The following note accompanying the subjoined article, and addressed to the Editor, shews the occasion and manner of its preparation.
"Being by invitation present, a few evenings since, at a weekly exercise of one of the societies connected with the Western Baptist Theological Institute [Covington, KY], near Cincinnati, I was so deeply interested in the subject of discussion that I take the liberty of giving a synopsis of the manner it was treated by the young gentlemen, for your Missionary Magazine. Its relevancy must be obvious; but whether it is otherwise entitled to a place in your invaluable journal, you must be the judge.
"The question was; Can the heathen be saved without the gospel? The speakers did not appear to be arranged on affirmative and negative sides; but each gave his views of the subject generally, presenting what in his opinion sustained the affirmative, and what might be deemed to militate against it. Each adduced at discretion direct arguments, offering and answering objections at will. The exercise was not, properly speaking, a debate, but a united investigation of the subject, in which each contributed what he could to the common stock of information.
"I have no intention, if I could, of following the order of the investigation. My design is merely to give results. In these, at the close of the exercise, there was manifestly unanimity."
1. It was deemed evident, that the heathen are under the moral government of God: that they have, in common with all men, a moral constitution, and that they have sufficient knowledge of their duty to render them accountable: that although there are abundant means of knowledge within their reach, which they have no disposition to improve, yet, indisposed as they are, there is forced upon their understandings and consciences light sufficient, if improved, to make them unspeakably more virtuous than they arc. Several of the young gentlemen gave, in confirmation of this doctrine, very judicious and lucid expositions of those familiar passages in the first and second chapters of Romans. "The invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and godhead; so that they are without excuse." Also, "The Gentiles show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also hearing witness," &c.
To this express teaching of the word of God, it was added, that the heathens' treatment of one another shows that they consider themselves accountable. They mutually act on the principle that many duties, at least, are known, and that thus far they are to be held responsible.
2. The accountability of the heathen being thus established, the inquiry arose; Is not the same light, &c., which is sufficient to render a creature accountable, equally sufficient to make him an acceptable worshipper of God? Might it not lead him to repentance, and so convert him?
On this there was considerable discussion, and at first, in some of the speakers I thought, some confusion. But the darkness gradually gave way, und the idea became apparently simple, and well sustained by the general teachings of the scriptures, that the means necessary to render a man accountable would enable him to meet the demands of the divine law, provided he had a right disposition of heart. If in all respects he were susceptible to right religious impressions,
and he sincerely hungered for truth and righteousness, there would be no obstacle to his working out his own salvation. If we except here an undue tendency on the part of some of the speakers to reason beyond what is revealed, I confess that my pleasure was great in observing the general conviction on which the minds of the members seemed finally to settle and rest; — that the heathen might, one and all, were their hearts right, — were not their hearts "fully set in them to do evil," "not willing to retain God in their knowledge," — arrive at salvation with the limited means they possess. As their accountability cannot exceed their privileges, so nothing but a spirit of obedience is wanting to make their condition safe.
3. But it was admitted by all that this spirit of obedience is wanting, and universally: that however ignorant the heathen are of the attributes of the glorious God, yet their indisposition to worship him as such is even greater. None doubted that the declaration, "The carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be," is of universal application, extending to every member of the human family. On this point no time was spent. It was granted with equal readiness, that no influence short of that of God's Spirit could excite in the heart of the heathen, or of any one else, this spirit of obedience, or rightly dispose a heart for the worship of a holy God.
4. The question was finally reduced in substance to this form: As men must be converted before they can, that is, will obey God, or seek after spiritual life, is there any evidence that the Divine Spirit ever exerts its saving influences where the gospel is not preached? There can be no doubt of the sufficiency of their religious intelligence, to be convened, but does the Spirit ever employ, as the instrument of regeneration, truth from which the doctrine of a Mediator is excluded? There were, it was said, many pious persons before the advent of Christ, — Abraham and his spiritual seed were true worshippers; — but they, it is obvious, had a knowledge of a Savior to come, and trusted in him. It was believed that there were, in early times, those scattered through the heathen world, who might be pious, — of whom Job was a striking instance. Balaam, though belonging to an idolatrous nation, understood much of the true God and of the promised Messiah. He knew enough of the gospel to save him, had it not been for his covetousness. Others similarly situated may have believed and have been saved. The ideas and hopes of a Savior, doubtless, faded slowly from the minds of the heathen world. It is plain, therefore, that all known instances of piety previous to the coming of Christ, may have been the result of the doctrines connected with his anticipated mission to this world. Cornelius, to whom Peter preached the gospel, as he was a Jewish proselyte, doubtless expected the promised Deliverer. The apostle assured Cornelius that He had come, and that the promised Spirit had been poured out. It was agreed that no well authenticated instances of conversion among the heathen had ever been discovered by modern missions, except as the fruits of the gospel. Even the Karens, a people retaining a greater number of primitive religious ideas than any other heathen nation, seem never to have furnished a solitary example of true piety, — of actual conversion, — till taught the way of salvation by Christ. History obviously gives no countenance to the opinion that the Spirit of God is ever exerted in producing a saving change of heart, or of leading men to the worship of God, where the doctrine of a Savior is unknown.
