(delivered in St. Peter’s Chapel, Auckland Castle, 1880)
You are entering upon a ministerial career. There is a definite thing to be done – and you will do it with all your heart, soul, and might – through evil report and good report, in season and out of season, in success and in failure, in moments of defeat and in moments of victory. You will do this work knowing that although you may fail – God cannot. For the career minister, the surest way to success is to think nothing at all about success. Determine to neither be discouraged by failure nor elated by success. Success or failure: what are these compared with God’s eternal purpose? We are children of eternity.
You stand poised on the brink of something new. A great gulf now separates the new life from the old. This is an impassable gulf and no return is possible. The call of God excludes all thought of renunciation. You dare not look back, lest that backward glance should petrify your spirit. At this turning point, Jesus words return to you with double-force: “No man, having put his hand to the plough and looking back, is fit for the Kingdom of God”.
Some who are entering the ministry have their eyes dazzling with bright visions of ministerial success, of a church filled, of a neighborhood reclaimed, of a spiritual wilderness turned into a garden for the Lord, of a devoted flock hanging on their every word……if this be so, stamp out this feeling. It is egotism, sheer egotism, however much it may assume the guise of zeal for Christ.
On the other hand are those who are immediately assailed by disappointment, despondency and almost despair. A years experience has shattered many a proud hope. The young preacher has found, to his dismay, ignorance, indifference, and antagonism. He did not receive the welcome he expected. So then put away all thoughts concerning results. You can neither control them nor estimate them.
Could any failure be greater than the failure of Elijah: “They seek my life”. Could any failure be greater than the failure of Paul: “All men forsook me”. Yes. There was one greater failure…the Man scorned, mocked, abandoned, despised, hated, tortured, and murdered – yet the Son of God triumphed over death and is alive today. His words live – speaking to generations yet unborn. What may seem to be failure is only truth deferred. So, then, be not disheartened. “But we have toiled all night”. Yes, but the morning will break. “We have taken nothing”. Yes, but soon your nets will be full. Fishers of men, persevere!
There is a great danger in your path: that of regarding our own capacities instead of the His. “Here am I” – say you as did Jeremiah – “so young, so inexperienced, so inadequate….how can I pierce this mass of ignorance and unbelief which confronts me? What can I do to heal a wounded spirit, comfort the dying, or melt a hardened conscience? Who am I to bear His message to these?” And the reproof will soon come to you as it did to Jeremiah, “Say not ‘I am a child’ – be not dismayed at their faces – for I have put My words in thy mouth”. The call of God is on your life – but it is at this point you are reluctant. The work ahead overwhelms you. You feel your deficiencies keenly. You say with Jeremiah, “O Lord, I am not eloquent”. The Lord answers you as He did the prophet, “I will be with your mouth. I will teach you what you will say”. The call comes from God. “Who shall I send?” You promptly and obediently respond, “Here am I, Lord: send me!”
Remember your commission. Your weakness is backed by His power. Remember the potency of your message. Though the hand may be feeble that wields this Sword, it will never lose its edge. Remember you have the guidance of the Holy Spirit. His is an unfathomable supply of ministerial power that enables you to use this weapon – His Word – effectively.
Gird yourself, therefore, with this three-fold armor: the call of God the Father, the message of God the Son, and the guidance of God the Holy Spirit.
A word regarding your preaching……
Preach nothing you do not practice. The man is the message. You cannot project a hope you do not possess. The man is first – then the teaching. The man is first because he IS the teaching……for “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks”. Your ministry manifests itself in your preaching. Sermons fail to hit the mark if they are too abstract and nothing touches immediate needs. Throw as much human interest into your sermons as you can. Through illustration, expression, and every legitimate means arrest their attention and hold it.
Preach extemporaneous sermons. Exegete the Word. No congregation grows on a diet of stale manna. Mere empty talk, pious platitudes, and aimless rambling – can never satisfy the hungry soul. The type of teaching necessary comes only through earnest, concentrated study. Specific instruction is what our people need and is generally what they do not get. Detailed exposition of the Scripture is thereby mandated.
Do not think preaching is an easy matter. A message is worthy of all the time you can give it. To waste time is to waste everything. Do not say you have not the time. Time can always be found where there is the desire to find it. Routine ministerial work will encroach upon Bible study – and superficial sermons are the result. To present a sermon ill-prepared is not a matter of not trusting God: it is a matter of tempting God. Be a man of one Book. To do this you must know it and live it. In so doing you will find personal nourishment for your heart, soul, and intellect – enabling you to transfer it to your people. In so doing you will see their lives transformed by the power of God’s Word.