In our first article on this subject we considered what is the primary responsibility of the individual believer. Three introductory observations were made. First, every true believer is concerned with and desirous for and prays for the growth of the church of Jesus Christ. From this perspective it is easy to see that this is true of the believer in the established congregation as well as in the mission field. The second introductory observation is that, apart from an increased consciousness of the desire for the organization of a congregation for the believer on the mission field, the activity and role of the individual believer in an established congregation is no different from that of the believer on the mission field. Thirdly, the true believer is very conscious that it is by the sovereign power of the Lord Jesus Christ that the church grows. Not only does He know who “should be saved,” but also His is the right and power to add to the church, which is His Body.
The primary responsibility of the individual believer is to support the pure preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified, risen, and exalted. It is that gospel which is able to make men wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. The Lord adds to the church by saving men, and He brings men to the consciousness of salvation through the preaching of the Word of God (Romans 10:13-17). Zealously receiving the Word with all readiness of mind the true believer has not as his primary responsibility a special method of witnessing but the wholehearted support of the preaching of the Gospel. It is through that Gospel that Jesus saves and thus adds to the church.
This support of the pure preaching of the Gospel is in perfect harmony with the subjective experience of the redeemed saint. That Gospel-preaching is the food which sustains, his soul. Not only does his lively interest in the Word of God manifest itself in an eager and expectant gathering on the Lord’s Day, but also throughout the week he reads the Word, speaks of it, and meditates upon it. His whole life is lived within the sphere of that preached Word, which life is characterized chiefly by gratitude. This is heartfelt gratitude for so great a deliverance, for so great a Savior and salvation, and for so great a hope. This sense of gratitude thrives as the believer lives within the sphere of the preached Word. Therefore the believer’s chief responsibility, whether on the mission field or in an established congregation, is to support the pure preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
From this delightful and eager support of the pure preaching flows most naturally the responsibility to give witness to this truth. Out of this heartfelt gratitude for so great a salvation the true believer will not be able to keep his mouth shut. He will eagerly fulfill his role as prophet—bubbling over. He delights greatly in the great salvation God has wrought and which he experiences personally. Out of the inner delights comes the ability to speak of what God has done for them. They are excited about it. Of this activity of witness we speak in this article. First some introductory remarks are necessary to put this activity of witness in its proper perspective. Secondly, we will give the substantiation of Scripture for this activity. And then let us note some characteristics of witnessing.
The proper place of witnessing is under the heading of sovereign, divine salvation. The salvation of the sinner is solely by God’s power and grace. Although this is a work of God alone, yet God is pleased ordinarily to use means. Therefore we have the preaching of the Gospel, through which God imparts and strengthens faith. This Gospel is preached and proclaimed by the church; the church has an active role in this preaching. However, the lively preaching per se is limited to the extent of the voice of the preacher. Those a mile away are without that lively preaching because they cannot hear it. Therefore, God ordinarily uses means also to bring people under the sound of the preaching. That means consists of believers who gratefully and enthusiastically receive that Word. They are the biblically appointed way. Usually this is called witnessing; sometimes it is termed “preaching in the broader sense,” on the basis of Acts 8:4.
The confession that salvation is solely by God’s sovereign, irresistible grace does not deny His use of the preaching of the Word as the ordinary and usual means to impart faith. Nor does it deny His use of the believer’s witness to bring elect souls under the preaching of the Gospel.
What is the Scriptural substantiation for the believing activity of witnessing?
Psalm 51:13, “Then will I teach transgressors Thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto Thee.” In showing his gratitude to God for forgiving his sins, David says he will exert himself to effect the conversion of others. Delivered from sin and death David will teach transgressors God’s gracious ways. So overwhelmed with his own experience of so wonderful a forgiveness, David cannot be quiet about it. “Those who have been mercifully recovered from their falls will feel inflamed by the common law of charity to extend a helping hand to brethren; and in general, such as are partakers of the grace of God are constrained by religious principle and regard for the divine glory, to desire that others should be brought into the participation of it.” So writes John Calvin on this verse. Notice too how confident David is about expecting the conversion of others. “We are too apt to conclude that our attempts at reclaiming the ungodly are vain and ineffectual. We forget that God is able to crown our attempts with success.” Again, John Calvin.
Consider Proverbs 11:30, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise.” The whole life of the righteous is as a tree of life. What the tree of life was in Paradise and will be in glory (Rev. 2:7;Prov. 10:11, 31, 32), so the righteous are. By their life (prayers, deeds, example, influence) they nourish (Rev. 2:7; Prov. 10:11) and comfort and heal (Prov. 12:18; Prov. 15:4). InI Corinthians 9:19-22 Paul does not deny God’s sovereign work in salvation, but he knew God used means. Paul also knew that such a use of means did not ascribe any power to himself or take away from God’s grace. The unbelieving husband is said to be won by the godly life of his believing wife (I Peter 3:1). James 5:19, 20says the believer converts his sinful neighbor. These verses must be understood in the light of Matthew 5:16, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” One of the reasons why believers must do good works is that “by our godly conversation others may be gained to Christ” (Heidelberg Catechism Q. 86).
