Question 20. Are all men then, as they perished in Adam, saved by Christ?
Answer: No; only those who are in-grafted into him, and, receive all his benefits, by a true faith.
Let’s briefly remind ourselves of the flow of the catechism’s flow of thought. In the last few questions and answers the catechism has been teaching us the character qualities and attributes that are required of any mediator who would rescue us from God’s just wrath and our sins. They have taught us that the Lord Jesus Christ is the only one who has these character qualities and attributes thus teaching us that there is no salvation in any other name but that of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, the Catechizers ask, in question 20, the very sensible question’ “Whether all men are saved by Christ.” It is sensible because it might be reasonable to assume that as all perished in Adam, so all would be saved by Christ. But the answer they give, following Scripture, is that relief from perishing is only had by those who have a true faith in Christ.
Notice several obvious matters here.
1.) The question presumes that all men are lost, or if you prefer, are in the way of perishing. If the descendants of Adam are to be released from the state of perishing that they are born under then they must have a true faith. If they do not have a true faith in Jesus Christ they will eternally perish.
That man outside of Christ is in the way of perishing is everywhere assumed by Scripture. Here are just a few verses,
John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
John 3:18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
John 3:36 He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.
Notice in all those verses from John 3 that the presupposition of Scripture regarding man without Christ is that he is in the way of perishing, underneath the penalty of God’s just wrath. As we have noted earlier, the reason that man without Christ, is in the way of perishing, is that man without Christ has a sin nature and consequently sins and so is in high rebellion to God.
2.) The catechism negates any notion of Universalism. Universalism is the doctrine that teaches that all men through all time will go to heaven no matter their relation to Jesus Christ while on earth. To the contrary the catechism, following Scripture, teaches that not all men are saved. Jesus speaking could say,
Matthew 25:45 Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Of course the corollary of this denial of Universalism is the truth that God does not love everybody. If God loved everybody, with redemptive love, then everyone would be saved. However, as it is the case that not all people are saved, this means that God does not and did not love, with a redemptive love, those who are not saved and who are not in-grafted into Christ.
Now, being postmillennialists we believe that a vast majority of mankind will be saved because we believe Scripture when in Revelation John sees in heaven
Revelation 7:9 … a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
That great multitude is in keeping with God’s promise to Abraham that his descendants would be as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. So, we assert, with the catechism and with Scripture, that not all men will be saved, but also that the number of men that will be saved will testify to the greatness of God’s grace to save and the vast reach of God’s saving power in Christ.
3.) As the catechism, following Scripture, negates Universalism, that means by necessity it teaches particularism. This is only to say that the Scripture teaches that God saves only who He intends to save. God is particular in His choosing. All people who believe that there are those who go to Hell believe that there is a particularity in God’s grace. The difference is that some locate the reason for that particularity in the individual human’s sovereign choice while others locate the reason for the particularity that Scripture teaches in God’s sovereign choice. Biblical Christians, believing in God’s exhaustive sovereignty, follow the Scripture when it insists that God is the reason that Universalism isn’t true and God is the one who makes the decision as to who and who will not be saved (particularism). Either man is sovereign over salvation or God is. We see this particularism in action in Acts,
16:13 And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there. 14 Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.
God opened Lydia’s heart while not opening the hearts of the other women who met there.
This particularity of God’s was even recognized by the Lord Jesus Christ,
25 At that time Jesus answered and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. 26 Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. 27 All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.
So, Universalism is not true. Not all men will be saved. And, those who will be saved are saved by God’s sovereign Particularism. Finally, God’s particularism is so vast that no man can number all those God intends to save via His sovereign particular choice.
4.) Heidelberg question 20 puts an end to the old liberal canard of “the Fatherhood of God over all men” and the “Brotherhood of all men under God.” Since Universalism isn’t true therefore it follows that God is not the Father of all men. God is nothing but an avenging Judge to those outside of Christ. The idea of the God’s Fatherhood of all men and so the Brotherhood of all men has often been used as a anti-Christ liberal ploy to force Christians to embrace people of other faiths as those who are our Brothers because God is the Father of us all. The nonsense of this idea has even made it into some of our hymnody.
Let there be peace on earth,
And let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth
The peace that was meant to be.
With God as our father
We are family.
Let us walk with each other
In perfect harmony.
When we embrace the idea of God’s universal Fatherhood and man’s universal Brotherhood the temptation for us is to compromise our Christian beliefs in order that we can all get along with all our putative Brother’s on the earth. It is precisely because God is not the Father of all, redemptively speaking, that we must not yield our beliefs to the siren song of a compromise that would promise a compromised peace. Also, such thinking of the Fatherhood of God over all and the Brotherhood of all cuts the heart out of evangelism. If we are all Brothers then what is the need to evangelize? In point of fact if God is Father of all and we are all Brothers than it would be insensitive and insulting to others to suggest that their faiths are sub-optimal by seeking to evangelize them.
