F. The Exhortations
It is rather important that we give special attention to the concluding part of the form for the ordination of ministers of the Word. This part contains a most serious charge or exhortation of God to both the one who has been ordained and to the congregation in which he has received his office. And, as is always the case, when the exhortations of God are not heeded, the results are spiritually damaging. For the practical and spiritual well-being of the church, therefore, and the success of the ministry of her pastor, it is imperative that both the church and her minister do more than merely read the form but that they especially attend with all earnestness to the charge given them from the Word of God. Doing this continually the ministry will be blessed and the joy of the Holy Spirit will prevail in the church.
The newly ordained minister is charged first. His charge is, first and foremost, that he shall “feed the church of God which He hath purchased with His own blood.” Today, the success of the minister is no longer measured by this standard. He is regarded as a good minister who is a nice fellow, good sport, good mixer and an eloquent speaker even though he feeds the church with stones and he who ministers the pure bread of life is persecuted and regarded as out of line with the times. But that is not strange for so it has always been and those very things are the earmarks of a good preacher. Doesn’t Paul, a faithful apostle and servant of Christ, tell us much of his own reproaches and afflictions in . And isn’t it written plainly to Timothy that the only true standard by which a good minister is to be gauged is: “If thou shalt put the brethren in remembrance of these things thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained.” ( )
That then is the only calling of the minister of God. He must look for none other. He must feed the sheep of Christ in the green pastures of the truth. He must proclaim to them the whole counsel of God as revealed in the Scriptures. He is charged “before God and the Lord Jesus Christ to preach the Word; be instant in season and out of season, reprove, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” ( ) He must comfort the sick, strengthen the weak; lead the simple; admonish the erring; bring joy and peace to the sorrowing. And all of this he must do with the Word of God.
In realizing this charge unto the holy office three things are requisite for the minister.
1. He must love Christ! The love of Jesus constrains him! In that love is the love of Christ’s sheep whom he pastures and feeds. That love is then not a sentimental attachment of the pastor to his church, a bond of flesh, but it is the spiritual bond whereby pastor and flock are united in the spirit of truth. Love and truth always go together. ( ) Without the truth, love is impossible. For that reason the pastor is charged here also “to take the oversight of the flock.” He must rule them and in the love of Christ demand of them that they walk in the truth. That alone is love. And when there are those who will not heed, it is not love to leave them in the gutter of sin but, together with the elders, the pastor must apply the means of love to save them and administer the discipline of Christ.
Thus is the pastor charged “to love Christ and feed His sheep.”
2. The second requisite is that he must be diligent in the meditation and study of the Word of God. The form states: “Give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, meditate upon those things, give thyself wholly to them, that thy profiting may appear to all; take heed to thy doctrine, and continue steadfast therein.”
The pastor must be a student. A student of the Word! Only when he, himself, delves diligently and deeply into the riches of the Word will he bring forth treasurers for the church. Even as a good cook is diligent in preparing the food for the family, so a good pastor is diligent in preparing the spiritual meal of the church. And the church must not then think that her minister has nothing to do and has all kinds of time to loiter here and there. He does not! Not if he hears his charge. Not if he understands his calling. Oh, no! He must labor incessantly to prepare food that is wholly pure of the poisonous mixtures of deceit and falsehood.
3. And, finally, he “must patiently bear all suffering and oppressions as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” Suffer he surely will when he labors to faithfully execute such a charge. Opposition will continually arise from within his own sinful flesh as well as from without. Those that are carnal will withstand him and the reproaches of men will be heaped upon him because he refuses to accede to the modern clamours and trends.
He must stand fast. All this he must bear with patience and so also be an example unto the people of God in “word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. “Then his labor will not be grievous but will be joy in the Lord being performed in the assurance that “when the chief shepherd shall appear, he will receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.”
A solemn charge!
A difficult labor!
And a glorious end!
“Therefore, beloved brother, take heed to thy calling!”
The congregation, too, is charged by the Word of God. Most beautiful does the form of ordination express this and we must know it to be our individual calling to heed this exhortation and have it always before us as we walk among Gods people in the midst of the church. Then alone will decency, order and peace prevail in the congregation. Then our faith expressed in the thirtieth article of our Confession will not be a matter of dead letter but will be a living experience. There we read:
“Moreover, that this holy ordinance (concerning the offices in the church) of God may not be violated or slighted, we say that every one ought to esteem the ministers of God’s Word and the elders of the church, very highly for their work’s sake, and be at peace with them without murmuring, strife or contention as much as possible.”
This means that the minister (and elders too though at present we are discussing only the ordination of ministers) whom the church ordains to the office must be esteemed highly at all times by the church and that, not because of his person or because he is better or different or holier than other men, but alone because of the sanctity of the office in which he functions. And, the minister must know too, that his person cannot really be divorced from his work and that, therefore, should he at any time reveal himself as unworthy of the office, he at that time also looses the esteem and high regard of the congregation. This must inevitably be so because the respect of the congregation may never be to the person of the minister in separation from his office. They may never set him up on a pedestal and hold him in high reputation as a man. That would be idolatry, the worship of the creature. Rather, he must be esteemed highly for his work’s sake. As long, therefore, as he properly performs the work of his office, he must be held in that estimation.
This becomes plain further in the charge that is given to the church in the form for ordination. She is told to “receive her minister in the Lord with gladness.” (Underscore ours) She is exhorted “to hear and receive the word which God speaks through him” and that that word is then not to be received as “the word of man” but “as the word of God Himself”. Understand, too, that the church must desire to hear nothing from her minister but the Word of God and require of him nothing other than that he bring them that Word as an ambassador of Jesus Christ. The church must certainly be able to discern between the Word of God and the word of man and the former she is duty bound to hear and heed while the latter she must reject. For she is charged “to be submissive to that Word, obeying them that have the rule over her because they watch over her souls as those that must give account.”
From all this it should be evident what the calling of every member of the church is. Christ Jesus has instituted the office of the ministry of the word in the church. Through men whom He places in that office it pleases Christ to speak unto His church and to reveal unto her His holy will. To that revelation she must be attentive and walk according to it without murmuring and complaining. To the rule and government of the church that is according to that revelation she must always be submissive.
Doing this joyfully “the peace of God shall enter your house.” Likewise upon the rebellious and disobedient abides the wrath of God. But the congregation, walking in relation to the ministry of the Word according to her solemn charge, lives in the assurance of hope. Through the Word which she hears and heeds she receives an ever increasing assurance of the reward of the eternal inheritance which shall be hers and wherein all things shall forever be harmonious with and in submission to the will of God in Jesus our Lord.
Congregation, that is a holy calling!
And also a difficult way accompanied by much tribulation!
But the end thereof is certain! Eternal life through Christ!
And so, the exhortations to the minister and the church are concluded with this beautiful confession: “Since no man is of himself fit for any of these things, let us call upon God with thanksgiving.”
Pray about it! Fervently!
That we ministers and churches, through the grace and Holy Spirit of Christ may hear and heed with all faithfulness the solemn exhortations unto our calling.
G. Vanden Berg