May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that thy way may be known upon earth, thy saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise thee, O God; let all the peoples praise thee! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for thou dost judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Let the peoples praise thee, O God; let all the peoples praise thee! The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, has blessed us. God has blessed us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!
The Missionary Hope of the Puritans
The first missionary endeavor of the Protestants in England burst forth from the soil of Puritan hope. The Puritans, you remember, were those pastors and teachers in England (and then New England), roughly between the years 1560 and 1660, who wanted to purify the church of England and bring it into theological and practical alignment with the teachings of the Reformation.
They had a view of biblical authority and divine sovereignty that produced an undaunted hope in the victory of God over all the world. They were deeply stirred by a passion for the coming of God's kingdom over all the nations. Their hearts really believed the truth of Psalm 86:8–9.
There is none like thee among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like thine. All the nations thou hast made shall come and bow down before thee, O Lord, and shall glorify thy name.
This tremendous confidence that Christ would one day conquer the hearts of all the nations and be glorified by every people on earth gave birth to the first Protestant missionary endeavor in the English-speaking world, and it happened 150 years before the modern missionary movement began with William Carey in 1793.
Between 1627 and 1640, 15,000 people emigrated from England to America, most of them Puritans, carrying this great confidence in the worldwide reign of Christ. In fact, the seal of the colonists of Massachusetts Bay had on it a North American Indian with these words coming out of his mouth: "Come over into Macedonia and help us," taken from Acts 16:9. What this shows is that in general the Puritans saw their emigration to America as part of God's missionary strategy to extend his kingdom among the nations.
John Eliot's Missionary Hope
One of those hope-filled Puritans who crossed the Atlantic in 1631 was John Eliot. He was 27 years old and a year later became the pastor of a new church in Roxbury, Massachusetts, about a mile from Boston. But something happened that made him much more than a pastor.
According to Cotton Mather, there were 20 tribes of Indians in that vicinity. He specifically calls them "nations" to emphasize the missionary significance. Well, John Eliot could not avoid the practical implications of his theology: if the infallible Scriptures promise that all nations will one day bow down to Christ, and if Christ is sovereign and able by his Spirit to subdue all opposition to his promised reign, then there is good hope that a person who goes as an ambassador of Christ to one of these nations will be the chosen instrument of God to open the eyes of the blind and set up an outpost of the kingdom of Christ.
And so when he was slightly over 40 years old, Eliot set himself to study Algonquin. He deciphered the vocabulary and grammar and syntax and eventually translated the entire Bible as well as books that he valued like Richard Baxter's Call to the Unconverted. By the time Eliot was 84 years old, there were numerous Indian churches, some with their own Indian pastors. It is an amazing story of a man who once said, "Prayers and pains through faith in Christ Jesus will do any thing!" (Mather, Great Works, vol. 1, p. 562).
The reason I tell you the story is to highlight the tremendous importance of solid biblical hope in the missionary enterprise. God has promised and God is sovereign:
All the nations . . . shall come
and bow down before thee, O Lord,
and shall glorify thy name.
Recovering the Hope of the Reformed Tradition
This is what gripped the Puritan mind and eventually gave birth to the modern missionary movement in 1793. For William Carey was nourished on this tradition, as was David Brainerd and Adoniram Judson and Alexander Duff and David Livingstone and a host of others who gave their lives to reach the hidden peoples of the world. The modern missionary movement did not arise in a theological vacuum. It grew out of a great reformation tradition that put the promises of God and the sovereignty of God square in the center of human life.
And I long for us to recover that biblical tradition—not for its own sake, but because I am so deeply convinced from Scripture that it is the root of radical obedience, and the root intense worship, and the root of a durable, persevering, fruitful commitment to world missions.
Praying with Hope in the Worldwide Victory of God
Our text this morning is an expression of how a person prays when he is inspired by the Holy Spirit and is filled with this Puritan hope for the worldwide victory of God. Let us read it again,
May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us,
that thy way may be know upon earth,
thy saving power [literally: salvation] among all nations.
Let the peoples praise thee, O God;
let all the peoples praise thee!
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for thou dost judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth.
Let the peoples praise thee, O God;
let all the peoples praise thee!
The earth has yielded its increase;
God, our God, has blessed us.
God has blessed us;
let all the ends of the earth fear him!
