Norman A. Madson
1950 Synod Convention Essay
Atour 1949 convention we heard an excellent presentation of the doctrine of “The Royal Priesthood of Believers.” That was not meant as a slighting of, or a denying of, that office which the Lord of the Church has instituted and has designated as the “ministry of reconciliation.” 2 Cor. 5,18. But it brought out in hold relief the glory of being a child of God, and became therefore an excellent introduction to that theme which has been assigned us for this convention: “The Glory of the Gospel Ministry.” For there is, of course, the closest relationship between the royal priesthood of believers and the public ministry of the word, the latter flowing out of the former, as will be seen by the “Writings of our sainted fathers in Christ who have faithfully studied the word and have spoken unto us also in these matters “as the oracles of God.” 1 Pet. 4,11. And we cannot do as we please with those faithful fathers, unless we want to violate the counsels of the word itself. For it is the divine word which bids us: “Remember them which have rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever. Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein.” Heb. 13,7–9.
What is meant by the Gospel ministry?
When one reads what a Luther, for instance, has to say about the rights, qualifications, duties of the royal priesthood of all believers, one might at first blush get the impression that Luther leaves little room for the public ministry of the word. And it is that with which we are concerned in this discussion. Having spoken of the priesthood of Christ in his exposition of Psalm 110,4 (“Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek”), Luther continues: “As we are become Christians through this priest (Christ) and His priesthood, and in baptism through faith have put Him on, so we also receive the right and power to teach, and to confess to everyone the word which we have received from Him, each according to his calling and station. For although we, to he sure, are not all in the public office and call, yet every Christian shall and may teach, instruct, admonish, reprove his neighbor through the word when and where anyone has need of it; as a father and mother their children and servants; a brother, neighbor, citizen or farmer (shall and may do it) to others. For a Christian can most certainly teach and admonish (regarding) the ten commandments, faith, prayer etc. the others who are still ignorant or weak, and he who hears it is in duty bound to receive (such teaching and admonition) from him as from God’s word and to confess it publicly.” St. L. Walch V, 1038.
Luther then goes on to show that the means of grace are the same according to their essence, power and effect, whether they be administered by all Christians or by the servants in the public office. Here is what he has to say on that score: “We stand firmly on this, that there is none other word of God than this a1one which all Christians are commanded to proclaim; that there is none other baptism than that which all Christians may give; that there no other remembrance is of the Lord’s Supper than that which every Christian may administer (begehen mag), which Christ has instituted thus to be celebrated; also that there is no other sin than that which every Christian may bind and loose; likewise, that there is no other sacrifice than the life of every Christian being (Christenmenschen); that no one can or may pray but the Christian alone; and finally, that no one shall judge in matters of doctrine than the Christian alone. But these are the priestly and royal offices.” St. L. Walch X, 1590.
But while Luther has spoken most freely regarding the high privileges of the royal priesthood of every believer, he points out just as unmistakably the difference between the royal priesthood and the public ministry of the word in these words: “Even though we are all priests, we can not and will not therefore all preach or teach and rule. But we must out of the whole body (of believers) single out and select some to whom such an office will he committed; and he who bears such an office is not a priest on account of the office (as are all others), but is a servant of all the others. And when he no longer can or will preach or serve, he steps back into the general body, commits the office to another, and is nothing else than is every common Christian. Behold, thus we must separate the preaching office or office of service from the general priesthood of all baptized Christians. For such an office is nothing more than a public service, as something which has been committed to him by the entire congregation, who are all of them conjointly priests,” St. L. Walch V, 1087.
The reason for a public ministry.
Luther then goes on to discuss, in particular, why it is necessary to have a special call to the public ministry of the word, saying: “While all Christians have all things in common, as we already have said, which we have also established and proved, it would not be proper for anyone who wanted it to push himself forward and to appropriate to himself alone what belongs to all of us. Venture to assume this right and also to put it into practice, (only) where there is no one else who has also received the office. But the right of the communion (i.e. the congregation) demands that one or as many as may please the congregation, be chosen and received, who on behalf of and in the name of all those who have the selfsame right, publicly exercise these offices; lest a frightful disorder arise among the people of God and the Church become a Babylon, (the Church) ‘in which all things are to he done decently and in order,’ as the apostle has taught us, 1 Cor. 14,50. The right is a twofold one: What one does as a common right at the behest of the congregation, or the selfsame right which he makes use of in case of necessity, In a congregation, where the right is free to everyone, no one shall assume that selfsame right without the will and selection of the entire congregation; but in case of necessity every one may use it who will.” St. L. Walch X. 1589.
