Will All Of The Elect Hear and Believe the Gospel?
by Curt Wildy
Introduction to Part Three
The purpose of this part is to address some of the more common arguments made by those who hold to regeneration without Gospel conversion. This is a deadly heresy that has corrupted many churches within the various Primitive Baptist associations. This is no minor matter; it goes to the heart of what constitutes true faith. Faith is not of ourselves, it is not something that we must muster. Faith is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8); He gives it to His people at His appointed time in each of their lives. Romans 10:17 declares that “…faith [cometh] by hearing, and hearing by the word (rhema) of God.”
Rhema [ῥήμα / ρηματος; G4487; rhay’-mah] means that which is or has been uttered by the living voice, thing spoken, word; speech; subject matter of speech, discourse, etc. This rhema pertains to the Bible in general, and to the Gospel contained therein, in particular. Consider its use in the following verses:
Ephesians 6:17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word [rhema] of God:
2 Peter 3:2 That ye may be mindful of the words [rhema] which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour:
Christ, in light of His finished work on the cross, uses His God-breathed Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16) to sanctify and cleanse us with the washing of water by the rhema (Ephesians 5:26,27), that he might present us to himself, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that we should be holy and without blemish. From the passages above, we can see that no one is regenerated, converted, and eternally kept outside of the hearing of the Gospel truth. In 1 Peter 1:23-25, we read that Christians are “…born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word [logos – G3056] of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. For all flesh [is] as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: 25 But the word [rhema] of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word [rhema] which by the gospel is preached unto you.“
Concerning this good news by which the enduring word is preached, the Apostle Paul states in Romans 1:16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” He then states in 1 Corinthians 1:18 “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” Yet we read in 1 Corinthians 1:23 “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; 24 But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” The Gospel is the power of God, the preaching of the Gospel (or the cross) is the power of God, and Christ Himself is the power of God. These three are yoked together in one cohesive manifestation of the power of God in the lives of His people unto their complete salvation.
We see that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Divine Logos, the eternal God the Word, is so intimately yoked with the biblical word that reveals Him that it is often difficult to distinguish the two in Scripture. We read of Christ in Hebrews 1:3 “Who being the brightness of [his] glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word [rhema] of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.” God the Word (Logos) upholds all things by His word (rhema) and by His rhema (which is the sword of the Spirit as per Ephesians 6: 17) He sanctifies and cleanses us (Ephesians 5:26) and gives us faith. We are cleansed and sanctified by Christ Himself and yet we are cleansed and sanctified by His word. Our faith comes from The Word in us and yet our faith comes by the spiritual hearing of His word.
We see this not only with rhema, but with logos as well. We know that in the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God; the same was in the beginning with God (John 1:1,2). God the Logos declared in John 5:24 24 “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word (Logos), and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life…” God the Word has a word that we must hear. What is this word that we must hear? Is it, as many Primitive Baptists claim, a “still small voice” outside of, and without regard to, the Gospel truth? Is it a word from The Word that is separate from the Gospel contained in His holy Bible? When the Lord Jesus said in John 8:43 “Why do ye not understand my speech? [even] because ye cannot hear my word” was he speaking of some inaudible, non-Gospel word? No! He was teaching that although they could physically hear His words as He instructed them concerning the Gospel truth, they could not hear with ears to hear… they could not spiritually discern and obey them.
In John 15:3 the Lord stated to His disciples “Now ye are clean through the word (logos) which I have spoken unto you.” What was this word, this logos, that made them clean? Is it not the words that The Logos spoke unto them? Is it not the same cleansing word (logos) as the cleansing word (rhema) spoken of in Ephesians 5:26. Is it not the Gospel truth proclaimed by faithful witnesses and applied to the heart by the Spirit of God?
It is true that we cannot hear unless the Spirit quickens us. It is true that the hearing ear must exist before the word is heard. It is true that regeneration must logically precede conversion and that regeneration is the immediate work of the Spirit without means or aid. However, regeneration does not occur in a vacuum. In the Bible, regeneration and belief of the Gospel are always yoked together. In Christ, “…we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: 12 That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.13 In whom ye also [trusted], after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise.” Yes we are begotten of God according to His own will; and yes, we only trust after we are begotten. However, we are begotten so that we can trust in the Truth revealed in the Gospel.
God declares in James 1:18 “Of his own will begat he us with the word (logos – G3056) of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” By which word of Truth? The eternal Word? Absolutely! But by the Eternal Word in conjunction with the word that reveals Him. Jesus said in John 3:5 “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” The water, the living water, is the word as it is applied to our hearts by the Spirit of Christ (Amos 8:11, Ephesians 5:26, Psalm 147:18).
