What About Those Who Have Never Heard?

As we consider the importance of the gospel, inevitably the question about the plight of those who have never heard the gospel comes up.  J.O. Sanders address this question in chapter twelve of his book, Spiritual Discipleship. Here is what he has to say:

Paul draws no distinction between those who have heard the gospel and those who have not. All are equally lost because all are equally sinful. God has “concluded all under sin” (Gal. 3:22), and this fact enables Him to offer mercy to all who will receive it.

This is not the place to enlarge upon this subject, the implications of which are so painful and on which there are conflicting views, but those who hold universalistic views have some questions to answer.

1. Was the Lord’s statement “I am the way…. No one cometh to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6), relative or absolute? Can men come to a Father of whom they have never heard?

2. When Jesus said, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5), did He have unrevealed exceptions in mind? Are pagans automatically born again without their consent?

3. What did Paul mean when he reminded the Ephesian Christians of their condition as heathen and said, “Remember, that … ye were without Christ … have no hope, and without God in the world”? (Ephesians 2:12; emphasis added).

4. Is there scriptural warrant for saying that the names of the heathen are automatically inscribed in the Book of Life (Revelation 20:12)? If so, would not that rather argue for not giving them the gospel, lest they reject it as so many do?

5. Was John deluded when he wrote that the portion of those who practiced magic arts (witchcraft) and all idolaters will be in the fiery lake of burning sulphur (Revelation 21:8)?

6. What did Paul mean when he posed the four devastating questions of Romans 10:13–15?

“Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved,” he announced.

“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?

“And how shall they preach, except they be sent?”

Was he just indulging in heartless casuistry, or is there an answer?

These Scriptures and others, on the face of them, seem to present a prima facie case for the lost state of unevangelized pagans. If the salvation of lost men and women is so serious that it demanded the sufferings of Christ on the cross, then how serious is their condition and how urgent should be our endeavor to relieve it?

Other Scriptures, of course, make clear that the responsibility of those who have not heard the gospel is immeasurably less than that of those who have heard and rejected it. In the light of Calvary, we can rest in the assurance that “the Judge of all the earth [will] do right” (Genesis 18:25).

Sanders, J. O. (2017). Spiritual leadership, spiritual discipleship, spiritual maturity set of 3 sanders books. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

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