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You Have Been Warned !!
By Richard Gunther
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.
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
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
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.
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?
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.
first humans were warned, or threatened, very clearly.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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)
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
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.
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.
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.
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.)
said that this work would continue "as a witness" until He returned :
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.
Paul tried to stop some people from sacrificing animals to him, he said :
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:
in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways.
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".
saying this Paul was inferring that food, climate and seasons should be
sufficient indicators to people that there is a true God.
another group of people (Greeks), Paul again referred to Nature :
that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and
earth, dwells not in temples made with hands;
is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he gives
to all life, and breath, and all things;
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
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:
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:
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
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.
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.
mechanism which God uses to help people find Him is their conscience. As Paul
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
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.
everywhere the colonies went, the gospel went with them. For example, Samuel
Marsden came to New Zealand, and hundreds of Maoris embraced the truth.
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.
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.
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!
then leads us to two important questions :
On what basis does God judge?
Are there any exceptions?
On what basis does God judge?
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.
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)
Are there any exceptions?
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 :
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
People with insufficient intelligence to respond correctly to the gospel.
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.
on what basis does God judge? Simply - on the 'light' which each of us receives.
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
to the rest of the world, God has made the gospel available through
Christian organisations, broadcasting or posting from many countries, in many
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.
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
to the average, intelligent Westerner, God has provided (at least) five
ways by which that Westerner may find Him :
The conscience (the Law written on our hearts)
The Bible (The written truth)
Nature (Revealing God's wisdom)
Jesus Christ (Birth, Life, Death, Resurrection, Ascension)
The Church (The testimony of changed lives)
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
I wanted to become a Christian, how might I find the truth?
may seem like a simple question to a Christian -
read the Bible!
is the truth!
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
might hunt out a minister, but he or she might be as soppy as custard.
live a good life my so. God loves you. Don't worry about such things.
might mistake a cult member for a Christian.
way to God is to look inward. There is no such thing as sin. Trust in
the X Files Mulder says "The truth is out there" but where?
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.
means absolutely nothing.
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
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!"
the top of the stool.
the average, intelligent Westerner, God has provided (at least) five ways
by which He may be found :
The conscience (the Law written on our hearts)
The Bible (The written truth)
Nature (Revealing God's wisdom)
Jesus Christ (Birth, Life, Death, Resurrection, Ascension)
5. The Church (The testimony of changed lives)
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