We must remember that the word of God is a reflection of the infinite mind of God; it reveals unto us His holy nature, character, and attributes in a form that we can, to one degree or another, understand. Men want to separate The Word from His word to justify their erroneous doctrines. Contrary to what the apostates amongst the Primitive Baptists may say, God will not regenerate any of his children and have them worship him in ignorance as they remain in Buddhism, Islam, Arminianism, Talmudism, Sacramentalism, Hinduism, Animism, etc., and that, for days, weeks, years, or decades. God saves by the Truth, with the truth, unto the knowledge of and belief in the Truth.
What about infants who die as such?
I am starting with this objection because those who hold to regeneration without Gospel conversion almost always default to it. For the sake of time and space, I will not address the matter again in any detail, having already addressed it in my two-part article on The Salvation Of Those Who Die In Infancy. That article was initially the beginning of this current part, but it soon became clear that it deserved its own post. Since I first wrote the article, I have learned even more to convince me of the salvation of all who die in infancy. Lord willing, at some point I will revise the study. For now, I strongly encourage everyone to read the entirety of the linked material for a better understanding of this controversy.
What about the Severely Mentally Impaired?
The same biblical arguments that apply to those who die in infancy pertain to those who die as older children and adults while in a state of severe mental-impairment (presuming that they have always been in such a state). If the mentally impaired person was at one time an adequately functioning older child, teen, or adult, then that person came to the knowledge of good and evil and sinned immediately as a result of the fallen, sinful natures they inherited from Adam. However, if they have always been in a vegetative or infantile state, then they have no knowledge of good and evil. Like the actual infant, they are naqiy, guiltless because God does not impute sin to them. Again, for more on this please see the article linked above; these few words on the manner cannot do justice to the topic.
What About Heathens in Remote Lands?
Another common objection pertains to the multitude who died never hearing the truth. Many ask about the Native Americans, Australian Aborigines, Sub-Saharan Africans, and various Asians and Pacific Islanders who never had an opportunity to hear the Gospel before the arrival of missionaries. They somehow view God as being unjust if He would leave such a large number of men to perish without ever having had an opportunity to hear the word. As a result, they start making arguments like the following from C.C. Morris in The Remnant (July – August, 2000 / Volume 14, No. 4):
“Gospel regeneration” is the false doctrine that sinners are regenerated by the preaching of the gospel (or more generally the preaching of the Scriptures), or that a sinner’s hearing the preaching of the gospel is an absolute necessity without which he cannot be born again or regenerated…
If God needs the Bible to get people born again, then why did He not provide His Book to the whole race in Adam’s day? From Adam to Moses, for 2,500 years, there were no Scriptures. No one could have been regenerated for those 2,500 years, no, not a one, if gospel regeneration is true. Those two and a half millennia embraced the entire population of all the earth, all without a Bible, for the first forty percent of the 6,000 years from Adam’s time to ours. How odd, if gospel regeneration is true.
If God requires the Bible to bring spiritual life to His people, we are left to conclude that He had no elect vessels of mercy before Moses penned the first five books of the Old Testament—the first suggestion of a Bible. Then, from Moses to the book of Acts,another 1,500 years, except for a few isolated cases like Jonah at Nineveh and Daniel in Babylon, there was no Scripture or scriptural preaching for the Gentiles. Why did He not at least give the Bible to Noah and his family when they got off the ark? And when He finally did give it, why did He only give it to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and not also give it to the Orientals, the Europeans, the Indians of the Americas, the natives of Africa, and the occupants of the South Sea islands? Whole continents were left for centuries without exposure to the Missionary scheme of salvation. Certainly He neither loved any of those people nor desired to have any of them born into His heavenly kingdom, if gospel regeneration were true.
Must we then conclude that the Most High God had no children among the Jews or the Gentiles until He made some Bible verses for men to work with? Shall we also presume God cannot now regenerate coolies and slaves in the hinterlands of Communist China because we can’t get a Bible and a missionary to them? Shall we suppose that God never had an elect vessel of mercy among the aborigines before a preacher arrived with Bible in tow?
In truth, the Missionary movement originated in Hell, and with it came the error of gospel regeneration. They both got their impetus when the rich man suggested that, if someone would preach (“testify,” he said) to his lost brothers, they would be saved from going to Hell. “Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment (Luke 16.27f).” The doctrine of the rich man in Hell goes hand in glove with the gospel regeneration theory.
