THE CALL TO THE MINISTRY
Extracted from Lectures to my Students by C. H. Spurgeon
Any Christian has a right to disseminate the gospel who has the ability to do so; and more, he not only has the right, but it is his duty so to do as long as he lives, Rev. 22.17. The propagation of the gospel is left, not to a few, but to all the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. According to the measure of grace entrusted to him by the Holy Spirit, each man is bound to minister in his day and generation, both to the church and among unbelievers. Indeed, this question goes beyond men, and even includes the whole of the other sex; whether believers are male or female, they are all bound, when enabled by divine grace, to exert themselves to the utmost to extend the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our service, however, need not take the particular form of preachingÂ—certainly, in some cases it must not, as for instance in the case of females, whose public teaching is expressly prohibited: 1 Tim. 2.12; 1 Cor. 14.34. But yet if we have the ability to preach, we are bound to exercise it. I do not, however, in this lecture allude to occasional preaching, or any other form of ministry common to all the saints, but to the work and office of the bishopric, in which is included both teaching and bearing rule in the church, which requires the dedication of a man’s entire life to spiritual work, and separation from every secular calling, 2 Tim. 2.4; and entitles the man to cast himself for temporal supplies upon the church of God, since he gives up all his time, energies, and endeavours, for the good of those over whom he presides, 1 Cor. 9.11;1 Tim. 5.18.
Such a man is addressed by Peter in the words, “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof” 1 Pet. 5.2. Now, all in a church cannot oversee, or ruleÂ—there must be some to be overseen and ruled; and we believe that the Holy Ghost appoints in the church of God some to act as overseers, while others are made willing to be watched over for their good. All are not called to labour in word and doctrine, or to be elders, or to exercise the office of a bishop; nor should all aspire to such works, since the gifts necessary are nowhere promised to all; but those should addict themselves to such important engagements who feel, like the apostle, that they have “received this ministry” 2 Cor. 4.1. No man may intrude into the sheepfold as an under-shepherd; he must have an eye to the chief Shepherd, and wait His beck and command. Or ever a man stands forth as God’s ambassador, he must wait for the call from above; and if he does not so, but rushes into the sacred office, the Lord will say of him and others like him, “I sent them not, neither commanded them; therefore they shall not profit this people at all, saith the Lord” Jer. 23.32.
By reference to the Old Testament, you will find the messengers of God in the old dispensation claiming to hold commissions from Jehovah. Isaiah tells us that one of the seraphim touched his lips with a live coal from off the altar, and the voice of the Lord said, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isa. 6.8. Then said the prophet, “Here am I, send me.” He ran not before he had been thus especially visited of the Lord and qualified for his mission. “How shall they preach, except they be sent?” were words as yet unuttered, but their solemn meaning was well understood.
Jeremiah details his call in his first chapter: “Then the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou earnest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. Then said I, Ah, Lord God! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child. But the Lord said unto me. 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. Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord. Then the Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth;
and the Lord said unto me. Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth. See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, and to build, and to plant” Jer. 1.4-10.
Varying in its outward form, but to the same purport, was the commission of Ezekiel; it runs thus in his own words: “And he said unto me. Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee. And the Spirit entered into me when he spake unto me, and set me upon my feet, that I heard him that spake unto me. And he said unto me, Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that hath rebelled against me: they and their fathers have transgressed against me, even unto this very day” Ezek. 2.1-3. “Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, eat that thou findest; eat this roll, and go speak unto the house of Israel. So I opened my mouth, and he caused me to eat that roll. And he said unto me, Son of man, cause thy belly to eat, and fill thy bowels with this roll that I give thee. Then did I eat it; and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness. And he said unto me. Son of man, go, get thee unto the house of Israel, and speak with my words unto them” Ezek. 3.1-4.
