Dear Church Family,
This past Sunday, we continued our Sunday school lessons in the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC) in questions 60-62. Here is a brief review.
WLC 60 Can they who have never heard the gospel, and so know not Jesus Christ, nor believe in him, be saved by their living according to the light of nature?
A. They who, having never heard the gospel, know not Jesus Christ, and believe not in him, cannot be saved, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature, or the laws of that religion which they profess; neither is there salvation in any other, but in Christ alone, who is the Saviour only of his body the church.
There are actually three big questions that are answered in this question and answer:
(1) What about those who have never heard the gospel?
The short answer is that those who have never heard the gospel cannot be saved. One of the clearest passages in God’s Word that deals with this question is Romans 10:11-17. While we typically think of the book of Romans as a letter which contains deep and profound theological teaching (which it does), one of the primary stated purposes of Paul’s letter is to raise financial support from the church in Rome in support of his desire to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to Spain (Romans 15:22-25).
That being the case, in Romans 10, the Apostle Paul argues for the necessity of preachers in order that people may call on the name of the Lord and be saved: Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved (v 13); in order to call upon the name of the Lord, one must believe (v 14a); in order to believe in the Lord, one must hear (v 14b); in order to hear, there must be a preacher (v 14c); and in order for there to be preachers, they must be sent by the church (v 15). Therefore, faith comes by hearing the word of Christ (v 17). And, if that is true, then those who never hear the gospel cannot be saved.
(2) Is general revelation and being created in the image of God sufficient to obtain salvation?
Again, the short answer to this question is: No, general revelation is not sufficient to obtain salvation. The wisdom of this world is insufficient to come to know God; the “foolishness” of the preaching of Christ crucified is the means that God is well-pleased to use to save those who believe (1 Corinthians 1:20-24).
An important passage that teaches us about general revelation is found in Romans 1:18-25. Speaking of general revelation (how God reveals Himself in creation apart from Scripture), we learn that that God reveals Himself to mankind in two placed: (1) in the hearts of men (v 19) and in the created order itself (v 20); however, in his natural state, man suppresses this revealed truth in unrighteousness, is found to be without excuse, and stands condemned (vv 18, 20b). Neither the “light of nature” nor the laws of that religion which unbelievers profess are sufficient for salvation.
(3) For whom is Christ the Savior?
Christ is the Savior only of His body the Church. The Scriptures teach us that Christ is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body (Ephesians 5:23). He has purchased the church of God with His own blood (Acts 20:28).
Some Further Thoughts
These questions may become controversial for some; however, in the discussions during our Sunday school class, members of the class raised two interesting points that ought to help ameliorate that controversy.
(1) Trust in God’s character. Though we may struggle to understand God’s saving work, His choosing some to be saved, the means that He has appointed to seek and save the lost, and the limits of Christ’s atoning work, we may also trust in the goodness of God to always act according to His righteousness and mercy. King David is a good example of this. When given the option to receive either three years of famine, or three months to be swept away before the sword of his foes, or three days of the sword of the LORD (pestilence in the land), David’s response was, “Please let me fall into the hand of the LORD, for His mercies are very great” (1 Chronicles 21:11-13). We are not fit to judge, but we trust in the One who is. Thus, we seek to proclaim the gospel to all and trust in the work of the Holy Spirit to accomplish His good pleasure.
(2) The 9th and 10th chapters of Romans go together. In Romans 9, the Apostle Paul teaches and explains the doctrine of election – how God chooses some for salvation but not others. Some believers are keen to use Romans 9 as a weapon and so boast in their election; however, that is not Paul’s purpose. Understanding election ought to drive us to humble ourselves before the Lord. And, it ought to drive us toward a greater zeal for missions – to send preachers out into the world so that those whom God has chosen may hear and believe (Romans 10).
WLC 61 Are all they saved who hear the gospel, and live in the church?
A. All that hear the gospel, and live in the visible church, are not saved; but they only who are true members of the church invisible.
Beginning with question 61, the next set of questions in the WLC (questions 61-65) introduce the concept and biblical doctrine of the visible and invisible church. Some are unfamiliar with the language. And, while these terms are not found in the Scripture, the teaching and doctrine is.
First, this distinction between the visible and invisible church is present in the old covenant. Paul writes that “they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel” (Romans 9:6). That is to say that within the nation of Israel (the visible church), there has always been a remnant of those who are regenerate and truly believe (the invisible church). Likewise, in the new covenant, Jesus teaches that we may draw a distinction between a profession of faith and true faith: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter” (Matthew 7:21).
WLC 62 What is the visible church?
A. The visible church is a society made up of all such as in all ages and places of the world do profess the true religion, and of their children.
The visible church is comprised of two types of people: those who profess the true religion and their children. Only God knows the hearts and minds of men, but man is limited to look upon the outward appearance (1 Samuel 16:7; Revelation 2:23). Thus, the first category of those who have membership in the visible church is made up of those who make a credible profession of faith. Just as Peter, on the day of Pentecost, received into membership and baptized those who professed faith in Christ (Acts 2:37-41), we do the same today.
The children of those who make a profession of faith are included in the visible church because this was the case in the old covenant (Genesis 17:7) and it is a point of continuity with the new covenant in Christ. On that same day of Pentecost recorded in Acts 2, Peter declares that the promise of forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit is for his hearers and for their children, as many as the Lord God will call to Himself (Acts 2:39). The children of those who believe are “holy” or set apart by the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:14) and are therefore included in the society of the visible church.
We will not be having Sunday school on September 10th, but when we return on September 17th. We’ll study and learn more about the doctrine of the visible and invisible church and the benefits of each. The following questions deal specifically with the special benefits for those who are members of the invisible church, namely “union and communion with Christ in grace and glory” (WLC 65).
I hope you’ll join us for our continuing study of the Westminster Larger Catechism on Sunday, September 17th!
The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch