In accordance with the plan announced yesterday, I am to turn your attention in the next four lectures to the prophets of the Old Testament as patterns for modern preachers; and the special subject for to-day is The Preacher as a Man of God.
To earnest minds at the stage at which you stand at present no question could be more interesting than this: How does a right ministry begin? what are the experiences which justify or compel a man to turn his back on all other careers and devote himself to this one? On the minds of some of you this question may be pressing at the present moment with great urgency. It is a question of supreme importance. In most things a good deal depends on beginning well; but nowhere is the commencement more momentous than here.
This is a point on which the greatest emphasis is laid in the history of the prophets. We are told how they became prophets. Their ministry commenced with a spiritual experience usually denominated the Prophetic Call.
Such experiences are narrated of the greatest prophets. The call of Moses was the scene of the Burning Bush, which is detailed at great length in his biography. The next outstanding prophet was Samuel, and there is no better known story in Scripture than the touching account of how the Lord called him to be the reformer of an evil age. Each of the three great literary prophets -- Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel -- has left an account of his own call; that of Ezekiel covering nearly three whole chapters. If the smaller prophets do not, as a rule, commemorate similar experiences of their own, it is not to be inferred that they did not pass through them. The brief compass of their writings is sufficient to account for the omission; although perhaps a subjective element may also enter into the explanation. Among ourselves there are men who are able to confide to the public their own most sacred experiences, and habitually make use of them to illustrate and enforce the truth. To others nothing would be more unnatural: they shrink from the most distant allusion to the most sacred moments of their spiritual history. Yet these may be worth the whole world to themselves. Both modes of procedure have Scriptural warrant: for some of the prophets narrate their calls, and others do not.
If these calls of distinguished men to God's service be noted one by one, they will be found to include many of the grandest scenes of Scripture. There could be no more splendid subject -- if I may give the hint in passing -- for a course of lectures in the congregation, or even for a course, like the present, to students of divinity.
They exhibit astonishing variety. Moses, for example, was called in the maturity of his powers, but Samuel when he was still a child. Jeremiah's call bears a certain resemblance to that of Moses, because both resisted the Divine will through inability to speak; but in other respects they are totally dissimilar. Ezekiel's stands altogether by itself, and is extremely difficult to unravel; but it is thoroughly characteristic of his sublime and intricate genius. Nowhere else could there be found a more telling illustration of the diversity of operation in which the Spirit of God delights, when He is touching the spirit of man, even if He is aiming at identical results.
For in all cases the effect was the same. The man who was called to be a prophet was separated by this summons from all other occupations which could interfere with the service for which God had designated him. His whole being was taken possession of for the Divine purposes and subjected to the sway of the Divine inspiration. One of the commonest names of a prophet in the Old Testament is |a man of God.| Through constant use this term has lost its meaning for us. But it meant exactly what it said: that the prophet was not his own, but God's man; he belonged to God, who could send him wherever He wished and do with him whatever He would. It was the same idea that St. Paul expressed, when he called himself, as he loved to do, |the slave of Jesus Christ.|
It has sometimes been attempted to explain these scenes away, as if they were not records of actual experience, but only poetic representations which the prophets prefixed to their writings, to afford their readers a dramatic prefigurement of the general scope of their prophecies, ideas being freely put into them which the prophets did not themselves possess at the commencement of their career, but only acquired by degrees as their life proceeded. They are compared to such efforts of the poet as the Vision of Robert Burns, in which he tells how the muse of Caledonia appeared to him at the plough, and, casting her mantle round him and claiming him as her own, consecrated him the poet of his native land; or the Zueignung of Goethe, in which he feigns a similar experience which befell him on the moonlight heights of the German forest. But, though there is a poetic element in prophecy, the prophetic spirit was too much in earnest for such figments of the imagination, which are alien to the severity of the Hebrew genius. Besides, such scenes are not confined to the Hebrew prophets: they belong to the true religion in all generations.