Daniel’s call to prophesy, although not recorded, is abundantly attested by the visions granted to him, and the exceeding favour which he had with the Lord, both in his solitary meditations and public acts. It is not needful to pass all the other prophets in review, for they all claimed to speak with “thus saith the Lord.” In the present dispensation, the priesthood is common to all the saints; but to prophesy, or what is analogous thereto, namely, to be moved by
the Holy Ghost to give oneself up wholly to the proclamation of the gospel, is, as a matter of fact, the gift and calling of only a comparatively small number; and surely these need to be as sure of the rightfulness of their position as were the prophets; and yet how can they justify their office, except by a similar call?
Nor need any imagine that such calls are a mere delusion, and that none are in this age separated for the peculiar work of teaching and overseeing the church, for the very names given to ministers in the New Testament imply a previous call to their work. The apostle says, “Now then we are ambassadors for God;” but does not the very soul of the ambassadorial office lie in the appointment which is made by the monarch represented? An ambassador unsent would be a laughing-stock. Men who dare to avow themselves ambassadors for Christ, must feel most solemnly that the Lord has ‘committed” to them the word of reconciliation, 2 Cor. 5.18,19. If it be said that this is restricted to the apostles, I answer that the epistle is written not in the name of Paul only, but of Timothy also, and hence includes other ministry besides apostleship. In the first epistle to the Corinthians we read, “Let a man so account of us (the us here meaning Paul and Sosthenes, 1 Cor. 1.1), as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God” 1 Cor. 4.1. Surely a steward must hold his office from the Master. He cannot be a steward merely because he chooses to be so, or is so regarded by others. If any of us should elect ourselves stewards to the Marquis of Westminster, and proceed to deal with his property, we should have our mistake very speedily pointed out to us in the most convincing manner. There must evidently be authority ere a man can legally become a bishop, “the steward of God” Titus 1.7.
The Apocalyptic title of Angel (Rev. 2.1) means a messenger; and how shall men be Christ’s heralds, unless by His election and ordination? If the reference of the word Angel to the minister be questioned, we should be glad to have it shown that it can relate to any one else. To whom would the Spirit write in the church as its representative, but to some one in a position analogous to that of the presiding elder?
Titus was bidden to make full proof of his ministryÂ—there was surely something to prove. Some are “vessels unto honour, sanctified and meet for the Master’s use, and prepared unto every good work” 2 Tim. 2.21. The Master is not to be denied the choice of the vessels which He uses; He will still say of certain men as He did of Saul of Tarsus, “He is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles” Acts 9.15. When our Lord ascended on high He gave gifts unto men, and it is noteworthy that these gifts were men set apart for various works: “He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers”
(Eph. 4.11); from which it is evident that certain individuals are, as the result of our Lord’s ascension, bestowed upon the churches as pastors; they are given of God, and consequently not self-elevated to their position.
Brethren, I trust you may be able one day to speak of the flock over whom “the Holy Ghost has made you overseers” (Acts 20.28), and I pray that every one of you may be able to say with the apostle of the Gentiles, that your ministry is not of man, neither by man, but that you have received it of the Lord, Gal. 1.1. In you may that ancient promise be fulfilled, “I will give them pastors according to mine heart”, Jer. 3.15. “I will set up shepherds over them, which shall feed them”, Jer. 22.4. May the Lord himself fulfil in your several persons his own declaration: “I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, which shall never hold their peace day nor night.” May you take forth the precious from the vile, and so be as God’s mouth, Jer. 15.19. May the Lord make manifest by you the saviour of the knowledge of Jesus in every place, and make you “unto God a sweet saviour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish” 2 Cor. 2.15. Having a priceless treasure in earthen vessels, may the excellency of the divine power rest upon you, and so may you both glorify God and clear yourselves from the blood of all men. As the Lord Jesus went up to the Mount and called to Him whom He would, and then sent them forth to preach (Mark 3.13), even so may He select you, call you upward to commune with Himself, and send you forth as His elect servants to bless both the church and the world.