The Need of Courage; Paul; Call to Direct Service

 •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Very dear brother -,
Your letter calls for a serious examination. I suppose as to the principle that we are clear on one point, namely, that we are bought with a price and that we are not our own—servants, blessed be God, in this poor ruined world, of the Lord by His great grace: and if besides the joy of being forever with Him, there is one, it is that of being able to serve Him down here, the little while that we have for so doing, for it is only here that we can suffer with Him.
Then the question arises as to what He calls us—for you, dear brother, if God has really called you to the ministry of the word, or if it is only that your practical faith wavers before the difficulties of the path. You must remember that God tests faith; He never fails us, but He makes us feel our entire dependence on Him. I see this in Paul: he had a thorn; he was often even hungry: he learned to glory in his infirmities that the power of Christ might rest upon him. But the result was that he was instructed to be in abundance and in want, to be full and to be hungry—" I can do all things through him that strengtheneth me." Without were conflicts, within were fears, and he gained the knowledge of God as the One who comforts those that are cast down. Then it was worth while being cast down. But he was able to say, not who "causeth us to triumph," but who "leadeth us in triumph"—having missed the open door at Troas, being in great conflict with regard to Corinth, but able to say, in order to be "a sweet savor of Christ," wherever he was.
The question of his call to the ministry was certain. If grace had not sustained him here, he could have returned like John and Mark: woe be to him, as he always said, if he preached not, and he did so without his will (ἄκων): being sent assuredly of God, he could not doubt having been sent. The words of the Lord near Damascus and the prophecy at Antioch were too positive. Now neither our mission, nor any part of the work of the Lord, has this distinctness. Our word is not confirmed by accompanying signs. This does not trouble me. It demands more of the heart's confidence, confidence in Christ, and that always does good. But it strengthens the heart greatly to be assured of it. Then if there are difficulties on the way, there are but difficulties to overcome. If I have not this assurance in starting, it is a question if I am in my place: in any case God can exercise us here for our good. Not only that, but when God has clearly called some one either by the ardor of his faith like Moses, or by any formal calling like Paul, He can put him aside. Moses during forty years kept the sheep of his father-in-law, and Paul had not any active mission, to reduce the fleshly activity which might mix itself in his work with the activity purely from God, and to make him learn his entire dependence. It was Barnabas who put Saul afresh to the work; then came the mission of Antioch. But the heart is in these cases always in the work, but retired with God, in such a manner that God has a larger place in the heart, and our labor is afterward more directly with reference to Him.
There then, dear brother, is the question for you: Are you truly called to labor for the Lord? that is to say, to go about in His work, for we all ought to labor for Him. When we are, faith may fail; yes, but we are miserable if we abandon it, as Jeremiah said when he did not wish to speak any more, " But his word was in my heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones." If it is only a fire that crackles in the thorns, it will soon be extinguished. But if you feel that the Lord has entrusted you with His word, has put it into your heart, not only for yourself, but for others (Gal. 1:15, 1615But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, 16To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: (Galatians 1:15‑16)), then fear nothing: faith tested is faith strengthened; it is to have learned your weakness, but to have learned the faithfulness of God, His tender care even in sending the difficulties, that we may be there with Him. And if you have the assurance that God has entrusted you with His word, do not be troubled if you are set aside for a time. One learns one's lack of courage, at least, I have learned it, but God takes account of what we are, gives us our thorn, that we may be humbled, and that we may feel that the strength and work are of Him. No doubt we have to judge our want of courage. For my part, it is my greatest test, the want of aggressive courage, and the way in which I shrink back before the coarseness of the world. But there is the look towards God who has pity for us.
Profit then by your present separation from the work to be much with Him. You will learn much inwardly in your capacity to go forward, much of Himself, then more distinctly if God has really sent you, which gives great inward power in following out the work. But do not doubt His faithfulness. It is forty-five years that I have served Him since I left nationalism. Oh, how ungrateful I should be if I did not testify to His faithfulness, and to His great and sweet and precious patience with His poor servant. It is a joy to me now to see others raised up to continue the work, and I hope better than I, for that can well be, though I by no means doubt of a special work in these last days. But the workman is another thing. I have labored, God knows; but I have been more of a hewer of wood and drawer of water for those who have more courage. But we are what God gives us and permits us to be. God is reviving His work in Europe, and evidently, which encourages us, and comforts us, and gives in many respects an open door in spite of the evil, and often even by means of the evil....
Yours very affectionately.