5.) Notice the language about being in-grafted Caleb. The phrase, “only those who are in-grafted into Christ,” linguistically supports God’s sovereignty. We are passive until we are in-grafted. God does all the in-grafting and only after we are in-grafted do we have a true faith. This is just to say that in salvation God does all the saving and we only do our required all (repentance, faith, obedience) after God has done all, but God having done all we always respond by working out our salvation with fear and trembling. God initiates and we respond and when God initiates with saving intent the elect never fail to respond.
The language of grafting communicates the idea of being taken out of one place and put into another. In the way that the language is used here it communicates being taken out of our Covenant head Adam where there is nothing but death and being placed in Christ where there is abundant life. To be in-grated into Christ is to be united with Christ. Christ is our covenant head and represents us before the Father so that the Father has the disposition towards us that He has towards His Son. Further to be in-grafted into Christ means to be given the Holy Spirit so that we increasingly become what we have been freely declared to because we are in-grafted into Christ. Romans 11 speaks a little regarding this being grafted into Christ,
Rom.11:17 And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; Rom.11:19 Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in. Rom.11:20 Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear:
Being in-grafted into Christ we thus begin to desire what Christ desires, and we begin to conform to the likeness of Christ. In being in-grafted into Christ we receive the life of Christ and are sustained by that life, and over the course of time the graft begins to take on the characteristics of divine olive tree.
6.) The catechism speaks of receiving all of Christ’s benefits. The consequence of being in-grafted into Christ is that we receive all the spiritual blessings of Christ. This means that we have peace with God, which means not only the cessation of God’s just hostility towards us but also all the blessings that come by being favored of God. We no longer have reason to cower in fear before God. Receiving all Christ’s benefits means we no longer have to live with the guilt of sin and the misery of being without God and without hope. Receiving all Christ’s benefits means a boldness and confidence coming from knowing that the Sovereign God of the whole universe is ordaining all that comes into our lives for His advance and our profit. Receiving all Christ’s benefits means the end of temporal and earthly fear, for if God be for us, who or what can be against us? Receiving all Christ’s benefits means a profound sense of security and comfort because I know that I am not my own but belong to my faithful savior Jesus Christ. There are so many other benefits we could speak of that we receive. Death is no longer an enemy to us because we have the benefit of knowing to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. We are increasingly given the ability to think God’s thoughts after him so that we confound God’s enemies. We are given the benefit of belonging to Christ’s body the Church so that we have precious fellowship with the Saints of God. We know that our Elder Brother, the Lord Christ, continues to plead our cause before the Father. We know that we shall finish our race here well because God who won us is able to keep us until the very end. We are given the benefit of having a continued affection for our High Captain the Lord Christ and a desire to defend His honor at every turn.
As we move through the catechism we will see many of these benefits up close in more detail.
The fact that we receive all Christ’s benefits in light of being united to Christ is seen in Ephesians,
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,
7.) Answer 20 ends by noting the necessity of true faith. The idea that we must have a “true faith” implies that such a thing as false faith exists. We will talk more about that in the next question and answer that provides a biblical definition of faith. Suffice it to say here that not all professions of faith qualify as true faith.
I would like to end though by observing that a true faith in Christ can not be held apart from knowing the true Christ. I only bring this up because there are those who say that people can be saved by Christ even though they have never heard of him. These people will argue that if people who have never heard of Christ will just follow the good that they know then they will be saved by Christ. Some will even contend that well intentioned practitioners of other gods will have their well intentioned but misguided worship accepted as worship of Christ precisely because they were well intentioned. C. S. Lewis makes such a argument in his novel, “The Last Battle.” Such types of doctrine (and there are many nuances to this teaching I have not brought forth here) are nowhere found in Scripture. Only those who have had Christ placarded before them and so have embraced Christ in faith, in this life, will have the Lord Christ as their mediator. Scripture not only looks for a general faith in a known Christ but it also expects a intimate faith in a known Christ. We must not only believe in the Son but we must pay Him homage,
Ps.2:12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.
If there are exceptions to the necessity to have faith in a known Lord Jesus Christ those exceptions would be the unborn, the newly born, and the mentally impaired. In such cases it is best for us to simply say, “Will not the Lord of all the earth do right,” though we can have complete confidence of their salvation if they were Baptized members of the covenant community.
Scripture clearly teaches that eternal life is pinned upon knowing the Christ of Scripture,
John 17:3 And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.
The fact that Jesus Christ requires the knowledge of Himself along with the Father, for eternal life, is a strong testimony to the deity of Jesus Christ.
Now couple that scripture with Jesus’ statement,
John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
And you have the clear teaching that one can not be saved (have fellowship with the Father) except by a true faith in a known Christ.
Don’t let your faith be shipwrecked by those who insist on Universalism by appealing to a few texts in Scripture not properly read against God’s complete revelation.
I sign off by citing a few more Scripture that convey how important faith in Christ is,
Mark 16:16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
John 1:12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
Rom.3:22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:
Heb.4:2 For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. Heb.4:3 For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.
Heb.10:39 But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.
Heb.11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.