Great Commission

How Christians have helped establish God’s kingdom in the nations

What is man’s purpose or mission on the earth?

Christians often answer this by referring to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), and rightly so, but in recent years a large segment of the Church has limited the meaning of this to only personal conversion. Certainly the Great Commission includes the Evangelistic Mandate, to redeem man, but it also includes the Cultural Mandate, to redeem the earth.

God has revealed Himself as both the King of Creation and the Redeemer of mankind. His kingship over creation is depicted in the opening chapters of the Bible. God’s purpose for man is also revealed in the book of Genesis. To properly understand God’s plan for man, we must understand a fundamental truth declared in Genesis 1:1 — the sovereignty of God. God declares His existence from the beginning. He declares He is the Creator, and hence His Lordship over creation. He rules over all creation. “The heavens are the heavens of the Lord. . . . He does whatever He pleases” (Ps. 115:16, 3).

Since He is sovereign, all men are responsible before God. The first book of Genesis also teaches the distinctiveness of man. Man is made in the image of God (1:26-27), therefore he is unique and distinct. Man displays the principle of individuality — in calling and characteristics. We all have a common general purpose, but each of us has a distinct specific purpose.

God gave a mission to His special creation from the beginning — the Cultural or Dominion Mandate (vs. 28). God gave man an assignment to rule over the earth, to take dominion. Psalm 8:6 says we are made to rule over the works of His hand.

God created man in His own image and likeness as His vice-regent or steward to rule over the earth. Unfortunately, man fell from the purpose for which God created him.

Thus, man lost both his intimate relationship with God and his ability to properly govern the earth. Sin not only separated man from God but also brought a curse and great loss. Man was unable to properly fulfill the cultural mandate.

God’s redemptive nature is evident early on. Man having fallen from what God made him to be and to do, God planned both to redeem man and to restore man’s delegated authority and stewardship over the earth. God promised that the seed of woman would destroy the serpent, Satan (Gen. 3:15). Christ was that seed who came to redeem man and reverse the effects of the fall and the curse. He restored to man the ability to fulfill the mission originally given to Adam, as well as restoring man’s relationship to God.

The story of redemption unfolds in the various covenants which God initiated with men. The giving of the law in the Mosaic Covenant was also used by God to further His redemptive program. Of course, God’s redemptive purpose has found ultimate fulfillment in the New Covenant through Christ, who was slain and by whose blood God has redeemed men for himself “from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).

Purpose of salvation in Christ

The complete purpose of salvation in Christ cannot be understood unless we understand the original purpose of man. Salvation goes beyond getting man to heaven. It includes restoring man to his original position. Christ brought to man the restoration of the covenant he had with God, of the glory he had from God, and of the dominion mandate. Jesus also brought His kingdom rule and reign to all creation. He proclaimed and demonstrated the gospel of the Kingdom (that is, the government, righteousness, truth, and peace of God in all areas of life).

His atoning work also reversed the curse due to the fall of man. The curse affects individuals through death, sickness, bondage, etc., and in turn also affects all spheres of life. Christ brought redemption to individuals, but also institutions and all spheres of life (including law, government, education, arts, business). Redemption is as broad as the sweep of sin.

God’s desire, as Jesus taught us to pray, is for His kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. We have been redeemed for a purpose. In Christ we have been restored to sonship and are now in a position to obey both the Cultural and the Evangelistic Mandates. With respect to the Cultural Mandate, God has restored us to stewardship. Through Christ we are called back to God’s original purpose—to live in His image and to “be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over . . . every living creature that moves on the ground” (Gen. 1:28). We have been restored to serving God as his vice-regent over the earth.

Nations are also affected by Christ’s redeeming work. In Matthew 28:19 Jesus told us to go and make disciples of the nations. Matthew Henry said the intention of this is to admit the nations as Christian nations. Acts 17:26 tells us that God made the nations and determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God.

Nations have duties to God. George Washington summarized well the duties the nations have to God in a Proclamation for a Day of Thanksgiving, observed on Thursday, November 26, 1789: “It is the Duty of all Nations to acknowledge the Providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his Benefits, and humbly to implore his Protection and Favor.”1

We need to see that our commission is great and goes beyond converting individuals, though that is of first importance.

