Calvinism and Passion for Souls

In one of the 1950 issues of the Evangelical Quarterly there appeared an article on “Calvin’s Missionary Message” by J. Van Den Berg from Ottoland, Holland. The article attempted to show from missionary history the relationship of Calvinism to missions. At the conclusion of the article there appeared an arresting statement which we quote: “We have come to the end of our historical survey, in which only some crucial points in the development of Calvinistic missionary thinking could be mentioned. If we venture to draw a conclusion from it, we would say that Calvinistic missionary activity was at its height when there was perfect harmony and unity between the theological (pertaining to the knowledge of God–K.) and soteriological (pertaining to the knowledge of salvation –K.) line in Calvinism. Where the theological line is emphasized at the expense of the soteriological there looms a secularized Calvinism which in its desire to fight the wars of the Lord on the broad front of life loses its passion for souls, but on the other hand a one-sided stress on soteriology leads to a sterile mysticism which is quite passive with respect to the missionary task.”

Why Are We Lacking in Passion for Souls?

The reading of Mr. Van Den Berg’s survey and concluding statement naturally leads us to self-examination to determine whether or not we have at present that passion for souls that belongs to a balanced Calvinism. The term “passion for souls” is not a term used often in Reformed circles, and it was a bit refreshing to see a Calvinist use it. I often wondered why it was not used more often, and when an opportunity presented itself to discuss it in various ladies’ societies we brought up the subject of our Reformed emphasis and a passion for souls.

The reactions, opinions, and suggestions were varied and enlightening. The first question that suggested itself was, “What does it mean to have a passion for souls?” It was a bit hard to define precisely at first, but all felt that it had to do with a saved person’s earnest desire to have others know about the Lord and be saved. In its broadest sense it might mean a deep concern for the soul’s welfare of our fellow men. In this sense a pastor might have a passion for the souls of his flock, the Christian school teacher might have a great concern for the spiritual well-being of his pupils, and a parent might be deeply interested in the spiritual nurture of his children. However, usually we associate the term “passion for souls,” in its narrowest sense, with feeling a deep compassion for the plight of the lost.

Some ladies felt that the term was not used much among us because we stressed the glory of God rather than the salvation of souls. To have a passion for souls seems to suggest that our greatest missionary motive was. the salvation of men rather than the honor of God. As if there were a kind of irreconcilable antithesis between a passion for souls and a passion for God’s glory.

Other ladies felt that the doctrine of election might almost unconsciously make us feel that it would do little good to become really concerned about a lost neighbor because God must work in his heart first. There must be readiness and willingness to sit down and talk about the way of salvation if the sinner makes the first move and comes to us seeking for light and guidance. Then there would be evidence that the Spirit is working in that man’s life. But to go out and talk to just anybody, knowing man’s inability to believe and his natural hardness of heart, hardly seems to warrant the effort.

There were those of us who confessed that we often talked to an unbeliever merely from a sense of duty. We knew it pleased God when we witnessed for him and we also felt a responsibility for the soul of our fellow man; so we tried hard to discharge this obligation by speaking to him. Whether or not this stranger to the covenant of grace believed the message did not matter. Our concern was to wash our hands with respect to this man’s soul and discharge faithfully the watchman’s duty. This sinner, at least, can never come back at us in the judgment day and say, “You never warned me.” That it is our duty to witness is certainly true, but to talk to a man about his sours need only from a sense of duty is not yet having a passion for souls.

There were ladies in the societies who felt we didn’t have a passion for souls because spiritual things were not real and vital to us, and our children never caught the vision of white harvest fields at our very door steps because there was so little evidence of love for God and the neighbor in our homes. In line with this thought there were some who said that in their homes they were never brought up to think in terms of their neighbors’ souls and their salvation.


Paul’s Love for Souls

All of this discussion came about when we studied the example of Paul in his passion for souls, In that great chapter of Romans 9, where Paul expounds so clearly the great doctrine of God’s sovereign election, he begins with an anguished sob, “…I have great sorrow and unceasing pain in my heart, For I could wish myself were anathema from Christ for my brethren’s sake, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” Can any of us understand this kind of passion for souls? And that in the light of what Paul presentIy says about God’s sovereign decree of election! Paul realizes that they are not all Israel that are of Israel because God sovereignly chooses some and passes others by. But at the same time Paul would gather them all together and weep over them and supplicate for them, and so earnestly desire their salvation that he could wish, if that were proper and right and possible, to be accursed from Christ for their sakes.

