The Designation Of The Preacher

The preaching of the Gospel is more than a mere utterance of certain

historical facts with deductions therefrom; more than a declaration of

certain doctrines with their applications. It is a highly complex

intellectual, moral and spiritual act. Two men may deliver the same

sermon. There may be similarity of voice, of manner, of delivery, but

one of these men will preach the sermon, the other only recite it.

The diff
rence may be almost beyond definition, yet it will be felt.

At the bottom it will be found to be this:--That one man is a preacher

and the other is not.

So then the man himself matters? Indeed he does, and to the extent

that it is not the declaiming of what may be called a sermon that makes

a man a preacher, but the man who, through self-expression, by being

what he is, makes such an utterance preaching. First the preacher,

afterwards the preaching.

And in the preacher the first essential to effectiveness and success is

what we have called designation, and designation is in part natural and

in part spiritual. Natural fitness and spiritual calling, gifts,

graces and a divine revelation made to his own consciousness--without

these the occupation of the preacher's office, especially in the

capacity of the separated ministry, can only be a perpetual misery and

mortification to the so-called preacher. To those who come to him for

guidance in the things of God the result of their absence may be

incalculable and eternal!

And, alas! there are to be found, in the ministry of all the churches,

men in whom natural and spiritual qualifications for their work are

absent and have always been absent. Concerning such men but a few

words, and those in reply to the reminders that we are continually

receiving of the ineptitudes and inaptitudes of preachers. These

things form a favourite topic with some people, to whom we will at once

say, that while there may be misfits in the pulpit, probably they are

there in no greater numbers than in other walks of life. We have known

such misfits at the bar; in the surgery; in the shop; at the bench.

The preacher's failure is of all failures the most public, and

consequently more discussed than are such other examples as we have

named. We have been so often told that "the fool of the family goes

into the Church" that we find a natural satisfaction in pointing out

that this particular fool is to be met with in every lane of life.

Never a war which does not reveal his presence in the army; never a

political campaign in which we do not see him being shouldered into

Imperial Parliament. Never do men talk together of their experiences

of bodily suffering, as sometimes even the least morbid of us will, but

some one is found to recall afflictions at the hands of the physician

of little wit. The "incompetent" is everywhere and if, sometimes, he

finds his way into the pulpit, those who jeer at the Church on his

account have little room for scorn.

But, true as is this reply to the oft-repeated gibe to which we have

referred, it is also true that nowhere does the square man in the round

hole do quite as great and as lasting injury as he does from the

pulpit. The right man for the work--that must be the ideal of the

Church, that man and no other, whatever be the consequence in the way

of offending well-to-do supporters whose dream it has been that son of

theirs shall "wag his head in a pu'pit," whatever be the disappointment

caused to the uninspired ambitions of callow youth or the conceit of

later years. The pulpit is not for sale! The honour of standing there

is not to be dispensed as a reward or allowed as a compliment. Wealth

has no rights and poverty no disabilities as to the occupancy of this

high place. Only the preacher must be suffered there!

And on this matter the Church must be jealous and alert. Sometimes the

responsibility for the presence of the wrong man in the pulpit rests

with her rather than with the man himself. It is open to question

whether the Church always regards with quite sufficient seriousness

this business of putting names "upon the plan." We have known cases in

which an individual has been persuaded against his own knowledge of his

qualities to set out upon a career which has brought to himself nothing

but failure and to the churches and congregations to which he has

ministered nothing but trial. We do well to be anxious to help men

into paths of Christian service, but it is needful to study the

adaptation of the man for the task. To send any man into the work of

preaching, either as a minister or as a lay preacher, merely to "find

him something to do," in order that he may be "encouraged in the good

way," as has been done in many and many an instance, is simply to

prepare difficulties for some one else to face. It is not sufficient

reason for aiding a man's progress to the pulpit that his ambitions run

in that direction, or that his relatives wish to see him in the

preacher's office. We have hinted at the possibility of giving

offence, and, of course, it is not pleasant to do this, especially

when, as is often the case, that offence has to be given to people whom

you love and honour for their works and character and sacrifices. In

this world, however, unpleasant things have to be faced, and frequently

the line of least resistance leads in the end to the greater trouble.

