The Divine Logic of Foreign Missions
By Rev. F.C.H. Dreyer, Retired Moody Church Missionary
Worldwide Christian missions are not founded on emotion, altruism, or expediency, but upon the transcendent love and the eternal purpose of God. Those who deny the lordship of Christ and reject the authority of the Scriptures have no urge to carry the Gospel to other parts of the world. They may look on missions as pious, well-intentioned undertakings, which afford outlets for philanthropic instincts in social service but otherwise they will see little foreign missionary work to interest realistic men and women of today. But those who accept the authority of the Bible and acknowledge the lordship of Christ, while not neglecting works of benevolence, have logically also assumed the obligation to make Christ known to the ends of the Earth. If we believe in the deity of Christ and the authority of the Bible, we must also believe in foreign missions. Four facts challenge us to action.
The Desperate Need of Men
It would be easy to enlarge upon the temporal and moral needs of the pagan world—their gross ignorance, wretched poverty, filthy conditions, physical distress, and their social degradation—for these are often appalling. But let us consider only their spiritual needs, for they are infinitely more important since they concern eternal destiny as well as present well-being (1 Timothy 4:8). There are many who think that those who have not heard the Gospel are not condemned, and that they stand a fair chance of being saved without the knowledge of Christ. The Bible teaches otherwise; it makes the spiritual needs of all men, including those of pagans, very plain. Let us consider a few passages:
“There is none righteous, no, not one…for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10, 23). This includes all pagans.
The Bible speaks of those without Christ as “having no hope, and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). This certainly is true of all pagans.
“The invisible things of Him (God) from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). Paul had pagans in mind when he wrote these words. Their condition before God is vividly portrayed in verses 21-32. Note the words, “They which commit such things are worthy of death” (vs. 32).
“But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8). This verse puts the need very clearly. Many pagans have been guilty of all these sins, many others have been guilty of most of them. Certainly all are idolaters and liars.
Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). The words “no man” include all pagans and show their need of Christ.
“There is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him: for whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? and how shall they preach, except they be sent?” (Romans 10:12-15). This is Paul’s argument for the necessity of foreign missions. Its logic is incontestable.
Other passages might be cited, but these suffice to lead to a four-fold conclusion: 1) All men are sinners; 2) there is only one way of salvation for all men alike—through the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12); 3) even pagans can be saved in no other way; 4) therefore the Gospel must be taken to them—that is the one supreme purpose of foreign missions.
Some who have misunderstood the meaning of what Paul wrote in Romans 2:10-12, claim that it teaches that pagans will be saved if they do the best they know and live up to the light they have. However, that is not what the passage teaches. It teaches that man made in the image of God has the mysterious sense which sees and feels moral obligation. He is aware of the fact of duty. Not living up to what he is aware of, he is guilty. Note the word “perish” in verse 12, and compare Luke 12:47-48 and Matthew 11:20-24, which show that punishment will be in proportion to the measure of light and knowledge. To claim that pagans do the best they know and live up to the light they have is to deny the clearest evidence to the contrary and to claim more than the pagans do themselves. The various means they use in seeking to gain “merit” to offset their sins and to avoid or minimize their punishment also testify to the fact that they themselves recognize their need. Hence the urgency of getting the good news of Christ and His salvation to them.
The Gracious Purpose of God
God’s transcendent love and eternal purpose are revealed in Christ and by the Scriptures. God’s wisdom, power, and greatness may be seen in nature, but His holiness, righteousness, love, and grace can only be known through Christ and through God’s Word. The Bible tells us that God is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9); also that He “would have all men to be saved, and come ot the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:3-4, RV). That this is true and that the Gospel is worldwide in its scope, God has shown by the fact that He “so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17). Someone has said “God had only one Son, and He was a missionary.” What is a missionary? A man or woman with a mission, a sent one. Again and again our Lord stressed the fact that He had been sent by the Father—more than forty times in John’s Gospel alone. He was not only the Savior of the world, He was also God’s missionary to the world. His whole life, teaching, and work were permeated with the missionary spirit (see Luke 4:18-21 and compare Acts 26:16-18); He saw the need (John 4:35); He was moved with compassion (Matthew 9:36; 14:14; 15:32); His meat was to do the will of Him that sent Him (John 4:34); He urged His disciples to pray for laborers to enter the harvest field (Matthew 9:37-38); and command them to go themselves—not the twelve apostles only (Matthew 10:1,5), but also the seventy (Luke 10:1), and all other disciples as well (John 20:21 compare Luke 24:33; Matthew 28:16-20 compare 1 Corinthians 15:6, for on both of these occasions the words were addressed to all believers, since other disciples besides the apostles were present).