When we speak of the ministry of the Gospel, then, in this discussion, we have in mind the public ministry which Christ Himself has ordained for the true welfare of His Church and which it is His will shall be continued even unto the end of the world. Matt. 28,20. For while every true believer is a spiritual priest, who is in duty bound to “shew forth the praises of him who hath called us out of darkness into his marvelous light,” I Pet. 2,9, not every believer has been endowed with the gifts, or been given the call to serve in the public ministry of the word. That is why Paul can write as he does to the congregation in Corinth: “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, help, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?” 1 Cor. 12,28–30. The obvious answer of course, No. And when the same apostle writes to the Ephesians concerning the risen and ascended Lord he assures them: “When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.” And what were those gifts? “He gave some, apostles; and some prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.” Eph. 4,11–15. It is as true of many believers today as it was when the apostle addressed his epistle to the Hebrews, reproving them for them negligence in the knowledge of Christ, their great high priest, saying: “Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing. For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.” Heb. 5,11.12. We find therefore that Scripture demands of him who is to enter upon the public ministry of the Gospel, that he be “apt to teach.” 1 Tim. 3,2; 2 Tim. 2,24.
But since the Gospel ministry is a ministry of the word, we naturally ask: What is that word? It is primarily a “word of reconciliation.” When Luther makes his well-known statement: “Die ganze Schrift treibt Christus, “ i.e., “All of Scripture concerns itself about Christ,” he is but restating what Peter voiced concerning the Saviour in the house of Cornelius: “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.” Acts 10,43. Or the words which the risen Saviour Himself spoke in kindly rebuke to the down-cast Emmaus-bound disciples that first Easter eve: “O fools and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” Luke 24,25–27.
While the crushing condemnation of the law i8 spoken again and again by the Son of God in His public ministry, we must ever bear in mind that when Christ preaches the law He is “doing a foreign work, by which He arrives at His proper office, that is, to preach grace, console, and quicken,” as we have learned to confess in our Formula of Concord, Epitome V, 8. Had this not been the case, the Saviour of the world would have spoken an untruth when He told Nicodemus yon memorable night: “God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might he saved.” Joh. 3,17.
The public ministry of the word, therefore, is that work which the ambassadors for Christ perform when they Gemeindschaftswegen, i.e., on behalf of the congregation, proclaim all the counsel of God unto salvation, be that in the preaching of the word or in the administering of the sacraments, the latter being called in our Apology of the Augsburg Confession “a visible word.” Art. XIII, 5. But while the word is primarily a word of reconciliation, the law must also be spoken by the ambassadors of Christ, even as it was proclaimed by Christ Himself, since it serves to prepare the hearts of men for the comforting message of the Gospel. It will ever be true in the words of Dr. Walther: “Without the Law the Gospel is not understood; without the Gospel the Law benefits us nothing,” Law & Gospel, p. 6.
Qualifications for the Gospel ministry.
Not only has Scripture taught us that there shall be a public ministry of the word, but it has also made plain the qualifications which the Lord of the Church expects and demands of those who who to serve as shepherds of the flock. And here we can think of no more convincing listing of those Scripturally-demanded qualifications than that which the sainted Dr. Franz Pieper gives in his exquisite “Christliche Dogmatik.” Says Pieper: “They must not only be Christians, but model Christians, ensamples to the flock (1 Pet. 5,3), also have a good report of them that are without (1 Tim. 8,7). The virtues which are to be found in them, and the vices which are not to be found in them, are in catalog-fashion enumerated in 1 Tim. 3 and Tit. 1. As concerns their knowledge of Christian doctrine and their ability to teach it, they must be thoroughly acquainted with the ‘sound’, i.e., the pure doctrine, must be masters of the theses as well as the antitheses, i.e., be able to teach the congregation rightly and to convince the gainsayers (Tit. 1,9–11). For a further description of the sphere of their ability and of the ability itself, it is enjoined upon them: They must not only rule their own house well, but also take care of the house of God (1 Tim. 3,5), feed the church of God (Acts 20,28), feed the flock of God which has been committed to them (1 Pet. 5,1f.), take heed unto all the flock (Acts 20,28), to interest themselves in the individual souls (Acts 20,31), to watch for their souls, as they that must give account (Heb. 13,17).”
