Two calls to service are recognisable - the general and the particular. The former every Christian receives, but only some the latter, for God makes choice of His servants for special kinds of work. No follower of Christ is ever exempted from service. The love of Christ should constrain each one to become an ambassador for Christ, saying to others in as many ways as he or she can: "Be ye reconciled to God". By life and by lip such a one serves, not at stated times and in special places, but always. His concern is expressed in well-known lines:
"I cannot work my soul to save,
That has for me been done;
But I would work like any slave
For love of Gods dear Son".
The general call comes on the day of conversion, when, whether those who profess recognise the fact or not, the Christian becomes the bond-slave of Jesus Christ, who is owned as Lord. The particular call may be defined as the one which comes to an individual for a service which no one but himself or herself can do. Such a call, in all probability, comes at a time considerably subsequent to the former, although in the purpose of God the one does not necessarily precede the other. However, it is often manifest that the second call has been given after the lapse of an interval of time. The answer to the special call opens the door into a pathway of service, the responsibilities of which devolve solely upon the individual, and the faithful discharge of which leads to further calls and other labours.
This distinction throws light upon the question of preparation. The general call precedes all question of preparation of any kind, for
"All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him".
The special call usually, if not always, comes after a definite time of preparation, long or short, during which the servant of God is being fitted in a divine school for the unusual experiences he will encounter in his new sphere. Failure to distinguish between these may readily lead to subsequent disaster. Scripture abounds with examples of the divine method, but it is especially apparent in the cases of three outstanding servants of God - Moses, John the Baptist, and Paul.
The Call of Moses
When the first call came to Moses cannot be surmised. He was miraculously preserved by the intervention of the kings daughter. In his own mothers home, instead of in the palace, he was religiously cared for, where, doubtless, when he could understand, he was instructed in the history of his people and informed of the promises Jehovah had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Later, in the palace, he was wonderfully protected from the evils that abounded, until the day when he made an inglorious attempt to champion Israels cause, before Gods time had arrived.
Then followed years of discipline in the desert. He was emptied of self-confidence, being content to feed sheep and to live without ambition for himself. At that point came his call. In turning aside to behold the burning bush he gave God the opportunity to communicate His mind to him. Does it not often happen that the call to special service comes when inquiry is made into some providential dealing of God with the individual? When he turned aside then he heard the call of God to specific work. At first he distrusted his own abilities and shrank from the honour and task to which he was being promoted. When at length, with the persuasions of divine interest, he acquiesced in the purpose and commission of God, he set out assured that his programme would unfold itself as God designed it should, that the promise of God for help would not fail, and that God Himself would be Sustainer, Supervisor, and Guide in all the undertaking. And many a servant has set out since with the same assurance.
The Call of John the Baptist
In the case of John the Baptist a somewhat similar history may be discerned. His early training in a godly home fitted him to become a preacher of righteousness. During his youth he evidently had become a diligent student of such Scriptures as he then could procure. Prior to his showing to Israel he had practised a life of rigorous discipline in the matter of home, dress, and food. When the hour came, God had His man prepared for the task that none could perform but John the Baptist.
The Call of Saul of Tarsus
God utilised a man of outstanding talent when He called Saul of Tarsus into His service. That mans conversion threw light upon the past of his life, for later he became aware that from his birth he had been separated to the work of the Lord. Notwithstanding his natural abilities, years of training were necessary before he was sent out into his special service. During the years spent in Arabia great doctrinal implicates were drawn from the Damascus road experience. Thereafter in Jerusalem, in his home town of Tarsus, and in Antioch in conjunction with others, he served the Lord acceptably until the moment arrived when the Holy Spirit said, "Separate...Saul...for the work whereunto I have called" (Acts 13.2). Others who witnessed the definite call were assured that no mistake had been made.
Guidelines for today
From the foregoing we may gather the following rules for our guidance. First, God seldom thrusts a novice into some special work. Usually there is a period of preparation after conversion, more or less lengthy according to the training which has preceded conversion, during which time the servant was quite unconsciously being fitted for work he would perform after that decisive event. Second, the one called will have an unassailable conviction that God has a task for him to do. That conviction will grow as the time for the accomplishment of that task approaches. Third, spirit-taught men will, by wisdom which is from above, discern both the call and the fitness.
That the true servant of God never doubts his call is illustrated by the following letter from the late M. Henry Payne, who gave to the Lords service in Spain more years than most people live.
"I have felt that the subject was somewhat difficult. The Lord has His own ways of calling His servants for the work to which He appoints them. The prophets of the Old Testament afford us examples of this.
No doubt the present state of things with us requires some change. It seems that there should be somewhere, someone well fitted to judge of the fitness of those who aspire to the carrying of the Gospel to other lands. And it cannot be supposed that all assemblies are capable of attending to this matter without the aid and fellowship of some godly and instructed brother or brethren. It is evident that Timothy went forth to his work in fellowship with the assembly with whom he met; but we see how he had the approval of the Apostle, and was subject to his guidance. If this is not secured, self-will, confusion and disappointment are likely to result.
I feel as unable now, as when I received your letter, to give a clear answer to the question as to the call of God to service in the Gospel in other lands. I do not know that I was free from unbelief in some of my reasonings, but I may say that in my long years of service in Spain I have been assured that my call was of God. He has graciously cared for me and supplied my need. My rule of life has been never to go into debt in any way, neither to make my need known to anyone outside the bond of husband and wife. On the one hand, this rule set me free from depending upon my brethren for my support; and on the other, it makes me grateful for whatever help I receive from them."