Rev. Lubbers is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
I am indebted to the committee in charge of arranging for a special feature on “Missions,” for thinking to request me to write some “reflections.”
It is now some sixteen years ago that Mrs. Lubbers and I left the last mission field where we might serve, to wit, Jamaica. In the kind providence of God we had served also as a missionary of our churches for some nine years in the States. We first became missionaries in January of 1955, some 35 years ago. To be sure we have often reflected on the goodness of the Lord upon us during the years which we spent on these two mission fields.
Ever and ever the bottom line in all these reflections is: what God was willing to perform by weakest means, and: what He has wrought! There are no mighty deeds to recount except the mighty deeds of God in His power of the Gospel! Indeed, all flesh is grass, but the Word of the Lord endureth forever. This is the Word which we were called to preach.
Certainly the details of these years of labors I am not able to relate. Should I remember them they would be too many to reflect upon in this little contribution with limited space. We can only call your attention to facets and viewpoints of the work as I recall them. Lest this become merely some musings of an octogenarian, I will strive to emphasize a few points in reference to the mandate of Scripture for a missionary.
In the first place, an ordained missionary is and remains a minister of the Word of the Gospel. He is what is expressed in the Latin title: Verbi Dei Minister. He is a servant of the Word. He obeys the Word by carefully studying the Scriptures, by equally painstakingly building his sermons, and finally, in prayerful dependence upon the Lord and the guidance of the Spirit, preaching them.
The one central truth that must ever be in the mind of the messenger of God is that the increase of the Gospel is not in his own power. That will keep a true servant of God both humble and strong; He will know his place, not walking in sinful pride, but ever remaining strong in the consciousness that Paul planted, Apollos watered, but that the increase is of God (I Cor. 3:5). This will also make for the proper evaluation of the minister by those who hear him. Thus they learn not to listen for persuasive words of wisdom. They will ever anew experience the work of the Spirit and the power of the Gospel. Also on the mission field the clarion sound must be unmistakably that they are hearing the testimony of God, which He gives concerning His Son.
Surely the sina qua non must be that a missionary resolves ever anew to preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified!
This does not mean that he limits his preaching in every sermon to the theme of Christ’s crucifixion in an exclusive sense, but that he can say, “Behold, I am free from the blood of you all, for I shrank not from declaring unto you the full counsel of God’ (Acts 20:26, 27). When a missionary preaches on John 3:16, “. . . that whosoever believeth on him should not perish,” he must faithfully preach that faith is the gift of God, merited for us on the Cross, together with all the other benefits bestowed upon us in sovereignly free grace.
Even on the mission field the preaching should be election preaching. At the time of the conflict in our churches in 1953 one of the members, who soon left our denomination, said to me, “Rev. Lubbers, I cannot any longer listen to your sermons. You always preach “election.” When I rejoined that I had never expressly and explicitly preached or lectured on the subject in his hearing, he replied, “That is true, but I hear the gospel of sovereign election in every sermon.” I was mightily pleased with his rejoinder. I had not shrunk from preaching the full counsel of God! And thus it must be emphatically also on the mission field, whether here in the States or on the island of Jamaica in the preaching from the pulpit, or in the small “seminary” in which I taught Reformed doctrine, using the Heidelberg Catechism as the textbook for the students!
I remember distinctly that while in Loveland, Colorado I prepared some questions and answers for the entire adult class, and called attention to the indisputable fact that the Canons of Dordt did not present a new and unknown teaching, but that even in Question and Answer 1, already you can see explicitly and/or by implication the five articles of the Remonstrants gainsaid. The fruit was that Loveland and also others joined our churches in the full conviction that the Protestant Reformed Churches stood foursquare on the teaching of the Heidelberger, and what is more, that the full counsel of God was summed up in the Canons under Five heads of Doctrine.
The aforesaid underlines very strongly another matter which the missionary must ever keep in mind in his preaching and teaching. It is that also on the mission field the truth holds: Known unto God are all His works from everlasting! Thus saith the Lord who maketh these things known from of old (Acts 15:16 ff. and Amos 9:11; Isaiah 45:21).
Empowered by this rock bottom conviction, the missionary preaches the Gospel of the glory of the blessed God, without anxious questioning concerning the outcome. He knows that he is always triumphant, and rides in the victory parade of Him who sitteth on the white horse, going-forth conquering and to conquer. Arminian preachers merely compute their fruit of the preaching in the greater number, and that, too, ascribing the honor to the preacher, the preacher who is sent as the ambassador of Christ. True, a good preacher tries faithfully and prayerfully to live up to the word of exhortation given him at the time of his ordination, which reads, “be a faithful servant of Jesus Christ, and carefully preach the word; be urgent in season, out of season: reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching . . . . be an example to them that believe, in word, in manner of life, in faith, in purity . . . . Give heed to reading, to exhortation, to teaching. Neglect not the gift that is in thee . . . . Be diligent in these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy progress may be manifest to all. Take heed to thyself, and to thy teaching. Continue in these things; for in doing this thou shalt save both thyself and them that hear thee” (II Tim. 4:2and I Tim. 4:12b, 16).
Then there will surely be fruit upon the preaching in Gods own way and time. Such was the fatherly’ advice which our beloved Rev. Herman Hoeksema wrote me when I was deeply discouraged in one of my congregations. I saved that letter, now already for over fifty years, and have repeated it to other of my colleagues in their times of anxious questionings.
Perhaps it may not be out of place to relate here an incident which proved the efficacy of God’s grace in the preaching. I refer to the time of a midweek service at “Cross-Roads” in the western mountains of Jamaica. I preached with power on the words of Jesus recorded in John 4:14: “. . . but the water that I shall give shall become in him a well of water springing up unto eternal life.” I preached this standing before a crude table upon which stood a lantern to light in the darkness. I could not see my audience very well, but I heard an occasional sound of agreement. I pointed out that the Samaritan woman came to fetch water from the well-known and ancient well of Jacob, but when she was called to repentance by the one four-word command, “Go call your husband,” her entire life in all its sinfulness was revealed to her, and she ran with great joy to call her fellow-Samaritans, saying, “Come see a man, which told me all things that ever I did.” This truth struck home in the hearts of these women in Jamaica, who likewise had lived a sordid and sinful life. At the close of the service, when all was quiet under the star studded heavens, one of the hearers lifted up her voice and in beautiful notes sang, “Jesus gave her water that was not from the well : . . . She went away singing, and came back bringing others for the water . . . .” Yes, her water pitcher stood beside Jacob’s well forgotten. And I am pleased to relate that the entire group present that night joined in with the songstress and sang with lilting voices in the night, “Yes, Jesus gave the water that was not in the well.”
I learned a song that night which I and Mrs. Lubbers never forgot!
I believe that God in heaven heard this beautiful singing even as did the angels who ever behold the face of their Father in heaven. You must know that as I left that “roadside service” I glanced to the south and I saw the “southern cross” clear and meaningful as I had not for a long time looked at the stars.
And I reflected on the faithfulness of God. I though of the beautiful reassuring words of Jehovah recorded inJeremiah 31:37: “. . . Thus saith the LORD: If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, then will I also cast off all the seed of Israel from being a nation before me forever!”
Yes, the final outcome of any preacher’s work and preaching, as to the permanent and everlasting fruit, is really known only to God. The one thing which the preacher must be concerned about is whether he has preached the full counsel of God, and that he is free from the blood of those who heard him!
Many, many anecdotes could be related of situations in the labors of a missionary. Thirteen years is a long time to recount. Looking back I can and do say with Paul, “I have fought the good fight of faith, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only but also to all them that have loved his appearing” (II Tim. 4:7, 8).