By the Rev. Lachlan MacKenzie of Lochcarron (1754 – 1819)*
Preached in Applecross Church, on 1st July 1793, at the ordination of a minister, and now edited.
Text:“And no man taketh this honour to himself, but he that was called of God, as was Aaron.” Hebrews 5:4.
IF people go to perdition in these days, it is not for want of ministers. The clergy are soon likely to become as plentiful as the locusts in Egypt, and which of them is the greater plague of the two, time and the experience of the Church will discover. It was the language of one of the greatest pillars of the Church: “Who is sufficient for these things?” The primitive rulers of the Church were struck with such a sense of the importance and difficulty of the office of the holy ministry, that the people of God had often the greatest struggle before they could prevail upon them to take the charge of souls. Clergymen in those days did not run without being sent; and if they were animated with a desire for preaching the gospel, they did not by their conduct afterwards give room to others to suspect that they wished to be ordained in order to get “a piece of bread”. They did not take this honour to themselves till they were called of God. They did not intrude into the church, or obtrude themselves upon a presbytery for ordination, till they were persuaded from the infallible oracles of truth that God Himself had qualified them for His own work.
I shall, in the first place, show what it is to be called of God to the work of the ministry; secondly, that being called of God is the qualification necessary for the person preparing for the ministry that no man should usurp this honour without this call; and thirdly, I shall make some practical improvement.
First, I shall show what it is to be called of God to the ministry, or the qualifications necessary for the man whom God is preparing for that work.
The apostle, in this chapter, assures us that our Lord Jesus Christ himself did not assume the honour of being our High Priest till He was called of God, as was Aaron. Paul insists very often upon his call to the ministry. Though we are not to expect such an extraordinary call to the ministry as he had, yet every true minister of Christ will not rest satisfied till he has a call, not only from the church, but likewise from God. That this call is thought necessary by the Protestant church is evident, for in England the bishop asks the man whom he is about to ordain if he is moved by the Holy Ghost to the work of the ministry. And in our form of church government the presbytery has to examine the candidate not only as to his learning, but likewise as to the evidences of his calling to the holy ministry, as well as his direct call to that particular place.
1. The first part of this call of a man to the ministry I take to be a serious and wholesome concern for his own salvation. How can a man who never had as much soul exercise as to put him off a meal, pretend to advise others to be serious, and to take salvation to heart as the one thing needful? There is something very absurd in a man advising others to be serious when he himself is not serious. Can the minister, without taking salvation to heart, honestly say what the apostle said, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men”? Can a sinner come to Christ without some degree of terror? If he does not feel terror before he comes, he will taste some after he comes, for even the love of Christ will make sin bitter to the soul. The ordinary and stated method of grace is to give conviction of sin in the first place, and then the comforts of the gospel. The minister must speak from the heart to the heart. If his sermon consists of what he finds in a book, he gives the experience of another, and not his own. When a man does not give his own experience, but repeats what he finds in a book, his speaking no more deserves the name of preaching than the prating of a parrot, which is taught to repeat the Lord’s prayer, deserves the name of devotion. He may, like the bird, amuse people, but he can never reach the heart. Borrowed preachings and borrowed prayers are little better than sacrilege. If a man feels, he can more easily pray and preach.
But, in this polite age of the Church, many ministers have got an easy way of eluding the force of such reasoning by calling all the experiences of the heart “enthusiasm“. Graceless clergymen have often found this word of very great service to them, because it answers their purpose. If a man happens to have the grace of God, and to speak of it and preach it, the short way to overthrow what he says is to allege that there was a great deal of enthusiasm in his discourse. Nay, it is well known that good men have often been called enthusiasts because they would not eat or drink more than their consciences or constitutions could bear. Enthusiasm can have twenty meanings. When a clergyman, therefore, supposes that a man who speaks of the work of the Spirit of God upon the soul is in the clouds, does he not give the strongest proof that he can give, that himself is a stranger to that work? He surely does. An honest mind will ingeniously deplore his own want of God’s grace, when he is a stranger to it, rather than say that it is only an imaginary work which others speak of. The true minister of Christ will pray to God that he may experience in his soul the comfort of a saving change from sin to righteousness, so that he may be able to comfort others with the comforts with which he himself is comforted of God. He endeavours to believe that he may be able to speak, and, like the apostle Peter, being converted he strengthens his brethren. He mentions his own experience of God’s goodness, and thus recommends the mercy of God to others.
