(from a manuscript of a sermon preached on 3/4/12 at Sovereign Redeemer Assembly)
Please turn in your Bibles to Romans 10, and let’s read verses 9 through 15:
Romans 10: (9) Because if you confess [the] Lord Jesus with your mouth, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from [the] dead, you will be saved. (10) For with [the] heart [one] believes unto righteousness, and with [the] mouth [on]e confesses unto salvation. (11) For the Scripture says, Everyone believing on Him will not be put to shame. (12) For there is no difference both of Jew and of Greek, for the same Lord of all is rich toward all the ones calling on Him. (13) For everyone, whoever may call on the name of [the] Lord will be saved. (14) How then may they call on [One] into whom they have not believed? And how may they believe [One] of whom they have not heard? And how may they hear without preaching? (15) And how may they preach if they are not sent? Even as it has been written, How beautiful the feet of those preaching the gospel of peace, of those preaching the gospel of good things.
The last time we were here, we focused on verse 13, and in particular, what it means to “call on the name of the Lord.” It is to urgently, earnestly request the Lord’s NAME – His character, His attributes – for help, believing God’s promise of salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ alone. It is to humble yourself and know that your help comes from the Lord, that He is your rock and your stronghold and your salvation, that He is full of love and mercy to all who truly seek Him.
So now let’s look at verses 14 and 15. There are four rhetorical questions. A rhetorical question is any question that is asked for a purpose other than to obtain the information the question asks. It is posed for the sake of encouraging the listener to consider something. A rhetorical question anticipates only one answer that is obvious from the context and the way the question is framed. It is basically a statement framed as a question. In this case, Paul strings four rhetorical questions together in a logical sequence, and it is a most powerful method of argumentation. Look at how they are connected: “How then may they call on One into whom they have not believed? And how may they believe One of whom they have not heard? And how may they hear without preaching? And how may they preach if they are not sent?” Notice the connection: call on-believe, believe-hear, hear-preach, and preach-sent. What answer is each of these questions anticipating? “How then may they call on One into whom they have not believed?” They CAN’T. “And how may they believe One of whom they have not heard?” They CAN’T. “And how may they hear without preaching?” They CAN’T. “And how may they preach if they are not sent?” They CAN’T. There is NO OTHER WAY to interpret these questions. Now I can hear the heretics crying, “Exceptions, exceptions!” But this way of reasoning does not allow for ANY exceptions. It is ABSOLUTELY airtight, TOTALLY sealed against any attempted infiltration of exceptions. If there is EVEN ONE exception, then the entire argument crumbles, and God’s Holy Word is found to be in error.
Let me give you some examples of this kind of reasoning in the form of rhetorical questions. Here’s one: “How can a person play basketball according to the rules if he doesn’t know what the rules are? And how can he know what the rules are unless he is taught the rules in some way?” So, putting these two together, we conclude that a person cannot play basketball according to the rules if he has not been taught what the rules are in some way, either by reading or listening or watching or some other way. Now listen closely to this one: “How can a person put the ball in the hoop if he’s not a good shooter? And how can he be a good shooter unless he is taught to be a good shooter in some way?” So, putting these two together, the conclusion is that a person cannot put the ball in the hoop if he has not been taught to be a good shooter in some way. Do you see a flaw in this reasoning? If you can just think of ONE EXCEPTION, then the whole argument falls down. Can you think of just one exception? Of course, many people who are not good shooters are still able to put the ball in the hoop. Thus, the conclusion from the two rhetorical questions that a person cannot put the ball in the hoop because he has not been taught to be a good shooter is false, and the whole argument comes tumbling down, because I have found an exception to the rule. So getting back to Paul’s reasoning, if we can come up with EVEN ONE instance in which EVEN ONE of these statements fails, then the WHOLE ARGUMENT fails. For example, if there is EVEN ONE instance in which a person calls on One into whom he has not believed, then the whole argument fails. Or if there is EVEN ONE instance in which a person believes One of whom he has not heard, the whole argument fails. It’s ALL OR NOTHING. Either ALL of the four statements have to be true IN ALL CASES WITHOUT EXCEPTION, or God’s Word is not true. We’re talking about ABSOLUTES here. There’s no room for statements like, “in general” or “usually” or “commonly” or “customarily” or “frequently” or “more often than not” or “on the whole” or “ordinarily.” These four statements are talking about what is ALWAYS, INVARIABLY, WITHOUT EXCEPTION the case. Putting these rhetorical questions into statements, we have this: ALL WITHOUT EXCEPTION who call on the Lord BELIEVE in the One they call on. ALL WITHOUT EXCEPTION who BELIEVE in the One they call on have HEARD of the One they call on. ALL WITHOUT EXCEPTION who have HEARD of the One they call on have had the GOSPEL PREACHED to them. And ALL WITHOUT EXCEPTION who have PREACHED the GOSPEL have been SENT.
