For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! (Rom. 10:13–15)
“How shall they preach, except they be sent” (Rom. 10:15)? That question teaches the need for the ministry of the gospel, the task of the minister of the gospel, and the necessity of the calling of the minister for his work.
This question concludes a series of questions following from the declaration that “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:13). To be saved one must call on the name of the Lord. One cannot call on the Lord if he has not heard the Lord speak. One cannot hear the Lord speak without a preacher. The necessity of the ministry of the gospel is that through the ordained minister Christ speaks.
What Christ speaks is the saving gospel of grace. In and through the gospel preaching the elect hear Christ speak, believe, call upon his name, and are saved. The gospel preached by a preacher is the means for the salvation of the elect church of God because in and through it the elect hear Christ speak. Christ powerfully calls the elect church out of darkness into God’s marvelous light; through the hearing of the gospel the elect are saved.
Every man considering the ministry of the gospel must be impressed by this need for the ministry of the gospel. By means of the ministry of the gospel Christ pleases to gather his church. It is the highest calling to which a man can aspire. In the language of the apostle Paul, “If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work” (1 Tim. 3:1).
That question teaches that the task of the preacher is to preach this saving gospel. That is the task from which his office derives its name—a preacher. The word preacher teaches us that he is an official herald sent by another and through whom the one who sends him actually speaks. The people of God must hear preaching in order to call upon the name of the Lord and be saved.
Every man considering the ministry of the gospel must be impressed that this is the task of the minister. The calling of Christ to him in the ministry is to preach the gospel as the means for the salvation of Christ’s church.
That question also teaches the necessity of the calling of the preacher, or in the language of the text, that Christ sends the preacher. The word send teaches the calling of the minister of the gospel. The text states the importance of the sending by means the rhetorical question: how shall they preach, except they be sent? The implied answer is that no man can preach unless he is sent. Apart from the call it is impossible for him to preach, and apart from the preaching the church is not saved.
For the man considering the ministry the sending of Christ must be vital. He must desire this call. For the man who desires to be a preacher, Christ’s call drives him forward in his preparations for that work. For the ordained minister it is the ground of a vital assurance that he does the work of the Lord. It is somewhat like Luther’s holding on to doctoral credentials. It was not because he was proud of his accomplishments in learning, but because this assured him that the Lord had called him to this work and that his ministry was not undertaken in self-will. The call also constantly reminds an ordained minister that he is a servant of Jesus Christ, whose work he does, whose praise he seeks, and to whom he will render an account of his labors in the judgment and trial of every man’s work.
To this sending—call—by Christ there are two aspects: the subjective and the objective. The subjective aspect is the conviction of one’s heart through the leading of God in the circumstances of one’s life that he must prepare for the ministry of the gospel. The objective aspect is the actual calling of a man to the ministry of the gospel by the church institute. The subjective is first and leads to the objective. The objective is second and confirms the subjective. Both are important, are mutually dependent upon one another, and are aspects of the single calling of Jesus Christ by which he sends preachers to his church.
With regard to the subjective calling, a young candidate for the ministry may sometimes wish for a call like John Calvin’s, who desired to study quietly in some forgotten corner of the world but was goaded into the ministry by a thunderous curse upon all his work and study from the indefatigable Farel if Calvin refused to join the Reformation in Geneva. Or perhaps he wishes for a furious, life-threatening thunderstorm, as in the case of Martin Luther. Those events not only make the sometimes mysterious subjective call to the gospel ministry crystal clear, and a sometimes agonizing decision easier, but also make for more fascinating reading in articles like this.
Perhaps disappointingly for the reader there was nothing like that for me. Rather, there was only the quiet, irresistible movement of my life toward the ministry and the slow conviction that grew in my heart over time that I was called to the ministry.
This subjective calling comes through means; seeing the Lord’s invisible hand means to see the instruments that he uses. My father repeatedly told his seven boys that the ministry was the highest calling to which a man could aspire, prayed for it, and instructed us that we must consider it. My parents modeled in the home a high regard for the office of the ministry and all the offices. Especially did my father frequently and whenever called give himself to the work of elder, and he was a busy man as a teacher and a father of nine children. My father and mother provided a godly home in which we were taught to know the Reformed faith. I came from a family in which church matters mattered and were discussed often. At Hope Protestant Reformed Christian School and Covenant Christian High School I learned to live in the church. If the schools would have taught me nothing else, this alone would have made them worthwhile.
At Hope Protestant Reformed Church, the church of my youth, after catechism class the minister pulled two of us boys aside at a young age and reminded us of the calling to the ministry.
I remember well talking to one of the seminary professors about the call to the ministry and one of the first questions he asked was what my girlfriend and soon to be fiancé thought about it. A married man cannot labor in the ministry without his wife. For this reason the Lord often chooses ministers with wives who are supportive of their husbands and will be helps meet for them in the ministry, who also can and do grow into that, as the man does into his call.
There was also my oldest brother’s startling decision to quit his business career and to study for the gospel ministry when he was married and the father of three children. This made a deep impression.
There was a deep, relentless, inescapable urge to study for the ministry that these, and many other experiences, impressed upon me.
An inescapable urge because the servant is not always willing. The deep, relentless, inescapable urge may disquietingly coexist with a nearly equally strong and persistent desire to flee from the ministry of the gospel as far as it is possible to go. The subjective aspect of the calling is not without doubts. I was never able to say, as some have said, that I always knew I wanted to be a minister. That there are doubts should not trouble a man who is considering the ministry, and in the face of them he must pray for God to make his will known and quietly continue going about preparing himself for the ministry.
Through this preparation for the ministry the Lord also makes known his will. There are objective considerations. There must be an aptitude and desire for the work, a peace of mind in the studies themselves despite their rigor, and a will to continue. This includes the study of the various courses and subjects required by the seminary for entrance. It is of great benefit in preparation for the ministry that a thorough liberal arts education is required if for no other reason than that it tests a man’s will and ability to study, an activity so vital for the ministry of the gospel. The seminary itself is also the means God uses to prepare and confirm the calling to the ministry, speaking loudly through the studies there.
The confirmation of the subjective aspect of the calling—the objective calling—comes in the call from the church. Then and only then can a man answer “Yes, truly, with all my heart” to the first question of the form for his ordination: “I ask you whether thou feelest in thy heart that thou art lawfully called of God’s church, and therefore of God himself, to this holy ministry?” This question is not about a man’s feelings, nor about the subjective calling, but whether he considers the lawful call of the church the call of God himself. Does he believe that by the church God calls men—sends them—to preach the gospel? That objective calling by the church must be the strength of the subjective calling in his heart, too, of his conviction that God called him.
Then in faithfulness to the Lord who sends him and for the good of the flock in which Christ has made him a minister, let him give himself wholly to preaching. It is God’s power to salvation and the reason the Lord has called and sent him, because the flock—Christ’s people—cannot hear without a preacher.