Qualifications for the Ministry


If your secretary had not been the most persuasive of men, and if I had not been the most obliging, you would not have heard me here to-night. The tramp, who was asked after a hearty meal to pick up a few sticks by way of compensation, replied: "Madam, I would do so with great pleasure, but from very early life I have made it a principle never to work between meals." In a similar way I have hitherto made it a principle never to work in vacation. Another principle, however, conflicts with this. I have always accustomed myself to do whatever anybody asked me to do, unless I could see some good reason to the contrary. A friend of mine, who is also a distinguished surgeon, visited an Irishman who was suffering from aphasia, at least he was said to have lost his power of speech. "Well, Dennis, how are you this morning ?" said the doctor. "Oh, doctor, I cannot spake." "But, Dennis, you are speaking." "Yes, doctor, but it's many a word I cannot spake." "Well now, I'll try you, Dennis; see if you can't say the word 'horse.'" "Oh, doctor dear, 4 horse' is the very word I cannot spake!" So, my friends, I thought I could not speak to you, and yet here I am speaking.

I would not have spoken but for the audience I was

1 An address at "Roundtop," in Northfield, Mass., Wednesday evening, July 6, 1898, before the Annual Conference of College Students.


asked to address and for the subject that occurred to me. I do not know what audience more than this would call forth a man's highest powers. I feel awestricken when I think of the changes in the world which you educated and able and Christian young men may bring about; I feel still more awe-stricken when I think that God may make my address the means of pointing out to some of you the one path of duty which is also the path of glory. Whether this be the result or not, my subject is one which should interest us all, and I beg you to hear me for my cause. I propose to speak of Qualifications For The Ministry.

There are reasons why every minister and every layman should specially consider it. The ministry is coming to be a profession. As our churches increase in wealth and numbers, young men flock into it. It is a mistake to say that there is a lack of men in the ministry. There is a minister at every crossroads. But of trained and competent ministers, ministers who unite ability and devotion, ministers who have the evangelistic and missionary spirit, there is a sad and a growing lack.

We need to attract the fit men, and to bar out those who are unfit. And since both ministers and laymen are charged with the duty of providing men who know the truth and are able to communicate it, there is not one of us upon whom this subject does not impose serious obligations. What may we fairly demand of those who present themselves as candidates for the sacred office? What may we consider as proper qualifications in ourselves when we seek to enter it? I have no doubt that many men have an exaggerated notion of what is required,—a notion which neither Scripture nor reason substantiates. When I was pastor in Cleveland I saw the sign of a colored barber which read as follows: "John Jones, barber and hairdresser; also, dealer in old clothes; also, cures all chronic diseases." John Jones was what is called "an all-round man." I do not understand the Scripture to demand such a variety of qualifications as this.

There is a diversity of gifts. No minister of the gospel need be a walking encyclopedia or a dynamite cruiser. I am not discussing exceptional cases. Special places and special services have their special claims. While Qualifications for the Ministry is my subject, I would interpret the subject by the question : What qualifications should we, in all ordinary cases, demand of those whom we ordain to the ministry of the gospel? I propose to mention six of these qualifications : natural gifts, general culture, a Christian experience, a divine call, a gospel message, and a spiritual power. You will perceive that the first two—the gifts and the culture— are natural qualifications, while the last four—the experience, the call, the message, and the power—are distinctly supernatural, since only God can bestow them.

Let me first say a word about natural gifts. It is certainly desirable that the preacher should have a ringing voice and a fine presence. But men have been very successful without these. Only recently I heard of an accomplished young man, a graduate of one of our colleges, who longed to preach the gospel, but who was prevented by the fact that he had accidentally lost one of his fingers. He could not bring to God's altar that which was blind or halt or maimed. I THE GIFT OF PROPAGANDISM


respected the scruple, for it indicated a high view of the ministerial office, but I was obliged to tell him that with God mind and heart and will counted for more than mere body.

We have no reason to believe that Jesus our Lord was a model of physical beauty. His face was more marred than any man, and his form more than the sons of men. Of Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, it was said that his bodily presence was weak and his speech contemptible. Christmas Evans, the great Welsh preacher, had lost an eye, and he was called "the oneeyed orator of Anglesey." But Robert Hall said that one eye "could light an army through a wilderness."

