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The Westminster Conference 2005 (2)

Category Articles
Date December 15, 2005

Andy Ball the pastor of the Netley Christian Fellowship in Southampton began the second day of the Westminster Conference on December 14th with an address on “The Puritans and the Divine Call to Preach.” (the chairman was Principal Philip Evesham)


Many Puritans wrote on this subject. In 1605 William Perkins wrote on “The Calling of the Minister.” There was a ‘scarcity of true ministers’ in his observation because of the contempt the office of preacher was held in, the difficulties of the work and because of the financial stringency. Men chose to go into the law instead. Unless special attention is given to this concern it would be unreformed, and so Perkins wrote this book. Today in a survey of 400 men who are thinking about 21st century ministry 40% were confused as to what was a divine call.

The Puritans believed in the divine call summoning a man to become a herald of God. There is a general call to repentance to the world, and wouldn’t the same God call personally those who will take his message to the world as his heralds and angels? Of course he would. The puritans give us a twin emphasis of outward signs and an inner sense, the so-called double call. Both were authored by the Lord of glory himself. Charles Bridges calls them two grand combining requisites indispensable for the ministry.

There are trends in the church today which oppose this double call. There is a significant devaluing of the Christian ministry. Some say that there is no such thing as a call to the ministry; all of us as Christians are IN the ministry. So it is pointless to look within ourselves for the call. Again someone says that all of us are called to the ministry and we are not to think of a call separate from this general ministry. These views were also present in the 17th century that anyone with fluency and gifts could be considered as having the ministry of the word, but that position was answered in the Westminster Standards – that a man must be duly qualified for life and ministry.

We do not reject the priesthood of all Christians, but we do affirm that some men have a call, and there is a wickedness in intruding into a trust that God himself has not given. None but he who made the world can make a minister of the gospel. What is involved? What constitutes a call?


There were not many records of Puritans’ conversions or of their calls into the ministry. Francis Bamfield wrote 7 pages on his call expounding his marks – known by men and that he possessed an inward special relating to God, while a Joseph Barrett recorded his ground for not going into the ministry, that there was too much of wretched self in his heart. However, John Livingstone did go into the ministry after an ultimate day of agonising prayer in a cave. Others felt they had gone into the ministry too speedily, or had gone into the ministry through vanity – one was converted 18 years after he had entered the ministry. Samuel Ward of Cambridge had an impediment in his speech and so numbers questioned whether he had a call or not, but he had growing assurance that he was called. John Bunyan records how he was drawn apart to this work and others approached him and encouraged him to consider it – men whose wisdom he esteemed. They desired to hear him, and with much earnestness pleaded with him to preach to them, and by this means he discovered his gift among them. The continued desires of the godly and the testimony of many Scriptures together fueled his determination to become a preacher, “God carrying him on with a strong hand.”


Thomas Goodwin entered the ministry before he was converted having a wrong motive for the work. There is an inward desire which also an elder must have. Correctly reading these desires is very difficult. Selfish zeal must be resisted, for many have excellent gifts for the ministry but they have no heart for the work. Dabney challenges every spiritually-minded young man to consider the ministry. Perkins, centuries before Dabney, challenged Christian men to desire the ministry. Cotton Mather speaks of the right motivations for the ministry at great length and even gave a model prayer for the would-be preacher to pray. Another feature is an amazing list of Scriptures to motivate the student to serve God as a preacher.

‘A disturbance in the realm of the Spirit’ is needed, said Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Owen said God first gave men ability, and then they were set apart by church. Baxter speaks of the necessity men must have to preach the gospel. Necessity has structured my life and message, he added. In 1753 when he was in his late thirties and soon to die James Durham wrote well on the call to the ministry, “with clearness therein.” The evidences are the gifting of the life, confirmed by examiners, singleness in ourselves to obey the call, and God’s providential leading. The Spirit leads us on by steps. We develop a growing desire to study divinity and have another desire to enter the ministry. Sanctifying efficacy, a constraint to yield to the call and submit to Christ, obeying God, a Word-controlled nature, and a gifting impulse – these are the marks of the divine call. The younger John Milton wrote strongly on how to remove hirelings from the church. His concern was focused on an inward sense of his calling and a strong obligation to preach the gospel free.


