GOD CHOOSES fellow workers from among mankind and
commissions them to carry His evangel to the rest of His creatures in
order to save them and reconcile them to Himself. This precious aspect of
the divine operations is found throughout the Scriptures. There are many
different commissions and a variety of administrations, yet throughout
them all, whether in relation to Israel or the ecclesia, this practice
prevails. In all of them we perceive this undertone, so that, in the
so-called "Great Commission" also, we may hear the still small voice that
exhorts us to respond to the precious privilege of bearing witness to
God's glorious gospel.
Although we shall show that this commission is for
Israel, and not for us, it can be a great blessing to us if we approach it
from the divine viewpoint, rather than our own selfish side. It will by no
means dampen our ardor for missions if we correctly cut the Scriptures,
and leave this in its proper place, as the millennial commission of Israel
to the nations in their thousand year reign on earth. On the contrary, it
will be a relief to find that we need not reconcile its provisions with
present truth, for this is quite impossible.
It is not at all necessary for the present ecclesia to
base its testimony for Christ to the nations on this commission, for it
has a much higher and more glorious service, received from Christ, its
Head. In the Scriptures there are two different methods by which God
brings salvation and blessing to the nations. For this purpose He selected
two bodies of saints. Each has its special task. The salvation of one is
far superior to that of the other. Both are built on the same foundation,
Jesus, the Christ (1 Cor.3:11). In their development and results,
however, there are mighty differences. The best way to discover these is
to compare the two and note the contrasts. First, however, we must examine
the basic elements of each.
One evangel for the nations is found throughout the
Hebrew Scriptures ("Old Testament"). Often we read that the nations are
yet to be blessed with earthly happiness through believing Israel. But it
is necessary first that Israel receive their Messiah. Besides this
revealed way there is another, which God had concealed. And this way was
not made known until Paul, the apostle who was chosen specially for this
task, was called during the Acts period, while Israel was more calloused
than ever. But this salvation for the nations is altogether different from
that which comes through Israel, when they themselves are saved.
Although this secret evangel is also for the nations,
it does not deal with them as such, but only elect, or chosen individuals
are called. They do not become happy subjects in the earthly kingdom, but
members of Christ's body, who are destined to reign with Him among the
celestials. If we compare the two commissions with one another, we will
discover such notable and convincing distinctions that we may clearly and
easily discern that the "great commission" in the twenty-eighth of Matthew
is exclusively for Israel, and not for the nations, so far as its
heralding is concerned.
The Lord Jesus introduces His directions to His
apostles with the assurance that "given to Me was all authority in heaven
and on earth" (Matt.28:18). If we compare Christ's authority, that is the
power committed to Him, for the nearly two thousand years of the present
administration, with this, we will be obliged to differentiate between
what was given and its execution. What a pitiful authority, if we take
it that it is already in operation! We would have to acknowledge that
there has been a steady and continuous increase in the authority of
Darkness. In reality, however, Christ has never used His authority over
the nations. Otherwise it would look very different in the world today.
According to the account in Mark 16:19 our Lord,
immediately after promulgating this commission, was taken up into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God. Prophetically David, through the
spirit of Christ, speaks of this occurrence as follows (Psa.110:1):
Said the Lord to My Lord, "Sit at My Right,
Till I should be placing thine enemies underneath thy feet."
After this had been quoted five times (Matt.22:4; Mark
12:36; Luke 20:42; Acts 2:34; Heb.1:13), it is once more referred to in
Heb.10:13 with the important addition, "waiting furthermore till His
enemies may be placed as a footstool for His feet." Waiting is the
opposite of executing. He is still waiting because this is man's day. He
lets the nations rage and bring about their own bankruptcy.
Isaiah also sees this waiting period, as well as its
close, and the results that follow (Isa.18:4-6; 33:10; 42:14,15). And
the hour is no longer distant when the Lord will end it (Isa.2:19). It
cannot come until after we have been snatched away to meet Him in the air.
In the Unveiling we are given the point at which Christ will assume His
authority and reign (Rev.11:15): "The kingdom of this world became our
Lord's and His Christ's, and He shall be reigning for the eons of the
eons! Amen." The words of Christ, "given to Me was all authority in heaven
and on the earth," is connected with the inauguration of His kingdom on
earth. They have their fulfillment in the future. This commission
corresponds with the commencement of Matthew's account. The Son of King
David closes with a proclamation of the King himself. It corresponds also
with His own words to Israel, "they shall see the Son of Mankind coming on
the clouds of heaven with power and much glory" (Matt.24:30).