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Any of the prophetic calls would bring suggestively before us the topic with which we are occupied to-day; and it is not without regret that I turn away from the Burning Bush, with its dramatic dialogue between Jehovah and Moses touching many points which are the very same as still perplex those who are standing on the threshold of a ministerial career; from the chamber of the tabernacle, with its startling voice, in which God opened the heart of Samuel to take in the purpose of life; and from the wonderfully instructive scene in which the shrinking spirit of Jeremiah met the Divine summons with the humble cry of deprecation, |Behold, I cannot speak; for I am a child,| till the Divine sympathy and wisdom answered his arguments and lifted him above his fears. But we have agreed to take Isaiah as the representative of the prophets; and, in spite of these other attractions, we need not repent of this; for there is nothing in Holy Writ more unique and sublime than the call of Isaiah, and it is pregnant in every line with instruction. It is, indeed, far away from us, and it will require a strong effort to transport ourselves back over so many centuries and enter sympathetically into the experience of one who lived in such a widely different world. But it is a real chapter of human experience. As Isaiah prophesied for fifty or perhaps even sixty years after this, he must at the time have been in the prime of his days. In short, he was at the very stage of life at which you are now, and this is an account of how a young man of three thousand years ago became a public servant of God.
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There are two or three points worth noting before we go on to describe the scene itself.
1. It is reported in the sixth chapter of the prophecies of Isaiah. We should naturally have expected it to stand at the beginning of the whole book, as do the corresponding scenes in the books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel; and it is not easy to say why it is not found in this position. We are perhaps too ready to think of the prophecies of a prophet as a continuous book, written, in one prolonged effort, on a single theme, as books are written in modern times. But this is a misconception. They came together more like the pieces of a lyric poet. A lyric poet composes his pieces at uncertain intervals of inspiration; they range over a great variety of subjects; and it may only be late in life that he thinks of collecting them in a volume. So the prophecies of the prophet came to him at uncertain and often lengthy intervals; they were sometimes very brief, no longer than short lyrics; and we know that he sometimes did not think of any literary publication of them till long after their oral delivery. A lyric poet, when collecting his pieces, may adopt any one of several different principles of arrangement. The simplest way is to insert them in chronological order; but he may follow some subtle psychological arrangement, as Wordsworth, for instance, did when his collected works were published; or he may throw them together at random, according to the fancy of the moment; and this is perhaps the commonest case. There seems to be the same variety in the prophets. The prophecies of Ezekiel, for example, are arranged on the chronological principle, but those of Isaiah and Jeremiah are not; and it is one of the most difficult tasks of interpretation to assign the different pieces to their original dates. It is doubtful whether there is any rigid principle at all in Isaiah's prophecies. It is even doubtful whether the order in which they stand is due to him or to a disciple or editor, who arranged them after he was dead. We need hardly, therefore, inquire very strictly why any particular chapter occurs in its particular place. But it is somewhat awkward that the sixth chapter stands where it does, in the body of the book, instead of at the head of it; because this hides its significance from the general reader. Scholars are agreed, however, that it is an account of Isaiah's call to be a prophet; and, when this is recognised, every detail of the scene which it records is invested with new meaning.
2. It is worthy of note that the event is precisely dated. The chapter begins with the words, |In the year that King Uzziah died.| There are forms of religious experience which are dateless -- processes of slow and unmarked growth, which may spread themselves over years; but there are also crises, when experience crystallizes into events so remarkable that they become standing dates in the lives of those who have enjoyed them, from which they reckon, as other people do from birth or marriage or the turning-points of their domestic and commercial history.
Whether this was the first of such events in the history of Isaiah I have often wondered. There is nothing unlikely in the suggestion. In other cases the call to enter into God's work synchronized with the first real encounter with God Himself. Samuel's call to be a prophet coincided with his first personal introduction to acquaintance with Jehovah, whom, it is distinctly stated, he did not previously know; and St. Paul's call to the apostolate happened at the same time as his conversion. As we go on, we shall come upon at least one circumstance which points pretty strongly to the conclusion that this was Isaiah's first conscious transaction with God.
3. The place where the incident occurred is also worthy of note. It was in the temple. Ewald and other able commentators interpret this to mean the heavenly temple, and suppose that the future prophet was transported to some imaginary place which he called by this name. But this is quite a gratuitous suggestion, and it very much weakens the impressiveness of the whole scene, the very point of which lies in the fact that it took place on familiar ground. Isaiah was a Jerusalemite, and the temple was the most familiar of all haunts to him. He had witnessed there a thousand times the external ritual of religion -- the worshipping multitudes, the priests, and the paraphernalia of sacrifice. But now, on the same spot, he was to see a sight in whose glory all these things would disappear. This is what the critical moments of religious experience are always meant to do: they obliterate the familiar externals of religion and reveal the reality which is hidden behind them; they convert common spots of every-day experience into the house of God and the gate of heaven.