Mind and heart and will can make up for physical defects. The greatest natural gift, in my judgment, is one in which all these are united, and I call it the gift of propagandism. It is the aptness to teach of which the apostle speaks. It involves not only the ability to perceive clearly, and to feel deeply, but also the inner impulse to express one's thought and feeling, and to win others over to the same belief as that which we cherish ourselves. Many men fail in the Christian ministry simply for lack of this spirit of propagandism. They are interested in the gospel as a mere matter of intellectual curiosity; they are men of learning; they rest personally upon Jesus Christ as their Saviour. But they were never born with the will to command others. They are silent, reserved, introspective. Such men may make investigators, but they can never make teachers; and they can never make preachers.

Self-revelation is the business of the preacher. What he knows he must tell. What he believes he must make others believe. When you find a natural propagandist, the man who believes something, feels strongly about it, and is bound that you shall feel as he does, count that as a great gift of God, and ask whether that man has not the mind and heart and will that qualify him for the Christian ministry. But weak men, men who have no ideas of their own, no fervor, no boldness, no power to face other men and to influence them, should keep out of the ministry; and, if they will not keep themselves out, they should be kept out by their brethren; for, if they enter it, they bring the ministry into contempt. "What is needed in the ministry to-day is not more men, but more man." The aptness to teach, which the Scripture requires in the minister, is not simply ability to teach, but also determination to teach.

Natural gifts, however, constitute only the first qualification for a minister of the gospel. There must also be general culture. I do not plead for the highest university and European training for every preacher. I only claim that in each age and in each community those who are to be the leaders of thought must know more than those whom they instruct. No man will sit long under the preaching of one who is his inferior. This does not mean that the preacher is to be a specialist in farming or engineering, but it does mean that the preacher must show himself a fairly competent and cultivated man, if he is to win the confidence of the engineer or the farmer.

The amount of training that was sufficient for a halfcentury ago is not sufficient for to-day. Our common schools have greatly added to the intelligence of our GENERAL CULTURE IS REQUIRED 3 19

communities. The daily and weekly press, the magazines, and even the books of our Sunday-schools, have been making a larger culture necessary in the preacher. He has to compete with others. In the days when our seminary received half-trained students, one of these read the hymn "What horror then my vitals froze," as "What horror then my vittles froze." Fortunately, it was only before his class. Slips in grammar and incoherence in thought can no longer be made up for by mere fervor and floods of emotion. Even the children see through the pretense, and require real teaching.

This general culture can be best gained in the college, even though many men have it who have never pursued a college course. In college there is a certain amount of knowledge communicated, and a broadening acquaintance with the world gained. The college student has before him men of high intelligence whom he loves and reveres, and these personal influences wonderfully mold his ideals and shape his life. He comes into close contact with other young men of high aims, and in spite of himself is moved to do better by their example. But the greatest benefit of college life is after all the learning to concentrate one's powers and to do much in a little time. The duties of the modern pastor are so multifarious, and his time is so much at the disposal of others, that he will never be able to prepare two sensible sermons in a week unless he has a good degree of mental discipline.

A great English statesman said once that he had been successful because he was a whole man to one thing at a time. The psalmist prays: "Unite my heart to fear thy name." And the minister of Christ needs to pray: "Unite my powers, enable me to gather them into one, that I may preach thy gospel." Yet this ability to concentrate one's mind, to think intensely when the time comes to think, to put one's whole soul into the work of the hour, is very largely a natural acquisition, the result of training and practice. And the college is the best place in the world in which to acquire it.

So far I have spoken of natural qualifications,—the gifts and the culture which belong to many others besides ministers of the gospel, and which are essential to the greatest success in any profession. I now come to speak of qualifications that are supernatural, because they are imparted only by special operation of God. A Christian experience is the first of these. Says John Wesley: "Inquire of applicants for admission to the ministr}-, Do they know God as a pardoning God." The blind have no right to lead the blind, for both will fall into the ditch, and we have no right to install as shepherd a man who cannot distinguish the sheep from the goats. How can one who has never felt the dreadfulness of his own sin and the depths of his own guilt bring home to others the charges of God against them? How can one who has never found deliverance at the foot of the cross lead others to the Lamb of God who alone can take their sin away?

But it is not enough that the preacher should be able to point back to the beginning of a Christian experience. He needs a continuous Christian experience as well. "Unless thou hast peace in thine own heart," says Thomas a Kempis, "thou wilt never be able to impart peace to others." But Thomas a Kempis himself did THERE MUST BE A DIVINE CALL 321

not see the way so clearly as do some of our modern teachers. I regard as the most important of our friend F. B. Meyer's essays that one on "Appropriation of Christ" which begins his little book on "Christian Living." Not "Imitation of Christ" is the soul's need, for that still leaves Christ outside of us. What we need is a power within, and appropriation of Christ gives this. The candlestick in Zechariah's vision was fed from two living olive trees on either side of it, and only thus could it shine without ceasing. Christ's sanctifying grace is as needful as his regenerating grace, and unless a man has experience of a present and continuous salvation he cannot lead others, as the Christian minister should, into the green pastures and beside the still waters which the heavenly Shepherd has prepared for them.