We see, then, that the closing commission in Matthew's
account by no means fits the present time. Now it is not Christ Who
exercises authority over the nations, but it is still in the hands of the
superior authorities under the direction of the chief of the aerial
jurisdiction (Rom.13; Eph.2:2), the God of this eon (2 Cor.4:4), the
adversary of God. We believers are exhorted to be subject to the superior
authorities (Rom.13:1), and to be yielding to sovereignties (Titus 3:1).
In the coming kingdom, however, it will be the reverse. Then the saints in
Israel will rule, both spiritually and politically, and the peoples will
be subject. For that day the "great commission" is intended, which their
resurrected Lord gave the twelve apostles.
The necessary signal for that day is the revelation of
Christ in power, and the commencement of His rule over the nations. Then,
when Christ is exercising His authority over them, His apostles, who have
been roused from the dead, will be His chief commissioners. Next to them
come the hundred and forty-four thousand, and the conquerors will be given
authority over the nations (Rev.2:26,27). As the promises of the kingdom
are closely related, we may look upon the commission as an expansion of
Christ's promise to the apostles that they, as well as He, will sit on
thrones (Matt.19:28). Then He broadens the scope of their ministry, so
that they go to all nations to make disciples.
Now, if we compare this with the missionary commission
of the present ecclesia, we may be certain that the members of Christ's
body are under no necessity to appropriate Israel's orders for they
received their own, not through the Circumcision apostles, but from their
special apostle, Paul. He, also, was sent to the nations (Acts 9:15;
13:2,47; 22:2; 26:17). The twelve received theirs from the Lord
personally, but Paul through the spirit (Acts 13:2). But what a
difference there is between them, as we shall see!
Now it seems clear that the service of the apostles to
the nations was delegated to those under them. So Paul, also, continually
passes on his service to the members of Christ's body, until today. He was
sent to the limits of the earth (Acts 13:47), so he considered himself
indebted to all, and was always eager to bring the evangel to all
(Rom.1:14,15). His constancy in this witness was due to the constraint of
the love of Christ (2 Cor.5:14). But Paul was not content with that. He
also sent his helpers and fellow apostles (1 Cor.4:17; 16:3; 2 Cor.9:3;
Eph.6:22; Phil.2:19,23,25,28; Col.4:8; 1 Thess.2:3,5; Titus 3:12).
How heart-stirring is his exhortation to his spiritual
son Timothy: "Herald the word! Stand by it, opportunely, inopportunely.
.." (2 Tim.4:2). And how he begs him not to be ashamed (2 Tim.1:8,12)!
And then he passes on the task for the rest of this administration in the
following: "And what things you hear from me among many witnesses, these
commit to faithful men, who shall be competent to teach others also" (2
Tim.2:2). In this way Paul's commission to teach has continued until this
day. And God has testified to it, in that He has given the ecclesia
evangelists, pastors, and teachers up to the present time (Eph.4:11).
Here, in Paul's epistles, really lie the missionary
instructions for the ecclesia. Indeed, when this is taken as the basis for
the great missionary enterprises, as well as for our personal witness, and
the commission in Matthew twenty-eight is left to those to whom it was
given, then our missionary activities will by no means be retarded, but
rather prosper blessedly. Moreover, we will be spared many a conflict and
difficulty which naturally arise from the misappropriation of this
Notwithstanding that the two commissions have points of
contact in that they are directed to all nations, nevertheless there is a
serious difference in the conditions under which they are to be exercised.
While the Israelitish missionaries go out protected by the authority of
the Messiah, and no one dare touch them, without suffering sudden and
severe penalties (Isa.60:12), the commission for today must be exercised
while the adversary, Satan, the grim enemy of God and His work, has the
authority over earth's kingdoms. Therefore this witness is associated with
much suffering and sorrow, and persecution to the very death.
