct conflict with the law of the Lord, as stated by the apostle from the throne of judgment, not applying the inspired test or inquiring for the qualifications defined. “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride, he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil?” – 1 Tim. iii. 2-7. “If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accursed of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; but a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and ton convince the gainsayers.” – Titus i. 6-9.

In view of such explicit direction from the Holy Spirit on this subject, it may seem strange that churches, and presbyteries in council, should ever err in their action in this very important matter; and indeed it is difficult to imagine any apology or excuse for carelessness or inadvertency in any action so solemn as the indorsement of a man for so sacred a calling as that of the “evangelical ministry,” that is, the ministry of the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. That such an error ever should occur can only be attributed to the frailty of our finite minds and the darkness of our limited judgment. The law of the Lord observed in its spirit would effectually exclude the possibility of error, and result in that peace which is the fruit of the Spirit. All confusion, discord and strife comes from the source declared by the apostle, “From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?” – James iv. 1. When the children of God are led by the carnal mind they sow to the flesh, and of the flesh they shall reap corruption. All the perplexity and confusion of the efforts of brethren to preach without the ability to minister to the comfort and edification of those who hear, may be safely ascribed to disregarding the inspired rule in authorizing those to minister in this work whom the Lord has neither called nor qualified. Cases are too common in which churches have failed to wait for the leading of the Spirit in this matter, and the consequence has been realized in the inquiry of the member thus placed in a position to which he has not been called of God, and the churches have suffered from their own error. Where such a mistake has been made it is not easy to suggest a remedy applicable in every case; but as we are commanded to “lie not one to another,” we should deal honestly and in love with the brother whom we have so wronged, and let him know the conviction of our mind, confessing our fault is the case, and if the spirit of Christ rule in us, this will be done in love.

“And evangelical call to the ministry” must be a call to minister or serve the church of Christ; and consequently the subject of such a call is not a dictator or lord over the saints to whom he ministers, but is the servant of all in the truth for the love of Christ Jesus. Hence it is indispensable that the qualification specified in Titus should be strictly observed, “not self-willed.” This is an inseparable accompaniment of heavenly wisdom. “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” – James iii. 17. This is very distinctly different from that (worldly) knowledge which puffeth up. While the effect of this wisdom is seen in humility, and readiness to yield to the judgment of the brethren in all things where personal opinion or interests alone are involved, it never leads to the sacrificing of any point of truth where the clear record of the scriptures must be discredited. The minister of Christ must never be so pliant as to sacrifice any point of divine truth, for that is not his own; but whatever of his own interests or preferences he may yield to the demands of the brethren, is acceptable service to the Lord whom he serves. Too much importance cannot be attached to this obligation of the ministry, and consequently this qualification cannot be too firmly required in any candidate whose case is under consideration. No natural amiability of temper should be mistaken for this self-denying grace of the spirit of Christ. While the servant of Christ is bold as a lion in contending for the faith once delivered to the saints, and unyielding in maintaining the order and discipline established by divine authority, he must be qualified to endure hardness as a good soldier, and bear all things with the patience of the well-trained ox, in dealing gently with the tender lambs, and enduring “all things for the elect’s sake, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” – 2 Tim. ii. 10. This gentleness will invariably result from the loving interest in the prosperity of the saints to whom he ministers, which must be felt by every one who is of God qualified to “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre [or selfish desire for gain either in wealth or honor], but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.” – 1 Peter v. 2, 3. “An evangelical call to the ministry” certainly requires obedience to this solemn charge; and any one failing to observe these requirements in any particular, while assuming to occupy the place of a minister in the church of Christ, may with reason tremble to hear his awful declaration, “If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy.” Well might the apostle ask, in consideration of this deeply serious obligation, “And who is sufficient for these things?” – 2 Cor. ii. 16. No man whom God has called, and impressed with the true responsibility of the work, would dare to attempt it without the assurance written by the same apostle in the next chapter: “But our sufficiency is of God; who also hath made us able ministers of the New Testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit; for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” Inconsiderate personal ambition may urge some presumptuously to aspire to this work without the command of the Lord; but the truly called minister of God will always find his own utter incompentency seriously impeding his progress in the work, and causing him to tremble at ever step in view of the serious responsibility involved. “To feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood,” is not a work of little importance, to be attempted for the gratification of aspiring pride; the love of Christ must constrain to the willing service, and then the ample reward is received in the answer of a good conscience toward God, and the joy of witnessing the development of growth in grace on the part of those ministered unto. This may seem to be a small reward to such as seek personal gain or preferment; but to the minister whose call to the works is of God, it is all above all price, and there is nothing which can be compared in value with it. With this incentive he can endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist or of a pastor, make full proof of his ministry, in the face of persecutions and malicious slanders, feeling, with Paul, that “None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.” – Acts xx. 24. “An evangelical cal to the ministry” will so effectually subdue selfishness as to produce the mind which is here expressed.

In this connection it is appropriate to refer to the diversities of gifts by the same Spirit spoken of by Paul (1 Cor. xii.), in which he says, “The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.” None of these gifts can be justly depreciated. Each is very valuable to the church in its own place and for its own use; so that “The eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee; nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.” Yet each of these members misplaced in the body would be useless, and deform the body. The hand would be a useless monstrosity placed in the body as an eye; and the feet would be of no service if placed on the neck. So the gifts in the church, if misplaced, lose their usefulness, and deform the symmetry and perfect order which called forth the rapturous admiration of David, “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.” – Psalm cxxxiii. 1. The gifts in the church harmonize so perfectly as to present not merely union of materials having no affinity for each other, but unity, in which each is inseparable from all the others, and all harmonize in one perfect whole body, with nothing lacking, and with no redundancy.