Similar to Proverbs 11:30 is Daniel 12:3, “And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.” According to John Calvin in his commentary on this passage, this passage is first directed to teachers, but it also embraces all pious worshippers of God. “No one of God’s children ought to confine their attention privately to themselves, but as far as possible, every one ought to interest himself in the welfare of his brethren. God has deposited the teaching of his salvation with us, not for the purpose of our privately keeping it to ourselves, but of our pointing out the way of salvation to all mankind. This, therefore, is the common duty of the children of God,—to promote the salvation of their brethren.”
Thus we see it to be the teaching of Scripture that you and I and every believer give vent to the consciousness of the salvation God has given to him. The sense and certainty of his own election and salvation causes the believer to render “grateful returns of ardent love to Him, Who first manifested so great love towards them” (Canons of Dordt, I-13).
It is not a question of whether a person witnesses, but of how he gives witness. We always show others who and what we are. Therefore, to complete a speech on the responsibility of the believer in mission work, we will consider some of the elements of giving witness to the truth.
First of all, and as Rev. Houck pointed out so well in his speech, be honest. That means that you are yourself, not putting on a special image. It means that you live your faith and do not hide it under a bushel. SOlet your light shine, that in giving thanks to God for salvation you manifest His wondrous work in your whole life. With God as a natural, integrated part of the believer’s whole life, it is not hard to be spiritual and to speak of Him. God is not compartmentalized, but is in the whole of the believer’s life. Non-christians easily detect the reality of a genuine God-like, heartfelt knowledge and experience of the grace of God.
Secondly, learn to listen. Do not leap in to resolve every question immediately, but ask some questions. Read through John 4 and consider how Jesus bore witness of the truth to the Samaritan woman. Rev. Herman Hoeksema, in a sermon on Luke 24:25-27 which was delivered on May 2, 1954, said the following:
“And the Lord said, ‘What thing?’ The Lord wanted to draw them out.
“You know, that is one of the most fundamental principles of education. The most fundamental principle of education is that, if you approach a man that has a problem, you must let him talk, let him talk. You do that too when you talk to others.
“Take my advice in that respect. When you talk to others about our Reformed truth or about Reformed doctrine, others that do not know the Reformed truth or that do not want it even, let them talk; let them present their own problem.”
In the normal situations at work or play, initiate and develop relationships in which you can realistically, relevantly, and lovingly convey to them the gospel of Jesus Christ. In your day-to-day contacts establish such a relationship that you can listen. It is most difficult to speak to someone you do not know. One reason the Scriptures give for Jesus speaking in parables is because that is what “they were able to hear” (Mark 4:33). In contrast to the disciples to whom He “expounded all things” (Mark 4:34), Jesus spoke in parables to the people because that is what they could understand. Having a knowledge of His listeners’ ability to grasp, Jesus spoke accordingly.
Another reason for listening is that from a human viewpoint men resent being trapped into a one-way conversation with one who does not ‘bother to listen. It makes us wonder if the speaker really cares or is just giving his talk. The second great commandment is to love our neighbor, which is concern for their highest good, namely, the salvation of their souls. If you listen to them, then you gain their willingness to listen to you.
Thirdly, stimulate; learn to arouse as Jesus did with the Samaritan woman and as Paul did in Athens. As Paul shows in I Corinthians 9:19-22, it was most important to him that the truth of Jesus Christ be proclaimed. That means that the witness is essentially positive. When asked to give expression to your faith, it is best not to say first what you do not believe, but to be positive. This is the method used by our fathers in the Canons. Learn to express the contents of your faith positively, carefully, and biblically. Thus you stimulate and arouse interest.
These general guidelines for witnessing do not come with guarantees of positive responses. There will be rejection, and the truth will be denied. The gospel is determined to be a savor of life and a savor of death.
But knowing what God has done for you in His sovereign grace makes you delight in that truth as it is preached to you. You immerse yourself in it and live in the sphere of it. Then you cannot help but talk of it with enthusiasm and zeal. Because you are saved from hell and given to taste the righteousness of God in Christ you enthusiastically receive the Word of the truth with all readiness of mind and you joyfully confess His name.
“Now with joyful exaltation,
Let us sing Jehovah’s praise.
To the rock of our salvation
Loud hosannas let us raise.”
Sing it! Live it! Not only in church, but in all your life.
“Thankful tribute gladly bringing,
Let us come before Him now
And with psalms His praises singing,
Joyful in His presence bow.”
May God give us the grace to meditate on the blessed Gospel of our salvation to learn it and live it.
Text of an address given at the Mission Emphasis Day at the Kalamazoo (Michigan) Protestant Reformed Church last May.