Rev. Miersma is western home missionary of the Protestant Reformed Churches. Previous article in this series: June 2007, p. 400.
The Lord sovereignly directs the work of missions and evangelism. He directs it to whom He in His good pleasure sends the Word. The saving purpose of that work of God in Christ is the gathering and salvation of His elect out of the nations. This doctrinal truth is an integral part of the Reformed confession. While we preach and witness to all to whom God gives us occasion and opportunity to preach or speak, we know and confess that God’s purpose is not to save all who hear, but to quicken and call His elect. Jesus Himself declares “for many be called, but few chosen” (Matt. 20:16).
Election is the guarantee that the labor of missions is not and cannot be unfruitful. Jesus said,
All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day,
The elect will be gathered and redeemed. All of them shall come, with not one missing.
Election is also the limitation of mission work and evangelism. Not all will come, but only the elect given to Christ. This is God’s will. To labor on any other footing in missions is to labor on another foundation than that which is laid in Christ. It is true that Jesus knew the hearts of men. He knew His sheep as the Son of God directly, in a way that is hidden from us. In that sense He could speak of this in a more profound or direct way than we can. We do not know the identity of the elect immediately and directly. But we do know that all who are given to Christ shall come to Him. This is God’s will. It is God’s intention and design.
We are given to know God’s counsel in this matter and to see it by faith through His Word. We may know it in the light of the Word by the fruit of election, organically, among those with whom we labor. Thus Paul can say to the Thessalonians concerning his mission work among them,
Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake. And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost,
The electing grace of God and its fruit are not hidden either from the believer himself or from those who labor in the gospel. We not only labor in the consciousness of election, but we may also rightly speak of it as it is manifest in the work of God’s grace in the gathering of His church.
To speak rightly of it is not the same thing as vain speculation about individuals, as to which one God wills to save and call according to election and which one He does not. But to behold with a holy joy the fruit of election in the gathering of the elect is rightly to rejoice in the work of God. Election is not a doctrine to be hidden in the theological closet. It leads us, as it did the apostle Paul, to a doxology of thanksgiving (Rom. 11:33– 36), and to Jesus’ own thanksgiving to His Father (Matt. 11:25-27).
Nor is election a detriment to the promiscuous proclamation of the gospel, as is sometimes falsely alleged. It is rather the impelling incentive for missions, for the elect must be a gathered by the Word. Jesus, knowing who were His own, preached to all who would hear and healed many. Ten lepers were healed, though only one, a Samaritan, came back to Him to return thanks. He fed five thousand, though many of them sought after Him because of it only for earthly bread.
Our Savior not only teaches us the truth of sovereign election but He also labored in the consciousness that He was working the will of His Father. Laboring in Judea and Galilee, He gathered the lost sheep of the house of Israel, the remnant of grace, the true elect Israel, and brought them into the blessings of the fulfillment of the promises in Him. He was engaged in mission work. In teaching His disciples the truth of the gospel and preparing them for their labors, He taught them and us the doctrine of election. At times He explained these matters privately to His disciples, as when they asked him why he preached in parables in connection with the parable of the sower. We read,
And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable. And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them,
It is noteworthy, however, that the truth of election was not only confessed by our Savior and taught to His disciples, but was also an integral part of His preaching, His mission preaching. We are familiar with the many expressions of our Savior concerning the sovereignty of God in the gospels as they shape our doctrine. What is sometimes overlooked is that many of them, especially in the gospel of John, form the heart of Jesus’ public preaching. When Jesus said, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:44), He was preaching. He was doing mission work. The drawing of which He spoke is an effectual, irresistible one, so that those called would be raised up the last day. It was not mere human persuasion or offered grace. He makes this clear. He says, “Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father” (John 6:65). Coming to Christ is impossible for the dead sinner in himself. He cannot come. He has no ability to come by faith. It must be given him. It is a matter of sovereign election. This is evangelistic preaching. That “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37) is evangelism!
