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

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Staff member
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.
As Neil said above, that is the view we get from Scripture.

The original question was, "Can the Elect be saved without the explicit preaching of the Gospel?"

That is a distracting hypothetical with an easy answer from John the Baptist:

Mat 3:9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.

The real question is, "Does God save without the explicit preaching of the Gospel?"

Apart from a few isolated hints like with infants in the womb, the answer is no.

Rom 10:17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

It seems the premise of the question has to do with how do we defend God against charges of being unfair? That is not our job. Nevertheless, Scripture also provides clear guidance on that charge. The book of Job. Isaiah 45. Romans 9:15. Etc.


Puritan Board Junior
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)


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

This is a misapplication of this verse. This verse is to do with those with whom the covenant is made, and thus who would hear the call of the Gospel; not the manner of how the Gospel was to be presented to them. It was to say that the covenant- through which God would offer salvation- was to be made with Christians and their children and their children's children &c., whether they were living then in Palestine, or in the farthest reaches of the world and in generations to come. It was not making a distinction between those who would hear the preaching of the Gospel and those who wouldn't and yet still be saved. It assumes all who are contained in the promise ("your children" and "all that are afar off") will hear the outward call of the Gospel.

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).

The first two texts you quote are to illustrate that Man is without excuse in respect to his obligation to acknowledge and worship God Who made him. They do not claim that creation reveals the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ and the necessity of justifying faith in Him. More revelation and teaching is necessary to learn those truths. The third text really isn't to do with the subject at hand at all. Christ is referring to the recognition of Who He is. He is not talking about the revelation of the Gospel per se.

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.

The question is not what does God need but what He has appointed. Scripture nowhere indicates that the sinner has access to the Gospel merely through natural revelation, only that he is left without excuse in respect to his obligations to his creator. Man's obligation to God is quite distinct from what he needs to know in order to receive eternal life. Man owes God his obedience and worship from the fact of his being made by God. And God owes Man nothing in response to that obedience and worship. God condescended to reward Man for his obedience (covenant of works) and faith in Christ (covenant of grace) but in each case further revelation was necessary than what was revealed in Creation.

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”.

Is it really? What is the Scriptural warrant for this? The OT types and shadows were fulfilled in Christ: 2 Cor. 3:12-18; Heb. 7:28-8:7; 9:6-14, 23-25; 10:1-4. Now that Christ has come these are all done away with and are to be performed no more because in themselves they were not able to take away sin. It was only as they were performed in faith, with a view towards the sacrifice which would be made by Christ at some point in the future, that they were accepted by God. Without the knowledge of the promised Messiah- which was preached to the OT believer in the Scriptures and their religious leaders as well as by fathers teaching their children- these sacrifices were meaningless. As they would be today (if they were allowed to be continued) without first knowing of Christ. Which just brings up full circle to the original problem: lack of knowledge of Christ.

However, once Christ had made atonement, been resurrected and ascended to Heaven these sacrifices- the types and shadows- were to cease:

"Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God. Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin." Hebrews 10:5-18

In a discussion such as this we often end up talking about what is "possible" for God to perform. But this is a distraction. It is speculation. What we need to know- what is essential for us to know if we are to be saved- is what God has appointed as the means of salvation. So I would say that in accordance with what Scripture teaches about salvation it is not feasible that something similar to the OT types and shadows is available to those who have not nor ever will hear the preaching of the Gospel.
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