What is thine occupation?" An unusual text indeed! But it was this question that brought Jonah, the runaway prophet, to himself and restored him to his great commission.
The minister, in a sense, belongs to everybody. Many are the opinions about his work and how it ought to be done. John the Baptist was not popular with many of the people of his day. He was a stern ascetic and came neither eating nor drinking. But when Jesus came eating and drinking they said, "Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners." Matt. 11:19. Human nature has not changed one whit since those days, but we must never forget that preaching is "justified of her children."
Let us consider candidly some vital questions:
1. How Hard Shall a Minister Work?
This question often is asked but seldom answered satisfactorily. At a ministerial convention the younger ministers were urged by a seasoned preacher of the gospel to do their best work in sermon preparation before breakfast, preferably by seven o'clock in the morning. But one courageous young man got to his feet and stated that his greatest task in the morning was "getting out of bed." Our work pattern may not fit the next brother, and it is apparent that we can be criteria for nobody else. In the ministry no two men work alike in obtaining success. Each must work in his own harness.
2. How Often Shall a Minister Preach?
A high prelate of the Church of England recently, in addressing his fellow ministers of the gospel, said, "Don't preach more than one sermon a week. A saint might get by with two, but only a fool will preach three times." It is very apparent that that man is not an Adventist preacher! Half a dozen sermons a week is quite often the regular stint, and God sustains His workers. With all due respect, however, we hasten to add that the prelate's burden was that ministers preserve the quality of preaching, rather than that their program be eased.
3. What Is Expected of the Gospel Minister?
We quote from Macartney's Illustrations, page 232:
"If the minister has no wife, he certainly needs one. If he has one, he must have been handcuffed and blindfolded when he picked her out. If his wife knows how to dress, she is worldly. If she goes about in the style of the gay nineties, she is a disgrace to the congregation. If she speaks in the missionary association, she is trying to run the church. If she sings in the choir, she has a voice like a magpie.
"If the minister is quiet, dignified, and reserved, he is cold. If he goes about slapping men on the back and telling stories, he ought to have been a traveling salesman or president of the Kiwanis Club. If he preaches without notes, he is not deep enough. If he reads his sermons, he is too deep and dry. If he preaches on the great doctrines, he ought to preach practical sermons. If he preaches practical sermons, he ought to go down deeper and get hold of the great doctrines of the gospel. If he calls on the rich, he is a snob. If he calls on the poor, he is playing to the galleries. But still preaching will be justified of her children!" (Italics supplied.)
4. What Are Our Divine Credentials?
In one of the dramatic scenes of the Old Testament one of the patriots suddenly appeared before a tyrant saying, "/ have a message from God unto thee." Can we as ministers say the same as we mount the pulpit stairs on God's Sabbath day? There is a great difference in preachers who speak from God and those who speak from their education and learning. Should we ever speak at all without being sure that .we "have a message from God?"
A great evangelist requested that during his funeral sermon a call be made for sinners to repent. Ten thousand people were present. The speaker preached life and death to them all; he called sinners to re-, pent; he prayed for souls to be born again and for eternal results from that meeting. Then an altar call was made, and over eight hundred pressed forward giving their hearts to the Lord. Like Samson of old, of whom it is said that he slew more Philistines in his death than in life, this great preacher saved more in his death than on any single occasion in life. Never should a sermon be preached without appealing to the sinner's heart. The Holy Spirit will do the rest.
The authority of the preacher's message is the Word. If he takes his authority elsewhere, then he is no better and no higher than a news commentator or a Rotary Club lecturer. Let us be real Bible preachers. There is an unfortunate trend among us; too many sermons are being preached with just two or three Bible texts. One layman recently complained that a Sabbath morning service was preached without a single Bible text. He may have been dozing when the texts were used, though that is not the habit of this substantial lay brother who has been a real soul winner in his own right.
Some feel that if they had a great church, they could deliver great messages. But, brethren, our messages will be great only if we are on fire of the Holy Spirit, and if the central theme is great, which should ever be "Christ and Him crucified." That is the heart of the gospel. Not Christ the historic figure; not just Christ the eternal Son of God; not Christ the beautiful Spirit, or Christ the perfect Example; but Christ and Him crucified and risen again!
In a very old cathedral in France, at the base of the high pulpit, there is the statue of an angel. In his left hand is a tablet and in his right a pen. His eyes are lifted toward the sacred desk, as if waiting to hear and to write what the minister will say. Let us be sure that what we say is a message from God! Let us be true to our divine credentials!
Soul Winners Will Be Very Close to God's Throne
One man dreamed he saw the judgment scene. The angel of the book brought a soul to the throne of God, and God said, "Who comes and what are his claims?" The angel said this was a great inventor who had shed light on the pathway of men. Said God, "Let him stand by Uriel, the angel of light." Another was brought before the Lord of heaven and earth. Said the angel, "This man was a great thinker, and thought great thoughts after you, O Lord." "Let him stand by Raphael, the angel of reason," said the Lord. Then they brought a patriot who with his sword had delivered a nation from the oppression of a tyrant. Said the Lord, "Set him by the side of Michael, the angel of the sword," and that was a very great honor. Then came a singer in Zion, whose songs had made the weary church of God on earth revive again. Said the Lord, "Set him by Gabriel, the angel of song." A very signal honor. Then they brought a man of no distinction, no light of genius in his eye, no commanding bearing. Said the Lord, "What has he done and what are his claims?" The angel replied, "This man brought a soul back to God." And such a shout went up that the domes of heaven rang again as angels, archangels, cherubim and seraphim, and all the host of the redeemed rejoiced over one soul that had been reclaimed. And when the man looked again, this soul winner was stand ing as close to the throne of God as he could.
"God's faithful messengers are to seek to carry forward the Lord's work in His appointed way. They are to place themselves in close connection with the Great Teacher, that they may be daily taught of God. They are to wrestle with God in earnest prayer for a baptism of the Holy Spirit, that they may meet the needs of a world perishing in sin. ... As the servants of God bear to the world a living message fresh from the throne of glory, the light of truth will shine forth as a lamp that burneth, reaching to all parts of the world." Testimonies to Ministers, p. 459.
God help us ever to be aware of our high calling, and may we live and work as being worthy of this great appointment!