What Happens To Those Who Never Hear The Gospel?

What Happens To Those Who Never Hear The Gospel? By Jack Kettler

As in previous studies, definitions will be looked at along with scriptures, commentary evidence, and confessional support for the purpose to glorify God in how we live.

In this study, the answer will be stated at the beginning, and then Scriptural proof will be marshaled in support of the answer. There are those who struggle with answering this question. If a person were lost who has not heard the gospel, some would say this is not fair.

First off, there are many today and in times past who have not heard the gospel. What happens to them? Are they sinners or not? What about those who perished in the flood? Were they sinners or not? Did the pre-flood sinners hear the gospel or not?

What is natural revelation? Natural or general revelation is God speaking and making Himself known in His creation.

God has spoken to all of humanity through natural revelation:

The answer to this question is simple. Since all are sinners, they are lost whether they have heard the gospel or not. Those who have not heard the gospel will not be punished for not hearing the gospel, but for not responding to God’s testimony in nature. God has spoken clearly to all of humankind through natural revelation.

All have heard God’s voice and suppressed it:

“His handywork is seen in creation.” Moreover, “there is no pace in heaven or earth where His voice is not heard.” In the New Testament book of Romans, the apostle Paul refers to Psalm 19 and in particular 19:4. “But I say have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world” (Romans 10:18). A fallen man may try to evade this testimony, yet he cannot escape it. All humankind is guilty.

God’s natural revelation is so clear, that is why according to Romans 1:18 “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”

It can be concluded that all whether hearing the gospel or not are justly under God’s condemnation.

Is it fair?

The problem in answering the starting question is that emotions and feelings govern or interfere with interpreting the Bible to find the answer.

To answer the question one must not let experience, feelings or emotions influence the interpretation of God’s Word. God is holy and righteous and whatever He does is right simply because He does it. There is no standard higher than God is. Are you O man, going to hold God to your standard?

Think about it, holding God to your standard. That would mean your standard is higher than God is. Consider O man who would dare to be God’s counseller:

“Who hath directed the Spirit of the LORD, or being his counseller hath taught him?” (Isaiah 40:13)

“For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been his counseller?” (Romans 11:34)

“Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, what makest thou? Or thy work, He hath no hands?” (Isaiah 45:9)

“Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, why hast thou made me thus?” (Romans 9:20)

In contrast with natural revelation. Special Revelation from Article 2 of the Belgic Confession:

“Secondly, he makes himself more clearly and fully known to us by his holy and divine Word, that is to say, as far as is necessary for us to know in this life, to his glory and our salvation.”

Scriptures and commentary on the universal sinfulness of all humanity:

“And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5)

From the Pulpit Commentary on Genesis 6:5:

“Verse 5. – And God (Jehovah, which should have been rendered ‘the Lord’) saw – indicative of the long-continued patience (Calvin) of the Deity, under whose immediate cognizance the great experiment of the primeval age of the world was wrought out – that the wickedness (ra’ath; from the root raa, to make a loud noise, to rage, hence to be wicked) of man (literally, of the Adam: this was the first aggravation of the wickedness which God beheld; it was the tumultuous rebellion of the being whom he had created in his own image) was great (it was no slight iniquity, but a wide-spread, firmly-rooted, and deeply-staining corruption, the second aggravation) in the earth. This was the third aggravation; it was in the world which he had made, and not only in it, but pervading it so “that integrity possessed no longer a single corner” (Calvin). And that every imagination – yetzer, a device, like pottery ware, from yatza, to fashion as a potter (Genesis 2:7; Genesis 8:19). Cf. yotzer, a potter, used of God (Psalm 94:9, 20). Hence the fashioned purpose (ἐνθύμησις) as distinguished from the thought out of which it springs – “a distinction not generally or constantly recognized by the mental philosopher, though of essential importance in the theory of the mind” (Murphy) – of the thoughts – mahshevoth; from hashal, to think, to meditate = ἔννοια; cf. Hebrews 9:12 (T. Lewis) – of his heart – or, the heart, the seat of the affections and emotions of the mind. Cf. Judges 16:15 (love); Proverbs 31:11 (confidence); Proverbs 5:12 (contempt); Psalm 104:15 (joy). Here “the feeling, or deep mother heart, the state of soul, lying below all, and giving moral character to all” (Lewis). Cf. the psychological division of Hebrews 4:12 was only evil continually. Literally, every day. “If this is not total depravity, how can language express it?” Though the phrase does not mean “from infancy,” yet “the general doctrine” (of man’s total and universal depravity) “is properly and consistently elicited hence” (Calvin).” (1)

“The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” (Psalms 14:2, 3)

The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary captures the Psalmist’s thought on verse 3 from Psalm 14 perfectly:

“3. Filthy—literally, “spoiled,” or, “soured,” “corrupted” (Job 15:16; Ro 3:12).” (2)

“But we are as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” (Isaiah 64:6)

From Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers on Isaiah 64:6:

“(6) We are all as an unclean thing . . .—Better, as he who is unclean, scil,* like the leper of Leviticus 13:45.

