This is a subject that is very contentious, especially among those who add philosophy and extra-Biblical ideas to what Scripture actually says about this subject! About 10+ men from our church get together every second Monday evening, discussing Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book, Great Doctrines of the Bible. This past Monday was only the second time we got together, and the subject matter was chapter 2, Revelation, of the first volume of the book.
We were discussing general revelation and special revelation.
MLJ wrote that there are 3 aspects to general revelation:
- God revealed Himself through creation and nature.
- God reveals Himself through His gracious acts of providence. This includes “the ordering of things in this world, their maintenance, their sustenance, and the fact that everything keeps on going and continues in life.” p14.
- The history of the world is a revelation of God.
Of course, general revelation is not sufficient to bring us to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, but it is a very clear indicator that there is some kind of god-like being.
In order to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, special revelation is needed, and that revelation is now ultimately contained and revealed in the 66 books of the Bible.
However, during the evening’s discussions, one of the guys asked if someone could get saved through general revelation. He was wondering what happens to the tribesman down in South America who has never heard of Jesus at all. I started explaining that general revelation cannot save us, as there is no revelation of Jesus Christ and the gospel in it. Suddenly, like an avalanche, and obviously driven by a misunderstanding of general revelation, suddenly many of them had examples of people that have never heard of Jesus Christ, but saw Him in dreams and then were converted to Christianity. Like the Muslim (somewhere in the Islamic world; I did not get the details) who saw Christ in a dream, who told him to believe in the name of Jesus Christ. Now, I am sure that this could happen from time to time. However, this is all anecdotal evidence and not Scriptural evidence or mandate. It certainly is not normative! Charles Horne writes:
“Though in the most unusual circumstances conversion may be wrought without the Word by some remarkable act of providence, generally it is brought about through the preaching and teaching of the Word.”1
The closest to something like this in the Scriptures is in Acts 10.
(1) Now there was a man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian cohort, (2) a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually. (3) About the ninth hour of the day he clearly saw in a vision an angel of God who had just come in and said to him, "Cornelius!" (4) And fixing his gaze on him and being much alarmed, he said, "What is it, Lord?" And he said to him, "Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God. (5) "Now dispatch some men to Joppa and send for a man named Simon, who is also called Peter; (6) he is staying with a tanner named Simon, whose house is by the sea." (Acts 10:1-6 NASB)
Here we find Cornelius being approached in a vision by an angel from God. That is about as far as this story correlates with the stories given as examples on Monday night. You see, Peter still had to go to Caesarea to preach the gospel to Cornelius and his household. The sermon Peter preached is in Acts 10:34-43. While God certainly can speak to someone without making use of human agency, we find no such examples in the New Testament, where the preaching of the gospel was not necessary.
The New Testament makes it very clear, and Jesus said it so well:
I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. (John 14:6 NASB)
Paul took it a step further, and explained it step by step:
(11) For the Scripture says, "WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED." (12) For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; (13) for "WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED." (14) How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? (15) How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, "HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!" (Romans 10:11-15 NASB)
These are the steps which Paul saw in the process until someone actually believed:
- A person is sent;
- the person preaches;
- the unsaved hear about Christ;
- they believe in Christ;
- they call on His name.
It is for this reason that Paul wrote:
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17 NASB)
Saving faith comes from hearing the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Although God has the power to save anyone without the preaching of the gospel, He has chosen a certain means to effectually call the elect unto Himself, and that is the preaching of the gospel. While we believe that God is just, and that He will do what is right for all human beings, it is a futile exercise to assume what God will and will not do in the salvation of human beings without such specific declaration of God’s actions in the Scriptures. It becomes mere speculation! What we do know from Scripture is that “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12 NASB) Scripture further tells us that “he who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18 NASB)
So, what about that tribesman in South America? Do you think he deserves to be saved? You see, “there is none righteous, not even one!” (Romans 3:10) “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) The fact is that no-one deserves heaven, not even one! Each and every human being on this planet deserves to die and to go to hell! Therefore, the one in South America deserves death as much as the one in America, and the one in Saudi Arabia or Australia! No one is deserving of heaven. For this reason, while Scripture shows nothing to the contrary, the one in South America who has never heard the gospel will end up in hell, not because he had a missed opportunity, but because in his sinfulness he deserves to go to hell. In God’s eternal wisdom “He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation.” (Acts 17:26)
(22) What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? (23) And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, (24) even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. (Romans 9:22-24 NASB)
In the end, God’s wisdom far exceeds ours in whom He predestines to salvation, and all that those who have been saved can say in humility and with glory to God is
(5) He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, (6) to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:5-6 NASB)
 Horne, Charles M., Salvation, Moody Press, Chicago, IL, Ninth Printing, 1980, p60.