Letters

Family Structure and Missions

I very much appreciated Rev. Allen Brummel's article in the May 15 issue of the Standard Bearer entitled "The Foreign Mission Calling of the Church." The true church always rejoices when the call of the gospel goes out to the remote regions of the earth and brings the lost sheep into the fold. In particular I appreciated the wise advice to individuals and evangelism societies, and the willingness of the FMC to help individuals with their contacts. I would like to see more articles on the mission work of our churches.

I have one difficulty, however, with the above mentioned article. Rev. Brummel states as the third ground for calling a missionary to Ghana: "The Ghanians' lives are not adverse to the covenant. The family is considered even by the pagans there as an important structure of society. There are many families, including many young people, male and female, who are interested in the Reformed faith. The institution of marriage is honored." How is this a ground for doing mission work? I would expect the grounds to include some of the spiritual and family problems. Why point out health when we send ministers to preach healing to the sick? "They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Mark 2:17).

I realize that the publicans and sinners are those who know themselves by the grace of God to be sinners and therefore seek out the physician. I am not saying that we should limit our mission work to the prostitutes and those in distorted and broken homes. Certainly the interest in the Reformed faith among the young and old in Ghana is good evidence of people who know themselves to be sinners in need of God's sovereign grace. Certainly we ought to send help to these people.

The interest these people have for the Reformed faith is a good ground for working among them, but the fact that their society is conducive to strong families is not a ground for doing mission work. That is my point. An interest in the Reformed faith and a strong family structure are two different things. One is a ground for mission work and the other is a goal. There are many "publicans and sinners" who seek the Reformed faith and yet have distorted families and live within social structures that are corrosive to the covenant family.

If one gives good family structure as a ground for doing mission work, then he makes an unbiblical limitation to mission work. We may not raise up our own mission boundaries when the Scriptures clearly say, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). Mission work is not about convenience. We need people who, like Paul, are willing if need be to endure perils of countrymen, heathen, city, wilderness, sea, false brethren, weariness and painfulness, watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness, in the care of all the churches. Our God is sovereign in all things! We must not limit our work to those with strong covenant families.

Strong covenant families are the goal of our mission work, not the ground for our mission work. There is no doubt that a strong covenant family is a difficult goal to reach in countries where the Christian faith has not formed some of the basic social structures as it has in the history of Western civilization. In this connection I think the idea mentioned by Rev. Brummel to send volunteer helpers with the missionary is an excellent idea. One area in which a helper would be crucial in any mission work would be Christian education. We ought to be consistent. We firmly believe that the covenant demands of us a Christian education for our children. Thus a Christian school is just as important for the mission field as are strong homes and an indigenous church. A strong indigenous church goes hand-in-hand with strong homes and Christian schools. The home, school, and church belong to and grow out of the one covenant of friendship. If the family structure is poor, then we must preach the truth of God's Word concerning sound families, but also help the families rear their children by providing teachers who can instruct the church of the future in covenant living within their cultural context.

John Huizenga

Grandville, MI

Response:

I appreciate your interest in and concern for the foreign mission work of our churches. Your point is well taken that mission work must not be limited to certain people who give evidence of strong families, but that the gospel of Jesus Christ must go out to all nations, tongues, and peoples. As you properly state, the Protestant Reformed Churches have the calling to preach, teach, and build up sinners wherever God opens the way for our involvement. You are emphatically correct: "Mission work is not about convenience."

The point in my article with which you take issue is the idea of making a strong family structure a ground for mission work. The Foreign Mission Committee (FMC) is not blind to the history of the mission work of our churches. We pose this as a ground for our involvement in Ghana because we believe that, although some fields require far more in the way of manpower and resources than we have available, Ghana is a field which by God's grace we can work. 

The FMC must determine where it is that God is leading us to do mission work. Although we might desire to go to every nation, tribe, and people, we do not have the manpower and the ability to do so. God must open the door for us and provide the resources necessary for us to labor faithfully in the countries of His choosing. In order to determine where it is that the Lord is leading we must prayerfully evaluate and research the situations and circumstances which He presents before us. We must determine as well as we are able whether we have the manpower and the financial ability to continue or to take up the work.

Our experience as churches in mission work suggests that a labor among people who have little concept of family requires manpower which is not available to our churches at this time. The issue is not whether or not we must be willing to sacrifice and expend much energy for the sake of Christ's Kingdom, but the issue is: Has God given us, as Protestant Reformed Churches, the resources necessary to meet the need which is evident on a given field? 

We certainly will not ignore certain individuals and countries. The extent to which we will be able to help them may vary, however. Seeing that our experience, ability, and manpower are limited, we make the family structure a definite ground for our going to Ghana. This is one way in which God is opening the door for our sending missionaries to Ghana. The FMC believes that the need in Ghana, though significant, is nevertheless attainable for our churches. This is not to say that the saints in Ghana are in no need of instruction in regard to the covenant and biblical family. They are. And the work will be demanding, disappointing, and may take years to establish. It will therefore require men and women willing to give their lives to the work. However, given the situation in Ghana, we believe that with God's blessing a strong indigenous church, strong homes, and Christian schools are distinct possibilities.

