Reaching out to the peoples of the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ
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Alex's Blog for January 10, 2011 - As the Waters Cover the Sea (Habakkuk 2:14)
By Alex Dodson
Should we expect the gospel to be successful in this age? There are those who prophesy certain defeat for the gospel in this world that all will get worse and worse and that Satan and his forces will increase. Things will get so bad that the church will have to be taken out of the way and then destruction will come on the world. Yet, is this really what the Bible teaches? Is the gospel so impotent that it will go down in defeat and that Satan will take over the world? Nations that were once Christian are now coming under the control of Satan's Kingdom. Is there no future hope for these nations in this age? Should we consider those nations as completely lost forever? Habakkuk is a book that gives us much hope for the future. Though things looked bad in his time, yet God promised better things to come. The nations that were then in power would not succeed in their evil intentions. God would win in the end. His cause would prevail.
Habakkuk 2:14 says, "For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea." The previous verse shows that the nations will not be successful in their evil intentions when it says, "Has not the Lord Almighty determined that the people's labor is only fuel for the fire, that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing?" The Kingdom of Satan is not going to win. God's kingdom will prevail. Satan and all his forces cannot stop the Kingdom of God. He will try and he has tried, but he will not succeed. There will come a time when the knowledge of the Lord will cover the whole earth as the waters cover the sea. It is interesting to note the interpretation given to this verse by Bible scholars from an earlier time. This same verse is given in Isaiah 11:9 on which Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) comments saying, "Now the kingdom of Christ shall in the most strict and literal sense be extended to all nations, and the whole earth. There are many passages of scripture that can be understood in no other sense. What can be more universal than Isaiah 11:9. 'For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.' As much as to say, as there is no part of the channel or cavity of the sea, but what is covered with water; so there shall be no part of the world of mankind but what shall be covered with the knowledge of God." (p. 315, The History of Redemption) Instead of relegating this verse to some future age after Christ returns, Edwards interprets it as referring to this age and the victory of the gospel in this world in which we live. John Gill (1697-1771) makes the same interpretation as Edwards. In commenting on Habakkuk 2:14, Gill writes, "…and the great spread and large abundance of this knowledge communicated by the preaching of the gospel is thus illustrated and exemplified, as the waters cover the sea; expressing the nature of gospel doctrines, revealing the glory of Christ and his grace, which, like waters, refresh and make fruitful; and the force and power of them, bearing down all before them, like an inundation of water when it breaks its banks; and likewise the depths of them, these being the deep things of God; and more especially the general spread and large abundance of them, and of the knowledge conveyed by them; which will fill the earth, as the waters of the sea fill up and cover the vast chasm prepared for them…" (from John Gill's Commentary on Habakkuk - www.studylight.org )
Early pioneer missionaries such as William Carey and David Livingstone had the same outlook as Habakkuk 2:14. They proclaimed a gospel that could convert whole nations and whole continents to Christ. After laboring in India for five and one-half years, Carey and his colleagues finally had one convert in 1800. They said, "He was only one, but a continent was coming behind him. The divine grace which changed one Indian's heart could obviously change a hundred thousand." (The Puritan Hope, p. 141)