Redeeming the earth

The Cultural Mandate calls us to use all our resources to express His image and likeness on the earth. Fulfilling this mandate requires us to discover truth through sciences, apply truth through technology, interpret truth through humanities, implement truth through commerce and social action, transmit truth through education and arts, and preserve truth through government and law.

Historically, Christians have led the way in each of these areas. As these men and women have been faithful to fulfill the call on their lives and utilize the talents God gave them, they have contributed greatly in taking dominion over the earth and extending God’s purposes and government in this world.

In the parable in Luke 19:11-27 Jesus instructs us in how we should live on the earth as we wait for, and assist in bringing forth, His kingdom. He told us to “do business with this until I come back” (vs. 13). The this are minas, which certainly speak of wise money usage, but in a broader sense represent the talents, skills, and abilities God has given each of us. God created us for a purpose. He wants us to work as partners with Him to take dominion over the earth by using the talents He has given us. These talents express themselves in the business or work He has called us to. Our work is a vital part of God’s plan for us and the nations. As we are faithful to labor hard and multiply what He has given us, we will be taking part in bringing forth His Kingdom on earth and being a blessing to the nations.

We can learn much in how to disciple the nations today from the examples of Christians God has used throughout history. Following are listed some Christians who have contributed to fulfilling the cultural mandate by doing business with the talents God gave them in various fields. A few of these pioneers are briefly examined so that we may learn from and be inspired by their examples.

Fulfilling the Cultural Mandate Requires Us to:

1. Discover truth through sciences

• Scientists/inventors — Johann Kepler, William Herschel, Isaac Newton, James Maxwell, Francis Bacon, Carolus Linneaus, Blaise Pascal, James Joule, Michael Faraday, John Herschel, Robert Boyle, Louis Agassiz, Lord Kelvin

James Maxwell (1831-1879), Scottish Physicist and Mathematician, reflected the proper view scientists should have when they approach the study of the universe from God’s perspective in his following prayer:

Almighty God, Who has created man in Thine own image, and made him a living soul that he might seek after Thee, and have dominion over Thy creatures, teach us to study the works of Thy hands, that we may subdue the earth to our use, and strengthen the reason for Thy service.

Isaac Newton (1642-1727), who discovered the Law of Gravity and the Laws of Motion, developed calculus and the particle theory of light, and invented the first reflecting telescope, was probably the greatest scientist of all time. He wrote more about God than science. In his Philosophy of Nature he wrote:

We are to . . . acknowledge one God, infinite, eternal, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, the Creator of all things, most wise, most just, most good, most holy. We must love him, fear him, honor him, trust in him, pray to him, give him thanks, praise him, hallow his name, obey his commandments, and set times apart for his service, as we are directed in the Third and Fourth Commandments, for this is the love of God that we keep his commandments, and his commandments are not grievous (l John 5:3).

2. Apply truth through technology

• Colonizers/Explorers — Christopher Columbus, Richard Hakluyt, The Pilgrims, Roger Williams, Thomas Hooker, William Penn, Marcus Whitman, Jason Lee, Jedidiah Smith, Johnny Appleseed

Christopher Columbus wrote in his Book of Prophecies, 1502: “It was the Lord who put into my mind, I could feel His hand upon me, the fact that it would be possible to sail from here to the Indies.”3

The person most responsible for the colonization of America by England was a minister, Richard Hakluyt. He wrote of the providential purposes of American in Discourse of Western Planting, 1584:

Wee shall by plantinge there inlarge the glory of the gospell and provide a safe and a sure place to receave people from all partes of the worlds that are forced to flee for the truthe of Gods worde.4

William Bradford, the governor of the Pilgrims for 33 years wrote and author of a history of the Pilgrims, Of Plimouth Plantation, wrote of one reason for their starting a new colony:

A great hope and inward zeal they had of laying some good foundation, or at least to make some way thereunto, for the propagating and advancing of the Gospel of the kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world.5

The founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn, said after receiving a charter for land in America: “My God that has given it to me … will, I believe, bless and make it the seed of a nation.”6

When missionaries, Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, reached the Continental Divide on July 4, 1836, they claimed the Oregon Territory for God and the United States. Rev. Spalding wrote:

They alighted from their horses and kneeling on the other half of the continent, with the Bible in one hand and the American flag in the other, took possession of it as the home of American mothers and of the Church of Christ.7

• Inventors — Johann Gutenberg, Robert Fulton, Cyrus McCormick, Samuel F.B. Morse, R.G. LeTourneau

3. Interpret truth through humanities

• Historians — William Bradford, Cotton Mather, Charles Rollin, David Ramsay, Mercy Otis Warren, Daniel Neal, George Bancroft, Noah Webster

• Authors — Geoffrey Chaucer, Lew Wallace, Daniel Defoe, John Bunyan, John Milton, Charles Dickens, John Whittier, Henry Longfellow, Samuel Coleridge

There is a statue in the United States Capitol of Lew Wallace, honored as an author and General in the Civil War. He was converted to Christianity during research for his great Christian classic, Ben Hur, one of the best sellers of all time.

• Theologians/Religious Leaders — John Wycliffe, Martin Luther, William Tyndale, John Calvin, John Knox, Cotton Mather, John Wesley, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan and Sarah Edwards are a great example of passing the torch to future generations by faithfully and educating their eleven children. Their children, in turn, passed on to future generations the vision for advancing liberty and building up their nation. A study was done of 1400 descendants of Jonathan and Sarah. Of these 13 were college presidents, 65 were professors, 100 lawyers, 30 judges, 66 physicians, and 80 holders of public office including 3 senators, 3 governors, and a vice president of the United States.21 Their training not only benefitted their children, but thousands of their descendants, and the nation at large. The seeds we plant today through education of our children (and others) have impact beyond measure in the future. After all, you can count how many seeds are in an apple, but you cannot count how many apples are in a seed.

• Political, Governmental, and Economic Philosophers — John Calvin, Samuel Rutherford, John Locke, Adam Smith, Hugo Grotius, John Wise, William Blackstone

William Blackstone (1723-1780) was an English jurist and writer of Commentaries on the Laws of England, which was the primary source for legal studies in the U.S. until this century. In this work he wrote:

Man, considered as a creature, must necessarily be subject to the laws of his Creator, for he is entirely a dependent being. . . . And consequently, as man depends absolutely upon his Maker for everything, it is necessary that he should in all points conform to his Maker’s will. This will of his Maker is called the law of nature. . . . These laws laid down by God are the eternal immutable laws of good and evil. . . . This law of nature . . . dictated by God himself, is of course superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times: no human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this.22

4. Implement truth through commerce and social action

• Businessmen — Cyrus McCormick, Cyrus Field, George Pullman, Peter Cooper, John Wanamaker, Jack Eckard

Cyrus McCormick, the inventor of the reaper, was a great example of a Christian inventor and businessman. He was a reaper in the Kingdom of God who instituted many new principles of business which reflected his Biblical view of life. He advanced civilization and destroyed famine by fulfilling his Kingdom business.

His invention of the reaper, and the ensuing business of making and selling reapers, lay the foundation for the advancement and prosperity of America, for it enabled one man to do the work of many, increasing his productivity many fold.

One biographer wrote:

He instructed the wheat-eating races how to increase the ‘seven small loaves’ so that the multitudes should be fed. He picked up the task of feeding the hungry masses – the Christly task that had lain unfulfilled for eighteen centuries, and led the way in organizing it into a system of international reciprocity.23

• Social Reformers — William Wilberforce, John Eliot, Samuel Adams, Frances Willard, Charles Finney, Francis Makemie

5. Transmit truth through education and arts

• Educators — John Harvard, John Cotton, John Witherspoon, Noah Webster, Emma Willard, William McGuffey, Booker T. Washington

Noah Webster, the father of American Education, wrote in 1836:

In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government, ought to be instructed. . . . No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people.26

6. Preserve truth through government and law

• Political and Legal Leaders — Thomas Hooker, Patrick Henry, George Mason, William Penn, John Winthrop, James Madison, Samuel Adams, John Marshall, Daniel Webster, George Washington, Abraham Kuyper

George Washington, the World’s Apostle of Liberty

One biographer wrote that “Washington was without an equal, was unquestionably the greatest man that the world has produced in the last one thousand years.” This is quite a statement. Is there justification for it? Thomas Paine wrote: “By common consent, Washington is regarded as not merely the Hero of the American Revolution, but the World’s Apostle of Liberty.”

