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The Great Commission: Biblically and Historically Explained PDF Print E-mail
Written by David Montogmery   

Introduction and Definition.

The debate on the subject of the "great commission" has been raging for many years, and has caused much confusion among the Primitive Baptists. It is hoped by the writer that this article will clear up some of the confusion and allow us all to find common ground on this issue.

I will at the outset provide my "nutshell" definition of the great commission.

Our Lord Jesus Christ commissioned (I prefer to say He commanded), the Apostles to preach the Gospel and to baptize believers.

He promised that they shall be endowed with unique and peculiar powers to facilitate this command. The Apostles fulfilled their portion of the commandment and commanded the ministry of the New Testament church to preach the Gospel and to baptize believers. This is OUR commission and it is a GREAT one.

Biblical Support for Montgomery’s "Nutshell".

Colossians 1:25-29, "Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God; Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: Whereunto I also labor, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily."

2Timothy 2:2, "And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also."

2Timothy 2:24-25, "And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth;"

2Timothy 4:2-5, "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry."

Acts 8:5, "Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them."

Acts 8:26, "And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert."

Acts 8:40, "But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea."

Historical Support for Montgomery’s "Nutshell".

Zion’s Advocate, 1882

Elder John Clark, the great writer and minister of the 19th Century, writing an article on "God-Sent Missionaries" says:

"Are not God’s ministers missionaries? We contend that they are the only true gospel missionaries on earth. The root of the word is one sent; and they are sent of God, for how can they preach except they be sent! And the church is praying to Christ to send forth laborers into His harvest. They are not sent of men. Neither called nor qualified of men, but of God. Ought not the church, hold up the hands of such, help them on their journey, help them on their necessities to enable them to preach to the destitute? Can any among us forbid this! We protest against conceding the copy-right to the New School and Arminian Societies, of the word missionary. In the gospel sense our people have the exclusive right to it. Our doctrine is that God’s ministers are called and qualified of God, and put into the work. They receive it not of men, neither were they taught it but by the revelation of Jesus Christ, and they go depending upon God to support them through His people, without looking to mission boards for their support. The difference is, one class is sent of God, the other of men, and so let each one to his master stand or fall."

Lemuel Potter / Throgmorton Debate, July 14, 1887

The fearless debater, and eminent minister Elder Lemuel Potter, in a debate with Mr. Throgmorton, says in his First Affirmative Speech:

"Now remember that here is a commission given by the Savior, directly, to his apostles. While a great many people seem to notice the grand scope of this commission, who rejoice of the duty of conquering the world, I do also find a limitation to that commission, and it occurs to me from what I see here, that there are men that fail to see that limitation; that the minister is required to go and preach, I do not question (that), neither do "Hard-shells" (question it), as we are called. That is charged upon us by our opponent and we deny the charge. We think it is our duty to preach to every person wherever we go; both to saint and sinner.’

‘And we think it is the duty of the minister who has been called of God to the holy work, to make this his first calling, paramount to everything else pertaining to life. It is his business to preach. Now then, as he goes forth to teach all nations and baptize them, in addition to teaching in accordance with the commission—it says, teaching them, the people, that is teaching them whom you baptize, to observe all things that are right and expedient? No sir! What then? "All things whatsoever I command you."

LATER IN THE SPEECH ELDER POTTER SAYS:

"A Missionary document, (He is referring to a book—"Great Commission and its Fulfillment by the Church" which Elder Potter had read a portion of. DM) says that the commission is assigned not only to the ordained and unordained male and female; that all are bound by the words of the great commission, all are to go. Some may go further than others, for the commission is given to the church, and that is the meaning of the commission, that the church must sent ministers abroad, in obedience of the commission. The Savior said in the commission, "Go ye into all the world." He did not say ,"send." It would have been proper to say "send" IF it was given to the church. BUT He said, "Go ye into all the world," talking directly to the apostles. They understood it that way and preached it that way. Turn to Matt. 28:16-20.

"Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted. And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen."

To whom did He speak this language? To the eleven, not to the church, so says the text itself. Let us also notice Mark 16:14-16.

"Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen. And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned."

To whom was this commission given by this text? To the eleven, not for the church. The church was not included there. But He gave it to the eleven, to the apostles, to the ministry. It belongs to them. And the command of Jesus is to the minister and (it) tells him to go; it does not come to the church and tell her to send."

Gospel Messenger, December 1904

Elder Sylvester Hassell replies to one Morgan Brown, who (Brown) enthusiastically reported of a "General Meeting" held in St. Louis, MO., November 1, 1904. Brown mentioned that 37 Elders attended this meeting who adopted, "resolutions relative to our order and practice, to the consideration of our churches everywhere." To wit, Elder Hassell replied:

"The meeting in St. Louis may have been pleasant and the preaching spiritual; but I have been informed that the ministers there discussed and agreed to recommend to the churches the consideration of three propositions which I can not and which I am sure that our Brethren generally will not endorse as scriptural or desirable:

First, a plan for a federal or national government of our churches by State Corresponding Association and a United States Corresponding Association, and by Committees on Credentials and Mutual Affairs appointed by these brand new and authoritative Corresponding Associations.

