Every Seventh-day Adventist young man is called and expected to be a witness for God—but not everyone is called to the gospel ministry. A young man might and should possess a burning passion for the lost. He may and should find the work of the ministry intriguing because of its unique place in the work of the church. He may and should feel constrained to prepare himself for personal or even public soul winning. He may or should revel in sacred literature. But these, all commendable qualities in the young, virile Seventh-day Adventist Christian, do not in themselves constitute a call to the ministry.
I have felt burdened to express my soul on this vital matter in this first written approach to our theological students. The over-all picture of the armylike enrollment this fall in our college ministerial departments throughout the Americas and overseas is more than heartening. Among the many eager enrollees this year, and in increasing numbers, are veterans of experience, in their later twenties and early thirties. For these especially, decisions in the matter of lifework cannot long be delayed.
Add to this picture the precipitous world emergency with prophecy after prophecy writing out the word finis to all things. In speaking of this time, the Spirit of prophecy warns that millions soon must decide the all-important issue between truth and error. Is it, then, time wasted to discuss clearly and faithfully the counsel regarding God's appointed means of calling young men to the ranks of the ministry?
More is involved in this matter than choosing a course. Project yourself into the future. Listen to the searching question placed upon the candidate for ordination—that sacred service where man verifies what God has already done. "Do you trust that you are inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon you this office and ministration, to serve God for the promoting of His glory, and the edifying of His people?"
We must then face the question—"Is a divine call imperative?" In counseling frankly with our ministerial students I have found that some are quite unable to recall any definite proof of a call from above. In fact, some have no clear idea why they are preparing for the ministry, and are hopelessly confused as to any driving objective in their present course or at the end of it.
Now I am quite sure that the majority of young men will hear no unnatural voice, nor will they find a strange phenomenon surrounding their summons. Rather, I believe, that God will basically appeal to a man's soul and endeavor to draw out his highest nature, thus saying, "Son, go work today in My vineyard." It will be the internal work of the Holy Spirit. When a man receives such an experience he will know it, and will inevitably reach the ministry.
The Scriptures answer your question as to why a divine call to the ministry is imperative. Old Testament prophets were all called of God —Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and others. All twelve of the apostles and both Paul and Timothy seemed clearly to comprehend a divine commission. They write freely about it. In fact, they offer the record of their call as their credentials and make no apologies.
Some prayerful thought might well be given to the words of Hebrews 5:14. Of the Aaronic priesthood it is said: "And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God." Is not the minister called an ambassador (one officially chosen) ? Do not the Scriptures speak of a man's having received his "ministry" or having it "committed" to him?
History bears the same testimony. Nations were moved for God through the lives and ' preaching of "called" men. From Whitefield's very first sermon, when fifteen were driven to the agony of conviction, to that last night in Newburyport, "weary in his Master's work but not of it," it is said that as many as a thousand letters came to Whitefield in one week from those distressed in conscience under his preaching. Luther, Latimer, Knox, Wesley, and a host of others demonstrate the working of a divine plan. In the rise of this movement there has been a host of men so singularly used of God that it is difficult to believe that these men took the mantle of responsibility without the consciousness of providential leading.
Would it not please God to call from the ranks of youth in the remnant church divinely appointed men to do a work mightily in this last day, far exceeding the scope and power of these worthy examples? God is looking for another Whitefield, another Spurgeon.
How then can a man be sure whether or not he has a call from God? There is no precise method or way by which every experience can be measured, and at times we must confess failure to recognize the gift. But in the privacy of your own soul you can tell. There are some things concerning the matter which can be confidently stated, and we believe it wise to weigh one's desire by these factors.
Qualifications to Look For
1. An intense desire.—First of all, there must be an intense desire. This may or may not be apparent early in life. It may be recognized after conversion. In some cases it has been known to come during late academy or high school years. For reasons known only to God some remarkable divinely appointed decisions are made in the atmosphere of college life. It may be a driving conviction with some; with others, it may be sincere and earnest thought over the matter, from which the soul cannot loose itself. But it is always persistent.
We are much impressed with the experience of radio's Dr. I.Q. (James McClain). You may remember the printed account of his call to the gospel ministry about two years ago. Seldom have I heard or read of a more typical example of how God calls men, even though it is an experience outside our ranks. One day, to his surprise, a strange desire to enter the gospel ministry came over him. He tried to turn the thought aside as a passing fancy, but found himself unable to do it.
It preyed so upon his mind that he suggested the ministry to his wife one evening, expecting her to make light of the thought. She did not, but simply remarked, "If you feel God is leading you, that's where you ought to be." One evening he was seated in his living room wrapped in earnest contemplation over this newborn conviction and secretly wishing to be released from it. The radio, at the time, was tuned in to a program of preaching, of the emotional shouting order. His little boy, playing on the floor, spoke up, "Daddy, if you was a preacher you could preach gooder than that."
McClain was thus again jolted into realizing that he was being surrounded with influences leading him into a field of endeavor of God's choosing. He called in his pastor and spoke of his convictions. This godly man did not urge, but laid before him the circumstances in God's leading. Mr. McClain found himself bound about with these new developments. He finally surrendered to them and is now attending a theological seminary, carrying on his radio work to pay expenses.
A number of years ago a talented young couple accepted this message, and made arrangements at great sacrifice to attend one of our colleges to prepare for medical missionary work—a commendable choice. The young man pursued this course for two years, but with occasional misgivings. These misgivings grew to open dissatisfaction. He mentioned the matter to his wife, who did not commit herself but prayed earnestly that God would impress one of the Bible teachers to speak with him about it, if he ought to change his course. That very day he was approached by one of the Bible teachers who said, "Mr. _________ , I have been thinking for some time that you are cut out for the gospel ministry." It is amazing how quickly this young man's thinking, studies, and life were changed. Inside of six weeks no man could convince him that he had made a mistake, so overwhelming was the evidence on every hand that God was leading.
If some young man says to me, "I ought," I listen and counsel. If he later says, "I want," I feel reasonably sure that soon he will say, "Please God, I will."
2. Without physical blemish.—When listing the duties and responsibility of the Seventh-day Adventist minister there is reason to exclaim, "Who is sufficient for all these things ?" Perhaps physical qualifications, so often overlooked, should be stated as important here, for a minister must be prepared to "endure hardness." It has been said, and with some truth, that a man uses more nervous energy in preaching an alert, soul-stirring message than a working man uses in six to eight hours.
Although preaching is the great task, it is by no means all we have to do. Lionel Crocker, a recognized authority in public speaking, and himself a Baptist preacher, emphasizes the need of "body tone" to undergird the preacher's tremendous responsibility.
A man might sincerely question whether God is calling him to the ministry if he has a voice defect or is hampered by some pronounced bodily infirmity. I speak of this qualification tenderly, for many a lad with serious physical problems has been keenly disappointed to find this to be a block to his ambitions. While any one such factor may not be the deciding issue, yet it is a matter of concern. For when God called the prophets of old, He chose them without physical blemish. We understand that the Catholic Church holds rigidly to this rule. While we cannot urge an ironclad decision in the matter, we cannot help kindly warning a young man who is physically handicapped to at least take wide counsel before entering or continuing his ministerial training. And may God grant that in so sacred a matter this counsel be frank and loving.
—To be continued in December