By John Waddey
The question is often raised, how can God be just and yet let the ignorant soul be lost who has never heard the gospel? Because many are asking the question, a response is demanded. The nature of the question demands a Biblical solution. Philosophy and human opinion can never give a satisfactory answer. The consequences of the issue are universal and eternal, therefore Christians must find the proper answer and boldly proclaim it to all who ask.
ARE THE IGNORANT HEATHEN SINNERS?
Paul’s verdict on the whole human race is declared in Rom. 3. “They are all under sin; as it is written, there is none righteous, no not one;…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (vss.9-10,23) To the Gentile Ephesian Christians Paul writes, “And you did he make alive, when ye were dead through your trespasses and sins, wherein ye once walked according to the course of this world…among whom we also all once lived in the lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest…” (Eph. 2:1-3) Before the gospel came to the Ephesians they were in exactly the same conditions as the heathen in China today who have not heard the gospel. Thus they are dead spiritually because of their sins, they are children of wrath. In Eph.2:12, he continues by stating that when a Gentile is separated from Christ he has no hopesince he is without God. Only in Jesus can he be reconciled. Now if the primitive man, separated from Christ has no hope, what is his expectation in judgment?
Then there is Jesus’ great commission, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” (Mk. 16:15-16) Question: is the ignorant heathen included in the category “the whole creation”? If yes, and if he can be saved in his ignorance, why does he need the gospel? To argue that the primitve man is in a safe condition makes the commission of Jesus foolish. You cannot save a saved man. A man must be lost before he can be saved. You cannot save a man from freezing who lives in equatorical Africa, nor can you save a man from sin if he is safe in his condition. All creatures need the gospel to be saved because all men are lost. We have established that all men are sinners; I ask you, are they lost sinners?
WHY ARE THEY LOST?
We not above that all men are sinners and therefore lost. Now we will probe a little deeper as to their problem. Sin separates the sinner from God. (Is.59:1-2) Sin always brings a consequence. The wages of sin is death. (Rom. 6:23) Someone asks, but how can they sin without a Bible or knowledge of God’s will? First, consider the practice of idolatry, a practice that is virtually universal outside the few western nations. Paul reasons that “That which is known of God is manifest in them; for God manifested it unto them. For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse:because that knowing God, they glorified him not as God, neither gave thanks; but became vain in their reasonings… and changed the glory of the incorruptible God for the liekness of an image of corruptible man…” (Rom.1:19-23) Notice that idolatryis without excuse! It was so before Christ came, it is so today. The creation itself demands a supernatural God who is greater than man himself. No image made by man’s hands can suffice!Thus, all who engage in idolatry sin against Jehovah.
But how can they sin without the Bible, you ask? Again, we call the apostles to testify. “For when Gentiles that have not the law do by nature the things of the law, these, not having the law are the law unto themselves; in that they show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness therewith and their thoughts one with another accusing or else excusing them.” (Rom.2:14-15) Although they have no written law, yet they do have law, the law of the conscience written on their hearts. This sense of moral responsibility is universal. There is in every rational man a sense of ought and ought not. Every society has its code of moral law. No man can escape his amenity to such law. When he keeps that law his conscience approves of his conduct, when he breaks it his conscience accuses him. Even for the Christian, Paul says, “Happy is he that judgeth not himself in that which he approveth. But he that doubteth is condemned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith and whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” (Rom.14:22-23) When the heathen does what he knows to be wrong he has sinned. When he fails to live up to his knon moral duties he likewise sins. (Jas.4:17)
In addition to the above there was a point in time when the knowledge of the true God and his righteous ways was revealed to the human family. These revelations from the Patriarchal Age were to be passed down from father to son even as righteous Abraham did. (Gen.18:19) Paul points out that htose Gentiles “refused to have God in their knowledge!” (Rom.1:28)
Because of the vanity of their thinking and the darkness of their hearts they refuse to glorify Jehovah or give thanks unto him. They preferred gods of their own creation, gods like unto themselves. Because of thisGod gave up unto a reprobate mind. But their sin of rebellion and rejection had awful consequences unto their children for generations to come. Perhaps this helps us to see the significance of God’s warning in Deut.5:9. After prosecuting idolatry he says, “For I Jehovah thy God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.
Having proven that the heathen are sinners, I ask what are the consequences of it? “The wages of sin is death.” (Rom.6:23) “Your iniquities have separated between you and your God and your sins have his his face from you…” (Is.59:2) They are lostbecause they are sinners.
