Pierre Richer and Guillaume Chartier became the first Protestant missionaries to cross the Atlantic Ocean and the first to step on American soil. They arrived in Brazil in 1557. From the moment Calvin offered his benediction over the team in France and commissioned them to “The New World,” frontier missions and Calvinism were wedded.
But the rich history of Calvinist missionaries over the centuries has not silenced the longstanding platitude that I’m sure you’ve heard in some form. It goes like this: The more sovereign you make God to be over the salvation of individual souls, the less compelling the call sounds to press the gospel into the corners of the globe with the gospel (much less need to share the gospel with our sister or co-worker). If God is sovereign over who comes to faith, it is said, we agents get pushed to the side as irrelevant onlookers in the theater of God’s saving work in the world. God’s sovereignty threatens urgent evangelism, we are told.
But truth is always more beautiful than platitudes. Here at desiringGod.org we delight in the sovereignty of God, just as we celebrate missions and evangelism. In fact, we celebrate an promote missions and evangelism precisely because we delight in the sovereignty of God. We’re not trying to hold together two magnets pushing against each other, we are holding two magnetic claims that are already attracted, bonded together by the joy of Jesus.
An Overwhelming Joy
During his earthly ministry, Jesus was once overwhelmed with joy in the sovereign goodness of his Father, in hiding the glorious gospel from the arrogant religious, and for awakening faith in the life of simple sinners.
At that time, Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Matthew 11:25–27)
Jesus’s mission is to reveal his own glory to sinners, which is also to know the Father. This is always a divine revelation. Once Jesus sees the plan of sovereign redemption unfolding in realtime, his heart is filled with praise to his Father.
God’s sovereignty over the salvation of any individual sinner is a glorious truth that should excite all of our hearts to Godward joy. And with that joy in our sovereign God, what do we do?
A Glorious Offer
In the same breath, Christ’s attention turns from Godward delight to a glorious call to those around him in offering this invitation:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30)
Jesus immediately offers the good news of being released from the bondage of sin.
In other words, the proper response of seeing God’s sovereignty in the salvation of sinners is the open offer of the gospel to all sinners. The joy of Jesus in the sovereignty of God must get “vented,” says Puritan Thomas Boston, who observed: “As the fullness lodged in the Mediator has a free vent in his heart, so it seeks to diffuse itself into the souls of needy sinners” (Works, 9:171).
Or in the words of Jonathan Edwards: “Christ’s holy joy of spirit in the consideration of the Father’s sovereign grace, and the power he had given him as mediator, naturally excites the exercises of grace and love in his heart, which he expresses in this gracious invitation” (sermon 178).
Mission and the Joy of Jesus
As Jesus sees the Father’s sovereign work unfolding in history — in shrouding proud eyes from seeing the glory of Christ, and in opening the simple eyes of sinners to behold the immeasurable glory and beauty of his Son — Christ is thrilled with divine joy, and that divine joy gives expression in worship of the Father, venting out into a general call for all sinners, everywhere, to come to him for the true satisfaction of soul they can find nowhere else.
This seems to be an appropriate motivation for our gospel ministry from beginning to end. My personal delight in God’s sovereignty, and my wonder that he would save me, should work in me a joy so powerful that it cannot be shut up and silenced, but must escape out as a general call to all sinners everywhere to repent and turn from their sins to Christ.
In other words, the general call is no threat to God’s sovereignty, and the joy of God’s sovereignty is no closed-off meditation in the study of the Calvinist. The two converge, and they converge when we see how God’s power to accomplish anything is a soul-nourishing food for the souls of his reborn children, giving them a delight that will be expressed in an enlarged heart, willing to throw wide the doors for anyone and everyone who would come to the arms of our sovereign Savior.
The affections of Christ wed Reformed theology and the desire to reach the end of the known world with good news.