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You Have Been Warned !!

By Richard Gunther


Some people ask this question : "What about people who have never heard the gospel? Will God judge them, and send them to hell?" Sometimes this question is asked to divert a Christian away from the gospel and into an irrelevant discussion, in much the same was as a man fleeing from a dog might throw a lump of meat into a tree to lead the pursuing dog off his trail. But we will be charitable, and take the question as a sincere, heartfelt motion of sympathy for the lost.

So, is God fair? When He judges the world, will some people be sent to hell for no reason other than ignorance? Will God sentence to hell people who have never had the opportunity to become Christians? Is God as tough as Hitler, and as blind as a stone-hearted tyrant?

The first thing we ought to examine is whether or not God has at least tried to warn people, beginning with the first events in this world's history - the first people.

Christianity can be simplified down to the very short formula : "You have been warned!" Wrapped up in this single sentence are the themes - God loves you, God is holy, You may sin but not with impunity, You must be warned so judgement does not come unfairly, Heed the warning and avoid judgement". Logically, a warning is a pointless thing unless there is something to be warned about.

John 3:16 contains all these elements, and so do several other passages, but the question often arises : Has God given people fair warning through every generation, or is it just this generation, and one or two other fortunate groups, which have had the opportunity to escape God's judgement?

To find out, we need to take a 'lightning tour' of the world's history. The first thing we must look for is evidence that God is fair and consistent, so ought to discover a fair warning to all people at all times. Logically, there must be at least the OPPORTUNITY available, otherwise we may accuse God of judging without due provision. This would be similar to traffic officers pouncing on unsuspecting drivers and issuing huge fines for offences which the drivers never heard of.

The first humans were warned, or threatened, very clearly.

"But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it: for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die". Genesis 2:17

Adam and Eve knew the warning, yet they disobeyed, and brought in the judgement, and because they were so perfect, and glorious, and because they had so much authority and dominion, the judgement they received was passed on to everything under them.

What Adam and Eve did became a solemn warning to their children. As the human family grew, the story was passed on, yet almost no-one received it, and soon there were tens of thousands of people, all living in a hedonistic, materialistic, pagan manner. God had to give the whole world another warning, which he issued through Noah.

"And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die". Genesis 6:17

For 120 years Noah preached the message, and his ark bore witness to the coming flood. This means that the 'first world' was given ample opportunity to repent, which means that God was perfectly justified in doing what he did.

After the flood, the story of Noah was carried to the land of Shinar, where the world's population began to settle and build a central tower. To those people the events of the global deluge and the new planetary surface, the altered climate and the existence of regrowth and reforestation would have been obvious. Yet despite all this, those people rejected Noah's witness and went their own way. As a result, God divided the languages and the people moved out to establish their own cultures, taking with them the Creation and Flood stories, which became distorted through time, but still retained the general outline. This is why, when missionaries make contact with isolated people, they often find that the Bible stories are already part of these people's beliefs.

The Bible is mostly silent when it comes to how God dealt with the nations of the world from then on. The only time other nations are mentioned is when they are related in some way to the Hebrew people, Israel, or Judah, the Jews (much later) or godly individuals. So what we know is limited only to those insights which the Bible gives, and the rest we have to take by faith.

In Genesis 14 a man called Melchizedek appears. Psalm 110:4 and Hebrews 7 explain that this man represented the coming Lord Jesus, king of righteousness and king of peace. This man was like Noah to the world, prophetically bearing witness to the true God.

Which brings us to Abram. This godly man was not only extremely wealthy, but also called a prophet. Abram's life was therefore an example to his generation, just as Noah's was to his. It was Abraham who went to offer his son as a sacrifice to God. It was Abraham who was there when the five cities, including Sodom and Gomorra, were destroyed. It was Abraham's children who became the Arab nations of today, and the Israelites, and the story and witness of his life were known far and wide. Kings showed him huge respect.

