From “The Call of Samuel,” The Love and Wisdom of God (1879)
The child Samuel, though at first he knew not the Lord, yet repeated simply what he was told to say: “Speak, for thy servant heareth;” and more simple, more trustful still are the words by which the greatest call that was ever made to man was answered, “Be it unto me according to thy Word” (Luke 1:38). God still calls men to His service, and the meaning of the call is the same as of old, though the manner of the call is changed. It is “a claim from Almighty God on the will and choice of man for a free and unconditional service” (R. W. Church, Human Life and Its Conditions, 174); it means self-surrender, a perfect readiness for all that may be required; it may come in various ways, by sickness, by accident, by the death of friends, by the punishment in another of the same sin we ourselves had almost committed; or more commonly, and perhaps more surely, by an inward increasing conviction, by the slow, yet overruling bearing of experience, by that many-sided, complex kind of evidence which is made up of numberless warnings, encouragements, unmistakable indications of the divine will.
The great hindrance to this line of thought is, with many men, that it seems too good to be true. They cannot believe that God Almighty can really require their aid in carrying out his great purposes with mankind, and yet by all who rightly believe in God this objection must be given up: we know that he employs the means he has already made; we know that man is the crown and glory, the priest and king, of creation; we are made to find out and master the forces of this world, to subdue the earth, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. We are, indeed, all made in the image and likeness of God, we are so made that we can have communion with Him, can walk with Him, can be fellow workers together with God. This is true of us all, and many of us from our childhood have been taught to say, “My bounden duty is to prepare ‘to do my duty in that state of life unto which it shall please God to call me’” (Prayer Book Catechism) – this is true of us all. We are all taught to expect to be called by God. None are too poor, too humble, too little gifted – all are to be fellow-workers with him.
There are others to whom this difficulty does not present itself, but they are discouraged by the toil and drudgery which they find necessary for the work of life. The lowliness of this labor seems incompatible with the reality of a Divine call. But such persons must remember that God’s calls to his service are to be received with the general scheme of his good will. We are still to be lords of creation, but not with such ease as we might have been; in the sweat of our face we must eat our bread. No gifts of genius can exempt from toil; the Son of God himself, when in our nature He dwelt on this earth, was tired and suffered.
God’s call will not free us from wearisomeness – none can reach their full efficiency who will live without exertion. Effort is bound up in the life we have to live, nay, it often is so that our chief gifts, the powers which bring us most distinction, which are used by us with the greatest ease, are made dependent for their full efficiency on the diligent and painful cultivation of powers in which we shall never excel. With this condition of labor there is often another, for which men are not sufficiently prepared, the condition of waiting – waiting in preparation until the chief call of life fully comes. Life is already a mystery to us – even in this world we know not to what we may be called, what our future opportunities and responsibilities may be…
The truth is, the sense of duty which tells us in early life to obey, to take the task that is set us, to be sensitive and watchful for the indication of the circumstances of our lives, this sense of duty, this pressure of the light yoke of early responsibility, is itself the call of God: not the great call, which tells us what the chief work of our life is to be ; but a real call, full of more future value than at the time appears. Look back even now, my brethren, down the pathways of your several lives, and see if there have not been many points already in which God’s call has come to you with a meaning, and a value, which now you are beginning to understand; punishments, reproofs at school, warnings, pleadings, wishes, looks at home, which at one time seemed of but little value, but which now are seen plainly to have a bearing on your present position and your future prospects. Probably to most of us the call which enables us to decide on our life’s work would come with greater clearness, and give us greater confidence, if we attended more carefully to the still small voices which come to us in the early days of our preparation.
Edward King (1829-1910) was one of the great leaders of late nineteenth century Anglo-Catholicism, widely admired for his courage and personal holiness. He was Regius Professor of Moral Theology at Oxford and played a key role in the founding of St. Stephen’s House, Oxford. He became Bishop of Lincoln in 1889, serving until his death. “The Call of Samuel” was preached before the University of Oxford on October 19, 1879. King is commemorated on the calendar of the Church of England on March 8.