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Such were the circumstances of time and place in which the crisis of Isaiah's history occurred. One day, in the year that King Uzziah died, he wended his way, as he had done hundreds of times before, to the temple; and there that took place which altered the whole course of his life. Whether in the body or out of the body, we cannot tell, he saw three successive visions, or rather a threefold vision -- a vision of God, a vision of sin, and a vision of grace.
1. It began with a Vision of God. The chapter opens with these sublime words, |In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord.| It is an astounding statement to come from a prophet of that religion whose fundamental principle was the spirituality of God, |No man hath seen God at any time|; and, indeed, there is an old rabbinical tradition, that King Manasseh, who is said to have caused Isaiah to be sawn asunder, made the alleged impiety of these words the excuse for his cruelty. But it was a mere excuse; for the difficulty only serves to prove the transcendent spiritual tact and literary skill of the prophet, who manages the scene in such a way as to preserve quite intact the principle of the Divine spirituality. Though he says that he saw God, he gives no description of Him; only the sights and sounds round about Him are so described as in the most vivid way to suggest the Presence which remains unseen. It is as if a historical scene of ruin and conflagration were represented on canvas, without showing the burning materials, by painting the glare of light and the emotions of terror and dismay on the faces of the spectators.
First, the throne on which God sits is described: it is erected in the temple, and it is high and lifted up, for He is a great King. But no description is given of the figure seated on it; only His train -- the billowing folds of His robes -- filled the temple. Above the throne, or rather round it, like the courtiers surrounding the throne of an Eastern monarch, stand the seraphim. These beings are mentioned only here in Holy Writ. Their name signifies the shining or fiery ones. They are attendants of the Divine King, bright and swift as fire in their intelligence and activity. Each has six wings: with twain he covers his face, and with twain he covers his feet, evidently to protect his eyes and person from the consuming glory of the Divine presence, which is thus indicated again without being described; and with the remaining two he flies, or rather poises himself in his place ready for flight at the Divine signal.
Then, amidst these sublime sights break in sounds equally sublime. By our translation the impression is produced that they come from the seraphim. But the original is more vague, and the meaning probably is, that the responsive voices which are heard come from unseen choirs in opposite quarters of the temple. Unceasingly the strain rises from one side, unceasingly the answer comes from the other; in the centre the voices meet and mingle in loud harmony.
Their burden is, |Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.| That is, they are celebrating the two attributes of the Divine character which always most impressed a Jewish mind -- His holiness and His omnipotence. The one is God as He is in Himself, turned inwards, so to speak. He is absolutely holy, unapproachable, a consuming fire scorching away impurity, falsehood, and sin of every kind. The other is God as He is in the world, turned outwards, so to speak; the world's fulness -- suns and systems, mountains and oceans, earthquake and storm, summer's abundance and winter's terror -- all this is His glory, the garment by which He makes Himself visible.
The voices swell till the temple rocks, or seems to rock to the reeling senses of the prophet, and the house is filled with smoke, or seems to be so, as a mist envelops the swooning spirit of the spectator. But still, through the mist, there peal, falling like the strokes of a hammer on the listening heart, the notes of the dread song, |Holy, holy, holy.|
2. Next ensued a Vision of Sin. The vision of God could not but unseal a rushing stream of feeling of some kind in Isaiah. But of what kind would it be? Surely of joyful adoration: the soul, inspired with the sublimity of these sights and thrilled with these sounds, will rise to the majesty of the occasion, and the human voice will strike in with all its force among the angelic voices, crying, |Holy, holy, holy.|
So one might have expected. But the human mind is a strange thing; and it is difficult to know where and how to touch its delicate and complex mechanism so as to produce any desired effect. You wish to produce a flow of tender feeling, and you tell a pathetic tale, which ought, you think, to move the heart. But at every sentence the features of the listeners harden into more and more rigidity, or even relax into mocking laughter; whereas the suggestion of a noble thought, which seems to have nothing to do with pathos, may instantaneously melt the soul and unseal the fountain of tears. Or is it the conscience which is to be affected? The clumsy operator begins to assail it straight with denunciations of sin, but, instead of producing penitence, he only rouses the whole man into proud and angry self-defence; whereas a single touch, no heavier than an infant's finger, applied away up somewhere, remote from conscience, in the region of the imagination, may send an electric shock down through the whole being and shake the conscience from centre to circumference.