But I hasten to mention a second of these supernatural qualifications. Besides a Christian experience he must have a divine call. Grant that a young man has good natural powers and that these powers have been trained in the schools; grant that he has a past and a present Christian experience, still he has no right to enter the ministry and to be the guide of souls unless he has received the call of God. In one sense indeed every Christian is a preacher. He is bound to "tell to sinners round what a dear Saviour he has found." But he cannot be an overseer of the flock, an official interpreter of God's word, unless God has set him apart. No man taketh this office to himself but he that is called of God, even as was Aaron. It is a solemn thing to stand between the living and the dead, and to proclaim the truth that is a savor of life unto life or of death unto death. No man should hastily assume that God has called him to this sacred ministry.

And yet God calls in many ways, and we should not be too critical as to the way in which the call of God comes to a man. Men differ greatly from one another. God's methods of regenerating men differ accordingly. The essentials are the same. There is always a change of disposition. The love of sin and self is replaced by the love of holiness and God. Repentance and faith evince the change within. But the time, the circumstances, the awakening agency, the process of thought before and after, differ as widely as do the individual minds and hearts with which God deals. So the call of God to the ministry is communicated in a thousand ways, and no man must refuse to listen to God's voice because it comes to him in one way rather than in another. The fact that my experience in this matter is unlike any other of which I have ever heard may be, not a reason for doubting, but rather a reason for crediting it.

In my own case I am persuaded that the call of God to preach the gospel came to me long before my conversion; and I knew, for years before I gave my heart to God, that if I were ever converted I should be obliged to preach. As I have listened to the relations of Christian experience by successive classes of young men entering our seminary, I have been interested to hear many similar cases. In fact, the certainty that conversion meant preaching has caused many a man to resist and delay conversion. The refusal to preach has been the one opposition of soul to the known will of God, and until that was surrendered there was no parNO VISION, OR VOICE FROM HEAVEN 323

don or peace. Paul declares that he was separated unto the gospel of God even from his mother's womb, though it was not until his journey to Damascus that it pleased God to reveal his Son in him. In view of all this, how important it is that the churches should be in a proper spiritual state to facilitate conversion in the cases of those youthful attendants upon their worship whom God has already impressed with a sense of their duty to preach his gospel!

Yet in other cases God's call to preach comes after he calls men into his kingdom, and the new impulse to proclaim the truth of salvation is a sort of corollary of one's own joy in personally experiencing salvation. The call of God comes sometimes through the call of men, as when the lawyer, William R. Williams, in his own absence, was summoned by the church in New York of which he was a member to become its pastor. In the days of Chrysostom, men fled from the church's call, and only when they were dragged out from their hiding-places concluded that the church's call was the call of God. It matters not how the call comes, whether through the suggestion of Christian brethren, through one's own success in personal work for Christ, or through private meditation upon one's own opportunities and obligations.

There needs no vision, and no audible voice from heaven. God speaks more clearly and unmistakably through conscience and providence than he could by signs in the sky. But there does need to be borne in upon the soul the conviction that the love of Christ constrains it to make known that love to others, and that "woe is me, if I preach not the gospel." The whole trend of one's past life may point in the direction of the ministry, while yet no outward sound has dis~ turbed the stillness. A man may be drawn irresistibly to Christ's work by inner longing, as the steel is drawn by the magnet. He does not need to explain the drawing. He only needs to have it. Yet none of God's drawings are irrational. One must be able to show that this inner impulse and conviction are not contradicted by deficient intellect or deficient culture. Moral and spiritual fitness must be held by the churches as the only sure evidence that the conviction of a call is not a delusion.

I believe with all my heart in the absolute indispensableness of a divine call to the ministry, and I would ordain no man who did not believe that God had called him. To go before one is sent is in this matter temerity and sacrilege. All the more blessed is he who hears God's voice speaking inwardly and saying: "If thou wilt take forth the precious from the vile, thou shalt be as my mouth." "Say not, I am a child: for to whomsover I shall send thee thou shalt go, and whatsoever I shall command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid because of them: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord."