Firstly, let me start by saying that I do not believe in so-called “Gospel Regeneration.” I believe that regeneration is the immediate work of the Holy Spirit (i.e. without means or agency). However, I absolutely maintain that regeneration is accompanied by belief in the Gospel truth; we are regenerated unto belief in the truth. To properly understand this, we must keep in mind that the Old Testament saints believed the exact same Gospel that true Christians believe today. The only difference, if you want to call it a difference, lies in the degree of detail. Nonetheless, all Old Testament believers knew the LORD to be their Righteousness and awaited a Messiah to come who would propitiate for them. If we understand this, we will understand the discussion below when we get to the matter of “ignorantly worshiping God.”
Secondly, Mr. Morris erred in confusing the pre-Revelation 22:18 era with the post-Revelation 22:18 era. When he stated “If God needs the Bible to get people born again, then why did He not provide His Book to the whole race in Adam’s day? From Adam to Moses, for 2,500 years, there were no Scriptures. No one could have been regenerated for those 2,500 years, no, not a one, if gospel regeneration is true,” he shows that he could not make a distinction between the period when God brough direct revelation to mankind and the period when he uses the “more sure word,” His completed Bible, to speak unto us. From Adam to Moses, and at various points beyond (up until the completion of the Bible), God spoke to His people through visions, dreams, visitations, etc. Since Genesis if full of examples wherein God spoke directly to his servants, they would not have needed a Bible. Moreover, and this is too lengthy to get into here, there is a strong likelihood that at least parts of Genesis were written before the time of Moses (by the Patriarchs themselves) and that Moses simply collected and compiled the text into one book. Yet putting the Genesis argument aside, it becomes clear that taking realities from a pre-biblical era and applying them to the New testament era today is foolish. God is not adding to His word today; he is not bringing revelation outside of His Bible. He is not speaking to us in any doctrinal or salvific sense outside of the Bible. Sure nature gives its own testimony, and we can read into daily events as it pertains to divine providence, but God is not saving anyone by such things. He quickens with the express purpose of giving faith to the elect saint so that the saint can give praise and glory to God and witness of the Truth.
Thirdly, concerning Mr. Morris’ question “Shall we also presume God cannot now regenerate coolies and slaves in the hinterlands of Communist China because we can’t get a Bible and a missionary to them? Shall we suppose that God never had an elect vessel of mercy among the aborigines before a preacher arrived with Bible in tow?” — I aim to answer it now.
We read in Revelations 5:9 “And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.” I have no doubt that a large portion of the multitude out of every nation will consist of those who died in infancy as per the article referenced above. However, concerning adults and older children, note that “out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” does not mean that at all times God is saving people out of these nations. I believe that it does mean that throughout time, here and there, God is saving (or has saved) at least one person out of all the nations. It only takes the salvation of one to represent the whole. God will temporarily spare an entire nation for one elect person and sacrifice an entire nation for His elect people. Look at how God dealt with Egypt in Moses’ day, or the Assyrians and Babylonians during the times of the kings. God saves whom He will and kills whom He will. We read in Isaiah 43:3 “For I [am] the LORD thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour: I gave Egypt [for] thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee. 4 Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee: therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life.”
God can ordain the existence of fifty generations of a nation, all of them reprobate except for those dying in infancy, just so that He can save one person in the fifty-first generation. The firstborn daughter of Lot gave birth to Moab and that wicked nation that came from him was spared of God during the Exodus and entry into Canaan for one clear reason (amongst many) — the birth and salvation of Ruth the Moabitess. The salvation of Ruth is the salvation of a redeemed one out of Moab (fulfilling Revelations 5:9 as far as Moab is concerned) and from her came Obed, the father of Jesse, the grandfather of King David. Likewise, God suffered the existence of Jericho because of one woman (Rahab) and her family; once they were saved, Jericho could be destroyed. So we have one out of Moab and several out of Jericho, but this does not mean that throughout all generations God has to keep saving people out of Moab and Jericho.
God’s people are scattered all over the world, and He draws each one of them to Him at His appointed time. He does this by sending a faithful preacher/witness to declare the Gospel to them and then causes them to hear and believe the true Gospel with spiritual ears to hear. He does not leave His people to remain will-worshipers and pantheists; no matter what the circumstances may be, God will manage to send one of his elect saints to another elect saint, one not yet quickened, to witness to them unto their salvation. If he doesn’t send them in person, he will send their witness via some written or otherwise recorded means.
As another proof text, consider also the ordinances, ceremonies, and rituals of the Old Testament, all of which pointed to the spiritual realities of the New. In the Old Testament, the sacrifices and offerings were only for national Israel (which included Israelites by blood and those strangers like Ruth, Uriah, Rahab, and others who were included within the commonwealth by faith). These Old Testament pictures point us to Christ who, as both the High Priest and the Sacrificial Lamb, redeemed, atoned, and propitiated for the Israel of God. Just as Christ never atoned for the goats but only for the sheep, and just as He never died for the great harlot but only for His bride, so the High Priest never offered sacrifices for Moab, Egypt, Edom, Sidon, etc. — but only for Israel.