Isaiah's mind was one of the most sensitive and complicated ever bestowed on a human being; but it was now in the hands of its Maker, who knew how to touch it to fine issues. The Maker's design on this occasion was to produce in it an overpowering sense of sin; and what He did was to confront it with infinite holiness and majesty. These were brought so near that there was no escape. The poor, finite, sinful man was held at arm's length, so to speak, in the grasp of the Infinite and Most Holy; and the result was a total collapse of the human spirit. Isaiah's eye turned away from the sight of God's glory back upon himself, and back on his past life; and, in this light, all appeared foul and hideous. There was sin everywhere -- sin in himself and sin in his environment. He was utterly confounded and swallowed up of shame and terror. |Woe is me,| he groaned, |for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.|
Why he felt the taint specially on his lips it might not be easy to tell. Perhaps it was because the angelic song was a challenge to join in the praise of God, but he felt that the lips of one like him were not worthy to join in their song. Perhaps -- who can tell? -- the besetting sin of his previous life may have been profanity of speech, as it was evidently a crying sin of his time. This suggestion gives a shock to the ideas which we associate with Isaiah, and it is hard to think that the lips which afterwards spoke like angels can ever have defiled themselves with such a sin. But this is the most natural meaning of the words, and it is not against the analogy of other lives. Great saints, and even great preachers, are made out of great sinners; and the memory of an odious and conspicuous sin like this may sometimes lend a passionate force to subsequent devotion and keep alive for a lifetime the sense of personal unworthiness.
3. The last scene in the evolution of this vision, which was surely more than a vision, was the Vision of Grace. One of the fiery attendants, who hovered on quivering wing ready to execute the orders of the Divine King, receiving a command by some unexplained mode of communication, flew to the altar, and, taking up the tongs, seized with them a stone from the altar fire. It was neither a coal, as our rendering gives it, nor a brand, but a heated stone, such as was used, and is used at the present day, in the East, for conveying heat to a distance for any purpose for which it might be required. It came from the altar: it contained God's fire, and God sent it.
The purpose for which it was required on this occasion was cleansing. Of cleansing there are in Scripture three symbols. The simplest is water; and water can purify many things; but there are some things which water cannot cleanse. A stronger agent is required, and this is found in fire. You must fling the ore, for example, into the fire, if you wish to extract from it the pure gold. There is a third symbol, which appears in the New Testament as well as the Old, and it is the most sacred of all. It is blood. Water, fire, blood -- these three mean the same in Scripture. In this case it was fire.
The seraph flew with the hot stone and laid it on the lips of the future prophet. Why did he lay it there? Because it was there that Isaiah felt his sin to be lying. He had said, |I am a man of unclean lips.| The fire burned the sin away. So the seraph said, speaking in God's name, |Lo, this hath touched thy lips, and thine iniquity is taken away and thy sin purged.| It was the assurance of the Divine forgiveness, which had come swift as a seraph's flight in answer to Isaiah's confession.
Isaiah's preparation was completed in these three successive phases of experience; and now the purpose was disclosed for which he had been prepared. From aloft -- from the throne high and lifted up -- came the question, |Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?| The King needed a messenger to bear a message and represent Himself. He had chosen Isaiah to bear it; yet He did not thrust the commission on him. He did not need to do so; for Isaiah had passed through a preparation which made him not only thoroughly able, but thoroughly willing. He had been lifted out of time into eternity; and in this one hour of concentrated experience he had both died and been born again. His life had been undone and forfeited; but God had given it back to him, and he felt that now it was not his own. He was thrilling with the power of forgiveness, and the impulses towards God -- to be near Him, to serve Him, to do anything for Him -- were now far stronger than his shrinking from Him had been a little before. Therefore of his own free will and choice he answered the Divine question with, |Here am I, send me.|
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Gentlemen, I have gone minutely into the details of this scene in the life of a representative preacher of the Old Testament, because every line of it speaks to the deep and subtle movements of our own experience. What is the inference to be drawn from it? Is it that at the commencement of a preacher's career there must be a call to the ministry distinct from the experience of personal salvation? This inference has often been drawn; but I prefer, in the meantime at least, to draw a wider but, I believe, a sounder and more useful inference. It is this: that the outer must be preceded by the inner; public life for God must be preceded by private life with God; unless God has first spoken to a man, it is vain for a man to attempt to speak for God.
