*Address delivered on the occasion of the graduation of Candidate James Howerzyl.
Christ gave to his Church key power, that is, the right and duty to preach the gospel and to excommunicate out of the Christian church. The church, that is, the church as institute, is the only organization on the face of the earth that administers the word, preaches the Gospel, officially. There are other organizations and institutions, several of them, that make it their business to instruct men out of the Scriptures. Societies are formed for the purpose of the study of God’s Word. And our Christians schools give courses in Bible study. And certainly there must be an open Bible in every home. But none of this labor is official preaching of the Gospel. God will bless this labor certainly, provided it is not labor done with a view to providing men with a substitute for the preaching of the Gospel by the church institute. If that be the aim, it is labor lost. It is the church as institution that officially preaches the Gospel. The church, however, exercises this right and duty not through any of and every one of its members but only through those whom Christ raises up, calls and qualifies for this work, to wit, the ministers of the Gospel. This is an article of faith with us. We declare, in the language of the Church Order, Article 3, that “no one, though he be a professor of theology, elder or deacon, shall be permitted to enter upon the ministry of the word and the sacraments without having been lawfully called thereto.”
It is the calling of the ministers of the Gospel for which I ask your attention. In treating this subject, I arrange my materials under the following points:
The Calling of the Minister of the Gospel.
My subject, as I have formulated it, contains the term calling. This word, as I am using it, means not occupation but summons, and thus signifies, as a word- element in my theme, not the office of ministers of the Gospel, and the duties that belong thereto as such, but the minister’s being called to this office and its duties., This then is the matter with which, we are now occupied.
Certainly; it must be a matter of common knowledge among us that the proposition to the effect that the minister of the Gospel is called of God is an article of faith contained in our official creeds. There is that clause in Art. 31 of the Belgic Confession, reading, “Therefore every one must take heed not to intrude himself by indecent means, but is bound to wait till it please God to call him, that he may have testimony of his calling, and be certain and assured that it is of God.” Here it is plainly stated that the minister of the Gospel is called of God. And the Form of the Ordination of ministers of God’s Word, contains this question, which it puts to the minister, “I ask thee whether thou feelest in thine heart that thou art lawfully called of God’s church, and therefore of God Himself, to this holy ministry.” And to this question the one being ordained replies, “Yes, truly, with all my heart.” And the concluding paragraph of the call letter reads, “Now dear reverend brother, may the King of the church so impress this call upon your heart and give you light, that you may arrive at a decision pleasing to him.” Certainly the statement, “May the King of the church so impress this call upon your heart,” is equivalent in meaning to the statement that the minister of the Gospel is called of God.
That the minister of the Gospel is called of God is also, to be sure, the plain teaching of the Bible. This, too, certainly, is a matter of common knowledge among us. There is this text, “And he gave some, apostles; some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some pastors and teachers—for the perfection of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (). According to this text, the ministers of the Gospel are Christ’s gifts to His church, which must imply, certainly, that He calls His servants and qualifies them for the work of the ministry. Then, finally, there is this text from Paul’s pen, “And how shall they hear ‘without a preacher, and how shall they preach except they be sent?” Sent by whom? By Christ, the Lord of the Church. So, then, according to the plain teachings of God’s Word, the ministers of the Gospel are called of God.
Let us now attend to our first proposition: The minister’s being called of God is an actuality. The minister of the Gospel, of today; that is, of the post- Apostolic Church, is as actually called of God as were the prophets and the apostles of the Scriptures. And they were called of God actually. Spake the Lord to Jeremiah, “Before 1 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 nation.” And this is the word of the Lord unto Ezekiel, “Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee. . . . Son of man, I send thee unto the children of Israel. . .”. God called Moses actually. The Lord appeared unto him and said to him, “Come now, and, I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt”. ( ). The Lord called Samuel. Thus we read, “And the Lord came and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel. . .” The apostles were called of Christ actually, who will deny it. “Go ye therefore,” said the resurrected Christ to them, “and teach all nations. . .” ( ). Paul’s calling was an actuality, was it not? He heard Christ’s voice, “I am Jesus whom thou persecuteth.” And the prophets and the apostles knew themselves as called of God, Samuel did, for he said, “Speak, for thy servant heareth.” Ezekiel did, for he said, “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.” All the prophets knew that they were called of God and that Christ spake through them: for they invariably began their discourses with, “Thus saith the Lord,” The apostles knew themselves as called. In his epistles to the churches, Paul, for one, sets out with placing himself before God’s people as a servant of Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the Gospel of God. I quote, “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated, unto the Gospel of God.” And again at , “Paul called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, through the will of God.”