There are personal qualities. Love and holiness is required. Ministers preach by their teaching and their writings but also by their lives. It is easier to preach 20 sermons than to mortify one lust. Baxter entreats men to see the high holy qualifications; a common measure of skill and ability are not enough. Do not indulge your own weaknesses; spare no pains to be qualified. William Ames stipulates that a minister must be Scripture focused, he must be mighty in the Scriptures. Barnard had a great influence in New England writing on fitness for the ministry, his gifts in nature, learning, knowledge in divinity, possessing heavenly gifts, stirring up a divine, inward zeal and outwardly living a holy life. The man who does not possess such gifts and yet with a foolhardy spirit enters the ministry, will be severely punished. He must maintain a clear conscience, set out his sins bewailing them and be sure of the divine forgiveness through the Lord Jesus.

Spiritual Giftings.

Owen said that the foundation of the ministry is the gift of Christ. Gifts make no man a minister. Ministerial endowments are the work of the Spirit; they are not natural. The gifts are listed in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Some have argued that the puritans did not encourage men to stir up their gifts in their congregations. Candidates must have some ecclesiastical call. Ordinary men must have the call from God, yes, but from the congregation too. Do not leave the choice to the men but approach able gifted men yourselves, says Durham. We should even go so far that church discipline is considered to men who refuse the examination of the church. They should be censured for refusing to enter the ministry. God ordinarily calls through the church and so when it says, “Go!” then we should obey God.

The Call and the Blessing of God.

Bridges lists many causes of ministerial inefficiency, but the want of a divine call is the main cause of failure. Where the call is manifest the blessing is assured. Christ appeared with delegated authority not self-created authority.


1. All these writings either tend to raise the bar high and that keeps some men out, or they lower it so that everyone is let in, but those who possess a high view of the calling will receive divine and human encouragement for this work.

2. Many puritan writers bring out this area of obedience to God. It is dangerous to refuse God’s call. The godly young man is mocking God if he continues resisting God’s call.

3. Let us help men with their gifts. If Puritan doctrine is right then we must not sit back and wait for men to come to us.

Discussion from the floor of the conference.

The church has to recognise certain qualities in a man. Spurgeon looked for evidence of spiritual influence in a man – “has this man ever had influence over believers or unbelievers?” That test of influence is very important. Did the puritans bring that out? [The word ‘influence’ was not often found amongst them.] A concern of the lostness of the people to whom he goes does not seem to have figured in the paper. How many reformed churches have been ordaining evangelists in the past year? [The sense of man’s lostness does come in.] Is there any discussion of the office of an evangelist? “If you can do anything else, then do it” – that is common advice. Was it Puritan advice? [No, exercising your graces was their approach].

Are we all in agreement with the sense of inward call? Certainly there was a taking of the calls of prophets and apostles and applying them to students today. That has weakened our position. The identifying the call with the work of the elder also has not helped us. The Puritans also assumed much knowledge of the Scripture which one cannot assume today. So the principles they derived from God’s call of Moses or Paul nevertheless helpful. The inward call is referred to in I Timothy 3:1 that a man should ‘desire’ the work of the elder and then he ‘desires’ a good thing. This prodding desire comes from God. Much trouble comes from the fact that too sharp a divide has been made between the apostles and ourselves. Paul could link himself to other preachers as ‘fellow servants.’ So our call does have certain similarities with men called by the same God to other offices. Paul also says, Woe is me if I preach not the gospel, and there is the objective and subjective spheres coming together.

Every element of guidance is considered as coming from without. There is present in reformed circles an overreaction to the charismatic movement, and a fear of the inward work of the Holy Spirit. There is almost a non-Trinitarian attitude and the Holy Spirit is rarely referred to in those who are cautious about a personal call to the ministry. But what was the impulse that denied an inward call among the puritans? This suspicion of everything depending on an inward feeling is not something purely 21st century. Owen has a section in Volume 9 on what an unordained man might and might not do in a congregation. There are a million men and women in Roman and Orthodox and Protestant churches today not called of God to be ministers. We know this because they do not preach God’s message. Yet all of them plead they have an inward sense of divine call to be ministers – the Spirit has led them, they say. Such a sense of call has authority only for that person himself or herself.


Peter Beale of Bedworth gave the afternoon address at the conference speaking on the barely known “Richard Davis of Rothwell and Evangelistic Passion” (the session was chaired by Philip Arthur of Lancaster). For 23 years Peter Beale was the pastor of a Congregational Church outside Salisbury. Now he has retired from the ministry.

Richard Davis’ life was sketched briefly by his successor. Davis was born in Cardiganshire in 1658. He moved to London where he became a headmaster in 1680. He was converted in London through the witness of a Christian. He once talked to John Owen who challenged him as to how he thought he would be going to God. “Through the Mediator,” he replied. “Easily said,” said Owen searching him and relating his own experience of professing to be a Christian without being one. Davis found that conversation immensely helpful. He also found a godly wife in London who was to outlive him by 11 years. The local church in London called him to be their pastor but it was not long before Rothwell Chapel called him – it is situated in a village 4 miles from Kettering about fifty miles north of London.

