What about the Heathen Who Haven’t Heard?
Conversation with an unbeliever: Ever feel guilty? Of course you do. Why? Because you are guilty. Guilty of what? Of breaking God’s law.
It would be rare indeed to find someone in this country who has not heard the summary of God’s law—the Ten Commandments. But what of those in somewhere like deepest, darkest Africa who have not heard? Are they off the hook? Do they receive a cosmic “Get Out of Jail Free” card? Many Evangelicals would say yes. Many would say that surly God would not find someone guilty of breaking a law that he did not know.
But is this the case? Is one excused from the law’s requirements simply because he’s never heard them? Paul addresses this issue in Romans stating “for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law . . . show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them” (Romans 2:14-15). In his commentary on Romans, John Calvin speaks of men being “blind,” but “not so blind that we can plead ignorance without being convicted of perversity.”
The Experience of God’s Law
The actual hearing of the law does not determine the lawbreakers ultimate guilt; for all men know the law of God innately, since all men bear the image of God (Genesis 1:26-28). Thus when men reason morally, experience a crises of conscience, or suffer from guilty feelings, they are actually reflecting the stamp of the law, which each man by nature bears.
All men of sound judgment will therefore hold, that a sense of Deity is indelibly engraven on the human heart. And that this belief is naturally engendered in all, and thoroughly fixed as it were in our very bones, is strikingly attested by the contumacy of the wicked, who, though they struggle furiously, are unable to extricate themselves from the fear of God . . . for the worm of conscience, keener than burning steel, is gnawing them within.
John Calvin (1509-1564)
As we have seen, the heathen-who-hasn’t-heard in deepest, darkest Africa is just as guilty and as the heathen-who-hasn’t-heard in deepest, darkest Texas: both contend with the law of God written on their hearts, and both live in open rebellion against their holy Creator.
Labels: Doctrine of Salvation