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The Call And Qualification Of The Gospel Ministry

MY VERY MUCH ESTEEMED BROTHER BEEBE: - I am at last seated to attempt a compliance with a request made some months ago, through the SIGNS OF THE TIMES, but, not having access to a file, I cannot identify the number. Since that request was made several others have come to light through the same medium, and lest my brethren and sisters should conclude that I am disposed to treat their requisitions with silent indifference, I will here say, that if the Lord will, I shall try to give them the earliest convenient attention; and I hereby respectfully crave their forgiveness for the delay. My wife and self left our home in Kentucky early in July to visit our children and friends in Indiana and attend the associations; and the delicate health of the former, together with some other circumstances and business matters, have detained us until now, but we hope to return home within this month. Visiting the associations and other meetings, the social intercourse with much esteemed former friends, and beloved brethren and sisters, business transactions and hunting, have so fully engrossed the time, fast fleeting time, that I have felt little like writing. Attended the W. Water, Lebanon, Greenville and Conn's Creek Associations, all of which were peculiarly interesting. The request alluded to reads, I think, about as follows:

"Will brother J. F. Johnson, of Kentucky, give his views on the call and qualification of a gospel minister, and the evidence of that call." T.P.S.

I am often led to doubt my having realized an experimental sense of that "holy calling," and should that be the case I am ill qualified to write upon either the call, qualification, or evidence. My knowledge of the scriptures is so limited that, were it not for the hope that my brethren will bear with my weakness and look over my imperfections, I should certainly decline trying to comply with their requests.

In the first place let us inquire, What is a gospel minister? A minister is a servant, or "one who serves, waits on or attends another," or others. A gospel minister, then, is one who serves in the gospel of Christ, and is, strictly speaking, a servant of Christ. Christ and all the members of his body are identically one; "for as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ." Therefore the gospel minister is to be considered not only the servant to the head, but to all the members of his body. Hence, says the apostle, "we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake." - 2 Cor. iv. 5. If then, the gospel minister is the servant of Christ and his body, he must be placed under the control of Christ and the church; and, as Christ dwells in the church, and works in the members to will and to do of his good pleasure, he has the entire supervision of the whole matter, and what the church does under that controlling power is highly authoritative, placing the servant, or minister, under the most solemn and responsible obligations to Christ and his body, the church.

The call is evidently of God. Paul says, (Gal. i. 15, 16,) "When it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen, immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood," &c. And again, the same writer said to Timothy, "Who hath saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose, and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began." - 2 Tim. i. 9. And, as this language was addressed by one gospel minister to another, I presume it has reference more particularly to a call to the ministry, although it may refer in one sense to the calling of all the saints. This calling, like everything else that is done for the saints, is a work of grace, and must accord with God's purpose. It has no accordance, therefore, with the works of our latter-day theologians nor with their seminaries of theological lore. All the thousands that have been expended at those institutions, all the appeals that have been made to "pious young men" to take positions there, professedly to qualify them for the gospel ministry, have never, nor ever will amount to the call or qualification of one gospel minister. Neither the purpose or grace of God are looked to as a directory or sufficiency by the wire-workers of those institutions. Money, instead of the power of God, is their impetus; their own calculations and vain imaginations their directory, instead of God's purpose, and their own works, instead of the grace of God, their sufficiency. Then, their ministers are called not according to the purpose and grace of God, but according to their own calculations and works. The qualifications as well as the call of God's ministers present a complete counterplot to the ministers of Satan. When God calls his ministers they confer not with flesh and blood. When the enemies of the gospel call theirs, they must confer with flesh and blood for years for a suitable preparation. When the Lord undertakes the qualification of his servants he teaches them thoroughly that their sufficiency is of him. When men undertake to qualify theirs, they are taught to conclude that their sufficiency is of themselves. When the Lord begins the work of preparation with his own, they are made to conclude that they can't preach. Men, in the preparation of themselves or others for the work, are made to conclude that they can preach, and at it they go, but make sad work of it. When the Lord prepares his servants for the gospel ministry, they can, through Christ, which strengthens them, preach the gospel with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. Men, in preparing themselves or others for a so-called gospel ministry, may toil through years of study to qualify them, yet they can't preach the gospel, with all the theological whitewash or untempered mortar that can be plastered over or daubed upon them. In common with all the children of God, his ministers are thoroughly taught to know that "the preparations of the heart in man and the answer of the tongue is from the Lord," that "every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights," &c. Without multiplying quotations, and for more thorough, yea, for perfect instruction, such as I cannot give, I earnestly solicit my brother, and all others whom it may concern, to read carefully and prayerfully the epistles of Paul to Timothy and Titus, by which they may learn more correctly the qualifications of a gospel minister than I can teach them.

