Spurgeon and Dabney on the Call to the Ministry (Part 5 of 5)

Church History, Ministry, The Church

This is the fifth and last post in this series.  What has been demonstrated thus far?  In summary, the call of the man of God is first biblical.  To be faithful to the text of Scripture, the church must believe in and enforce the necessity of a divine commission for any who would enter into ministerial labors.  The call of the man of God is also Spiritual.  The Holy Spirit not only equips a man with the Biblical qualifications, He also gives him a holy desire, what Spurgeon calls the “fire in the bones.” Only a man with a passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ, the health of His church, and the salvation of the lost should ever dare to approach a pulpit.  The call of the man of God is lastly ordinary.  The certain testimony of these things is to be found in the Word, the deliberations of the church, and the prayer closet.  Having sought out the best of both Charles Haddon Spurgeon and Robert Lewis Dabney on this matter, this series of posts will now conclude with some final observations and reflection on this comparative exercise, especially as they relate to modern Reformed Baptist churches.

With a few notable exceptions aside, Spurgeon and Dabney find great unity on the divine call.  They are both thoroughly Biblical and Spiritual.  They both place preeminence on the biblical qualifications for an Elder.  There are certainly more areas where they overlap than where they differ.  Yet their differences are significant, and at times extreme.  For Spurgeon, a man ought not to enter the ministry “if he can help it.”  For Dabney, a man who can speak and does not desire the ministry is most likely not a Christian and has the “daily danger of hellfire abiding on him!”  To paraphrase: Spurgeon says that if you possibly can’t, then don’t, while Dabney says if you possibly can, then do!

Pastor A.N. Martin was quoted above, and his counsel was summarized as to read both men with an eye towards a sort of sanctified regression to the mean.  The man who takes this advice will find it a greatly rewarding effort.  Yet what is the result?  How are the above views to be synthesized?  And who has the final say where they remain incompatible?

Spurgeon and Dabney in Context

This conundrum is partially relieved by recognizing the diverse contexts from which these two men speak.  Charles Spurgeon preached to a church of thousands and had his sermons published around the world.  His article contains several accounts of men practically knocking down his door to gain entrance into his pastor’s college.[1]  It is to be expected that he would be jealous to guard against presumptuous men who are most likely drawn to the fame and notoriety of his ministry.  Dabney’s situation could hardly be more antithetical to Spurgeon’s.  His treatment is full of lament over the sad state of ministerial aspirants in the Presbyterian Church in Virginia.  He spends a full five pages reviewing the crippling need for ministers,[2] making mention of both the sorry number of young pastors and the utter lack of any missionaries to the foreign fields.  Some of the discrepancy between Spurgeon and Dabney can therefore be attributed to their very different ecclesiastical contexts.

Who Speaks For Us?

Context, however, cannot fully bridge this gap.  Even if it could the question would still remain as to who then speaks for Reformed Baptists in the twenty-first century.  In most cases, modern Reformed Baptists of course stand with Charles Spurgeon.  Yet in regards to ministerial training, there seems to be more overlap with the situation of Robert Lewis Dabney.  Many major American cities have no Reformed Baptist church at all.  Many Reformed Baptist pulpits are filled by faithful men who have labored long and well, yet there are not enough younger men ready to take up the baton.  Many countries have no Reformed Baptist missionary witness.

What is needed are faithful men.  These men must combine the passion of Spurgeon with the urgency of Dabney.  The ministry is the highest of callings, and so the bar cannot be lowered pragmatically.  Yet a man must hear the urgency in the words of Dabney and ask himself some grave questions:  Do I meet the standards of an overseer?  If I do not, can I work towards that end?  Do I yearn to see the church built up and sinners brought to salvation?  Has the Lord gifted me to serve his Church?  Is not the gospel the greatest of messages?  Is not Jesus Christ the greatest of masters?  Shall I not give my life over to him?  Am I called?

These questions must be asked, and the answers must be sought out through prayer and through the voice of the church.  The Word of God must be the final and sufficient guide.  Men must catch the passion of Spurgeon and the urgency of Dabney.  The Lord Jesus Christ is calling men to preach His gospel and shepherd His flock.  This is the testimony of Scripture, and this is the witness of history.  May the Lord grant his feeble servants the strength to answer this call.[3]

Dabney’s closing words provide an appropriate sentiment with which to end this series:

There is then no time to consider; it is time to act.  If you are prepared at present to preach, and God calls you to preach, then he calls you to preach now.  If you have preparation to make, and God calls you to preach, he calls you to begin that preparation now; for a perishing world needs you now; while you causelessly hesitate souls drop into hell.  “TO-DAY, IF YE WILL HEAR HIS VOICE, HARDEN NOT YOUR HEART.”[4]


[1] Spurgeon, pp. 35-41.

[2] Dabney, pp. 37-43.

[3] In this author’s experience the best extra-biblical works to encourage this zeal in a young man  are the two works by Spurgeon and Dabney utilized in this paper, and the small book Words to Winners of Souls by Horatius Bonar.

[4] Dabney, pp. 45-6.

4 thoughts on “Spurgeon and Dabney on the Call to the Ministry (Part 5 of 5)

  1. Thanks brother – excellent work over these last 5 articles. What a humbling thing to reconsider calling and vocation in ministry – who is sufficient for these things?

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