The first difficulty met by most young ministers and workers is in regard to their call. Unless the call be clear and definite, they are likely to be in some doubt as to whether or not they are called, and thus be exposed to the temptations of the enemy that God has not called them at all. Sometimes God makes a call so clear that it is beyond question, and the one called has no chance to doubt it for a moment. This was my experience at first; but when I got my mind filled with other plans, instead of keeping in view the past leadings of the Lord, sad to say, I began to doubt my call. But when I began again to seek God's will, everything cleared up, and I felt certain of my call.
Many others have difficulties right on this point. They feel led to do something for the Lord, and undertake to follow the leadings of his Spirit, but they do not feel the presence of God as they expected to feel it, or do not have the liberty that they think they should have. Then comes the temptation, "Has God called me, or am I trying to push out without any calling?" If they are very conscientious, it is easy for them to become confused when confronted with this temptation. They will pray over it and trouble over it. They are very timid and feel afraid to ask older workers lest what they have supposed to be a call is an imagination of their own and they will get a good sharp rebuke. They will struggle along in this condition until it becomes unbearable; then perhaps they will open their hearts to some person in whom they have confidence. If they get the proper instruction, they can soon be lifted out of this dilemma; but if not, they may do as some have done before -- get so confused that they will lose the grace of God out of their souls.
My advice would be: If you have any idea that you are called, go to exercising yourself as best you can, whether it be in exhortation, teaching, or testimony, or whatever God brings most clearly to your mind. If you are not sure about your calling, in the meantime be patient and wait on God. Be sure you cast your burden entirely on him and let him bear it for you. If God's hand is on you for service, you will sooner or later be perfectly satisfied as to what he wants you to do; but if it should be otherwise, and you are honest of heart, you will be only too glad to know that you are not called. Thus your mind will be relieved.
If you are exercising yourself in spiritual things and no one is getting any benefit, you should take time to consider well whether God is calling you or not. I verily believe that if God's hand is on any one for service, whether he be a beginner or some one of experience, some will get a blessing when he teaches, exhorts, or delivers a message, because with his Word, God gives the anointing of his Spirit. "But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal" (1 Corinthians 12:7). According to the Word, then, we can safely say that if there is no profit to the hearers in what is being set forth, God's Spirit is not inditing the message.
A young worker who was doubtful about his call, once went to an older brother for advice. This is what he received: "If you feel that God wants you to go out into evangelistic work, go right along, even if you are not sure that God is calling you. Go along, and then if you have success, you will know it is your own efforts and trust in God that has brought success, and not the efforts and faith of another. By following this plan you can easily determine whether or not God's hand is on you for the work."
Now, the method the brother proposed might succeed in some cases all right, but I hardly think it would do in all cases, as all are not led out alike. One of my brothers, when he was first called, felt led to be with me in the work, that God might make me more useful by his presence. He did not comprehend at all that God's hand was on him for service, but later God began to lead him out and to use and bless his efforts. By and by God got him to the point where he could reveal to him his future work. At first my brother hardly knew what to do. He was at a place where he had to fulfil his calling or else grieve God. He chose the former course, and God made him a useful minister, but his development was gradual.
If you begin exercising yourself in the ministry, and God does not bless your efforts, and God's children do not realize that his Spirit is working through you, you would do well to go slowly and to keep submitted to the brethren, lest you should find yourself running ahead of the leadings of the Spirit of the Lord. If God is leading a young worker out for service, he not only will make him feel sooner or later the weight of the call, but will so impress the church that they will know that God is inditing his message.
When you once get it definitely settled that you are called to the ministry, never allow the difficulties and trials of this life so to cloud your vision that you doubt your call. It is one of the tricks of the enemy by trials and discouragement to make the ministers doubt their calling. When your call is once settled, do not go over it again and again to find out whether God is in earnest about it. If you should backslide, of course, then you should wait until God makes clear his will to you again. If a person is not stable in his experience, even though he has had a call to service, that call does not remain so clear and God does not always trust him at once after his recovery from his unsettled state.
Some young workers who feel clear that God has called them to service, try to measure their call by what others think of it. Such a course will bring on confusion. It is all right to be submissive to the brethren, but the Lord wants each of us to get his own bearings. Pray through until you get the mind of God, and at the same time be subordinate to the brethren. If they see it is not best for you to move out rapidly, heed what they tell you.
Be sure to keep your own individuality. If you feel that God has shown you a duty, do it in his fear, in a humble, submissive way. God may be leading you, and yet he may not be making his design very clear to others. There may be many difficulties in your way, such as bashfulness, want of fluent speech, awkwardness of manner, and ignorance. If, however, God has called you, and you keep submissive to him, he will in his own way bring out his design in you. Whatever your hands find to do, do it with your might. One has said, "Instant obedience is the secret of divine guidance."
