Most of us are familiar with searching the Scripture and praying as we discern the will of God. But even these processes are not infallible. Yes the Scriptures themselves are infallible; yes the Holy Spirit is infallible. But our internal process is not infallible. We can bend contexts. We can easily fall prey to impressions that aren’t from God. This is why, as counterintuitive as it may seem, we need to make room for the wisdom and guidance of those who can see things that we may have missed in our enthusiasm.
Have you ever wanted something so badly that you spent months, even years, praying and preparing for it? Have you ever been so convinced of a certain calling that you couldn’t imagine anything else for your life? And then, have you ever had a trusted friend suggest that perhaps your one thing—may not be the best thing?
What would you do? Don’t answer that question abstractly. What would your response be? Would you attempt to discredit the group in order to continue down your chosen path? Would you respond with a list of reasons why they were wrong and you were right? Would you flat out ignore them, convinced that your plans were, irrefutably, the “will of God”?
If we’re honest, most of us wouldn’t respond well. We’ve become accustomed to assuming the best of our notions and tend to grow uncomfortable in relationships that might threaten them. Many tolerate community, if they have it at all, only as long as it doesn’t encroach on their autonomy.
In this post I’d like to discuss one man who, in the midst of a life-altering decision, didn’t trust himself. His name was Samuel Pearce.
Qualified but Not Called
Samuel Pearce (1766–1799) was an eighteenth-century Baptist and part of a “band of brothers” who were instrumental in the formation of the Baptist Missionary Society. He was a devoted husband, a faithful friend, and a gifted preacher, known as the “seraphic Pearce” by all who heard him. For almost a decade, however, his heart had been set on joining his friend William Carey (1761–1834) in India as a missionary. He’d even set aside extended time to learn the language, and to pray that God would guide him towards the right path. For Pearce, such a work required that “he should be qualified for it, disposed heartily to enter upon it, and free from such ties as to exclude an engagement.” Though the first two he felt he possessed in some degree, “the third thing requires more consideration.” This being the case, he opted to submit his plans to a formal council of Christian acquaintances.
Well the day came, the council convened, and Pearce laid out his argument with compelling yet humble force. The council met for nearly three hours before handing him the following note:
The brethren at this meeting are fully satisfied of the fitness of brother P[earce]’s qualifications, and greatly approve of the disinterestedness of his motives and the ardour of his mind.