Is A Secular Education Necessary To Be A Gospel Preacher?

This question, whether a classical education is necessary to be a gospel minister, has elicited much disputation in what is called the christian world.

The assumption that neither a classical education nor the want of it, is a disqualification, is abundantly evident from facts. 

The right of calling and qualifying for the ministry, belongs exclusively to the Head of the Church, who in calling the first preachers of the gospel, chose whom He would; and the prerogative then asserted by Him has never been surrendered to another.

When it pleases Him so to do, He calls men of learning, but then it is not to make a display of their learning, but to preach the simple gospel of truth. Indeed some of the plainest preachers and writers in the world have been among the most profound scholars; and if there is any real advantage in learning, it is to enable a preacher to simplify his language so as to reach the understanding of his most simple hearers. 

When we find a man in the pulpit aiming to make a display of his learning, we may safely conclude that he is a pedant, or a poor scholar; and when I hear men crowding their sermons with big words, I am always reminded of the following stanza:

“Such labour nothing is so strange a style, Amuse the unlearned and make the learned smile.”

But tho’ God has been pleased at times to call the learned to the ministry, yet it is evident that a large majority of the first set of gospel preachers were not such; and it is equally evident that in all subsequent ages He has pursued the same plan. Whoever He may see fit to call to the important work, He will qualify for it, so that when we find a man aiming to display his learning, or on the other hand, one unable to communicate his ideas so as to convey instruction or edification to the minds of his hearers, we have a right to question the call of either to the work; for to suppose that God would call to the ministry without qualifying for it, would be to reflect on his wisdom and goodness. Few men, we presume, are prepared to dispute that the primitive ministers were unlearned men, i.e. in the wisdom of this world, and those that are, may be convinced by consulting Acts 4:13; and if this and a host of corroborating passages will not convince them, we shall have to give them up as impenetrable.

But the advocates for an exclusively learned ministry, (who are forced to admit the above fact,) have drawn an argument from the comparative ignorance of this world at that time to what it is now. They tell us that the great mental improvement that has taken place in the world, calls for a different ministry; and yet, strange to say, that notwithstanding this boasted improvement, these very men hold up Virgil, Cicero, and other ancient authors as models of literary perfection, and insist that an acquaintance with these authors is indispensable to a classical education. Now is it not passing strange that the learned of this age of intellectual improvement, would look back to that crude and ignorant age of the world when the Kingdom of Christ was established, and His first preachers chosen for models of literary perfection? for it will be recollected that it is not for historical information that they are consulted, for for elegancy of style, and fine, and beauty of diction. And when the learned of this day shall have their Virgil, Cicero, and other ancient authors out of their literary institutions and substituted modern authors in their place, we shall begin to think them serious when they boast of the mental superiority of the present over the apostolic age. But perhaps these learned gentlemen of the ‘pulpit’ are not aware that they are playing into the hands of Infidels, with whom it is quite common to speak of the ignorance of the apostolic age in support of their objections against the religion of Christ. With them it is an important object to destroy the truth of miracle; and to effect this, they tell us that the extreme ignorance of the world at the age of miracles, afforded Christ and his apostles a favorable opportunity to impose upon it by ficticious miracles. And as those learned gentlemen insist that a classical education is necessary to enable us to meet and rebut infidel objections, I wonder how they would go about to refute the above. They could not do as did an able defender of the truth once in England, who in refuting it in the presence of a club of Infidels, observed, that every school boy, with Virgil in his hand, could rise up and prove the scoundrel, wretch and liar. But Infidels have as much right to resort to a lie to answer their purposes as professed gospel preachers have. I can see no difference between a pious and impious fraud.

It is a well known fact, that both Virgil and Cicero flourished but a short time before Christ. The birth of Christ occurred during the reign of Augustus Caesar, who in forming the second triumvirate in Rome, with Antony and Lepidus, to conciliate the feelings of Antony, sacrificed Cicero to his resentment. Virgil being a favorite of Augustus, and the circumstance of having received some peculiar favours from the Emperor, gave rise to some of his most elegant productions. I merely mention these facts to shew that the learned would acknowledge themselves indebted to men who were nearly contemporary with Christ and his Apostles, for the most perfect models of human production; indeed among the learned these men stand unrivaled. When will men be consistent?

