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24 April 2006

Burning, Humble, Worshipful, Missionary Love Called Calvinism

Strong Meat for the Muscle of Missions: Thoughts on the Ministry of Adoniram Judson

by John Piper

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

Courtney Anderson tells the thrilling and romantic story in To the Golden Shore, but like so many missionary biographers, Anderson seems not to 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 Judson tick, very simply, was a white-hot evangelical commitment to the sovereignty of grace (a burning, humble, worshipful, missionary love called 'Calvinism'). He wrote a Burmese liturgy and creed that 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 where chosen before the world was, and given to the Son, we worship' (Quoted in Thomas J. Nettles, By His Grace and for His Glory, 153).

The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question Twenty, goes right to the heart of Judson's faith and ignites the fuse of missions.

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. (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)

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, wisdom, and love to rescue his people from sin and misery. It is wholly initiated and carried through by God. It cannot fail. 'I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me' (Jeremiah 32.40).

The covenant of grace is valid for all who believe. Whosoever will may come and enjoy this salvation. And, since 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 (2 Timothy 1.9).

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, tribe, 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 together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad' (John 11.51-52). The battle cry of missions is, '[The Lord has] other sheep, which are not of this fold; [He] must [covenant-bound!] bring them also, and they will [sovereign grace!] hear [his] voice' (John 10.16).

Adoniram Judson preached one sermon in English while in Burma. His text was 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, as Judson says, the 'invitation of mercy and love, which will penetrate the ears and hearts of the elect only,' may be made effectual (Quoted in Thomas J. Nettles, By His Grace and for His Glory, 149).

If we desire to see the likes of Adoniram Judson, William Carey, John Paton, Henry Martyn, and Alexander Duff rise up among us again, let us drink from the same strong doctrine that mastered them for the cause of missions" (John Piper. A Godward Life. Multnomah: 1997. 230-232).

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