It is not enough, however, for the preacher to hear a divine call. He must also receive a gospel message. John Henry Newman said once that the difference between a poor preacher and a good one was that the former had to say something, and the latter had something to say. It is one thing to have a burden, and it is another thing to have a definite message. There is a substance to the glad news of salvation, and the first A GOSPEL MESSAGE NEEDED


business of a man called to the ministry is to get possession of it. What is he to preach? This is a momentous question. The faith once for all delivered to the saints,—this has been handed down to us. We are bidden to commit it to faithful men who shall be able to teach others also. Paul regards the truth of God as a sacred deposit, and he urges Timothy: "Keep thy deposit "; "keep the good deposit." It is a treasure of which he is a steward, and, like a good steward, he expects to give account for the least jot and tittle of that which has been committed to him.

Getting possession of this substance of the preacher's message generally comes later in point of time than the preacher's call to the ministry. Paul, after the Lord had called him, spent three years in Arabia, receiving instruction from Christ, before he was ready to declare his gospel. Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness under the tuition of the Spirit, before his ministry began. And this is divine wisdom. The teacher must first be taught. The man who practises medicine without having ever studied medicine will certainly have fools for patients. The man who practises law without ever having studied law will get his clients into greater trouble than they had before. And the minister of the gospel who has no time to learn what the gospel is, and who fancies that the world is waiting for his message when he has no particular message to communicate, is just as shortsighted as the unfledged lawyer or physician. That God has called him to preach makes it all the more needful that he should preach the preaching that God bids him, and to do this he must give time to the study of God's truth.

I know well that this truth is contained in the Scriptures; and that, when no teachers can be had, a man can get the truth, or at least some of it, from the Scriptures for himself. But the guidance of human teachers may save one from many mistakes and may shorten his labors. French and German without a master results in very curious specimens of French and German. So interpretations of Scripture without study of the laws of interpretation may result in the wildest vagaries. Scripture is not a series of disjointed fragments but an organic whole. Each part is to be judged not by itself alone but in its connection with every other part. The Bible says: "There is no God "; but it does not teach atheism, for if we take the text in connection with its context we read: "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God." So the verse is to be interpreted by the book of which it forms a part, and the book by the Testament, and the Old Testament by the New. Texts, like railway coupons, are "not good, if detached."

The average college graduate, though brought up in a Christian family and trained in a Christian college, has not yet that knowledge of the Bible nor that habit of putting its truths together which make him a trustworthy teacher. What he has learned of Scripture he has learned fragmentarily. We listen to the Christian experiences of many young men who seek to enter our seminary. Almost all of them are college graduates, and they are men of good natural intelligence. Yet I have been pained to find in many of these cases that their relation of experience makes no mention either of sin or of Christ. The two foci of the Christian ellipse THE NEED OF SPIRITUAL POWER 327

they seem ignorant of. Yet it is in part a seeming ignorance. When questioned, they acknowledge the influence of great truths which at first they seemed to ignore. In their own consciousness they lay all the emphasis upon their own efforts and decisions, and have no thought of the work of the Spirit of God. It shows how unfitted they are to instruct others, how greatly they need to be taught the meaning of their own experience, how much greater knowledge they require of the word of God.

Some of them are full of agnostic and necessitarian notions fatal to any effective understanding or preaching of responsibility, guilt, atonement, pardon, retribution. They have imbibed these notions too often from unchristian college instructors, and from the reading of skeptical books. Yet these same young men have often a zeal, which would be precious if it were not zeal without knowledge. The colored physician in New Orleans advertised that his first object was to remove the disease, and secondly to eradicate the system. Some of our untrained ministers have succeeded in eradicating the whole system of Christian doctrine. With proper instruction they may become ardent and able advocates of Christ's truth. Without instruction they are ready to be carried about by every wind of doctrine, and even to deny the deity and atonement of our Lord.

A Christian experience, a divine call, and a gospel message are needful as qualifications for the ministry. Let me add a fourth qualification which is supernatural, namely, spiritual power. By this I mean the demonstrated presence and seal of the Holy Spirit given in connection with the preacher's labors. By their fruits ye shall know them. We should insist in every council of ordination upon some evidence that the work of the candidate has been made by the Holy Spirit the means of leading sinners to Christ and of awakening and reviving the church of God. This is what I understand to be the "proving" of which the apostle speaks, and to be the difference between the novice and the true workman.

I have myself advocated the Scotch method of requiring the candidate to preach an actual trial sermon before the presbytery, that they may judge whether God is with him and whether he is a minister of the Spirit. We want men who will speak the words of God with something of the power of God. Principal Fairbairn says well: "We have lowered the ministry by lowering the standard of the men who can enter it. They tell us that the age of the pulpit is past. The age of the pulpit is only coming, but it will be the age of a competent pulpit." I will add to these excellent words of Principal Fairbairn that a competent pulpit is never a merely intellectual pulpit. It is a pulpit that adds to sound doctrine the power of the Holy Ghost.