The above statements have validity when we consider the central role that Washington played in the establishment of the United States:

• Without Washington we would not have won the American Revolution. He provided the leadership necessary to hold the troops together, even in the most difficult situations, as at Valley Forge.

• Due to Washington’s influence we did not set up a monarchy or military rule. (He rebuffed an attempt to make him King; he thwarted a military coup; he set an example of civilian rule by resigning as commander in chief.)

• We would never have completed the Constitutional Convention without Washington and his role as President of the Convention.

• We may never have set into motion our constitutional form of government, with a limited role of the President, without his example. (Washington was elected unanimously and modeled how the President was to govern.)

• Washington also set the standard for international relations in his Farewell Address.

Washington’s Christian faith was key to his character, career, and accomplishments. His faith is revealed in a Circular Letter he sent to all the Governors of the states in 1783: I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would have you, and the State over which you preside, in his holy protection . . . that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind, which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy nation.31

America set into motion a new example of civil liberty that the nations have attempted to embrace during the last two centuries. The advancement of civil liberty in the world is directly related to the establishment of liberty in America, which owes its beginnings in large part to Washington. This is why Paine called him the World’s Apostle of Liberty.

Christians have led the way in the advancement of mankind in every sphere of life. This is how it should be. Since Christians have encountered the Truth, in their hearts and minds, they should best be able to discover and apply the Truth in all areas. The world desperately needs Christians today to understand their God-given purpose and once again assume the leading role in the advancement of mankind through extending God’s truth.

Jesus told us to “go and make disciples of all the nations.” Commenting on this, Matthew Henry said that “the principal intention of this commission” is clear; it is to “do your utmost to make the nations Christian nations.” The New English Bible states that we are to “make all nations disciples.”

We can fulfill Christ’s commission to disciple the nations by using the talents and skills God has given us and doing business with them (in a Biblical manner) until He comes.

Patrick Transforms the Nation of Ireland

Patrick of Ireland was an outstanding example of a man who discipled a nation. He was a world figure; one of the very great among men; “one of the dominant personalities of world history.”32 He completely transformed a nation in his lifetime and set Ireland on its destiny. His work in Ireland was a world event. Historian Seumas MacManus writes:

All histories of all countries probably could not disclose to the most conscientious searcher another instance of such radical change in a whole nation’s character being wrought within the lifespan of one man.33

There was a complete transformation of Ireland from the time before and after Patrick. The people before Patrick were worshiping idols and “were carrying the ruthless law of the sword far over sea and land” enslaving those they encountered. After Patrick the worship of the living God was predominant throughout the nation and the Irish people “left the conquering sword to be eaten by rust, while they went far and wide again over sea and land, bearing now to the nations – both neighbouring and far off — he healing balm of Christ’s gentle words.”34

Patrick’s providential preparation is an amazing story. At the age of 15 or 16 Patrick was captured and enslaved by Irish marauders. He spent six years as a slave in Ireland during his impressionable years. He learned the language, religion, and culture and became an Irishman in many ways. Most importantly, he was converted, remembering his Christian upbringing, and had the seeds of his life work planted in him. His life of a shepherd gave him much time to pray and seek God. He eventually escaped Ireland, acting upon a vision from the Lord, and would not return for over 35 years.35

Patrick was about 58 years old when God sent him back to Ireland to fulfill his destiny. He labored about 28 years in Ireland and transformed the nation in a greater way than did any man transform any nation in history.

