Asked by the Staff of BEACON LIGHTS to contribute an article to the series on the subject, “Why I chose to be a minister,” I gladly comply with this request. The topic is surely timely, and I wish to congratulate the Staff upon its selection. The purpose of this series of articles, I assume, is to lead our young men to a serious and prayerful consideration of this very high calling. And the Staff has informed the undersigned that the writers of these articles should incorporate into them their past and present experiences which are very rewarding to them.
Why I chose to be a minister, selected this vocation? Because it was selected for me. Oh, I do not mean to say that my parents selected this calling for me. Here we are confronted with a fundamental principle. In a very real sense of the word, our vocation, life’s calling is determined by God. Too often we ignore this cardinal truth. Too often we assume that we select our life’s calling and task. And too often we are prompted and motivated by the question: “What will WE have ourselves to do?” That job or position, then, appeals to us which is the most attractive materially, the most lucrative, offers us the most money, gives us the greatest opportunity for advancement in the material sense of the word. Viewing our life’s calling in this light, we will hardly select the preaching or teaching profession.
It is, of course, true that we must prepare ourselves for our life’s work. This speaks for itself. This preparation requires effort and study on our part. But this does not alter the truth that our life’s calling is determined by the Lord. It is God Who distributes gifts and talents according to His will. And we, to prepare ourselves for our life’s task, must examine ourselves and ask ourselves the question: “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” We must not be motivated by the lust of the eyes and of the flesh, by the mere desire for carnal gain and advancement; we must be guided by the desire to serve the Lord according to the gifts and talents He has given us, and by the desire to serve the interests of His Church in which He has given us a name and place. The desire to study and serve our churches in the ministry of the Word, given to me by the Lord, certainly prompted me in my decision to attend our Protestant Reformed seminary and become a minister (servant) of the Word of God.
However, the Staff of BEACON LIGHTS has asked me to incorporate into my article my past and present experiences which were very rewarding to me. Upon this, I believe, the emphasis must be laid in this article. Now it seems to me, on the one hand, that it is surely not the Staff’s desire that I speak of those experiences which were materially rewarding to me. I would not be able to write an article on this. The preaching of the gospel does not bestow many material rewards upon the ministers of the gospel in our Protestant Reformed Churches. And, on the other hand, must I incorporate into my article only those “rewarding” experiences that were pleasing and delightful, and exclude all other “rewarding” experiences that were difficult and unpleasant? Of course not!
It has been my privilege to serve several churches: Pella, Creston, Kalamazoo, Hamilton (Canada), Edgerton, Redlands and Hope. Many are the difficulties which are inseparably connected with the labors of a minister of the Word. I need not discuss all these difficulties as I have experienced them. The time we spent in Hamilton, for example, can hardly be called very pleasant. One great difficulty always centers in the truth that all is not Israel that is called Israel. The reaction to the preaching of the gospel and all the labors connected with it is always twofold. Israel is a twofold people: carnal and spiritual Israel. It is wonderful when the children of the congregation embrace the instruction given them and, when come to years of discretion, confess their Lord publicly in the midst of the church of Cod. But it is also very sad when other children of the congregation, receiving the same instruction, reject the Word of God and prefer the pleasures of sin for a season. This, of course, is and must be the saddest and most difficult aspect of the work of a minister of the Word of God. This applies not only to the “goats” and the “chaff,” whereof the Scriptures speak, but also to the sheep and lambs of God’s pasture. Imperfection cleaves to all the people of God as they sojourn in the midst of the world. This, we understand, involves the Church of God in the very distasteful task of exercising the key of Christian discipline. Many are the headaches and heartaches that result from this arduous and most difficult task.
A preacher of the Word must also be prepared to share the griefs and sorrows of his flock. I refer to sickness and death. For one reason or another, it has pleased the Lord to spare the undersigned in this respect to a large extent. For example, in eighteen years of labor in the congregations of Kalamazoo, Edgerton and Redlands, we conducted only three funerals. This, I am sure, is an exception. Funerals are difficult, some more, others less. The minister must be ready to go from one extreme to another. He must be ready to officiate at a wedding in the evening after having conducted a funeral in the afternoon. And he must be able to take a part in both, in a very real sense of the word, weeping with those who mourn and rejoicing with those who rejoice.
Permit me to add one more thought as far as our difficulties are concerned. I now refer to our Prot. Ref. Churches. We are small according to the standard of this world. It would be folly for anyone to deny or ignore this fact. We are surely of no account in the midst of the world, also in the midst of the church-world. We are branded as sectarian, are denied the right of existence before God, are simply ignored as a Church of Jesus Christ our Lord. And this is due to the general unpopularity of the gospel we proclaim. The gospel we proclaim is anything but pleasing to the flesh. This has also been the experience of the undersigned.
Have our labors as a minister of the Word in our Protestant Reformed Churches been rewarding to us? Indeed! First of all, to preach the Word of God because the Lord has called us unto that task is rewarding in itself. It gives one the assurance that he is walking in the way of the will of the Lord. One can never derive any lasting pleasure from pursuing a certain vocation merely from the motive of personal and material gain. The Lord will and does comfort those who walk in the way of His will and precepts, also as far as the ministry of the Word is concerned.
Secondly, it is a very gratifying and beneficial experience to be an instrument in the hands of the Lord in the instructing and comforting of His people. To share their griefs and sorrows, to witness the wonderful truth as revealed by others that the grace of God is always sufficient, enriches one’s own spiritual life. And how wonderful it is to be used by the Lord to comfort His own by His Word and Spirit!
Finally, we have one more observation. I mentioned the fact of the smallness of our churches, and that we must not deny or ignore this fact. But it is my experience and conviction that we must not end here. We are small. Indeed! But we are also strong! We are poor. But, we are also rich! We are of no account in the midst of the world. But we do preach and teach the wonderful and unadulterated gospel of our God! And I want to emphasize this. Indeed, the gospel we proclaim is unpopular, but only to the natural man. Where is the Word of God preached and taught as in our churches? It is wonderful to be privileged by God to stand in this Cause of the eternal Son of God. Our task is clear. Our calling we understand. And, as far as our future is concerned, the secret or hidden things belong to the Lord, our God, the things of God’s counsel even as they involve us, personally, and as churches, as they lie in the future and have as yet not been revealed to us. We need not concern ourselves with them. They belong to the Lord, Jehovah, the Unchangeably Faithful One, Who is also our God, the Almighty One, able to provide for us and give us all we need. This is my deepest conviction. May the Lord give us men, young men, dedicated to the preaching of His Word, and realize that the coming of our Lord upon the clouds of heaven draws nigh. The smallness of our churches, particularly in the light of the nearness of that coming, need not discourage us. Let us remain faithful unto the calling whereunto the Lord has called us.