Can the Elect be saved without the explicit preaching of the Gospel?

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panta dokimazete

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Something I have pondered over time and would like some irenic discussion concerning:

This is proposed as an answer to the question of “what about persons with no access to the preaching of the Gospel?”

While the “normative” process of salvation requires the hearing of the gospel (Rom 10:14), confession, and faith (Rom 10:8-10), Christ has enabled the salvation of the elect and the Holy Spirit works as He wills in that process just as He does with all spiritual gifts (John 3:8, 1 Cor 12:11, Heb 2:4). It seems entirely feasible that, lacking ordinary means, a person can be saved minus the explicit preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, just as the OT elect were via types and shadows.

The promise of the Gospel (Rom 5:8) was present at the Fall (Gen 3:15) as a component of the eternal covenant (Heb 13:20) and covers the entirety of the elect retroactively without the explicit preaching of the Gospel. If that is so, why can the effectivity of the Gospel not also be graciously applied proactively (again, lacking ordinary means)?

It is critical to note that this in no way invalidates the command to share the gospel with all people and nations (Mark 16:15, Matt 28:19-20) which is a component of our good works that coincides with our true faith (James 2:26).

(Mods - I couldn’t easily find an applicable forum, so I dropped it here. Feel free to drop it where it should go, or delete it, if it so requires.)
 
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Scottish Presbyterian

Puritan Board Freshman
WCF 10.3 - "Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how He pleaseth: so also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word."
 

panta dokimazete

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
WCF 10.3 - "Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how He pleaseth: so also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word."
Amen, just attempting to add some “meat to the bone” :)
 

Scottish Presbyterian

Puritan Board Freshman
I suppose the key question you're looking to answer is what is meant by "incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the word", and who does that extend to?

Personally I tend to think that runs more along the lines of mental incapacity, or perhaps some forms of physical incapacity e.g. deafblindness. I'm not convinced it's referring to those who are both adult and of sound mind, but live somewhere that they have not come into contact with the gospel.
 

alexandermsmith

Puritan Board Junior
The OT believer had the preaching of the Gospel in the types and shadows presented to him. So I don't think one would want to use his case as a paradigm for persons, for example, who live in remote parts of the world where the Gospel has yet to be taken (which is closer to what you have in mind I think). As you said: the promise of the Gospel was given to Adam and Eve. So they had the Gospel.

There are then those, like elect infants, and also persons with mental handicap, who are unable to be called outwardly in the same manner as those older or with a full rational capacity. We believe, as the Confession states, they can still be called and saved. We have the example of John the Baptist, and David and Bathsheba's first child (who we are lead to believe was saved). We also, and this is not to say they are the same phenomena, have examples of those who were possessed and out of their minds being brought into a saving relationship with God. Christ is able to break through such mental incapacities to bring His people to Himself. But again such persons would still be under the preaching of the Gospel, or children of Christians.

However, we have no reason to believe that any person who has not been under the preaching of the Gospel, or had access to the Word of God to read it himself, will be saved. Those who are elect will be called. Your question assumes there are elect persons who, all things being equal, may be denied an opportunity to hear the Gospel and so you wonder how they will be saved. But the Lord will bring His elect to Himself and so this problem will be solved by missionary activity or resources being distributed. Remember there are also multitudes all around us, in our own cities and nations, those we see every day, who have never heard the Gospel and may never hear it. Ultimately they are in the same position as those who live in the remotest jungle or mountain.

"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?" Romans 10:14. That is the principle on which we must operate. What the Lord chooses to do in His inscrutable and secret will we cannot pry into and should make no assumptions about. Scripture is clear: without the preaching of the Word, or at least the reading of it (so that one might "hear" of Christ), there is no salvation.
 
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panta dokimazete

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
The OT believer had the preaching of the Gospel in the types and shadows presented to him. So I don't think one would want to use his case as a paradigm for persons, for example, who live in remote parts of the world where the Gospel has yet to be taken (which is closer to what you have in mind I think). As you said: the promise of the Gospel was given to Adam and Eve. So they had the Gospel.

There are then those, like elect infants, and also persons with mental handicap, who are unable to be called outwardly in the same manner as those older or with a full rational capacity. We believe, as the Confession states, they can still be called and saved. We have the example of John the Baptist, and David and Bathsheba's first child (who we are lead to believe was saved). We also, and this is not to say they are the same phenomena, have examples of those who were possessed and out of their minds being brought into a saving relationship with God. Christ is able to break through such mental incapacities to bring His people to Himself. But again such persons would still be under the preaching of the Gospel, or children of Christians.

