The one who would exposit the word of God must be sovereignly chosen and called by God to do so. This sacred call is a divine appointment by which one is separated from one's mother's womb to preach the Scriptures. Such a sovereign commission was the experience of the prophet Jeremiah (Jer 1:5), John the Baptist (Luke 1:15), and the apostle Paul (Gal 1:15–16). Before they were born, each of these men were marked out by God to preach His word. So it is with all of God’s preachers. This divine summons to preach is, as James M. Garretson writes, "the special work of God’s Spirit in the heart, specifically calling the man into the ministry." In issuing this effectual call to preach, "God communicates his intentions to the man who he calls into His service." By divine leading, a man must be deeply persuaded that God is calling him into the ministry. No man should take this position to himself. Instead, God must be the one who sets a man apart to preach His word.
How can one know whether God has called him to preach? In Lectures to My Students, Charles Haddon Spurgeon outlines the distinguishing marks of a true call into the ministry. Each chapter in this book was given as one of the Friday afternoon lectures that Spurgeon issued to the students in his Pastor’s College, regarding the work of the ministry. In a chapter with the title “The Call to the Ministry, Spurgeon states there must be the following elements:
Foremost, there must be what Spurgeon called "and the intense, all-absorbing desire for the work." There must be "an irresistible, overwhelming craving and raging thirst" to speak God’s word. This intense desire is not a sudden impulse that comes quickly and then soon leaves. Rather, this inward compulsion to preach deepens with time. The man of God feels what Paul felt when he declared: ". . . woe is me if I do not preach the gospel" (1 Cor 9:16).
Further, Spurgeon argued that there must be "an aptness to teach and some measure of the other qualities needful for the office of the public instructor." This includes a personal self-awareness that a man is gifted to teach scripture.
Moreover, Spurgeon maintained there must be conversions. The prince of preachers asserted, "he must see a measure of conversion work going on under his efforts." The fruit of conversions must be seen in a man's ministry if he is to know that he is been called to preach. God will validate his call with souls brought to Christ. Spurgeon further argued, "As a man to be set apart to the ministry, his commission is without seals until souls are won by his instrumentality to the knowledge of Jesus."
Finally, Spurgeon insisted, "you're preaching should be acceptable to the people of God." This is to say, the body of Christ will confirm the man who is set apart and sent from God. Concerning those truly called by God, Spurgeon explained, "the sheep will know that the God-sent shepherd; the porter of the fold will open to you, and the flock will know your voice." Others must confirm this divine calling.
Steven J. Lawson is the President of OnePassion Ministries. Dr. Lawson is also the Professor of Preaching at The Master’s Seminary and Teaching Fellow with Ligonier Ministries. The author of numerous books and articles.