Now concentrating on the object of each, we will
like-wise see a vast difference, especially between the spiritual position
to which they lead. Through the service of the apostles of the
Circumcision the nations become disciples. Literally this, denotes,
LEARNers, that is, they become scholars in a school. Of course we do not
wish to imply that we, also, do not become learners. Often it is the most
advanced one who is still very eager to learn. But in school there is a
great difference whether we are in the primary grade, as beginners, or in
a university, nearing the last examination in preparation for one of the
highest professions. That gives an idea of the relationship between a
disciple and a member of Christ's body.
This is further emphasized by the fact that Paul never
calls the saints of this administration "disciples," but sons of God,
whom he seeks to lead to maturity, to the adult stature of Christ's
complement. This suggests a much higher plane than discipleship. Before
Timothy was associated with Paul, he was still called a disciple (Acts
16:1), but Paul raised him above this elementary stand. Through the
knowledge of Christ he was taken out of minority into maturity, and never
called a "disciple" in Paul's letters.
If we now consider the number of those in view in the
service of the twelve apostles of the Circumcision, we will discover that
it lacks the thought of election or choice altogether, for all are to be
made disciples. All are reached and drawn into the circle of Christian
blessing. That includes all the living members of every nation. This part
of God's plan of salvation has a large place in the Hebrew Scriptures. It
is by no means a secret. The promise begins as far back as Abraham, for in
him and in his seed all nations are to be blessed (Gen.12:2; 22:18).
Through Israel, the priest nation (Ex.19:5), will Christ fulfill these
glorious promises (Isa.2:1-4). The Psalms especially speak of this coming
kingdom on Earth and the turning of all peoples to Yahweh, the covenant
God of Israel (Psa.72:11; 82:8; 86:9; Isa.66:18; Jer.3:17). Other
passages clearly show that this all-embracing salvation will come only
through Israel (Isa.12:4; 11:10; 1 Chron.16:9,28; Psa.2:11; 9:11;
96:7,10; 66:8; 68:32; 99:1-7; 145:10-12).
After the grand mission of Israel with its marvelous
success had been so fully described in the Hebrew Scriptures, it became an
unavoidable necessity that the apostles who had been with the King during
His humiliation, now that He was to return to the right hand of God,
should be commissioned for this service. In fact, the ascending Messiah
could have given them no more encouraging word than to recall to their
minds the glorious privilege of bringing their evangel to the nations.
If we compare the numbers affected by this commission
with those of Paul's later ministry, we are again struck by a notable
difference. While the Circumcision apostles will make disciples of all
nations, Paul is concerned only with an election out of all mankind. We
must note, however, that Paul at first devoted himself to heralding the
earthly kingdom. In harmony with its provisions be charged men everywhere
to repent (Acts 17:30). Furthermore, before King Agrippa he declared that
he held a commission to the nations, to open their eyes, in order that
they should get the pardon of sins (Acts 26:17,18).
But after Israel, the kingdom people, are once again
calloused, and, as a consequence, the kingdom flies to the far future,
Paul's real commission, for which he was called, comes to the front. This
service brought a different goal into view, not suddenly, but in the form
of a gradual transition, in which all the truths for us were introduced
step by step. In this the number reached was reduced to some: "that I
undoubtedly should be saving some" (1 Cor.9:22). The only explanation
of this discrepancy lies in the fact that Paul was turning from the "great
commission" to a new one. He leaves behind the kingdom with its salvation
and puts the secret evangel to the fore. A similar instance of such a
change is found in 1 Cor.12:30,31 and 2 Cor.12:7-10.
This individual salvation appeared first when Paul
turned to pure heathens in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:40). There we are
informed concerning the first believers out of the nations that "as many
as were set for eonian life believe." That is the rule in Paul's own
ministry, according to which he worked. The success which he anticipated
among the Romans he expressed as follows: "That I should be having some
fruit among you" (Rom.1:13). After he had shown, in that mighty chapter,
Romans eleven, that all Israel shall be saved (26), yet in his own
ministry, he hopes only to save some: "if somehow I should be provoking
those of my flesh to jealousy and should save some of them" (14). This
basic truth in the present administration is emphasized by calling them
the chosen, the elect. This difference demands that we keep the two
Nevertheless Paul's special message is not one-sided.