Some young workers become discouraged if they are not used extensively. You need not conclude, however, that because the Lord does not give you a message often, he does not want to use you at all. Keep submitted and obey God. If God is leading you into evangelistic work, move out. If many souls are saved, be thankful; but if few are saved, still be thankful. Obey God. Do all that he shows you to do, and expect souls to be saved. Pray earnestly that God may convict souls. Pray through until you know that God is going to work with you for the salvation of mankind. Be so true, so humble, and so faithful, and so fill your calling by the help of God, that you can say with Paul, "I magnify mine office."
During my evangelistic labors I have come to places where from a natural standpoint the prospect was so discouraging and the religious confusion of the people so great that, if we could not have interceded with God for help, it would have been useless for us to remain. When we went to God in earnest prayer, however, and plead with him for souls, God never disappointed us. Many times we have had our greatest victories where the prospects seemed especially discouraging.
As we have already said, a definite call is the first essential for a gospel worker; but even with such a call a minister will fail, unless he goes forth filled with the Spirit. You may have a call, you may really be sent by the Lord; but unless you keep filied with the Spirit, your labors will soon cease to bring results. Do not try to imitate the manner and methods of others, but keep yourself so submitted to God and so pliable in his hands that he can have his way with you, even as the potter does with the clay.
Let God mold and fashion you into a vessel after his own design.
Again, do not neglect to search the Scriptures. Under the illumination of the Holy Spirit, the Scriptures will prove a mine of wealth to you. Education is all right in its place; but when you lean upon it as a means of understanding the Scriptures, or when you depend upon it for unction and liberty and for ability to teach, preach, or exhort, you will make a sad failure. You will disappoint yourself, the people, and God.
Do not question your calling because you have a poor education. Make good use of your present opportunities. Read good books. Get all the help and information you can in regard to soul-saving, but be careful you do not lean on your education for soul-unction. Many a time the Lord has called my attention to this thought before I rose to address an audience. Again and again he has reminded me to be sure not to depend upon myself, but to lean always on him, to drink in of his Spirit, so that I might give out to others. Human speech fails me in trying to bring out the importance of this thought. I trust that God will interpret my thought to your heart in a more forceful manner than words will allow.
Thus far I have been speaking mainly to young workers in the early part of their ministry. Now I wish to say a few words that will be helpful to them as they grow older in the service. If you are fully persuaded that God has chosen you as his mouthpiece to declare the everlasting gospel to eternity-bound souls, you should feel the weight of your responsibility. A very weighty responsibility rests upon him who stands between the living and the dead. The attitude a minister holds, both toward his call also toward the Word of God, and also toward the people, is of vital importance. No better instruction to ministers has ever been given than that which Paul gave to Timothy: "I charge thee, therefore, before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering, and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears" (2 Timothy 4:1-3).
The admonition to preach the word implies that what goes forth from the pulpit should be in harmony with the Scriptures, backed up by the Spirit of God. Do not give the people theories nor illustrate your speech by fabulous stories. Do not dwell too much with the surface problems of Christianity, but spend more time in leading the people to a deep heart-experience. If they get the inner man right its beauty will shine out through their entire being. In short, speak to the people the oracles of God, so that if they are at all susceptible to the truth, your speech will appeal to them as the Word of God spoken through your lips of clay.
In preaching, guard against relating many touching incidents merely to work up the human sympathy. We have to deal with the hearts of men as well as with their minds and judgments. Any one that has a love for God's pure word will find in it a force and power that will have a good effect when it is presented in simple and plain language under the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
In preaching on some subjects, it is necessary to have a large number of texts, but ministers make a mistake who think that they must make every sermon a Bible-reading. The use of too many scriptures confuses the listeners; it is often better to concentrate the attention of the hearers on one text until its full meaning is mastered. At the proper time Bible-lessons are in order, but the admonition, "Preach the word," does not mean that you are to read a large number of scriptures, but merely that you should present the Word of God as paramount to everything else. The ministry of Babylon have fed their people with much worldliness mixed together with a small portion of the Word of God. For this reason God's people scattered in Babylon have not fared well. At meeting their intellects would be fed, but their souls would be starved.
You can not, however, feed others until your own soul is fed. This is done by searching the Scriptures and by praying much. If it is laid upon any one more than another to search the Scriptures, it is laid upon God's ministry, whom he has set apart to teach his Word and to feed his people. It is good to read God's Word slowly and carefully, to meditate upon it, to read it in different ways, by course, by subject. After reading a small portion, take time to dwell upon it, to pray over it, until it has become your own, not only as a possession of your mind, but also as a soul-experience.