Following in his father's footsteps came Isaac, and then Jacob, and his son Joseph went to Egypt as a slave and ended up as second in command. The coming of Joseph's brothers was spread far and wide, and soon after the family of Israelites, 70 in all, settled in Egypt. With them came the stories of Creation, the Flood and other events.

But God had already predicted what would happen. To Abram He had said : "Know of a surety that your seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years. And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward they shall come out with great substance." Genesis 15:13.

Which means that, for four hundred years, it was known that Egypt's judgement was coming, and Israel's deliverance was expected - to the very day. ( "And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, even the selfsame day it came to pass, that all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt". Exodus 12:41 The extra 30 years takes into account the time Joseph was in Egypt)

Genesis 12:37 describes the Exodus. It was not a straggling handful of nomadic shepherds, as is so often depicted. There were at least two million of them 600,000 men on foot, plus about the same number of women and of children, plus a "mixed multitude". This event would have made front page news if the surrounding nations had newspapers.

So humiliating was Egypt's destruction and defeat at the hands of a foreign rebel shepherd and ex-Egyptian and his brother, that all record of it seems to have been obliterated - this is logical, as it hardly seems like the sort of thing an arrogant, heathen ruler would want to display to his people. The only accurate record we have of Moses and the Exodus is in the Bible.

The next major event was the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. Coupled with this was the 40 years wandering in the wilderness, the wars, and the miracles. Most of these events were known to the inhabitants of Canaan long before the Israelites arrived. We know this because of what Rahab, the woman who sheltered the two Israelite spies, said : "I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you.

For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red sea for you, when you came out of Egypt; and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side of Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed.

And as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the LORD your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath" Josh.2:9,10.

Through the time between Israel's taking of the 'promised land' , beginning with Joshua, to the final break-up of the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah, God sent a succession of men and women as witnesses to the truth. Many of these people are not even mentioned in the Bible, but many are. The book of Judges lists some of them. The prophets who spoke during the reigns of different kings represent others. God always had His witness available to the world, should anyone seek Him.

Some of the most influential witnesses were king David, and then King Solomon, whose renown was carried into many countries, not only by the Queen of Sheba (Africa). Traders and travellers would have taken with them stories of Israel, and perhaps some information about the current prophets. News would have gone out, as it still does today, and the nations would have at least had opportunity to respond.

The Bible lists some of the notable witnesses : Deborah, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, and so on. As well as all these, God always had a godly remnant, unnamed but just as valuable to Him : "But what says the answer of God to him (Elijah)? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal". Romans 11:4

When Israel to the north went to Assyria, and then Judah to the south went to Babylon, they took with them the stories of the Creation, the Flood, and all the subsequent history of Man from Israel's point of view. The Assyrians and Babylonians had a golden opportunity to receive it, but they refused.

When Ezra and then Nehemiah came back from Babylon to organise the rebuilding of the city walls and Temple, their witness was confirmation of God's Word, because God had said that the city would be rebuilt 70 years after the Jews went into captivity. ( "In the first year of his reign I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem". Daniel 9:2)

Then follows the "400 years of silence" as it is sometimes called, from the last words of Malachi to the first words of John the baptist. The Jewish nation waited for the Messiah, and the world seemed to carry on without much intervention by God. But the very fact that there was a Jewish nation was a powerful witness, and the Jewish religious leaders still kept, in perfect condition, the Scriptures. So fearful were they that any single detail of God's Word should be lost that they took extraordinary measures to prevent errors in copying, and they also built up a huge body of work called the Talmud, to explain and comment on the Scriptures. (It was this body of work which Jesus soundly condemned).

As well as the temple at Jerusalem, there was another (rival) temple, built by Jewish colonists, at Leontopolis (ancient Goshem), Alexandria, which was probably the place where Joseph and Mary took young Jesus when they fled from Herod. This colony was closed by Vespasian, about 100 AD. As a witness, this Jewish stronghold was able to share, with all who asked, the story told in the books of Moses.

But what, it may be asked, about nations such as China, which went for thousands of years with virtually no contact with other nations? The ancient Chinese language, it has been shown, contains many clear references to Creation and subsequent events, beginning some 40 years after the Biblical Tower of Babel event. From this we can infer that all the people who were scattered from that Tower took with them, in their own language, the general outline of God's dealings with Man.

