In studying the attributes of God, we conclude that God has natural and moral attributes. Besides being omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, He is also holy, good, and just.
A just God! God always does what is right and good toward all men. It is true, we cannot understand God and our minds cannot grasp the greatness and power of God. Nor can we understand all that is involved in the fall of man or the curse of God upon the human family because of Adam's sin. Even though these are mysteries that we cannot understand, we are assured by the word of God, as well as logic, that God is just and has no respect of persons in assuring all have opportunity to be saved (Acts 10:34-35).
When the subject of salvation comes up, it cannot be understood without some consideration of the doctrine of total depravity. Some scriptural references that John Wesley used to support this theory were Genesis 6:5, Psalms 14:1-3, and Romans 3:10-18; the sum of which is that the heart of man is only evil continually. Of course, this is the natural unregenerate man.
The Wesleyan view of total depravity is that an unregenerate man can do nothing to save himself, unless he is aided and led by the Holy Spirit; that man left to himself would never seek after God and of course, never find Him. God then must take the initiative and call the sinner to repentance or he would not and could not call upon God (John 6:44-45).
This can be resisted or accepted (Acts 2:37-41; 7:51). Even repentance and faith are impossible without the help of God (Acts 11:18; Ephesians 2:8; Hebrews 11:1).
Why are not all men saved? Does God call everyone? If He does why do some resist and others respond favorably? It would have to be that God not only calls the sinner to repentance, but enables that sinner, by the power of His Spirit restraining the depravity of his soul, to make a choice for God. This is called "the day of salvation" (Isaiah 55:6).
We speak of sinners in this state as under conviction or "under the law" (Acts 2:37-38). While in this special condition a sinner is greatly concerned about his soul and during this time he is enabled by the Holy Spirit to repent and believe the gospel. He may, however, choose to resist the Spirit and by so doing, the Spirit my begin to withdraw from him leaving him lost in his sins, from which he has not desire to forsake until the Spirit once again deals with him. Accordingly, our will is only "free" while the Spirit is offering us salvation.
The Wesleyan view of total depravity is, then, a somewhat modified form of the Calvinistic version, which teaches that God's offer of salvation is irresistible and irrevocable and only for the "elect."
The Bible, as well as Wesley, teaches that all men may be saved; that the atonement is universal. The Lord is "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). God, then, must offer salvation to all people. It is obvious that all men do not hear the gospel message about Jesus Christ, His life, death, and resurrection.
How can the atonement be said to be universal, when it is limited to only those who have heard the gospel message? We understand that infants and mentally handicapped are saved by the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, even though they do not actually, knowingly believe explicitly in the gospel message. Yet who doubts that they are saved?
The Scriptures declare, "For as by one man's disobedience [Adam's] many [all mankind] were made sinners; so by the obedience of one [Jesus Christ] shall many [all mankind] be made righteous" (Romans 5:19). The "many" that were made sinners and the "many" that were made righteous would have to be the same ones. The previous verse (verse 18) makes this exceedingly clear.
A logical extension of this truth is that even infants and mentally handicapped persons would all be doomed to everlasting punishment, were it not for the merits of Christ's death and resurrection. The whole human family is under the curse of God, but for the grace of Jesus Christ removing this curse from all men!
The only logical conclusion that fits the Bible is that all men are saved through the merits of Christ's blood until such a time in their life they knowingly, deliberately reject God's just claim on their lives. "For there is not respect of persons with God" (Romans 2:11; Acts 10:34-35).
There is not shortage of biblical illustrations of people who were, no doubt, accepted with God before they heard the gospel message. I mean New Testament examples under the gospel dispensation.
The most obvious one is Cornelius. He was devout (Acts 10:2). He feared God with his whole house, gave much alms, and prayed to God always. His prayers and giving were a memorial before God (verse 4). He was a just man (verse 22). Peter in verses 34-35 tells him that he is accepted with God and preaches Christ to him (verses 37-47). Upon believing this message, Cornelius became a New Testament Christian and received the Holy Ghost and Christian baptism.
Apollos, an eloquent preacher, mighty in the Scriptures (Acts 18:24), instructed in the way of the Lord, knew only John's baptism, obviously had not received Christian baptism, and was not a New Testament Christian at that time. After Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained the way of God more clearly to him, after which he mightily convinced the Jews from the Scriptures that Jesus was Christ (Acts 18:28).
Lydia was also a woman of prayer who loved God before she heard the gospel message. Acts 16:14 states that she worshipped God before she heard the gospel. When she heard the message, she believed, was baptized, and became a Christian (Acts 16:15).
God told Paul that He had much people in corinth even before the gospel was preached to them (Acts 18:9-10). Paul persuaded the Jews and proselytes to continue in the grace of God (Acts 13:42-43). This was apparently before they had fully believed in Christ. They seemed only to be awakened to Christ. Acts 13:42-52 is interesting reading.
It would seem from these accounts and from Romans 2:14-15 that even those who have not heard the gospel message can come to a saving knowledge of God before they hear the gospel message. "For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified" (Romans 2:13). "For when the Gentiles [heathen] which have not the law [Bible] do by nature [i. e. God's Spirit revealing Himself through nature, Romans 1:19-20] the things contained in the law [Bible]; these having not the [written] law are a law unto themselves [Romans 2:15] which show the work of the law written in their hearts" (Romans 2:13).
This brings us to an important question. Why preach the gospel to the heathen or anyone else? We conclude that since the atonement is universal, those who rebel against God as they know and understand Him are lost. God has commanded all men everywhere to repent. The first message to lost people should be repentance toward God and then faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ.
This preaching under the power of the Holy Spirit will cause men to repent who would not otherwise repent. This is not to say that they could not be saved if they had not heard, but that they probably would not. All men have the opportunity to be saved, but can we say all men have an equal opportunity to be saved? I think not. This is not to say there are many roads to heaven and all sincere people go there. There is only one Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. All men who are saved are saved through Him. Let us therefore preach the gospel to all as if they have never heard. Which of us know whether they will repent or not?!
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