How I was called to Salvation and Service - Introduction
John Heading, Aberystwyth
Following the series of papers entitled "The Lord's Servants and their Service" by K. T. C. Morris, we now propose to commence a series showing how many of these principles are worked out in practice. The new series is particularly intended to help younger believers, whose life and service for the Lord are still essentially before them, if the Lord remain absent. How often these younger believers must look at older servants of the Lord, contemplating their faith, knowledge, zeal, opportunities, ability, and wonder whether there is any possibility that they will ever even half match these older servants in their service for the Lord. They forget that these giants in faith and service were themselves young and inexperienced many years in the past, and that only the divine call and enabling have put them into the ministry, 1 Tim. 1. 12. They may also wonder how these servants of the Lord received their call to service in the first place—why they are serving as they are and where they are, since these important features of service are seldom talked about, at least in public. However, Scripture encourages personal testimony, as Paul in Jerusalem, Acts 22. 3-21 ; before king Agrippa, 26. 2-23; to the Corinthians, 2 Cor. 11. 22 to 12. 4; to the Galatians, Gal. 1.10 to 2. 21 ; to the Thessalonians, 1 Thess. 2. 1-12; to Timothy, 1 Tim. 1. 12-17. In all these cases, the testimony was glorifying to God, and helpful, edifying and instructive to his hearers and readers.
There is thus room for such personal testimony today. We tend to be thrilled with, and thankful for, testimonies of conversion from young believers from a gospel platform, and are glad to hear missionaries tell of interesting cases of conversion on the mission field. But this is the commencement of the work of God in a soul, not the end. We should be equally thrilled to hear of the hand of God in the lives of believers, leading them on in spiritual pathways of service glorifying to His Name. Yet we tend to hear but little of this, as if this side of the divine work should be hidden under a bushel.
Our new series will seek to capture something of the work of God in some of the Lord's present-day servants, showing how they were led of God to take up their particular spheres of service. We shall be approaching missionaries, evangelists and teachers in the home country, writers, those whose careers are linked with special opportunities in spiritual work, and those now retired but able to look back upon a lifetime of service in the Lord's Name. We appreciate that some of the Lord's servants may not feel exercised to write in the first person about what the Lord has done with them; others will feel it right to share their experiences with those who are younger, so as to encourage them likewise to seek the Lord's guidance in their service. For this comes in many different ways; there is no such thing as a stereotyped case. Sometimes there may be almost a direct intervention on the part of the Lord; sometimes circumstances may constrain one to a particular path of service. The Word of God, and the holy examples recorded therein, may be the determining voice of God to some believers. The need of a particular area, and its dominant voice to the conscience, may lead some believers in that direction. Ability already possessed may, with growing maturity, imply a particularly orientated kind of service. There may be an inner sensitivity and exercise that cannot be explained rationally, yet clearly the voice of God to the individual concerned. Older servants of God may actually request younger ones to assist them in their service, which in turn will then blossom out in pathways of fruitfulness. Contributors to the series will be encouraged to dovetail their own experiences with principles and examples provided for us in the Word of God.
In each case, the servant of the Lord must be able to say regarding his call, "I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision". Acts 26. 19. The compulsion to service must be like that of the apostle Paul, "woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!", 1 Cor. 9. 16. Unfortunately, even in scriptural examples, this is not always so. At his call to deliver God's people from Egypt, Moses immediately resisted the direct voice of God by complaining that he was "not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue", Exod. 4. 10. At the first thought of being a "prophet to the nations", Jeremiah's reaction to God was, "behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child", Jer. 1. 5-6. The fact of being a child did not cause Samuel to complain as he ministered before the Lord, 1 Sam. 3. 1. Worse still, Jonah strongly resisted the word of the Lord that he should go to Nineveh, and fled from the presence of the Lord, Jon. 1. 1-3. Later, even when God had used his preaching in Nineveh, he still complained of God's mercy, 4. 1. Certainly this was "disobedience to the heavenly vision".
Three distinct calls may be discerned in the New Testament. First there is the call to salvation; without this, none can properly serve the Lord, although some believers may have been "religious" before conversion, and perhaps taught in a Sunday School in churches where there was no discrimination between saved and unsaved people. Second, there is the call to general service; in one way or another this must come to all believers, since the New Testament does not contemplate a Christian without some work for the Lord. Third, there is the call to special service—this does not come to all in the will of God, but is something to be watched for in case the Lord leads in such directions. We may illustrate these three phases by some scriptural examples.
