A circle of friends on pilgrimage for the love of God

World Missions

Abraham Journeying Into the Land of Canaan, Gustav More (1866)

World Missions Sunday 2021
February 7, 2021
Rev. Doug Floyd
Genesis 12:1-3, Psalm 86:8-13, Revelation 7:9-17, Matthew 28:16-20

In his book, Christian Leaders of the Last Century, JC Ryle tells the story of eleven ministers such as John Wesley and George Whitfield whom God used to bring a great awakening to England in the mid to late 18th century. Bishop Ryle writes, 

“The movement of these gallant evangelists shook England from one end to another. At first people in high places affected to despise them. The men of letters sneered at them as fanatics; the wits cut jokes, and invented smart names for them; the Church shut her doors on them; the Dissenters turned the cold shoulder on them; the ignorant mob persecuted them. But the movement of these few evangelists went on, and made itself felt in every part of the land. Many were aroused and awakened to think about religion; many were shamed out of their sins; many were restrained and frightened at their own ungodliness; many were gathered together and induced to profess a decided hearty religion; many were converted; many who affected to dislike the movement were secretly provoked to emulation. The little sapling became a strong tree; the little rill became a deep, broad stream; the little spark became a steady burning flame. A candle was lighted, of which we are now enjoying the benefit. The feeling of all classes in the land about religion and morality gradually assumed a totally different complexion. And all this, under God, was effected by a few unpatronized, unpaid adventurers! When God takes a work in hand, nothing can stop it. When God is for us, none can be against us.”[1]

As we pause to reflect on World Missions this morning, it might be worthwhile to remember some of these saints of old who played a vital role in shaking their nation and in turn shaking the nations of the world. 

This morning I was to reflect briefly on one man that God raised up to stir up passion deep in the heart of his nation. Henry Venn came from a long line of Anglican priests, stretching all the way back to the Reformation. He might be forgotten to history if his son John Venn had not published a short biography of his father along with a collection of his spiritual letters. 

Henry Venn was a scholar, a lecturer, a tutor and eventually a vicar. In his church at Huddlersfield, Henry served only twelve years. During those years, his ministry touched lives all across England. JC Ryle counts Henry alongside John Wesley and George Whitfield as one of the great Evangelical revivalists of his day. Henry didn’t preach in open air like both Wesley and Whitfield, and his didn’t travel, but he preached the Gospel faithfully in his church. The last church that Whitfield preached at in England was Henry’s church. 

Henry mentored several young clergymen, including Charles Simeon who would play a pivotal role in raising up and sending out missionaries. Henry also started the Clapham group. Their name may or may not be familiar, but we are all familiar with what they did. Before I explain, I want to pause Henry’s story and consider our lesson today on Abraham.

In Genesis 12:1-3 we read,

Genesis 12:1–3 (ESV): Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” 

A few observations.

The Lord says to Abram, Go! This passage begins with a command. Go! When the Lord calls His people into His service, He gives them the power, the grace to obey. In the word Go, Abram has received both the authority and the strength to “Go.” This does not mean that Abram’s journey will not be difficult or confusing at times, but it does mean that the Lord has provided Abram the gifts and the wisdom he needs to continue walking in the way. When the Lord’s call to His people, He is simultaneously providing a way to respond. This is true of our salvation in Christ.

I don’t want to suggest that we share the same call as Abraham, but I do want to see patterns in his story that speak to our story.

As we follow the story of Abram, we discover that he does face very challenging circumstances, has to take refuge among alien kings, and even questions at times if God’s promise will be fulfilled. At the same time,  Abram learns a way of trust that will become a model of faith for believers in Christ. 

When Abram is called to go, he is also called to let go. In a small way, this is true of life in general. For example, when we marry we leave mother and father behind and start a new family.

Abram’s call is drastic for he will never see these people or places again. He must let go of his attachments to his country, his relatives and friends, and even his father’s household. He cannot see where he is going, but he cannot go without leaving behind things and people that are dear to him. 

This images of country, then kindred and finally father’s household are images of ever-increasing intimacy. Abram will leave behind his deepest place of identity and security, and must learn to trust in God for the way forward. 

Even as the Lord tells Abram to let go of what his behind him, He promises Abram blessings that are in front of him. He promise a “land that he will show Abram.” He promise to make Abram a great nation and a great name. Then the Lord says that both blessings and curses will flow through Abram based on how people respond to Abram. This is particularly fascinating because it looks like how covenants are established in that world and specifically in the Biblical tales. 

After Moses recounts the covenant with Israel in Deuteronomy, he proclaims a series of blessings and curses. Those who obey the covenant will be blessed and those who disobey the covenant will be cursed. The whole story of Israel bears out both the blessings and the curses of the covenant. 

In the story of Abram, the blessings and the curses are located in him and how people respond to him. In this sense, Abram appears to be a living image of God’s covenant with the people. When Abimelech or Pharaoh take Sarah as their wife, they experience curses. At the same time, Abram and his company will be a blessing to Lot and all the nations taken captive with Lord. 

Abram as an image of the covenant extends beyond his own life. Israel will also be a people who bear the covenant in their flesh: literally through circumcision. Believers in Christ also bear the covenant in our circumcised hearts. 