We have skimmed through to the advent of Jesus. His coming was probably about as significant as the global Flood, considering the impact He has had on the world. Millions have either died for Him, or died trying to destroy Him. His life and times were documented by the Romans and confirmed by contemporary historians. The Early Church grew because Jesus was real.

On the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was given to all believers, and all the people in the street, who were from at least 14 different localities, said "How is it that we hear (the gospel) each in our own language?" (Acts 2:8). The 'Great Commission', as it has been called, was to all believers to go "into all the world" with the good news of God's Plan of Salvation, and to aid this work, God gave the first Christians the ability to speak any language. (Usually today the missionary must spend many years learning the language, though there are some reports of this gift being given.)

Jesus said that this work would continue "as a witness" until He returned :

"And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations; and then shall the end come". Matthew 24:14. He did not say that all nations would be saved, or that every person in every nation would hear it, but that the gospel would be there, available, as a witness, should any person in any nation want to receive it.

When Paul tried to stop some people from sacrificing animals to him, he said :

"We also are men of like passions with you, and preach to you that you should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein:

Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways.

Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness". Acts 14:15-17.

By saying this Paul was inferring that food, climate and seasons should be sufficient indicators to people that there is a true God.

To another group of people (Greeks), Paul again referred to Nature :

"God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwells not in temples made with hands;

Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he gives to all life, and breath, and all things;

And has made of one (person) all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;

That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:

For in him we live, and move, and have our being . . . and the times of this ignorance God (overlooked), but now commands all men every where to repent:

Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by [ that] man whom he has ordained; whereof he has given assurance to all (people), in that he has raised him from the dead". Acts 17

In the above speech, Paul calls his hearers to consider first Nature, and then the unity of all people, and finally the resurrection. It is easy to forget that 2000 years have passed since Paul said these words. In those days the Greeks were only 4000 years away from Creation, and perhaps their memory of their origin was clearer, which may be why Paul referred to the unity of humanity.

It is worth noting that all reliable written histories in all cultures begin at about the time of the end of the Biblical Flood, and many cultures trace their roots back to some 'first parents' who survived a great catastrophe. The Greeks were probably familiar with these vague histories too.

The mechanism which God uses to help people find Him is their conscience. As Paul wrote :

"Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another" Romans 2:15

Moving on through history, we know that the Early Church continued to grow for the first three hundred years, until the first pope was announced. Heresies and cults sprang up through all this time, and the purity of the Church was corrupted many times, but always God had a faithful remnant. The Papacy rose out of the ruins of fallen Rome and the Dark Ages followed, with millions being slaughtered. 1260 years later the Papacy was brought down by the French revolution and the Reformation took hold of the Western world. The great colonising era took place, with British colonies being established everywhere.

And everywhere the colonies went, the gospel went with them. For example, Samuel Marsden came to New Zealand, and hundreds of Maoris embraced the truth.

And God raised up great men and women, such as Wesley and Spurgeon and William Booth, while at the same time the British and Foreign Bible Society was founded. The Church of England divided into many denominations - Lutherans, Methodists, Calvinists, Puritans, Anglicans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians and so on, each following drawing in a different harvest, and the gospel continued to break into new areas of the world.

Today, with radio, video, CD, television, the InterNet and other forms of mass communication, the witness of the gospel is available to more nations than ever before. And God is continually raising up pockets of revival, such as Home Churches, Christian Homeschooling, Public Christian Schools, Promise keepers, the Creationist Society and so on.

The question was "Has God given all people fair warning?" I believe He has, not just because it would be illogical and unfair for Him to judge those whom He has not warned, but also because Satan would have a 'field day' accusing God the moment a miscarriage of justice occurred!