He worked at all levels:

• He saw untold thousands converted

• He founded 700 churches

• He trained and set in place Church leadership — 700 bishops and 3000 ministers

• He set up training centers to educate thousands

• He transformed civil government, working with kings to establish godly laws. He wrote Liber Ex Lege Moisi, which were extracts from the Laws of Moses used as the basis for civil law in Ireland.

Many other nations were impacted through those who were trained in the churches, seminaries, and schools Patrick started. The apostle to the Picts, Columba, was a product of one of these training centers.

Everyone will not be a Patrick, but we all have an important mission to fulfill. God is orchestrating all events and knows how everything fits together. We can never tell what impact one seed we plant may have in God’s great plan. So we must be faithful in every little thing. Seemingly small incidents can have great effect upon our lives and others.

As we each cultivate and use the talents and skills God has given us and fulfill our divine purpose, we will be taking part in discipling the nations and seeing His kingdom come to earth as it is in heaven.

By Stephen McDowell

End Notes

1. A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, Vol. 1, James D. Richardson, ed., New York: Bureau of National Literature, Inc., 1897.

2. James Rose, A Guide to American Christian Education, Camarillo, CA: American Christian History Institute, 1987, 455.

3. Christopher Columbus’ Book of Prophecies, reproduction of the Original Manuscript with English Translation by Kay Brigham, Fort Lauderdale: TSELF, 1991, pp. 178-179.

4. E.G.R. Taylor, editor, The Original Writings and Correspondence of the Two Richard Hakluyts, Vol. 2, London: Hakluyt Society, 1935, p. 318.

5. William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647, a New Edition of the Complete Text, with notes and an Introduction by Samuel Eliot Morison, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1952, p. 25.

6. Remember William Penn, compiled by the William Penn Tercentenary Committee, Harrisburg, Penn.: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 1945, p. 74.

7. William A. Mowry, Marcus Whitman and the Early Days of Oregon, New York: Silver, Burdett and Company, 1901, p. 72.

8. Carleton Mabee, The American Leonardo, A Life of Samuel F. B. Morse, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1943, 279.

9. Ibid., p. 275.

10. Ibid., p. 276.

11. Ibid., p. 280.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid., p. 369.

14. William J. Federer, America’s God and Country, Coppell, Tex: FAME Publishing, Inc., 1994, 98.

15. Rackham Holt, George Washington Carver, An American Biography, Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran, and Co., Inc., 1943, 226-227.

16. Ibid., p. 229.

17. Charles E. Jones, The Books You Read, Harrisburg, PA: Executive Books, 1985, 132. Quoted in Federer, p. 96.

18. Holt, p. 220.

19. Federer, p. 97.

20. James Manship, “George Washington Carver,” notes of speech, 1998.

21. William J. Petersen, Martin Luther Had a Wife, Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1983, 75.

22. Sir William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, Philadelphia: Robert Bell, Union Library, 1771, Vol. 1, 39-42.

23. Cyrus Hall McCormick, His Life and Work, Herbert N. Casson, Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., 1909, 202. For more on McCormick see Chapter 14.

24. John T. Faris, Historic Shrines of America, New York: George H. Doran, 1918, 213.

25. Ibid., p. 214.

26. Letter to David McClure, October 25, 1836. Letters of Noah Webster, Harry R. Warfel, ed., New York: Library Publishers, 1953, 453.

27. Mary-Elaine Swanson, The Education of James Madison, A Model for Today, Montgomery: The Hoffman Education Center, 1992, 53.

28. J. Lee Grady, “Journalism and the Gospel,” Providential Perspective, Nov. 1991, pp. 2-3.

29. Appletons’ Cyclopedia of American Biography, Vol. 6, edited by James Wilson & John Fiske, New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1893, 659.

30. Ibid.

31. Circular Letter Addressed to the Governors of all the States on Disbanding the Army, 1783, Old South Leaflets, No. 15.

32. Seumas MacManus, The Story of the Irish Race, New York: The Devin-Adair Co., 1967, 124.

33. Ibid., p. 126.

34. Ibid.

35. See MacManus, pp. 111 ff.


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