The passage in Genesis focuses on the blessings of the covenant and how far it extends. The Lord says, “In you all families of the earth will be blessed.” In Abram, IN Abraham all families of the earth. The seed or offspring of Abraham will be a source of blessing for all families. This literally plays out in the stories of Isaac and Jacob. For example, through Jospeh, Jacob’s son, all of Egypt and the surrounding nations will be blessed in the midst of a great famine. This local promise stretches out generations or toledot (that is the Hebrew word for generations). It is the way Abraham understands the blessing. He is concerned multiple times in the story about having an heir that will stretch the blessing of God into the future. The blessings given to Abraham are not simply for himself, they are for generations to come. 

Oh that we might learn how God’s blessings extend out across generations. We live in a world that thinks in short-term goals, short-term gains, but what if we realized our lives might be lived in service of generations to come. 

And here I pause the Abraham story and return to Henry Venn. Though Henry’s name is mostly forgotten to history, the blessing of his life extends in the the future and all around the world. Earlier I stated that Henry Venn started the Clapham group. 

Clapham was a village south of London. Henry’s son John became a vicar in Clapham, and Henry was the pastor/mentor to a group of young reformers that gathered in Clapham. This group was mocked by some folks in their day as the “saints.” The people in this group were dedicated to knowing Christ, proclaiming Christ, and transforming their world. They started missionary societies, the Sunday School society, the Betterment Society, and the Small debt society. The small debt society would pay off the debts of people in debtor’s prison, so that they could be released.

For Clapham group social justice and Evangelical proclamation went hand in hand. Most notably, they were abolitionists and one of the most famous members of the group was William Wilberforce. 

They not only worked to eliminate slavery, they worked to improve the lives of Africans. Not all their experiments were successful, but they were seeking to bless the world both spiritually and materially. Henry’s son John Venn started the Church Missionary Society, and John Venn’s son, Henry would play a pivotal role in the Church Missionary Society and missions in general. But first back to Abraham. 

The picture we see in Genesis 12 is the very heart of a picture of world missions. It is the extension of God’s covenantal blessing to all families of the earth. The blessing begins in Abraham and extends through his family: Isaac, Jacob, the sons of Jacob. Then in Romans 4, we learn that God raises up spiritual heirs of Abraham. As a people who put our faith in Christ, we share the faith of Abraham and are therefore the sons of Abraham. 

God moves through families, through communities to bless the world. According to Galatians 3:14, the blessing of Abraham is the blessing of the Spirit that comes through Jesus Christ alone. Jesus raises up a family of brothers and sisters who have been redeemed. It is through this family, that the blessing of reconciliation will be poured out upon the world. In our Gospel reading today, Jesus sends out the disciples to make disciples of all nations or all families of the earth, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to observe all that he commanded them. 

What do these disciples eventually do? They go out and raise up little communities, called out ones. These communities are little families who extend the blessing of God to those around them. In this small familial way, the Lord is extending his blessing to all families of the earth. The promise of redemption and restoration of all things flows out from Christ to families to church communities and these communities extend to the communities around them. 

As we hear the call of Christ in our Gospel this morning, we hear how God is calling us to family that is a community of faith and how from this community we reach out to our local communities and even to communities or families all around the world. 

Now back to the grandson of Henry Venn. His name was also Henry Venn. He never travelled to other nations but he became an influential mission leader. Henry is considered one of the foremost mission strategists of the 19th century. His principles of missions eventually became widespread over a hundred years later through Lausanne Congress.

Henry Venn and Rufus Anderson of the American Board of Foreign Missions were the first two men to use the term “indigenous church.” Henry believed missionaries played a key role in raising up local leaders within a region who would eventually take leadership of the church there. He also tried to help develop trade for African products with an eye on reducing West African slave trade. I know that some of the attempts at helping cultivate African business in the 19th century did not succeed, but not everything failed. Venn’s efforts gradually multiplied missionaries and indigenous leaders in Africa. As of 2010, there were about 50 million African Anglicans  Plus Henry’s focus on raising up indigenous leaders has become a pattern for mission work around the world. 

The blessing of Abraham took shape in Henry Venn Senior and through his son, grandson, and, innumerable English, African, and other Christians around the world. We are living in an age where the fruit of missions has exploded across the globe. While some novelists and cultural critics look down upon missions as cultural imperialism, Socialist Robert Woodberry has documented the dramatic impact of missions in all areas of life from healthcare to education to lifespan. Recently,  I was privileged to join Russ and Heidi Smith with several missionaries around the world on Zoom. One of the terms they used in that discussion was “global impact.” 

They want local churches to get a vision that all of us have global impact through our prayers, support, and actions. We see the blessing of this global impact made manifest in the Venn family. My heart and my pray would be that we might play a role in serving our global family of Christians through financial support, prayers, and through pouring out our lives in this community as well as in communities that stretch far beyond to the uttermost parts of the world. 

Almighty God, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, you revealed the way of eternal life to every race and nation: Pour out this gift anew, that by the preaching of the Gospel your salvation may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

[1] J. C. Ryle, The Christian Leaders of the Last Century (London; Edinburgh; New York: T. Nelson and Sons, 1869), 23.


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