By Samuel Logan Brengle
The Holy Spirit's Call to the Work
Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you."
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me; because the Lord hath anointed Me to preach good tidings unto the meek; He hath sent Me" (Isa. lxi. 1), is the testimony of the workman God sends.
God chooses His own workmen, and it is the office of the Holy Spirit to call whom He will to preach the gospel. I doubt not He calls men to other employments for His glory, and would still more often do so, if men would but listen and wait upon Him to know His will.
He called Bezaleel and Aholiab to build the tabernacle. He called and commissioned the Gentile king, Cyrus, to rebuild Jerusalem and restore His chastised and humbled people to their own land. And did He not call Joan of Arc to her strange and wonderful mission? And Washington and Lincoln?
And, no doubt, He leads most men by His providence to their life-work; but the call to preach the gospel is more than a providential leading; it is a distinct and imperative conviction.
Bishop Simpson, in his Lectures on Preaching, says: Even in its faintest form there is this distinction between a call to the ministry and a choice of other professions: a young man may wish to be a physician; he may desire to enter the navy; he would like to be a farmer; but he feels he ought to be a minister. It is this feeling of ought, or obligation, which in its feeblest form indicates the divine call. It is not in the aptitude, taste or desire, but in the conscience, that its root is found. It is the voice of God to the human conscience, saying, " You ought to preach." Sometimes the call comes as distinctly as though a voice had spoken from the skies into the depths of the heart.
A young man who was studying law was converted. After a while he was convicted for sanctification, and while seeking he heard, as it were, a voice, saying, " Will you devote all your time to the Lord?" He replied: " I am to be a lawyer, not a preacher, Lord." But not until he had said, " Yes, Lord ", could he find the blessing.
A thoughtless, godless young fellow was working in the corn-field when a telegram was handed him announcing the death of his brother, a brilliant and devoted Salvation Army field officer; and there and then, unsaved as he was, God called him, showed him a vast Army with ranks broken, where his brother had fallen, and made him to feel that he should fill the breach in the ranks. Fourteen months later he took up the sword and entered the Fight from the same platform on which his brother fell, and is today one of our most successful and promising field officers.
Again, the call may come as a quiet suggestion, a gentle conviction, as though a gossamer bridle were placed upon the heart and conscience to guide the man into the work of the Lord. The suggestion gradually becomes clearer, the conviction strengthens until it masters the man, and if he seeks to escape it, he finds the silken bridle to be one of stoutest thongs and firmest steel.
It was so with me. When but a boy of eleven I heard a man preaching, and I said to myself, " Oh, how beautiful to preach! " Two years later I was converted, and soon the conviction came upon me that I should preach. Later, I decided to follow another profession; but the conviction increased in strength, while I struggled against it, and turned away my ears and went on with my studies. Yet in every crisis or hour of stillness when my soul faced God, the conviction that I must preach burned itself deeper into my conscience. I rebelled against it. I felt I would almost rather (but not quite) go to Hell than to submit. Then at last a great " woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel', took possession of me, and I yielded, and God won. Hallelujah! The first year He gave me three revivals with many souls; and now I would rather preach Jesus to poor sinners and feed His lambs than to be an archangel before the Throne. Some day, some day, He will call me into His blessed presence, and I shall stand before His face, and praise Him for ever for counting me worthy and calling me to preach His glad gospel and share in His joy of saving the lost. The " woe" is lost in love and delight through the baptism of the Spirit and the sweet assurance that Jesus is pleased.
Occasionally, the call comes to a man who is ready and responds promptly and gladly. When Isaiah received the fiery touch that purged his life and purified his heart, he " heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? " And in the joy and power of his new experience, he cried out, " Here am I; send me" (Isa. vi. 8).
When Paul received his call, he says, " Immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood " (Gal. i. 16), and he got up and went as the Lord led him.
But more often it seems the Lord finds men preoccupied with other plans and ambitions, or encompassed with obstacles and difficulties, or oppressed with a deep sense of unworthiness or unfitness. Moses argued that he could not talk: " 0 my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since Thou hast spoken unto Thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue."
And then the Lord condescended, as He always does, to reason with the backward man. " Who hath made man's mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say " (Exod. iv. 10- 12).
When the call of God came to Jeremiah, he shrank back, and said, " Ah, Lordd God! behold, I cannot speak for I am a child." But the Lord replied: " Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee (Jer. i. 6-8).
And so the call of God comes today to those who shrink and feel that they are the most unfit, or most hedged in by insuperable difficulties.