If you depend thus upon the Spirit of the Lord, he will give you new messages for the people. God gives his ministers many things that are good to repeat again and again, especially to different audiences; but a repetition of old thoughts many times in the same congregation is too much like serving warmed-over food. It lacks appetizing qualities. Something fresh from the Spirit of the Lord will make the people hungry to hear more of the word, and will make the word charming to their souls. When the minister gets a message direct from the Spirit, then presents it under the anointing of the Spirit, it will have beauty, sweetness, and a freshness that no power of mere human words, no trick of oratory, nor beauty of illustration, can give. If you will bear this in mind and drink of the Spirit before you come before your congregation, give the Lord a chance to use you as an avenue through which to speak, you will be a success in your calling.
To be a New Testament minister, you must be able to exhibit at least some of the gifts of the Spirit.
These are yours by right of your calling. Paul says, "But rather that ye should prophesy." Without this special insight into the Scriptures and power to present them to others, you will not be able to fulfil your calling as a mouthpiece of the Spirit.
Before laying special stress on the gifts, however, you would do well to see that you are filled with the Spirit. Remember that the gifts are as the fruits and the Spirit as the tree. One who has not the Spirit can not bear the fruit. Do not try to substitute the gifts of the Spirit for spirituality. Covet earnestly the best gifts. Nevertheless, you should be careful that you do not try by your own human efforts to obtain the gifts, instead of earnestly seeking the Lord for their bestowal. By undue human efforts, many have obtained the manifestation of a false spirit, which they have placed on exhibition as the genuine.
Paul said to Timothy, "Be instant in season." To do this you must keep close in touch with the Lord and let him be your wisdom, yea, your all. Paul said further, "Be instant out of season." This expression has been puzzling to many young ministers. If you will watch to do good and to lift up Christ at every possible opportunity, your chance for doing good will increase. Sometimes there will seem to be no opportunity, no open door; then you must open the door yourself. Go in and do what you can for souls. Sometimes what you do will seem altogether out of season. Later, however, you may see that God's blessing was upon your labors and that some soul has received a benefit.
"Reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine." In order to be able to do this according to the Word of God, you will have to live a life above reproach, or your rebukes and reproofs will come back upon your own head, when rebuking and reproving, long-suffering is very needful. As a rule, people will not take the truth all at once. Paul said to Timothy in another place, "Consider what I say, and the Lord give thee understanding in all things." With what carefulness a minister must speak when he comes in contact with those who have not yet fallen in love with the truth. One word spoken unwisely may forever shut the door of salvation for some eternity-bound soul.
The last word in this admonition should not be forgotten: "with all long-suffering and doctrine." Doctrine has a very important place. Mistakes have been made in preaching the Word. Sometimes it is all doctrine and no experience; sometimes it is all experience and no doctrine.
Paul said to Titus, "But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine." And to Timothy: "Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.... Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them, for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee." Paul's words seem to show that the doctrines of the New Testament are of vital importance. For example, we should understand the doctrine of repentance and justification, of sanctification, of divine healing, of the one body, and of every other subject connected with our eternal interest. If a minister keeps the church well grounded in the doctrine of the New Testament, he will in a large measure forestall the possibility of their being seduced by false spirits and of giving place to doctrines of devils.
But to know the doctrine means more than to gain a mental knowledge of it. No minister is properly equipped to teach justification or sanctification until he has an actual heart-experience. As the minister presents the truth on these doctrines, the Spirit of the Lord should bear definite witness to his possession of these graces, so that he can present the truth definitely from an experimental standpoint. Then he will not say, "I think it is so and so," or "I guess it is this way or that," but he can speak with authority.
"Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught that he may be able by sound doctrine, both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers" (Titus 1:9). God's Word on any point, illuminated by the Spirit, brings out sound doctrine. It is certain that we can not improve on the Word. We may give illustrations which are good in their place, but these can not improve on the Word. We may give illustrations which are good in their place, but these [words missing] of God's Spirit, knowing that we have the experience in ourselves, God can so impress our teachings upon our hearers that it will be difficult to ever get them mixed up in doctrine.
"Sound speech, that can not be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you" (Titus 2:8). Our speech in the pulpit should be of such a nature that it will appeal to the hearers. Foolishness, lightness, jesting, indulged in by the minister while preaching the everlasting gospel, is entirely out of place. Nor does this admonition apply entirely to the pulpit, but at all times, under all circumstances, a minister should be an example to the flock. Only thus can we ministers expect to obey God and fulfil our calling and accomplish God's will in the salvation of the world.