Our Saviour tells us that when the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch; that is, in plain language, when blind ministers lead blind congregations, they both fall into perdition. It is an awful sight to see a minister who never had concern about his own soul, have the care of a congregation. Can he say, “Good people, I shall show you the way to heaven,” when his people observe that his only concern is how to manage his farm and provide for his family? If that is the road to heaven, they can know it without the help of a minister. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life; He is the true foundation, and the stone which God has laid in Zion. Now, if a minister, instead of preaching free grace through the Redeemer, should deny this doctrine, or (which is nearly as dangerous) should mix the endeavours of man with the perfect merits of Christ, he lays a false foundation and substitutes something else instead of the Saviour.
The man who expects justification and the pardon of sin by a mixture of the obedience of Christ and his own endeavours, acts as reasonable a part as the Papist who prays to Christ and also to the saints and angels. We think the poor Papist very blind who does not trust in the intercession of Christ alone, but must have recourse to other advocates. And is not the half-Protestant equally blind who is not satisfied with the complete obedience of Christ, but together with this, will mix his own performances to render him acceptable to God? Is not our trusting in our own endeavours in order to recommend us to God, or to procure His favour, robbing Christ of His glory as a complete Saviour, as surely as praying to a saint is robbing Him of His glory as a complete intercessor? The apostle assures us in the Epistle to the Galatians that such as are justified by the law are fallen from grace, and that Christ is of no effect to them. He tells us that such as expect salvation by the law, or their own endeavours of obedience, are under the curse, because the law requires perfect obedience, and they continue “not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them”. The law requires perfect obedience. When we expect salvation by a mangled obedience, we become exposed to the threatening of the law, and liable to its curse. But if we expect to mix our own mangled obedience with the complete obedience of Christ, the apostle tells us they will not mix for us. Such an attempt will make Christ of no effect to us. If we obtain salvation, it must be either as a debt owing to our own obedience, which is impossible, or as a free gift owing to the obedience of Christ. Even if we were we able to do all that we can possibly do, the Saviour teaches us to call ourselves unprofitable servants. And when the minister of Christ gets a view of sin, as it really is in itself, and of salvation in Christ, he can freely venture the salvation of his soul upon this foundation: the complete obedience or righteousness of Christ. He dares not venture upon any other. And when he has thus found rest for his soul, he can recommend the way of salvation to others.
2. Another part of the call necessary for a minister is, that he is furnished with those talents which are necessary for a minister of the New Testament. If a person should be a good antiquarian and a complete linguist, yet all this would not qualify him for teaching geometry. Also, a man may have a fund of knowledge, but if he has not the faculty of communicating it, although he should have the character of a good man, he cannot properly be called a good clergyman. It is a common expression that a man must be born a poet and not made one; it is equally certain that a man’s aptitude must lead him to the pulpit before he can be useful there; he must be “apt to teach”. It is often a complaint with thousands of people that they cannot carry home a word of what such or such a minister said. They are as little edified when he leaves off as when he begins, owing to his manner of speaking. Should the matter be good, it is spoiled by an awkward, ungracious delivery. When the matter is bad and the doctrine is unsound, it is little odds though it should be mangled in the delivery; but what a pity it is that the wholesome food of the gospel should be spoiled in the serving, as sometimes happens. Many agreeable accomplishments in a clergyman will not make up for the want of this absolutely necessary one: the ability to communicate his knowledge. If a gentleman engages a man to serve him as an overseer, though that man could do twenty other things, yet, if he tells his master that he has no skill in handling a plough or managing a farm, his master will tell him that he is unfit for what he has undertaken. In like manner, when a good Christian is told that a minister can translate a piece of Greek or Latin, and has great insight into the laws and constitution of his country, he can readily answer that he would much rather him to have skill to handle a text, and preach Christ to his perishing soul.
But what peculiarly constitutes a man as a minister of the New Testament, is a humble sense of his own insufficiency, and an entire dependence upon the assistance of God’s Spirit. The help of the Spirit is promised, and we may look for His assistance in study and composition. He is the Author of every good and holy thought, and He will give the particular doctrines that are fittest for such and such sinners to hear. He can and will direct our minds in such a way as that we shall fall upon the most useful and most seasonable truths. If there are people who stand in need of comfort, why should we not believe that a minister’s mind may be directed to a text that would give him room to preach comfort, and in like manner to other texts suitable to the other different classes that hear him? It is, however, in experimental Divinity as it is in experimental science: if the scientist is cautious in accepting no principles but such as are founded in experiment, the Christian minister cannot call any doctrine his own, but what he has from experience. And then he has freedom in preaching those doctrines which he has felt and believed, and to which he can set his seal. We are only scholars in the school of Christ, and no man can preach properly but from experience. The more the minister’s mind is exercised about his everlasting state, the better able he is to speak of this exercise to another, and to give him comfort.