Exodus 28:6 And they shall make the ephod [of] gold, [of] blue, and [of] purple, [of] scarlet, and fine twined linen, with cunning work. 7 It shall have the two shoulderpieces thereof joined at the two edges thereof; and [so] it shall be joined together. 8 And the curious girdle of the ephod, which [is] upon it, shall be of the same, according to the work thereof; [even of] gold, [of] blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen. 9 And thou shalt take two onyx stones, and grave on them the names of the children of Israel: 10 Six of their names on one stone, and [the other] six names of the rest on the other stone, according to their birth. 11 With the work of an engraver in stone, [like] the engravings of a signet, shalt thou engrave the two stones with the names of the children of Israel: thou shalt make them to be set in ouches of gold. 12 And thou shalt put the two stones upon the shoulders of the ephod [for] stones of memorial unto the children of Israel: and Aaron shall bear their names before the LORD upon his two shoulders for a memorial. 13 And thou shalt make ouches [of] gold; 14 And two chains [of] pure gold at the ends; [of] wreathen work shalt thou make them, and fasten the wreathen chains to the ouches.
Notice that Aaron did not bear the names of any other nation or tribe besides those belonging to national Israel. There was no bearing of any other names, for any other nations, in stones set in gold upon an ephod for a memorial; no burnt offerings, no scapegoats, nothing for those outside of Israel. Why? Because they were not God’s people, they were not His elect. Just as the forsaken, reprobate heathen in Moses’ time died in their sin without a Substitute, so the forsaken, reprobate heathen in the New Testament era likewise perish in their sins. We do not need to make up wretched doctrines to skirt these realities. The fact remains that the quickening, calling, and conversion of God’s people is inseparable from the Gospel proclaimed. The True God and Saviour does not leave His people ignorant of Gospel truth. He does not allow them to remain idolaters, heretics, etc. He makes His people Christians… not Arminians, Semi-Pelagians, Judaizers, Sacramentalists, Talmudists, Universalists, Arians, and so on.
What About Cornelius?
Cornelius, like the Ethiopian Eunuch, no doubt knew and believed what the Old Testament saints knew and believed — the Gospel. Before Peter came to him, He did not have all of the Gospel details concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. Like Zacharias or Anna the prophetess before the birth of Christ, Cornelius would have been an Old Testament believer worshiping Jehovah God and awaiting the promised Messiah. Unlike Zacharias and Anna however, he lived during the transitional period between the Old and New Testament (i.e. the period of the New Testament wherein the church was still quite immature). He no doubt knew that Jehovah was his Righteousness, even though he did not know at the time that Jesus was the fulfillment. To argue that Cornelius was regenerate but served God ignorantly is not only unjustified, but clearly erroneous in light of the scriptural context.
Acts 10:1 There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian [band], 2 [A] devout [man], and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway. 3 He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius. 4 And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.
As a gentile, Cornelius would have been considered, or likened to, a proselyte. The Bible clearly states that he was devout towards the true God (as opposed to Jupiter or an “unknown God”), fearing Him with all of His house. Cornelius gave alms to the people and prayed continuously to the living God. We read in John 9:31 “Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth” and yet Acts 10:4 states “…Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.” For God to hear Cornelius and to acknowledges his prayer and alms meant that Cornelius was already a faithful believer in Jehovah Elohim, as Jehovah Elohim.
Concerning Cornelius, we read the following in the September-October, 2000 volume of The Remnant (Volume 14, No. 5)
The saints are not to judge any person as being “unsaved” or “lost” (as the Arminians and the gospel regenerationists do) just because he is “a foreigner” who has never heard the gospel preached in its purity. Peter told Cornelius, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him (verses 34-35).” Note well that:
(1) In every nation there are at present those who fear God and work righteousness. Must religionists be so self-satisfied as to think that, until they come along and teach them how, no one else in all the world can fear God and work true righteousness? They who fear God and work righteousness are not just in nations which have been blessed with the gospel ministry…
(3) They are at the present time accepted with (or by) God. The text does not merely say that they will be accepted by Him in the future, only if and when the gospel is preached to them. Nor does this truth even remotely suggest, nor do we imply at all, that the unevangelized heathen can somehow earn salvation by doing good works or by living up to “the light of nature” as an alternative to the blood salvation provided by Christ Jesus. This doctrine does mean that (a) the blood of Jesus Christ avails effectually for all His elect; (b) the Holy Spirit effectively applies regeneration and salvation to them in His own good time, regardless of where they are; and (c) He does so when He so wills, in spite of the irrelevancy of whether or not the gospel or good news of their salvation has been preached to them.