Christ’s Yearning to Save the Lost

We have a grander example than Paul. Who can fathom the infinite compassion of Jesus when he sat on the mount outside of Jerusalem and sobbed with heaving sobs of sorrow over impenitent Jerusalem? This was the Jerusalem that was so calloused and depraved that she crucified the Son of God on the accursed tree. But how earnestly the Lord desired her salvation, and there was no one with such a passion for God’s glory as he, Could we sit beside the Lord on the mount and feel just a wee bit of that passion for souls? Understand in some small degree that yearning of his heart for the lost souls of men? Why are we so indifferent about the eternal welfare of our neighbors? Is it because we have never been made aware of our great responsibility toward them? Paul says in Romans 1:14, “I am debtor both to Greeks and to Barbarians, both to the wise and the foolish.” Paul felt a great obligation toward his fellow men, He was indebted to bring them the gospel of saving grace, Paul makes us feel that our neighbors have a right to expect us to be interested in their souls since we have the great treasure of the gospel. To keep the day of glad tidings to ourselves is doing our fellowmen an injustice.

A Defect in Our Training

Is it possible, as Mr. Van Den Berg suggests, that we have stressed the theological line of Calvinism at the expense of the soteriological? Can we talk much about God and his glorious attributes and very little about the Lord Jesus and his wonderful salvation for sinners? Have we emphasized the precious doctrines of God’s election and sovereignty to such an extent that we have neglected the whole doctrine of our human responsibility to our neighbor?

To some of us the awareness of our neighbor’s lost condition was brought to our attention by incidental contacts with Fundamentalist brethren. They impressed us with their zeal to make Christ known to those outside. To others of us mission interest came in other, rather incidental ways: through a missionary-minded school teacher, or a missionary who spoke at a mission rally. Wonderful as these sporadic impressions are to the minds and hearts of our children and young people, may the church depend on such haphazard and incidental influences to impress upon our young people and children their supreme calling in life to be light-bearers in the world?

Do we give sufficient systematic instruction in our human responsibility to witness so that all of our young people feel that they are in the world to propagate the faith? Are the goals for teaching doctrine clear to our children and young people? Is it only to prepare them for church membership? Are we content when we have safely anchored our young people in the harbor of the church? Have we felt that the goal of our indoctrination program has been reached when they have made their confession of faith in the church? In that case we are then in danger of making the church an end in itself, forgetting that the church is in order to the kingdom.

If the church is the supreme agent for the advancement of the kingdom, then our training must not lead merely to church membership, but to kingdom work. In some Korean churches one of the stipulations for church membership is that a convert shall first seek out another unsaved person and bring him into the church, We may not agree with the requirement but the emphasis is clear. A member of Christ’s church must be a kingdom worker and earnestly endeavor to be a witness in the world.

We realize that work in the kingdom is broad in scope and includes all God-honoring professions and occupations, It has to do with claiming all areas of life for Christ, but how can that be done unless we witness concerning Christ and his salvation? When we talk vaguely about establishing Christ’s rule in every area of life without presenting Christ to the hearts of men as he is revealed in the Scriptures, are we not guilty of “a secularized Calvinism which in its desire to fight the wars of the Lord on the broad front of life loses its passion for souls”? We say that to enter legitimate professional and occupational spheres of life as Christians is good Calvinism, but to talk to people about their sours salvation sounds pietistic, and smacks of Fundamentalism. Speaking about passion for souls is regarded by some as being foreign to the spirit of Calvinism.

Would it seem so odd to express a deep desire for the salvation of sinners if in the teaching ministry of the church every one of our children would be impressed with his responsibility to tell others about the Lord Jesus? One might object that you cannot develop a passion for souls by sheer indoctrination, Such a passion should come spontaneously, It should arise naturally out of a living union with the compassionate Christ. This is true, of course, but we could say that also about our prayer life. That too should arise naturally out of the regenerated heart, and yet we indoctrinate our children and young people in the nature and practice of prayer. Jehovah’s Witnesses indoctrinate their children in the specific field of propagating their faith and they are very effective propagandists. So do the Communists and they are also very effective. But we are content with occasional and incidental influences to make our children aware of their responsibilities to propagate the precious gospel.

Perhaps we still have to work out a theology of missions that can be used to teach our boys and girls the fundamental basis, reasons, and practices of witnessing for Christ. We have talked much about changing the attitudes of our church toward those who are without. One good place to begin changing attitudes is in the minds and hearts of our youth. The home is indeed a most effective agency for this, especially in the way of parents’ example; but it would seem that the church should find room in its teaching program for systematic instruction to train our children to be confessors of Christ in the world. The church is our mother, and a mother does not train her children to nestle in her bosom all their days, but to be thrust into the world and do the world’s work. So the church must prepare her children to carry out her supreme program, namely, to make Christ known to men. If it were precisely the thing we were trained to do, it might not seem so strange that Calvinists can have a sincere and intense interest in the salvation of others.

There is, moreover, one truth that gives the church a real starting point in this training program. It is that the believer is anointed a prophet, priest, and king. This means not only that he is appointed by God to proclaim the gospel, but also that he is qualified to do’ so by the Holy Spirit. Thus no believer can say he has no aptitude or talent for being a witness for the Lord. If we would exercise ourselves more diligently in this threefold office, I think we would discover that there need be no conflict between having a passion for God’s glory and a passion for souls.