The proper evangelical approach in missions must certainly be based upon the Scriptures. God Himself must lead the way if we are ever to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth as His ambassadors and in a manner that is pleasing to Him. In fact, we must be sure that God is preaching His Word, carrying out His purpose unto the gathering of His Church and the coming of His kingdom through us. “He who is not for me is against me,” is the Word of Christ that applies also in this case. Therefore a careful study of the most prominent passages of Scripture that deal with this particular subject must prove beneficial to us. In this article I intend to discuss the preaching of the Gospel in the world before the flood, and in later articles to discuss the preaching of the Gospel beyond the covenant sphere in the old dispensation and the spread of the Gospel in the new.
Our attention is directed therefore, first of all, to the call that came to Adam immediately after the fall. In Genesis 3:8, 9 we read: “And they (Adam and Eve) heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden. And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?”
Here we take note of the fact that God calls Adam and Eve. He calls them to account and to repentance. Obviously this call was preceded by or maybe even accompanied with the work of regeneration. Adam and Eve, we may assume, were regenerated, so that they also became deeply aware of their sin that made them guilty in the sight of God. The call into the presence of God caused them to flee in terror and to hide themselves. But this call also brought them in humble contrition to God. The drawing power of the Word brought repentance unto forgiveness and salvation.
In this connection we certainly cannot ignore the important promise that was given to our first parents as recorded in Gen. 3:15. We read: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”
This is often referred to as the protevangel, the first evangel, or the mother promise, from which all succeeding promises must follow. It is the first announcement of the coming of the Savior, and therefore is the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as proclaimed in a world of sin and death.
We notice that God is addressing the serpent, and through the serpent is speaking to the devil who beguiled Adam and Eve into sin.
God immediately makes separation between the woman and the serpent. That bond of friendship that has been established between Satan and the woman is broken. God claims His own on the basis of His eternal love and sovereign election in Christ Jesus. The woman belongs to God, even as He has implanted the new life from above in her heart.
Moreover, God makes separation between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. Obviously, Eve will have children. These will all be conceived and born in sin, and therefore children of wrath, even children of Satan, according to the curse that has been carried out upon them through the fall of their first parents. Yet God reveals that He has His elect children, who will be born in the line of generations, according to His eternal covenant in Christ. In fact, Christ is The Seed, the Firstborn among many brethren, and His coming is announced in this great promise. God speaks of election, that eternal and sovereign decree of God to lead the church as the body of Christ, with all its individual members, each in his own position, to eternal salvation and glory. But God also speaks of reprobation, that eternal and sovereign decree of God to determine some men to be vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction in the way of sin, as manifestations of His justice, and to serve the purpose of the realization of His elect church. And this election and reprobation will clearly run through the generations of Adam’s children.
The lines already are sharply drawn. God puts enmity. On the one hand, the devil will continue to defy and oppose the living God. He will unite all his forces, even the carnal seed born of Adam and Eve, to destroy the Christ. In order to do so, he will put forth every effort to prevent Him from being born by attacking the church of the old dispensation. In the fulness of time he will direct a full attack upon the Son of Man. He will lift his head to strike the heel of the woman’s Seed with a deadly sting; yet in doing so be brings down upon his vile head the full crushing power of that heel in divine justice. When the devil succeeds in nailing Christ to the cross, because Christ has given Himself into the hands of wicked men, the power of Satan is broken forever. His right to reign is taken from him. His death sentence is pronounced upon him, to be executed in the final judgment. Even all his host is condemned with him into everlasting torment by the righteous judgment of God who maintains His Name and His cause upon the earth. Ultimately the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of God and His Christ forever. The church is saved through judgment, as was already promised in paradise.
We turn next to Genesis 4:11, 12, where God says to Cain, “And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand. When thou tillest the ground it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive Andy a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.”
The lines once more are sharply drawn. Cain has killed his brother Abel in cold blood. Even worse, the seed of the serpent has made its attack upon the seed of the woman to prevent the coming of the Christ. But God maintains the cause of His people. He pronounces His curse upon Cain, so that Cain is .driven from the presence of the Lord as fugitive. Today we would say that God had excommunicated him from the church. And God’s curse follows him wherever he goes, even in his generations.
This Word of the Lord to Cain only serves to harden him in his sin. He casts off all further pretense of religion to live in open defiance of God. We are reminded of that repeated indictment in the Book of Revelation against the wicked at the end of the ages, while God’s judgments are being poured out upon the earth in an ever-increasing measure: “and they repented not to give God the glory.”
