When people accuse Calvinists of not preaching the gospel or taking it to the lost, they only reveal their ignorance. There is a corrupt form of Calvinism, known as Hyper-Calvinism, which does not preach the gospel to the lost because they believe that God will bring the elect to salvation in his own time and way. In this, they are just like some Dispensational Premillennialists who refuse to preach the gospel to the Jews because they are already God’s people. But genuine Calvinists understand correctly the relationship between the gospel and predestination.
John Calvin: Church planter and trainer of missionaries
In the 1550’s, while Calvin was at Geneva he received many refugees fleeing Catholic persecution; while they were there, sitting under his preaching and pastoral care, many of them began feeling burdened for their homeland and wanted to take the gospel to them. So Calvin taught them theology and how to preach, and he assessed their moral character before sending them out. And once they were involved with their work he prayed for them constantly and corresponded with them frequently to support, advise, and encourage them as much as he could.
By 1559 the church at Geneva had planted 100 churches in France and by 1562 there were more than 2000 churches there. Some of these churches were so successful that they had to conduct three services every Sunday to cater for the many thousands who attended them. He also sent missionaries to Italy, Hungary, Poland, the Netherlands, the Rhineland, and even Brazil. Calvin’s heart was for the preaching of the gospel and during the last ten years of his life, missions were his “absolute preoccupation”. For example, in a sermon on 2 Timothy 1:8-9, Calvin said “If the gospel be not preached, Jesus Christ is, as it were, buried. Therefore, let us stand as witnesses, and do him this honor, when we see all the world so far out of the way; and remain steadfast in this wholesome doctrine….let us here observe that St Paul condemns our unthankfulness, if we be so unthankful to God, as not to bear witness of his gospel; seeing he hath called us to it”.
William Carey: Father of modern missions
It is well known that the man who began the modern missionary movement was a Baptist Christian named William Carey. However, it doesn’t seem to be as well known, or at least acknowledged, that Carey was a Calvinist in the Particular Baptist (Hyper-Calvinist) churches; and he and some of his true Calvinist friends founded the Baptist Missionary Society in order to take the gospel to the heathen. So the first modern missionary and the first mission society and the impetus for all missions since then came, humanly speaking, from within Calvinism. Obviously, these Calvinists understood the essential link between predestination and the gospel.
Compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses….
Ever since William Carey there has been a stream of Calvinist missionaries. In fact, many of the most famous and well known missionaries were Calvinists. For example:
- John Eliot – first missionary to the American (Algonquian speaking) Indians (1600’s).
- David Brainerd – missionary to the Mohawk Indians in 1700’s.
- Jonathan Edwards preached during the First Great Awakening and he recorded what God was doing during that revival. His sermon “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” caused many to turn to Christ. He was a missionary to the Housatonic American Indians.
- William Tennent, founder of the Log College, a theological training college where many preachers were trained; these men preached during the First Great Awakening.
- Samuel Davies preached the gospel to the slaves in Virginia, and many hundreds were saved.
- Robert Moffatt took the gospel to “darkest Africa”
- David Livingstone also took the gospel to Africa
- Robert Morrison, missionary to China
- Peter Parker, missionary to China
- Adoniram Judson, missionary to Burma, bible translator, and church planter
- John G. Paton, missionary to the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu)
- Charles Simeon, Church of England minister and founder of the Church Missionary Society.
- Henry Martyn, missionary to India and Persia
- Samuel Zwemer, missionary to Bahrain, Egypt, Arabia and Asia Minor – known as “The Apostle to Islam”
This is only a partial list. Over the centuries there have been many hundreds of unknown Calvinist Christians from Reformed churches who have taken the gospel to the lost all over the world, and they are still doing it today. The real reason for lack of evangelistic zeal in some Christians and churches is not wrong doctrine, as some perceive it, but fear, weakness, worldliness, and lack of the Holy Spirit; this is the case in both Calvinistic and Arminian churches.
“Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).