Well now, the calling of the minister of the Gospel of today is just as actual as was the calling of Moses and Samuel and all the other prophets and apostles of the Scriptures. Also now, when God calls a man to the holy ministry He speaks to him as actually as he spake to Moses and Samuel, and the man hears Christ’s voice as truly as did they. And this of necessity, if the man is actually called of God to the ministry of the Gospel.
I have heard this denied, by one who himself was a minister of the Gospel. And what is worse, he was not a modernist preacher, but a man of supposedly reformed persuasion. He said this to me, “It is nonsense to say that we ministers are called of God. I for one never heard the call. With just as good a conscience, I could home become a lawyer, or a doctor, or a farmer as a minister of the Gospel. I selected this profession, because of its greater appeal. But as for me being called of God, I know nothing of that.” And yet, when, on the day of his ordination, the church put to him the question, “Dost thou feel in thy heart that thou, art lawfully called of God’s church and therefore of God Himself to this holy ministry,” he, too, replied, “Yes, truly, with all my heart.”
Let me ask, Why should not a minister of the Gospel of today be called of God as actually as Moses and Samuel, and all the other prophets and apostles of the Scriptures were called of God? Can it be that after the death of the last apostle God ceased to speak to His people and to communicate to them His will? It cannot be. The fact of the matter is that God continued to speak to His people through the past ages of this dispensation to the present and that He will continue to speak to His people everlastingly. Through Christ in the Spirit of Christ, He calls ill is people irresistibly out of the world into His sanctuary; testifies with their spirits that they are the sons of God ; tells them that they are forgiven; that they are His heirs and co-heirs of Christ, and that by virtue thereof they possess all things. And with this testimony m their hearts, they rejoice in Him their God and Savior, and walk and talk with the Lord. Well, now, if there is this intimate intercourse of God with His people, should it be considered strange, that God calls His servants—the ministers of the Gospel—to the work of the ministry as truly as Moses and Samuel were called to this ministry? How shall a man preach, if he be not called? How shall he have the right to preach, if he be not called of God? How shall he have the ability to preach, if he be not called of God. How shall he have the faintest desire to preach—to preach the Christ of the Scriptures—if he is not called of God?
But let there be no misunderstanding. In saying that the common ministers of the post-apostolic age are called of God as actually as Moses and Samuel were called of God, I am not placing the common ministers in the Christian church in a class with the prophets and the apostles of the Scriptures. The latter, too, were ministers of the Gospel; however their ministry formed a very special office in the church. The function of their office is known from the statement that the church is built upon the foundation of the prophets and the apostles. Thus their task was to lay the foundation of the church universal, which they did through their infallible doctrine. With the death of the last apostle, their function ceased, and with it the office of the apostles; and the Canon of the Scriptures was closed. Thus, the common ministers in the Christian church are not successors of the apostles. The latter could have no successors. It means that the common ministers of the Gospel together with all God’s people are seated at the feet of the prophets and the apostles of the Scriptures, whom the church, now possesses in the Scriptures, that Christ through them prepared for His church. There is then this difference between the prophets and the apostles of the Scriptures and the common ministers in the Christian church. But certainly the latter are called of God as actually as were the former called of God to the holy ministry.