In Acts 10:22 we read “…they said, Cornelius the centurion, a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews, was warned from God by an holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee.” If Cornelius was worshiping any God other than Jehovah God, as Jehovah God, would the Jews think highly of him? Would he have a good report amongst them? Would they deem him to be a just and God-fearing man if he were praying to Diana, Poseidon, Hercules, or a God that he did not know? No! Cornelius was an Old Testament believer during early New Testament times. We must get the setting correct. There were Jews scattered all over the known world, from modern day Iraq, to Turkey, to Greece, to Rome, and no doubt beyond. Living amongst the faithful ones were godly gentiles (proselytes whether officially or otherwise) who believed the Gospel as any Old Testament believer would have believed it. It was the same underlying Gospel, just without the full details. Cornelius would have been much like the disciples in Acts 19:1-3 who were men of God but in need of further, New Testament, enlightenment. Likewise, he would have been like any other believer during the silent period from Malachi to the time described in the beginning of John and the Synoptic gospels. To argue that Cornelius (as an Old Testament-type gospel believer) did not know the full details of Christ and was saved nonetheless, therefore, “cannot now [God] regenerate coolies and slaves in the hinterlands of Communist China because we can’t get a Bible and a missionary to them,” is to compare apples with oranges. Cornelius already knew Jehovah God whereas the “coolies and slaves in the hinterlands of Communist China” would not — unless they heard the truth from a faithful witness. To argue that there are active theists, Muslims, Semi-Pelagians, animists, etc., who remain in their current religion but worship the true God nonetheless is nothing short of heresy.
What About The Ethiopian Eunuch?
The Ethiopian Eunuch had in his hand the book of Isaiah; such scrolls/parchments would have been expensive and not something you would normally find lying in the street. Something was moving this man to obtain the scroll, pick it up, and read it; that “something” was the effectual working of God.
Acts 8:26 And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert. 27 And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship,
Please notice that the Ethiopian had come to Jerusalem to worship; to worship what? Zeus? Amen-Ra? Odin? If he was coming to Jerusalem then he was coming to worship Jehovah God. The Ethiopian clearly knew something of the Jews religion and that the Jews believed in a coming Messiah who alone would atone for His people. He was reading Isaiah 53, commonly called the Gospel according to Isaiah, so the Eunuch is hearing the Gospel as he reads it. However, he needed someone to open it up for him, to expound upon it, and to make known the connection between the passage and the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, God moved Philip to go and minister unto the Ethiopian. When Philip opened up the word, we see that the Ethiopian believed the fulness (the greater detail) of the Truth.
Therefore, contrary to what some may teach, the Eunuch was not some regenerate soul blindly worshiping Jehovah God (or even worse, worshiping some idol like Horus or Apollo while “ignorantly worshiping” God); like Cornelius, he was an Old Testament-type gentile believer, a proselyte, living during the transitional period described in the Book of Acts. He loved Jehovah but did not yet know that Jehovah the Anointed Saviour had come in the flesh.
What About Lydia?
We read in Acts 16:14 “And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard [us]: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.” As with Cornelius and the Ethiopian, Lydia was (or could be likened to) a proselyte presuming she wasn’t Jewish in the first place as some believe. Nothing in the passage suggests that she worshiped Jehovah God as Hades, Aphrodite, Mercury, or an unknown God. She was the equivalent of an Old Testament believer who needed God to make her heart receptive to the fuller truth (the greater Gospel details) which He did for her and for all of His people. The fact that the Lord opened her heart to receive Paul’s words does not mean that she was not already worshiping the true God in Spirit and in Truth.
What About the Mars Hill Athenians?
Consider the following from the same volume of The Remnant:
We rejoice in the fact that God’s elect in Athens worshiped the living and true God before Paul ever preached to them! They worshiped Him in ignorance for a while, it is true: “Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you (Acts 17.23).”