But the question was not left here. The teachings of the scriptures came next under consideration. These, it was thought, were full and explicit in support
of the sentiment that the gospel is indispensable to the salvation of the heathen. I never remember to have seen so forcible a view given of Christ's address to Paul of Tarsus, when met by him on his way to Damascus. “I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; delivering thee from the people and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes and to turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God; that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faitb that is in me." Acts 26:16-18.
The Gentiles, to whom Paul was commissioned to preach, were in darkness, under the power of Satan, without forgiveness and without inheritance. This seems to have been their condition asGentiles, — not a part of them, but all. No one can read this passage and not feel that the reason why Christ sends the gospel to them, is, that otherwise they must remain in this benighted and forlorn condition ; that as light comes from the gospel, so do deliverance from the power of Satan, the forgiveness of sins, and adoption. Again, those who should be converted through Paul's ministry were to receive an "inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in Christ," — either as yet to come, or as already come and crucified. Why did he not say merely, "among them which are sanctified?" Why "among them which are sanctified by faith in Christ," except they only are heirs?
Romans 10:12-17, appeared, if possible, still more explicit . Perhaps it is not so in fact, but it is more obvious, because the passage is designed to give a reason why God should show mercy to the Gentiles; to which the Jews objected, claiming to be themselves his chosen people to the exclusion of all others. The apostle assures them that the gospel is designed for all nations; that "the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." But having made this statement, he expressly declares that no one does call on God who has not faith, and that faith requires instruction in the gospel; instruction implies a teacher, of whom there are none among the heathen; — hence the reason why teachers are sent. The argument is plain. The gospel is sent to the heathen, because they are dependent on it for salvation. They have knowledge of their duty sufficient to leave them without excuse. But it does not convert them; and as the gospel does, at least multitudes of them, it is just to infer that the Holy Spirit attends those truths only which in some way recognize the scheme of mercy. Christ, perhaps, meant to make this distinction between a knowledge of all other truths and the truth as connected with himself as the sinner's substitute, — the truth as it is in Jesus, — when he said, "MY words are spirit and life." To this the language of David, Psalm 19:7, is an objection in appearance and not in fact. When the Psalmist says, "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul," he cannot mean that the mere precepts of God, many of which the heathen understood, ever convert the soul. This would conflict with the teaching of Paul, that the carnal mind is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. But the term law, as he used it, must have referred to the whole system of revealed religion. This, manifestly, included the doctrine of faith in the Savior to come; and is called law, because the whole system of revealed religion, though a scheme of mercy, includes also precepts. The covenant of grace includes more precepts, and those made more imperative than the covenant of works. It is not pretended that any view of Christ or of his gospel
separate from, much less that is opposed to, the moral law, can be taken, which will be converting. The law of God must be honored. As Robert Hall says, "the Lawgiver must not be sunk in the Savior of the world." If we do this, it is not the whole counsel of God, and the Holy Spirit will not seal such instruction upon the heart. But it is equally true that be will not where the Savior is wanting. His office is to take of the things of Christ and show them to the soul of the awakened sinner. The moral law must be enforced, but, at the same time, Christ must be exhibited as the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. This doctrine is the power of God unto salvation, and there is no reason to believe that any other is.
I was pleased with the idea that young men, soon to be the pastors of the churches, should entertain these views. I believed them to be correct, and have long felt it to be unspeakably important that Christians generally be correctly instructed on a subject of such moment to the heathen; a doctrine also so healthful in its influence on the churches at home. There is little danger of over estimating the value of the gospel, or the importance of its being preached to the world. It is the only foundation of hope to perishing men. It is the gift of God to sinners. It is the fruit of the Savior's love and death. It is the language of all who appreciate it; "How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things." The Lord has given the word; great may be the company of them that publish it.
R. E. P. ==========
[From The Baptist Missionary Magazine, Volume 28, 1848, pp. 38-41. Document from Goggle Books. Formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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