Synod condemns those . . .
IX Who teach that the cause for God's sending the gospel to one people rather than to another is not merely and solely God's good pleasure, but rather that one people is better and worthier than the other to whom the gospel is not communicated.
For Moses contradicts this when he addresses the people of Israel as follows: Behold, to Jehovah your God belong the heavens and the highest heavens, the earth and whatever is in it. But Jehovah was inclined in his affection to love your ancestors alone, and chose out their descendants after them, you above all peoples, as at this day (Deut. 10:14-15). And also Christ: Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! for if those mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes (Matt. 11:21).
The last major error to be refuted by the Canons (under the first head of doctrine) is that which teaches that the preaching of the gospel and the response to it in a particular time and place, is not ordained by God. It is not as if the acceptance of the good news came about because some of those nations who heard it are wiser, more noble, or that some particular peoples are more disposed to believe than others, when the gospel first comes to them. No, Scripture is clear--all people are equally sinful, and equally resistant to the message of God's free grace in Christ.
The error in question opens the door to a number of related problems. One, which comes to mind, is a subtle form of racism, in which it has been argued that the “heathen nations” are heathen, not because of human sinfulness which effects all peoples and nations equally, but because of the color of a particular people’s skin (the supposed "curse of Ham"), or because of a people’s ethnic derivation (under a national curse), geographical locale (a cursed region), or because of a supposed cultural inferiority (a land which has been pagan). This kind of thinking led to the view that the nations of Northern Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries, and the United States in the 19th and 20th, were somehow essential (not because of providence, but because of their supposed superior piety) to the advance of the kingdom of God. Sadly, we vestiges of this today in the “Christian America” notion, in which some of our contemporaries act as though the mission and purpose of the United States is somehow essential to the advance of God's kingdom.
Of course, God has used the heirs of the Reformation to evangelize much of the world, and those of us with Northern European heritage can indeed testify to the covenant faithfulness of God, as many of us can trace the faith of our fathers back for generations. But there are two things we must not forget. The first is that Northern Europe was at one time utterly pagan, until evangelized by Mediterranean peoples in the early centuries of the last millennium. Second, we must realize that times have changed. There are nearly as many Reformed Christians in Nigeria as there are in the United States. There are more Korean-speaking Reformed Christians in Southern California than there are those who can trace their ancestry to the Netherlands and Scotland combined. Ironically, it is now the nations of Northern Europe and the United Stares that experience more cultural darkness than many of the nations of the third world. How does this relate to Arminianism?
The Arminian charge has always been that if the Reformed view of election is actually taught in Scripture, then what incentive would there to evangelize the nations or support the cause of missions since God has already decreed who will believe and who will not? But this objection boomerangs on the Arminian, as the Canons note, because this implies that those who accept the gospel (on the Arminian scheme) are able to use their powers and advantages that God has given them, and that those who do not accept the gospel and who do not take advantage of these powers, must somehow be more wicked, suffer from a greater depravity, or perhaps, suffer from a greater ignorance of the things of God, than do those who do take advantage of these things.
After all–says the Arminian–believers come to faith, persevere, and then live holy lives, because they saw the need to utilize the grace of God to their advantage when others did not. Given fallen human nature, it is only natural that this would work its way into western expansionism and manifest destiny, since white Europeans believed in greater numbers than did native Americans, or other non-Europeans. There is a tendency to see the hope of the gospel as residing in the "goodness" of those who did indeed use what God has given them to the greatest possible advantage.
Not so with the doctrine of election set forth in the Canons. The Scriptures teach that all the nations of the earth are the fallen children of Adam. There is no people on earth who ever embraced the gospel because they were somehow in a better position to take advantage of the grace of God, humanly speaking. People believed the message only because God was gracious unto them by so inclining their hearts and granting them faith! That is why we have missionaries after all--to go and preach the gospel through which God creates faith and saves his elect.
In those instances where God did this in great numbers, of course, a culture or a nation will receive tremendous benefits as believers in Christ then become salt and light in the city of man. But the only reason that any have believed and then become salt and light in their own particular culture, is because God graciously and sovereignly rescued them from their sin through the preaching of the gospel!
As Paul puts it so clearly in Romans 10:12-15, God calls his elect to faith through the preaching of the gospel—“For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” Preachers are sent, God grants faith.
Therefore, God has not only ordained the ends (who will be saved), he has also ordained the means by which his elect will be called to faith (the preaching of the gospel). In the Reformed view it is God who receives the glory when people come to Christ (especially in those cases when many in a nation become believers), and not the individuals who come to faith. This means that no individual or nation can take credit for that which rightly belongs to God.
What else can we do then, but to take the gospel to the nations so that men and women—God’s elect—will embrace the savior and come to faith? God has commanded this, and through this he will bring glory and honor to himself!