It has been pointed out that the first message at the birth of Christ was a missionary message (Luke 2:10); the first prayer Christ taught to men was a missionary prayer (Matthew 6:10); the first disciple, Andrew, was the first missionary (John 1:41); the first and last commands of the risen Lord to His disciples were missionary commands (John 20:21 and Acts 1:8); the first recorded apostolic sermon was a missionary sermon (Acts 2:14-39); Christ’s great reasons for Christian love and unity were missionary reasons (John 13:35; 17:21). Thoughtful objectors to missions have been silenced by being reminded that every book in the New Testament was written by a foreign missionary; every letter in the New Testament that was written to an individual was written to a convert of a foreign missionary; every epistle in the New Testament that was written to a church was written to a foreign missionary church; the one book of prophecy in the New Testament was written to the seven foreign missionary churches in Asia; the disciples were called Christians first in a foreign missionary community (Acts 11:26); the language of the New Testament is the missionary’s language; the map of the early Christian world is the tracing of the journeys of the first missionaries; the problems which arose in the early church were largely questions of missionary procedure; of the twelve apostles chosen by Jesus every apostle except one became a missionary; the only man among the twelve apostles who did not become a missionary became a traitor.”
The Explicit Command of Christ
The explicit command of Christ to His disciples—to preach the Gospel to all nations—was given after our Lord’s resurrection on at least three different occasions. It was given to all disciples, not to the apostles only. That command is recorded near the end of each of the four Gospels and at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles (Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:47-49; John 20:21-23; Acts 1:8). Were a departing friend to make a last special request of us, would we not do our utmost to fulfill his desire? However, this was not a request of a friend. It was the command of our Lord. It has been well called the Great Commission, for it is the church’s marching orders. It was this that made the apostolic church a missionary church. The Great Commission inspired the early believers to witness for their Lord and to preach the Word wherever they might be (Acts 8:4); it made them willing to sacrifice their earthly possessions and to suffer dishonor and persecution for His name (Hebrews 10:34, Acts 5:41-42); it made them ready, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, after prayer and fasting, to release some of their most gifted workers and most outstanding leaders to go to distant lands to proclaim the Gospel (Acts 13:1-3); and it caused them to rejoice greatly when these workers returned from their missionary journeys and rehearsed all that God had done with and through them, and when they told of the doors of opportunity that He had opened for them (Acts 14:26-27; 15:3-4, 12; 21:19).
Alas, in selfish disobedience to the Lord’s command that early ardor cooled off and missionary zeal died down. All too soon believers in general settle down to the smug enjoyment of their own blessings and became occupied with their local problems and factional disputes. Little by little the supreme task of the church was neglected and the Great Commission was forgotten. There were spasmodic efforts made from time to time by different groups and individuals to carry the Gospel to the regions beyond, and these met with considerable success. Not having the Scriptures in their own language, however, the believers won gradually succumbed to persecution and to compromise. The truth became more and more obscured until the church itself eventually entered the Dark Ages. Centuries passed. Then came the Reformation, and the Bible was restored to the place of authority once more, leading to the rediscovery of the doctrine of salvation by faith and many other precious truths.
But it was not until about 150 years ago that there was a gradual revival of foreign missionary interest and activity. Since then, missionaries have gone in ever-increasing numbers to many lands. Much has been done and many notable victories have been won; yet, when compared with the command that was given and the time that has elapsed, what has been accomplished is pitifully little. Few Christians realize how great is the still unfinished task. Today, after nineteen hundred years, only about one-third of the world’s population is even nominally Christian. Of the remaining two-thirds, nearly one-half is still unevangelized and hundreds of millions have not even heard of the Saviour. Suppose the owner of a large plantation wanted to go on a journey. Before leaving, he called his workmen together and instructed them to bring all his land under cultivation. If, upon his return, the owner should find that his men had spent their time caring for the front lawn and cultivating a few acres around the house, but had for a long time forgotten their master’s instructions and largely neglected the more distant parts of the estate, so that only on small patches here and there any serious attempt at cultivation had been made—would he be pleased? In many cities in our own land there are from a dozen to a score of Protestant churches within a radius of a few blocks. Yet in pagan lands too often one can travel from one day to a whole week or more without coming to a single church. Does this please the Lord? Is it fair? Why should anyone hear the Gospel again and again before everyone has had an opportunity of hearing it once? It was this disproportion that arrested young Borden of Yale, and was one of the factors that led him to feel that the Lord would have him devote his life and the major part of his wealth to the cause of foreign missions. He pictured it this way: “If ten men are carrying a log, nine of them at the little end and one at the heavy end, and you want to help, on which end will you lift?”