It is even more unpleasant to have to disappoint the hopes, and

discourage the desire for service, of some young aspirant whose piety

and devotion you admire; but it is better to hold a man back from the

very thing he longs for most than, by cowardly acquiescence in mistaken

purposes, to contribute to place him in a position for which he was not

born. Has this never been done? Have we never known officials vote a

formal recommendation "rather than hurt the young man's mind," or

"rather than estrange his parents who are such good supporters, you

know," trusting, meanwhile, to Providence for a happy issue out of all

their troubles? In the case of a local preacher the providential issue

may be the man's own discovery, sooner or later, of his own unfitness.

In the case of a candidate for the ministry some Connexional Committee

sitting in some distant town "may take a stand we cannot take who are

on the spot." These providences do not always come to pass. The

brother concerned does not always discover his unfitness. He is

frequently quite satisfied with himself, and remains so to the end of a

career long drawn out, with a persistent contentment which would be

amusing if its results were not so tragic. The Central Committee does

not invariably "find out for itself" the facts we are afraid to

communicate, and, as a consequence, the candidate goes successfully

through, and in after years, as like as not, becomes a Conferential

problem. Often the truest kindness lies in doing the thing hardest to

do and most painful to bear, and in the doing of this thing the sacred

obligation of the church may consist. Here is a lesson that needs

learning and remembering. No man becomes a preacher in Methodism

except with the assent and calling of the Church. This must not be

forgotten when preachers are being criticised. Do you say that such

and such an one ought not to be in the pulpit? It is probably quite

true, but it is also true that some Church helped him up the stair.

He, poor man! is not the only person to blame for your unsatisfied

hunger; your unquenched thirst; your empty pews!

But, to look at this matter of designation more in detail:--We have

said that it includes natural fitness and spiritual gifts and is made

manifest in a divine revelation to the consciousness of the person

concerned. Of this natural fitness, it may go without saying, the gift

of public speech will form a part. This should surely be regarded as

indispensable, yet how often do we come across instances in which the

importance of this prime essential seems to have been altogether

overlooked? It is not maintained that every pulpiteer need be a

Demosthenes, or that a man must possess the golden mouth of a

Chrysostom before he stands up to address his fellows on the concerns

of the soul. In these days orators are not numerous, and, if no man be

permitted to preach who does not possess this infrequent gift,

preachers will be few, while some of the greatest forces of the day

will be banished from the pulpit. What is needed is that a man be able

to express himself in such a manner as to command and retain the

attention of those to whom he speaks, and that, without outraging the

just sensibilities of the hearer whom he is sent to bless, he shall be

able to tell out the thing that is in him. Congregations are not

generally unreasonable in their requirements; indeed, as a rule they

are predisposed to indulgence, which has been well for some of us.

They do not clamour for an exhibition of elocution twice every Sunday.

They do not come to church demanding to hear in every preacher the

wonder of his age. But they do ask that a man be audible; that his

voice, if not melodious as a silver bell, be human; that his

pronunciation, if not faultless, be distinct, and his delivery without

painful hesitancy or torrential rush. Surely these requirements are

reasonable enough, and it is, at least, open to question whether a man

who, manifestly, can never be able to meet expectations so moderate

should consider himself, or be deemed by others, as unmistakably marked

out for a preacher of the word.

