In one of the darkest days of the people of Israel, the Lord spoke through Isaiah…
“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, that I might bless him and multiply him.” Isaiah 51:1-2
What does it mean to be ‘hewn’? To be hewn is to be given identity, shape, form. And what or who is the rock? The big ‘r’ Rock is God, of course—God our Rock, our Father, by whom we have been created and have our identity (Deut 32:18) and Christ ‘the spiritual Rock’ (1 Cor 10:4). Also, the metaphor of the rock is extended from the person of Christ to his words and the revelation of who he is (Mt 7:24; 16:18). Our Rock is a Gentile-reaching, cross-bearing rock.
But Isaiah 51 identifies Abraham and Sarah as a rock, too: ‘Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you’ (v2). They are Israel’s father and mother in the faith—a human father and mother (Rom 4:12,16).
So, while our faith is ultimately in God the Rock, the very object of our faith and source of our identity, shape, and form; it is also true, in some sense, that we have in Abraham a tradition of faith and source of identity that is a secondary ‘rock’, a little ‘r’ rock, from which we are hewn. By extension, we have this also in other human godly church fathers, like Paul, Augustine, or Luther.
As Presbyterians celebrating Reformation Day and as EPC folks who have declared intentions to be missions-focused, let us consider the rock from which we have been hewn, in terms of our church’s founding and tradition. That includes John Calvin, one of many Reformed churchmen in our heritage. And let us take to heart the following powerful missions commitments evidenced in John Calvin’s writings. Perhaps they will help us shake off the dust of unhealthy traditionalism and misconceptions about what it really means to be Presbyterian or Reformed.
John Calvin to his arrested missionaries:
“Since it please him [God] to employ you to the death in maintaining his quarrel [with the world], he will strengthen your hands in the fight, and will not suffer a single drop of your blood to be spent in vain. And though the fruit may not all at once appear, yet in time it shall spring up more abundantly than we can express.”
John Calvin commenting on Augustine:
‘”For as we do not know who belongs to the number of the predestined or who does not belong, we ought to be so minded as to wish that all men be saved.’ So shall it come about that we try to make every one we meet a sharer in our peace.”
John Calvin commenting on Isaiah 2:3:
“And indeed nothing could be more inconsistent with the nature of faith than that deadness which would lead a man to disregard his brethren, and to keep the light of knowledge choked up within his own breast.”
May we be inspired anew from the rock of our traditions, to do as John Calvin and the Reformed movement did, …
- to send missionaries to hard places, even where they face imprisonment and martyrdom, while pastorally and prayerfully submitting it all to God.
- to try to make everyone we meet a sharer in our peace.
- to not keep the light of the gospel choked up inside of us.
- to rise in faith knowing that the missions fruit we seek will in time “spring up more abundantly than we can express”. (See also Gen 12:1-3 and Is 51:3.)
Is this not the rock from which you and I were hewn?
This World Outreach Reflection on Reformation Day is by Bruce Anderson, EPC World Outreach ITEN Founder & Coordinator
Note: The first two quotations of Calvin are quoted from Haykins and Roberston, To the Ends of the Earth, 2014, p. 59.
Download this free resource from World Reformed Fellowship that has collected articles from 1882-2002 on Calvin’s role in establishing mission theology. Interested in sharing the quotes from the Anderson’s reflection with your congregation? Download these slides and pictures – each to slip into a bulletin.