This principle has an extensive and varied application.
It applies to the beginnings of the religious life. I should like to be allowed to say to you, gentlemen, with all the earnestness of which I am capable, that the prime qualification of a minister is that he be himself a religious man -- that, before he begins to make God known, he should first himself know God. How this comes to pass, this is not the place to explain. Only let me say, that it is more than the play upon us of religious influences from the outside. There must be a reaction on our own part -- an opening of our nature to take in and assimilate what is brought to bear on us by others. There must be an uprising of our own will and a deliberate choice of God. Of course in the history of many there are, at this stage, experiences almost as dramatic and memorable as this scene in the life of Isaiah; and they may be composed of nearly identical elements. In some haunt of ordinary life -- perhaps in the church of one's childhood or in the room consecrated by the prayers of early years -- there comes a sudden revelation of God, which transfigures everything. In this great light the man feels himself to be like an unclean thing, ready to be condemned and annihilated by the presence of the Thrice Holy. But then ensues the wonderful revelation of grace, when God takes up the soul in despair and draws it to His heart, penetrating it with the sense of forgiveness and the confidence of childhood. It is not surprising that this new-born life should feel itself at once dedicated to the service of God. I heard one of our most rising ministers say a short time ago, that he knew he was to be a minister on the very day of his conversion, though at the time he was engaged in a totally different pursuit.
But this may come later; and it may be the burden of another great moment of revelation. For, as I have hinted already in this lecture, the true Christian life is not all a silent, unmarked growth; it has its crises also, when it rises at a bound to new levels, where new prospects unfold themselves before it and alter everything. There are moments in life more precious than days, and there are days which we would not exchange for years. Swept along with other materials into the common receptacle of memory, they shine like gold, silver, precious stones among the wood, hay, stubble of ordinary experience. It is impossible to say how much one such experience may do to direct and to inspire a life. I believe that many a humble minister has such an experience hidden in his memory, which he may never have disclosed to anyone, but which is invested for himself with unfading splendor and authority, and binds him to the service of God till his dying day.
But this principle, which we have drawn for our own use from Isaiah's call, applies not only to the initial act, but to every subsequent detail of our life. It is true of every appearance which a minister makes before a congregation. Unless he has spent the week with God and received Divine communications, it would be better not to enter the pulpit or open his mouth on Sunday at all. There ought to be on the spirit, and even on the face of a minister, as he comes forth before men, a ray of the glory which was seen on the face of Moses when he came down among the people with God's message from the mount.
It applies, too, on a larger scale, to the ministerial life as a whole. Valuable as an initial call may be, it will not do to trade too long on such a memory. A ministry of growing power must be one of growing experience. The soul must be in touch with God and enjoy golden hours of fresh revelation. The truth must come to the minister as the satisfaction of his own needs and the answer to his perplexities; and he must be able to use the language of religion, not as the nearest equivalent he can find for that which he believes others to be passing through, but as the exact equivalent of that which he has passed through himself. There are many rules for praying in public, and a competent minister will not neglect them; but there is one rule worth all the rest put together, and it is this: Be a man of prayer yourself; and then the congregation will feel, as you open your lips to lead their devotions, that you are entering an accustomed presence and speaking to a well-known Friend. There are arts of study by which the contents of the Bible can be made available for the edification of others; but this is the best rule: Study God's Word diligently for your own edification; and then, when it has become more to you than your necessary food and sweeter than honey or the honey-comb, it will be impossible for you to speak of it to others without a glow passing into your words which will betray the delight with which it has inspired yourself.
