As I think back, it occurs to me that the primary reason why I became a minister was the fact that I was called of God to the ministry.
This calling is just as real today as it was in the old dispensation when God called certain persons from among the people to be His prophets, bestowing upon them the Spirit of Christ as the Spirit of prophecy. Today God calls His ministers of the Gospel out of those gifted with the office of believers, privileging them to serve as His ambassadors in the church.
There is actually no higher calling in all the world. A minister is an ambassador of Christ. Christ calls, and therefore Christ also qualifies by His Spirit to preach the Word, proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ in His Name and on His authority from the pulpit, in the catechism, among the individual sheep and lambs according to their every need. A pastor is an under-shepherd of Christ, who never need search for his own word to speak, but always says in the name of Him Who sends him; “Thus saith the Lord.” He is privileged to study the Word, search the Scriptures, and to instruct others in its riches. He is freed from the responsibility of laboring for his daily bread and from every other vocation in order that he may devote all his time and talents to the study and ministry of the Word. And having been called, he is normally called for life, for when the Lord calls a shepherd to the work of shepherdizing His flock He also provides a portion of His flock among which the shepherd may labor.
Do you wonder then that I begin by speaking of a calling as the primary reason for entering the ministry?
It is true that at first I experienced only an inward, subjective calling. There was no voice that spoke, there was no sign given. I cannot even recall when the consciousness of that call became evident in my life. It seems now as if it was always there. And therefore, the absolute certainty of that call was not confirmed until I received an outward, objective call from one of our churches.
But that it was there seemed quite certain. It is true that in my early teens and until the time that I entered the seminary I had in mind to become a missionary. And that phase of the ministry has never lost its appeal to me. It has been a privilege to serve in the Mission Board, and also to make contact with people outside of our churches, both in the States and in Jamaica.
Someone may ask, how did you know that you were called to the ministry? The answer is, that there was an abiding desire to be active in the things of God’s kingdom. It seems now as if that was always present.
There was a desire to study the Scriptures. This desire may have been no greater than in many other children of God, but it was there.
There was also a desire to search the Scriptures, preach the Word and instruct others in the Word. Teaching has always had a strong appeal for me. Often the question arose whether I had the necessary gifts and talents for the ministry of the Word. I realized that many and varied gifts are necessary for the work. I felt keenly that the necessary qualifications were lacking. But I also felt that God would not call anyone to the work without qualifying him for the particular place that he must fill. Already then, even as much more so now, I took comfort in the words of the apostle Paul, “And who is sufficient for these things?”
The desire to serve in the ministry only grew throughout the years. It was at that time the common grace controversy rocked the churches. This was the topic of the day in the whole Reformed church world. At home, at school, in the church the discussion always turned to the subject of common grace and the general, well-meant offer of salvation. Even the daily newspapers carried reports of the proceedings of Classis and Synod. And when the Protestant Reformed Churches came into existence with an immediate need for ministers, the desire to serve in these churches became especially urgent.
But even the desire does not make a minister. The Lord also opened the way to enter into the work. There were ten students in our seminary when it first opened its doors. Some of them dropped out without completing the course, some entered the ministry and served in our churches only for a time, one has already departed from this life, and two (Rev. Vos and I) are still active. These years in the seminary, although not devoid of problems and difficulties, were very pleasant and profitable for the future. But the greatest experience of all was to have the inward call confirmed by an outward, objective call from one of our churches. I shall never forget the day when a call reached me from our church in Hull. Iowa. The way was now completely opened to enter the ministry.
In conclusion, I would encourage any young man who is confronted with the problem of choosing a vocation to give serious and prayerful consideration to the calling to the ministry. There is no higher calling on earth. There is no greater satisfaction for any sincere child of God than to be active in a special office in the church. But besides that, there is also a great need for students in our seminary and ministers in our churches. While I am writing this, I have just visited our church in Redlands and am now staying in Lynden. Both of these churches are located in the western extremity of our country, and both are sorely in need of their own pastor. And this need applies to other churches also. Isn’t it a rather sad commentary on our times and on our churches, that there are no more young men among us who desire to enter into this field of labor? Anybody can be a scientist, economist, industrialist; even sons of the world can serve in that field. But only sons of the church can serve in the ministry. But they must surely be called and filled with the Spirit. May God incline the hearts of godly young men among us to prepare themselves in our seminary.