Actually this is the last time that God spoke to Cain. The covenant line continues in Seth to Enoch and to Noah, for God gathers His people in the line of the generations of believers.
In this connection we must also refer to Jude 1:14, where we are told, “And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”
This is the Word of the Lord by the mouth of Enoch addressed to Cain’s wicked descendants. To all outward appearances Cain had not fared too badly in his defiance against God. God continued to bestow on him his life and his breath, gave him children, made it possible for him to build a city, and caused that city to prosper. In that city could be found the wealthy cattle grazers, the skilled mechanics who could improve living conditions with their products of iron and brass, and also the artists who could entertain with their musical instruments, loudly extolling their vile lusts and proud wickedness even into the wee hours of the morning, as premier of the present day Hollywood entertainments. There was Lamech who in his “sword song” to his passionate wives defied God to bring the same curse upon him that was once pronounced upon father Cain.
Enoch was called to preach the Gospel to this first world that was rapidly ripening for judgment. For three hundred years be proclaimed God’s holy indignation against sin and the judgment that must follow. His own life was an example of godliness, for he walked with God. And his message to the world round about him was a constant testimony against their ungodly walk and conversation. He declared in no uncertain terms that God would visit them with His just judgment and deliver His church from such ungodliness. And his departure was a seal upon his witness. For the wicked hated him and may even have attempted to silence his witness by killing him. But he was not found, because God translated him that he should not see death. Heb. 11:5.
Finally, I must refer to II Peter 2:5, where Noah is called a preacher of righteousness. Noah preached both in word and deed, and the theme of his preaching was always the righteousness of God.
We should remember that the world had become very wicked in a comparatively short time. It was some sixteen hundred years since paradise. It was about five hundred years since Enoch had spoken of the pending judgment of God. By this time there were possibly millions of people upon the earth. Cain’s descendants were the giants of their age, men of power and progress, of skill and ingenuity, which had also developed in wickedness. They had attracted the carnal seed that had been born in the line of the generations of Seth, and drawn them away from the church. The church was becoming increasingly small in number, especially because God was purging it within and at the same time was taking his saints to glory in preparation for the judgment that was soon to be poured out upon the earth. The last days of the first world compare in many ways to the days preceding the final coming of the Son of man. Matthew 24:37-39. We are reminded that “every imagination of the thoughts of his (man’s) heart is only evil continuously, and that therefore all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth, and the earth was corrupt and filled with violence.”
In that world Noah represented the church of God, as well as the Name of God upon the earth. By this time the world of wickedness was more than confident that the judgment announced by Enoch would never come. And the church longed and prayed intensely for the fulfillment of the promise, that she might be delivered through judgment. At exactly such a time God warned Noah of the flood that was about to come and instructed him to build the ark to the saving of his house. Heb. 11:7.
For one hundred and twenty years the Lord waited, while Noah built and preached. This man of God spoke of sin, of God’s righteous anger against sin, and of the judgment that must come upon the world because of their wickedness. His very building of the ark was a testimony that the flood would certainly come, and only those within the ark would escape the terrible devastation of God’s righteous judgment. But his preaching also witnessed of his faith that God would surely remember His covenant and save His people through the waters of judgment. As we read inHebrews 11, “Noah . . . prepared the ark for the saving of his house; by which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which was by faith.”
From all these passages we can draw some definite conclusions.
First of all, there was Gospel preaching before the flood, also to those outside of the church. This may not be “mission endeavor” according to the accepted sense of the term in our day, but no one can deny that it was God’s method of proclaiming the glad tidings of salvation in the midst of an evil world. Rather than criticize it, we do well to take note of it.
Secondly, this Gospel preaching was not a mere assertion of God’s love for all men and of His desire to save all men, but it openly exposed and condemned sin. It spoke of righteousness and judgment, of salvation only through faith in the promised Christ. This Gospel brought repentance and salvation to the hearts of our first parents, and also to their covenant seed, as God gathered His church in the line of the generations of believers.
Finally, we do not read of any positive fruit of conversion, or of gathering into the church from those who were without. Yet that does not mean that there was no positive fruit upon that preaching. The lines of demarcation between the church and the world were sharply drawn, the believers were strengthened in their faith, while the ungodliness of wicked men was exposed and condemned, so that they stand forever without excuse.