Peter's call to salvation came when Andrew his brother, one of John the Baptist's disciples, found the Lord Jesus as the Lamb of God through John's testimony, and in turn found Peter with the words, "We have found the Messiah", John 1. 35-42. Shortly afterwards, Peter was at the wedding in Cana, witnessing the miracle there that manifested forth the Lord's glory, resulting in the fact that "his disciples believed on him", 2. 11. After that, Peter failed to be wholly devoted to the Lord, and once again engaged in fishing, toiling all night and catching nothing, Luke 5. 5. After the miracle, Peter says, "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, 0 Lord", v. 8. This confession relates to his sin in having left the Lord for a season. There follows Peter's call to general service; "from henceforth thou shall catch men", v. 10. He thus followed faithfully in the pathway of discipleship, until a short time later he received the call to special service. Of these disciples, the Lord "chose twelve, whom also he named apostles", 6. 13, Peter being amongst them as the first-named. Apostleship is listed as a special gift and calling in 1 Corinthians 12. 28 and Ephesians 4. 11. This work was taken up in Luke 9. 1 -6, when the twelve were sent forth by the Lord to preach and to heal. Only after the ascension of the Lord and the giving of the Spirit was the work of apostleship fully entered upon, the apostles' special work being such that the church should be founded upon their foundation-teaching, Eph. 2. 20.
Another good example showing these distinctions is that of Paul. His call to salvation took place on the Damascus road, when the Lord Jesus intervened directly by presenting Himself in the glory of blinding light, Acts 9.1 -9. Almost immediately, the nature of his special call to service was made known to Ananias, "he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles", v. 15, and to Saul himself, "I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles", 22. 21. But this could not be taken up immediately; several years of general service were first necessary by way of preparation (as in Peter's case—he spent three years with the Lord in His lifetime, before being equipped by the Spirit on the day of Pentecost). Thus in his call to general service, Saul (not Paul) testified in Damascus, 9.19; in Arabia, Gal. 1.17; again in Damascus, v. 17; Acts 9. 22; in Jerusalem, vv. 26-29; 22. 17-21 ; Gal. 1. 18-19; in Caesarea (where Cornelius had recently been converted), Acts 9. 30; in Tarsus (brought there by the brethren, and thus able to serve the Lord in his own city), v. 30; and finally in Antioch (learning the value of systematic teaching in fellowship with a growing thriving local church), 11. 25-26. Only after all this experience, was Saul fitted to receive the call to special service—his call to the Gentiles, thereby taking up his apostleship and receiving the name Paul, 13. 1-4, 9. Every movement is now accomplished under the will of God, though this will was manifested in different ways on the various missionary journeys, such as going to Barnabas' home ground Cyprus, 13. 4; 4. 36; personal exercise, 15. 36; the direct intervention of the Spirit in the circumstances of the journey, 16. 6-7; by vision, v. 9; as the result of persecution, 17. 10; as the result of being "conducted" by others, v. 15; as a result of being able to go nowhere else except along an isthmus (from Athens to Corinth), 18. 1 ; as a result of a deliberate choice should such be the will of God, v. 21 ; 19. 1 ; as a result of having "purposed in the spirit", 19. 21 ; as a result of captivity and its consequences, 21. 33; 23. 11. By these means, the momentum of Paul's special service was kept going ever forward with no looking back with regret.
Finally we may mention the Old Testament character Moses. We may say that he experienced the call to salvation in Egypt during his first forty years of life. He experienced his call to general service in the desert in the middle forty years of his life, while he worked out his call to special service during the last forty years of his life in leading the children of Israel out of Egypt towards the promised land.
God works in a mysterious way in the lives of all His people, and this gracious working will be seen in the subsequent articles in this series. As we read them, may such verses as the following prove to be true : "thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith . . .", 2 Tim. 3. 10; "whose faith follow", Heb. 13. 7; "Be ye imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ", 1 Cor. 11.1 r.v. Finally, may our attitude towards these servants of the Lord be, "they glorified God in me", Gal. 1. 24.
July issue: John Campbell, Perth