Exacting demands, to be sure, which must cause every son of Adam to ask with the apostle Paul: “Who is sufficient for these things?” 2 Cor. 2,16. And it is only he who with the same apostle has learned to confess: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me,” Phil. 4,13, that can add: “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; Who made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” 2 Cor. 3,5,6. It is not in a spirit of vain self-glorification that a Paul speaks of his own ministry in the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians. Having confessed: “I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God,” v. 9, he points to that which has made him a willing servant of Jesus Christ, saying: “But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” 1 Cor. 15,10.
Why a glorious ministry?
The Gospel ministry is glorious because the God of all truth has called it just that. And “God is not a man that he should lie.” Num. 23,19. In 2 Cor. 4,4 Paul calls it “the light of the glorious gospel of Christ.” In 1 Tim. 1,11 he speaks of it as “the glorious gospel of the blessed God.” And when the same apostle, in the 3rd chapter of 2 Corinthians makes a comparison between the Old Testament and the New, between the letter and the spirit, he says: “But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.” 2 Cor. 3,7–9. And it is right here where we are given a true evaluation of the Gospel ministry. It is a ministration of righteousness. The Gospel of the blessed God brings me the righteousness which has been won for me by the willing obedience, suffering, and death of His beloved Son as my substitute. It is not what Hod with all justice might demand of me, but what He out of His infinite grace brings me as a free gift. If the strength of sin is the law (1 Cor. 15,56), then the strength of the Gospel is my being made free from sin. And it is this glorious truth to which Paul gives expression in Rom. 8,3.4: “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh; That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”
That the glory of the Gospel ministry is but a reflected glory the person who ministers it is made plain in Paul’s statement to the Corinthians: “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel.” 1 Cor. 9,16. The glory lies not in the ambassador bringing the message, but in the message itself. For even as love cannot be forced, but will ever flow as freely to the object of its affection as water will seek its own level, so the Gospel hearer’s attachment must not be centered in the bearer of the message (except when the bearer be Christ Himself), but must be the heart’s free outpouring of gratefulness for the wondrous news he brings. We have an excellent example of misplaced affection on the part of the hearer of the word in Lycaonia, who, when they had seen the effect of Paul’s Gospel preaching at Lystra (the man, impotent from his mother’s womb, being healed), were in the very act of making sacrifices to Barnabas and Paul, “which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of, they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out, And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein.” Acts 14,14.15.
When Paul, in the 1Oth chapter of Romans, harking back to what both an Isaiah and a Nahum had voiced centuries earlier, speaks thus concerning those who have been sent with the message of deliverance from bondage: “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things,” Rom. 10,15, it is not to glorify himself or his fellow workers, but to give testimony to the preciousness of the message they bring. It is in language of truly poetic strain that the two prophets in the days of the Babylonian captivity address themselves to the captives who mournfully were longing for their return to Zion the beautiful. When the very feet of the messengers are referred to, it is of course because these ready and nimble limbs of the runners were hasting the news of their deliverance. The deliverance spoken of by the prophets was, of course, both a temporal and a spiritual one, since it pointed forward to the Son of man whose “visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men,” Isa. 52,14, when He in Gethsemane and on Calvary’s cross was to tread winepress alone. Isa. 65,3. And before he concludes his prophecy, Isaiah pens the very words which our Lord and Saviour made use of as His text when He preached that memorable sermon at the outset of His earthly ministry in His home town of Nazareth, and which every true Gospel minister ought ever to have before him when he prepares the message he is to bring the congregation: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn: To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.” Isa. 61,1–3.
Would you want a more convincing prospectus of the glory of your calling as an ambassador for Christ than is here set forth by the “evangelist of the Old Testament,” as Isaiah has fittingly been called, and which the very Son of God made use of as His inaugural text at Nazareth yon Sabbath day? When a faithful minister of the Gospel applies these words to himself he is not guilty of what might seem to be arrogant presumption. For it is none other than the Saviour Himself who has comforted every true minister of the word: “As the Father hath sent me, even so send I you.” Joh. 20,21. And again: “He that heareth you heareth me: and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me.” Luke 10,16. It is on the basis of this divine truth that a Paul can write: “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” 2 Cor. 5,18–20.