But the above argument is altogether gratuitous, and without foundation in truth or fact. The reason why God chose an illiterate ministry is given by the Holy Ghost; and “let God be true and every man a liar.” The reason will be found in 1st Corinthians 1:27-29: “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence.” By connecting the latter clause of the 28th verse of this chapter. with the 1st verse of the 2nd chapter, it will appear evident that Paul had a primary allusion to the ministry: “And I brethren, when I came to you, came not with the excellency of speech, or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.” We are not to conclude from this that Paul’s language was rude or that it wanted true wisdom; but that it was not with worldly wisdom. He did not aim to make a display of human literature, but conveyed his ideas in a plain simple style, so that the weak and unlearned might understand him, while the learned were not left ignorant of what he said. The Apostle here mentions his own method of preaching as an exemplification of what he had said before in difference to the general character of the ministry in point of human learning; and to shew that it was not on account of his learning that God had called him, but in fact God had unlearned him, i.e. stripped him of his human learning and made a simple gospel minister of him; and the fact that God did strip Paul of his human learning, and reduce him to a level with his unlearned brethren in point of style, was as strong an evidence that he did not need learned men to preach his gospel as that of calling unlearned men to the work. So that the fact that Paul was a learned man, so far from proving that God needed learned men, as such to preach his gospel, furnishes a strong evidence to the contrary for if he wanted him as a learned man why strip him of his learning, or send him forth in as simple a dress as those who had not been learned as he was at the feet of Gamaliel?

There is no fact more clearly established than that a majority of primitive ministers of Christ were destitute of the common blandishment of human learning; and it is equally clear that the reason why God called such, was not because of the ignorance of the world at the time; but to stem the pride of men; to confound the wise and prudent of this world, and thereby maintain His sovereign independence by telling the great and learned of the world known that He needs not their services to carry into effect His eternal purpose in the salvation of the Elect. Let those then, who dare attempt to wrest the prerogative of making preachers from the hand of God, answer for their arrogant presumption to Him if they can; for both those who dare to introduce into the world a different ministry to that which God has appointed, and those who are thus imposed upon, the world will have to answer the appalling interrogatory, Who hath required this at your hands, that ye should tread my courts? The design of God to confound the wise and mighty of this world by choosing an illiterate ministry, was admirably exemplified in the Apostolic age. The boldness with which they faced opposition – the clearness and force with which they exhibited the sublime truths of the gospel – connected with the unparalleled success with which their ministry was attended; filled their enemies with dismay, and the learned with over-whelming astonishment. And not only was this the case in this age, but in all subsequent ages of the church; and no doubt but it will be the case in an unprecedented degree, when God shall turn again the captivity of His spiritual union – when the knowledge of God shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. It being evident that one prominent motive in God for choosing an illiterate ministry, was to confound the wise of this world; then admitting that all that vast improvement has taken place which the learned of the day declare to be the fact, there is nothing in it to weaken that motive or to furnish any just cause for a change; but would furnish an additional reason why the same course should be persued. The stronger the enemy conquered the greater is the honour due the conqueror; and as one great object God had in view in choosing an unlearned ministry was to confound the wisdom of this world, the more of that sort of wisdom there is, the greater will be the honour due to Him in confounding it.

The fact is that men have ever been labouring to undo what God has been doing – to pull down what He has been building up; and what renders their wickedness the more aggravated is, that all this they are doing in His own name. And thus we are told that God has put it into their hearts to erect theological schools, and that he has authorized them to send out agents to collect funds for this purpose and these agents have the effrontery to tell the “churches” that the demand thus made is a call from heaven, and that they are bound under the most solemn obligations to obey it. And yet when asked for their authority they are as much confounded as was Amimaaze when asked by David after the fate of Absolom; but if when asked for their authority by a poor worm of the dust, they are thus confounded what must be their dreadful dismay and confusion when asked the same question by Him whose awful name they have counterfeited to answer their unhallowed purposes.

I remain, yours, as ever,

Strickersville, Pa. July, 1836

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