I am going to pass over one of the main ideas of the psalm expressed in the first two verses, namely, that all blessing is given to the people of God in order that they might be a blessing to the world. I assume that this will be the heart of Don Richardson's seminar on Saturday. So I am happy to leave it for him to take up.
Instead I want to focus on two other ideas in the text. I will put them in the form of questions and take them one at a time.
1. The Great Purpose of God
The first question is: What is the great purpose of God revealed in this prayer?
The answer is plain from the psalm: God's purpose is to be known and praised and enjoyed and feared among all the nations of the earth.
To Be Praised, Enjoyed, and Feared Among All Nations
Look at the verses where this comes out.
First, his purpose is to be known among all the nations. Verse 2: " . . . that thy way may be known upon the earth, thy saving power among all nations."
Second, his purpose is to be praised among all the nations. Verse 3: "Let all the peoples praise thee, O God; let all the peoples praise thee!" Verse 5: "Let the peoples praise thee, O God; let all the peoples praise thee!"
Third, God's purpose is to be enjoyed among all the peoples. Verse 4: "Let the nations be glad and sing for joy."
Fourth, his purpose is to be feared, or reverenced, among all the nations. Verse 7: "Let all the ends of the earth fear him!"
So if we believe that the inspired psalmist is praying in accord with the will of God, then the purpose of God is indeed to be known and praised and enjoyed and reverenced among all the peoples of the earth. That is why the world exists. That is why the church exists. That is why you exist.
J. Campbell White's Perspective
Most of you don't know who J. Campbell White was. Before I tell you, let me read you something he said that is very deep and perceptive. He said,
Most men are not satisfied with the permanent output of their lives. Nothing can wholly satisfy the life of Christ within His followers except the adoption of Christ's purpose toward the world He came to redeem. Fame, pleasure and riches are but husks and ashes in contrast with the boundless and abiding joy of working with God for the fulfillment of His eternal plans. The men who are putting everything into Christ's undertaking are getting out of life its sweetest and most priceless rewards. (Perspectives, p. 225)
I believe this is implied in our text. If we are the children of God, then the only thing that will bring true and lasting satisfaction to our lives is when we throw all our lives into the purposes of our Father. And the purpose of our Father is to be known and praised and enjoyed and reverenced among all the peoples of the earth.
Can Only Missionaries Find Lasting Satisfaction?
Now if I were you, I would respond to this by asking, "Are you saying that the only people who can have deep and lasting satisfaction in life are missionaries?" And I will answer the question by simply telling you who J. Campbell White was. He was not a missionary. He was the leader of a organization called the Laymen's Missionary Movement founded in 1906 by businessmen who could not resist getting involved in what they saw God doing in the rise of the Student Volunteer Movement. One young businessman in Washington thought to himself, "If the laymen of North America could see the world as these students are seeing it, they would rise up in their strength and provide all the funds needed for the enterprise."
And so a movement was formed, and the goals were described in three words,
[I]nvestigation, agitation and organization; the investigation by laymen of missionary conditions, the agitation of laymen for an adequate missionary policy, and the organization of laymen to co-operate with the ministers and Missionary Boards in enlisting the whole Church in its supreme work of saving the world. (Perspectives, p. 224)
So the answer is no, you don't have to be a missionary in order to make your life serve the great purposes of God to be known and praised and enjoyed and feared among all the peoples. But if you want to be satisfied with the lasting output of your life, you can't just go on with business as usual, doing your work, making your money, giving your tithe, eating, sleeping, playing, and serving at church. Instead you are going to have to stop and go away for a few days with Bible and notepad; and pray and think about how your particular time and place in life fits into the great purpose of God to be known and praised and enjoyed and feared among all the peoples of the earth.
What God May Be Doing This Missions Week
Most of you should stay right where you are in your present job, and simply ponder how you can fit your particular skills and relationships and resources more strategically to the purpose of your heavenly Father expressed in this psalm.
But for others this week is going to be different. Many of you are simply not satisfied with what you are doing. As Campbell White said, the output of your lives is not satisfying your deepest spiritual ambitions. We must be careful here. Every job has its discouragements and its seasons of darkness. We must not interpret such experiences automatically as a call to leave our post.
But if the discontentment with your work is deep, recurrent, and lasting, and if your heart longs more than anything to be holy and to walk pleasing to the Lord, then God may indeed be loosening your roots in order to transplant you to a place and a work where the deep spiritual ambitions of your soul can be satisfied.
