Substitutes in Service

 •  5 min. read  •  grade level: 10
Almost all accept the principle of individuality in service, and consequently of direct responsibility to the Lord, and to Him alone. There is nothing indeed more distinctly taught in the word of God. As in the case of Bezaleel and Aholiab (Exo. 31), the Lord designates and qualifies for the service, and directs in its performance. A condition, therefore, of all true service is, that it be received immediately from the Lord.
Thus Isaiah, when he “heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I, send, and who will go for us?” replied, “Here am I, send me.” (Isa. 6:88Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me. (Isaiah 6:8)) Saul likewise, when subdued at the feet of the risen and glorified Christ, said, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” There is only one example, as far as we can discover, of anything like substituting one person for another in the Lord’s work. When Elijah fled from fear of Jezebel, and, in utter weariness and despondency of soul at the failure of everything round about him, desired only to die, he was comforted by angelic ministrations, and finally found himself at Horeb, the mount of God. There the Lord, in His grace and tenderness, dealt with and corrected his servant, and commissioned him anew; and one of His instructions was, “Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room.” (1 Kings 19:1616And Jehu the son of Nimshi shalt thou anoint to be king over Israel: and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room. (1 Kings 19:16)) It must be borne in mind, however, first, that this was a divine substitution (if it were exactly that) of one for another; secondly, that it was by no means sending Elisha to do the work of Elijah; and lastly, that it is the continuation of Elijah’s ministry, in this special way, which makes it so remarkably a type of the ministry of Christ in its twofold character; viz., while on earth and in resurrection. Elisha was, therefore, a prophet in the room of Elijah only in the sense of continuing his service, though in a new character, with a view to its typical significance. There is nothing whatever in the case to militate against the principle affirmed of the individuality of service and individual responsibility.
If this be so, do not many of the methods and practices of this day require examination and revision? For example, if a servant of the Lord is led to undertake any special service, and is hindered in any way, either by unexpected circumstances or by sickness, can it be incumbent on him to find a substitute? It is an easy way out of the difficulty; but is it not possible that in accepting this solution he frustrates the Lord’s object in raising up the hindrance, and also prevents that exercise of soul which the Lord would produce? For surely, if I had thought the Lord was sending me on a distinct mission, and I am not permitted to go, it should raise many a question in my soul as to how it was that I had mistaken the Lord’s mind. If indeed the principle laid down be scriptural, responsibility in service cannot be transferred. Could Isaiah, for example, after offering himself for the Lord’s work, have requested Micah, who was also a prophet at the same period, to fill his place? Could Paul have asked Peter to undertake his mission for him? or could Timothy have changed places and service with Titus?
Again, if the Lord specially uses one of His servants in some distinct branch of service, and He Himself terminate the labors of His servant by taking him to be with Himself, are we in the current of His mind when we seek to provide a successor? It would be indeed a most blessed occupation to be found waiting on Him with regard to it, looking to Him to raise up and send another of His servants, if it should be His will. But together with this, it should be also remembered that each servant, as we have seen, must receive his own mission from the Lord, and that it is not the Lord’s way, therefore, to send a servant to carry on another’s work, even though he labor in the same field. No, the Lord is sovereign; and He says to one, Do this; and to another, Go here, or, Go there; and the service is blessed in its performance just in proportion as it is directly received from Him, and done with a single eye to His glory in obedience to His will.
One other question is suggested by the foregoing considerations. It is, Whether this divine principle of responsibility admits of the undertaking to provide for any branch of service? For example, have we in the Scriptures anything like the practice, which has grown up in modern days, of one servant engaging to find other servants to carry on the Lord’s work in preaching the gospel in a particular place? It is fully and thankfully admitted that the Lord may speak to His servants, and even give them their work, through one of His people; but that is a very different thing from appointing a brother for the purpose, or allowing him to occupy the position, of arranging for the ministry of the word of God.
In offering these observations the difficulties of service are not forgotten. These will increase with the increasing confusion, and with the fuller development of the characteristics of the perilous times. The time has already, as in fact it has always been, come when all true service must be conflict-conflict with the adversary, and conflict even with many believers, for the maintenance of the truth. And just because of this, it is more than ever necessary to test all our ways by the written Word, to return in all things to divine principles. No amount of weakness or confusion justifies the adoption of unscriptural methods. Nothing is expedient that is not according to the word of God; and it is only when we are in subjection to it that we can assuredly count upon the Lord’s presence and the Lord’s blessing. “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”
E. D.