Filthy rags point to that which to the Israelite was the other extremest form of ceremonial uncleanness, as in Ezekiel 36:17.

Have taken us away – scil, afar off from the light and favour of Jehovah.” (3)

* Scil is equivalent “to wit”

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9

Again from Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers on Jeremiah 17:9:

“(9) The heart is deceitful . . .—The sequence of ideas seems as follows: If the blessing and the curse are thus so plainly marked, how is it that man chooses the curse and not the blessing, the portion of the “heath in the desert” rather than that of the “tree planted by the waters”? And the answer is found in the inscrutable self-deceit of his nature blinding his perceptions of good and evil.

Desperately wicked.—Rather, incurably diseased, as in Jeremiah 15:18; Jeremiah 30:12; Jeremiah 30:15; Isaiah 17:11, and elsewhere. Wickedness is, of course, implied, but it is regarded rather as a moral taint following on the deliberate choice, than as the choice itself.” (4)

“There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” (Romans 3:11-12)

From Matthew Poole’s Commentary on Romans 3:11:

“There is none that understandeth; a more particular proof of the corruption of the soul, and the faculties thereof; and first of the mind, taken out of the forecited Psalms, which may be compared with the scriptures which speak of the ignorance and blindness of the mind, Deuteronomy 32:29 Job 32:9 Isaiah 1:3 Jeremiah 4:22 10:14.

There is none that seeketh after God, a proof of the corruption of the will, which follows also in the forecited Psalms.” (5)

From the Westminster Catechism question 60, which answers the starting question:

Q. 60. Can they who have never heard the gospel, and so know not Jesus Christ, nor believe in him, be saved by their living according to the light of nature?

A. They who, having never heard the gospel,[253] know not Jesus Christ,[254] and believe not in him, cannot be saved,[255] be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature,[256] or the laws of that religion which they profess;[257] neither is there salvation in any other, but in Christ alone,[258] who is the Savior only of his body the church.[259]

Scriptural proofs:

[253] Romans 10:14. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?

[254] 2Thessalonians 1:8-9. In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power. Ephesians 2:12. That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world. John 1:10-12. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.

[255] John 8:24. I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins. Mark 16:16. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

[256] 1Corinthians 1:20-24. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them, which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.

[257] John 4:22. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. Romans 9:31-32. But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone. Philippians 3:4-9. Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.

[258] Acts 4:12. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

[259] Ephesians 5:23. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.

In closing:

A fallen man can lay no claim on God’s favor. Because of man’s entirely corrupt nature, resulting from the fall, God is under no obligation to save anyone. Once more, what about those who have not heard the gospel? They have heard God’s testimony in nature, Psalm 19:4 and suppressed it and are awaiting God’s wrath Romans 1:18.

Historically, the people and nations who have not heard the gospel are “heathen.” The fact of those in spiritual darkness without the gospel has always been the prime motivator for missions to the heathen nations. Pray that God will give increase to the missionary zeal of the Church.

Notes:

1. H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, Genesis, Vol.1., (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company reprint 1978), p. 103.

2. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1977) p. 411.

3. Charles John Ellicott, Bible Commentary for English Readers, Isaiah, Vol.4, (London, England, Cassell and Company), p. 570.

4. Charles John Ellicott, Bible Commentary for English Readers, Jeremiah, Vol.5, (London, England, Cassell and Company), p. 63.

5. Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. 3, (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1985) p. 487.

“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: http://www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com

For more Study:

General revelation: the universal disclosure of God in nature, in providential history and in moral law within the heart (conscience), whereby all persons at all times and places gain a rudimentary understanding of the Creator and his moral demands. (Romans 1:18-20).

Special revelation: God’s self-disclosure in redemptive history and in the interpretive word of Scripture whereby He makes Himself and His truth known at specific times and to specific people. God cannot be known redemptively except as He reveals Himself to us. Jesus is the culmination of God’s self-disclosure to man and since Jesus cannot be separated from His word; the Scriptures are the ultimate form of divine revelation from God to us, for without them, we would know nothing certain about Jesus or any of the Divine Persons of the Holy Trinity.

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