The phrase, ignorantly worship, stands out like a teeter-totter with one word on each end. The advocate of the gospel-regeneration error majors on the minor, the negative word ignorantly, and ignores the major, the positive word worship, as though it is a hopeless impossibility that such persons can be heaven-born children of God until the gospel preacher arrives to correct their thinking. The free-grace preacher, on the other hand, admits the minor—their ignorance—but he majors on the positive: Remember, it was Paul who said they worshiped God. They worshiped Him in ignorance, true enough, but who among God’s elect has not worshiped Him in ignorance, in some error or another, at one time or another? The question before us is not one of their ignorance when they first begin, or where they are in their belief at any one point in time, but it is only how they end. It is probably not the case of all of the saints, but the experiential order for myriads of them is:
A. The come into this world dead in trespasses in sins, they are in total spiritual ignorance, and while in such a state they do not worship God. Then, B. They are born of His Spirit or regenerated; they worship God in spirit, although they are for a time in doctrinal ignorance. Then,C. They are taught by God, led by His Spirit, and they worship Him in spirit and in truth. “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth (John 4.24).” God will see to it…
When considering Paul’s discourse on Mars Hill, it is of the utmost interest and importance in the matter of so-called “gospel regeneration” to see that Paul did not quote one single solitary verse of biblical Scripture to the Athenians! Instead, he preached “certain of your own poets,” quoting from Aratus of Cilicia, who was born around 315 BC, and Cleanthes of Assos (c. 330 BC to c. 231 BC)….This raises a most pressing and perplexing question for the gospel-regeneration advocates, a question they must answer if they would continue trying to offer a show of honesty and integrity: If the Bible were so very necessary to regeneration, as they so blindly argue, then why did not Paul quote from Moses, Isaiah, or Jeremiah? Or, steeped in philosophy as his Greek hearers were, why did not Paul quote the philosopher Solomon? If he would quote poetry to them, why did he not quote that of David, the sweet psalmist of Israel? Why did the apostle only quote these Greek philosophical poets and not the Scriptures? Or is ancient Greek poetry sufficient “Scripture” to effectuate the new birth?
When men promote heresy, poor reasoning is sure to follow. Firstly, I reject Mr. Morris” claim that “God’s elect in Athens worshiped the living and true God before Paul ever preached to them! They worshiped Him in ignorance for a while, it is true…“
Acts 17:18 Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection. 19 And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, [is]? 20 For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean. 21 (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.) 22 Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, [Ye] men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. 23 For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.6
In the context, we see that the Stoics and Epicureans encountered Paul and brought him to Areopagus to hear a new doctrine because “all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.” This sounds like people interested in novelty and intellectual stimulation rather than those interested in worshiping Jehovah God.This is especially true given that Paul’s spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry (I do not think that those given to idolatry were worshiping Jehovah God). Keep in mind that the Athenians would likely have known of the God of the Jews since the Jews had synagogues in Athens; Paul even disputed “in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him” while he waited for Silas and Timotheus – as per verse 17. If there were any already regenerate Athenians listening to Paul at Areopagus, they were either Jews or proselytes who were already worshiping Jehovah God.
However, Paul was addressing those whom he perceived as, in all things, being too superstitious (Acts 17:22). He was not addressing those who were ignorantly worshiping Jehovah God in Spirit and in Truth (such did not exist); he was speaking to idolaters who were so fearful of missing a false god that they erected a “catch-all” just in case they left one out. The words too superstitious derive from the one Greek word deisidaimonesteros [δεισιδαιμονέστερος,G1174, dice-ee-dai-mon-es’-ter-os). This word derives from two other Greek words, deilos [δειλος; G1169; di-los’ meaning fearful, timid] and daimon [δαιμων; G1142; dah’-ee-mown meaning god but translated in the AV/KJV as demon or devil]. Literally, it means fearful of gods because to the Greeks of that day, a daimon was deemed a lesser god or divine force. Deilos comes from deos which means dread; daimon comes from (1) daio which means to distribute fortunes; (2) daiomai which means to assign or award one’s lot in life; and/or (3) daemon which means knowing, or experienced in a thing (with daio and daiomai being the most likely candidates from a consensus point of view).
These Athenians, rather than worshiping the true God, were superstitiously fearing or dreading their false gods and the loss of fortune that they believed resulted from their idol’s displeasure. They feared a negative assignment in their lot in life and thus erected an altar to the unknown god in addition to all of the other gods they worshipped lest they offend it and lose their wealth, prosperity, and good luck.
Note that the “fear of gods” inherent in the meaning of deisidaimonesteros is very much different from the phrase φοβουμενος τον θεον (one that feared God) mentioned in Acts 10:2 concerning Cornelius. The former is mere superstition and the latter a God-wrought, God-given fear. Note also that the word ignorantly is agnoeo [αγνοεω; G50; ag-no-eh’-o] and it literally means no understanding, no perception, no knowledge. Can anyone truly worship God, in Spirit and in Truth, without having spiritual knowledge, understanding, and discernment? Faith is the substance (hupostasis – understanding, foundation) of things hoped for. There is no faith in ignorance. Consider:
1 Timothy 1:12 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; 13 Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did [it] ignorantly [agnoeo] in unbelief.
Romans 10:1 Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. 2 For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For they being ignorant [agnoeo] of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.
