Testing a Call to the Ministry
What are the qualifications requisite for a minister of the gospel?
It need scarcely be said that piety is essential. No amount of talent, no extent of education, no apparent brilliancy of fervor, should ever be allowed to gain admission into the ministry for one whose piety there is a reason to doubt, or who has not a more than ordinary active and consistent holiness. A Christless minister is as horribly out of place as a ghastly skeleton in the pulpit, bearing a torch in his hand.
Good intellect, some facility in acquiring knowledge, and some capacity to speak, are obviously indispensable. If a man has not these, in some degree, at the outset, it is not likely he will acquire them, either during the process of education, or in the work of the ministry. A man, who cannot preach at all, before he comes to the theological seminary, rarely learns how afterwards.
And then common sense is a very important quality, a practical tact, in which often God has been training some, whom he calls, comparatively late in life from the counter, or the lawyer's desk, and who need not, therefore, count their time lost. …
Energy of character is an important prerequisite. The duties of the ministry are such that an indolent man will find abundant temptations and plausible excuses, while he will be not merely useless, but positively hurtful. A sluggish body can be driven to work, a sluggish mind rarely, a sluggish heart never. There is the force of character, a habit of persisting and succeeding, a power to influence and kindle others, a capacity to inspire confidence and general esteem, which, whatever name may be given to it, is essential to success.
In regard to these qualifications, the churches are usually better judges than the individual himself, and must exercise their judgment with prudence and fidelity, under a solemn sense of their accountability, and "lay not careless hands on heads that cannot teach and will not learn."
There is another qualification, however, on which the question mainly turns: it is an ardent and self-denying desire to labor for the good of souls. This is not a natural quality. It must be implanted by the Holy Spirit, and becoming an abiding, decided, and effective habit of the soul.
Now, whether the Holy Spirit has actually wrought this in the heart, thus signing, sanctioning, and sealing the call, is to be ascertained in the same way as other influences of the Holy Spirit; not by voices and visions, not by mere transitory impression, or confident, yet groundless, persuasion, but by positive moral changes produced in the habitual temper, character, and desires. We should seek for evidence of the Holy Spirit's work in calling to the ministry, as we seek for evidence of His work in the converting the soul. Neither is ordinarily manifested by a token, which admits of no doubt or hesitation, which is incapable of being either strengthened or weakened by subsequent developments; but usually by a number of particulars, which, when compared with the word of God, prove possession of the characteristics demanded.
We do not deny that the evidence may be instantaneous and overwhelming. It may be. Regeneration itself we suppose to be always instantaneous; the evidence of it to the individual himself may be, or it may not. Sometime it is as the flash of noonday radiance at midnight. At other times, it is as the gradual coming of the dawn, doubts being dispelled, and darkness gradually dispersed, as the morning mists flee, and shadows lessen, before the advancing sun. So [it is] in regard to a call to the ministry. There is a diversity of operation, but the same Spirit.
This steadfast and divinely implanted desire to labor for souls is substantially what is meant by "the internal call." It may be distinguished from the early zeal, which young converts usually have, and which "generally subsides into a calm principle of benevolent activity" in their own particular sphere. In the man truly called, it grows, it increases. As he reflects on it, and prays about it, the great salvation becomes greater and nearer to him than when he first believed; the guilt and ruin of immortal souls weigh heavily upon him; he feels impelled to warn them to flee the wrath to come.
Sometimes the thought presses on one, so that he cannot rest. The strongest promptings of self-interest, the greatest timidity and natural reserve, the most violent opposition of irreligious relatives and influential friends, and even the most serious peril, prove insufficient to check this holy ardor. The man is made to feel that for him all other avocations are trifling, all worldly employments unattractive. "Woe is me," he cries, "if I preach not the Gospel!" Jails, and fetters, and the stake, have no terrors for him comparable with the guilt of disobeying Jesus, and the frown of his redeemer." …
Sometimes, on the other hand, there is a more calm and gradual growth of a conviction of duty, drawn by delight rather that driven by dread. He loves to think of Jesus, and so he loves to talk of Jesus; and with much distrust of himself, perhaps, he finds an increasing desire to be wholly absorbed and occupied in such things. A calm and deliberate comparison of various courses of life shows him that the ministry offers arduous labor, with little worldly advantage or honor; heavy responsibility, painful to a sensitive nature; and a life-long toil, with no remission till Jesus calls him to rest. But though consciously weak, he can simply rely on divine direction to guide, and divine strength to uphold, and in view of the dying world and the bleeding cross and the burning throne, he can freely consecrate himself to be "Jesus Christ's man," to go where He bids, to utter what He teaches, to endure what He pleases to appoint, and thank God if he may be counted worthy to suffer for His name.
Now we need numbers in the ministry. The plenteous, perishing harvest wails out a despairing cry for more laborers. But we need purity more than numbers; we need intelligence more than numbers; we need zeal more than we need numbers. Above all, we need consecrated men, men who have stood beneath the cross, till their very souls are dyed with Jesus' blood, and a love like his for perishing millions has been kindled within them. We long for such men, but for such only, as are willing to "endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ."
If I address any young brother, whose mind may have been directed to this subject, allow me to present some practical inquiries, which may help you to come to a decision.
• Do you habitually entertain and cherish the conviction that you are not your own; but, as dead with Christ, are bound to live not unto yourself, but unto Him who died for you, and rose again?
• Do you feel willing to serve Him in whatsoever employment you can most glorify His name?
• Do you watch for opportunities of doing good, and avail yourselves of those that offer, in the Sunday school, in the prayer meeting, and by the wayside?
• Do you sincerely desire to make it the business of your life to labor for souls? Is the desire habitual, disinterested, and prompted by love to Jesus, and compassion for the impenitent?
• Do you find that other employments seem comparatively uninviting, and this delightful, apart from any considerations of worldly ease or emolument?
• Does your impression of duty with regard to the ministry grow stronger, at such times when you are most favored with nearness to God, and when you most distinctly realize eternal things?
• Is your willingness to engage in such service with a clear and cordial renunciation of self-seeking, and a simple reliance on Him whose grace is promised to be sufficient?
• Is it joined with a humble estimate of your own powers, and with a willingness to use all necessary and suitable means for the improvement of those powers?
• Is it a desire for this work, not as a temporary resort, as a refuge for indolence, or an avenue to fame, but as a lifetime labor, in prosperity or adversity, in evil report and in good report, that God may be honored and sinners saved?
If you can answer, "Yes," then welcome brother! We give you the right hand of fellowship to go forth and labor for Jesus.
--Excerpt from Soldiers of Christ: Selections from the Writings of Basil Manly, Sr. and Basil Manly, Jr., by Michael Haykin, Roger Duke and A. James Fuller (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2009), 173-178.