Five things which do not necessarily indicate a call to preach
John Brown of Wamphray (1610-1679) was the Church of Scotland minister of Wamphray near Dumfries. One of the great theological writers in the later period of the Second Reformation, he wrote a large number of books and also pastored the Scots Church at Rotterdam.
7 Mar, 2024

The work of preaching, and the office of preacher, are exceptionally important in the church. But sometimes, when people grasp the importance of preaching, they may make mistakes about what qualifies someone to become a preacher. John Brown of Wamphray wrote against various misconceptions that were becoming popular in his time, views which may well sound familiar to us today. In the following adapted excerpt, Brown tackles the issue of what we can rely on and promote as sure indicators of a call to the ministry.

Grace in the heart is non-essential

I dare not say that a necessary qualification for the ministry is to be able to demonstrate the existence of real grace in the heart. Grace, and the saving workings of the Spirit, are latent, hidden in the heart, and there is no outward sign and evidence by which others can certainly or infallibly discern and judge these in others. They are hidden in such a way that even a person who has grace, will not always be in a position to discern it in his own heart, even though one is more acquainted with his own spirit and heart than others can be. So I dare not say that having the reality of grace is such a qualification that the lack of it renders a man no minister, and all his performances null before God, or man; though the person, being a real stranger to grace, can expect no acceptance of God through Jesus Christ for what he does. This is verified by Christ’s employing of Judas in the ministry.

The wish to teach others is non-essential

I deny that all who understand the truth of the gospel, and are able to instruct others, may or have a right to teach. Qualifications are no call. And, not every inclination to tell others what we know of the things of God, is a call to the work and office of the ministry. Private persons, in their private capacities, may and ought to seek to promote the edification of others (Psalm 66:16; 1 Pet. 4:10-11). Telling what you have found in your own experience, moreover, is not the whole work of the ministry. That also includes the preaching of the gospel, and the dividing of the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15), speaking, exhorting and rebuking with all authority (Tit. 2:15), beseeching, as ambassadors, in the name of God, and in Christ’s stead (2 Cor. 5:19-20).

The inward work of the Spirit is non-essential

The inward work of the Spirit is necessary to make a man a real, upright and sincere Christian, or true member of the invisible church, and it is also necessary to make a man a sincere and upright minister before God, and approved by Him in what he doth. But it is not simply and absolutely necessary, in order to make one a minister before others, for others cannot certainly know this, nor do they walk by an infallible rule in judging this. What is necessary to make a man a member of the visible church, a professing Christian, I grant is also necessary to make one a minister, both before God and others; for others can judge of this, and have a certain and fixed rule to use to judge whether the profession is true or not, although not to judge whether it is sincere or not.

The call of the Spirit is non-essential

We can identify someone who has been called by the Spirit by the fact that they are gifted with the gifts of the Spirit, fitting for preaching of the gospel. These include the word of wisdom and the word of knowledge (1 Cor. 12:4, 7, 8, 11), whereby they are apt to teach (1 Tim. 3:2) and fit to take care of the church (v.5). These gifts, considered in themselves, are different from true and saving grace, and yet come from the Spirit, and are given to profit with; and so must be used to edification, according to the way prescribed in the gospel.

But some, speaking of being “called by the Spirit,” mean something like a personal word of inspiration saying to the man that he must go and preach. We reject all such fancies, even though some depend on them; we account them plain delusions (Matt. 24:24; 2 Thess. 2:9; Deut. 13:1; Gal. 1:8-9). No one can show any good basis warranting us to look for such immediate calls — there is no promise for this, or any command to expect it.

For what is this testimony of the Spirit, by which everyone may know who is truly called of God, and who not? Does the Spirit, when He calls one to this work, speak to the senses of all beholders, and witness also to them that this one is indeed called? This is not necessary even to make a Christian, never mind a minister. I would only say that if no one can know by the Scriptures that he, in particular, is called to be a minister, and must therefore fall back on an inward and immediate testimony of the Spirit, then we must also say that no one can know that someone else is a minister, without the inward and immediate testimony of the Spirit. Therefore they cannot be offended at us for not believing that they are sent by God, because we have no inward and immediate testimony of the Spirit about it. Although the Scriptures do not particularly and expressly tell us that “Mr So-And-So” is a false teacher and ought to be avoided, it says enough to warn us. The whole Scripture, which points out and declares the truth, and condemns errors, is as good to us as an immediate testimony saying, “Those ones are deceivers” — indeed, better, and more sure.

Appreciative hearers are non-essential

Some say that a preacher’s inward call from the Spirit is made manifest in the minds of their brethren, who sense the life and virtue in them and are edified by their words. But I cannot accept this. Is this manifestation always at every sermon, or only sometimes? Is it on the hearts of all who hear, or only some? Perhaps “their brethren” are disposed to recognise them, but the signs of Paul’s apostleship were among strangers, whom he converted, and brought in to the faith. If this manifestation is always and on all present, we would have to question Christ’s apostleship and calling, for everyone knows that His preaching did not always have this effect. Nor did Paul’s and Barnabas’. We would have to say that Ezekiel, who was sent to a rebellious people, who refused to hear, had no true and substantial call, nor Moses, when he was sent to Pharaoh. Yet those who are a “savour of death unto death” to some, may yet for all that be successors to the apostles.

Holiness is essential

Holiness is required of gospel ministers. The apostle tells us that the minister must be “a lover of good men (or “of good things,” as it is in the margin) sober, just, holy, temperate” (Tit. 1:8). He must be blameless (Tit. 1:7), “vigilant, sober, and of good behaviour” (1 Tim. 3:2). Therefore, all who are employed in the examination and trial of ministers should be careful in searching after this, as well as examining their gifts and other qualifications. When clear and manifest evidences appear of their hatred of good things, and of the godly, of their insobriety, injustice, unholiness, intemperance, lack of vigilance, and of their evil behaviour, they ought to be laid aside from that holy function, just as well as when their lack of gifts and of other requisite qualifications is clearly apparent. Indeed, if there are no positive evidences of this love, and of seriousness in the matters of God, giving fair and reasonable grounds for concluding that they are faithful men, they ought not to commit the Word to them.



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