March 22, 2013
iv. Others, not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the Word, and may have some common operations of the Spirit, yet they never truly come unto Christ, and therefore cannot be saved: much less can men, not professing the Christian religion, be saved in any other way whatsoever, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature, and the law of that religion they do profess. And, to assert and maintain that they may, is very pernicious, and to be detested.
The Lord Jesus said, "Enter ye in at the strait [narrow] gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" (Matt. 7:13-14). Christ's teaching about the narrow way does not sit well with modern religious relativism, but the Son of God speaks with divine authority and we must listen to Him.
The Westminster Confession addresses two cases of people who are not in the narrow way to life. In the first case, they go to church and hear the gospel preached. They may experience some work of the Holy Spirit upon their souls, such as conviction of sin (John 16:8), happiness at the message of God's love (Matt. 13:20-21), and insight into the meaning of the Bible (Heb. 6:4). Perhaps they even exercise some spiritual gifts for ministry (Matt. 7:22). They may even for a time joyfully profess to be followers of Christ (Matt. 13:20-22). But they are not saved. Why not?
The Confession declares that "they never truly come to Christ." Coming to Christ does not mean going up front in a meeting or reciting a prayer. Coming to Christ means trusting in Christ alone for eternal life and joy (John 6:35). Whatever else they do, these people do not repent of sin and believe on the Lord Jesus as their only Savior. They are guilty of the great sin of unbelief, and therefore God's wrath abides on them (John 3:36). Their good works and religious duties are done in vain, because they do not proceed from a true faith, and "without faith it is impossible to please God" (Heb. 11:6).
Yet the Confession probes deeper. Why didn't they come to Christ? Someone might answer that it was their own free choice not to believe. This view only raises the question, "Why then did they choose not to believe?" The Confession has the answer. They were called by the ministry of the Word, but they were not effectually called by God. And why didn't God effectually call them? He did not call them because they were "not elected," not chosen by God and "ordained to eternal life" (Acts 13:48). This is what Jesus said, "Many are called, but few are chosen" (Matt. 22:14). Many hear the gospel invitation to come to Christ, but few are elected by God. Therefore, they refuse to come to Christ and perish forever.
The second case is persons "not professing the Christian religion." They may profess another religion, or profess to have no religion at all. They may try to live a good life according to their conscience ("the light of nature"). They may fervently follow their own religion. They may be very noble and even sacrifice themselves for their god or their country. But they are not saved. Why not? Again, it is because they do not come to Christ. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:6). Christ is the only Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5). All other ways are excluded. No other way has been provided.
This exclusiveness may make God seem very harsh and unfair, but in fact it is necessary because God is very holy and just. Are you offended at the thought that God must effectually call a person through the gospel in order for him to saved? If so, you should ask yourself why we need to be saved. And saved from what? The answer is that people are not innocent or basically good. They are sinners, and they deserve to be condemned and punished.
Sinners don't deserve God. Sinners don't desire God. Citing many passages from the Old Testament, Paul writes in Romans 3:10-12 "There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one." When Christ sends His Word and Spirit to a sinner, His love compels Him to seek after someone who hates Him. He embraces someone who spits in His face. He pursues someone who is running away from Him.
Far be it from us to accuse God of injustice. Rather, let us marvel and be amazed that God effectually calls anyone out of the band of rebels that our race has become. Why would He do it? Ephesians 2:4-5 tells us, "But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved)." Abundant mercy! Boundless love! Triumphant life! Glorious grace! The inspired Psalmist paints this picture of saving grace at work:
Rebels who had dared to show
Proud contempt for God Most High,
Bound in iron and in woe,
Humbled low with toil and pain,
Fell, and looked for help in vain.
To Jehovah then they cried
In their trouble, and He saved,
Threw the prison open wide
Where they lay to death enslaved,
Bade the gloomy shadows flee,
Broke their bonds and set them free.
--Psalm 107:10-14 (The Psalter, No. 293:1, 2)
Finally, the Confession confronts our modern tendency to modify the claims of Christ to accommodate the claims of those who profess some other religion. "To assert and maintain" that such persons can be saved in some other way than the way of Christ is "very pernicious," that is, destructive, ruinous, even fatal, since we are encouraging a vain hope in these people, one that will lead ultimately to their being "punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord" (2 Thess. 1:9); and therefore, this view is "to be detested," that is, abhorred and rejected.