A Catechism Question for Missions Week!

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Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

More and more I am persuaded that a deep and lasting missions movement will need a deeply-rooted doctrine of salvation. I read some of the memoirs of Adoniram Judson on vacation last week. You recall he was a Congregationalist-turned-Baptist who went to Burma in 1812 and didn't come home for 33 years.

Courtney Anderson tells the thrilling and romantic story in To the Golden Shore. But like so many missionary biographers, Anderson simply didn't know what made Judson tick. It's the memoirs that let you see the theological roots. We are so theologically superficial today we can't even imagine how passionately doctrinal these early missionaries were.

What made Adoniram Judson tick, very simply, was a white-hot evangelical commitment to the sovereignty of grace (Calvinism). He wrote a Burman liturgy and creed which included the following statements: “God, originally knowing that mankind would fall and be ruined, did, of his mercy, select some of the race, and give them to his Son, to save from sin and hell.” “The God. . . who sends the Holy Spirit to enable those to become disciples who were chosen before the world was, and give to the Son, we worship.”

It is a providential coincidence, then, that this week's catechism question goes right to the heart of this doctrine and ignites the fuse for missions week.

Question: Did God leave all mankind to perish in the condemnation of sin and misery?

Answer: God, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, having chosen a people to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of the condition of sin and misery, and to bring them into a condition of salvation by a Redeemer.

Scripture: Ephesians 1:3-4; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; Romans 8:29-30; 5:21; 9:11-12; 11:5-7; Acts 13:48; Jeremiah 31:33

Comment: The term “covenant of grace” is filled with sweet and precious hope. It refers to the free decision, and oath of God to employ all his omnipotence and wisdom and love to rescue his people from sin and misery. It is wholly initiated and carried through by God. It cannot fail.

It is valid for all who believe. Whosoever will may come and enjoy his salvation! And, since this “believing” and this “willing” is a work of God's sovereign grace (Ephesians 2:5-8), those who believe and come are the elect, “chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). The covenant was sealed in the heart of God before the world was.

This “covenant of grace” is the cry of victory over all the battle strife in missions. The grace of God will triumph! He is covenant-bound, oath-bound, to save all those who are foreordained to eternal life from every tongue and tribe and people and nation! (Acts 13:48; Revelation 5:9) “Jesus died for the nation (of Jews), and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad” (John 11:52).

The battle cry of missions is, “The Lord has other sheep which are not of this fold: He must (covenant-bound!!) bring them also. They will (sovereign grace!!) heed his voice!” (John 10:16).

Adoniram Judson preached one sermon in English while in Burma. What was his text? John 10:1-18! What was his point? “Though enclosed in the Saviour's electing love, [his sheep] may still be wandering on the dark mountains of sin.” So the missionary must cry out to all with the message of salvation in order that the “invitation of mercy and love which will penetrate the ears and hearts of the elect only” may be made effectual.

If we are to see the likes of Judson and Carey rise up among us again we will have to drink from the same strong doctrine that mastered them for the cause of missions.

Eager to be spent for the greatest cause,

Pastor John