Are the Heathen Really Lost?

By Dr. James M. Gray (1851-1935)

“Are the heathen lost?” is a question very often asked even by professing Christians, among whom a secret skepticism exists as to whether it were really true that they were lost. The argument presented is something like this: “There are hundreds of millions of heathen who do not know the gospel and have never heard of Jesus Christ, but it is not their fault that this is the case, and God who is just and loving will not punish them for that for which they are not to blame.” We might sympathize with this feeling so far as it is born of a spirit of compassion for the heathen and a desire to sustain the honor and integrity of God, but there are certain fallacies in the argument which ought to be exposed.

In the first place, the heathen are not lost because they do not know the Gospel or believe on Jesus Christ, but because they are sinners like all the rest of the world. The proof of their sin is borne witness to by history, by the reports of missionaries, and by their own confession, and especially by the unmistakable evidence that they are idolators, and idolatry is really the basal sin.

The second point is that the heathen are not only sinners, but accountable for their sin. This is shown very clearly from Romans 1:18-25, which indicates that God had revealed himself to them in the work of creation, that the heathen world had once known him but failed to glorify him, and became vain in their reasonings and voluntarily changed the glory of the incorruptible God for that of images, and it was for this reason that God in punishment upon them had given them over to the condition in which they are now found. The Word of God distinctly says they are without excuse. Moreover, missionaries bear witness that this is as true today as ever, and that the heathen possess a conscience, a moral sense and apprehension of a Supreme God which only needs the touch of the Holy Spirit to be awakened into active exercise.

The third point is that the hope of heathenism is not in itself. It is not only true that their breach is great like the sea but that the Lord only can heal them. Some philosophers have claimed that various religious systems of heathenism are only so many steps in the development of the religious instinct of man—that they who had begun as open deniers of God, and by and by came to worship material objects, then spiritual beings such as demons, etc., would finally by a natural process of evolution come to acknowledge, of their own accord, the one true and only God. But this theory is denied first of all by the Bible, which teaches unmistakably that man began with the knowledge of God, lost it by sin and has been wandering further away ever since. It is denied also by the facts of history, for the nearer we trace nations to their origin the purer is their religion and vice versa. Current facts also substantiate this, since we have yet to hear from the missionary who has discovered any heathen nation making progress toward God of itself.

The fourth point is that we have no right to believe, as some imagine, that the heathen will have another chance after death. The idea of a second probation, as some call it, is rendered inadmissible by the fact that there is no first probation at present extended to man. The only probation man ever had was in the Garden of Eden before the fall, and when he fell he lost that forever. “The world is lost in the darkness of sin.” There is no Scriptural evidence of another opportunity to find Christ after death, upon which a man can base a reasonable probability that it will be so. If any individual heathen is now living up to the light he already has, and we may hope that there are such, God in mercy and love will undoubtedly give him more light. In this sense we may understand perhaps, those words of Peter, “that in every nation he that feareth God and worketh righteousness is accepted with Him.” That is, some way or some how that man will be brought to know Jesus Christ and be saved. But it is very seldom or never that our missionaries report the discovery of such men.

Under these circumstances what is the duty of the Christian toward the heathen? The former might say, “We have more than a fair chance, for mercy has been brought to our door and laid at our feet.” But the answer to this is that this mercy has been given us not to selfishly hoard for ourselves but for the very purpose of carrying it to those who are in deeper need. It is sometimes asked, why does not God give the Gospel to the heathen world as well as to us? But is it not reasonable to reply that God could in no simpler or better way give the Gospel to the heathen than through us? Did not Jesus die to make it possible for the whole world to be saved, and did he not give us the commission to carry the knowledge of that salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth? Before we charge God with unfairness of inequality, should we not first of all lay a still more serious charge at our own doors? The heathen will never have to answer for not believing on Jesus Christ if they have not heard of him, but we will have to answer for not giving them an opportunity to hear.