THE PROPHET’S CALL
By W.H. Griffith Thomas
There is a close comparison between the Old Testament and the New Testament prophet. The Greek New Testament word prophētēs gives a very fair idea of the meaning of the Hebrew Old Testament word Nabi. The prophet is a spokesman, one who represents another, and Exodus, 7:1, is the best definition or description of what a prophet is, whether in the Old Testament or the New Testament.
The first thing that strikes us is that each had a call to the work. This came in different ways and was associated with a variety of circumstances, but the fact was the same in every case, and was essential and fundamental. Prophets and prophetic men like Abraham, Moses, Gideon, and many others were all ‘called of God.’ No man took this honour to himself. What this call meant may perhaps be best understood by giving attention to one of whom we know most and whom we may regard as essentially typical of all; the prophet Isaiah. Taking the story as it stands, we observe the four stages of his call and in it the comparative experiences which should be true of every minister of the Gospel who is really called of God.
1. A Consciousness of God followed by a Conviction of Sin (v.1-5)
Isaiah had a vision of God in His Sovereignty, His Majesty, and His Holiness. This sight of God was at the foundation of all that he became. God as ‘infinitely great’, ‘infinitely high’, and ‘infinitely holy’ possessed and dominated the soul of the young Isaiah, and it is only by such a sight of God that any man can become a prophet. This vision, this consciousness of God, at once led to the result intended by God in giving it conviction of sin. ‘Then said I, Woe is me!’ In God’s light Isaiah saw light on himself, his life, his ways in the sight of the high and holy God. Conviction of sin based on a consciousness of God is fundamental to the life and work of a prophet of God, a minister of Christ.
2. Confession of Sin followed by Cleansing from Sin (v.5-7)
To be conscious was to confess, and Isaiah at once (‘Then said I’) poured out his soul in confession. He confessed his own and his peoples sins. Uncleanness pressed on him, and especially uncleanness of lips. He was conscious of failure in himself and in his nation in regard to uncleanness of utterance, and the vision of God as the King, the Lord of Hosts had brought this out as never before.
But to confess was to be cleansed (‘Then flew’). Cleansing immediate, perfect, assured, was his experience. The Divine fire did its work at once and thoroughly, and with the Divine assurance of absolute cleansing the prophet entered into the second, and was ready for the third stage of his experience.
3. The Call of God followed by Consecration to God (v.8)
The prophet thus convicted and cleansed was now spiritually fit for further revelations from God, and it was not long before the Divine voice inquired, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ There was work to be done. The national life was at a crisis (v.1), and the sin of the people called for Divine action (v.5). To the man conscious of God, cleansed from sin, and assured of blessing, comes, as it always does, this call to service. This, and this alone, is the type of man God can use. Only as we see God, see our sin, receive God’s forgiveness and know it, can we realize and answer the call, and so with whole-hearted consecration came the response; ‘Here am I; send me.’ To the man for whom God had done so much, consecration was the necessary, prompt and thorough response, and the man whom God had so prepared was ready for service (‘Then said I’). Before, it was, ‘Then said I, Woe is me!’ Now, it is, ‘Then said I; Here am I.’
4. The Commission of God followed by Communion with God (v.9-11)
The human readiness to be sent is quickly followed by the Divine authorization. ‘Go, and tell.’ The work to be done would mean plain speaking, and would need courage, persistence, and even severity of dealing. The ills of the people were not superficial and would not be met without drastic remedies. But when a man is conscious of a definite Divine commission: ‘Go, and tell’, he can go because he knows that ‘God’s biddings are enablings.’
Not only so, but the prophet is now able to enter into fellowship with God, to seek to know more of His will, and to endeavour to understand His purposes. Faced with a difficult task, Isaiah approached God; ‘Then said I, Lord, how long?’ This is the privilege of the man who has seen God and received God’s cleansing and commission. The Lord does not hide from such a man that which He will do. ‘The Lord God will do nothing, but He revealeth His secret unto His servants the prophets’ (Amos 3:7). And thus the prophet, called, cleansed, and commissioned, is enabled to enter into the secret of his Divine Lord’s will. ‘The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and He will show them His covenant’ (Psa. 25:14). This call and consciousness of God is essential to a man at the outset of his ministry. Unless he has it, he had better not start out. The ministry is a vocation, not a profession. ‘How wilt thou run, seeing thou hast, no tidings ready?’
But it is also essential when the man is actually at his work. The Church can only echo and authenticate the call, and unless the minister is ever conscious that he is where and what he is, because God has called, placed, and equipped him, his ministry must necessarily suffer in power and blessing.
And, not least of all, this consciousness of a Divine vocation is essential all through a minister’s life. We must keep in touch with God. Only thus shall we preserve our freshness and not grow stale. Only thus shall we keep our glow and never become dull. Only thus shall we walk and not faint. People are quick to see both the presence and the absence of this Divine consciousness in their minister’s life.
Some two years ago a well-known poet suddenly disappeared, and there seems no doubt that he committed suicide. He was the son of a minister, and he not only threw over his father’s faith, but set himself with intense violence and hostility to overthrow Christianity. This is how The Times closed its review of his last work:
‘He had well nigh all that goes to make a great poet, except the upward-seeing vision that is fixed on the Eternal.’
‘Except the upward-seeing vision that is fixed on the Eternal.’ How true, how searching are these words when applied to the minister. We may have all else, education, capacity, opportunity, but the one thing needful is the upward-seeing vision. As Dr. A.J. Gordon of Boston once said: ‘It is the look that saves, but it is the gaze that sanctifies.’ It is only as we see God, keep our gaze fixed on the Eternal, that our life and service will bring glory to God, blessing to others, and restful satisfaction to our own souls.