[Note.—E. D. Dick, president of the Theological Seminary, recently requested Elder Haynes to give the students and faculty of the Seminary the benefit of his experience and observations over a period of fifty years in the ministry. The most important part of his first lecture follows.—Editors]
No man who is alive and awake and possesses powers of observation can engage actively in this ministry for fifty years without arriving at most positive and pronounced convictions regarding many things connected with the work of God. I have such convictions.
First, I wish to make some observations regarding the very first, the foundational, thing of the Christian ministry, the divine call to this sacred work. It is my opinion, supported, I believe, by the teaching of Scripture, that no man should take this office of himself, that no man should assay to engage in this sacred work, without a sense of conviction that he is divinely called to do it.
It is of momentous importance that this be settled first, that a man should know himself to be called of God to preach His Word. Into this sheepfold, as into the church itself, there is a "door," and there is, as well, "some other way." A man may enter, and many a man has entered, the ministry as the result of purely personal and secular calculation. He may take up the ministry merely as he would any one of the professions, choosing it rather than law, or medicine, or teaching, or science, or accounting, or as a means of earning a living, or just to evade, temporarily, the military draft. He may have no consciousness of "a call." He makes his own decision. He calls himself. But, "God is not in all his thoughts."
I repeat that with me there is a profound conviction that before any man dares to enter the Christian ministry to make it his lifework, he must have the assurance that he has been chosen and is being imperatively constrained by the Eternal God. The call of the Eternal must reverberate through the corridors of his soul until all other sounds are muted. His choice of the ministry is not a preference among alternatives. There is no alternative. All other choices have become impossibilities.
This matter must be settled at the very beginning of a man's ministry. Otherwise he is headed for disaster, even despair. If there is no sense of a divine call, no certainty that he has been put into the ministry by God, the absence of this conviction will undermine his sense of responsibility and tend to secularize his ministry from beginning to end.
Without this sense of divine vocation he will be without support when days of depression and trial come. Such days do come to every ministering servant of God, whether he has been truly called or not. If he has been called, and knows it, he is prepared to pass through these hard experiences without disaster; if he has not been called, and knows that, he has no such preparation, and is likely to make shipwreck of faith and become a castaway.
To the ancient priests God said, "I have given your priest's office unto you as a service of gift: and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death" (Num. 18:7).
To men who presume to take holy office upon themselves without a divine call, the Lord declares, "I never sent the prophets, yet they ran; I never spoke to them, and yet they prophesied" (Jer. 23:21, Moffatt*).
"I am against the prophets who recount lying dreams, leading my people astray with their lies and their empty pretensions, though I never sent them, never commissioned them" (Jer. 23:32, Moffatt*).
Various Means of Calling Men
It is not my purpose to convey the thought—for it is something I do not believe—that every man called of God to preach must be called in identically the same manner. That is not true. Indeed, in the records of Scripture no two men called of God were called in a similar way. Their circumstances were all different. It seems plain that by the very uniqueness of each man's call the Lord designs to honor human individuality. Widely varied are the backgrounds through which the Divine Voice determines the vocations of the servants of God, as these are recorded in Scripture.
As illustrations of the various ways God uses to call men to His service, look at three of those thus called—Amos, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. How very differently God sent His call to each of these!
Amos, a poor herdsman, shut away from the high level of governmental affairs at the headquarters of his nation, excluded from the social circles that controlled civil affairs. Nevertheless, Amos brooded deeply and solitarily far out on the meager pastures of Tekoa. Rumors of dark doings in the high places of the kingdom reached him. He heard of appalling corruption, great wealth, prodigality, luxury, callousness, injustice, and of truth that was "fallen in the streets." These things disturbed him. And as the poor herdsman, the gatherer of sycamore fruit, mused, "the fire burned." Then on those solitary wastes he heard a mysterious call, saw a beckoning hand. As he later relates his experiences to Amaziah, the priest who ordered him out of the country, his wards are: "I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet's son; but I was an herd-man, and a gatherer of sycomore fruit: and the Lord took me as I followed the flock, and the Lord said unto me, Go, prophesy" (Amos 7:14). For Amos there was no alternative.
Wholly different are the circumstances and background connected with God's call to Isaiah. Here is a man who is a friend of kings, at home in courtly circles, moving easily in palaces. Look at the medium with which the divine call sounds to him. "In the year that king Uzziah died I saw . . . the Lord" (Isa. 6:1). Isaiah knew Uzziah. He had pinned his hopes on the king. Now the strong pillar was fallen. Uzziah was dead. The throne was empty. But on that empty throne Isaiah discovered Jehovah. The human pillar had fallen; the pillar of the universe remained. "In the year that king Uzziah died I saw . . . the Lord." Although Isaiah mourned the fall of the king, he looked up and saw a King greater than Uzziah, and heard His call to service, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" (verse 8).
One man fallen; another man wanted. That call smote the heart and the conscience of Isaiah. At once he had found his vocation and his destiny. Immediately he knew his work, and without hesitation he responded: "Here am I; send me."
Different again, entirely different, are the circumstances and background connected with the call to Jeremiah. A young man just facing life, with many uncertainties, in a most uncertain time, with widespread forebodings regarding the future, with all his world in great tumult, suddenly hears the voice of God say to him: "Before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet" (Jer. 1:5). Here was no uncertainty, it was a clear call, and it was greatly feared, and reluctantly accepted.
Thus every call of God has its own uniqueness. No two are alike. I am not contending for similarity of method, but rather certainty that the call is from God. In all of them, if they are genuine calls, there is a sense of divine origin, a solemn communication of the divine will, a mysterious sense of commission, a strong feeling of compulsion, all of which leaves a man no alternative, but starts him out on the road of this vocation with a conviction that he is an instrument and an ambassador of the Eternal God.
A Change in Practice
Let me submit to you here that there has been a significant change in our practice of ordaining men during the half century I have been in this work. Whether that change has been for the better or for the worse, whether it represents improvement or retrogression, I leave you to judge.
The fact is that when a man was to be ordained among us it was customary for him to be ordained for a single purpose. That purpose was to preach the Word of God. For him to engage in, or continue to engage in, any other occupation, would not have been thought of. Today we seem to ordain men and thus to confer honor upon them because they have demonstrated their ability as treasurers, educators, medical superintendents, business administrators, managers of publishing houses, bookmen, or departmental leaders. Very little inquiry, if any, is made into this matter of a divine call to preach the Word. It is expected that they will continue to engage in accounting, in business administration, in managing an institution, in education. No one expects them to be preachers and publicly proclaim the gospel to lost sinners. But that was what ordination meant fifty years ago in our work.
When Christ called men He did so for one specific purpose. That purpose was to preach publicly the gospel of the grace of God, and proclaim the great truths of human salvation. "He ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach" (Mark 3:14). This is our first and only calling. Look at the emphatic words: "Preach!" And again, "Preach!" "Proclaim!" "As you go, preach!"
Make sure of your call, my younger brethren. Then you can go forward fearlessly. You will face many perils, be surrounded by many dangers, suffer many rebuffs, but if you know yourselves to be called of God, no danger will deter you, no temptation of wealth or honor or office or fame will allure you from this great and holy work.
* The Bible: A New Translation by James Moffatt, copyrighted 1922, 1935, 1950 by Harper and Brothers. Used by permission.