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Systematic Theology - Volume I
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§ 3. Insufficiency of Natural Theology.

The second extreme opinion respecting Natural Theology is, that it precludes the necessity of a supernatural revelation. The question whether the knowledge of God derived from his works, be sufficient to lead fallen men to salvation, is answered affirmatively by Rationalists, but negatively by every historical branch of the Christian Church. On this point the Greek, the Latin, the Lutheran, and the Reformed Churches are unanimous. The two former are more exclusive than the two latter. The Greeks and Latins, in making the sacraments the only channels of saving grace, deny the possibility of the salvation of the unbaptized, whether in heathen or Christian lands. This principle is so essential to the Romish system as to be included in the very definition of the Church, as given by the authoritative writers of the Papal Church. That definition is so framed as to exclude from the hope of salvation not only all unbaptized infants and adults, but all, no matter however enlightened in the knowledge of the Scriptures, and however holy in heart and life, who do not acknowledge the supremacy of the bishop of Rome.

The question as to the sufficiency of natural theology, or of the truths of reason, is to be answered on the authority of the Scriptures. No man can tell à priori what is necessary to salvation. Indeed, it is only by supernatural revelation that we know that any sinner can be saved. It is from the same source alone, we can know what are the conditions of salvation, or who are to be its subjects.

A. What the Scriptures teach as to the Salvation of Men. Salvation of Infants.

What the Scriptures teach on this subject, according to the common doctrine of evangelical Protestants is first: —

1. All who die in infancy are saved. This is inferred from what the Bible teaches of the analogy between Adam and Christ. “As by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many (οἱ πολλοί = πάντες) were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many (οἱ πολλοί = πάντες) be made righteous.” (Rom. v. 18, 19.) We have no right to put any limit on these general terms, except what the Bible itself places upon them. The Scriptures nowhere exclude any class of infants, baptized or unbaptized, born in Christian or in heathen lands, of believing or unbelieving parents, from the benefits of the redemption of Christ. All the descendants of Adam, except Christ, are under condemnation; all the descendants of Adam, except those of whom it is expressly revealed that they cannot inherit the kingdom of God, are saved. This appears to be the clear meaning of the Apostle, and therefore he does not hesitate to say that where sin abounded, grace has much more abounded, that the benefits of redemption far exceed the evils of the fall; that the number of the saved far exceeds the number of the lost.

This is not inconsistent with the declaration of our Lord, in Matthew vii. 14, that only a few enter the gate which leadeth unto life. This is to be understood of adults. What the Bible says is intended for those in all ages, to whom it is addressed. But it is addressed to those who can either read or hear. It tells them what they are to believe and do. It would be an entire perversion of its meaning to make it apply to those to whom and of whom it does not speak. When it is said, “He that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John iii. 36), no one understands this to preclude the possibility of the salvation of infants.

Not only, however, does the comparison, which the Apostle makes between Adam and Christ, lead to the conclusion that as all are condemned for the sin of the one, so all are saved by the righteousness of the other, those only excepted whom the Scriptures except; but the principle assumed throughout the whole discussion teaches the same doctrine. That principle is that it is more congenial with the nature of God to bless than to curse, to save than to destroy. If the race fell in Adam, much more shall it be restored in Christ. If death reigned by one, much more shall grace reign by one. This “much more” is repeated over and over. The Bible everywhere teaches that God delighteth not in the death of the wicked; that judgment is his strange work. It is, therefore, contrary not only to the argument of the Apostle, but to the whole spirit of the passage (Romans v. 12-21), to exclude infants from “the all” who are made alive in Christ.

The conduct and language of our Lord in reference to children are not to be regarded as matters of sentiment, or simply expressive of kindly feeling. He evidently looked upon them as the lambs of the flock for which, as the good Shepherd, He laid down his life, and of whom He said they shall never perish, and no man could pluck them out of his hands. Of such He tells us is the kingdom of heaven, as though heaven was, in great measure, composed of the souls of redeemed infants. It is, therefore, the general belief of Protestants, contrary to the doctrine of Romanists and Romanizers, that all who die in infancy are saved.

B. Rule of Judgment for Adults.

2. Another general fact clearly revealed in Scripture is, that men are to be judged according to their works, and according to the light which they have severally enjoyed. God “will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who, by patient continuance in well doing, seek for glory, and honour, and immortality, eternal life; but unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth but obey unrighteousness, indignation, and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil; of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; but glory, honour, and peace to every man that worketh good; to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile, for there is no respect of persons with God. For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law.” (Rom ii. 6-12.) Our Lord teaches that those who sinned with knowledge of God’s will, shall be beaten with many stripes; and that those who sinned without such knowledge shall be beaten with few stripes; and that it will be more tolerable in the day of judgment for the heathen, even for Sodom and Gomorrah, than for those who perish under the light of the gospel. (Matt. x. 15; xi. 20-24.) The Judge of all the earth will do right. No human being will suffer more than he deserves, or more than his own conscience shall recognize as just.

C. All Men under Condemnation.

3. But the Bible tells us, that judged according to their works and according to the light which they have severally enjoyed, all men will be condemned. There is none righteous; no, not one. The whole world is guilty before God. This verdict is confirmed by every man’s conscience. The consciousness of guilt and of moral pollution is absolutely universal.

Here it is that natural theology utterly fails. It cannot answer the question, How can man be just with God? or, How can God be just and yet justify the ungodly? Mankind have anxiously pondered this question for ages, and have gained no satisfaction. The ear has been placed on the bosom of humanity, to catch the still, small voice of conscience, and got no answer. It has been directed heavenward, and received no response. Reason, conscience, tradition, history, unite in saying that sin is death; and, therefore, that so far as human wisdom and resources are concerned, the salvation of sinners is as impossible as raising the dead. Every conceivable method of expiation and purification has been tried without success.