There are those who argue that pagans here at home ought to be reached before we go to the pagans abroad. But pagans at home are such because they do not want to know or receive the truth rather than because they have not heard it; while most of those in foreign lands have lacked the opportunity of hearing. Here at home any anxious soul who really desires spiritual help can usually get it very quickly. In every city, town, and village there are intelligent Christians who are willing and eager to help, and daily the Gospel is being preached to multitudes over the air, by the printed page, and in conversation as well as in church services. But in Africa, India, China, South America, and many other mission fields, there are wide areas where there are no missionaries, no Christians, no churches, no radios, no broadcasts—no possible way to hear the Gospel or to get spiritual help. Is this as it should be, as our Lord would have it? Does it square with His last command? If not, ought we not to do all in our power to send the Gospel to the more needy parts of the Earth?
The Truest Success of the Church
On the evening before His crucifixion, our Lord emphasized to His disciples by a four-fold reiteration the fact that obedience is the test of love (John 14:15-24 compare Luke 6:45). Obedience always brings blessing, to the church as well as to the individual. This is especially true of obedience to our Lord’s last great command, and the success of any church, in its truest sense, will be in proportion to the share the members take in the evangelization of the world. There is a verse in Proverbs which states the principle involved: “There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth (the RV adds ‘only’) to poverty” (Proverbs 11:24). The first part of this verse may be illustrated by the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. There was the lad with his five barley loaves (really small cakes) and two fishes. Had he kept them for himself, they would have satisfied his own need, but when he gave them to the Lord who blessed and brake them, they satisfied not only the lad’s own need but the needs of the multitude also, and there were twelve basketfuls left over—much more than there was at the beginning. So it is when we send the Gospel far and wide to the ends of the Earth—others are blessed thereby and our lives are greatly enriched (see Proverbs 11:25). The Lord fulfills His promise, “Give and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal, it shall be measured to you again” (Luke 6:38). But the opposite principle, as expressed in the latter part of this verse, is equally true. Many churches and individual Christians are missing spiritual blessing and suffering spiritual poverty because they selfishly keep to themselves—or largely so—the good things the Lord has provided and intended for all mankind. They may give a little to missions, but their hearts are not really in this work. They do not truly regard it as a duty and privilege to share in making Christ and His salvation known to a needy world. The fact is, not a few fear that the giving of large sums of money to missions means that there will be that much less to spend locally, and therefore they show but little or no interest in missions, and sometimes even then openly argue against them. But like some other spiritual paradoxes, missionary giving has just the opposite effect. Again and again it has been shown that when Christians really get interested in missions, so that they pray earnestly and give liberally to get the Gospel to the ends of the Earth, their other interests are proportionately quickened, with the result that the local budget is also more easily met. Missionary-minded churches which place the getting of the Gospel to other lands in the very forefront of their aims and activities are almost invariably those which are most active and enjoy most blessing in their own communities. There are some churches which seem to have a rule (perhaps unwritten) to spend at least as much on foreign missions as they do for their local activities, and the Lord blesses them accordingly. God will strengthen and bless both the individual and the church that puts His program first—the reaching of the whole world with the Gospel.
Surely the foregoing facts are sufficient to make it clear to all who accept the authority of the Bible and the lordship of Jesus Christ, that the desperate need of men, the gracious purpose of God, the explicit command of Christ, and the truest success of the church, separately and taken together, reveal the divine logic of foreign missions and constitute an adequate reason for them. Let us therefore put foreign missions in their rightful place in our lives and do all we can, individually and as groups of believers, to further the proclamation of the good news of salvation in Christ to all parts of the Earth. Especially would we lay this burden upon young people who love the Lord and desire to please Him. We would remind them that God has a plan for each life (Ephesians 2:10), and that it is only in the center of God’s will that any life can reach its highest development and attain its truest success. Therefore we would urge them to dedicate themselves—their lives, their talents, their all—to God, to be used by Him at home or abroad, as He may lead.
“The restless millions wait
The light whose dawning
Maketh all things new;
Christ also waits—
But men are slow and few.
Have we done all we could?
Have I, have you?”