[The following correspondence between our pastor at Middletown, and New Vernon, Elder H. C. Ker, and Elder H. J. Redd, of Alabama, concerning a communication from the latter, which was published in No. 1, current volume, we have, in compliance with the request of a number of brethren, obtained the consent of Elder Ker to publish. The subject treated upon is one of deep interest to all, and the following letters we feel will be edifying and instructive to all who love the truth. – Ed.]
Middletown, N. Y., Jan. 6,1899.
ELDER H. J. Redd – My Dear Brother: – For some time I have enjoyed your writings, and several times have felt as though I would like to write you a line, and express my satisfaction in the able work of your pen, but until now have not been able to do so. Now I wish to say, I have enjoyed your article just published in the Signs OF The Times of January 1st, 1899, in which you speak of young and inexperienced preachers not being fit for pastors. This I deeply feel to be true, and am often made to exclaim, “Who is sufficient for these things?” I am an entire stranger to you in the flesh, but I hope and believe we have traveled the same road, and the landmarks are known to us alike. I am thirty-eight years of age; was baptized by Elder A. B. Francis, Sunday after the third Saturday in May, 1894; was ordained Nov. 17th, 1897; was called to serve the church here, and at New Vernon, May, 1898; accepted, and settled with my wife and two children, the last week in July, the same year. It seems to me of all men I am less qualified for a pastor of churches, than they all, yet I am here, and often ask, Why I am? How could I ever accept a call to be pastor of churches, when I do not feel I have the gift? According to your idea, and my feelings, I am not qualified for the place. May I ask you a few questions! Please bear with me in my weakness and ignorance. You say in your judgment it requires old and tried men for true pastors. Do we learn this altogether by experience? Is not a pastoral gift one of the gifts of God to men? If a gift, is it something to be learned! Is it not like the gift to preach! Can any man learn to preach? The more we try to learn, the worse we get. Paul said to Timothy, “Neglect not the gift that is in thee.” I understand by the exercise of the gift, it develops. Yet we do not learn to preach by exercise; if so, any one could be a preacher. The gift is one thing, and the exercise is another. We improve as taught by the Spirit; here a little, and there a little; line upon line, and precept upon precept. When we begin, we know but little, and can tell but little, but as one grows in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, he can present such things as are given him. So is it not the case with a pastor? If we have the gift, is it not necessary to be a pastor, that the gift may develop? If so, is a man who has been preaching for years, and never had the care of churches, any better qualified than one who has not been preaching so long! Do you think the Lord has ever given the gift of pastor to one, and never brought him into the hearts of his people as such, hence he never is a pastor of a church or churches? Do the qualifications come by experience of a pastor? Does not the experience develop the qualifications? Are not the qualifications a gift of God! Do they come any other way? It appears to me that the qualifications of a pastor are these: sound in doctrine, firm, cool-headed, good judgment, faithful, honest, still tongued, so far as bearing news from one to another is concerned, gentle, kind, one who can rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep, one who has the welfare and peace of Zion at heart, one who can bear hardness as a good soldier for Christ, and his nearest friend know nothing of his sorrow, one who shows no partiality among his brethren, one who can rebuke as well as exhort, one who will visit the well, as well as the sick, one who does not feel above his brethren, but feels his place is at their feet, one who is not selfish, but is always glad when the God he serves sends visiting ministers among his flock.
I find I must close, as there seems to be no end to the subject. What I have written, I have written I hope, in the Spirit of Christ. If you have not time to write a letter direct to me, you can, when you feel impressed, answer my feeble questions through the Signs, when writing for them.
With christian love and fellowship, I am your brother in gospel bonds,
H. C. KER.
River View, Ala., Jan. 10, 1899.