Those who are young in the ministry should not get discouraged because they have not fully comprehended and practised the different things herein set forth. The older ministers should encourage the young to do all they know of God's will and to trust him to make his will plainer and clearer. Young minister, you should encourage yourself. You should be patient under the molding and fashioning hand of God, trusting him so to fasten these truths upon your heart and mind that it will be as natural to practise them as it is to breathe. If we as ministers are humble enough, God can get to the people through us what he wants the people to hear. If we would but be patient under God's controlling power and let him work out in us his own good pleasure, we should have less trouble and there would be fewer mistakes to be cleared up. Our lives should be living epistles, known and read of all men, so that when the world reads our lives, they will read the Bible.
It is very essential to the welfare of the minister as well as to the welfare of the church that the ministers treat each other with special courtesy and consideration. The mere act of a young minister in taking an easy seat and leaving some older brother or sister in the ministry to sit in an uncomfortable place, and other similar acts of discourtesy, will have a bad effect upon the congregation. Many times young ministers hold an irreverent attitude toward older ones. They should consider them as their seniors and as fathers in the gospel. Older ministers, too, should act as fathers in the gospel and show all consideration and kindness when giving advice and admonition to the younger brethren. Before approaching a younger worker to admonish or instruct him, you who are older in the gospel work, should wait carefully before God in prayer for what to say. You should call to mind the testings, trials, and experiences of your younger days in the ministry. If you keep these fully in mind and speak to the young ministers as you would have wished some one to speak to you in your early days, you can save your younger brethren in the ministry many heartaches and trials. If approached in this way, they are much more likely to heed your warnings and your advice.
Young people are apt to think that if a road appears fair before them it is safe to travel. Sometimes in the path that seems so open to you, the older ones see pitfalls and dangers. If you will but be cautioned by those who are more experienced, you will be saved many trials and heartaches. Again, young ministers are sometimes very timid and do not exercise themselves in spiritual things as they should, especially in the presence of their elders. When this occurs, both the older and younger ministers should do all they can to remedy the trouble. The older ministers should encourage the younger to do their duty, and the younger should lean on God for the help they need, and should move out, even when they have to go with fear and trembling.
Dear young fellow worker, if you want to make a success of your calling, keep close to the Savior; keep in touch with him at all times. Do not let your mind drift away on things that are not for your good. Let your meditation be such that your soul will be stored with truths that will be helpful to give out to others.
The subject of our thoughts has much to do with our speech and determines whether our words will be wholesome to present to the people. The apostle gives very definite instructions on this point. "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things" (Philemon 4:8). Let your mind dwell upon God, upon his plan, upon his goodness and his mercy, then the Lord will have a chance to impress these things upon your soul more clearly than they can be impressed in any other manner.
With your meditation, combine secret prayer. As you meditate, talk with God and let God talk with you. To have a good conversation with a friend, you must not do all the talking, but must give your friend an opportunity to talk also. Likewise, when you are talking with God, give him a chance to reveal precious thoughts to your soul. Give him a chance to fill your inner being with heaven's sweetness. If God fills your heart with the riches of heaven, then you can give out that richness and blessing to others; then you can be the means of arousing in your hearers a hungering for the good things of God, and they will come again to hear the Word of the Lord.
Now, as I bring to a close this brief sketch of my life history, I realize that, like this story, my active work in the ministry is near its close. Although my body is well spent and the weight of years is somewhat heavy upon me, yet the divine fire still glows on the altar of my heart, and my interest in gospel work is not diminished. In the few years that may still remain to me of my earthly pilgrimage, I shall take a lively interest in those young brothers and sisters whom God has called to take the places of us who are being compelled to retire from active service.
I shall watch with interest the work of the ministry, not only as individuals but as a body. I shall hope and pray that you who are now stepping into the ranks as workers for the Lord will avoid many mistakes that we older ministers have made. If this little volume points out any pitfalls that should be avoided or any pleasant paths that your feet may walk in with safety; if it encourages you to trust the Lord more fully for all things and inspire you to place yourself more fully in his hands for service, it will have accomplished the purpose of the author.
Our salvation was purchased by the suffering and death of Christ. The salvation of the world will be brought about only through our suffering and soul-travail. "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy." "As soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children." "He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him."
Remember that without trials you can not have triumphs. Paul says something about enduring hardness like good soldiers, thus recognizing the fact that hardness is the portion of a good soldier. If you are a worthy minister, you are sure to endure hardness, buffeting, persecution, and perils by false brethren; but, thank God, through all these you can be more than conqueror, and look forward to the final reward. Paul says, "I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us."
THE REFINER'S FIRE
He sat by a fire of seven-fold heat,
He knew he had ore that could stand the test,
So he laid our gold in the burning fire,
And the gold grew brighter and yet more bright,
Yet our gold shone out with a richer glow,
Can we think that it pleases His loving heart
So He waited there with a watchful eye,