The Westminster Larger Catechism (1647) in its exposition of the Lord’s Prayer (Q. 191), said, “In the second petition (which is, Thy kingdom come,) acknowledging ourselves and all mankind to be by nature under the dominion of sin and Satan; we pray, that the kingdom of sin, and Satan, may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fullness of the Gentiles brought in.” The Westminster Standards shaped the piety of generations of British, North American, and Australian Reformed Christians, leading many into intercession for the world.
Reformed, experiential Christianity birthed the pioneer missionary efforts of men such as John Eliot (1604–1690), David Brainerd (1718–1747),William Carey (1761–1834), Adoniram Judson(1788–1850), and John G. Paton (1824–1907). This mission effort was small and struggling until it exploded into the modern missionary movement begun by Carey at the end of the eighteenth century. Persecution from Roman Catholic authorities in Europe, numerous wars, the need to first evangelize homelands in Europe and North America, the deaths of missionaries by disease and martyrdom, and the slowness of the church to respond to the Great Commission all hindered the development of Reformed missions. However, from the start, Reformed and Puritan Christians fervently prayed for worldwide evangelization and revival. In some respects, the Great Awakening and today’s missionary movement may be regarded as an answer to centuries of persevering prayer. What motivated the Reformed and the Puritans to pray for the world? What guided their prayers for missions? This series seeks to provide answers to these questions.
The Method of Missionary Prayer
In all their ways, the Puritans were orderly, that is, they governed their lives by principles. This was so even in their prayers for the spread of the gospel in the world. While the Puritans resisted prescribed forms and relied on the Holy Spirit’s help for prayer, they also embraced methods of promoting and guiding such prayer.
A Passionate Missionary Tradition: The Westminster Standards
The first Puritan method was to build missionary prayer into the public worship of the local church. The Westminster Assembly, famous for its Confession of Faith and two catechisms, also produced the Directory for the Public Worship of God(1644). The Directory instructed that the minister, prior to delivering his sermon, was to lead the people in prayer to confess sins and to pray for grace through Christ Jesus. He was also instructed
to pray for the propagation of the gospel and kingdom of Christ to all nations, for the conversion of the Jews, the fullness of the Gentiles, the fall of Antichrist [the Roman Catholic papacy], and the hastening of the coming of our Lord; for the deliverance of the distressed churches abroad, from the tyranny of the Antichristian faction, and from the cruel oppositions and blasphemies of the Turk [the Muslim power]; for the blessing of God upon all the Reformed churches, especially upon the Churches and Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland…and for our plantations [colonies] in the remote parts of the world.
The Puritans were thus concerned that public worship regularly include prayer for the cause of Christ throughout the world, including world missions and the relief of the persecuted church suffering in Europe under Roman Catholicism and in the Middle East under Islam. Similarly, the Westminster Larger Catechism (1647) in its exposition of the Lord’s Prayer (Q. 191), said, “In the second petition (which is, Thy kingdom come,) acknowledging ourselves and all mankind to be by nature under the dominion of sin and Satan; we pray, that the kingdom of sin, and Satan, may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fullness of the Gentiles brought in.”The Westminster Standards shaped the piety of generations of British, North American, and Australian Reformed Christians, leading many into intercession for the world.
Thomas Boston (1676–1732) preached a series of sermons on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. In his sermon on “Thy kingdom come,” Boston echoed the language of the Directoryand the Larger Catechism. He said this petition in the Lord’s Prayer teaches us that the duty and disposition of God’s children is to desire His kingdom to come in, destroying the power of sin and Satan over men’s hearts. “Every saint prays it down,” he wrote. He said we are to pray for “the conversion of sinners to God, 2 Thess. 3:1, ‘Pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified.’ Converts are the church’s children, for which she travails in birth, in her ministers and members, as naturally longing for the conversion of souls, as a travailing woman to see the fruit of her womb.” This petition also requires us to pray for God to overcome Satan’s opposition to the preaching and power of the gospel “and make the gospel triumph over them all.” Likewise, Boston said, God’s children must desire and pray for “the propagation of the gospel through the world, that it may be carried through all nations…that Christ may be King in all the earth.”
This pattern of praying was not merely a public formality, for it engraved itself upon the hearts of the people. The last words of English housewife Elizabeth Heywood (d. 1661) were a prayer “for the church of God, that the Jews might be converted, and that the gospel might be preached to the remainder of the Gentile nations.”May God make prayer for the nations so integral to our church’s worship that it will even be included among our own last wishes.