It is not exclusively for the elect, but deals with the ultimate salvation
of all. And this is far wider and deeper than that brought to the
nations in the kingdom by the Circumcision apostles. That applies only to
earth's then living population. Paul, however, speaks of the
reconciliation of all on earth or in the heavens. He reveals "the living
God, Who is the Saviour of all mankind" (1 Tim.4:10), and the
reconciliation includes all other creatures in the universe. This
all-embracing return to God was a secret up to Paul's time. He himself
testifies that God foresaw special eras in which this is to be made known,
and commissioned him a herald of this glorious truth (1 Tim.2:6). No
other apostle or prophet unveiled it before him. But it will be realized
much later than the so-called "great commission."
While this message applies only to those who are alive
at the time of its proclamation, Paul's evangel does not only include all
humanity that has ever lived, but embraces all celestial powers, although
it will not be fulfilled until after the severe judgments that conclude
the eons. We have this all-embracing evangel today, yet only as a promise.
Paul never even hinted that it would be carried out in the present
administration. In view of this glorious goal he speaks of "presenting
every man mature in Christ Jesus," always carefully limiting his words to
those to whom he was writing (Col.1:28). He speaks of being invigorated,
that through him the heralding may be fully discharged, and all the
nations should hear (2 Tim.4:17). In no case, however, do we read of the
salvation of all during their lifetime.
We now call attention to another difference between the
two commissions. The nations who are made disciples in the millennium will
enjoy their blessings as subjects of the nation of Israel on the earth.
Those, however, who are won through the message of the apostle Paul in the
present administration are recipients of a celestial allotment, which
they will enjoy in the heavens. Yet they will by no means be subjects
there, but receive, together with all believers who belong to the body of
Christ, including Israelites, an equal right to the celestial treasures.
Instead of being subordinate, they reign over the heavenly powers. It
is self-evident that such a place could not be accorded all nations, for
then there would be no peoples left on the earth.
Now, as to baptism. When the apostles go to the
nations, they are charged to baptize them into the name of the Father and
of the Son and of the holy spirit (Matt.28:19). A comparison of the two
commissions leads to a drastic difference. Christ gave the apostles a
charge to baptize, but Paul says, "Christ does not commission me to be
baptizing" (1 Cor.1:17). Both can hardly be applied to the same time, or
we would bring the apostles into a dispute, in which each would claim to
be right, and the other wrong. But, even in this case, we can see a
congenial harmony, as soon as we cut the Word of truth correctly in
respect to baptism.
For the comparatively ignorant, underprivileged nations
in the thousand year kingdom, water baptism, administered by the
Israelitish apostles, was a very apt arrangement to unite them. But how
high above it is the baptism which Paul taught the ecclesia! In the first
case those who administer the rite are men, who can baptize only in water.
In the ecclesia, however, Christ Himself does the baptizing of His elect,
for no one else knows who they are, and He does it as soon as they
believe, with heavenly element, the holy spirit. It is easy to understand,
and very illuminating to see that Christ did not give his apostle Paul a
charge to baptize, for no human hand can or should administer holy spirit
Following the Circumcision baptism comes the
appropriate doctrine: "teaching them to be keeping all, whatever I direct
you" (Matt.28:20). With these words Christ installed the disciples as
teachers of the nations. This is most significant. It is quite impossible
to find a place for this charge in the administration of the secret, for
this function is already filled by the apostle Paul. He insists that he
(only) was appointed a teacher of the nations in knowledge and truth (1
Tim.2:7; 2 Tim.1:11). If we force the "great commission" into the present
administration, we make the apostles rivals who contend with one another.
But, if we leave it where it belongs, it presents a harmonious and
For the Circumcision apostles there is no time where this commission can
be carried out, except in the millennium. That is in complete harmony with
the Hebrew Scriptures. According to Isaiah (2:3) the nations will be
eager to be taught in that day. That will be the attitude of the peoples.
"And for His law the coastlands are waiting." So says Isaiah again (42:4).
It will be brought to them by Israelitish messengers. In passages which
refer to the coming kingdom we can get a good idea of the contents of
these teachings. In Psa.2:11,12 we read:
"Serve Yahweh with fear,
And exult in Him with quivering!
Bear discipline, lest Yahweh be angry
And you lose the right way.
For consuming soon is His anger."