Second, a declaration that Christ’s commission or commandment to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature was given, not simply to the ministry, but to all the members of the churches.

Third, that the Primitive Baptists should establish a Publication Society, and that all our periodicals published at present should suspend, and that one periodical only be published and controlled by said Publication Society. I think that all these three propositions are contrary to the Scriptures, and that, if universally adopted by the Primitive Baptists, they would degrade all our churches to the corrupt and ruinous condition of the so-called religious world. I do not believe that Primitive Baptist churches will ever adopt these unscriptural propositions.

Gospel Messenger, February 1906

Elder Hassell is asked:

Q. Was the commission or commandment of Christ given to the church and ministry or to the ministry exclusively, and if to the ministry to the exclusion of the church, how can we escape receiving alien baptism if we admit that God has called any man to preach that is not a member of the visible church of Christ? From whom does the minister receive his authority to baptize, from the Church or from Christ, and if, from the church, is she not in some sense included in the commission?

A. To my mind and to the minds of nearly all the Primitive Baptists, and I think to all intelligent, candid, and unprejudiced minds, it is not more certain that two and two make four than it is certain that Christ’s command in Matt. 28:16-20 and Mark 16:14-16 to go everywhere and preach the Gospel and baptize and teach was, according to His plain and simple language, given to the apostles representing the gospel ministry; certainly He did not command the whole church to go into all the world and preach and baptize believers and teach His commandments. And all the churches in the world cannot now call and qualify one single man to preach the gospel of Christ. We know that this is the work of Christ, as well as we know our own existence. But, when Christ calls and qualifies for the work, the church will see the gift and gladly recognize it, and help him on his way, as in the apostolic times. And if the church can be present, he will certainly prefer for them to be satisfied of the regeneration of an applicant before he baptizes him, and if the church, or men whom she appoints for the purpose, cannot be present, she will be satisfied with the baptism of an applicant by the chosen minister of Christ; but if the minister is not a member of the visible church of God, the church will consider the nominal baptism as no real baptism. The authority to baptize comes from Christ in the commission, and the church will always gladly recognize this authority.

Trial and Decision of Mount Carmel Church, Lurry Virginia, 1909

In this wonderful and very interesting book , which I think all Primitive Baptists should have and read, Elder T.S. Dalton is asked:

Q. Do you believe in preaching repentance to those who are dead in sin?"

A. I will answer it this way first. The Bible teaches me in the last chapter of Luke, chapter 24, it says: "And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things."

We believe as a people in carrying out the mission of the Savior, "Go into all the world", and we go. We do not wait to be sent; and when we go, we preach repentance to everybody that will listen to us; but we preach it in the name of Jesus Christ; and we claim that Jesus is exalted, a prince and a savior, to give repentance to the sinner and the forgiveness of sins; and we claim this, that a godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of. It is not an act of man, it is the product of the divine Spirit of God that produces that sorrow in the sinner’s heart that turns him away from sin, and hence it is a repentance to salvation not to be repetitive of. But the sorrow of the world, Paul says, worketh death. Now you understand what we understand in preaching the gospel to every creature. Where ever God in His providence, casts our lot, we preach, but we preach in the name of Christ, and none of it in the name of the sinner, and leave the event of it to God.

Q. But you believe in preaching the gospel then to those outside of God’s church?

A. I do, as strong as anybody in the church.

Q. You believe in the spread of the gospel

A. I don’t know that you can spread it. It is a kind that won’t spread.

Q. But you believe in preaching the gospel?

A. I certainly do.

Q. At home and abroad?

A. I certainly do.

Q. To that extent you are a missionary?

A. Yes sir; when God sends a man, I say, "Go and preach with all your might."

J. A. Monsees, Sermon - "The Utility of the Gospel", November 1926 Preached at the Elizabeth Primitive Baptist Church, Macon GA.

"We will talk a little about the language of our Master. I will invite your attention to the last two verses of the last chapter of Matthew, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen." I do not purpose, of course, to treat this subject exhaustively. We could not do it if we stayed here the remainder of the day, or if we should continue our speech, as did Paul, all night long, and until break of day; but all we can do in our efforts to speak of the sacred truths of God is to hint,--but I am talking to the wise, and a "hint to the wise is sufficient." There are none wiser than those who have been made wise by the influence of God’s Holy Spirit and are heirs and joint heirs with the Savior Jesus Christ. So ye are therefore made wise unto Salvation.