Saul was a blasphemer, persecutor, and murderer before he became the Apostle Paul by God’s grace; he was ignorant (agnoeo) while in this unregenerate state. Likewise, the majority of natural Israel was and is unregenerate. Paul acknowledges that they worshipped (their conception of Jehovah) God with much zeal, but they did so ignorantly — agnoeo, the same word. They worshiped carnally, but not in Spirit and in Truth. Unless Mr. Morris wants to make Saul (before the Damascus road experience) a regenerate person, and make the Jews spoken of in Romans 10:1-3 regenerate, then he must acknowledge that the Mars Hills hearers were unregenerate when Paul said “whom therefore ye ignorantly worship.” Now if Mr. Morris maintains that pre-Paul Saul and the Israel of Romans 10 were all regenerate saints who were worshiping God ignorantly, then he goes against the clear record of the Bible and only further digs himself into a heretical hole. No one is regenerate who has no knowledge, walks in unbelief, and who does not submit to the righteousness of God. Such a person has no inner man begotten of God; there is no Christ in him, the Hope of glory; there is no indwelling Spirit causing him both to will and to do of God’s good pleasure.
Then there is the issue of theos; do not be fooled by the use of the word god or theos in the inscription “unknown god.” Though we translate daimon as devils or demons, the Greeks at that time used daimon interchangeably with theos (or with the divine working of theos). When Paul went from deisidaimonesteros in verse 22 to agnosto theo in verse 23, the Greek’s would have thought he was using a synonym — daimon and theos. Cremer’s Biblico-theological lexicon of New Testament Greek states:
“daimon was with the Greeks originally equal to theos… All that can be asserted is, that while in earliest times the names [daimon] and [theos] were convertible terms, and were used as synonyms…, yet, from Homer onwards, [daimon], answering to the Latin numen, signifies divine agency generally, the working of a higher power which makes itself felt without being regarded as a definite or nameable person….theos designates the Godhead as personality, daimon as might… [daimon] and [daimonion], in particular, are frequently used to express that kind of divine influence on men which is not only dark and mysterious, but ungracious and hostile.” The Tragic Poets use daimon to denote fortune or fate, frequently bad fortune…also good fortune, if the context represents it so. Generally, and in prose also, daimon is associated with the idea of a destiny independent of man, gloomy and sad, coming upon and prevailing over him.”
According to Zodhiate’s Complete Word Study Dictionary (New Testament) “The Greeks gave the word daimon the same meaning as the word god.”
I include the above to show that the Greeks who erected the altar were not worshiping Jehovah God in Spirit and in Truth, but a catch-all false god. To the Athenian idolators, Jehovah God may have been known as one of many God’s — but they never worshipped Him as god (as evidenced by the unknown god altar). The Apostle Paul knew this and was using their own superstition pertaining to an unknown theos, to begin to preach unto them the true God. He was not affirming their faith, he was taking their ignorant lack of faith and using their own words against them, if you will, to enlighten them. So when Mr. Morris argues that “they worship God in spirit, although they are for a time in doctrinal ignorance” he is wrong. They worshiped idols made with human hands upon altars made with human hands, out of a slavish fear having never known Jehovah God. Although these things are so evidently obvious in the passage, it still takes the Spirit of God working in us to give us eyes to see.
Secondly, I reject Mr. Morris’ assertion that “it is of the utmost interest and importance in the matter of so-called “gospel regeneration” to see that Paul did not quote one single solitary verse of biblical Scripture to the Athenians! Instead, he preached “certain of your own poets,” quoting from Aratus of Cilicia, who was born around 315 BC, and Cleanthes of Assos (c. 330 BC to c. 231 BC)….”
Perhaps Mr. Morris did not realise that Paul’s words, as with all of the words in Scripture, are God-breathed and that since what Paul stated is currently in the Bible, Paul was effectively “quoting…biblical Scripture to the Athenians!” Paul was borne along by the Holy Spirit to state what he stated, even if it was a quote from one of their own philosophical poets. Moreover, he did not just quote the poet, but spoke of God’s creative work, his majesty above all idols, judgment, righteousness, the need for repentance, and resurrection — as clear documented in verses 24 to 31. It’s not like Paul simply quoted a poet and then poof the Athenians magically believed the truth. We have to read verses in their context and verify what the words actually mean.
