We turn now to the question of preaching predestination on the mission field. As you will recall from our previous discussions on this subject, Mr. Boer, who is discussing this in the Reformed Journal, is of the firm conviction that election (Boer does not agree with the doctrine of double predestination, or reprobation) should be included in the preaching of the Gospel in the mission field as well as in the established church.
He writes in the December (1964) issue of theReformed Journal, “When therefore Paul told the Ephesians in his moving farewell address that he had not shrunk from declaring to them ‘the whole counsel of God,’ I cannot but as a missionary feel that this meant all the essentials of the gospel, including the doctrine of election. Paul wanted to preach the gospel’ to the Romans. That is an interesting expression. When Paul could not preach the gospel to the Romans in person, he wrote them a letter, a plainly missionary letter, and in that letter he dealt with election fully and profoundly. Election, in Paul’s view is a part, and a very necessary part, of the gospel. When we limit the preaching of election to the established church and are silent about it in the missionary stage of the proclamation, we not only make the unrealistic distinction between the ‘mission subject’ (who is always a believer before he is baptized) and the ‘church member,’ but we also cut out of the missionary proclamation an element that Paul clearly believed to be part and parcel of the preaching of the gospel. In short, the gospel is indivisible. On the mission field as in the church we are called to preach ‘the whole counsel of God.’ The only difference that can legitimately exist between the message of the missionary and the message of the congregational minister is the distinction of degree in the simplicity or depth with which the gospel is preached. There can never be a difference in proclamation between this or that constitutive element of the gospel. Only on this basis can we understand the fullness with which the writers of the New Testament speak about election in their writings to young churches. There just are no other writings from which to distill the missionary message.”
With the main thrust of this statement we certainly agree. Our point of disagreement with Boer is, nevertheless, in his conception of election. It is evident from all his writing that Boer wants a decree of election that permits him to say to anyone on the mission field: “You are an elect; God loves you; it remains for you to believe to make that election sure.” To quote from the same article from which I quoted above, Boer says: “As we dare not say of any man that he cannot believe, so we dare not say of any man that he is non-elect. The gospel calls to the acceptance and knowledge of every blessing of Christ: forgiveness, justification, sonship, and when one calls men to faith, we call them to every blessing that we have in the whole Christ, election included. For the knowledge of election is a fruit of faith and is part of the promise of the gospel.”
With that we heartily disagree. Boer implies that the Scripturally Reformed doctrine of predestination could never be preached on the mission field. The missionary cannot proclaim the truth of sovereign election and reprobation. It just would not fit in mission preaching. And that for the simple reason that we cannot say to any man that he cannot believe, nor can we say to any man that he is non-elect.
We maintain, on the contrary, that a missionary not only can, but also must preach the truth of sovereign predestination, including both election and reprobation, in the mission field. Nor is it difficult to see how this is done.
I would point out, first of all, that one of Boer’s fundamental errors is that he is always discussing whatman must say rather than what God says. This is no uncommon error in our day, but is no less serious. One hears the preacher refer to a certain passage of Scripture at the beginning of his discourse, and from that moment on nothing more is heard about the text that was quoted. Man begins to speak. Mere man gives his views on God, God’s Word, God’s manner of working, God’s salvation. But God Himself is forced to silence. Scriptural exegesis is sorely lacking in the preaching of our day. This is exactly what happens when Prof. Dekker and others insist that we must be able to say to every individual we meet, “God loves you,” and “Christ died for you.” And this is also the case when Boer writes, “we dare not say to any man that he is non-elect.” “And when one calls men to faith,we call them to every blessing that we have in the whole Christ, election included.”
My first plea for preaching predestination on the mission field is, Let God speak, and let man be silent. That was the calling of the prophets in the old dispensation. They were mandated to say purely and simply: “So saith the Lord.” Repeatedly we read: “And the Word of the Lord came unto me, saying . . . .” Or again, “The Word of the Lord that came to . . . saying . . .” They were ambassadors of God, who were well aware that God had laid a word in their hearts and upon their lips. As faithful ambassadors they proclaimed that Word to those to whom they were sent. The same duty rests upon the minister of the Word in the new dispensation. Paul teaches us inRomans 10:14, 15, “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom (better: whom) they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent?”
Here we are told that no one can preach unless he be sent. Self-appointed preachers are no preachers in the Scriptural sense of the word. This is entirely in harmony with Acts 13, where the church at Antioch is directed by the Holy Spirit to separate unto God Paul and Barnabas for the work of the ministry.
Notice also that no one can hear without a preacher. It is the preaching of the Word which is the divinely instituted means of grace; the means whereby the Holy Spirit works and strengthens faith in the heart of the elect.
