And no man taketh this honour unto himself but he that is called of God as was Aaron.â€”Hebrews 5 4.
A DIVINE CALLING
Revd. Lachlan Mackenzie of Lochcarron [1754-1819]
1st July, 1793
“And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.”Â—Hebrews 5, 4.
I shall show what it is to be called of God to the work of the ministry, or the qualifications necessary for the person whom God is preparing for that work.
1. The first part of this call I take to be a serious and wholesome concern for his own salvation. How can a man who never had as much soul exercise as to put him from a diet of meat, pretend to advise others to be serious and to take salvation to heart as the one thing needful? There is something very absurd in advising others to be serious when a man is not serious himself. Without taking salvation to heart, can the minister honestly say what the Apostle said, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men?” Can a sinner come to Christ without some degree of terror? If he does not feel terror before he comes, he will taste some after he comes, for even the love of Christ will make sin bitter to the soul. The ordinary and stated method of grace is to give conviction of sin in the first place, and then the comforts of the Gospel. The minister must speak from the heart to the heart. If he writes in his sermon what he finds in a book, he gives the experience of another, and not his own. When a man does not give his own experience, but what he finds in a book, what he repeats in that way no more deserves the name of preaching than the prating of a parrot who is taught to repeat the Lord’s Prayer, deserves the name of devotion. He may, like the bird, amuse people, but he can never reach the heart. Borrowed preachings and borrowed prayers are little better than sacrilege. If a man feels, he can the more easily pray and preach. And when the minister of Christ gets a view of sin, as it really is in itself, he can freely venture the salvation of his soul upon this bottom, the complete obedience and righteousness of Christ, and dares not venture upon any other. And when he has found rest to his soul he can recommend the way of salvation to others.
2. Another part of the call necessary to a minister is, that he is furnished with those talents which are necessary for a minister of the New Testament. If a person should be a good antiquarian
and a complete linguist, yet all this would not qualify him for teaching geometry. A man may have a fund of knowledge, but if he has not the faculty of communicating it, although he should deserve the character of a good man, he cannot properly be called a good minister. It is a common expression that a man must be born a poet and not made one. It is equally certain that a man’s genius must lead him to the pulpit before he can be useful in that particular line. It is often a complaint with thousands and thousands of the common people that they cannot carry home a word of what such or such a minister said. They are as little edified when he leaves off as when he begins. This is altogether owing to his manner of speaking; and should the matter be good, it may be spoiled by an awkward, ungracious delivery. When the matter is bad and the doctrine unsound, it is little odds though it should be mangled in the delivery; but what a pity it is that the wholesome food of the Gospel should be spoiled in the dressing, and this sometimes happens.
3. Again, the person who has this call is excited by a strong desire in his mind to preach the Gospel. If a man desires the office of a bishop, that is a pastor or overseer, he desires a good work. This desire in the mind of a good man, we may believe, is from God. Actuated by the purest motives, the glory of God, and the good of souls, he is cautious in admitting the suggestions of self-conceit and self-love. At the same time that he wishes to preach the Gospel he sees the difficulty of the charge, and, as he believes, he does not make haste. He examines himself by the Word of God to see if he finds himself qualified. When such a man as Paul asks the question, “Who is sufficient for these things?” it costs him some searchings of heart, and many prayers, whether or not he will engage in the work. Moses’ prayer shall often be used upon such an occasionÂ—”If Thy presence go not with me, carry me not up hence.” He knows that the ministry is the work of God and not of man, and that the Lord never sends any man a warfare upon his own charges. He knows, likewise, that the strong walls of Jericho will not fall by any other means than the trumpets which are made by Divine appointment. He is conscious that human learning, reason, argument, moral suasion, good advice, promises and threatenings avail nothing without the great spirit of prayer. The sinner is like the monster mentioned in the Book of Job, “He esteemeth iron as straw, and brass as rotten wood. The arrow cannot make him flee: slingstones are turned with him into stubble. Darts are counted as stubble; he laugheth at the shaking of a spear.” The Saviour knew perfectly well what He said when He assures us that no man can come unto Him except the Father draw him. “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it; except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.” Paul may plant, Apollos may water, it is only God who giveth the increase. Young men are generally very sanguine in their expectations in regard to the good which they
hope they shall do to souls. They promise themselves they shall be of great service to the Church. It was said of that amiable reformer Melancthon, that however great his expectations were of doing good to souls and healing the divisions and breaches of the Church, he acknowledged at last that old Adam was too strong for young Melancthon. The complaints likewise of old divines make the young soldier afraid. If his object is to gain souls to Christ, he hears with men of experience who have been in the heat of the battle that nothing can do this but the power that created heaven and earth. The man then who wishes to gain souls will not make use of carnal weapons in the spiritual warfare.