— Rev. Allen Brummel

More on Gill and Call

Thank you for your kind insertion of my letter re Gill and your brotherly remarks (Standard Bearer, June 1, 1996). It is good to find a magazine eager to do the work of the Bereans and sound out the Word of God. May I humbly try to help you discover some vital points missed in your response? Gill certainly does not make a distinction between an external call as opposed to the external call. He presents only one external call, though he uses the plural in places to stress its application, and this, as you say, is expressed in Matthew 22:14. This is the call to which Gill often refers as being "under the ministrations of the gospel."

Permit me to remark on your quote from The Body of Divinity. Gill refers to the subject of the external call in several works, each discussion not being exhaustive in itself. It is thus impossible to find all of Gill's teaching in one quote. Furthermore, you have merely quoted a tiny fraction of a three-page definition of the external call, leaving out vital elements. Note the title of the work in its entirety, i.e., Of Effectual Calling. This ought to have helped you put Gill's external call where it belongs, i.e., as part of God's electing call. All that Gill has to say on the subject ought to be summed up so that the reader, moved by God's enlightening grace, can make a balanced judgment. Too little information is wrong information. You will note, on reading the introduction to The Body of Divinity, that Gill has a far wider understanding of the word "external" than you credit him with. The external work of God in addressing sinners includes all things in which "the veracity of God appears." This includes "the Doctrine of the Grace of God, that bringeth Salvation, the good news, the glad tidings of salvation by Christ, which is peculiar to Gospel Doctrine." Furthermore, unlike Gill, you seem to use this interpretation on good theological and historical grounds, pointing out that God has a special strategy in the external ministry, beginning with the Jews and spreading the work throughout the world. The preaching ministry, which is at times synonymous with "the external call" in Gill's writings, is a work of the Spirit who moves now here, now there.

Given your limited quote, you have not even revealed its full message. You have left out the things appertaining to salvation. Indeed, you have claimed they are not there! All that Gill says the external call excludes in your quote is that which dupes a man into thinking he can pick himself up by his own boot straps. This is where we part company with the Arminians, Neo-Platonists, Grotians, and Latitudinarians, and Gill joins us. All that Gill includes in the external call is that which, by God's grace, a man receives that he might be saved. Surprisingly enough, you have not seen this point and have not thus explained to your readers that the aim of God's external call, according to Gill, is not only to address all men with the gospel and improve the world order but to claim the elect. Gill maintains that the choosing comes with the general call. The preaching of the gospel is the harvesting of the wheat from the tares. There is not one gospel for the tares and another for the wheat. For Gill the call to "all" is the means of choosing the "few." The call of God, when preached through the Spirit, is the same call that proves to be a savour of life unto life for the one and death unto death for the other. He explains this in the very passage from which you have taken your quote. See also The Cause of God and Truth. Is this not the spirit of Matthew 22:14?

Gill preached to save sinners and expected such conversions as a matter of course. This is why any of us preach. Note Gill's many urgent pleas to his fellow ministers to be fishers of men, spiritual fathers bringing regeneration to many, bringers of converting power, and instruments of God in salvation. He urged openly when preaching ordination sermons, for instance, that his fellow ministers ought not to neglect the great commission. Recently I read a work criticizing Gill which said he never told sinners to flee from the wrath to come. I opened Gill's sermons at random and there were the very words addressed to sinners, which Gill supposedly never used, staring me in the face. Your reply reminds me a little of this critic. We are all guilty of such blind thinking at times. I could not accept the doctrines of grace for years though they stared me in the face. There is, indeed, a mystery in these things. Knowing this makes me humbly persevere with you.

The problem here seems to be that you are allowing your 1924 controversy to colour your views of both Gill and myself. Neither of us had anything to do with this matter, nor did we know anything about it. As I quoted in my book, Gill believes in universal calls and invitations under the one condition, "as the Spirit leads." This is my position and, no matter what a Dr. Nicole says, I believe it is yours.

In writing what I said about faith and repentance, I suppose I had the new Bannerism in mind which is splitting churches in Britain and Europe and was addressing this new teaching, which I understand has not become an issue in the States yet. This would perhaps explain why we seem to be misunderstanding each other. Our targeted readership is different and we use common terms with a different emphasis. I wrote my book for the British market but am amazed to find what an interest it has aroused in the States.

It is thus obvious that I am partly to blame for your misunderstanding of Gill on repentance and I am indeed sorry. Nevertheless, I certainly do not equate faith in toto with evangelical repentance as you appear to suggest. Nor can I understand how my saying that faith is not required of sinful man as a feeling of duty, or that faith expressed in love to Christ is a gift of Christ (171) proves that Gill is a Hyper-Calvinist. I did not understand what you wrote about my (actually, Gill's) alleged "faulty disjunction." I fear that, again, you are thinking ill of Gill because of my explanation of his views. This matter, is however, very much a red herring. Gill's distinction between legal and evangelical repentance, as I mentioned in my last letter, has nothing to do with Hyper-Calvinism but was shared by his contemporaries whether free-grace or free-will men. I feel we ought to be guided by Calvin's wisdom here who says he sees the truth of the distinction but feels there is a better way of expressing things. Notice that where Gill differs from the Arminians in the distinction, he is more Calvinistic in his view of repentance. Gill, however, always remains on the sublapsarian side of Calvin. Of course God demands that mankind repent of His broken law, with true heartfelt repentance. Man is responsible, as I emphasized in my book, to put right what he has done wrong. As sinful man cannot repent in this way, as you state, we praise God that He grants His elect that repentance which has become foreign to man because of his natural enmity against God.