But if God is to be glorified in your ministry (and it is His glory we first and foremost are concerned about), you must ever be more concerned about the safety of the sheep committed to your charge than about your own honour, convenience, or comfort. When the Psalmist asserts (in the 48th Psalm) “According to thy name, O God, so is thy praise unto the ends of the earth,” he is laying down the most fundamental principle in the true worship of God. Where men have not learned to know the true God as He hath revealed Himself in the person of His only begotten Son, it is a stark impossibility for men to “Worship Him aright. Your primary duty, then, as an ambassador for the Christ of God, is to make known the wondrous tidings of the acceptable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance of our God. For even that word “vengeance” as used by Isaiah speaks comfortingly to those who mourn in Zion, since it is the vengeance which Jehovah will take upon the enemies of His people. It is as the true shepherd who loves his sheep that you ascend your pulpit. If that be not the spirit in which you proclaim God’s word, you have no business preaching. No matter how well-meaningly zealous you may be in your thunderous message, it still remains true: “The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” James 1,20.
While, as has been said, the crushing condemnation of the law must be proclaimed also in our Christian congregations of to-day, the true Gospel preacher will not find his delight in that employ. As ’twas said of the Son of God during His public ministry here below, so let it be said of every one of His ambassadors to-day: “And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, And they shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.” Luke 19,41–44.
It was in that spirit of compassionate love for his people that a Moses pleaded for an Israel which had so shamefully forgotten the God of its salvation and had turned to dumb idols during his forty day sojourn in Mount Sinai: “And Moses returned unto the Lord, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if thou wilt forgive — (and here Moses stops dead in his tracks, as it were, as is shown by the rarely-used dash in Scripture, indicating sudden transition of thought); and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.” Ex. 32,31.32. Think of it! Willing to have his own name stricken from the book of life, if but his bewildered people could be saved! No wonder that this man of God could write in prophetic strain concerning the promised Messiah: “The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken.” Deut. 18,15. It is in the same spirit of tender concern for his beloved Israel that Paul in his day utters a like prayer: “I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, That I have a great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” Rom. 9,1–3.
And why could these two great Gospel preachers (for Moses also was a preacher of the blessed Gospel) thus minister to the flock? They were ever mindful of their own perverted will and ways before the grace of God had come into its own in their troubled hearts. Even as a Saul of Tarsus could never quite forget that he at one time had persecuted the Church of God, so the leader of God’s people through the wilderness was no doubt mindful of his own stubborn unwillingness to go to Pharaoh until God, the God of all grace, made of his unwilling heart a willing one. And let it be said at once: The law of God will never be preached aright by any pastor who does not have sorrow of heart because he has to preach it.
But as Paul never ceased marveling at the “unsearchable riches of Christ,” so he never forgot the miracle which had made of him, the blasphemer and persecuter, the humble and willing dispenser of those riches. “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord: In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.” Eph. 3,8–12.
Truly has it been said that “fame usually comes to him who is thinking about something else.” And it might, with equal truth, be added that the glory of which we are speaking will be his who is least of all thinking about it. And how may we of a certainty know that? From the Saviour’s words regarding the day of final accounts. The very ones who are then to be given the blessed words of commendation: “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world,” are going to ask, after the King has enumerated all the kindly deeds which have flowed from their life of faith, when they did all these things. And what will His reply he? “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Matt. 25,34.40. It lies in the very nature of saving faith, the faith which has “tasted and seen that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34,8), to confess with a Peter: “We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” Acts 4,20.
The pastor who is ever concerned about getting the honour, glory, and esteem due him in his office simply does not understand the true meaning of the glory of the Gospel ministry. For while it be true, since Scripture itself teaches it, “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine,” 1 Tim. 5,17, that honour has a special reference to the remuneration due them who devote all their time to the ministry of the word, as the following verse (1 Tim. 5,18) indicates: “For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn, And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.” There are, to be sure, other passages in Holy Writ which teach us that we shall think highly of those whom God has placed over us as ministers of the word. E.g., 1 Thess. 5,12,13: “And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake.” But that love and respect will be there in the heart of every true believer to whom he ministers just as certainly as the ministration has been a “ministration of the spirit,” the proclaiming of that comfort wherewith he himself has been comforted of God. 2 Cor. 1,4. Luther is therefore right when he says: “It is impossible that an haughty, proud, presumptuous person should be able to preach Christ; for he (Christ) will have only broken, contrite hearts and humble spirits.” St. L. Walch XXII, 1041. And again: “He who wants to be a preacher must mean it with all his heart that he is seeking God’s honour alone and the welfare of his neighbor.” St. L. Walch 13, 555.
Why is it needful to point out its glory?