3. Again, the person who has this call, is excited by a strong desire in his mind to preach the gospel. If a man desires the office of a bishop, that is, a pastor or overseer, he desires a good work. This desire in the mind of a good man, we may believe, is from God. Actuated by the purest motives the glory of God and the good of souls he is cautious in admitting the suggestions of self-conceit and self-love. At the same time that he wishes to preach the gospel, he sees the difficulty of the charge, and does not make haste. He examines himself by the Word of God, to see if he is qualified. When such a man as Paul asked the question, “Who is sufficient for these things?”, it seems that it cost him some searchings of heart, and many prayers, whether or not he would engage in the work. Moses’ prayer will often be used on such an occasion: “If thy presence go not with us, carry us not up hence.” He who is called of God knows that the ministry is the work of God, and not of man, and that the Lord never sends any man “a warfare any time at his own charges”.
He knows, likewise, that the strong walls of Jericho will not fall by any other means than the trumpets, which are made by Divine appointment. And he is conscious that human learning, reason, argument, moral persuasion, good advices, promises and threatenings will all avail nothing if he be without the Spirit of prayer. The sinner is like the monster mentioned in the book of Job: “he esteemeth iron as straw, and brass as rotten wood. The arrow cannot make him flee, sling stones are turned with him into stubble. Darts are counted as stubble, he laugheth at the shaking of a spear,” Job 41:29. The Saviour knew perfectly well what He said when He assures us that “no man can come unto him except the Father draw him”. “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it; except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain,” Psal 127:1. Paul may plant, Apollos may water, but it is only God who gives the increase. Young men are generally very confident in their expectations in regard to the good which they hope they shall do to souls. They promise themselves they shall be of great service to the Church. It was said of Melancthon, that amiable Reformer, that great as his expectations were of doing good to souls, and healing the divisions and breaches of the Church, he had to acknowledge at last that old Adam was too strong for young Melancthon. The complaints likewise of old divines make the young soldier afraid. If his object is to gain souls to Christ, let him heed the words of men of experience who have been in the heat of the battle: that nothing can do this but the power that created heaven and earth. The man, then, who wishes to win souls will not make use of carnal weapons in the spiritual warfare.
4. In the next place, the person who has this call from God is actuated by pure and disinterested motives. This is the single eye which the Scripture so often mentions. The whole aim of him who is called of God is to please God and gain souls. Such as enter the ministry are in a peculiar manner the servants of God. Now, the great duty of a servant is to do everything to please his master, and to forward his interests. Should the servant of an earthly master have his own little interests at stake, he will, if he is an honest man, nevertheless take care of his master’s interests. But if the servant’s own interests constantly take up his thoughts, he cannot be faithful to his master. The clergy all consecrate themselves to the service of God, and call themselves the servants of Christ. Our Lord tells us that a man cannot serve two masters. When a man becomes a minister, he should be that, and that only. But if his heart is filled with thoughts about a manse, a glebe, a stipend, and a farm, he serves another master, and cannot attend to the one thing needful. If the heart is full of these things, it cannot be full of the love of God at the same time. The apostles, as we find in the sixth chapter of the Acts, could not attend to the daily division of the poor’s money and at the same time give themselves “continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word”. It is not a difficult thing for a man to know whether the gospel or the world take up his thoughts and attention. The chief end of every man is to glorify God, but the minister is called upon in a peculiar manner to glorify God, and to do nothing else. Accordingly, in every Christian country, the state has allowed them a portion yearly, in order to keep them from the world. Now, if it be for the sake of this miserable portion that a man preaches the gospel: “Woe to him!” That miserable portion shall be given to him, and nothing else. The ministers of Christ have God for their portion, and they “use this world, as not abusing it”.
5. In the last place, the minister who is called by God, has an exemplary life and conversation (1 Timothy 3). If a man’s behaviour is such as that men would not naturally choose him for a spiritual guide, common sense will not permit us to believe that God would choose him at all. A Presbytery may lay their hands upon his head, but cannot convey the Holy Ghost to him. If all the canonical hands, from the Pope down to the poorest curate or clergyman, were to be laid upon him at once, they cannot bestow grace upon him. And he will not have grace until he sees his need of it, and seriously asks for it for himself.