Fear, quivering, anger, and judgment are the essential
ingredients of this teaching. It is strongly tinged with law, hence filled
with threats. According to the Unveiling (14:6) it is also called the
eonian evangel, for it applies to the whole kingdom eon. It begins with
"Fear God," and presents Him principally as the Creator. In the accounts
of our Lord's life we find similar declarations. Our Lord quotes, "judging
shall He be reporting to the nations" (Matt.12:18) from Isa.42:1, and
"My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations" (Mark
11:17). The thought which emerges from both passages is this, that the
nations are taught to pray by means of judgment.
Paul bases his message on a different doctrine. Its
evangelistic contents are the exact opposite of this fearful injunction, A
God, conciliated in Christ, Who does not reckon men's offenses to them, is
brought near to them (2 Cor.5:18-21). One Who actually entreats them to
accept it! In place of "Fear God!" His servants now say, "Be conciliated
to God!" Those who receive this salvation by faith may call God Abba,
Father, and are entitled to the rights of children and sons. That is
immeasurably more grace than comes to the disciples in the kingdom on
earth. It seems that we are not at all able to value the grace shown us
today until we see how much lower is that of the nations in the thousand
Besides, the characteristics of the revelation of the
two commissions do not at all agree. As already shown, the Circumcision
evangel is clearly set forth in many passages of the Hebrew Scriptures.
Quite the opposite is true of the divine truths given to Paul to teach
among the nations. Repeatedly he describes them as "secrets" which were
confided to him alone (Rom.16:25; Eph.1:9; 3:9; Col.1:26). That God had
foreseen an administration in which He speaks directly to the nations,
apart from the mediation of Israel, and calls a predestined election in
order to reign with Christ in the heavens, was a profound secret until the
call of Paul, which we seek in vain in the earlier pages of divine
Even the accounts of our Lord's life contain nothing
about it, unless He referred to it when He told them, "Still much have I
to say to you, but you are not able to bear it at present" (John 16:12).
Should we, nevertheless, claim to find these secrets in revelation written
before Paul's epistles, then we accuse him of speaking of secrets, when,
in reality, they were no such thing. This difference between the two
commissions greatly deepens the cleft between them. The "great commission"
is clearly connected with the Hebrew Scriptures, while Paul's message was
buried in a secret.
"And lo! I am with you all the days till the conclusion
of the eon! Amen!" With these words Christ closed the commission to the
nations (Matt.28:20). This conclusion clearly shows, that the whole
consignment belongs to the kingdom. What precedes shows how we are to
understand this promise. During His service on earth our Lord was
personally present with His apostles. As the time of His departure neared,
He promised the spirit in place of His personal presence (John 16:7).
With the exception of the forty days in which He appeared to them (Acts
1:3), the spirit took the place of His person until their death. Now that
He promises to be with them again, this can only refer to the future
kingdom, after they are risen. Then His personal presence will not be
confined to a few years, but for the whole millennium. He will be able,
not only to be with each of them among the nations, but with His celestial
saints as well.
The time period for the length of His presence, "till
the conclusion of the eon," is typical of the kingdom. To enter "the eon"
amounts to the enjoyment of the kingdom, and that is Israel's revealed
This personal presence, "I am with you all the days,"
cannot be transferred to the ecclesia, because His relation to us
is spiritual. Through and in the spirit He is with every member of His
body, but not in person. His presence with the believer today is described
as "Christ in us" (Rom.8:10; 2 Cor.13:5; Gal.4:19) and that is much more
than being with them all the days in the thousand years.
It is evident that the application of the "great
commission" to the present ecclesia is a descent from its high allotment
down to the earthly blessings of Israel. That comes very near to the
appropriation of goods that do not belong to us. According to our Lord's
words, it is taking away the children's bread, which is not ideal (Mark
We will not close this exposition without giving it a
final test which will substantiate its correctness even more clearly than
has been done. In mathematics a good rule is to test the answer to any
problem by working it out again by a different method. If we get the same
answer, we may consider our first solution correct. So we will put our
conclusions to a test by another method, the acts of the apostles. Alas!
In general there is too little research into this evidence, and in such a
superficial way that it is a hindrance rather than a help in the life of
faith. Yet this is one of the essential methods of recognizing the will of
God in many a difficult situation.