Oh, we are also bearing the old Adam about with us in our mortal bodies. If the pious Asaph had to confess that his steps had well nigh slipped when he saw the prosperity of the wicked, so that he was tempted to think that he had cleansed his heart in vain, until he went into the sanctuary of God and understood their end, who are we that we should imagine ourselves exempt from the same temptation? No, we have need of confessing also: “So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee.” But having made the confession in sincerity and truth, and imploring God for the enlightenment of His Holy Spirit, we shall also be given grace to confess: “Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by thy right hand. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.” Ps. 73.
It is as true as in the days of a Jeremiah: “Thou hast made us as the offscouring and refuse in the midst of the people.” Lam. 3,45. Paul knew this, and did not lose heart, though he had to write to his dear Corinthians: “Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place; And labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.” 1 Cor. 4,11–13. And why could the apostle speak thus? Because he had learned to see the true beauty of a Saviour slain, and had so preached that crucified Christ that he could tell his beloved Galatians: “Before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you.” Gal. 3,1. Being able to proclaim that most needful of all words to bruised and buffeted sinners, he was now ready to glory in his tribulations also: “knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” Rom. 5,3–5.
A ministry which has not learned to deny self, take up the cross, and not only follow Christ, but follow Him gladly, is not (so far as the one ministering it is concerned) the ministry of the Gospel, but that of an earth-bound hireling who has joined the ranks of this world’s Demases. If the Son of God, during His days of deep humiliation, found strength and comfort by looking unto the end of the road, we shall also, as His true witness, do well in “looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith: who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Heb. 12,2.
And this admonition is all the more needful in our day, a day in which all too much of that which goes under the name of Gospel ministry is but a caricature of the “preaching of the cross,” as Paul terms the Gospel of Christ. 1 Cor. 1,18. The so-called “social gospel” is, of course, not a Gospel at all, since it seeks to make man’s condition in this present world the vital thing, while the real Gospel points him to the everlasting possessions which shall be ours when our earthly house of this tabernacle is dissolved. The of every Gospel preacher to-day must be that of a Paul when wrote the Philippians: “Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.) For our conversation (“vort borgerskab,” as we have it in our Norwegian translation; or as Luther has it in the German: “Unser Wandel”) is in heaven; from whence also we look for our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may he fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.” Phil. 3,1. Whenever our preaching of the Gospel becomes a thing which is palatagle to the unregenerate world (for there is nothing which is more foolish to the worlding than the Gospel of free grace), then we had better examine our message to see whether it has not lost its savour. One of the greatest dangers to the Church of Christ today is this: That it is so concerned about making an impact on the world, so ingratiating itself with those who will not repent, but who are concerned about making a shew in the flesh, that it forgets to rear children for the kingdom of heaven. The sooner we as members of Christ’s kingdom reconcile ourselves to the fact that as a Christian Church we shall ever be in an insignificant minority, the better for us. And the sooner all of the ambassadors for Christ realize the full implication of their Master’s words of farewell to His chosen disciples, the sooner will they find joy in serving Him when opposition arises because of their faithfulness: “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you, If ye men of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” Joh. 15,18–19. To suffer for Christ’s sake is our highest honour and the source of a joy which is not of this world. For it will be true while the earth remaineth, yea, comfortingly true: “Unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.” Phil. 1,29.
But if we have learned to see that all which is worthwhile has been brought us through the Gospel of Christ, then we shall also become concerned about bringing that blessed Gospel to those who are still “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world.” Eph. 2,12. For a selfish and self-satisfied Christianity is a contradiction in terms. No sooner has Peter enumerated all the glorious privileges which are ours through faith in Christ, than he points us to the tremendous responsibility which is ours by that very fact. “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people” (more easily understood in Luther’s translation: ‘Ein Volk des Eigentums’ — ‘Et eiendoms folk’) — to what purpose? That ye might sit satisfied over your rare privileges? God forbid! No, Peter immediately adds: “That ye might shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light,” 1 Pet. 2,9. “If we lose the sense of the wonder of our commission we shall become like common traders in a common market, babbling about common wares.” Dr. Jowett, “The Preacher: His Life and Work”, p. 21.
