Read Amos 3:1, 2 and Luke 12:47, 48
1. THE OBJECTOR STATES, “THE DOCTRINE OF HEll IS A CRUEL DOCTRINE, FOIt IT TEACHES THAT GOD CASTS INTO THE DEPTHS OF HELL COUNTLESS INNOCENT PAGANS WHO HAVE NEVER HEARD THE GOSPEL.”
a. “Into the depths of hell?” The objector is forgetting that there are degrees of punishment in hell. According to Leviticus 26: 28, those covenant-children who refuse to walk in the covenant-way will be punished “seven times” for their sins. Amos 3:2 teaches that very severe judgments will be visited upon Israel because, though specially privileged, it has nevertheless turned its back upon Jehovah. Luke 12:47, 48, indicates that those who, having known the way, have not walked in it will be severely lashed, while those who have not known the way and have deserved a beating will receive much lighter punishment. Romans 2:12–16 proves that while those who have sinned without the law will perish without the law, those who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. And Hebrews 10:29 speaks of sorer punishment for those who have trodden under foot the Son of God than for those who have set at nought the law of Moses. (See Matthew 11:20–24; Luke 10:12–15; 11:31, 32.)
The fact that the degree of light which a person has received will make a difference is the teaching of Scripture throughout. This does not mean that those who sinned in a state of relative ignorance are completely without guilt. But it does mean that a just God does not leave out of account the privileges and opportunities which a person has enjoyed, or the lack of these advantages. See also Luke 23:34; Acts 3:17; and I Timothy 1:13.
Hence, when anyone states that God casts “into the depths of hell” those who have lived and died in the blindness of heathendom, he is saying something that is contrary to Scripture. Not the blind heathen but “the sons of the kingdom” are the ones who, because of their disobedience, will be cast into outer darkness (Matthew 8:12).
b. “Innocent pagans?” The objector forgets that even these blind heathen are by no means innocent. Below are some samples of wickedness that were reliably reported to me by missionaries. Note that word missionaries. It implies that the people among whom they performed their labors were no longer completely in darkness. Therefore, if even among them conditions were as reported, how much more so among those entirely unreached?
Dishonesty: “I am sorry that I cannot . come to the meeting. You see, my mother-in-law died, and I must attend the funeral.” Fact subsequently discovered: the mother-in-law had died and had been buried years ago. The same missionary related to me scores of similar instances of dishonesty, some of them almost unbelievable.
Cruelty. “Ashamed of myself? Why should I be? She disobeyed me, therefore I punish her.” The missionary found this man’s wife hanging head-down from the branch of a tree. Slavery, torture, cannibalism, infanticide, sodomy, and many other crimes abound among the so-called “innocent” heathen. Basic to all is the fact that their state is that of condemnation in Adam (Romans 5:12, 17, 18 ). By nature all men are children of wrath, sold under sin, lying in the evil one (Ephesians 2:3; Romans 7:14; I John 5:19).
Rejecting God. “I hate your God.” Thus spoke this heathen when for the first time he heard the voice of God’s messenger describing to him the God of justice and of love, as revealed in Holy Writ. And does not Romans 1:18–32 teach that the heathen rebelliously suppress and pervert the truth? Be sure to read that entire paragraph—verses 18–32—in order to be cured of the notion that the Gentiles are “innocent.”
2. THE OBJECTOR CONTINUES, “NOT ALL THE HEATHEN AIUi WICKED. THERE ARE GENTILES WHO, THOUGH THEY HAVE NOT THE LAW, DO BY NATURE THE THINGS OF THE LAW (Romans 2:14). WILL NOT THESE BE SAVED THOUGH THEY NEVER HEARD THE GOSPEL?”
It is true, indeed, that the glimmerings of natural light whereby man shows some regard for virtue and for good outward behavior are far more evident in some than in others. But these glimmerings are insufficient to bring even the best Gentile to a saving knowledge of God and to true conversion. God sees not only the outward deed but also the heart of man. In his heart man is proud of his good deeds. Thus he shows that he is not even able to use aright the light which he has received. AIl his “righteousnesses” are like a polluted garment. It is true, to be sure, that some heathen are far more wicked than others. For the latter (that is, for those “others”) hell’s punishment wiIl be lighter. But salvation is based on grace, not on works. If anyone doubts the fact that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation, let him study the following passages: John 3:16; 5:12; 14:6; 15:5; Acts 4:12; Romans 3:23; and I Corinthians 3:1l. Acts 16:14 and Romans 10:12–15 show how man arrives at faith in Christ.
3. THE OBJECTOR PRESENTS A FINAL OBJECTION, “IF SALVATION DEPENDS ON HEARING THE GOSPEL, WHY DOES NOT GOD CAUSE EVERYBODY TO HEAR IT?”
One might add, And why does not God in his almighty providence grant riches, health, and happiness to everybody even in this present life? Says Dr. H. Bavinck, “Round about us we observe so many facts which seem to be unreasonable, so…many unaccountable calamities, such an uneven and inexplicable distribution of destiny, and such an enormous contrast between the extremes of joy and sorrow, that anyone reflecting on these things is forced to choose between viewing this universe as if it were governed by the blind will of an unbenign deity, as is done by pessimism or, upon the basis of Scripture and by faith, resting on the absolute and sovereign, yet—however incomprehensible—wise and holy will of Him who will one day cause the full light of heaven to dawn upon these mysteries of life” (The Doctrine Of God, p. 396). See Romans 9:20; then also Job 11:7 and Isaiah 55:8, 9. One fact is certain: man, lost in Adam, and adding to his sin every day, has no inherent right either to salvation or to hearing the way of salvation. If he hears it, that is grace. The plight of the heathen should lead not to a criticism of God but to unabating zeal to obey his command to proclaim the gospel to all the nations. Without the saving knowledge of Christ the Gentiles perish (Romans 1:32; 2:12; Revelation 2:18). “Rescue the perishing” (John 3:16).
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
A. Questions Answered in the Outline
1. What is the objector’s first argument?
2. How do you answer it?
3. What is his second argument?
4. How do you answer that?
5. What is his third argument, and how do you answer that?
B. Additional Questions
1. Discuss the statement, “The heathen are hungry for the gospel.”
2. Do you believe that it is impossible for any adult heathen to be saved unless he hears the gospel preached? Cannot God reveal the gospel to him in a dream or in a vision or perhaps even in some other way?
3. Do you believe that Socrates and Plato were saved?
4. Is it right to attempt a “theodicy”?
5. What relation has this Outline to the urgency of doing mission-work? How can we bind this great cause upon the hearts of our children and young people?