So far as the evidences of the call and qualification of a gospel minister are concerned, some of them are very discouraging, others more pleasant.

I know not that in their first tuition the servants of the church differ from their brethren. All the children of God are taught in their first lesson to know that they are unworthy sinners, lost sinners, helpless sinners; or, as the apostle has it, "without strength." How could they enter their feelings, sympathize with and comfort the poor, afflicted, mourning, hungering child of God, had they not felt the pangs and anguish to which they are all subjected?

Is not the leading object of their mission here to comfort and instruct God's people? But, after learning this lesson of their insufficiency in common with their brethren, he gives them a taste that he is gracious, for "the husbandman that laboreth must be first partaker of the fruits." - 2 Tim. ii. 6. Having realized the bitterness of sin and tasted the sweet and consoling draughts that flow from the river that makes glad the city of God, he next prepares them to comfort the saints that are in any tribulation with the comfort wherewith they themselves are comforted. See 2 Cor. i. 4. This lesson is similar to the first, from the fact that in it also they are taught their own insufficiency; for they must learn that their "sufficiency is of God." I do not suppose that the Lord has ever prepared one of his servants for the gospel ministry without teaching them thoroughly the requisite and important lesson that "the preparations of the heart in man and the answer of the tongue is from the Lord," and that without this all other preparations that can be made by men, aided by all the myriads of money that have been expended with a view of preparing students for the gospel ministry, have totally failed to make them any more available in that solemn service than would be sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. How sensibly was Moses made to feel his insufficiency when the Lord was about to send him on an important mission to his people who were groaning under oppression in the land of Egypt! When spoken to by the Lord he exclaims, "O, my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore or since thou hast spoken unto thy servant; but I am slow of speech and of a slow tongue." If I know any thing about the exercise of the Lord's ministers, I must conclude that they feel themselves the least, more illy qualified for the solemn service than any of their brethren, and are ready to say with Moses, "O, my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send." It is necessary that the Lord's servants should feel and know their weakness, their nothingness, that they may rely wholly upon him who is their "everlasting strength;" then can they readily say with the prophet, "Even he (the BRANCH) shall build the temple of the Lord; and he shall bear the glory," and will not presumptuously arrogate to themselves as means, or instruments, the important work of making the materials (christians) of what the building is composed. They feel themselves unworthy to even "feed the church of God," which is their highest legitimate business, or to perform the most menial service at the feet of their brethren, even to wash their feet, (exhort them to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith they are called,) and such is their fear of dishonoring the holy cause they would defend, and in view of their native weakness, that their cry is similar to that of Jeremiah when he said, "Ah, Lord God! behold, I cannot speak, for I am a child." But they are not permitted to carry out their resolution; for the Lord replies, "Say not, I am a child, for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak." - Jer. i. 6, 7. The Lord has said, "I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, which shall not hold their peace day nor night. Ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence." - Isaiah lxii. 6. It is the Lord's work, it must be accomplished, that sovereign mandate must be obeyed for there is no evading the all searching vision, resisting the almighty power of Jehovah; and the poor servant, sensibly deficient, trembling and dismayed, must go, witnessing, perhaps, the veritable language of the prophet, "Then I said, I will not make mention of him nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in my heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay." On feeling the weighty responsibility that weighed down the apostle when he said, "For if I preach not the gospel I have nothing to glory of, for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel." How appalling to poor, frail man, when convinced by the Spirit of his imbecility, to have the mandate of heaven, "KEEP NOT SILENCE," weighing down his depressed spirits, or the withering sentence, "Necessity is laid upon me," harassing his bewildered mind, while the thoughts of engaging in a holy vocation which he knows he is incompetent to perform, prostrates him in the valley of humility, (necessary valley,) until he is constrained to give up the last lingering hope of self-sufficiency and fix his final hope (blissful hope) upon the Lord, who says, "Open thy mouth wide and I will fill it." Thus are his servants made to trust in the Lord and have no confidence in the flesh.