If we search into this matter we will marvel at the
measure of understanding shown by the apostles and their faithfulness in
fulfilling their Lord's instructions. Besides this commission they
received others from Him. There are at least three. Each is adapted to a
special phase and development, and each broadens the scope of the previous
one. The first is found in Matt.10:5-7, and has narrow boundaries: "Into
a road of the nations you should not pass forth, and into a city of the
Samaritans you should not be entering. Yet be going rather to the lost
sheep of the house of Israel." Only to full-fledged Israelites are they
allowed to go. This applied to the time while the King was still with them
After His resurrection Christ started a new phase of
ministry and adjusted that of the apostles to it. So He gave them a new
commission and broadened the scope of their service. We read in Acts 1:8,
"you shall be obtaining power at the coming of the holy spirit on you, and
you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem and entire Judea and Samaria,
and as far as the limits of the land." Now Samaria was open to them, and
Philip, went there as a witness (Acts 8:5). Thereafter their service
extended to the boundaries of the land of Canaan. We especially call
attention to the fact that the usual translation, "unto the uttermost
parts of the earth," does not agree with their interpretation, as recorded
This commission was given to cover the time of the
apostles, when, in place of Christ's personal presence, the spirit was
their Consoler. Even if this commission was given after the early one in
Matthew's evangel, its fulfillment comes before, for it was given the
apostles during the forty days, while the so-called "great commission" was
given at their close, just before He ascended. This broadened the
boundaries of their activities to include all nations, and that is the
great future missionary program in the coming kingdom on the earth. We
cannot find the least hint in the Scriptures that the apostles fulfilled,
or even contemplated, such a missionary program during their lifetime.
Let us not forget that Peter required a special
revelation before he was persuaded to go to the proselyte, Cornelius. This
should show that neither he nor God then thought of carrying out the
"great commission." Otherwise a simple order would have sent him to
Cornelius. Even Philip was directly led by the spirit to the meeting with
the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26,29). Neither of these incidents indicated
a beginning of the present order, but pointed prophetically to the
kingdom, the Ethiopian being a representative and firstfruit of Ham, and
Cornelius of Japhet. Israel will reach all of these in the millennium.
In the further service of the apostles it became
evident that their people, as such, opposed their evangel, and the
question arose what attitude the Jews of the dispersion would take. But
the twelve apostles were not sent beyond the limits of the land, rather
the newly called apostle Paul. The Circumcision apostles held strictly to
the instructions they had received at the beginning (Acts 1:8) and went
only to the boundary of the holy land without going beyond it. They
evidently understood that the "great commission" would not be in force
until Christ's personal presence.
And now we come to the main evidence (Gal.2:6-10) in
which the apostles, in an agreement concerning the sphere of their
activities, clearly indicate that the commission in Matthew twenty-eight
was not to be fulfilled at that time. The importance of this is evident
from the fact that it does not appear in the record given in the book of
Acts, but in a Pauline letter. In this decision it was definitely decided
that Peter, as the chief apostle of the twelve, was entrusted with the
evangel and apostleship of the Circumcision, and confined his service to
Israel. It is clearly evident that the first of Acts, and not the last
of Matthew was decisive, in fact, the latter was not even considered.
The apostles correctly recognized that, because of the
renewed rejection of Christ by their nation, God was beginning an
altogether new and different administration, hitherto hid, through the
apostle Paul. They acknowledged the special and unique grace which was
given him for the nations, and on the basis of this new situation they
made their agreement as to service. This decision is the principal
evidence in our essay: "...[Barnabas and Paul]...are to be for the
nations, yet they [James, Cephas and John] for the Circumcision ..."
(Gal.2:9). It could not be clearer or more convincing that neither the
apostles of the Circumcision nor Paul, with his message for the nations,
considered themselves obliged to carry out the "great commission."
