It affords me great pleasure to have had the privilege of attending your convention of Protestant Reformed youth. In the first place, because a convention such as this is a wholesome sign, that God has blessed and is blessing our churches, and that our churches have a future. For in our youth, under God, lies the future welfare of our Protestant Reformed denomination. This is indeed for you a great privilege, but also at the same time a grave responsibility. In the second place I am very happy at this occasion because your convention reveals that our young people have a desire and a yearning to serve God. It has been said that the youth needs the church, and that the church needs youth, and this is indeed the truth, providing that it is a youth that fears and loves the Lord. That is essential. In our day we often hear the complaint that there is such a great lack of true spirituality and of sanctification. I dare not say that these complaints are unfounded, for we are certainly living in a time, when not only youth, but men are lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God. We are living in days of great apostasy as great or greater than the world has ever known. But having spent these days in your midst, we do not complain, but rather take courage, and wish you God’s blessing upon your convention and upon your societies.
Your committee requested me to give a brief talk on “Our Attitude Toward Missions,” a subject which harmonizes with your convention theme. I am glad this subject was assigned to me, because undoubtedly you also have often heard the slurring remark that the Protestant Reformed Churches do not believe in doing mission work, in fact we are accused of being anti-missionary. We must not let such slurring remarks frighten us, for this accusation is not something new, but was also hurled at the reformers and at our Reformed fathers. To the carnal mind the great fundamental truths of God’s sovereignty and man’s total depravity seem to be incompatible with the command of Christ to preach the gospel to all nations. Whenever, in the history of the Church, there were those that maintained, defended and preserved the doctrines of God’s sovereign grace and the total depravity of man, they were immediately accused of having no place in their theological thinking for the cause of missions. This accusation always savors of Arminianism. According to their bigoted and narrow-minded conception, one must be an Arminian before one can truly be an enthusiast for missions, and let me hasten to add that to be an enthusiast for missions in the current sense of the word, namely, to save souls for Christ, one indeed must be an Arminian. On the other hand, the real significance of missions and of the missionary task is understood by him, and by him only, who believes, maintains and defends the truth of God’s sovereign grace.
We must beware of this subtle argument, that one must be an Arminian, before one can believe in, and enthusiastically support, the cause of missions. It is maintained that the denial of the first point of 1924, which teaches a general well-meant offer of salvation, on the part of God, to all that hear the gospel, makes it impossible to heed the command of Christ Jesus, to preach the gospel to all nations. They do not seem to be able to distinguish the difference between the phrase to preach Christ to all nations, or to well-meaningly offer Christ to all. The first is Reformed, the second is Arminian. The Christian Reformed Church maintains the latter, while our churches believe the first. It has been said that we only preach the gospel to the elect. This statement is as untrue as it is absurd. How would it be possible to preach only to the elect, seeing they are known but to God. But why is it impossible to preach to all men in general, unto whom the Lord sends us, a gospel, that as to God’s intention is only unto salvation for the elect. To put it very concisely, we believe in a general preaching of a particular gospel. Certainly the Word of God is made known to all that hear, even as the apostle expresses it in Romans 10:18: “But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.” But its message of comfort, its assurance of salvation, comes only to those that believe, whose faith is a gift of God. Again I would ask, why is it impossible to believe in election, that God does not will the salvation of all men, but only of His elect, and still believe in a general preaching unto all men promiscuously? Would it be impossible over a national radio hook-up, to address only those of foreign birth? All that tuned in would hear, but the message would only be for those who were born outside of our shores. Thus it is also in the preaching of the Word of God. When God’s Word calls the hungry and thirsty, the weary and heavy laden, the blind, the naked, the poor, the lost, then all hear the sound of these words, but the Lord calls a very distinct and a very peculiar people. For thus He calls His sheep by name, and they hear His voice. He does not call the righteous, and by nature every man is righteous in his own eyes, but he calls sinners to repentance, i.e., those that acknowledge their sins, and that hunger and thirst after righteousness. No, not we make the distinction, we must bring the Word to all unto whom the Lord sends us, but the Word of God, as a sharp two edged sword, makes distinction and separates between the righteous and the wicked, between those whom God has chosen and those whom He has not. Not we, but the Word of God separates the sheep from the goats. In this world this separation is not local, but spiritual and ethical, while its visible manifestation awaits the day of judgment. Therefore the purpose of God, in the preaching of the Word, is not only obtained in those that believe, but also in those that do not believe. And the minister of the gospel, the preacher of the Word of God, must know, that he is a sweet savor unto God, not only in those that are saved, but also in those that perish, 2 Cor. 2:14-17.