Along with the gift of utterance to be required in the man who is

designated to the pulpit will, almost invariably, be found a mind

studiously inclined. The days are gone when it was held that study for

the work of preaching the Gospel involved dishonour to the Holy Spirit

and unbelief concerning the promise of the divine enlightenment and

guidance. The words of Paul to Timothy are now accepted as a necessary

principle of pulpit preparation. "Study to shew thyself a workman

needing not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth," wrote

the Apostle; but it is not every man who is gifted for study. Books,

to some, are irksome, and much study a weariness to the flesh. They

"simply cannot do it," try as ever they may. Now we will not say that

such a man can never become a preacher. We will not even say that he

can never become a great preacher. There are some great students who

read few printed books--unconscious students, you might almost call

them. Again, some men arrive at great truths through intuition, and by

natural endowment of words are able to express them with an artless art

beyond the power of academies to teach. We must never forget that some

of our greatest and most successful preachers have been "failures" at

college and "hopelessly out of it" in examinations. Still, such men

are exceptions, and exceptions who, in almost every instance, have, in

various ways, given such proof of their exceptional endowments that

there has been little danger of their lack of bookishness proving a

barrier to their election for labours for which they were, from obvious

evidences, designed. Notwithstanding all that may be said of these

exceptional cases it should be wisely and carefully discussed whether

the man who always prefers the street to the study, the crowd to the

class, the newspaper to the treatise, was ever meant to spend his life

in instructing his fellows in matters that call for the deepest

thoughts of men.

It is, however, quite possible that a man may have gifts of public

speech, and possess a studious disposition, and still be without the

preaching mind. Such a mind will be more sensitive to spiritual

truths and influences than the average intellect. It will manifest a

talent for religion, a natural interest in things that are divine and

heavenly for their own sake and not merely because they are to form the

themes for appointed discourses. The "delight," as well as the life

work, of such a mind will be in the Law of the Lord. Its possessor

will not find himself hopelessly bored by the study of theology any

more than the born physician will find himself hopelessly bored by the

study of physiology or anatomy or pathology or materia medica. Again,

to the preaching mind spiritual vision and spiritual hearing will

commonly be attended with less effort than in the case of most men;

though even the preacher will find that there are times and times.

Spiritualism talks of its "mediums," some of whom are said to "see"

while others are said to "hear." The preaching mind will be in the

best sense both clair-voyant and clair-audient. Call the man a seer,

if you will, and speak of preaching as prophecy, and you will describe

as well as it can possibly be done the designated preacher and his

work. It remains to be predicated that such a man will possess, at

least, a more than ordinary endowment of tact and aptness in dealing

with men, holding keys to their consciences and their hearts. He will

have some special gift of natural power to move his fellows toward the

action they would rather not perform. He will abound in that precious

sympathy with humanity that feels the truth concerning other lives

which it cannot always know. To express our meaning in still another

tabloid phrase:--The man meant for the pulpit will possess a genius for

spiritual things.

In these few, incomplete lines we have indicated some of the natural

gifts whose possession should be held essential to the proof of a man's

designation for the preacher's vocation. Before the Church suggests

this service to one of her sons she should be satisfied of the presence

of these qualifications; not, of course, as matured and perfected

talents--that would be to ask the impossible--but as evidenced in signs

visible to the searching eye. Before a man yields to such a

suggestion, however kindly and urgently expressed, even if it only

point to a place on the plan of some struggling rural circuit, he

should know that nature has already in some degree fashioned the

instrument for the work.

But natural endowments and indications are not--need we say?--the whole

necessity. Our fathers talked not only of "gifts" but also of

"graces" and of "fruits" as well. The work of religion should be

realised by the preacher as a personal experience and prove itself in a

life accordant therewith. It is perfectly true that every hearer ought

to be as good as the preacher, but, paradoxical as the remark may

appear, it is none the less true that the preacher ought to be better

than those to whom he preaches. It is an absolutely sound instinct for

the fitness of things--an instinct honourable to the preacher's

office--which asks that he who discourses concerning the elements of

piety, calling upon men to embody them in works of faith and

righteousness, should prove his own possession of those elements in the

same way. It was laid down of old time that "they must be clean that

bear the vessels of the Lord." "Who," asks the Psalmist, "shall ascend

into the hill of the Lord, or who shall stand in His holy place? He

that hath clean hands and a pure heart, who hath not lifted up his soul

unto vanity nor sworn deceitfully."

So, before the Church sends out a man to preach let her search his life

to see not only whether he is able, but, also, whether in his character

and deportment grace and truth are so displayed as to give him

authority in calling upon others to live the holier life. Let the

Church look, too, for some signs of whole-heartedness in religion.

Zeal must be regarded as indispensable. We have heard a Circuit

Quarterly Meeting refuse to accept the recommendation of a young man

for the plan because he invariably failed to attend the Sunday night

prayer meeting in his own church. Would that every Quarterly Meeting

had the moral and spiritual courage to take so wise and discriminating

a course! Further, when the church has asked a man to assume the

ministry of the word, let him see to it that he take the candle of the

Lord into the secret places of his heart and search diligently therein

lest, in going up, he take with him that which will spoil his labours

and bring dishonour upon the truth! He had better a thousand times

tarry for a more perfect work of God to take place in his soul than do


And now comes the greatest and most vital question of all. To a man

may be given gifts many and acceptable; he may have received grace for

grace; he may have known deep and wonderful experiences of heavenly

things, and yet it may not be the will of God that he shall be

numbered with the preaching host. There are other noble kinds of work

demanding all the qualifications already named, and his powers may be

given to be expended in one of these. The preacher's designation,

therefore, is never complete until the Holy Spirit has spoken in his

soul the direct command of God. This must be clear and unmistakable.

Personal desire and ambition so often lead men astray. "Beloved, try

every spirit whether it be of God." This is a word to be followed

here. If only it had always been remembered how many tragedies had

been averted!

For God does directly call those whom He will for this office, and

those whom He so calls will certainly recognise His voice. This is

assumed everywhere in the Scriptures. This is proved in the experience

of the ages. How often in the Old Testament do we find the record of

such a revelation? Samuel in the Temple, in the darkness and silence

of the night, hears with the ears of childhood the word that invites

him to his destiny. To Isaiah, "in the year that King Uzziah died,"

comes in the Holy Place from "a throne high and lifted up" the

question, "Whom shall I send and who will go for us?" and he answers,

"Here am I, send me." In the terms of these histories is enshrined the

story of the vivid way in which the Almighty revealed His will to the

conscience of men of old time. The narratives of the New Testament

still further illustrate the manner of the divine compelling. How

urgent His call may be, is heard in such a cry as this; "Woe is me if I

preach not the Gospel!" Here was a man to whom preaching was no

personal ambition, no mere means of livelihood, who, indeed, "wrought

with his own hands that he might not be chargeable to any." To Paul

this ministry was a divine compulsion; a duty only to be escaped at the

cost of spiritual peace, of the serenity of perfect obedience. In all

generations this experience has been repeated. Read the life stories

of those who have wrought great works with the hammer of the word, and

in every such record you will certainly light upon a page upon which

will be told the story of the call that could not be disobeyed. The

older biographies of our own preachers abound in accounts of how they

were spoken to from on high. In those days there was little earthly

advantage to be gained from the work of a Primitive Methodist preacher,

itinerant or local. Persecutions were many and the labour was

hard--very hard. Often do we read of men struggling to escape from

the order which had come unto them, and only yielding at last, because,

for love of Him who entreated them, they could do no other. "Sent by

my Lord," they cried, "on you I call!"

And this clear word which came to men of old time, which has always

come to the man whose work was to lie in the breaking of the bread of

life--this clear word must still be regarded as essential to a perfect

designation. Of course, there is but one man to whom this supreme

indication will be apparent, the man to whom the voice has come; so

that with the preacher, himself, lies the final responsibility of his

presence in the pulpit--a sent, or unsent, man. Do we say that it is

to ask a hard thing to insist that no one shall preach who cannot say

confidently that he knows himself to have been moved of God to this

place and labour? Hard, perhaps, it may seem, but "strait is the gate

and narrow is the way" into this excelling service. There are many

hard things in the ordinances of the Kingdom, and, perhaps, it has not

been well that we have so often sought to broaden the path, to widen

the gate. Possibly there might be fewer preachers if all we have laid

down were insisted upon, but there might be more power; there might be

more success.

Designation made plain by gifts, graces and an inward sense of Divine

election--this then is the first essential in the man. The

recollection of this will prevent the office of the preacher from being

regarded simply as a profession. When a man enters the ministry "for a

living," or because, forsooth, he has social aspirations, he has taken

a downward, and not an upward, step. When he comes into the work

because all his nature, all his experiences, all the results of

religion in his heart and life urge him on, the Lord saying "Go thou

and I will be with thee," then glorious is his calling, and glorious

will be his record when the day is done!