You know it is said that a man’s gift will make room for him and will bring him before great men. Now, I don’t think that has any particular reference to what class of men from a worldly standpoint, whether they be kings or presidents or senators or congressmen, whether they be called great men from a worldly standpoint. I don’t think there are any greater people than God’s children. They may be the poorest that tramp the road or work the soil or they may be the richest and wisest of all men, but if they are God’s children, they are great people—great to me and great to all that love them, and I learned that they were great enough for God to send His Son into the world to die for them. Great people they are!

"Teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son." I don’t think it is necessary to dwell at length as to whom the disciples should teach. We can’t teach any except those who are teachable subjects. You can’t teach one who is an alien to God. You can’t teach him the principles of grace because it would not stick, but when the Lord has come with quickening power and places those truths in his heart and makes him love those principles, then the gospel preacher can come along and tell him about those things and it is an evidence that he is a child of God. One of the greatest privileges in the world is to have a preacher to go to. We love to think that the One who helps the preacher is the one to help us, and He is the one who works the sin out and enables us at last to sing His praises in Glory. The preacher has lots of these subjects to work on. When the Lord called Peter, He said: "Go feed my lambs" That’s the preacher’s first duty. The greatest job is not to speak eloquently, but to feed the sheep. As we dwell upon the experience we see and grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

"Baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and of the Holy Ghost." We baptize because they believe God is the Father and Son. God’s preachers sometimes get in a hurry. God told Phillip to run and join himself to the chariot. When he got there he found the eunuch reading. He was reading in the prophecy of Isaiah. What he was reading was this, "He was led as a lamb, dumb before his shearers and in his humiliation his judgement was taken from him." The eunuch didn’t understand that and wanted some man to guide him, and Phillip preached and instructed him in the paths of duty; and the eunuch being instructed, was baptized. I wish I could have heard Paul’s sermon on Mar’s Hill. There are some other discourses mentioned that I would have liked to hear. The eunuch was interested and anxious about the matter. He wanted to know what hindered him to be baptized. And he said: "I believe with all my heart that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." And so now he could be baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost because he believed that God is the Father and that Jesus Christ is the Son of God."

Advocate and Messenger, November 1927

Burton L. Nay in an article on "Paralysis" writes:

"This is a disease common to the physical body. Its causes are sundry. Nerve force ebbs and vitality is low. The physical powers abate. The case is pitiable. Fear will cause a temporary paralysis; disease and immoderate habits may produce the permanent stage.

In my walks and talks among the household of Faith, I have seen the parallel. Brethren and churches have been subject to a kind of gospel paralysis at times. Various causes explain. Extreme interpretations of certain scriptures will produce a peculiar carelessness. If all things are unconditionally decreed, why pray? Eventually prevailing prayer ceases,--the prayer life is paralyzed. Also, mal-administration of truth often results in coldness. If the eternal security of all God’s people is a fact, and it is, why concern ourselves about "Go teach all nations." The first proposition indefinitely so preached, as to negate Jesus’ command to "teach", will obviously result in "teaching paralysis," except at the cross roads. The "regions beyond" are forgotten, --kingdom extension is paralyzed. Then too, one line of truth emphasized at the expense of another, produces ill effects. If salvation is by grace, and it is, why labor, toil, sacrifice toward perpetuating the visible church? Salvation is by grace—therefore earthly results and rewards are out of question, -- consequently the hand designed to minister the "water cup" is paralyzed. The proffered and promised "reward" is missed. The spirit of service ceases to function by long inactivity; coldness prevails; the cause suffers; The Bible is a balanced book, and when that balance is maintained by preaching and teaching - paralysis disappears.

Decrees there are; yet prayer prevails. Sovereign grace is the hope of sinners, yet gospel duties are enjoined. Remember, there is a vast difference between a beehive and a cemetery. The drones are doomed while the workers store the honey. The winter’s chill will paralyze the otherwise industrious bee. The spring time warmth brings him to active life. There is warmth inherent in a balance gospel which awakens God’s people to a beautified and a life-long service. Preach the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Such is required of a witness in earthly courts. "Ye are God’s witnesses." "Preach the truth in love." Let us all love it all, and let us all live it all. Awake O Zion, put on thy beautiful garments of praise and practical service for spiritual paralysis is perilous."

 

Final Thoughts.

I do feel that what these Brethren have presented above, along with my "Nutshell", is safe and sound teaching on the subject of great commission. It is always good and wise to avoid expressions and "buzz words" that are not contained in the scriptures. The words "great commission" are not found in the Bible, so it behooves us to maintain carefulness in our usage of the term.

This study is humbly submitted and it is asked of the reader to consider it in the love that it was presented. May the God of all truth bless us in our studies of the truth.

In His service,

Elder David Montgomery

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 05 September 2006 )
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The Primitive or Old School Baptists cling to the doctrines and practices held by Baptist Churches throughout America at the close of the Revolutionary War. This site is dedicated to providing access to our rich heritage, with both historic and contemporary writings.