After these preliminary remarks it must have become evident that our attitude over against missions can never be that of the Arminian conception, of a well-meaning offer of salvation unto all men promiscuously, and which has as its primary purpose the saving of souls. All Arminianism is essentially humanism and therefore must lead to Modernism, because it makes man, and his well-being, the ultimate purpose of all things, instead of the glory of God. No, our attitude towards missions must be the Calvinistic one, that seeks its point of departure, not first of all in the salvation of man, but in the glory of God. Even as the apostle expresses it in the above-mentioned passage of 2 Cor. 2:14-17: “Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savor of His knowledge by us in every place. (And what is that savor of His knowledge? That God wills all men to be saved? Indeed not, for the apostle continues:) For we are unto God a sweet savor of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savor of death unto death; and to the other the savor of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: (Such as those that make of it a well-meaning offer of salvation for all men.) but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.”
The word Missions literally means to send, to delegate, to perform some service or function by authority. In connection with our subject, in the theological sense of the word, it means to send forth men with authority to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments, and that upon the authority from God. The term Missions is not a Scriptural term. It is not literally found in Holy Writ. All that the term implies, however, is found in the so-called great commission, Matthew 28:19, 20: “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things, whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” These words indeed embody all that is implied in the term Missions. The Lord sent forth His apostles with the authority to preach the gospel and to administer the sacraments. Go ye. . . . To do mission work, to preach the gospel is a command of Christ. Not to do it is disobedience. No church, that is worthy of the name, can be disobedient to this clear command of its Lord and King. “And teach all nations,” not merely the Jews, but all nations; both Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, bond and free. Beginning at Jerusalem, Luke 24:47, and then to the uttermost parts of the earth. “Teaching them to observe all things” mark you, all things. Hence the preacher or missionary must not come with a gospel that can be written on a thumbnail, or that you can put up on a billboard or spare tire, but he must teach men to observe all things,” the whole counsel of God, as it has been revealed unto us in His Word. “Whatsoever I have commanded you.” A missionary or preacher may never speak his own word, or his own opinion, but only that which Christ has commanded him. Strictly speaking he has nothing of his own to deliver, and whenever he speaks his own word, apart from the
Word of Christ, he ceases to be a missionary. Even as an ambassador, who has a definite message to deliver in the name of his government, may not express his own opinion, and if he does he cannot do so in his capacity as an ambassador, even so a missionary or preacher, has a very definite mission, and that mission is, to speak only whatsoever Christ has commanded him.
These words of Christ were first of all addressed to the apostles. They were delegated by Him to preach the Gospel and to administer the sacraments. The word apostle, literally means, one sent forth. They were directly sent by Christ, “Go ye. . . These words, however, cannot possibly be limited to the persons of the apostles, but were addressed to them as the representatives of the New Testament Church. The apostles personally could not fulfill the task of preaching the gospel in all the world. Neither can the promise, “And lo, I am with you, even unto the end of the world,” be limited to the lifetime of the apostles. Hence it is to the New Testament Church in the world that the Lord addresses His command, “i” It is well to emphasize this, especially in our day, that the work of missions is not the calling of the individual, of societies, of boards, or of alliances, but the Church, and the Church only has the commission to preach the gospel. Indeed, by virtue of the office of believers, every child of God has an earnest calling to let his light shine and to bear witness of the truth, but only the Church as institute has the commission to preach the word. Therefore Christ has given unto her “some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists and some pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,” Eph. 4:11, 12. Hence, not the individual believers, but the Church has received the divine commission to preach the gospel, and she fulfills her task through the ministry.
Therefore the missionary or preacher, who has truly been called of God through His church, goes forth, upon the command of, and in the name of Christ. They are the ambassadors of Christ, who is the Lord of lords, and the King of kings. From this follows that they come with authority. They do not come with a mere invitation, or a well-meaning offer, but they come and speak with authority. The returning refrain of their ministry is, “Thus saith the Lord!” They come with the command, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and return unto the Lord”; and “Be ye holy, even as I the Lord thy God am holy; “Not to heed them is to disobey Christ. Indeed, with the same authority, they assure all those that repent and believe, of divine forgiveness and of eternal life, while upon all those that do not believe and repent they pronounce the wrath and the judgments of God. And such a true ambassador of Christ has the assurance that he is a sweet savor unto God, not only in those who believe but also in those that perish. 2 Cor. 2:14-15.
We must warn against the wrong attitude towards missions of the Pelagians and Arminians. They go out from the erroneous doctrines of universal atonement and of a general well-meant offer of salvation. According to them, the atonement of Christ, as far as God is concerned, was intended for all men, but whether or not it shall be effective depends upon man’s free will, whether he accepts or rejects the gospel invitation. Hence, they believe that the Kingdom of God depends upon the free will of man and upon our efforts. Man must save souls for Christ. Many thousands, according to them, perish every year, yea, every day, which could have been saved, if we had brought them the offer of salvation. This conception induced a well-known secretary of missions, to base his appeal for missions upon a line of David, “The king’s business requires haste.” But their very actions belie their words, for if this were actually true, that many thousands are perishing daily, that could be saved by our efforts, how can they stand so idly by, when every day thousands of souls are perishing. Such a conception is a denial of the most fundamental reformed truths. It is a denial of God’s sovereignty, of man’s total depravity, and also that faith is a gift of God. Essentially the first of the “Three Points” of 1924, which teaches a well meant offer of salvation unto all, goes out from this erroneous doctrine of Arminianism.