The Scripture observes that if a man eats and drinks unworthily at the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, he eats and drinks damnation to himself. In like manner I firmly believe that ordination, instead of benefiting an unworthy clergyman, makes him sevenfold more the child of the devil than he was before. But on the other hand, if a man is sincere in his transactions with God, and has been honestly asking grace, he may plead the promise made to the ministers of God, and to the faithful followers of Christ: that He will be with them “to the end of the world”. He will give them His Spirit, and bind in heaven what they have bound upon earth.
When a man impartially examines himself by the Word of God, and finds the qualifications which I have been mentioning, he may humbly believe that he has a call from God to preach the gospel. If he has taken salvation to heart, has talents for the pulpit, has a strong desire excited in his mind to preach the gospel, has pure motives, and has a holy life, I would say to him, “Rise and be doing, for God is with thee. Go and preach the everlasting gospel of peace to lost sinners.” Such a man need not ask for a voice from heaven; he has “a more sure word of prophecy”, as the Apostle Peter informs us. The Spirit of God will apply and bring the Word of God to his mind. There is an agreement between both. And when this is the case, a man will not be in a hurry to run before God’s appointed time. He shall patiently wait till the pillar and cloud go before him, till the providence of God open a door to him. He knows that if God has use for him, He shall employ him; he knows, likewise, that no mere man can have such love to the gospel as the Saviour Himself. This consideration will check the impatience of his spirit; it will likewise give him comfort in time coming. In things belonging to God, the more we put into His own hands, and the less we put into our own, the better we are sure to succeed.
The second thing proposed was that being called of God is the qualification necessary for the person whom God is preparing for the ministry that no man should usurp this honour without that call.
The design of the ministry is to bring souls to God, but how can this be the design of the minister who is himself far from God? When God and the minister have two different, and perhaps two contrary objects in view, how can they agree? When God calls any man to the ministry, it is to make him an instrument in calling and converting men from sin to righteousness. But when a man has no other object in becoming a minister than to get a good living, and perhaps a good farm, and to become rich, will his doctrine do good to men? I believe not. Suppose such a man settled in a parish. Now, can it reasonably be said that this man and the Master whom he pretends to serve are of one mind? Can he pursue his own little interest and his Master’s great interest at the same time? No! Can a covetous minister preach upon that text, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world,” any more than a drunken minister could preach upon these words, “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess”? Will not people see the absurdity of such doctrine from such men? And if they conceal such doctrines, are they not unfaithful shepherds? These self-evident truths being taken for granted by all, I think it can easily be proved that when a man has not a call from God, as I have endeavoured to explain it, he should not obtrude himself upon a people, nor should he take the honour, for, first, he cannot be useful or do good to souls, and secondly, he will consequently hurt the people, and at last hurt himself, unless he repent.
1. He cannot be useful or do good to souls. If he cannot communicate his knowledge, the people go home without instruction. If he is destitute of the grace of God, and has no desire to obtain it, he will be impatient till he gets out of the pulpit, and whenever that wearisome piece of service is over, he can laugh at religion, and ridicule every canting hypocrite that pretends to go a step beyond himself. If he has any engagements, or if he longs for his dinner, he looks at his watch oftener than at his Bible. When out of the pulpit his behaviour does not in the smallest degree recommend his doctrine. He is as worldly, as trifling, and sometimes for fear of being unsocial, as disorderly as another man. That there are some such men (I might have said many such men) in the Christian church, cannot be denied. How then can their doctrine be useful, or do good? They receive so many pounds of stipend in the year, and what has the poor parish for that? These clergymen might make the confession which a cook made to his master. The cook’s employment was finished at the end of twelve months, and he received twenty guineas for wages. He kept the purse a long time in his hand with the money. He was asked if he was satisfied with what he got. “Alas! Sir,” said he, “I have a check of conscience for receiving it. I have twenty guineas for my wages, but did not prepare five pounds worth of meat all the time I was in your family.”