In Acts 17:32-34, we read that when the Athenians “heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this [matter]. 33 So Paul departed from among them. 34 Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which [was] Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others.” We see that those who mocked, mocked. Those who wanted to hear more may or may not have had an opportunity to do so. However, we do know that some (Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others) by God’s grace believed. What did they believe? They believed God’s words, through the Apostle Paul, concerning God’s creative work, his majesty above all idols, judgment, righteousness, the need for repentance, and resurrection. Nothing in this chapter suggests that any of them were regenerate saints worshiping God ignorantly. The context of the chapter shows that they were (a) Jews who, upon hearing Paul’s words, clave to him and believed; (b) devout gentiles (proselytes to the Jewish faith) who, upon hearing Paul’s words, clave to him and believed; or (c) pagan idolaters who, upon hearing Paul’s words, clave to him and believed. There is neither any room for, nor any need to advance the notion that they were worshiping Jehovah God without knowing who Jehovah God was.
Finally, I want to address the matter of worship. For those of you who may have thought that there is no need to look into the Greek and Hebrew, I hope this study has changed your mind. So many of Mr. morris misconceptions, and the misconceptions of countless others, would have been cleared up (if god gave them wisdom to see) by simply verify the words at issue. Nonetheless, concerning worship, note that there is a vain worship. We read in Matthew 15:9 concerning the Pharisees “But in vain they do worship me, teaching [for] doctrines the commandments of men.” Would anyone argue that the Pharisees were regenerate men who worshipped God vainly as the Athenians supposedly worshipped God ignorantly? No, vain worship is no true worship as all just as ignorant worship is no true worship. However, the word worship in Matthew 15:9 is sebomai [σέβομαι G4576; seb’-om-ai) which means to reverence; to worship; to be devout or religious. This is not the same word worship that is used in Acts 17:23 “Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship.” In v23, the word is eusebeo [εὐσεβέω G2151; yoo-seb-eh’-o) which means to be well-reverent; to show devout reverence in attitude, conduct, and deed and it is only found in one other passage of the Bible:
1 Timothy 5:4 But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to shew piety [eusebeo – G2151] at home, and to requite their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God.
So we see that by looking at the words for worship, and the choice of the specific word at issue in Acts 17:23, we can conclude that Paul was never trying to teach that the Athenians, in their ignorance, were regenerate children of God nonetheless.
What about the thief on the cross?
Some argue that the thief on the cross believed on Christ even though He never heard the Gospel. This is not so. By God’s grace, the thief would have seen his own desperate condition as a sinner justly condemned by the law of God. He would have known that he deserved all that was due him in accordance with the holy law, justice, and wrath of God. Yet, he would have seen that a just man was next to Him — one who (as Pilate attested) did no wrong. He would have seen that this was no ordinary man but was rather the “King of Israel” as he heard the chief priests, scribes, and elders mockingly say. He would have seen the title on the cross rightly calling Him “Jesus the King of the Jews.” He would have known that Jesus means “Jehovah is salvation” or “the Self-existent One saves” and this would be reinforced by the fact that he heard the rulers say “He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God.” This Jesus, Jehovah is Salvation, saved others but was on a cross not willing to save Himself. He heard him being called the Christ, the Son of God, the chosen of God, and knew that these were all titles for the Messiah. He would have heard the reviling statements coming from the religious rulers and contrasted them with the loving words of Jesus spoken to his disciples and to God, words looking out for their best interest — not His. Words like “Woman, behold thy son!” and “Behold thy mother!” and “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
Presuming he knew about Scripture, the thief would have seen Psalm 69:21 fulfilled when they gave Him gall for His meat and in His thirst they gave Him vinegar to drink. He would have seen Psalm 22:18 fulfilled in that they parted His raiment and casts lots upon His vesture. He would have seen that the Lord was not coming down from the cross because “He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities and that the chastisement of our peace [was] upon him” as per Isaiah 53:5.
Maybe the thief knew nothing about the Scripture, but if he were a Jew (or lived amongst them, which is likely given where he was crucified) he would have had some idea about the Jewish belief in a Deliverer and Messiah. Couple this with what he witnessed from the cross and we can rest assured that he was not worshiping God in ignorance but was worshiping the Living God in Spirit and in Truth in accordance with the Gospel truths set forth before him.
I am sure that there are other objections that I can address, but I really do not see a need for it. The doctrine of regeneration without conversion is so inherently false that what I have written in these three parts should suffice. However, I may write a fourth part to address other objections that may come my way if God puts it on my heart to do so. Until then, I hope that the current parts have evidenced the fact that none of God’s elect will ever be left unconverted while being regenerate. God saves us with the express purpose of conforming us to the image or likeness of Christ. This conforming (summorphos) is done in fellowship with other believers as we hear the Gospel, read the Bible, endure the fiery trials from within and without, and uplift and edify one another — all by the effectual working of God. Those who would have us believe that there are regenerate Arminians, Sacramentalists, Shintoists, Jainists, Muslims, Talmudists, etc. walking about who may or may not ever hear the Gospel are self-deceiving deceivers — period.
To God be the glory – forever.