Over against this erroneous conception we must maintain that Christ and He alone, gathers His church, which has been chosen unto everlasting life. He is the great missionary, even as our Heidelberg Catechism expresses it so beautifully, where we read, “That the Son of God, from the beginning to the end of the world, gathers, defends, and preserves to Himself by His Spirit and Word, out of the whole human race, a church chosen to everlasting life.” According to this, it is all His work, and His alone. There is absolutely nothing of man in it. It is all of God, according to His good pleasure, through Christ’s Word and Spirit. Cod is the beginning, the middle and the end of all missionary labors, and Christ is the missionary. And thus it is indeed. All that departs from this truth, all prattle of saving souls for Christ, no matter how pious it may seem, is a departure from the truth. And if for this truth we are accused of being anti-mission, let us bear this reproach for Christ’s sake. Thus also the Lord Himself taught us, when He said, “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. . . . And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold and one shepherd,” John 10:14, 16. Also in John 12:32: “And I, when I shall be lifted up, shall draw all unto me.” Again I Rev. 3:7: “These things saith he. . . . that hath the key of David, he that openeth and no man shutteth; and shutteth and no man openeth.” Thus also expressed in our Psalter,
“The Lord our God builds of His church,
He seeks her wandering sons,
He binds their wounds and gently heals,
The broken hearted ones.”
But you ask, does He not use men for this purpose? Indeed He does. As we have seen He gives some to be apostles, some prophets, etc. And those whom He calls unto this task must indeed be faithful in their calling. But even then it is Christ that gathers His church, and never is it the work of men. It is His Word, His Church, His Spirit. It is His mission, He sends, He regenerates, He calls, He gathers, protects and preserves. And when the great task of missions shall have been accomplished, and the great multitude of the elect from every nation shall have been gathered, then it will be perfectly evident that it was all the work of Christ, and of Him alone. There will not be one single part, of which we will be able to say, this or that is our contribution to the kingdom of God. (Soli Deo Gloria!) There will not be any stars in our crown, but we shall all be stars in His crown.
We must also warn against those that would emphasize missions (?) at the expense of the truth. Those that care nothing about pure doctrine, and who would erase every line of demarcation, not only between denominations, but even between the church and the world, but are so concerned about bringing the Gospel to the poor heathens. They are willing to sacrifice so that children of heathen lands may be instructed in the truth, but entirely neglect the Christian education of their own children, yea, send them to schools, where Christ and His Word are denied. Let me warn you against such an attitude, and remind you that God realizes His covenant in the line of generations. Our first calling is to instruct our own children in the fear of the Lord, for if we do not, our own children might soon degenerate into heathendom. Not many generations ago, (there are approximately but 150 generations from Noah unto the present time) even the very darkest of heathendom had access to the divine revelation of salvation. It is positively wicked to be an enthusiastic supporter of Missions (?) and at the same time sacrifice our own children to the Moloch’s of this world. Indeed we must do the one and not neglect the other, and in our missionary labors we must always begin at Jerusalem.
Hence it is first of all our calling to preserve the glorious heritage that is ours. In the midst of a world that is flooded with the heresy of Arminianism, we have been privileged with the truth of God’s sovereign grace. That torch of truth has been handed down to us by the generations of God’s covenant people. In spite of dungeon, fire and sword. For that truth our fathers have suffered and died. It is our calling to preserve this torch of truth, and hand it down undiminished, yea, burning brighter than ever, to the coming generations. In order to do this we must know our Reformed Confessions, study them, cherish them, maintain and defend them over against all heresies. Especially as covenant youth in our societies. Ye are indeed the salt of the earth, not in the sense of being a preservative against the corruption of this world, as it is often erroneously explained, but from the point of view of its savor. If salt has lost its savor, it is good for nothing, but to be trodden under the feet of men, so also we as Protestant Reformed youth only have right of existence as long as we are faithful to our distinct Reformed heritage.
We must also propagate these principles beyond the sphere of our own churches. We must seek to share this glorious truth of God’s sovereign grace with others, and warn against those that would deny this truth. First of all it is our calling to do this over against the churches that have so cruelly cast us out. We must seek to reveal unto her the error of her way and call her to repentance. This task has especially been entrusted unto me as your home missionary, and by the grace of God I have labored in this difficult calling for the past three years, and your convention has served as a great incentive to continue. And may God’s blessing so rest upon you and upon our churches, that the day may come that we may carry the banner of the truth of His sovereign grace to ever wider fields of labor.