I know a man, who, when converted, could not tell A from B. He knew nothing whatever about the Bible, and stammered so badly that, when asked his own name, it would usually take him a minute or so to tell it; added to this, he lisped badly, and was subject to a nervous affliction which seemed likely to unfit him for any kind of work whatever. But God poured light and love into his heart, called him to preach, and today he is one of the mightiest soul-winners in the whole round of my acquaintance. When he speaks the house is always packed to the doors, and the people hang on his words with wonder and joy.
He was converted at a camp meeting, and sanctified wholly in a corn field. He learned to read; but, being too poor to afford a light in the evening, he studied a large-print Bible by the light of the full moon. Today, he has the Bible almost committed to memory, and when he speaks he does not open the book, but reads his lesson from memory and quotes proof texts from Genesis to Revelation without mistake, giving chapter and verse for every quotation. When he talks his face shines, and his speech is like honey for sweetness and like bullets fired from a gun for power. He is one of the weak and foolish ones God has chosen to confound the wise and mighty (i Cor. i. 27).
If God calls a man, He will so corroborate the call in some way that men may know that there is a prophet among them. It will be with him as it was with Samuel. " And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him, and did let none of His words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan even to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord" (I Sam. iii. 19,20)
If the man himself is uncertain about the call, God will deal patiently with him to make him certain, as He did with Gideon. His fleece will be wet with dew when the earth is dry, or dry when the earth is wet; or he will hear of some tumbling barley cake smiting the tents of Midian, that will strengthen his faith and make him to know that God is with him (Judges vi. 36-40; vii. 9-15),
If the door is shut and difficulties hedge the way, God will go before the man He calls and open the door and sweep away the difficulties (Isa. xlv. 2-3)
If others think the man so ignorant and unfit that they doubt his call, God will give him such grace or such power to win souls that they shall have to acknowledge that God has chosen him. It was in this way that God made a whole National Headquarters, from the Commissioner downward, to know that He had chosen the elevator boy for His work. The boy got scores of his passengers on the elevator saved, and then he was commissioned and sent into the Field to devote all his time to saving men.
The Lord will surely let man's comrades and brethren know, as surely as He did the church at Antioch, when " the Holy Ghost said, Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them " (Acts xiii: 2).
Sometimes the one who is called will try to hide it in his heart, and then God stirs up some officer or minister, some soldier or mother in Israel, to lay a hand on his shoulders, and ask, " Are you not called to the work? " and he finds he cannot hide himself or escape from the call, any more than could Adam hide himself from God behind the trees of the garden, or Jonah escape God's call by taking ship for Tarshish.
Happy is the man who does not try to escape, but, though trembling at the mighty responsibility, assumes it and, with all humility and faithfulness, sets to work by prayer and patient, continuous study of God's word to fit himself for God's work. He will need to prepare himself, for the call to the work is also a call to preparation, continuous preparation of the fullest possible kind.
The man whom God calls cannot safely neglect or despise the call. He will find his mission on earth his happiness and peace, his power and prosperity, his reward in Heaven, and probably Heaven itself, bound up with that call and dependent upon it. He may run away from it, as did Jonah, and find a waiting ship to favour his flight; but he will also find fierce storms and billowing seas overtaking him, and big-mouthed fishes of trouble and disaster ready to swallow him.
But if he heeds the call and cheerfully goes where God appoints, God will go with him; he shall nevermore be left alone. The Holy Spirit will surely accompany him, and he may be one of the happiest men on earth, one of the gladdest creatures in God's universe.
'Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world," said Jesus, as He commissioned His disciples to go to all nations and preach the gospel (Matt. xxviii. 20). " My presence shall go with thee," said Jehovah to Moses (Exod. xxxiii. 14)
And to the boy Jeremiah, He said, " Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee.... And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee " (Jer. i. 8, 19).
I used to read these words with a great and rapturous joy, as I realized by faith that they were also meant for me and for every man sent of God, and that His blessed presence was with me every time I spoke to the people or dealt with an individual soul or knelt in prayer with a penitent seeker after God; and I still read them so.
Has He called you into the work, my brother? And are you conscious of His helpful, sympathizing, loving presence with you? If so, let no petty offence, hardship, danger, or dread of the future cause you to turn aside 9or draw back. Stick to the work till He calls you out, and when He so calls you can go with open face and a heart abounding with love, joy and peace, and He will still go with you.
"HAVE YE RECEIVED THE HOLY GHOST SINCE YE BELIEVED?"