Perhaps of all causes of ministerial failure the commonest lies here; and of all ministerial qualifications, this, although the simplest, is the most trying. Either we have never had a spiritual experience deep and thorough enough to lay bare to us the mysteries of the soul; or our experience is too old, and we have repeated it so often that it has become stale to ourselves; or we have made reading a substitute for thinking; or we have allowed the number and the pressure of the duties of our office to curtail our prayers and shut us out of our studies; or we have learned the professional tone in which things ought to be said, and we can fall into it without present feeling. Power for work like ours is only to be acquired in secret; it is only the man who has a large, varied and original life with God who can go on speaking about the things of God with fresh interest; but a thousand things happen to interfere with such a prayerful and meditative life. It is not because our arguments for religion are not strong enough that we fail to convince, but because the argument is wanting which never fails to tell; and this is religion itself. People everywhere can appreciate this, and nothing can supply the lack of it. The hearers may not know why their minister, with all his gifts, does not make a religious impression on them; but it is because he is not himself a spiritual power.
There comes to my mind a reminiscence from college days, which grows more significant to me the longer I live. One Saturday morning at our Missionary Society there came, at our invitation, to talk to us about our future life, the professor who was the idol of the students and reputed the most severely scientific of the whole staff. We used to think him keen, too, and cynical; and what we expected was perhaps a scathing exposure of the weaknesses of ministers or a severe exhortation to study. It turned out, on the contrary, to be a strange piece, steeped in emotion and full of almost lyrical tenderness; and I can still remember the kind of awe which fell on us, as, from this reserved nature, we heard a conception of the ministry which had scarcely occurred to any of us before; for he said, that the great purpose for which a minister is settled in a parish is not to cultivate scholarship, or to visit the people during the week, or even to preach to them on Sunday, but it is to live among them as a good man, whose mere presence is a demonstration which cannot be gainsaid that there is a life possible on earth which is fed from no earthly source, and that the things spoken of in church on Sabbath are realities.
Side by side with this reminiscence there lives in my memory another, which also grows more beautiful the more I learn of life. It was my happiness, when I was ordained, to be settled next neighbour to an aged and saintly minister. He was a man of competent scholarship, and had the reputation of having been in early life a powerful and popular preacher. But it was not to these gifts that he owned his unique influence. He moved through the town, with his white hair and somewhat staid and dignified demeanour, as a hallowing presence. His very passing in the street was a kind of benediction, and the people, as they looked after him, spoke of him to each other with affectionate veneration. Children were proud when he laid his hand on their heads, and they treasured the kindly words which he spoke to them. At funerals and other seasons of domestic solemnity his presence was sought by people of all denominations. We who laboured along with him in the ministry felt that his mere existence in the community was an irresistible demonstration of Christianity and a tower of strength to every good cause. Yet he had not gained this position of influence by brilliant talents or great achievements or the pushing of ambition; for he was singularly modest, and would have been the last to credit himself with half the good he did. The whole mystery lay in this, that he had lived in the town for forty years a blameless life, and was known by everybody to be a godly and prayerful man. He was good enough to honour me with his friendship; and his example wrote deeply upon my mind these two convictions -- that it may sometimes be of immense advantage to spend a whole lifetime in a single pastorate, and that the prime qualification for the ministry is goodness.
|One great part of the history of the Bible is the history of Calls.| -- DEAN CHURCH.
I am sorry to observe that even Mr. G.A. Smith, whose Commentary on Isaiah is distinguished not only by thorough scholarship but by what is far rarer in works of the kind -- a profusion of just and inspiring ideas -- at this point, following bad examples, says that there are ideas imported into the account of Isaiah's call which belonged to a later period of his life. Not only is this wrong psychologically, because it minimises the divinatory power of the human spirit in the great moments of experience; but surely it is utterly wrong artistically, because, if the ideas are historically out of place, Isaiah himself ought to have felt that, by placing them there, he was breaking the spell of verisimilitude, on which the effect of such a picture depends.
This is the literal translation, |The fulness of the whole world is His glory.|
The lips of Jeremiah were also touched in his call by the hand of God. But the meaning appears to have been different. He had complained that he could not speak -- that he was tongue-tied. The touch of the Divine hand may have meant that the restraining cord was loosed, and a free passage made for the utterance of what he had to say. The words which accompanied the touch suggest, however, a slightly different idea -- |Behold, I have put My words in thy mouth.| The difficulty of Jeremiah was not exactly that of Moses, who, when he complained that he could not speak, meant that, never having acquired the art of expressing himself, he could not utter what he had to say, even though he was full of matter. This was the natural difficulty of an elderly man; for the art of expression has to be acquired in youth. But the difficulty of a young man like Jeremiah is not so much to express what he has to say as to get something worth saying. This was what Jeremiah complained of; and the touching of his lips meant that God was putting His own words into his mouth. It was a promise that the well of ideas in his mind should not run dry, but that God would give him such a revelation of His mind and will as would supply him with an ample message to his age. All three cases are full of instruction and encouragement.