So let’s go into each one of these. The first question is this: “How then may they call on One into whom they have not believed?” We see the connector word “then,” which refers us back to verse 13: “For every one, whoever may call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” So this question builds upon the foundation that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. The first thing we see, which we went over before, is that EVERYONE who calls on the name of the Lord, who believes the gospel, is a regenerate person. The first question in verse 14 says that EVERYONE who calls on Jesus Christ BELIEVES in Jesus Christ. And we’ve already seen in verse 13 that this is talking about regenerate people and regenerate people ONLY. So we first see that all BELIEVERS are REGENERATE. Now this might seem obvious to you, but there are actually people out there who hold to the view that there are regenerate unbelievers. And that view is more common than you think. But let’s move on to the connection between BELIEF and CALLING ON Jesus Christ that this first question is getting at. Remember in the last sermon, we saw that calling on the name of the Lord is to urgently, earnestly request the Lord’s NAME – His character, His attributes – for help, believing God’s promise of salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ alone. The Holy Spirit though Paul is saying that all who CALL ON the name of the Lord BELIEVE IN the Lord. Now again, this might seem obvious to you, and it should if you’ve been listening to true gospel preaching. But there must be a reason why the Holy Spirit through Paul included this in the inspired text. How can someone urgently, earnestly request the Lord’s NAME – His character, His attributes – for help, without BELIEVING in His character and attributes? It’s impossible. What does this say about all without exception who do not BELIEVE in the Lord’s character and attributes? It says that they DO NOT call on the name of the Lord. Romans 3:11 and 18 says that all unbelievers do not understand, do not seek God, and have no fear of God. This includes religious and irreligious unbelievers. Most of the religious unbelievers who come in the name of Christianity would agree that the irreligious and unconcerned are unbelievers who do not call on the name of the Lord. But, as we saw in Romans 10:1-4, those religionists who have a zeal for God but who are ignorant of the character and attributes of God are ALSO unbelievers who do not call on the name of the Lord. In order for one to truly CALL ON the name of the Lord, one must BELIEVE IN the Lord upon whom they are calling! If one is calling on someone he considers to be “the Lord” for forgiveness but believes that at least some part of his salvation is conditioned on his calling on the Lord, then he does not BELIEVE IN the TRUE Lord and is thus not CALLING ON the TRUE Lord. If one is ignorant of God as just and justifier through the work of Jesus Christ alone, then he does not BELIEVE IN the TRUE Lord and is thus not CALLING ON the TRUE Lord. If one does not believe that it is the work of Jesus Christ that demands and ensures the salvation of all whom He represented and that makes the only difference between salvation and damnation, then he does not BELIEVE IN the TRUE Lord and is thus not CALLING ON the TRUE Lord.
The next question is this: “And how may they believe One of whom they have not heard?” So we’ve already gone over the truth that all who call on the name of the Lord are regenerate and are believers. Now this question asks, “How can they be believers in someone they’ve never heard of?” And what is the answer to this rhetorical question? They CAN’T. They CAN’T be believers in someone they’ve never heard of. It is ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE. So if someone has NEVER HEARD of Jesus Christ, he cannot BELIEVE IN Jesus Christ. And if he does not BELIEVE IN Jesus Christ, what must we conclude? He is unregenerate. This is true in every single case without exception. Can you hear the sound of the false religionists down through the ages rising up in opposition to this truth? Can you hear them saying, “Exception! Exception!” Can you hear the wicked members of the Westminster Assembly agreeing on the following wording: “Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth. So also are all other elect persons who are uncapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.” This is from Chapter 10 of the Westminster Confession of Faith entitled “Of Effectual Calling.” The Westminster Confession of Faith is considered to be, in the words of Loraine Boettner, “the most perfect expression of the Reformed faith.”
