William Plumer on the Nature of a Call to the Gospel Ministry

Dr. Plumer begins his reflections on the Scripture doctrine of a call to the ministry by offering a few general comments, and by examining the nature of a call, i.e., what is a call to the ministry? He notes, first, that Jesus called the first disciples in order to prepare them for the ministry, not to minister per se. Perhaps it is not without some significance that most seminary courses are three years in duration, as this was the amount of time that Jesus spent with His disciples before sending them out alone to gather and pastor His sheep. Second, many pious men are “apt to be deterred from all thoughts of entering the ministry…while many others of doubtful piety, having in their compositions a spice of self-conceit and a dash of forwardness,” rush headlong into an office to which they are, in fact, not called. Third, he gives three answers to the query, “Who ought to study the question, ‘Am I called?'” 1) No person who is without piety need give the matter his attention; 2) No female is bound to study this subject for personal decision and action (I Tim. 2:12); and 3) It may be a safe rule for every male member of the church to inquire, “Am I called?” Obviously, Plumer notes, some will be able to answer the question in the negative in a matter of minutes; but they should ask the question nonetheless.

Dr. Plumer makes a couple of distinctions as he turns to consider the nature of a call to the ministry. First, he distinguishes between an extraordinary call and an ordinary call. The former is “one given under such circumstances as, in a marvellous and clear manner, show the will of God.” By its very nature, an extraordinary call is restricted to “days of miracles.” An ordinary call, on the contrary, is what has been given since the apostles departed from the scene; it is discovered by the “usual course of which duty becomes known, without any supernatural or marvellous indications of the will of God.” It may as clear as an extraordinary call, but “it must require more patience and longer time to ascertain it.”

The second distinction Dr. Plumer gives us is between two types of ordinary call: a general call and a special call. A general call is what every pious man or woman hears, calling them to “hold forth the word of life,” and to invite and command the lost to come to Jesus. It stems from the necessities of a world dead in sin, and requires every Christian to do what he or she is able to do. But the general call, “determines nothing as to the particular method, by the adoption of which, each one shall serve.” A special call, on the other hand, “is such a concurrence of qualities and events on an individual, as, if explained by the principles of the Bible and of common sense, will make it manifest that the will of God is that he, on whom the concurrence is, should enter the ministry.” Both the word of God and the providence of God speak to a man to call him to the gospel ministry, as every true gospel minister can affirm.

Of what that concurrence of qualities and events consists is the topic for a future post.



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