In 1870 the minister of that congregation wrote its history and another history was written in the 20th century amplifying the story again, and these are the sources of our knowledge of Richard Davis. The church was founded in 1655; its nonconforming members were accused of various crimes but they held fast to their principles. John Beverly became one of their first pastors. He also became vicar of the parish under Cromwell, but he died soon after in 1658. When 2000 ministers were evicted from the Church of England the local vicar was called by the congregationalists to be their pastor during those persecuting years. The church was without a pastor for a number of years.

Richard Davis went there in 1690 from London at the unanimous call of the Rothwell congregation. As his ministry developed he came under attack for some of his doctrines. He was a stubborn man and was accused of antinomianism, and evangelising in areas where there already was a minister. His antinomianism was not proved but an anonymous pamphlet was written against his ‘damnable heresies’ Perhaps it was John King of Wellingborough who wrote it, but there is no real evidence of that, or Mr. Payne of Kettering.

An attempt was made by Presbyterians to summon Davis to appear at the Assizes but it failed. Other attempts were made to invite him to appear before a council of Christians but he would not appear. He defended his practices of going to other places and holding the Lord’s Supper there, and sending out plain preachers. He was meek under those accusations. One of the accusations made was that he did not believe in the free offer of the gospel. Peter Beale claimed that he did maintain the free offer to the end, but affirmed that God designs the gospel to profit only the elect. He urged sinners to venture, venture, venture on the Saviour that day. In the subsequent discussion the opinion was given that Davis was a hyper-Calvinist.

Church discipline was maintained in Rothwell. 800 members were admitted including some rare blessed years when over a hundred new members were added. But 200 members were also excommunicated during Davis’ ministry in the church. All sorts of transgressions were dealt with. Davis seems to have run a pretty tight ship. One lady reproached the church and minister and gospel but she had been broken much under the word and asked the congregation to pray for her and the church encouraged her to return which she did. Three years later she needed other letters of admonition and six months later she was excommunicated.

One of the remarkable things was the phenomenal growth in the membership and the spirit of evangelism that gripped the congregation. Many would travel long distances to Rothwell and finally in many of those villages were started. But there were still many people walking long distances to the Rothwell congregation.

Davis used ‘lay preachers’ to take the gospel out to the countryside in a wide area. The preachers were elders and deacons, up to 28 of them, and some of them became pastors. They believed as a congregation they had this authority to send out men to preach, or to speak in the church’s meetings.

In his ministry Davis was judged to have the spirit of a Whitefield. He fed with milk and strong meat, willing to impart his own soul to them. He died aged 56. A gifted man with a remarkable ministry, a true eccentric his ministry was blessed by God.


Davis appears to be a forerunner of William Huntingdon. What was the connection between the high numbers attending the church, high numbers disciplined and a high number of churches planted? There is an increasing individualistic spirit in the church but Davis united them into a living church. He died in 1714 the same year as Matthew Henry and so lived at the time of a fellowship of great men, but Richard Davis remained in one patch and didn’t mix with other men. His conduct reflects that isolation. There has always been a tension in the life of the church between order and disorder, but we have to be open to movements of the Spirit which because they move amongst fallen men do have elements of disorder. William Grimshaw, for example, crossed parish boundaries and he was right in breaking that ‘orderly’ tradition. Whitefield and Wesley did the same and there are times when we must sanction disorderliness for the hand of God was on those men as it was on Richard Davies. He had a passion to reach the lost. Sometimes the Spirit of God moves in a way that is not in keeping with our way of thinking.


The final paper was given by Eric Alexander of St. Andrews on “The Glory of Christ” (Robert Strivens of Banbury was the chairman). “Retirement is a job for a much younger man!” Eric said, by way of opening remarks and explaining his absence yesterday. Nothing as profound as Owen on the Glory of Christ has been written, and this has been the speaker’s inspiration. The apostle John writes much on the glory of Christ, and though the biblical material is widespread there is an abundance in John’s Gospel and in the book of Revelation. In chapter 17 and its opening verses Jesus prays, “Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.”

There are three eras of Christ’s glory, pre-incarnate, in his state of humiliation and then ascended to glory. In the first and last we behold the glory face to face – we see by sight that glory, but in his incarnate life we see it by faith not by sight. That is the basis of the whole doctrine that for the child of God the best is yet to be. That distinguishes us from the godless for whom the worst is yet to come. But for us we are to see him as he is.