I agree with you concerning the need to translate the great Dutch teachers. I could not wait for the translations so I have started school again at 57 to learn Dutch so that I may have the blessing of reading them in their original tongue. I have started attending the Dutch Haamstede Conference which supports fine Reformed gospel preaching and has a large bookstall with those titles on it which both you and I love.

(Dr.) George Ella

Mülheim, Germany

Response:

Almost persuaded.

But not quite.

The issue can be put very simply: Did the Calvinistic Baptist preacher John Gill teach that God in the preaching of the gospel commands all hearers, including unregenerated reprobates, to believe on Jesus Christ with true (saving) faith?

If he did, he is no hyper-Calvinist.

If he did not, he is hyper-Calvinistic.

Would Dr. Ella respond to the above question with a "yes" or a "no"?

I note that Dr. Ella does not comment on my quotation of Gill in which Gill expressly asserts that the

external call ... of sinners in a state of nature and unregeneracy ... is not a call ... to the exercise of evangelical grace, which they have not, and therefore can never exercise: nor to any spiritual vital acts, which they are incapable of, being natural men and dead in trespasses and sins.

Making Gill's thought unmistakably plain is the statement that immediately follows:

Yet there is something in which the ministry of the word, and the call by it, have to do with unregenerate sinners: they may be, and should be called upon, to perform the natural duties of religion; to a natural faith, to give credit to divine revelation, to believe the external report of the gospel ... (emphasis added — DJE; see John Gill, A Complete Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity: or a System of Evangelical Truths Deduced from the Sacred Scriptures, vol. 2, Grand Rapids: Baker, repr. 1978, pp. 122, 123).

Surely Dr. Ella is familiar with the Baptists in England who claim to be disciples of John Gill and who, accordingly, emphatically deny that the gospel calls, or commands, the unregenerated reprobates to believe on Jesus Christ.

Recently, friend Michael Kimmitt, editor of Peace & Truth (magazine of the Sovereign Grace Union in the United Kingdom), forwarded to me a letter from such a Baptist. The letter vehemently objects to the explanation of the external call of the gospel that I had given in an article in Peace & Truth. With permission, I quote this letter:

To command unregenerated reprobates to savingly believe the gospel as proposed by Prof. Engelsma ... is to command them to believe that Christ died for them, which He did not. This, therefore, is commanding them to believe a lie. This mode of preaching is neither law nor gospel as neither system requires men to believe a lie. The lost have the father of lies to mislead them without the aid of preachers. To call upon Matthew 22:1-14 and Acts 17:30 to support this scheme is to appeal to the word of truth to support a lie. Whatever next? 

The gospel is Christ's testament, so called because it contains the legacies and testamentary effects Jesus bequeathed to His church and people. The only persons made rich by Christ's death are those mentioned in this will. To command people to believe they are beneficiaries when they are not is a pointless exercise. Prof. Engelsma might just as well command me to believe I am rich because Mr. Rockefeller has died and left a large fortune. But, of course, unless my name is in the will I am no better or worse off than I was before.

So it is with gospel-preaching. The non-elect are not double-damned for not responding to a command to savingly believe on Christ. Oh no! They are left as they were before, condemned by the law. The only way in which their dreadful condition is aggravated is by them not believing the extra light and moral truths put forth in the gospel message (Matt. 11:21-24). For their not believing this, the preacher becomes to them a savour of death unto death (II Cor. 2:16).

"Then saith He to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth" (Matt. 12:13). Ah, that's the gospel command, totally effective. As Dr. Hawker says, "Christ's biddings are enablings."

Yours faithfully,

(w.s.) T.G. Bellamy

Mr. Bellamy forthrightly denies that the gospel calls, or commands, unregenerated reprobates to believe in Jesus Christ. The reasons for his denial are appeals to undoubted truths of Calvinism: Christ did not die for the reprobates, and unregenerated reprobates lack all ability to believe. Mr. Bellamy freely charges that anyone who holds, as I do, that the gospel does command the unregenerated to believe is an Arminian.

Mr. Bellamy is wrong in his argument, as in his unusual charge. I can prove this.

But this is not my interest here.

My interest is to put the question to Dr. Ella: Does Mr. Bellamy, in fact, fairly represent the position of John Gill on the doctrine of the external call of the gospel?

Did John Gill agree with Mr. Bellamy?

If he did, he denied the biblical, Reformed doctrine of the serious, external call of the gospel.

And this is hyper-Calvinism.

— Ed.