|After passing through the fundamental religious experiences of forgiveness and cleansing, which are in every case the indispensable premises of life with God, Isaiah was left to himself. No direct summons was addressed to him, no compulsion was laid on him; but he heard the voice of God asking generally for messengers, and he, on his own responsibility, answered it for himself in particular. He heard from the Divine lips of the Divine need for messengers, and he was immediately full of the mind that he was the man for the mission, and of the heart to give himself to it. So great an example cannot be too closely studied by candidates for the ministry in our own day. Sacrifice is not the half-sleepy, half-reluctant submission to the force of circumstance or opinion, in which shape it is so often travestied among us, but the resolute self-surrender and willing resignation of a free and reasonable soul. There are many in our day who look for an irresistible compulsion into the ministry of the Church; sensitive as they are to the material bias by which men roll off into other professions, they pray for something of a similar kind to prevail with them in this direction also. There are men who pass into the ministry by social pressure or the opinion of the circles they belong to, and there are men who adopt the profession simply because it is on the line of least resistance. From which false beginnings rise the spent force, the premature stoppages, the stagnancy, the aimlessness and heartlessness, which are the scandals of the professional ministry and the weakness of the Christian Church in our day. Men who drift into the ministry, as it is certain so many do, become mere ecclesiastical flotsam and jetsam, incapable of giving carriage to any soul across the waters of this life, uncertain of their own arrival anywhere, and of all the waste of their generation, the most patent and disgraceful. God will have no driftwood for His sacrifices, no drift-men for His ministers. Self-consecration is the beginning of His service, and a sense of our own freedom and our own responsibility is an indispensable element in the act of self-consecration.| -- G.A. SMITH: Isaiah.
I do not know that I have ever seen an entirely satisfactory statement of what constitutes a call to the ministry. Probably it is one of those things of the Spirit which cannot be mathematically defined. The variety of the calls in Scripture warns us against laying down any scheme to which the experience of every one must conform. It is the same as with the commencement of the spiritual life, where also the work of the Spirit of God overflows our definitions. While some can remember and describe the whole process through which they have passed, others who exhibit as undeniably the marks of the Divine handiwork can give comparatively little account of how it took place. The test of the reality of the change is not its power of being made into a good story. In the one case, however, as in the other, a conscientious man will give all diligence to make his calling and election sure. Excellent chapters on the subject will be found in Spurgeon's Lectures to My Students and Blaikie's For the Work of the Ministry.
|You have to be busy men, with many distractions, with time not your own: and yet, if you are to be anything, there is one thing you must secure. You must have time to enter into your own heart and be quiet, you must learn to collect yourselves, to be alone with yourselves, alone with your own thoughts, alone with eternal realities which are behind the rush and confusion of moral things, alone with God. You must learn to shut your door on all your energy, on all your interests, on your hopes and fears and cares, and in the silence of your chamber to 'possess your souls.' You must learn to look below the surface; to sow the seed which you will never reap; to hear loud voices against you or seductive ones, and to find in your own heart the assurance and the spell which makes them vain. Whatever you do, part not with the inner sacred life of the soul whereby we live within to 'things not seen,' to Christ, and truth and immortality. Your work, your activity, belong to earth; no real human interest, nothing that stirs or attracts or that troubles men in this scene of life, ought to be too great or too little for you. But your thoughts belong to heaven; and it is to that height that they must rise, it is there that in solitude and silence they must be rekindled, and enlarged, and calmed, if even activity and public spirit are not to degenerate into a fatal forgetfulness of the true purpose of your calling -- a forgetfulness of the infinite tenderness and delicacy, of the unspeakable sacredness, of the mysterious issues, which belong to the ministry of souls.| -- DEAN CHURCH.
|Habet autem ut obedienter audiatur quantacunque granditate dictionis majus pondus vita dicentis.| -- ST. AUGUSTINE.
As he has been dead for several years, I need not hesitate to give the name of my dear and honoured friend -- the Rev. James Black, of Dunnikier.