However, we have no reason to believe that any person who has not been under the preaching of the Gospel, or had access to the Word of God to read it himself, will be saved. Those who are elect will be called. Your question assumes there are elect persons who, all things being equal, may be denied an opportunity to hear the Gospel and so you wonder how they will be saved. But the Lord will bring His elect to Himself and so this problem will be solved by missionary activity or resources being distributed. Remember there are also multitudes all around us, in our own cities and nations, those we see every day, who have never heard the Gospel and may never hear it. Ultimately they are in the same position as those who live in the remotest jungle or mountain.

"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?" Romans 10:14. That is the principle on which we must operate. What the Lord chooses to do in His inscrutable and secret will we cannot pry into and should make no assumptions about. Scripture is clear: without the preaching of the Word, or at least the reading of it (so that one might "hear" of Christ), there is no salvation.
No argument, in general - but we should also have a coherent response to those that attack the faith with questions such as the OP, even though the scope of God’s grace and mercy to the elect are known only to Him (Deut 29:29).

Is it feasible? Yes. Is it likely? No.
 
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panta dokimazete

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Here is another verse that I believe is applicable and ties to WCF 10.3.

Acts 4: 39

For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.

"for your children" (those elect that cannot cognitively respond to the preaching of the Gospel)

and

"for all who are far off" (those elect that have no access to the preaching of the Gospel)
 

Jeri Tanner

Administrator
Staff member
This seems like a speculation fruitless to pursue. Romans 10:14-25 (and the rest of the Bible) makes it clear.

"But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; 9That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. 10For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. 12For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. 13For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

"14How 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? 15And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!"
 
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KPcalvinist

Puritan Board Freshman
If people can be saved without the preaching of the gospel (hearing the gospel) than:

1) Paul's urgency in Romans 10 of the gospel being preached and how can they be saved without it seems negated.
2) Shut down all missions because all we do by going to the nations is bring condemnation.

Not trying to over-simplify, but it seems out of line with scripture to assume someone of sound/of age mind can be saved without hearing the gospel.
 

Eyedoc84

Puritan Board Sophomore
Here is another verse that I believe is applicable and ties to WCF 10.3.

Acts 4: 39

For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.

"for your children" (those elect that cannot cognitively respond to the preaching of the Gospel)

and

"for all who are far off" (those elect that have no access to the preaching of the Gospel)
Not hearing does not equal incapable of hearing.
 

chuckd

Puritan Board Sophomore
I suppose the key question you're looking to answer is what is meant by "incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the word", and who does that extend to?

Personally I tend to think that runs more along the lines of mental incapacity, or perhaps some forms of physical incapacity e.g. deafblindness. I'm not convinced it's referring to those who are both adult and of sound mind, but live somewhere that they have not come into contact with the gospel.
What is the difference between a deafblind person and one who has not been in contact with the gospel?

The Scripture proofs for this section of the confession are interesting. Acts 4:12; 1 John 5:12
 
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chuckd

Puritan Board Sophomore
Robert Shaw's commentary on 10.3
The Holy Spirit usually works by means; and the Word, read or preached, is the ordinary means which he renders effectual to the salvation of sinners. But he has immediate access to the hearts of men, and can produce a saving change in them without the use of ordinary means. "As infants are not fit subjects of instruction, their regeneration must be effected without means, by the immediate agency of the Holy Spirit on their souls. There are adult persons, too, to whom the use of reason has been denied. It would be harsh and unwarrantable to suppose that they are, on this account, excluded from salvation; and to such of them as God has chosen, it may be applied in the same manner as to infants."
 

Scottish Presbyterian

Puritan Board Freshman
What is the difference between a deafblind person and one who has not been in contact with the gospel?

The Scripture proofs for this section of the confession is interesting. Acts 4:12; 1 John 5:12
Deafblind persons I think would be in the same category as mentally incapacitated persons in terms of being fit objects of instruction. I'm not at all dogmatic on this point of course. Those who have not heard the gospel, but are capable of instruction are in a different category - we know from Romans 1 that they are without excuse.

All that said, shouldn't it break our hearts to know that so many of our fellow creatures are in their sins, and without excuse before God, but have not heard the glorious gospel of salvation? Oh that God would send forth labourers into his harvest!
 

chuckd

Puritan Board Sophomore
If people can be saved without the preaching of the gospel (hearing the gospel) than:

1) Paul's urgency in Romans 10 of the gospel being preached and how can they be saved without it seems negated.
2) Shut down all missions because all we do by going to the nations is bring condemnation.

