Serampore Reflections: Christ, the Grand Means of Conversion

This is the third of several posts reflecting upon the Serampore Form of Agreement, signed in 1805. Click here to read the first reflection and here for the second.

William Carey and his first convert, Krishna Pal

In addition to the Serampore missionaries’ emphasis on the value of souls as well as their willingness to forsake all for the sake of the gospel, their singular emphasis on preaching Christ should remind each of us that salvation is found in no other name. There may be other messages profitable to our hearers—there may be other causes worthy of our time and attention—but there are not other messages with the power to save.

The doctrine of Christ’s expiatory death and all-sufficient merits has been, and must ever remain, the grand means of conversion. This doctrine, and others immediately connected with it, have constantly nourished and sanctified the church. Oh! that these glorious truths may ever be the joy and strength of our own souls, and then they will not fail to become the matter of our conversation to others.

Added to this emphasis is their recognition that once they have led a soul to Christ, they have a responsibility to continue investing in that person’s holiness and growth in Christ. They wrote, “We must be willing to spend time with them daily, if possible.” The task of the missionary is not mere cross-cultural evangelism; the Great Commission instructs us to make disciples, not mere converts.

In so doing, the disciple is encouraged to grow in his knowledge of the Scripture and in his obedience to it. As he studies the Word of God and grows in his obedience, he is to be encouraged to cultivate his spiritual gifts.

The Serampore missionaries understood, “it is only by means of native preachers that we can hope for the universal spread of the gospel through this immense continent. . . . Let us therefore use every gift, and continually urge on our native brethren to upon their countrymen the glorious gospel of the blessed God.” As such, the missionaries’ aim was not the perpetuation of their responsibilities in India, but rather the development and maturation of their hearers to the point that they were able to establish autonomous churches in which indigenous pastors were called.

And in support of each of these endeavors—the conversion and discipleship of their hearers, the development of their spiritual gifts and the establishment of autonomous churches with indigenous leadership—the missionaries gave themselves unceasingly to the acquisition of languages and the translation of the Bible into native languages.

Though many of us reading this post will never find ourselves ministering in Serampore and living in India, the Serampore Form of Agreement contains a number of helpful reminders.

May the Lord remind each of us . . .

  • to set an infinite value upon men’s souls.
  • to acquaint ourselves with the snares which hold the minds of the people.
  • to abstain from whatever deepens the lost’s prejudice against the gospel.
  • to watch for every chance of doing the people good.
  • to preach “Christ crucified” as the grand means of conversion.
  • to esteem and treat those of every race always as our equals.
  • to guard and build up “the hosts that may be gathered.”
  • to cultivate their spiritual gifts, ever pressing upon them their missionary obligation.
  • to labor unceasingly in biblical translation.
  • to give ourselves without reserve to the Cause, “not counting even the clothes we wear our own.”

Adjunct Professor.
PhD in Theology.
Head Barista at Caffeinated Theology.
Just give me Jesus . . . and coffee.

Noah’s Warnings to Christians

Noah received two of the highest accolades ever given to a mere mortal in Scripture. God’s Word describes him as, “blameless in his generation” and as having “walked with God” for 601 years (Gen 6:9)! Yet, as Martin Lloyd Jones once said, “The best of men are men at best.”

Despite the impeccable record of his early years, his later years provide a much-needed warning for each of us. Chapter 9 reads, “Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent” (Gen 9:20–21). His sin does not remain his only, but infects his family. “And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside” (Gen 9:22).

What warnings does the second part of Noah’s story give us?

Noah Took the Focus off of God and Placed it onto Himself

In Noah’s story (Gen 6:9–9:17), God is the subject. Noah’s role is fairly passive for most of the four chapters in Genesis. In fact, if you wanted to make a movie about Noah that was actually based on the biblical account, I imagine the storyboards would say something like this: God speaks, Noah obeys, earth floods, and rainbow appears. But in Genesis 9:18, the roles are altered and God becomes the passive character. He never takes the centerstage again in Noah’s story. The focus of Noah’s story changed.

Generally speaking, that best describes Noah’s sin—his life became entirely self-focused. I don’t think he ever intended it to happen, but little by little, Noah removed God from the central place in his life’s story. Let’s not be shy on this point: we are all susceptible to this. We can minister to the glory of God or we can glory in the ministry of ourselves. Make no mistake, though, we can only serve one master. We must make our choice daily. Is God in the spotlight or have I demanded that it be refocused on me?

Noah Toyed with the Line between Pleasure and Sin

More specifically, the narrative turns to Noah planting a vineyard. God has no problem with this in itself. But the line between Noah enjoying the fruit of his labor and his falling into drunkenness wasn’t clear to Noah. And the same is true for each of us as well. We are all prone to yield to temptation and fall into sin.

How much worm can a fish swallow before it’s hooked? Pleasure always entices us to ask the wrong questions. A reputation built over the course of a lifetime can be destroyed by a momentary pleasure. It’s crucial that we heed James’s warning: “each person is tempted when, by his own evil desires, he is dragged away and enticed” (James 1:14). Guard yourself against sin by pursuing godliness and fleeing temptation.

Noah’s Sin Affected his Family

I’m not sure what is more disheartening, Noah succumbing to vice or his sins infecting his family. Noah has only one monologue in the recorded play of his life. “Cursed be Canaan,” he states, “the lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers” (Gen 9:25). Like a wave crashing into sand castle on the shore, sin eroded the foundations of his family.

Noah’s failure reminds us that sin always poisons the spiritual wells from which our children must drink. Let us not be fooled; holiness and sin cannot walk hand in hand. Holiness provides a clarity for our walk with God which the insobriety of sin can never stumble upon.

Let us heed Noah’s warning. We are all capable of running the race well only to stumble at the end. Keep the spotlight on God in your ministry and in your life. Guard your heart from sinful temptation and protect your family by pursuing holiness.

Pastor Summerville First Baptist Married to Danielle, father of three, PhD student at SWBTS, MDiv 2012 SWBTS, BA Theatre OSU.