ELDER H. C. Ker – My Dear Brother In Christ: – Yours of 6th inst. to hand, and on reading it I felt almost sorry that I had written what I had. Indeed, I sometimes wish I had never written anything at all for publication, feeling perhaps my writings have done more harm than good. I fear that the article alluded to has had a tendency to discourage you, as well as others, but if I know my heart, that was not my design at all, and I guess if you knew what a worthless and unprofitable servant I am, and always have been, together with all my faults and failings, and short-comings, you would not trouble yourself much about what I write. Elder J. E. W. Henderson once said, “A man can establish a reputation by his writings, that will give him the bellows to sustain,” and I have thought of the expression many times. The idea of a poor, obscure human being like myself, stirring the hearts of people hundreds of miles away, by a few strokes of the pen, is something to be wondered at. Yet it is written, “Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast ordained strength;” and, “My strength is made perfect in weakness;” and Paul said, “I will know not the speech of them that are puffed up, but the power.” I imagine that John the baptist was a tough looking case, but there was power in his words. Jesus himself was a “man of sorrow, and acquainted with grief.” He was “smitten of God, and afflicted.” There was no “beauty in him that we should desire him,” and yet there was power in his words. Paul’s speech and preaching was “not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power.”
Now, as to the questions you have asked me, I will try to answer them in a general way. I will say to you that I am fifty years of age, am now nothing but a poor renter, trying to dig a living out of the ground. I was liberated to “exercise” eight or ten years before I was ordained, but exercised but little in public, till about a year before I was ordained; was ordained in 1880, or 1881. I have never served more than eight or nine different churches, and perhaps have not baptized more than twenty persons. Have traveled and preached a good deal over Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia. Perhaps I should not have written what I did about pastors, but it seems to me that I can see in the churches a kind of worldly spirit, and a disposition to ignore, discard and neglect, the older ministers. Paul did say that a bishop must not be a “novice,” and he gives the reason: “Lest being lifted up with pride, he fall into the condemnation of the devil.” Yes, I believe that the office of pastor is a special gift from God, but I have long since learned that the “calling” is one thing, and the qualifications quite another. The Scriptures indicate that Moses was Impressed with the fact that he would lead the children of Israel out from Egyptian bondage, when he went out to visit them, and slew the Egyptian. (Acts vii. 25-36.) But the time had not yet come, besides Moses was not yet qualified for the great undertaking. He had yet something to learn, before he could have endured the abuse and hard sayings of his brethren, and become to be the “meekest” of all men. He must be an exile in a strange land, mind his father-in-law’s sheep, go to the back side of the wilderness, and there witness the “burning bush.” Jonah’s experience in the whale’s belly, was to my mind a necessary qualification for him to preach to the Ninevehites. Christ himself “learned obedience by things he suffered.” I could write much here, but will try to abreviate. I believe if the Lord calls a man to preach, and to serve as pastor, that he will in the proper time give him churches to serve. But when first called, he has not then the necessary experience and qualifications to serve as pastor, but as you say, he must learn here a little, and there a little; line upon line, and precept upon precept. And the Lord will teach him, and instruct and qualify him for the work whereunto he has called him. These things I now know from experience, but it took me a long time to find it out. It took me a long time to learn that the call to preach was one thing, but the qualification another. Christ is the great teacher. It is his Spirit alone that qualifies us for every duty. Old School Baptist preachers are nothing but flesh and blood, like other people, and young and inexperienced preachers are liable to be “lifted up with pride,” by being called to serve churches in youth, and I have seen the evil effects of these things.
I have doubtless failed in my effort to give you satisfactory answers to your questions. I feel my inability to make myself understood. As to the office of pastor, I know I am totally unfit for that.
I hope you will not feel discouraged by anything I have said. I presume the churches you are serving, thought they saw in you the gift of pastor, and I trust the Lord will qualify and strengthen you in your labors, that you may be enabled to serve them acceptably, and to the honor and glory of God, and to your own comfort. Your “sufficiency is of God,’ and he is able to make you an “able minister of the New Testament,” but doubtless if you live to be fifty years old, you will then say, “Well, I find that brother Redd was right.” I trust, my brother, that your ministerial pathway will be smoother than mine has been, and that it may not be fraught with the troubles, trials and conflicts, that I have been called to endure. I feel that my whole life has been spent in vain, and I can only look back upon an unprofitable career. My only hope is in God, and O, if I could only say with confidence, “By the grace of God I am what I am,” it would be enough. “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”
May the blessings of God attend you, and the churches you serve.
Yours, I hope, in gospel bonds,
H. J. REDD.
Signs Of The Times
Volume 67, No. 4.
FEBRUARY 15, 1899.