Not trying to over-simplify, but it seems out of line with scripture to assume someone of sound/of age mind can be saved without hearing the gospel.
That same Paul was converted by an immediate vision of Jesus. He didn't conclude that his experience was normative.
 

Ed Walsh

Puritan Board Senior
This is proposed as an answer to the question of “what about persons with no access to the preaching of the Gospel?”

Many are called, and few are chosen, but over the eons, many more we're never called at all and therefore were not saved. I think it's a dream that all aborted babies go to heaven. It is a nice dream, but it is only a dream that the Bible says nothing about. Yet many Reformed theologians have spoken of this salvation of infants almost as if it were taught in the Bible. Charles Hodge comes to mind as a disciplined theologian who yet believed and taught this hope against hope almost as doctrine. Of course, we do not know what God does in His secret will, nor should we ever inquire into it, but the burden of proof, of which there is none, is the responsibility of these Pollyanna thinkers.

A quick change of subject. I often say and now say again that we must never live with even a consideration of the secret will of God. It will cause you doubt, heartache, and defeat, and is a complete waste of time. Is it God's will for your spouse to be saved? It most definitely is. What about your children who do not believe? What about anybody at all? Is Jesus the Savior of the world? Of the increase of his government, is there an end? The will of God is expressed in his Word, where he says He now commands all men to repent. Think that way. Pray that way. And when you find yourself wavering from the revealed will of God, quickly confess it to Him as a sin and ask Him to help you to think His thoughts after Him.

Please don't fault me if, from time to time, you hear me speak of this again.
 

Jeri Tanner

Administrator
Staff member
It seems entirely feasible that, lacking ordinary means, a person can be saved minus the explicit preaching of the Gospel, just as the OT elect were.
The OP contains at least a couple of statements I would question. The above one, that OT saints were saved minus the explicit preaching of the gospel- is that an accurate statement? I think of Hebrews 4:2- “For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them” (i.e., OT Israel).
This in no way invalidates the command to share the gospel with all people and nations (Mark 16:15, Matt 28:19-20) which is a component of our good works that coincides with our true faith (James 2:26).
The command to share the gospel is for the preaching of the gospel, preached by ministers of the gospel, sent out into all the world (again, Romans 10:14-15 as well as many other texts). This sent-outness of preachers on a divine mission to seek and save the lost may help with distinctions, with why the Bible doesn’t teach us to speculate that some may be saved apart from the hearing of the gospel.
 
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reformed grit

Puritan Board Freshman
Without devolving too much into "Gospel in the Stars" discussion;
"The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world."(Psalms 19:1-4 partial, KJV).
"For 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" (Rom. 1:20, KJV).
"And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples. And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out." (Luke 19: 39-40, KJV).

I believe all of Creation is stamped with the mark of the Creator and declares His glory. In human concern it's as if our very DNA declares Divine awareness and knowledge, so we "are without excuse". Yes, knowledge of God saving knowledge of God are different nuanced things, but while preaching is commanded of His disciples, God needs no human or even rocks or stars to provide access to the Gospel.
 

Eyedoc84

Puritan Board Sophomore
What is the difference between a deafblind person and one who has not been in contact with the gospel?

The Scripture proofs for this section of the confession are interesting. Acts 4:12; 1 John 5:12
One is incapable of hearing, the other isn’t.
 

Eyedoc84

Puritan Board Sophomore
Robert Shaw's commentary on 10.3
The Holy Spirit usually works by means; and the Word, read or preached, is the ordinary means which he renders effectual to the salvation of sinners. But he has immediate access to the hearts of men, and can produce a saving change in them without the use of ordinary means. "As infants are not fit subjects of instruction, their regeneration must be effected without means, by the immediate agency of the Holy Spirit on their souls. There are adult persons, too, to whom the use of reason has been denied. It would be harsh and unwarrantable to suppose that they are, on this account, excluded from salvation; and to such of them as God has chosen, it may be applied in the same manner as to infants."
Shaw immediately goes on to explain what he means by the part you bolded.
 

De Jager

Puritan Board Sophomore
Yes it is possible, but it is not typical, and I believe it only applies to those who are members of the covenant of grace who are not capable of hearing or understanding, not to the heathen. Examples would be: John the baptist (filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother's womb) and the son of David whom he had by Bathsheba.