This then leads us to two important questions :

1. On what basis does God judge?

2. Are there any exceptions?

1. On what basis does God judge?

As Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Every judgement God makes is a perfectly balanced harmony. God is infinite, so He can see a person's whole life from start to finish. God is also personal, so He can understand all the pressures on a person in all situations. God is transcendent, so He is above us, 'watching' objectively. He is also immanent, which means he can see and understand every detail from close up. He is omniscient, so He can weigh everything against his infinite knowledge. He is sovereign, which means He can make correct and final rulings without the need for advice. And God is good, so no judgement He makes will ever be faulty in any way.

"That be far from Thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" Genesis 18:25. (Abraham knew that God would not treat the wicked the same way as the righteous, and vice versa)

2. Are there any exceptions?


(a.) Unborn children, lost before birth through accident or abortion, and infants, babies and little children, are innocent. They have never had the opportunity to rebel or sin knowingly. As God said to Jonah, concerning the children :

"And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much livestock?" Jonah 4:11

(b) People with insufficient intelligence to respond correctly to the gospel.

(c) People who, through some cruel twist of nurture or environment have been unable to understand, and prevented from hearing, the gospel. Into this category I would place those people who have been brought up in 'primitive' and isolated tribes, under the bondage of Satan. People brought up from birth under some political regime, such as Communist China.

So on what basis does God judge? Simply - on the 'light' which each of us receives.

To those in the Western world, where churches abound and the Bible is presented in hundreds of different ways - music, Christian radio, Christian plays, Shows, books, magazines, TV programs, etc - the people of the West, I feel, have very little excuse for not becoming Christians. On judgement day few will be able to say "We were never told", or, "We didn't have the opportunity".

And to the rest of the world, God has made the gospel available through Christian organisations, broadcasting or posting from many countries, in many different languages.

To those who never hear the gospel, it seems likely that God's judgement will be based on the person's conscience, or on the person's response to the Law written on his or her heart. Logically, this means that many will be saved (including infants and 'idiots') without their having to become Christians - an idea which many Christians find objectionable.

Much time can be wasted arguing the pros and cons of this subject, but in the end, it is God who decides who is, and who is not, to spend eternity with Him in His Kingdom, so such discussion is mainly futile, as it cannot really change anything.

But to the average, intelligent Westerner, God has provided (at least) five ways by which that Westerner may find Him :

1. The conscience (the Law written on our hearts)

2. The Bible (The written truth)

3. Nature (Revealing God's wisdom)

4. Jesus Christ (Birth, Life, Death, Resurrection, Ascension)

5. The Church (The testimony of changed lives)

In the end, for those who wonder about the position of the unsaved, the best question has to be "What about you? If you are so concerned that people may be going to hell, why don't you do something about it? Have you heeded God's warning yourself? Are you passing that warning along?"


If I wanted to become a Christian, how might I find the truth?

This may seem like a simple question to a Christian -

Just read the Bible!


Jesus is the truth!

But when I pick a Bible up I find a mass of words, and apparently no nice, neat guidelines. Just book after book with funny names. Who on earth is Malatchi anyway?

I might hunt out a minister, but he or she might be as soppy as custard.

"Just live a good life my so. God loves you. Don't worry about such things.

I might mistake a cult member for a Christian.

"The way to God is to look inward. There is no such thing as sin. Trust in yourself."

As the X Files Mulder says "The truth is out there" but where?

And the other problem I might have is judgement day. If I don't trust God the right way, I might spend my whole life going in the wrong direction, and discover, too late, that I'm heading for hell.

Sincerity means absolutely nothing.

Like the man who bought a ticket from Christchurch and flew, he believed, to Auckland but arrived in Timaru. All his confidence and sincerity weren't worth five cents.

So how has God made provision - so on Judgement Day we can't say to Him "But you never told me", or "But you never made it clear!"

Draw the top of the stool.

To the average, intelligent Westerner, God has provided (at least) five ways by which He may be found :

1. The conscience (the Law written on our hearts)

2. The Bible (The written truth)

3. Nature (Revealing God's wisdom)

4. Jesus Christ (Birth, Life, Death, Resurrection, Ascension)

5. The Church (The testimony of changed lives)

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