To some people, for God to allow the ignorant heathen to be lost seems very unjust. But we have established that they are lost because of their own personal sin. God cannot be blamed for their condition. The real question is, can God be just and save a sinner without the sinner’s obedience to the gospel? A vital theme of the gospel is that sin demands punishment. Since all men are sinners, all deserve punishment. But God so loved the race of man that he let his own Son die in their stead so that he could be just and still justify him that had faith in Jesus. (Rom. 3:26) If God elects to save some without faith in the Son, would this not be partiality since he demands it of others? Would it not be unfair to the Son who was made to die so all who believed in him could be saved, if God decided to let some unbelievers be saved? Our God is just. (Is. 45:21) He always does that which is right in judging men. (Gen.18:25)
God is just because he has made provisions to save all men. He is not willing that any perish. (2 Pet.3:9) He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. (Ezek.18:23) He gave his only son to save all sinners who would believe on him. (John 3:16) He gave the church to be as a beacon light to all men in darkness. (Phil.2:15) He gave the gospel which has the power to save all men. (Rom.1:16) He laid upon every Christian the duty of preaching that gospel to every creature. (Matt.28:19-20) God has promised, “If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching…” (John7:17) We Christians may be unjust because we have not dedicated ourselves to the great task of evangelizing the world, but our God is just. Let no man raise the question about God’s integrity in dealing with sinners!
A point overlooked in this issue is that though the Scriptures teach that even ignorant heathen sinners will be lost if they obey not the gospel (2Thess.1:7-9), they also teach that punishment will be suited to the guilt of the sinner. Jesus said, “That servant, who knew his Lord’s will, and made not ready, nor did according to his will, shall be beaten with manystripes; but he that knew not, and did things worthy of stripes shall be beaten with few stripes.” (Lk.12:47-48) This indicates that both the disobedient enlightened American with the gospel message all about him and the ignorant pagan who never saw a Bible will both be lost. However, the former shall be more severely punished for he sinned against greater light and opportunity. This is Justice!
This theory that the disadvantaged heathen can somehow be saved carries with it many serious implications. It implies Christ’s death was unnecessary. For if today’s heathen can be saved without the gospel,why could not the entire Gentile world of the first century have been similarly saved? If God could be just and excuse one, who could he not likewise excuse all? Then the Son would have been spared Calvary.
If the theory is correct, then there is great value in being an ignorant pagan with no knowledge of Jesus and the Bible, since you can be saved in the situation. That being true, it would be very cruel and unjust for Christians to take the gospel to them, since the knowledge it brought would damn their souls if not obeyed. That would place the missionary in the awkward role of being responsible for the damnation of every soul who heard his gospel message and did not obey it. Again, if ignorance will justify, then Bible translation is more deadly than smallpox. It will cause millions to become guilty of sin if they do not accept it.
If the heathen are saved, then the Word of God is wrong in all those places where it teaches they are lost. Then Jesus was mistaken in saying that all creatures needed saving since this implies that all creatures are lost. (Mk.16:15-16) Really, rather than vindicating God the theory casts a reflection over His integrity as we discussed above.
The consequences of this belief are devastating in many areas. It destroys all the motivation and urging for world evangelism. If the heathen can be saved in their ignorance, why bother with going to them. Why endure the discomforts and problems of living in strange, hostile environments and societies, if they can be saved anyway. Why sacrifice time and money that could be spent at home, if the lost are not really lost.
Why should we be concerned with Bible translations. The great amount of time, energy and money taken to produce and then circulate the Bible is totally unnecessary if the heathen can be saved without it.
This belief when held regarding the heathen, tends to grow on a man’s mind. Soon he can rationalize how God can also save the sincere but uninformed neighbor who lives next door. The last stop is a form of universalism like is seen in modern Protestantism.
In reality Satan is the author of this theory because if he can get the church to buy it, then evangelism will cease, the heathen will be left to die in their sins and be forever lost with the evil one.
Why is this strange notion so popular among modern Christians? I suspect that it is an attempt to rationalize and justify their failure to evangelize the world. If they are too busy or selfish to do this task, and the poor heathen are lost, then they are guilty of criminal negligence. But if it could be believed that really the heathen will be saved anyway, what difference does it make after all? “Let us eat, drink, and be merry, enjoy our good life of ease and our good God will fix everything up.” Do not believe it brethren. All sinners are lost and only the gospel can save them. Christians also will be lost who fail to do their part to evangelize the nations!