David Livingstone, pioneer missionary to Africa, saw himself as laying the groundwork for others who would come after him. He wrote in his Journal, "A good and attentive audience, but immediately after the service I found the Chief had retired into a hut to drink beer…A minister who had not seen so much pioneer service as I have done would have been shocked to see so little effect produced by an earnest discourse concerning the future judgment, but time must be given to allow the truth to sink into the dark mind, and produce its effect. The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord - that is enough. We can afford to work in faith, for Omnipotence is pledged to fulfill the promise…." (The Puritan Hope, p. 182) He also wrote, "A quiet audience today. The seed being sown, the least of all seeds now, but it will grow a mighty tree. It is as it were a small stone cut out of a mountain, but it will fill the whole earth….Our work and its fruits are cumulative. We work towards another state of things….Missionaries in the midst of masses of heathenism seem like voices crying in the wilderness - Reformers before the Reformation; future missionaries will see conversions follow every sermon. We prepare the way for them. May they not forget the pioneers who worked in the thick gloom with few rays of cheer, except such as flow from faith in God's promises! We work for a glorious future which we are not destined to see. We are only morning-stars shining in the dark, but the glorious morn will break…" (The Puritan Hope, p. 182)
David Brainerd, missionary to the American Indians in the 18th century, lived only a short time and died as a young adult. Yet, during his short life he won many Indians to Christ through His preaching. As his death drew nearer, Brainerd wrote, "My thoughts have been employed on the dear old theme, the prosperity of God's church on earth. As I waked out of sleep, I was led to cry for the pouring out of God's Spirit, and the advancement of Christ's kingdom, for which the Redeemer did and suffered so much. It is that especially which makes me long for it." Jonathan Edward's comment was that "He expressed much hope that a glorious advancement of Christ's kingdom was near at hand." (Life and Diary of David Brainerd, p. 136-137) Edwards wrote, "He expressed on his death-bed a full persuasion that he should in heaven see the prosperity of the church on earth, and should rejoice with Christ therein; and the consideration of it seemed to be highly pleasing and satisfying to his mind." (p. 137) Brainerd saw a glorious advancement of Christ's kingdom on earth.
Rather than seeing the church go down in defeat, the Psalmist looks forward to her future glory in the world. Psalm 87:3-6 says, "Glorious things are said of you, O city of God: 'I will record Rahab and Babylon among those who acknowledge me - Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush - and will say, 'This one was born in Zion.' Indeed, of Zion it will be said, 'This one and that one were born in her, and the Most High himself will establish her.' The Lord will write in the register of the peoples: 'This one was born in Zion.'" People from all over the world would come into the church and God would establish His church and her future would be glorious.
The Psalmist points to glorious days for the church in the future when he says, "Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn." (Psalm 60:1-3) This Psalm and the glorious future for the church are brought out in Thomas Hastings hymn written in 1831 - "Hail to the brightness of Zion's morning! Joy to the lands that in darkness have lain! Hushed be the accents of sorrow and mourning; Zion in triumph begins her mild reign…See, from all lands, from the isles of the ocean, Praise to Jehovah ascending on high; Fall'n are the engines of war and commotion, Shouts of salvation are rending the sky." (Trinity Hymnal, p. 274)
One of the most encouraging events of 2010 was the meeting in Tokyo of evangelical missions leaders in commemoration of the 1910 Edinburgh World Missionary Conference. There were 967 delegates from 73 countries that met in Tokyo. They issued the following declaration: "We, representatives of evangelical global mission structures, being intent on fulfilling the ultimate objective of the Great Commission, have gathered in Tokyo May 11-14, 2010 at this Global Mission Consultation to make the following declaration. We set forth this declaration in obedience to Christ's final command, as a means of calling Christ-followers everywhere to whole-heartedly embrace and earnestly engage in 'making disciples of every people in our generation'…." (www.gnms.net ) These mission leaders saw as their goal nothing less than discipling all the peoples of the world. Dr. Yong Cho, International Director of the Global Network of Mission Structures and leader of Tokyo 2010 stated, "Despite our denominational differences and various Christian traditions, we have been able to come together for the sake of fulfilling the Great Commission. It is my hope that we might see similar forums develop that will enable the entire global mission movement to interface on national, regional and global levels, to the end that indigenous churches might flourish in every nation, tribe, people and language in our generation." (Mission Frontiers - July-August 2010 Edition, p. 17)