Every year as Missions Week rolls around, I reexamine my life and work here at Bethlehem in the light of God's global purpose and in view of the incredible spiritual darkness and misery of the unreached peoples of this earth. And I ask, is this the most strategic investment of my little life for the sake of God's purpose to be known and praised among all the peoples of the earth? When the Lord calls me to give an account of my ministry, will I be able to say, "I stayed at Bethlehem, Master, because I believed that there I could be most instrumental in accomplishing your purpose to gather your sheep from all the peoples of the earth"? When I can no longer say yes to that question, then my leadership here will be finished.
And so it is with many of you in this week. Big issues are in the offing these days. May God help you. May God free you. May God give you a new vision for your life. And may that vision get its meaning from God's great purpose to be known and praised and enjoyed and feared among all the peoples of the earth.
So the first question we have asked of the text is, what is the great purpose of God revealed in this prayer?
2. What God Aims to Be Known For
Now the second question is based on the first one: What is it that God aims to make known about himself among all the nations? If his purpose is to be known, we should ask, known for what?
The psalm gives four answers. And we only have time to mention them rather than make extended comments about them.
The One and Only True and Living God
First, God aims to be known as the one and only true and living God. I gather this from the fact that an inspired Israelite poet is praying that his God will be known and praised instead of all the gods of all the other peoples of the earth.
When he says, "Let all the peoples praise thee, O God," he means: let all the peoples know that there is one true and living God, and let them stop serving and praising all other gods.
If this were not true, if this were not the purpose of God, then missions would be the most audacious and presumptions enterprise in the world. But if it is true, then missions is the humble response of a people who love the lost.
A God of Justice
Second, God aims to make known that he is a God of justice, that he does what is right. I see this in verse 4: "Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for thou dost judge the peoples with equity." When the judgment of the nations comes, God will not be partial. No one will be condemned for the color of his skin, or the size of his brain, or the place of his birth.
No bribes will be considered, no sophisticated plea-bargaining. All will proceed on the basis of God's unimpeachable righteousness. Let this be known to all the peoples of the earth. They will stand on an equal footing with Israel when it comes to judgment. The standard of justice will be the same for both.
A God of Sovereign Power
Third, God aims to make known that he is a God of sovereign power. I get this from the last part of verse 4: "Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for thou dost judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth."
Many nations boast of their power and their independence as sovereign states. And when they do, the Lord laughs. Because he made the nations, he determined their allotted periods of time and the boundaries of their habitation (Acts 17:26). "The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord, he turns it wherever he wills" (Proverbs 21:1). "He removes kings and he sets up kings" (Daniel 2:21); "he does according to his will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say to him, What doest thou?" (Daniel 4:35).
God aims to make known among all the nations that he runs the world. He is the guide of the nations. They are not sovereign. Only One is sovereign. And he sets the destiny of every nation.
A Gracious God
Finally, God aims to be known as a gracious God. The only true God, who is just in all his judgment and sovereign in all his rule, is a God of grace. I get this from verse 1: "May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that thy way may be known upon the earth and thy salvation among all nations."
He wants to be known as a God who is gracious and who saves. And this doesn't mean: who is gracious only to Israel. Because verse 4 says, "Let the nations be glad." If the grace of God were only for Israel, there would be no gladness among the nations.
Simply the Great Old Puritan Hope
Perhaps you have noticed that what we have seen here in the four truths about himself that God wills to make known is simply the great old Puritan hope of John Eliot.
There is one true and living God.
He is infinitely just and holy in all his ways.
He is sovereign over all the affairs of men and nations.
And he is gracious to all who believe.
Because he is gracious, he aims to be known among all the peoples. And because he is sovereign, he WILL be known among all the peoples.
This is the great hope and confidence that once created a deep and lasting missionary movement among the Puritans and their heirs. This is the great hope and confidence that will sustain the missions movement at Bethlehem and beyond. And this is the hope that keeps me at my post in this place and may take you from yours.
In 1648 twelve English Puritans wrote to Parliament about the spread of the gospel among the Indians in New England:
The utmost ends of the earth are designed and promised to be in time the possessions of Christ . . . The ends of the earth shall see his glory, and the kingdoms of the world shall become the kingdoms of the Lord and of his Christ . . . And if the dawn of the morning be so delightful, what will the clear day be? . . . If some beginnings be so full of joy, what will it be when God shall perform his whole work, when the whole earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea, and east and west shall sing together the song of the Lamb?