Not the least of the evidences of a call to the gospel ministry is the approval of a gospel church. Certainly the Spirit of the Lord must accomplish the whole work, and I am far from believing that that Spirit, in that momentous work, is confined exclusively to the minister.

In the primitive days of the church "the Holy Ghost said, Separate me, Barnabas and Saul, for the work whereunto I have called them," and I suppose she is no better qualified to act independently of that Spirit now than she was then. If a minister could be profitable to the church, it is essential that there should exist a reciprocal sensibility between him and the members; and I am persuaded that nothing short of the Spirit of God can effectually harmonize their feelings. If I may judge from my own experience in the matter, the seeming approval and confidence of my dear brethren, together with their wholesome advice and encouragement during the doubts and trials through which I passed, have afforded me some of the most satisfactory testimonials and consoling reflections that I have had; and, with these reflections, I think that the servants of God should join the apostle to the Gentiles in saying, "We are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren, beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth." On the other hand instances have occurred where would-be ministers have urged their services upon the church contrary to her desires, which seldom fails to mar her peace and quietude; but I have never known one such to prove profitable to her in their ministry. Such have frequently had occasion to remove their membership, (and not their residence,) from church to church for the sake of promotion, but they have generally and finally went off with the Means faction or some other party equally foreign from the Old School Baptists.

Another evidence afforded a gospel minister, and one which I consider not an insignificant one, is a continual opposition from the whole work-mongrel fraternity.

When "the heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money," "teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake," the faithful minister of the gospel must calculate to be beset on every hand by those "greedy dogs," those howling shepherds, who are always fearful that their craft is in danger when the gospel of grace is faithfully proclaimed.

"But let not all this terrify,
Pursue the narrow path;
Look to the Lord with steadfast eye,
And fight the fight of faith."

The trying ordeals through which the true servants of God necessarily pass are well calculated to wean him from a self-sufficiency, and evince to him the propriety of trusting in the living God of Jacob, for "they that trust in the Lord shall be as Mount Zion, which cannot be removed, but abideth forever."

The Lord will not withhold from his servants testimonials of his presence, which are better than life; for in his presence is fullness of joy and at his right hand there are pleasures for evermore. How consoling when the Lord evinces to him he will "put words in his mouth." Then can he go in the strength of the Lord, and,

"Take his breastplate, sword and shield,
And boldly march into the field."

But he must not always expect ambrosial flowers to bestrew his pathway, downy beds to rest upon or delicious fare to feast upon. He must expect to encounter wearisome journeyings, various perils, painfulness, watchings, hunger, thirst, cold and nakedness, and often have to exclaim, "O, my leanness, my leanness!" Yet, in the name of his God he may lift up his banner, and in the strength and skill of the Captain of his salvation, sing,

"My Captain bids me onward go,
And in his strength I'll meet each foe;
He rules beneath, he reigns on high,
He'll seal my victory though I die."

The evidences that the Lord affords his faithful servants, in his infallible promises should embolden them to press toward the mark for the prize of their high calling; and while they reflect upon their origin and stability, see that these impregnable fortifications, these mighty ramparts reared by the Almighty, are but the mountain of his presence and power, and not the result of their own nature and strength, or skill, they should quietly and submissively bear their cross, and with it, wend their way along the valley of humility, (commendable valley,) and wait patiently the development of the Lord's purposes, promises and grace concerning them; "For (says Paul) ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise." The lifelong experience of the servant of the Lord may be considered one continued lesson to teach him the propriety and necessity of a patient submission to the will of his divine Master, and, in learning that lesson, he will often be constrained to acknowledge the truthfulness of the expression of one who has said that "resignation sweeteneth the cup; but impatience dasheth it with vinegar."

"O! the dark days, the year around,
Of an impatient mind;
Through clouds and storms a summer breaks,
To shine on the resigned.
Yes, in a trial world like this,
When all that comes is sent,
Learn how divine a thing it is,
To smile and be content."

Respectfully submitted, first, Brother Beebe, to your discretion, then to Brother T. P. S., and others who may deem it to be worth their perusal.

J.F. Johnson
Signs of the Times -1862