The Puritan Call to the Ministry

The Puritans understand the call to ministry as a sacrificial calling.

Differing from the Church of England at the time, the Puritans understood the call to ministry not as an ambition of academic or clerical achievement, but the shepherding-care of the local church. In doing so, they sought to love the local church for the glory of her Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

Rightly understood, the Puritans are known for captivating preaching, unwavering conviction, and towering godliness. God has left his people with a trove of shepherding-care from the pens and pulpits of Puritan ministers.

In a recent doctoral lecture on Puritan ministry, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson discussed how the Puritans understood God’s calling of a man to the ministry. Generally speaking, they considered these six characteristics in a call to gospel ministry.

1. It is a sacrificial calling.

The Puritans understood that the call to ministry involved sacrifice. Some of them were well-paid in ministry, but most were not. According to Dr. Ferguson, estimates say that less than ten percent of churches provided a salary remotely commensurate with that of their non-ministerial peers.

The average Puritan did not possess a voluminous library. Though they put out much literature, many of them owned few books due to financial constraints. How were they so learned then? They gave themselves to their studies when resources were accessible to them. They became careful readers. It was similar to C.S. Lewis. He was once asked how he possessed so much knowledge. He responded, “Because when I was a student, I had no money.” When books were available to him during his schooling, he devoured (and remembered) them.

There were historical reasons that the Puritans understood ministry a sacrificial calling. Along with the Great Ejection in the 1660’s, England’s Five Mile Act in 1665 prohibited Puritan ministers from being within five miles of their places of ministry.

All of this, along with the normal rigors of ministry, the Puritans understand the call to ministry as a sacrificial calling.

2. It is a divine calling.

The Puritans understood that the call to ministry as a sovereign summons of God. And yet, the call was not an unverifiable subjective hunch. They looked for several marks to discern God’s sovereignty in the calling.

First, the call consisted of a desire in the individual for ministry. In particular, there must be a desire for the great end of the ministry, namely, the glory of God in the salvation of sinners.

Second, the divine call would show in the individual’s use of biblical means in disciple-making. Prior to confirming his call, the individual must be already living a godly life and seeking to shepherd others. If an individual was not already doing so, they ought not consider themselves as presently called. For the Puritans, this served as a barrier for those who thought they were called but were not presently seeking the salvation of sinners.

Third, a divine call showed in the individual’s competence and giftedness for ministry. There must be some knowledge and understanding of the gospel along with some ability to edify others. Observation and investigation was used to discern this. The question might be asked, “Who is already being influenced in a biblical manner by the individual?” The Puritans believed that the impact of one’s gifts should be savory among God’s people.

3. It is a privileged calling.

In Puritan thinking, the call to gospel ministry was considered an exalted privilege for a number of reasons. There was the privilege of constant exposure to God’s word. There was the privilege of serving as an undershepherd of the Lord Jesus Christ. There was the privilege of walking with souls in their pilgrimage. And there was the future privilege of reward.

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