4. In the next place, the person who has this call from God is actuated by pure and disinterested motives. This is the single eye which the Scripture so often mentions. A person’s whole aim is to please God and to gain souls. Such as enter the ministry are in a peculiar manner the servants of God. Now, the great duty of a servant is to do everything to please his master and to forward his interest. Should the servant of an earthly master have his own little interest at stake, if he is an honest man, he will take care of his master’s interest; but if his own constantly engross his thoughts, he cannot be honest to his master. Ministers all consecrate themselves to the service of God, and call themselves the servants of Christ. Our Lord tells us that a man cannot serve two masters. When a man becomes a minister, he should be that, and that only. But if his heart is engrossed with thoughts about a manse, a glebe, a stipend, and a farm, he serves another master, and cannot attend to the one thing needful. If the heart is full of these things, it cannot be full of the love of God at the same time, The Apostles, as we find in the sixth chapter of the Acts, could not attend to the daily division of the poor’s money. It is not a difficult thing for a man to know whether the Gospel or the world takes up his thoughts and attention. The chief end of every man is to glorify God, but the minister is called upon in a peculiar manner to glorify God, and to do nothing else. Now, if it be for the sake of a miserable portion that he preacheth the GospelÂ— “Woe to him.” That miserable portion shall be given him, and nothing else. The minister of Christ has God for his portion, and he uses the world as not abusing it.
5. In the last place, the minister who is called by God has an exemplary life and conversation (1 Timothy 3). If a man’s behaviour be such that men would not naturally pitch upon him for a spiritual guide, common sense will not permit us to believe that God would choose him at all. A Presbytery may lay their hands upon his head, but cannot convey the Holy Ghost to him. If all the canonical hands from the Pope down to the poorest curate or clergyman, were to be laid upon him at once, they cannot bestow grace upon a man who does not see his need of it, or seriously ask it himself.
The Scripture observes that if a man eats and drinks unworthily at the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, he eats and drinks damnation to himself. In like manner, I firmly believe that ordination, instead of benefiting an unworthy minister, makes him sevenfold more the child of the devil than he was before. But on the other hand, if a man is sincere in his transactions with God, and has been honestly asking grace, he may plead the promise made to the ministers of God and to the faithful followers of Christ. He will be with them to the end of the world; He will give them His spirit, and bind in heaven what they have bound upon earth. When a man impartially examines himself by the Word of God, and finds the qualifications which I have been mentioning, he may humbly believe that he has a call from God to preach the Gospel. He has taken salvation to heart; he has talents for the pulpit; he has a strong desire excited in his mind to preach the Gospel; he has pure motives, and he has a holy life. To such a character, I would address myselfÂ—Rise and be doing, for God is with thee. Go and preach the everlasting Gospel of Peace to lost sinners. Such a man need not ask a voice from heaven; he has a more sure word of prophecy, as the Apostle Peter informs us. The Spirit of God will apply and bring the Word of God to his mind. There is an agreement between both. And when this is the case, a man will not be in a hurry to run before God’s appointed time. He shall patiently wait till the pillar and cloud go before him, till the Providence of God open a door to him. He knows that if God has use for him. He shall employ him; he knows, likewise, that no mere man can have such love to the Gospel as the Saviour Himself. This consideration will check the impatience of his spirit; it will likewise give him comfort in time coming. In things belonging to God, the more we put in His own hands, and the less we put in our own, the better we are sure to succeed. Whenever our will is brought to the will of God, Himself will do for us then.
The second thing proposed was, that no man should usurp the honour without the call. The design of the ministry is to bring souls to God, but how can this be the design of the minister who is himself far from God? When God and the minister have two different, and perhaps two contrary, objects in view, how can they agree? When God calls any man to the ministry, it is to make him an instrument in calling and converting men from sin to righteousness. But when the young divine has no other object in becoming a minister than to get a good living, and perhaps a good farm, to become rich, and lay by money, will his doctrine do good? I believe not. I shall suppose such a man settled in a parish. Can it reasonably be said that himself and the Master whom he pretends to serve are of one mind? Can he pursue his own little interest and his Master’s great interest at the same time? No! Can a covetous minister preach upon that text, “Love not the
world, neither the things that are in the world,” any more than a drunken minister could preach upon these words, “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess?” Will not people see the absurdity of such doctrine from such men? And if they conceal such doctrines, are they not unfaithful shepherds? These self-evident truths being taken for granted by all, I think it can easily be proved that when a man has not a call from God, as I have endeavoured to explain it, he should not obtrude himself upon a people nor should he take the honour. For:Â—