Solomon says, “A gift is as a precious stone in the eyes of him that hath it; whithersoever it turneth it prospereth.” – Prov. xvii. 8. Or, as rendered in the margin, “a stone of grace,” “whithersoever it turneth,” not where it is violently turned by the mistaken zeal of those who presume to distort it from the place by grace assigned it. Each gift bestowed upon the church of Christ is essential to the prosperity of the whole body “to profit withal;” but if perverted from its appropriate place, it is thereby distorted, as a member of the natural body disjointed, and its usefulness is thereby impaired. It is not an uncommon ting to see gifts which are “stones of grace” in the place where they belong, and have prospered whithersoever they turned, when transposed to gratify the natural whim “of him that hath it,” or the presumptuous meddling of such as imagine they know where they should turn such gifts, instead of prospering, become painfully annoying obstructions to the prosperity of the church, and are unprofitable to those to whom they are given. It should always be the desire of all the church to know whither every gift bestowed upon them in each member turneth, and the prayer of faith will ever be that the Lord would direct its turning to prosperity. It is sure to prosper whithersoever it turneth; but if some presumptuous Uzzah attempt to direct its course as human wisdom would turn it, the consequence is to be expected in death and sorrow. The gift does not prosper, and the church suffers darkness, and the cold stupor of death in a certain degree is experienced. It should never be forgotten that the help of the church is all in the Lord; and when gifts are wanted for our prosperity we are to pray the Lord for them, and not attempt to improve upon his work by transforming such as he has given into such as we may think would be more profitable. Hearing what the Lord will say with submissive obedience, we should wait on him at all times. He knows all our needs, and no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. The church need never fear that he will fail to bestow every gift which is profitable for her good and the declarative glory of his own name; and no one who has received a spiritual gift from the Lord need fear but that it will turn in the channel where the Lord has ordered for it to prosper. It may be that human reason would not choose that way; but the gift turneth as the Lord directs, and that must be the right way. Whether it leads Joseph into the bondage of Egypt, Daniel into the den of lions, or the three children of faith into the seven times heated furnace, there the Lord commands the blessing, even life forevermore; there the gift prospereth.

As already stated, the Lord works consistently in calling his servants to the ministry of his gospel. It may well be doubted whether the Lord has called one to that work if there is no corresponding impression given to lovers of truth to receive his ministry; and it is very injudicious for a church to authorize a member to preach when they are unwilling themselves to receive his ministry. On the other hand, it is presumptuous to allow personal prejudice to influence the action of the church in refusing to recognize a gift which the Lord has bestowed. Proper attention to the order authorized by the apostolic rule will give ample opportunity to the church to judge the gift of every member. All are at liberty to speak freely as their minds are led, only observing the decent order of speaking one at a time, that all tings may be done unto edifying. “For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.” – 1 Cor. xiv. 31, 32. Each member speaking thus freely, all are qualified to judge the gift of each one; and if any gift developed is to edification, it is the privilege and duty of such as are edified or profited to let their judgment be known. It is sometimes suggested that we should be very reticent in this particular, lest by expressing our judgment the speaker should be puffed up with pride in our approval, or too much embarrassed by our adverse judgment. Close examination of the inspired rule giving no such caution, it is evidently only the dictate of human prudence, and as such will fail to improve upon the inspired guidance of the scriptural rule. No dishonesty, either in silent or expressed falsehood, is authorized or permitted by the divine standard. We are forbidden to lie one to another (Col. iii. 9), and this prohibition applies to the willful expression of falsehood by silence, as well as to the utterance of that which is false. Dealing candidly and honestly with each other in love, we shall enjoy mutual confidence, and feel the strength of unity sustaining us together in the truth. The gift of judgment in regard to what is spoken, is as much to profit with all as is the gift of speaking; and the same rule which would authorize the reserving of the judgment to the one to whom it is given would equally authorize the speaker to retire to some private place and speak where none could hear.

If the speaker is governed by the spirit of Christ, he will be thankful to the hearer who expresses honestly his judgment of his message. If in approval, he is thereby sustained in the truth of his position; if in disapproval, he will be influenced to examine more carefully the subject by the infallible standard; and in either event he is profited. “An evangelical call to the ministry” should produce an honest desire to present nothing but that which will bear the test of scriptural investigation.

Perhaps this manner of discussing the subject may not have touched the particular point desired by our friend Guyton. The subject is too extensive to admit of ever point being treated upon in the limits of an article of reasonable length. The specific limitation of his inquiry to “an evangelical call to the ministry,” of course relieved us of the necessity of referring to the financial call to the ministry of antichrist. That is something entirely foreign to the subject proposed, and indeed, outside of the object contemplated in our paper. We might with as much propriety enter upon the discussion of the ritual of Paganism, as to attempt to suggest reformation in the humanly devised religious religious systems of modern invention called “christian.” But briefly we may say that as they represent their own position, the call to their ministry seems to be the covetous desire in the carnal mind of young men, who are led by zeal for fame and wealth to pant for that service.

Elder Gilbert Beebe,
Middletown, N. Y.

Signs of the Times
Volume 49, No. 18,
September 15, 1881.