Now, if the minister longs to be out of the Church, is it not natural to suppose that the people will wish to be out likewise? He cannot preach faithfully, because he would condemn himself. His doctrine is not calculated to gain converts. He does not wish them to be over religious; he might find them a little troublesome in that event. They would press him to do his duty, and, if he was a little negligent, might pretend to advise the minister himself. It is not likely, nor do I believe it is possible, that the Holy Ghost would employ such a man or his doctrine as a means to convert souls. Will God employ the doctrine of a man who laughs at the work of the Spirit as whimsical notions, to carry on that very work? There is not an instance in all the Book of God of a man converted to God by the ministry of a bad man. It may be said, indeed, that God spoke to Balaam. I would think this argument conclusive if I did not read likewise in Scripture that God spoke repeatedly to the devil but not with any view to employ him as an instrument in doing good. But should a bad man convert a sinner to God, he could have no comfort from it, any more than the men who fixed the Lord Jesus Christ to the Cross could have from His death. It was not their own salvation, nor the salvation of the Church, they had in view. A man who is not in earnest about his own salvation cannot earnestly promote the salvation of another.
2. Such a man will consequently hurt the people, and at last hurt himself, unless he repents. He hurts the people His doctrine is very often dry, and his example is still worse. If he happens sometimes to give a random shot, and to preach some animating truths, he spoils, by his conduct through the week, the convictions his doctrines have made. He destroys with the one hand what he built with the other. And if he lives and dies in this condition, the consequences to him must be awful. But I have added, “unless he repents”. Let us make this comfortable supposition: that the Holy Ghost, to whom nothing is impossible, quickens him into newness of life, and leads him to repent and believe the gospel. When this event takes place, he shall preach the faith which he once destroyed. And would to God I saw this day in many, many instances.
Thirdly, I conclude with some practical improvements.
First, as to those who intend the ministry: it is their duty to examine themselves, and be often assiduous at the throne of grace about the matter, lest they get a curse instead of a blessing. Let them beg of God to fit them for the work. I would not be very ready to advise a young man to engage in the work. If he is no more than an honest man, let him find some other work. However, if he is the friend of Christ, I shall wish him success in the name of the Lord.
Lastly, some ministers of Christ are afraid about their call. One thing, however, may give them comfort, namely, if they seriously wish to promote true religion and constantly depend upon the Saviour, they may pray to God to make their call clear to them. If a man faithfully improves his talent he shall have the promise fulfilled to him: “Whosoever hath, to him shall be given . . .” If he is conscious of any want, or if he wishes to possess any grace or any spiritual gift, let him ask in faith, and he shall receive. It will give a man comfort at last to find that God has fitted him for the work, and that he made it his business to promote His glory. May God bless His word. Amen.
Exhortation (by Rev. Lachlan Mackenzie) to the newly ordained minister
It is customary to give a long advice to a minister after he is ordained. It must be likewise owned that it is very ordinary for a minister to forget the advice. I shall therefore make it short.
You are now a minister. Never recommend a duty till you first endeavour to reduce it to practice yourself. Do not mix the two covenants they shall not mix for you. Preach your own experience, if you have any, and if you have not, beg of God to give it to you. Read the Scriptures, preach Christ fully, and be much in prayer. As the office you have undertaken is great, the danger is equally great if you do not do your duty.
A rotten clergyman is a bad member of society; he gives a handle to infidels to laugh at religion; he destroys his flock, and damns his own soul. If a man be faithful before God, he will have his soul for a prey at death, and if he be not faithful, his stipends will be a bitter morsel to him in that hour. The people should obey the minister, and the minister should obey God.
If you will be a bad minister you shall go to hell, and if you will be a good minister you shall go to heaven. Remember that you heard that. You got good advice, whether you will follow it or not.
* “The Rev. Lachlan Mackenzie (familiarly known as Mr Lachlan’) was the minister of Lochcarron from 1782 to 1819. His most famous sermon (of which an outline is given in The Days of the Fathers in Ross-shire), says Dr Kennedy, was on The Babe in Bethlehem’. In the same book Dr Kennedy bears the following striking testimony to him as a preacher: His preaching was always remarkable. His great originality of thought and manner, his apt and striking illustrations, his clear and emphatic utterance, the unction and authority with which he spoke, his close dealing with the conscience, his dexterous and tender handling of the cases of the tempted, his powerful appeals, his solemn earnestness, and his frequent outbursts of impassioned feeling, could not fail to win for him a measure of acceptance, as they gave him a measure of power beyond that of any of his brethren’.” [Note by the Rev D. Beaton in Sermons by Noted Ministers of the Northern Highlands, available from the Free Presbyterian Bookroom, Glasgow, at £10.50, reduced from £12.50. A fuller account of the life of the Rev. Lachlan MacKenzie is in Some Noted Ministers of the Northern Highlands, by the Rev. D. Beaton, available from the F. P. Bookroom at £3.50.]