In like manner, Jesus spoke of all the doctrines of grace, from total depravity in John 6:44, 65, to limited atonement in John 10:15, to irresistible grace in John 3:3-6 and John 5:25. Jesus proclaimed these truths plainly and clearly, without watering them down. He did so concerning election and its fruit. He did so also concerning reprobation, “But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep” (John 10:26).
In dealing with the weak of understanding among His sheep, He was patient and longsuffering, but He could also be very direct and confrontational, so that He described the scribes and Pharisees as hypocrites. He was not afraid of the truth of election and reprobation. His sheep are given Him of the Father, bought in His blood, and shall come to Him. Jesus boldly declared over against the Pharisees who put His word from them, “He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God” (John 8:47). Nor was Jesus afraid of their response, “Then answered the Jews, and said unto him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?” (John 8:48).
The truth of election is to be wisely and timely preached in the churches (Canons of Dordt I, 14) and on the mission field. It is an integral part of the gospel to the destruction of the pride of the sinner and the exalting of the glory and grace of God in Christ. Our Savior may be said to set an example here also for mission work. The sheep will hear and rejoice, for election and the doctrines of grace that flow from them are ultimately the only hope of one who is in himself dead in trespasses and sins.
There is one other element that should be mentioned before making some comments, and that is the organic reality of election and the preaching of it. Election is personal, but it is not individualistic, by which is meant that God does more than save individual elect. He saves His elect in the generations of believers. Election, according to the covenant of grace, runs in the generations of believers. This too belongs both to the truth of sovereign grace and to Jesus’ preaching of the gospel. Jesus came to save His sheep; that includes also the lambs of the flock gathered in the generations. Jesus did not come to bring salvation to Zacchaeus alone as an elect child of God, but to his house. He said so to Zacchaeus: “And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9). Not only Zacchaeus, but also his house, was to be saved. In like manner Jesus speaks of the children of believers: “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14). In speaking of them as belonging to the kingdom of God, He was speaking of sovereign election organically. He was indignant (“much displeased”) with His disciples for hindering the children. The so-called Baptist, or children excluder, must likewise be addressed as one who sets at naught the grace of God.
That so-called evangelicals (read Arminians) will not preach any aspect of this truth is not surprising, for they deny sovereign election and corrupt it altogether. The Baptist also does not truly know it. It is to the shame of much of the Reformed and Presbyterian community that they also evade this truth in the preaching and in evangelism.
In the light of this we may make some comments. There is a lot written about mission work and how to reach people by evangelistic preaching or by personal witness in the church world around us. When it comes to this matter of election guiding our thinking, being our rejoicing, and being, yet more, an integral part of mission preaching and evangelism, it is hardly heard at all. In fact, one would say that the opposite is true. It is viewed as a hindrance at best, stuff left in the closet or only for the advanced believer, an elitist doctrine for the learned. The advice given today would certainly be: do not bring this up and do not preach it. This is usually packaged as a matter of mission psychology. Tact, tolerance, and avoidance of controversy, to the extent even of evading preaching about sin, are advocated. Sadly, this is increasingly the case also in the Reformed community. What shall we say to this?
In the first place, this is sin! It presumes to be wiser than the Lord Jesus in His own mission preaching! If there is anything a sin-sick soul, who has no hope in himself, needs to hear, it is that God in Christ saves, sovereignly, efficaciously, irresistibly, because He chose, He wrought in Christ, and He applies and raises up from death to life. For a weary child of God struggling also with living the Christian life, and struggling to learn godliness in home and family, what does he need? Another sermon on child rearing? The evangelicals, so-called, are full of humanist psychology. They write book after book in this area. What about “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10)? This alone makes the way of obedience possible, yea certain.
The truth of election is offensive to natural man. It will provoke enmity, as it did when Jesus preached the truth and was called a Samaritan with a devil. Our calling in the churches and on the mission fields is to proclaim “all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). We are to preach sovereign election clearly and plainly, and walk in God’s sovereignty in our labor with joy. By that preaching, the sheep will hear the voice of Christ and the elect will be called and gathered.