Previous article in this series: August 2021, p. 449.

There are people in the world today, believers and their seed, with whom God has established His covenant.

God has given them, especially the ministers of the gospel among them, a mission to the world: “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel.”

But God has also given them a command to live in antithesis to that world: “Come out from among them and be ye separate.”

In the Old Testament, God established His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their spiritual seed after them in the nation of Israel. As He called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees, entered into a covenant relation with him, and exhorted him to walk before Him as a pilgrim and stranger in the earth, likewise He later delivered the seed of Abraham from the land of Egypt and called them to walk with Him and be separate from the heathen nations, for Israel would dwell in safety alone (Deut. 7:6; 33:28). Certainly, God ordained and called them to be His witnesses to the world, to declare His glory among the heathen (Is. 43:10; Ps. 96:3). Certainly, they clung to the promise that someday God would bless all the families of the earth as the spiritual seed of Abraham, and all the ends of the world would remember and turn unto the Lord (Gen. 12:3; 17:4; Ps. 22:27). Certainly, they were destined to bring forth the Messiah whom God would give for a covenant of the people and a light to the Gentiles to open the blind eyes of the heathen in the day of the Lord (Is. 42:6-7). But God did not yet send them into the world to proclaim those promises or that salvation. Rather, He set them apart from the other nations and commanded them to dwell with Him in spiritual and physical isolation from them. However, that changed when Christ came.

In the New Testament, God continues to establish His covenant with His elect, but not just in Israel. God gave Christ not only for the elect Jews but also for “a light to lighten the Gentiles,” as Simeon sang over the baby Jesus (Luke 2:32). Through Christ, who died on the cross for the elect of every people, tribe, nation, and language, God has broken down the wall between Jew and Gentile so that all nations now flow into Mt. Zion (Is. 2:2; Eph. 2:11ff.). No longer does He call His covenant people to be physically separate from the other nations of the world. No longer is there any external antithesis between Israel and those nations. Rather, God sends His covenant people on a mission, led by the preachers of the gospel, to go into those nations, to cross cultural boundaries, to reach out to the lost. God is pleased to use His covenant people to call His covenant people out of the darkness into His marvelous light. God will not allow us to remain physically separate, hiding our light under a bushel within the covenant community. But through Christ He makes us the light of the world, a city on a hill that cannot be hid, in the world but not of the world (Matt. 5:14-15; John 17:16).

On his missionary journeys, Paul preached first to the Jews, the covenant people of God in the external sense. But when they rejected the gospel, he declared, “Lo, we turn to the Gentiles. For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth. And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:46-48). Knowing that Christ has torn down the wall between Jews and Gentiles and sent His servants to open the eyes of the blind and “to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith” (Acts 26:18), Paul went outside the covenant community and shined the light of the gospel to the heathen.

I believe we would do well to develop our thinking about the covenant, missions, and the antithesis. I would like to do so in two respects: first, in respect to ministers of the gospel; and, second, in respect to all believers. In the remainder of this article, I will begin to examine the covenant, missions, and the antithesis with regard to ministers of the gospel. In a future article, Lord willing, we will turn our attention to all believers in general.

Where there is a culture for the extension of God’s covenant with both the children of believers and all who are afar off whom the Lord our God shall call, there will not be found a separatist mentality with regard to ministers of the gospel.1 We sometimes have a separatist mentality when it comes to the extension of God’s covenant. That is, although we know that the antithesis is entirely spiritual in nature in the New Testament, and that we are to be constantly shining the light of the gospel into the world, we sometimes think and live as if the antithesis is physical, and we mainly need to shine that light inwardly to us and our children. We focus inward, devoting the lion’s share of our thoughts, prayers, energies, resources, and conversations to our own needs in the covenant community. We think of the many vacant churches in the denomination that need pastors to feed the sheep and lambs. We think of our many Christian schools that seem always to need more teachers. We are reminded of these needs regularly in our church magazines and bulletins. We are exhorted to pray fervently to the Lord of the harvest to send forth more laborers into the churches. We make those prayers often in church and at home. We cry out to God to raise up young men and women to devote their lives to the churches or schools. These needs are real. They are urgent. They are important. But in all of this intense focus on our own needs, we may be tempted to forget about missions. When such a focus continues for many decades, we perpetuate and develop a church culture that is not for missions but that is to some degree separatist. I would call it an “Old Testament church culture.” We raise the little boys and girls of the covenant in such a way that they believe the greatest need is always for more pastors for our churches and teachers for our schools, but not so much more missionaries to send into the world.