Charles Hodge tells us that as the apostle describes how we all behold the glory of he Lord as in a glass not only that we are being changed into that same image but that the beholding glory is not the beatific vision but it is rather beholding the glory where in the Scriptures it is revealed by God of his glorious Son. How are we being metamorphosed? It is in seeing the glory of God in the Bible. It is the same glory of Christ which is the object of this faith and sight. Owen refers, almost as an aside, to the healing of Bethsaida and Jesus saying to the blind man what did he see. “I see men as trees walking.” Then after the second action, “I see all things clearly.” The first touch is grace, said Owen and the second touch is glory. Although we have had joy unspeakable and full of glory yet we wait for the second touch.

Owen adds this to it, that no man shall ever behold the glory of Christ by sight who does not behold it by faith in this world. Faith is a necessary preparation for glory. “I am sure I will be all right on the day,” church adherents would say to me in New Mills in Ayrshire, and I would say, “We cannot separate faith from sight.”

1. What are the benefits of pondering this theme of the glory of Christ?

Owen has three suggestions, and, 1, it will save us from spiritual shortsightedness. We are to get and give to our families the long view. This pondering will achieve for us an eternal glory that outweighs them all. We lack too much a heavenly-mindedness. Meditation on the glory of Christ is rare amongst us. 2. Pondering on it will affect our own transfiguration into his image in this world. 3. It will fit us to live in the world to come. Nothing will help us live in that world more than meditating on the glory of the Lord Jesus, cp. Colossians 1:12. All our present glory is preparation for future glory.

2. What is the glory of Christ?

Is it different from the Father’s glory? It is the same, says Owen. We behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the brightness of the Father’s glory so that the glory we see in him is the glory of the Father himself. So if we are to have a biblical answer to the question we must ask a broader question, What is the glory of God the Father?

Doxa basically has the idea of reputation, one has a reputation for possessing majesty and power and glory and so on. Christ’s glory left an overwhelming impression on people. The LXX translates the Hebrew word for weight, the heaviness of something, people of weight. It is the idea of your being worthy of respect because of what you are and what you possess. The content of the language leads us into worship – the one who creates all things, the one who has purchased a people. In John 12:41 John is saying that Isaiah saw Jesus’ glory in the temple, the same as John himself saw in the same Lord in Galilee. There was a veil that separated men from the Son of God’s glory, as in the Mount of Transfiguration. When the voice came from heaven it spoke of God’s beloved Son and the disciples were overwhelmed by the glory. There were three levels of creation affected, the unfallen creation, the seraphim hide their eyes; created reality as the pillars of the door posts tremble because the glory of God is there, and the fallen creation is also there and Isaiah cries Woe is me. My eyes have seen the King. The whole of creation is there in that.

3. Where does Christ display this glory?

Owen says there are two places where he does not display his glory, the first is where men insist on displaying their glory, and the Lord did not display it in eternal infinite glory for men could not accept that.

Christ displays his glory in eternity before the world began. “Give me the glory that I had with you before the world began.” What a request, but that is where he will display his glory. We learn from Scripture that the fallen creation cannot live and look at it, but in the incarnation it was so important that God display the glory of his Son during Christ’s probation, that in that period Jesus’ glory was made to shine. In the miraculous signs that he performs his glory is shown, but most of all in the cross of God. Where do you see the holiness, love and power of God more woven together than at the cross of Jesus Christ? However, his glory is found most powerfully revealed and most clearly in his redeemed people – John 17:22. The glory you have given to me I have given to them. How does he do this? How does he give us this glory? The transformation of Jesus is the prototype of his people. Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit first of all. It comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. The most ordinary of God’s people reflects the glory that is Christ’s, and it is seen in time, in being changed from one degree of glory to another.

4. What is the purpose of the glory of Christ?

“That the Son may glorify you.” In the expression of their true unity with one another. “I have given them the glory that you have given me.” Disunity shames the name of the Saviour.
But where all hearts are burning with the same desire, and all minds are bending in the same direction then Christ’s glory is seen.
Also in our mission having been sent forth by Christ – those whom he sanctifies – and we bring glory to his name.
The motive for evangelism ultimately is that we have the same view of the world as Jesus. We have found somewhere in the world where God is being robbed of his glory and because of that there is a burden being laid on us to change things. Henry Martyn said he could not go on living if Jesus were being dishonoured.

There are many ways in which all people weep with us over the situation of mankind today. We see it on the TV and we are grieved beyond words. There are tears of nature when everyone weeps but there are also tears of grace which only Christian men and women weep and we need to learn the difference between the two and learn to weep the tears of grace for the lost and weep for his absence of the glory of Christ.

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