In view of this fact the appropriation of the last of
Matthew as the present basis of missions is terribly tragic, for it
implies the utmost disobedience of the apostles to our Lord's command. If
Christ, at that time, sent the apostles to the
nations, how dared they limit it to the Circumcision? Paul, in the same
chapter (Gal.2:11), boldly withstood Peter to the face because of his
censurable conduct. He himself would have been even more censurable for
leading him astray. Paul exhorted his fellow apostles to fulfill their
ministry (Col.4:17; 2 Tim.4:6). We may be sure, if the apostles had
really failed in this matter, God would surely have called their attention
to it and reminded them of the "great commission." His silence is evidence
that it was not His plan to turn it over to Paul and the ecclesia in this
We must not overlook, however, a very important matter
in this connection. The blessing which God has vouchsafed to missionary
effort, though largely based on the last of Matthew, is no proof of its
correctness. The converts who have come to a living faith in Christ among
the nations never represented their whole countries but were always an
election. God does not allow us to counteract His purpose when we
mistakenly base our service on words which were never spoken to us. God
would have had to ignore many a move of the ecclesia if He were not
gracious. Much is unscriptural in our service and hardly a believer can
claim to be free from this failing. Indeed, if God had acted thus, the
ecclesia would have vanished from the earth long ago.
What would become of us if we deduced that everything
on which some blessing rests, or in which we are happy, proves that we
have all the truth! Are there not in many an unscriptural sect, even such
as put themselves under the law and its curse (Gal.1:8), members of
Christ's body through faith in the crucified and risen Saviour? But the
presence of believers in their midst is no conclusive evidence of the
correctness of their doctrine. That would be a basis on which any
unscriptural teaching could be justified. Alas! Under this cover many a
delusive and dangerous doctrine has a shelter in the ecclesia. The
blessing which has followed worldwide missions must never be used to prove
the propriety of claiming this passage for us. The principal proof is
always the correct cutting of the Word of truth.
We must not, however, overlook the fact that every
incorrect interpretation carries with it harmful results. So, now, the
world has passed severe judgment on God's methods in salvation.
Unbelievers take this scripture as it stands. When they read that all
nations are to be made disciples, and hear the slogan "The World for
Christ," they judge accordingly. As during the last two thousand years not
a single generation was reached and this goal is still far from being
attained, they cannot be blamed for looking upon Christendom as a failure.
And it would be, if the "great commission" were for us. Even the saints
can be depressed and distressed by this. Judging the results according to
the correct standard, that of election, all is in harmony. During this
whole period not a single generation lacked members of Christ's body.
There has been no break in the continuity of God's operations.
We have elsewhere given a condensed exposition of 2
Tim.2:15, correctly cutting the Word of truth, and have pointed out the
deplorable results of incorrectly partitioning divine revelation. We have
seen many difficult problems solved and the Scriptures, in complete
harmony, filling our hearts with thankfulness and adoration as we see the
wisdom of God's great plan of salvation. Obedience to this divine
injunction brings blessing even when it teaches us to regulate our life of
faith only by that part of the Scriptures which applies to us. False
cutting often introduces contradictions into the text and gives the
critics of the Bible good grounds for objections.
Men deem it a serious offense when a true and upright
expression is so distorted that a false meaning is injected into it. Many
a one who has done this has been compelled to publicly withdraw such
corruptions. But how much worse is it to misuse God's declarations!
According to 2 Tim.2:15, such evil workers will be put to shame. Correct
cutting will save us from this.
We must not overlook the fact that the judgment which
comes to those who misuse this passage is very mild. That is only because
we live in an administration of deepest, purest, unmixed grace. Under the
law it might call for death. Hananiah, the prophet, who sought to change
the length of the Babylonian deportation, was doomed to die within the
year (Jer.28). Although the administration of grace suffers much more
from this lawlessness, the sentence is limited to shame. Still, it will be
no light matter to see our lifework go up in flames before the dais of
Christ, and to be ashamed of our achievements.
Notwithstanding this, very few pay any attention to
this exhortation. Wherever it is really done, it is often given derisive
names, and treated as a destroyer of God's Word. So many of God's beloved
children are influenced by the prejudice and rejection of others, not
realizing that they refuse the very best in the Lord's hand. It is most
important that we learn to differentiate between divine revelation and
human tradition, because the latter, clothed in the garments of truth, but
usually undetected, only too often displaces God's inspired Word.
This exposition must not be concluded without a hearty
exhortation to every reader who is unacquainted with this method of
explaining the Scriptures, to examine it without prejudice, uninfluenced
by contrary opinions, freely and independently, with heartfelt prayer to
God for enlightenment. That is pleasing to God. He will enable every
upright heart to grasp this liberating and joyous truth. May He bless many
with this boon, to the praise of His glorious grace!