When such a mentality exists pervasively for many years in a particular covenant community or denomination, can they expect God to raise up young men who have a fiery zeal for His worldwide mission? Can we expect Him to raise up young men who receive the conviction that Christ might be sending them to leave behind their family and friends, to cross cultural boundaries, to live in poor countries, to learn new languages, to go and proclaim the gospel of grace to a people afar off? We can expect that God will provide pastors for our churches and teachers for our schools to meet our needs, to be sure, for He is a faithful Father who will much less deny us what we ask of Him in true faith than our parents will refuse us earthly things. But can we expect Him to provide missionaries, men who make known already in seminary that they are interested in missions, who have a burden for the elect who are still lost, who feel a growing compulsion to preach the glad tidings to those who have not yet heard, if it is God’s will for their life?

However, when the covenant people of God remain conscious of the truth that they are a city on a hill that cannot be hid, that they must constantly seek to shine the light of the gospel to the world, then things look different. We focus our attention not only on our own needs but also on the needs of the world of God’s elect out there. Even when we have many vacancies in the churches and schools, we continue to devote much thought, prayer, energy, resources, and conversation to the effort of calling and sending ministers of the gospel to mission fields near and far. We thank God when He gives us a mission field in a faraway nation like the Philippines and gives us missionaries to go there, but we do not let ourselves think that we have done enough if we send a few missionaries to one foreign nation. Rather, we endeavor to investigate all the contacts that God gives us throughout the world, for example in Mexico, Africa, India, and Myanmar, and we pray that God will give us two or more missionaries to send to each of those nations too, if He so wills.

When a covenant community grows in its sense of the urgency of the worldwide mission of God, we can expect Him to raise up more and more men who are zealous to bring the gospel into the world. In our experience as churches, it seems to take a long time for a minister to accept the call to missionary service abroad. God is evidently not pleased to prepare and appoint those men who decline the call to a mission field. I heard it said once that a minister may be a Paul or a Timothy. Like Paul, the one kind preaches the gospel “not where Christ was named” (Acts 15:20), to the heathen. But like Timothy, the other kind is to “abide still at Ephesus” (I Tim. 1:3) to preach the gospel in a local church and its environs. When a minister receives the call to be a missionary, he must very seriously consider whether Christ calls him to be a Paul or a Timothy. When a covenant community is heavily focused on her own needs, we cannot expect many ministers to have the burden of a Paul and to accept the call to bring the gospel into the heathen world. But when we as a people grow in our sense of the urgency of global missions, God will prepare men from their mother’s womb throughout their childhood and youth so that they accept that call when it comes.

O what joy if the Lord God would open the doors of more nations outside our own and give us ministers who would count it a privilege to preach the gospel in those foreign fields!

O what joy if Christ would prepare more men with the gifts and zeal needed to enter foreign nations and teach the Reformed faith where only the Romish or Arminian Christ has been named.

O what joy if He would even give us men with the gifts and zeal needed to cross cultural, economic, linguistic, and religious boundaries to preach the pure gospel of salvation where Christ has not been named, on the frontier of missions, in the darkness of the heathen world.

If I walk by sight, perhaps saying that I’m a “realist,” I might say our denomination is too small to do much mission work in the world. I might say we have too few churches, too few members, too few ministers, and at the moment, too few seminary students. I might also tend to think that we have too many vacancies.

But remembering what God told Gideon, “The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands,” I believe God can do great things with small numbers. I believe God will do greater things in missions through our denomination by impressing on our hearts the truth that He is on a mission to establish His covenant not only with us and our children but also with all the elect who are afar off, and He calls us to be His instruments in accomplishing it.

To conclude these opening thoughts about the covenant, missions, and the antithesis with respect to ministers of the gospel, let us seek to remove from our thinking any separatist mentality that focuses too heavily on our own needs and longs to hoard our resources and manpower and to hunker down inside our covenant community, as it were, until Christ returns. Let us rather understand that we are not Old Testament Israel but the New Testament church, called to be spiritually, not physically, separate from the world, a city on a hill that must send bearers of the light of the gospel into the world until the beast rises out of the sea and puts an end to it.

In my next article, I hope to examine the covenant, missions, and the antithesis in respect to the life and ministry of a missionary in a foreign culture.


1 “A kind of halfhearted interest in the work of missions. This
kind of interest is a result of the attitude that mission work is a
luxury that the church of Christ may engage in only when it has
enough money and preachers. Mission work is a secondary work
of the church…. Closely related to this extreme is the attitude of
separatism among some…” (Wilbur Bruinsma, Standard Bearer,
“Defining Missions,” Nov. 15, 2007).