2. Let us then, in the second place, consider the essence of this calling. Just what forms the essence of being called of God to the holy ministry? The question is answered at I Cor. 9:16. It is Paul speaking here. He says, “For necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the Gospel.” Here we have the answer to the question, what forms the essence of being called of God to the holy ministry. It is this necessity, obligation, as laid upon the one called, so that he feels in his heart that he must preach the Gospel. There never yet lived, a man, actually called of God to the holy ministry, who did not say, and say continually, “I must preach; necessity is laid upon me; woe is unto me, if I do not preach the Gospel.” A man is not called of God to the holy ministry, because he desires and wills to preach the gospel, because in a pious moment he promised God to dedicate his life to the work of the ministry; but the fact is that in the sight of God a man is a minister of the Gospel because he must be in that he feels in his heart that this necessity is laid upon him. For what says Paul there at. Let us quote the apostle a little more fully, “For though I preach 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! For if I do this thing willingly, I have reward, but if against my will, a dispensation is given unto me.” How strangely the apostle speaks here doesn’t he? “If against my will I preach the gospel, a dispensation is given unto me.” This reasoning of Paul loses for us its strangeness, the moment we discern its meaning. A good paraphrase of this Scripture is the following, “If I, Paul, do this thing willingly, preach God’s Gospel because I so choose, desire, wall, decree, and not because I must in that necessity Is laid upon me; if, In a word, I am minister of the Gospel by my will instead of by the will of God, God is under obligation to me, and I have reward. But—says the apostle—such is not the case. I have no choice in the matter. I must preach God’s Gospel, because Christ laid this necessity upon me; and because—the apostle means to say—Christ, who redeemed me from all my sin by Ills blood, and thereby made me His own, qualifies me, sustains me, and constrains me by His love in my heart, to obey that necessity, laid upon me by him. Hence, I have nothing to glory of.”
In a word, Paul is a minister of the Gospel, not because he willed to be, but because he had to be. The fact of the matter is that Paul was unwilling. “If against my will, a dispensation is given unto me”. What man is willing to preach God’s Gospel? I speak now not of unbelievers but of believers. Was Moses willing to be a minister of the Gospel? When the Lord eventually came to him and by His command laid necessity on Moses, he resisted. He said to the Lord, “Behold, they will not believe me.” And again.
“O, my Lord, I am not eloquent. . . . but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” And finally, “O my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send.” So persistently unwilling was Moses that finally the anger of the Lord was kindled against him. Sometime after that, when Pharaoh increased the burdens and in consequence thereof the people bewailed their lot in his ears, he wanted to know why the Lord had sent him. Sometime after that, when the people went to loathing the manna and to crying for flesh, Moses, driven to distraction by their wailing, prayed the Lord to kill him out of the land.
There was a time when Moses was willing. In fact he was that willing that the Lord couldn’t use him. That was the time he went forth and slew that Egyptian. He was in the prime of life then, ambitious, full of courage, and impatient.
A man is a minister of the Gospel not because he wants to be but because he must be. Necessity is laid upon him. The essence of being called of God is that necessity and the grace to obey it. And this necessity is laid upon a man. It thus springs not from a promise on the part of a man to preach God’s Gospel; for if so the man is called not of God but of himself; this necessity springs from an objective command imposed upon a man by one who has the authority to command him; and that one is none other than Christ. For the Gospel is God’s Gospel; and Christ is the head over all things in the church and the Lord of that man on whom He lays that necessity.
This brings us to our third point, namely, the means by which this calling is affected. This means is a voice—a voice coming to a man, calling him and exhorting him and commanding him to preach God’s Gospel; and that voice comes to him, as it came to Moses, from out of the burning bush; that is, from out of the bosom of the afflicted church of God in the world. And that voice—the voice of the church—prays and commands, and admonishes the man called of God. “Come over and help us,” says the voice to him, and further, “Take heed therefore, beloved brother, and fellow servant in Christ, unto thyself and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made thee overseer, to feed the church of God which He had purchased, with His own blood; love Christ and feed His sheep, taking the oversight of them not by constraint, but willingly; not by filthy lucre, but by a ready mind, neither being Lord over God’s heritage, but as an example to the flock. Be an example to all believers, in word and in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, meditate upon these things, give thyself wholly to them, that thy profiting may appear to all; take heed to the doctrine, and continue steadfast therein. Bear patiently all suffering, and oppression, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ, for in doing this thou shalt save thyself and them that hear thee. And when the chief shepherd shall appear, thou shalt receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.” So speaketh the voice that comes to a man called of God, comes to him from out of the burning bush, Christ’s church in affliction.
Assuredly, it is the voice of the church; for as you perceived, I was quoting here from the Form of Ordination of ministers of the Gospel. But consider that the church is not the author of that voice. The author of that voice is Christ. And here is the proof.
voice of the church that He proclaims all His Gospel to all His creatures. It could be expected therefore that by the voice of the church He should also call His servants to the holy ministry, proclamate to them the commands by which He lays upon them the necessity of preaching God’s Gospel. Indeed, it should have to be considered strange, if Christ, passing by and completely ignoring His church, had continued to call His servants by His own personal voice, coming to them directly from His throne in heaven.
(to be continued)