And here it may be well to quote our beloved Luther again on the vital question of “giving sons to the ministry.” Says Luther: “Now as it is sure and true that God himself has established and instituted the spiritual estate with His own blood and death, it is easy to conclude that He will have it highly honoured and not suffer it to be destroyed or to cease, but will have it maintained until the Last Day. For the Gospel and the Church (Christenheit) must abide until the Last Day, as Christ says in the last chapter of Matthew. But by whom shall it be maintained? Oxen and horses and dogs and swine will not do it, neither will wood and stone. We men shall have to do it, for this office is not committed to oxen and horses. but to us men. But where shall we get men for it except from those who have children? If you will not raise your child for this office, and the next man will not, and so on, and no father or mother will give a child to God for this work, what will become of the spiritual office and estate? The old men, who are now in office, will not live forever, but are dying off every day, and there are no others to take their place. What will God say to this at last? Think you that He will be pleased because you so shamefully despise His office, divinely instituted for His praise and our salvation, and won so dearly, and because we so ungratefully let it drop and pass away?
“He has not given you children and the means to support them, only that you may do with them as you please, or train them for worldly glory. You have been earnestly commanded to raise them for God’s service, or be completely rooted out, with your children and everything else; then everything you have spent on them will be lost. The First Commandment says, ‘I visit the iniquities of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me’. But how will you raise them for God’s service if the office of preaching and the spiritual estate have gone down? And it is your fault; you could have done something for it and helped to maintain it, if you had allowed your child to study. If you can do it, and your child has the ability or desire, and you do it not, but stand in the way, listen to this, — You are guilty of the harm that is done if the spiritual estate goes down, and neither God nor God’s word remains in the world. In so far as you are able, you are letting it go down; you will not give one child to it, and you would do the same thing about all your children, if you had a world full of them; thus, so far as you are concerned, the service of God simply goes to destruction.
—“Because, then, you allow the office, instituted and established by your God and so dearly won, go to ruin and be destroyed, with such horrible ingratitude, you will be accursed and have nothing but shame and misery for yourself and your children, or be so tormented otherwise that both you and they will be damned, not only here on earth, but eternally in hell. This will not fail; and you will learn that your children are not so wholly yours that you need give nothing of them to God. It is His will that He shall have a right to them; and they are more His than yours.
“Suppose that God were to address you on your death-bed, or at the Last Judgment, and say, — I was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, imprisoned, and you rendered me no service? For in that you have not done it to people on earth, or to my kingdom or Gospel, but have helped put them down and allowed men’s souls to be ruined, you have done this to me; for you could have helped. I had given yon child and money for this purpose, but you wantonly allowed me and my kingdom and all men’s souls to suffer want and pine away, and thereby served the devil and his kingdom against me and my kingdom; now let him be your reward. Go with him into the abyss of hell. My kingdom in heaven and earth you have not helped to build, but to destroy and weaken; but you have helped the devil to build and increase his hell; live, therefore in the house that you have built.’ How shall you stand then?” Works of Martin Luther, Philadelphia Edition, Vol. Four, pp. 144–152.
Now when Luther speaks of our standing in the way, that need not be stating in so many words that you do not want your child to enter the ministry when you have every reason to believe he has the qualifications necessary for the office. It may be your whole attitude toward the glory of the Gospel ministry. Instead of showing him in your very life that you count everything but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus your Lord, you may he giving him a Lebensanschauung which leaves little else than ignominy and shame about that very thing which will ever be a lost world’s only glory — a Saviour slain because He loved us even unto death.
In his novel “Kristus for Pilatus” (“Christ before Pilate”), Waldemar Agar tells of an aged pastor who has given his all in a faithful ministry, but who, as the work becomes too strenuous for his advanced age, and the many new demands which a new age has brought with it make it imperative that he retire, stands before a picture of the thorn-crowned Man from Nazareth, whom the unjust Roman judge is about to send to the cross, and these are the thoughts which crowd in upon him: “There is the ‘kingdom within you’ in its highest potentiaL An independent kingdom, — an incomprehensible kingdom, whose defeats are victories, whose mightiest representatives are they who are trampled in the dust, whose most powerful laws are unaccepted and unwritten by men, and whose mightiest men walk with the aid of a staff and a crutch. A kingdom in which the sighs of the impoverished are imperative commands, and an imperial edict is null and void. A kingdom which continues to conquer the world by not giving a rap about what belongs to the world — a kingdom in which men win what they have lost and lose what they imagine themselves to have won. The most inconceivable, the strongest of all kingdoms established for all eternity a forsaken man in the most lonely moment of his life, when he succumbed and believed himself (as was natually the case) forsaken of God.”
When that is the spirit which we faithfully seek to inculcate in the hearts of those whom God has committed to our care, there will be more and more young men from our Christian homes who will flock to our schools of the prophets with the one request: “Here am I, send me”. Isa. 6.8.