Notice, too, that when the Word is preached according to the Scriptures, it is Christ who speaks. He is the living and abiding Word that endures forever. And this is the Word which by the gospel is preached unto us. I Peter 1:23, 25.
From this we can only conclude that it is the duty of the missionary to let God speak through Christ. Let God say to whom He will by His Spirit in the heart: “I love you,” and “I gave My own blood for you.”
Secondly, if we preach “the whole counsel of God,” as is the calling of any faithful servant of Jesus Christ, we need never be concerned but that predestination will have a very positive place in that preaching.
One cannot refrain from asking, “How is it possible to preach the Scriptures and not preach predestination, since this is a fundamental truth that pervades all of the Scriptures? Anyone who preaches on the love of God as revealed to us in God’s Word must surely declare: That God loves Himself as the fulness of infinite perfection.
That God loves Christ as the perfect revelation of His glory.
That God loves His people whom He has chosen unto Himself in Christ as His peculiar people from among all the peoples of the world.
That God gave His only begotten Son to die for those given to Him by the Father, Who had to bear an infinite suffering of eternal wrath to atone for the sins of His people who sin against the infinite majesty of the Most High.
That God spreads His love abroad, not promiscuously or universally, but in the hearts of His people by His Spirit.
That we love God only because He first loves us and implants that love in us. We choose Him only because He has chosen us. We come to Him only because He draws us to Himself.
Or again how can any one avoid preaching predestination in a passage of Scripture as is found inJohn 10:16? There we read: “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.” Christ speaks of one fold, of which He is the Good Shepherd. Obviously there is a perfect unity, a harmonious whole that is represented by that fold. This does not depend upon the whim or choice of mere man, but is chosen of God from eternity.
Jesus Himself stresses this when He says: “Other sheep I have.” He does not say, “Other sheep I hope to have, or shall have,” but “I have.” They are the sheep given to Him by the Father, for whom He lays down His life. The sheep of the old dispensation were already gathered in, the sheep of the new dispensation still had to be gathered. But the church of the old and new dispensation is always one.
Jesus also points out that He brings in His sheep. This is not dependent upon a faithful or unfaithful missionary, upon a faithful or unfaithful church, nor upon a faithful or unfaithful believer, but is Christ’s work in and through His church. “Them also I must bring,” is the assurance of the Lord Himself. And He is faithful, for He knows His own. John 10:27. They bear His voice and they come upon the call of the Shepherd. They cannot fail to hear, because the call of God is efficacious. And Jesus does not hesitate to say so.
But why mention more? I contend that no one can preach on any passage of Scripture, no matter what the degree of simplicity or depth may be, without including the truth of sovereign predestination.
Finally, it can and must also be declared publicly that this truth is the power of God unto salvation for those who believe, as well as a condemnation to those who reject it in unbelief, because God is God.
Perhaps we have touched the real point at issue when we mentioned above that it is Christ who gathers His church. Is Boer so insistent on telling every man that he is an elect because he is gathering the Church? Does he need the handy little catch phrase “God loves you,” because he must persuade men to believe?
It is Christ who gathers His Church. As our Catechism so beautifully puts it: “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 unto everlasting life, agreeing in truth faith.” When the truth of Scripture is preached, Christ is working in the hearts of those who hear. He causes that Word to bring forth the fruits of repentance, sorrow for sin, confession, faith. And in this way it is not mere man that says to a true convert on the mission field, “God loves you:” it is God Himself who through His Word and by His Spirit says: “I love you.” “I have sent my Son to die for you. Your sins are forgiven you. You are My son, My heir, My elect.” And that means much more to the sorrowing, repentant sinner than all the assurances of mere man!
Of course, that Word is a two edged sword; it cuts two ways. It hardens the wicked. And that must also be preached. Jesus did not hesitate to say: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”
Jesus declared to those who believe: “You have everlasting life,” not as something to be bestowed in the future, but as something that they possess and enjoy already in this life on the basis of His merit.
Jesus also declared to those who rejected the Word in unbelief: “The wrath of God abides on you.” Again we should notice, not, “The wrath of God comes upon you because you do not believe,” but, “The wrath of God that always was on you remains, abides; you perish in your sins.” Therefore Jesus also did not hesitate to pronounce His woe upon the Pharisees, upon Capernaum and Bethsaida where He had performed so many mighty works. And at the same time He could thank God, Who had hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them unto babes, saying, “Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight.”
Although it is never pleasant for a minister of the Word to see anyone reject the Word of life, he can still say with the apostle Paul: “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 unto these things?”