They tell us that in Siberia the milkmen deliver their milk in chunks. It is frozen solid. The milk of the gospel in warmer countries is often delivered in the same way. It comes from a cold heart and it has no power to warm the hearts of those who receive it. The authority with which our Lord spoke should be the model for us. It was not the submissiveness and gentleness of Peter and John that impressed the Sanhedrin. We read rather that when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, they took knowledge of them that

they had been with Jesus. With Jesus is the secret of power, and we can learn it only from him. He can give us strength of heart, so that we can speak as the very oracles of God. And therefore as my last word to any who may be debating the question of their earthly calling I would say: Decide only in the presence of Jesus. Seek first a living experience of union with him. You cannot tell what your own powers are, until you are filled with his Spirit. You cannot tell what duty is, till he speaks within you. A score of objections and difficulties will vanish, when once the love of Christ constrains you. The ministry will cease to seem confining. Christ's service will be perfect freedom, when you once are possessed of the liberty with which he makes his people free.

I can assure you of this because I have found it to be so. I entered the ministry from a sense of duty. I did my work conscientiously but slavishly. Preaching and praying were hard tasks, and God was far away. Men were converted, but I had less and less interest in directing them; the fountains of feeling seemed dried up; I began to think God had taken his Spirit from me, and that I had committed the unpardonable sin. I was set to contend with a whole universe of evil influences; the world, the flesh, and the devil were against me; I was alone, and there was no eye to pity and no arm to save. No wonder that heart and flesh failed, and I was ready to perish. Vacation came, and I resolved first of all to learn where I stood before God. I gave myself to Bible reading and to prayer. I saw that the first apostles were in no such state as mine. They were eager, joyful, confident. What was the secret of their boldness? Ah, it was a present Christ! The Lord was with them and they knew it. I read the last chapters of John's Gospel. The parable of the Vine and the Branches assumed a new significance. Christ was not far away,—he was the life of the believer. "Is it true,

0 Lord, that thou art in me, that thou didst take possession of me at my conversion, that thou didst form an indissoluble union with my poor weak soul? Hast thou indeed been in me ever since that day, and hast never deserted me, even though by my unbelief I have shut thee out from the best rooms, and have banished thee to the remotest attic and corner of my being? And art thou waiting now only for my opening of the doors to fill every apartment and to flood the whole house with thy light and love?"

So I took my Lord at his word, I found him within,

1 gave him full control, I appropriated him. And, with that appropriating faith, the last vestige of my darkness and fear disappeared. My weakness was at an end. Work for Christ was joy, for it was he that wrought in me. Instead of contending single-handed against a universe of evil influences, I found that I could not make one effort for my own spiritual progress or for the spiritual good of others without his setting in motion all the wheels of nature to help me. The Lord had come suddenly to his temple, and the glory of the Lord shone round about me. I could accomplish more in an hour than I had been able to do in a month before. Praying and preaching were a delight. Men's ears and their hearts were opened to my words. I was the instrument of a higher power, even the Christ of God, the Creator, Upholder, and Governor of the whole earth. And so THE PROMISE OF THE FATHER 331

after many months of weakness and despondency I got my first glimpse of that spiritual power which is the most essential qualification for the ministry of the gospel.

I have tried to show you that natural gifts and general culture may rightly be demanded of one who seeks to enter the ministry. But I have also tried to show you that the supernatural qualifications are still more important, a Christian experience, a divine call, a gospel message, and a spiritual power. If you have the natural gifts and the Christian experience, then it is a most solemn question whether you have not also the divine call. If so, then I urge you to possess yourselves, by faithful study, of the gospel message.

But do not stop there. Rest not, until the outward word has become an inner word, and you know of an indwelling Christ, and the Holy Ghost has come upon you, and you are endued with spiritual power. It is a glorious thing to preach the gospel when the power of God rests upon you; but it is worse than useless to preach in the mere weakness of human nature. Better never enter the ministry, than enter it an unspiritual man, to do a perfunctory work. The Spanish fleet was burnt and destroyed at Manila in large part because Admiral Dewey attacked it before it had had time to get up steam. A battleship without steam is not so contemptible and idiotic a thing as is a Christian minister without the Spirit of God. Let us wait for the promise of the Father, and when he, the glorious third Person of the Godhead, has taken possession of us, we can go into battle mighty to the casting down of strongholds and of every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God.