Tokyo 2010 also showed a concern for reaching nations that were formally Christian but have fallen away such as the nations of Europe. Stefan Gustavasson, leader of the Swedish Evangelical Alliance, gave a Macedonian call to the conference. He pointed out that the vast majority of Europe today are turning to secularism, atheism, and agnosticism. When he gave his plea for help, Dr. Yong Cho came to the podium with tears in his eyes and led the whole assembly in prayer to God for the peoples of Europe. David Taylor in reporting on this moving prayer stated, "The significance of this moment, from an historical perspective, was immediately obvious. We were at Tokyo 2010 to celebrate what has taken place in the last century since the Edinburgh 1910 World Missionary Conference. Yet in those same 100 years, while the Church exploded in Africa, Asia and Latin America, one of the greatest tragedies in the history of Christianity also took place in Europe. As we began to pray, we could all perceive the deep sense of gratitude, obligation and loss felt by the non-Western mission leaders who were at this very meeting because of the efforts of European church and mission leaders a century ago. How is it that a Church that weathered so many storms for centuries could be at risk of virtually disappearing in the next 50 years? 'Not on my watch!' was the response of Tokyo 2010." (Mission Frontiers - July-August 2010 Edition, p. 6)
Is there a glorious future for the church in this world in this age? Will the earth be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord in this age or is this something only possible in a future age or dispensation after Jesus returns? The popular view today is the latter. The church will go down in defeat and have to be evacuated from this world. The gospel will not prevail in this age. Yet, is this the view that we should be holding? Is this the view of the Scriptures? Those of earlier generations certainly believed that Scripture gave a much more optimistic outcome for the church in this age. Andrew Fuller, contemporary and friend of William Carey, wrote in 1799: "All the vicissitudes of nations, all the efforts to overturn the doctrine of the cross, or blot out the spirit of Christianity from the earth, we consider as permitted for wise and holy ends; and being satisfied that they make a part of God's eternal plan, we are not inordinately anxious about them….We have no doubt that these things are wisely permitted - that they are a fan in the hand of Christ, by which he will thoroughly purge his floor - and that the true gospel of Christ, like the sun in the heavens, will finally disperse all these interposing clouds. We are persuaded, as well as they, that things, upon the whole, whether we, in our contracted spheres of observation, perceive it or not, are tending to the general good - that the empire of truth and righteousness, notwithstanding all the infidelity and iniquity that are in the world, is upon the increase - that it must increase more and more - that glorious things are yet to be accomplished in the church of God - and that all which we have hitherto seen, or heard, of the gospel dispensation, is but as the first-fruits of an abundant harvest." (The Works of Andrew Fuller, p. 97) Such a view of the church prevailed in an earlier age. Today, we have come full circle to a much more pessimistic view of the church which has contributed to the weakness of the church in our day. No longer do we hear such grand predictions of the future of the church in this age. Such was the old school. Today, we know better. The church's days are numbered and we need to get ready to evacuate. Satan is winning the battle and we can do nothing about it. The Kingdom of Satan is prevailing and the Kingdom of God is on the retreat. Such is the attitude of much of evangelical teaching today. From this kind of attitude, we need to retreat. The Bible teaches no such doctrine. We have deluded ourselves to believe those who teach such things. It is high time, the evangelical church wakes up and gets on with its mission in this world "for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea."
All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version unless indicated otherwise
Edwards, Jonathan. The History of Redemption.The National Foundation for Christian Education, Marshallton, Delaware, first published in 1773.
Edwards, Jonathan. Life and Diary of David Brainerd. Sovereign Grace Publishers, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1971.
Fuller, Andrew Gunton, Ed. The Works of Andrew Fuller, Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, PA, 2007 (First published 1841).
Gill, John. John Gill's Commentary on Habakkuk, (www.studylight.org)
Marsden, Robert S., Chairman. Trinity Hymnal. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, 1961.
Murray, Iain. The Puritan Hope. The Banner of Truth Trust, London, 1971.
Wood, Rick, Ed. Mission Frontiers, Vol. 32, No. 4. U. S. Center for World Mission, Pasadena, California, July-August 2010.