Rev. Bruinsma is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan.
There is a golden link between God’s everlasting covenant of grace and mission work. So much so, that it is hard to conceive of any proper mission work being carried
Consider God’s covenant: it is His everlasting bond of friendship on without a deep appreciation of and fellowship with His chosen people in Christ. It is rooted in the life of fellowship God has within the truth of God’s covenant with Himself as the triune God; it is decreed from eternity in God’s sovereign election; and it is established throughout history with believers and their seed. Consider also that this covenant of God is universal in its scope, that is to say, God establishes it with His elect people out of every nation, race, and language in this world; and that where God does this His church is to be found in this world.
Now consider our calling in mission work: to go out into this world and preach the Gospel to every creature. Without hesitation or discrimination we preach wherever God in His good pleasure leads and directs us. We preach in season and out of season to those who will hear the Gospel and even to those who will not. We preach it at home and abroad; we preach it to the heathen and the unchurched; and we preach it to those who are wayward. Furthermore, this calling to preach the Gospel to all nations is not merely a labor which a few men perform for the church in God’s covenant and the labor of a prescribed way. It is a calling that flows out of the very heart and soul of the church and all its members.
And it is in all this that we find the inseparable connection between God’s covenant and the labor of missions.
The truth of God’s covenant is, first of all, theimpetus in missions. It gives the church and her members the incentive and the drive to preach the Gospel to others. It generates within the hearts of all God’s people a sincere desire to see others brought to faith and repentance. How so? The truth of God’s covenant is not simply adoctrinal distinctive which we as Reformed believers maintain. It is life to us! We have experienced in our own lives what it means to be taken from the corruption and guilt of sin and incorporated into the very household and family of God! Prior to our regeneration we were those who were the enemies of God. Ezekiel tells us that we were polluted in our own blood, naked and bare. We were by nature the children of wrath even as others. We were without hope and without God in this world, being alienated from the household of God and strangers from the covenants of promise. We were destitute, lost, and blinded in unbelief. And although many of us were regenerated before we actually were able to walk in disobedience, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, nevertheless we also were those who in principle were dead in sins and trespasses and in dire need of salvation. As children of God we are deeply aware of this wretched state which was once ours.
But we are also gratefully aware that God in His grace and according to His divine decree of election did not leave us to die in our sin. While we were yet enemies lost in the pollution of sin, God sent forth His Son who died to deliver us from sin and death. We were, as a result of His work on the cross, freed from our guilt and delivered from the corruption of sin. By means of this great deliverance Christ has reconciled us to God. The offense of our sin is removed, and God no longer will deal with us in His wrath but now has accepted us into His favor and fellowship. Not only has God made us His friends, but He has gone so far as to adopt us as His very own children! We belong to God’s family! This is His covenant with us. And more, He promises us that this covenant He will carry on in our generations, with our children and our children’s children. That is for us a source of great comfort and joy! In humble gratitude we give praise to God for His unchangeable love toward us who are in Christ Jesus.
In that same heartfelt gratitude, however, we also are moved to consider the sinful condition of others who have not been brought to faith and repentance. We are moved by compassion because we know what a wretched state it is in which they live. We know, of course, that God has not chosen the vast majority of the men and women of this world. We know that God has justly condemned many according to His eternal decree of reprobation. But this does not give us reason to shun everyone and to look down our noses on everyone who is not a member of our church. On the contrary, we do not know who “out there” is elect or reprobate. This judgment God alone makes. Therefore it is our sincere desire to preach the Gospel to as many as the Lord places in our paths. We are told that the preaching of the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation, and we are ready and willing to use this powerful means whenever and wherever the Lord leads us. By means of the preaching of the Gospel, by means of mission work, God uses us, His church to call sinners out of the darkness of sin and into His covenant fellowship! What greater desire is there, then, for us who already bask in the favor and fellowship of God, than to see others of God’s chosen brought into this same covenant fellowship of our God.
And since this is the desire of every child of God, the work of missions flows out of the very heart and soul of the church. There is a longing on the part of every member of the church to see all of God’s elect who have not yet been regenerated brought to repentance and faith. So much do we appreciate what God has done for us.
The truth of God’s covenant also becomes thecontent of our mission labors. There are two points to consider in this respect.
First of all, the truth of God’s covenant must be the content of our preaching on the mission field. As we have already noticed, the truth of the covenant is the Gospel—sin, salvation, God’s fellowship. God’s covenant with His people in Christ therefore must be the message we bring. This in a very real sense provides the missionary with his point of contact. When he is on the mission field (especially among the heathen) the missionary is acutely aware of the need to establish a point of common ground with those to whom he preaches. He cannot come to others in pride and look down on them as if they are of no value, or of lesser value than he. He will lose his listeners if he does this. The missionary must come to those who will listen with a message that places him on the same level with them. The truth of God’s covenant provides him with that message. There is one thing the missionary knows that he shares in common with those who listen: he is a sinner fallen in Adam and liable to punishment. If once he can, by the work of the Spirit in the hearts of his hearers, “convince” them of this, then he can proceed to lay before them the blessed truth of deliverance in Christ. And more, he can tell those who hear him of the blessed privileges which belong to those who are adopted members of God’s household! In this way the covenant becomes the content of the mission message.
In the second place, the truth of God’s covenant also becomes a gauge which the missionary uses to perform his mission labors. When the missionary comes to a group of people on the mission field he has to gauge his preaching by their level of knowledge and their needs. The truth of God’s covenant is an aid in making this determination. For example, perhaps the missionary is called to preach the Gospel to those who have never as yet heard it. The question is: where does he start? At what level? More than likely these heathen among whom he labors do not know the first thing about a covenant home and family since they have never come under the influence of the Gospel. Then that missionary, while preaching the Gospel, must focus his attention on the practical matter of God’s covenant established in the line of generations—and that by means of a good, biblical, Christian family.
On the other hand, perhaps the missionary is called to preach to a nucleus of people who have heard the Gospel but in an Arminian context. Then, having a foundation on which to work, he can point out to his hearers that God’s covenant is particular, that it is established only with God’s elect who are scattered over the whole earth. So it is that in this way the truth of God’s covenant becomes the content of our mission labors.
Finally, the covenant also is for us the goal of all our mission labors. We are children of our heavenly Father. Together we with all of God’s elect belong to God’s spiritual family. We are brothers and sisters within the same household. And we are all joint heirs together with Christ to the heavenly kingdom. It is God’s purpose to bring all of His children to dwell under the one roof of His heavenly mansion. There each of us has his own individual room in Father’s house. Certainly therefore, there is no greater goal or desire that we can have than by the preaching of the Gospel to call all of God’s people home. Our family and home is incomplete if we are missing just one of our fellow saints. It is our goal therefore to gather into the fold of Christ His sheep wherever they may be found in this world. In this way Christ hastens the day of His coming, and brings about the final realization of God’s covenant in heaven.
Often the accusation has been leveled against those of Reformed persuasion that the maintenance of the truth of God’s covenant established in the line of generations stifles mission work. Such a narrow conception of God’s covenant, it is claimed, will only serve to counteract the fervent desire of the church to preach the gospel to those outside the sphere of that covenant. This accusation is unfounded and false. The question rather ought to be asked: how can one perform mission work without this solid, comforting, and encouraging truth of God’s holy Word?