R.L. Dabney On The Call To Ministry


THE church has always held that none should preach the gospel but those who are called of God. The solid proof of this is not to be sought in those places of the Scripture where a special divine call was given to Old Testament prophets and priests, or to apostles, although such passages have been often thus misapplied. Among those misquoted texts should be reckoned Heb. 5:4, which the apostle there applies, not to ministers, but to priests, and especially Christ. The call of these peculiar classes was extraordinary and by special revelation, suited to those days of theophanies and inspiration. But those days have now ceased, and God governs his church exclusively by his providence, and the Holy Spirit applying the written Scriptures. Yet there is a general analogy between the call of a prophet or apostle and that of a gospel preacher, in that both are, in some form, from God, and both summon men to a ministry for God. The true proof that none now should preach but those called of God is rather to be found in such texts as Acts 20:28, “Take heed … to all the flock over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers”; 1 Cor. 12:28, etc.; and in the obvious reason that the minister is God’s ambassador, and the sovereign alone can appoint such an agent.

What, then, is the call to the gospel ministry? Before the answer to this question is attempted, let us protest against the vague, mystical and fanatical notions of a call which prevail in many minds, fostered, we are sorry to admit, by not a little unscriptural teaching from Christians. People seem to imagine that some voice is to be heard, or some impression to be felt, or some impulse to be given to the soul, they hardly know what or whence, which is to force the man into the ministry without rational or scriptural deliberation. And if this fantastic notion is not realized—as it is not like to be, except among those persons of feverish imagination who of all men have least business in the pulpit—the young Christian is encouraged to conclude that he is exempt. Let the pious young man ask himself this plain question, Is there any other expression of God’s will given to us except the Bible? Where else does God authorize us to look for information as to any duty? The call to the ministry, then, is to be found, like the call of every other duty, in the teachings of God’s revealed word. The Holy Spirit has ceased to give direct revelations. He speaks to no rational adult now through any other medium than his word, applied by his gracious light to the understanding and conscience. To look for anything else from him is superstition. While the call of prophets and apostles was by special revelation, that of the gospel minister may be termed a scriptural call.

What, then, is a call to the gospel ministry? We answer, it is an expression of the divine will that a man should preach the gospel. To this another question succeeds, How does God now give a man that expression of his will? We answer, he does it thus: by enlightening and influencing the man’s conscience and understanding, and those of his Christian brethren, to understand the Bible truths and the circumstances and qualifications in himself which reasonably point out preaching as his work. The full and certain call to the ministry is uttered by the Holy Spirit, both to the candidate himself and to the church. The medium of its utterance is God’s dealing with the candidate and the principles of the written Scriptures. The object of these remarks will be secured by explaining the above definition in a series of particulars.

1. First, then, a call to preach is not complete until the Holy Spirit has uttered it, not only in the Christian judgment of the candidate himself, but in that of his brethren also. Their minds, taught of the Holy Ghost, and inspired by him with spiritual principles and affections, recognize in the candidate a “brother beloved,” fitted by his spiritual gifts for the ministry, and their utterance of this judgment is a part of his vocation. Sometimes, as in the case of Knox, the brethren anticipate the candidate’s own conclusion in uttering this call; usually they follow it by uttering it after he has acted so far on the probable evidence of a call found in his own Christian judgment as to prepare himself to preach. And it is manifest that the candidate must necessarily, in common cases, proceed so far as his preparation on the incomplete evidence he finds in himself, greatly confirmed, indeed by the advice of individual brethren, because the church cannot usually judge his probable call until he prepares himself.

2. The principles of Scripture which the Spirit will employ to instruct him and his brethren as to the divine will are such as these: That “it please God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe,” (1 Cor. 1:21; Rom. 10:14). That every man is bound to render to God the highest service and love which his circumstances and capacities admit, (Deut. 6:5; Matt. 22:37). That “we are not our own, for we are bought with a price, and must therefore glorify God in our bodies and spirits, which are his,” (1 Cor. 6:20; Rom. 13:1). That “whether therefore we cat or drink, or whatsoever we do, we must do all to the glory of God,” (1 Cor. 10:31). That the work of him who is permitted to preach the gospel is of all others most excellent, (Titus 3:1; Jas. 5:20; Dan. 12:3). And that every Christian has been redeemed from his sin and death by the Saviour, for no other purpose than this, that he shall be that, and do that, by which he can best glorify his Lord, (Acts 26:16; Eph. 1:6). These Scriptures, and a hundred others, plainly teach that the only condition of discipleship permitted by Christ to any believer is complete self-consecration to his service. In this the self-devotion of the minister is just the same as that of all other true Christians. If a Christian man proposes to be a teacher, physician, lawyer, mechanic, or farmer, it must be, not chiefly from promptings of the world or self, but chiefly because he verily believes he can, in that calling, best serve his heavenly Master. If he hath not this consecration, we do not say he is unfit for the ministry only, he is unfit to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. If any man think this standard of dedication too strict, let him understand at once that he is “not fit for the kingdom of God;” let him relinquish his delusive hope of salvation; let him at once go back among the dark company of Christ’s enemies, on the ground scathed and riven by the lightnings of his wrath, and under the mountainous load of all his sins unatoned and unforgiven. There is no other condition of salvation. For did not Christ redeem the whole man? Did he not purchase with his blood all our powers, and our whole energies, if we are his disciples? We profess to desire to love him with our whole souls, and therefore what reason is there which demands a part of the exertion and service in our power which does not also demand the whole? That professor of religion who contents himself with exerting for his Saviour a portion only of the efficiency for which his capacities enable him confesses himself a hypocrite. The modicum of religious effort which he renders is not truly rendered to Christ, but to self righteousness, or to a guilty conscience, or to public opinion. Had the motives which exacted this partial service been genuine, they would assuredly have exacted the whole. Let every young Christian heed this solemn truth, and the question of the ministry will be relieved of its indistinctness; for then the question of the profession in which he shall serve God will be seen by every Christian to be only the relative one as to his own capacities and the demands of God’s cause at that time.

This leads us to add another important class of texts by which the Holy Spirit will inform the judgment, both of the candidate and his brethren, as to his call. It is that class in which God defines the qualifications of a minister of the gospel. Let every reader consult, as the fullest specimens, 1 Timothy 3:1–7; Titus 1:6–9. The inquirer is to study these passages, seeking the light of God’s Spirit to purge his mind from all clouds of vanity, self-love, prejudice, in order to see whether he has or can possibly acquire the qualifications here set down. And his brethren, under the influence of the same Spirit, must candidly decide by the same standard whether they shall call him to preach or not.*

*Dabney, R. L. (1891). Discussions by Robert Lewis Dabney, Vol. 2: Evangelical (C. R. Vaughan, Ed.) (26–29). Richmond, VA: Presbyterian Committee of Publication.

About lalvin1517

I'm married with two children and pastor McCall Baptist Church in McCall, Idaho.
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3 Responses to R.L. Dabney On The Call To Ministry

  1. Pingback: R.L. Dabney On The Call To Ministry | Living In Grace

  2. Reblogged this on Living In Grace and commented:
    Good read. Take a few minutes and look it over.

  3. Drew Mery says:

    There are certainly a lot of books out there that deal with the ministry and its call. I have found Brian Croft’s book, Test, Train, Affirm, and Send Into the Ministry, to be an excellent and concise work focusing on the call to the ministry. http://www.amazon.com/Test-Train-Affirm-Send-Ministry/dp/1846251974/ref=sr_1_sc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1368639738&sr=8-1-spell&keywords=testtrain%2C+affirm%2C+and+send+into+the+ministry

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