And I should caveat what I wrote. Technically, in the case of the above, there was an explicit preaching and hearing of the gospel - but the hearing was done by the covenant head.
 
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De Jager

Puritan Board Sophomore
Something I have pondered over time and would like some irenic discussion concerning:

This is proposed as an answer to the question of “what about persons with no access to the preaching of the Gospel?”

While the “normative” process of salvation requires the hearing of the gospel (Rom 10:14), confession, and faith (Rom 10:8-10), Christ has enabled the salvation of the elect and the Holy Spirit works as He wills in that process just as He does with all spiritual gifts (John 3:8, 1 Cor 12:11, Heb 2:4). It seems entirely feasible that, lacking ordinary means, a person can be saved minus the explicit preaching of the Gospel, just as the OT elect were. The promise of the Gospel (Rom 5:8) was present at the Fall (Gen 3:15) as a component of the eternal covenant (Heb 13:20) and covers the entirety of the elect retroactively without the explicit preaching of the Gospel. If that is so, why can the effectivity of the Gospel not also be graciously applied proactively (again, lacking ordinary means)?

This in no way invalidates the command to share the gospel with all people and nations (Mark 16:15, Matt 28:19-20) which is a component of our good works that coincides with our true faith (James 2:26).

(Mods - I couldn’t easily find an applicable forum, so I dropped it here. Feel free to drop it where it should go, or delete it, if it so requires.)
The OT elect had the gospel preached to them. See Hebrews 4 - mentioned above. The gospel has always been there, since the garden, as you said. However, it reached it's fullest expression and revelation in Christ. That did not mean it wasn't gospel before that.
 

Ed Walsh

Puritan Board Senior
The above one, that OT saints were saved minus the explicit preaching of the gospel- is that an accurate statement? I think of Hebrews 4:2- “For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them” (i.e., OT Israel).

I learned as much about the Lord Jesus from the Old Testament as the new. Maybe even more. The Old Testament is drenched with Gospel blood. Words like forgiveness, mercy, pardon, etc., are far more common in the Old Testament than in the New. Jesus' words and acts are paramount in the NT, but you need the Psalms to see more of our Lord's heart. You need to hear Jesus rebuke Job. You need the whole Bible to know the whole Christ. What a man. What a God.

Look at these words of Grace in the NT vs. the OT:
WordNTOT
forgive
22​
34​
forgiven
20​
22​
pardon
0​
16​
kindness
6​
42​
goodness
6​
44​
faithfulness
0​
19​
praise
24​
224​
holiness
14​
29​
Totals
92
430
 
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panta dokimazete

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
All, I know that the gospel was preached in types and shadows in the OT vs the explicit gospel of Jesus Christ we now know.

It is feasible that something similar could happen today for “those who are far off”.
 
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Justaguy

Puritan Board Freshman
I could definitely be corrected on this, but I believe Jonathan Edwards said his conversion took place while he was in nature, and that became a point of disagreement with his father who was also a minister.
 

VictorBravo

Administrator
Staff member
I could definitely be corrected on this, but I believe Jonathan Edwards said his conversion took place while he was in nature, and that became a point of disagreement with his father who was also a minister.
Regardless of whether it is true, no doubt Jonathan Edwards heard the gospel preached, probably from his infancy.
 

Eyedoc84

Puritan Board Sophomore
I thought Edwards’ “nature” experience had to do with his acceptance of predestination/election.

But regardless, as VB said, Edwards had heard the word of God preached.
 

Ed Walsh

Puritan Board Senior
I could definitely be corrected on this, but I believe Jonathan Edwards said his conversion took place while he was in nature, and that became a point of disagreement with his father who was also a minister.

I was reading a book on the Gospel--not listening to a sermon. Should I be concerned??? :)
 

Ryan&Amber2013

Puritan Board Senior
I'm surprised by some of these answers. I thought the typical conservative view is that faith comes by hearing the Word, and that's how God saves His elect. I just thought the exceptions were children, the handicapped, etc., not those in areas who haven't heard the Gospel.
 

Scottish Presbyterian

Puritan Board Freshman
I'm surprised by some of these answers. I thought the typical conservative view is that faith comes by hearing the Word, and that's how God saves His elect. I just thought the exceptions were children, the handicapped, etc., not those in areas who haven't heard the Gospel.
Yes, that's a good summary. I think that's what almost all of us are saying.
 
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