Rev. Daniel Kleyn, missionary of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America,
stationed in Manila, Philippines

Previous article in this series: March 15, 2023, p. 278.

Last time we made a beginning at taking note of how the content of the Belgic Confession shows the missionary character and flavor of this creed. We saw that it is a creed which not only implies the need to do mission work, but which also instructs us concerning the content of missionary preaching. We left off last time with Article 15. We now continue from there.

Article 16: Eternal election

In speaking about election, this article first repeats what was stated in Article 15, namely, that “all the posterity of Adam…[fell] into perdition and ruin by the sin of our first parents.” It then immediately adds that God in His mercy delivers and preserves some from that perdition, specifically those whom He eternally elected in Jesus Christ. If we understand (correctly) that the “all mankind” who fell into perdition and ruin refers to every human in every age of history and from every nation in the world, then God’s election of some of them implies that the elect are found in every age and among all nations.

There are many who criticize Reformed doctrine at this point and attack the truth of election. They argue that the doctrine of election destroys missions. In their minds, this article concerning eternal election (along with other creedal references to election) in no way encourages or promotes mission work, but results instead in the opposite. They claim that if one believes eternal election, then there is no need to preach the gospel throughout the world. If God has already decided who is elect and whom He will save, there is no point in doing missions.

What they forget, or else choose to ignore, is that God is a God who uses means. Yes, it is true that God has eternally elected His church, but God uses means to bring those elect to conscious faith and salvation in Christ.

The question then is this: What are the means that God is pleased to use to save His elect? The answer is supplied elsewhere in the Belgic Confession. Article 22 states that the “Holy Ghost kindleth in our hearts an upright faith.” Article 24 adds that this true faith is “wrought in man by the hearing of the Word of God and the operation of the Holy Ghost.” The elect are brought to faith and salvation by means of the preaching of the gospel as applied to them by the Holy Spirit. The inference is that if the elect from among all nations are to be saved, the gospel must be preached in all the nations of the world. God’s decree of election clearly intimates that the church needs to be engaged in the work of missions.

Another significant implication of the truth of election is that this decree determines the outcome and result of mission work. While this is not specifically mentioned in the Belgic Confession, we do well to note that the salvation of those who hear the preaching of the gospel on the mission field is not accomplished because of the competence or zeal or persuasive power of the missionary. The outcome is not dependent on men but is determined by God’s decree of double predestination (election and reprobation).

This provides encouragement for missionaries. The fruit of their labors is not dependent on them but is realized by God. Even if the positive fruit of mission work is minimal so that most of the hearers reject the preaching of the Word, still God’s will is accomplished: the elect are saved and the reprobate are hardened. And although the positive fruit is sometimes small, we despise not the day of small things (Zechariah 4:10).

How different this is from the Arminian approach, which makes man’s election and salvation dependent on man (both the preacher, and the hearer). If a missionary’s work is governed by Arminian theology, then he will undoubtedly be troubled by the reality that so many to whom he preaches do not believe in and ‘accept’ Jesus Christ. The result will be that he goes to the grave thinking that it is most likely his fault that these people are now in hell and not in heaven. He will also be burdened by the thought that he is probably to blame for the fact that others whom he knew about but who never heard the preaching have likewise ended up in hell. If only he would have reached out to them and given them the opportunity to ‘accept’ Christ, perhaps they would have been saved.

What a difference when our mission work is governed by the truth of double predestination. Then the missionary leaves the outcome in the hands of God and is at peace.

Article 17: The recovery of fallen man

The Belgic Confession speaks beautifully here of how God graciously sought out and comforted Adam and Eve after their fall into sin. The way in which God gave them comfort was by speaking the promise that He would “give His Son” to deliver them from the devil and to make them “happy.” Jehovah, the God of all comfort, comforted them with the promise of the gospel.

The article does not mean to say, however, that God has comforted only our first parents. When it states that “man” threw himself into temporal and spiritual death, it has in view that “all mankind” fell into sin. When it speaks therefore of God seeking out and comforting Adam (who was one of the elect), the idea is that God seeks out and comforts all of the elect. This is confirmed by the fact that the immediately preceding article spoke of “Eternal Election.” Throughout history God continues to seek out and comfort His people, speaking the same promise and the same gospel.

While it is true that God no longer speaks directly to His people as He did to Adam, He still speaks. He does so through His written and preached Word. Thus, the means He now uses to give us comfort is the preaching of the gospel of Christ accompanied by the Spirit applying it to the hearts of the elect (Article 24). To that end, He calls and sends forth men to proclaim the gospel and commands them to comfort His people (Is. 40:1). He does that not only for the sake of the elect in established churches, but also for His elect who are outside the church. With that in view, He commissions the church to preach the blessed gospel in all the world.

Article 24: Man’s sanctification and good works

The confession states here that true faith is wrought in man “by the hearing of the Word of God” and by “the operation of the Holy Ghost.” But obviously the “hearing” of the Word cannot take place without the Word being “preached.” The preaching is, therefore, on the foreground here.

The Holy Spirit uses the preaching to bring the elect to conscious faith in Christ, as well as to lead them to live sanctified lives characterized by good works. This indicates that preachers are needed. And in light of the truth of God’s eternal election (Article 16), not only are preachers needed in established churches, they are also needed on the mission field.

The article also indicates what the fundamental task of a missionary is, namely, to preach the Word of God. Mission work is not (as many claim) the task of helping people overcome poverty or oppression, and/or helping them improve the quality of their lives. The missionary’s task is simply to preach the Word.

The preached Word, along with the operation of the Spirit, delivers the elect in all the world from their greatest bondage, “the bondage of sin.” And through that faithful preaching the Spirit efficaciously works a holy and fruitful faith in the elect, “which excites man to the practice of those works which God has commanded in His Word.”

[To be continued]