1. He cannot be useful or do good to souls.
2. Consequently he will hurt the people, and at last hurt himself, unless he repent.
1. He cannot be useful or do good to souls. If he cannot communicate his knowledge, the people go home without instruction. If himself is destitute of the Grace of God, and has no desire to obtain it, he will be impatient till he gets out of the pulpit, and whenever that wearisome piece of service is over, he can laugh at religion and ridicule every canting hypocrite that pretends to go a step beyond himself. If he has any engagements, or if he longs for his dinner, he looks at his watch oftener than at his Bible. When out of the pulpit, his behaviour does not in the smallest degree recommend his doctrine. He is as worldly, as trifling, and sometimes, for fear of being unsocial, he is as irregular as another man. That there are some such men, I might have said many such men, in the whole Christian Church, cannot be denied. How then can their doctrine be useful, or do good? Is it not cause for regret that people give scarce measure of the Gospel? A man, it may be, receives so many scores of pounds in the year, and what has the poor parish for that? These ministers might make the confession which an English cook made to a Scotch gentleman. He was turned off at the end of twelve months, and received twenty guineas for wages. He kept the purse a long time in his hand with the money. He was asked if he was satisfied with what he got. “Alas! sir,” said he, “I have a check of conscience for receiving it, I got twenty guineas for my wages, and did not dress five pounds worth of meat all the time I was in your family.” If the minister longs to be out of the church, is it not natural to suppose that the people will wish to be out likewise? He cannot preach faithfully, because he would condemn himself. His doctrine is not calculated to gain converts. He does not wish them to be over-religious; he might find them a little troublesome in that event. They would press him to do his duty, and, if he was a little negligent, might pretend to advise the minister himself. It is not likely, nor do I believe it is possible, that the Holy Ghost would employ himself or his doctrine as a means to convert souls. Will he employ a man’s doctrine, who laughs at the work of the Spirit as whimsical notions, to carry on that very work? There is not an instance in all the Book of God of a man converted to God by the ministry of a bad man. It may be said, indeed, that God spoke
to Balaam. I would think this argument conclusive if I did not read likewise in Scripture that God spoke repeatedly to the devil, but not with any view to employ him as an instrument in doing good. But should a bad man convert a sinner to God, he could have no comfort from it, any more than the men who fixed the Lord Jesus Christ to the cross could have from His death. It was not their own salvation, nor the salvation of the Church, they had in view. A man who is not in earnest about his own salvation cannot earnestly promote the salvation of another.
2. Such a man will consequently hurt the people, and at last hurt himself, unless he repent. He hurts the people; his doctrine is very often dry, and his example is still worse. If he happens sometimes to give a random shot and to preach some animating truths, he spoils the convictions his doctrines raised by his conduct through the week. He destroys with the one hand what he built with the other. And if he lives and dies in this condition, the consequences to him must be awful. But, I have added, unless he repent; and let us make this comfortable supposition, that the Holy Ghost, to whom nothing is impossible, quickens him from on high. When this event takes place, he shall preach the faith which he once destroyed. And would to God I saw that this day in many and many instances.
I conclude with some practical improvements:Â—
First, to those who intend the ministry. It is their duty to examine themselves, and be often assiduous at a throne of grace, lest they get a curse instead of a blessing. Let them beg of God to fit them for the work. I would not be very ready to advise a young man to engage. If he is an honest man, he shall sometimes find hard work. However, if he be the friend of Christ, I shall wish him success in the Name of the Lord.
Lastly, some of the ministers of Christ are afraid about their call. One thing, however, may give them comfort, viz.:Â—If they seriously wish to promote true religion and constantly depend upon the Saviour, let them pray to God to clear up their call. If a man faithfully improves his talent, whoever hath, to him shall be given. If he is conscious of any want, or if he wishes to possess any grace or any spiritual gift, let him ask in faith, and he shall receive. It will give a man comfort at last to find that God has fitted him for the work, and that he made it his business to promote His glory.
May God bless His Word.Â—Amen.
It is customary to give a long advice to a minister after he is ordained. It must be likewise owned that it is very ordinary for a minister to forget the advice. I shall therefore make it short. You are now a minister. Never recommend a duty till you first endeavour to reduce it to practice yourself. Do not mix the two covenants; they shall not mix for you. Preach your own
experience, if you have any; and if you have not, beg of God to give you experience. Read the Scriptures, preach Christ fully, and deal much in prayer. As the office you have undertaken is great, the danger is equally great if you do not do your duty. A rotten minister is a bad member of society; he gives a handle to infidels to laugh at religion; he destroys his flock, and damns his own soul. If a man be honest. God will give him his soul at death; and if he be not, his stipends will be a bitter morsel to him in that hour. The people should obey the minister, and the minister should obey God.
If you be a bad minister, ye’ll go to hell; and if you be a good minister, ye’ll go to heaven. Remember you heard that. You got a good advice, whether you will follow it or not.
Extracted from Lectures, Sermons and Writings