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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
American Baptist Publication Society
From The Baptist Manual, 1849
Permit us, dear brethren, to ask your attention to a subject, which yields not, in point of importance, to any other connected with your duties and your welfare. We need say nothing concerning the rank which the Christian ministry occupies among the means by which the Saviour's kingdom is to be spread through the earth. Nor need we inform you, that the number of faithful ministers is now inadequate to supply our churches at home, while there are many fields in our own land which are white unto the harvest, and heathen countries appeal to us, by their crimes and miseries, to send them the messengers of salvation.
It appears to us that this deficiency of ministers must be attributed to a neglect of duty on the part of the churches. We cannot suppose that God is inattentive to the wants of his church and of the world, and purposely withholds a competent supply of ministers.
Wrong notions, it is believed, exist concerning the nature of a call to the ministry, and in regard to the duty of the churches to seek out and foster ministerial talent.
We firmly believe that no man ought to enter into the ministry, whom God has not called to the service. But the question is, how is the call of God to be ascertained? That a miraculous intimation of his will is to be expected, no rational man, at the present day, believes. This will must, then, be learned from the feelings which the Holy Spirit produces in the mind of the Individual himself; from the gifts of heart and of intellect with which he is endowed; from the course of providence, and from other circumstances.
Two things are necessary to prove a call to the ministry to be from God. The first is that the individual possess a sincere desire to be thus employed. He must feel a strong concern for the glory of God, and for the salvation of men. His heart must be moved with desires to proclaim the love of Christ to dying sinners, and to persuade them to be reconciled to God.
He must feel such an impulse of soul towards this point —such a concentration of his thoughts and affections —that he cannot, with a quiet mind, engage in any other employment. He must be willing to part with prospects of emolument, and to forego all worldly advantages, for the sake of his Saviour and of his fellow men. These are some of the feelings which will occupy the heart of a man, whom God designs for the ministry. Of these feelings the individual himself is the only judge, because he alone can determine whether they are sincere, strong and permanent.
But another necessary thing is that he possess suitable gifts. We mean not, that be must be qualified immediately to preach, because no man is qualified to preach with profit, until his mind has been furnished with adequate knowledge, and he has learned how to communicate that knowledge. By suitable gifts we mean a sound understanding, a capacity and a desire to learn, an aptitude to teach, a reasonable degree of ability to be useful to his fellow men as a minister, when his mind shall have been cultivated as much as circumstances may allow.
Of these points, the individual is not a competent judge. His brethren must judge for him. The church has thus a duty to perform. She ought to watch the character and conduct of her young men. An individual, whom God designs for the ministry, will usually show the bent of his disposition, by his zeal for the support of Sabbath schools, by his pertinent exhortations in the conference room, and by his prayers in social meetings.
If the ministerial spirit exists within him, it will find occasion to display itself; and in most cases, a church is convinced of the call of a young man to the ministry as soon as he is himself, and sometimes sooner. In such cases as this, it is the duty of pastors, deacons, and other members of the church, to converse with such persons, to inquire concerning their feelings, and to give them all proper encouragement. If the individuals have themselves been thoughtful and anxious concerning their duty, such an affectionate and judicious conversation may remove their doubts, and confirm their decisions, by bringing in aid of their own convictions, the opinions of their brethren.
It is believed that a very different course is frequently pursued. Young men are left to struggle with their feelings without one word of advice or encouragement. The more modest they are, and therefore the more deserving of sympathy, the more reluctant they are to, disclose their feelings, lest they should be attributed to pride and presumption. Senses of unfitness, the greatness of the work, doubts concerning duty, all throng upon the mind, and often produce inconceivable distress which one word of kind sympathy and advice from a pastor or Christian friend would remove.
Many young men, it cannot be doubted, are overcome by these anxieties, doubts, and fears, and relinquish the thought of the ministry, who ought to preach the gospel. It is a mistake to suppose, that if it be a man's duty to preach, he will force his way through every obstacle. A man may neglect his duty to preach, as he may neglect any other duty; and he is the more liable to neglect this duty, because the conscientious mind will consider it as a far less sin to refuse to preach, though it be a duty, than to preach when it is not. If his doubts preponderate in the smallest degree, the mind of a conscientious man will be very liable to abandon the design; and thus the very best ministers may be lost to the church.
But if a young man surmounts his doubts and discouragements, and makes his case known to his brethren, he is sometimes treated with cold suspicion, and obstacles are thrown in his way on purpose to test the strength of his zeal. If, at last, by dint of perseverance, he forces the church to give him a license, so much time may have been wasted, that it is too late to enter upon the work with advantage.
There may be cases, too, in which a young man may not have thought of the ministry, who may nevertheless furnish evidence of piety, talents and zeal, which would make him useful as a minister. It is undoubtedly the duty of pastors and Christians to converse with such a person, in a judicious manner; to inquire respecting his feelings; to ask him if it is not his duty to preach the gospel; to urge him to reflect and pray on the subject; to invite him to speak and to pray in conference and prayer meetings, and thus give his mind a direction towards the object. No reason can be given, why it is not as much our duty to use the proper means in this case, as it is to persuade a sinner to be reconciled to God; and God may, in both cases, employ us as instruments to accomplish his will.
We think, brethren, that there has been, and still is, a failure in duty, on this subject, among our churches. We earnestly entreat you to think of these suggestions, and let your attention be more directed to the young men among you. Let not selfishness induce you to detain them from their duty. The cause of God needs ministers. Millions of our fellow men are dying every year, without any one to tell them of the love of Jesus. Let, then, every young man in our churches, inquire, with a prayerful heart, Is it not my duty to preach the gospel? Let every church be a faithful and affectionate nursing mother to the young servants to the Redeemer.
But, brethren, have we not neglected the yet more important duty, to pray for an increase of ministers. While we hold fast the belief, that God alone can call and qualify his true ministers, does not consistency, as well as piety, require us to offer continual and importunate prayer, that he will bestow on his churches the inestimable gift of faithful pastors and teachers, and commission a sufficient number of evangelists, who may preach the unsearchable riches of Christ in destitute places and in heathen countries? Our Saviour has said, with special emphasis, "Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest." (Luke 10:2)
Let us henceforth pray more for this blessing, and for help to perform the duty which has been insisted on in this tract. Thus may our efforts accompany our prayers, and God, even our own God will bless us, and grant us the desire of our hearts.