After all, gentlemen, we shall have to prove our call by the practical proof of our ministry in after life, and it will be a lamentable thing for us to start in our course without due examination; for if so, we may have to leave it in disgrace. On the whole, experience is our surest test, and if God upholds us from year to year, and gives us his blessing, we need make no other trial of our vocation.
Our moral and spiritual fitnesses will be tried by the labour of our ministry, and this is the most trustworthy of all tests. From some one or other I heard in conversation of a plan adopted by Matthew Wilks, for examining a young man who wanted to be a missionary; the drift, if not the detail of the test, commends itself to my judgment though not to my taste.
The young man desired to go to India as a missionary in connection with the London Missionary Society. Mr. Wilks was appointed to consider his fitness for such a post. He wrote to the young man, and told him to call upon him at six o’clock the next morning. The brother lived many miles off, but he was at the house at six o’clock punctually. Mr. Wilks did not, however, enter the room till hours after. The brother waited wonderingly, but patiently.
At last, Mr. Wilks arrived, and addressed the candidate thus, in his usual nasal tones, “Well, young man, so you want to be a missionary?” “Yes, Sir.” “Do you love the Lord Jesus Christ?” “Yes, Sir, I hope I do.” “And have you had any education?” “Yes, Sir, a little.” “Well, now, we’ll try you; can you spell ‘cat’?”
The young man looked confused, and hardly knew how to answer so preposterous a question. His mind evidently halted between indignation and submission, but in a moment he replied steadily, “C, a, t, cat.” “Very good,” said Mr. Wilks; “now, can you spell ‘dog’?”
Our young martyr hesitated, but Mr. Wilks said in his coolest manner, “Oh, never mind; don’t be bashful; you spelt the other word so well that I should think you will be able to spell this: high as the attainment is, it is not so elevated but what you might do it without blushing.” The youthful Job replied, “D, o, g, dog.” “Well, that is right; I see you will do in your spelling, and now for your arithmetic; how many are twice two?”
It is a wonder that Mr. Wilks did not receive “twice two” after the fashion of muscular Christianity, but the patient youth gave the right reply and was dismissed. Matthew Wilks at the committee meeting said, “I cordially recommend that young man; his testimonials and character I have duly examined, and besides that, I have given him a rare personal trial such as few could bear.
I tried his self-denial, he was up in the morning early; I tried his temper, and I tried his humility; he can spell ‘cat’ and ‘dog,’ and can tell that ‘twice two make four,’ and he will do for a missionary exceedingly well.” Now, what the old gentleman is thus said to have done with exceedingly bad taste, we may with much propriety do with ourselves.
We must try whether we can endure brow-beating, weariness, slander, jeering, and hardship; and whether we can be made the off-scouring of all things, and be treated as nothing for Christ’s sake. If we can endure all these, we have some of those points which indicate the possession of the rare qualities which should meet in a true servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I gravely question whether some of us will find our vessels, when far out at sea, to be quite so seaworthy as we think them. O my brethren, make sure work of it while you are yet in this retreat; and diligently labour to fit yourselves for your high calling. You will have trials enough, and woe to you if you do not go forth armed from head to foot with armour of proof. You will have to run with horsemen, let not the footmen weary you while in your preliminary studies.
The devil is abroad, and with him are many. Prove your own selves, and may the Lord prepare you for the crucible and the furnace which assuredly await you. Your tribulation may not in all respects be so severe as that of Paul and his companions, but you must be ready for a like ordeal. Let me read you his memorable words, and let me entreat you to pray, while you hear them, that the Holy Ghost may strengthen you for all that lies before you.
“Giving no offence in anything, that the ministry be not blamed: but in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in affliction, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; by pureness, by knowledge, by long-suffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.”
C. H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students: A Selection from Addresses Delivered to the Students of the Pastors’ College, Metropolitan Tabernacle