4. The Scriptures, therefore, teach that the heathen are “without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God.” (Eph. ii. 12.) They are declared to be without excuse, “Because, that when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God, into an image made like unto corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.” (Rom. i. 21-25.) The Apostle says of the Gentiles that they “walk in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them because of the blindness of thicir heart: who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lascivousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.” (Eph. iv. 17-19.)

5. All men being sinners, justly chargeable with inexcusable impiety and immorality, they cannot be saved by any effort or resource of their own. For we are told that “the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Be not deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor. vi. 9.) “For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” (Eph. v. 5.) More than this, the Bible teaches us that a man may be outwardly righteous in the sight of men, and yet be a whitened sepulchre, his heart being the seat of pride, envy, or malice. In other words, he may be moral in his conduct, and by reason of inward evil passions, be in the sight of God the chief of sinners, as was the case with Paul himself. And more even than this, although a man were free from outward sins, and, were it possible, from the sins of the heart, this negative goodness would not suffice. Without holiness “no man shall see the Lord.” (Heb. xii. 14.) “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John iii. 3.) “He that loveth not, knoweth not God.” (1 John iv. 8.) “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John ii. 15.) “He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me.” (1 John iv. 8.) Who then can be saved? If the Bible excludes from the kingdom of heaven all the immoral; all whose hearts are corrupted by pride, envy, malice, or covetousness; all who love the world; all who are not holy; all in whom the love of God is not the supreme and controlling principle of action, it is evident that, so far as adults are concerned, salvation must be confined to very narrow limits. It is also evident that mere natural religion, the mere objective power of general religious truth, must be as inefficacious in preparing men for the presence of God, as the waters of Syria to heal the leprosy.

D. The necessary Conditions of Salvation.

6. Seeing then that the world by wisdom knows not God; seeing that men when left to themselves inevitably die in their sins; it has “pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” (1 Cor. i. 21.) God has sent his Son into the world to save sinners. Had any other method of salvation been possible, Christ is dead in vain. (Gal. ii. 21; iii. 21.) There is, therefore, no other name whereby men can be saved. (Acts iv. 12.) The knowledge of Christ and faith in Him are declared to be essential to salvation. This is proved: (1.) Because men are declared to be guilty before God. (2.) Because no man can expiate his own guilt and restore himself to the image of God. (3.) Because it is expressly declared that Christ is the only Saviour of men. (4.) Because Christ gave his Church the commission to preach the gospel to every creature under heaven, as the appointed means of salvation. (5.) Because the Apostles in the execution of this commission went everywhere preaching the Word, testifying to all men, Jews and Gentiles, to the wise and the unwise, that they must believe in Christ as the Son of God in order to be saved. Our Lord himself teaching through his forerunner said, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” (John iii. 36.) (6.) Because faith without knowledge is declared to be impossible. “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. 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?” (Rom. x. 13-15.)

It is, therefore, as before stated, the common faith of the Christian world, that, so far as adults are concerned, there is no salvation without the knowledge of Christ and faith in Him. This has ever been regarded as the ground of the obligation which rests upon the Church to preach the gospel to every creature.

E. Objections.

To the objection that this doctrine is inconsistent with the goodness and justice of God, it may be answered: (1.) That the doctrine only assumes what the objector, if a Theist, must admit, namely, that God will deal with men according to their character and conduct, and that He will judge them according to the light which they have severally enjoyed. It is because the judge of all the earth must do right that all sinners receive the wages of sin by an inexorable law, unless saved by the miracle of redemption. In teaching, therefore, that there is no salvation for those ignorant of the gospel the Bible only teaches that a just God will punish sin. (2.) The doctrine of the Church on this subject does not go beyond the facts of the case. It only teaches that God will do what we see He actually does. He leaves mankind, in a large measure, to themselves. He allows them to make themselves sinful and miserable. It is no more difficult to reconcile the doctrine than the undeniable fact with the goodness of our God. (3.) In the gift of his Son, the revelation of his Word, the mission of the Spirit, and the institution of the Church, God has made abundant provision for the salvation of the world. That the Church has been so remiss in making known the gospel is her guilt. We must not charge the ignorance and consequent perdition of the heathen upon God. The guilt rests on us. We have kept to ourselves the bread of life, and allowed the nations to perish.

Some of the older Lutheran divines were disposed to meet the objection in question by saying that the plan of salvation was revealed to all mankind at three distinct epochs. First, immediately after the fall, to Adam; second, in the days of Noah; and third, during the age of the Apostles. If that knowledge has been lost it has been by the culpable ignorance of the heathen themselves. This is carrying the doctrine of imputation to its utmost length. It is making the present generation responsible for the apostasy of their ancestors. It leaves the difficulty just where it was.

The Wesleyan Arminians and the Friends, admitting the insufficiency of the light of nature, hold that God gives sufficient grace, or an inward supernatural light, which, if properly cherished and followed, will lead men to salvation. But this is merely an amiable hypothesis. For such universal and sufficient grace there is no promise in the Scripture, and no evidence in experience. Besides, if admitted it does not help the matter. If this sufficient grace does not actually save, if it does not deliver the heathen from those sins upon which the judgment of God is denounced, it only aggravates their condemnation. All we can do is to adhere closely to the teachings of the Bible, assured that the Judge of all the earth will do right; that although clouds and darkness are round about Him, and his ways past finding out, justice and judgment are the habitation of his throne.

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