I’d like to quote some of the false religionists’ comments on this part of the Westminster Confession of Faith to show you what their reasoning is.
Here’s A.A. Hodge from his commentary on the Westminster Confession: “If infants and others not capable of being called by the gospel are to be saved, they must be regenerated and sanctified immediately by God without the use of means. If God could create Adam holy without means, and if he can new-create believers in righteousness and true holiness by the use of means which a large part of men use without profit, he can certainly make infants and others regenerate without means.”
Here’s G.I. Williamson from his book on the Westminster Confession for study classes: “Except in such cases as these, regeneration takes place in connection with the use of means of grace which God himself has appointed. But there are some who are incapable of understanding the Spirit's word, not merely for reasons of spiritual inability but also from natural incapacity. That is, because of dying in infancy or being mentally deficient, they would not be able to understand the gospel even though regenerated.”
This is from Gordon Clark’s What Do Presbyterians Believe? “And since most of the activity recounted in the Bible has to do with ordinary adults, there is not much said about children who die in infancy and imbeciles who cannot understand language. Section iii takes up this point. ... If salvation unexceptionally depended on hearing, understanding, and accepting the Gospel, no child who died in infancy could be saved. Nor could any imbecile.”
And here’s Boettner, from his book, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination: “We do not deny that God can save some even of the adult heathen people if He chooses to do so, for His Spirit works when and where and how He pleases, with means or without means. If any such are saved, however, it is by a miracle of pure grace. Certainly God's ordinary method is to gather His elect from the evangelized portion of mankind, although we must admit the possibility that by an extraordinary method some few of His elect may be gathered from the unevangelized portion.”
Do you see their reasoning? There are three kinds of people that they usually mention to make their point: infants, individuals with diminished intellectual capacity, and heathens. In the first two cases, they say that infants and people with diminished intellectual capacity are not ABLE to understand and believe. In the last case, they say that heathens have not been given the OPPORTUNITY to understand and believe, because they have not come in contact with the gospel. And they say that there are some people who are not ABLE to understand and believe and some people who have not been given the OPPORTUNITY to understand and believe who are nevertheless regenerate.
Notice that they blasphemously use the very sovereignty of God to defend their heresy. They say that since God is sovereign, He can save in any way that He chooses. There are two responses to this: First, what does the sovereign God SAY in His WORD about how He saves people? The Westminster Confession is correct in saying that the Spirit works when, where, and how He pleases. But does the Spirit work when, where, and how He pleases, even if it is contrary to the Word of God? Of course not! A spirit who works when, where, and how he pleases, even if it is contrary to the Word of God is not the TRUE Holy Spirit but is a false damnable spirit. And think about this: You can use God’s sovereignty to promote any heresy you want to! For example, what’s wrong with this: God uses the teachings of the Koran to save people. Is there anything wrong with that? After all, God is sovereign, and He can do whatever He wants. How about this: The Holy Spirit regenerates Hindus, and these regenerate Hindus continue believing Hinduism to their death. What’s wrong with that? After all, the Spirit works when, where, and how He pleases. What if He pleases to save an atheist and then pleases to keep that person believing atheism? He does whatever He pleases, right? And you know what - even some of the more sophisticated Arminians use God’s sovereignty to promote their false gospel. They say that God sovereignly gave up some of His sovereignty and sovereignly chose to give man free will. What’s wrong with that, since God can sovereignly choose whatever He wants to do? What’s wrong with God sovereignly choosing to make salvation conditioned on works? Right? You can see how the doctrine of God’s sovereignty can be twisted to endorse any heresy. The question is this: What does the sovereign God say in HIS WORD about what He does and does not do? The sovereign God says in HIS WORD that He does things in a PARTICULAR WAY that GLORIFY HIMSELF.
Sometimes I get accused of limiting God or putting God in a box. Really? I’M limiting God? Who said that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation to EVERYONE believing? Who said that those who are ignorant of the righteousness of God are not saved? Who said that God saves through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth? Who said that the gospel is hidden in those who are lost and that the lost are blinded to the gospel of the glory of Christ, and those who have gone from being lost to being saved have been shown the brightness of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ? Was that me? Or was that the Holy Spirit in Romans 1:16, Romans 10:3, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, and 2 Corinthians 4:3-6? When Paul says that THIS IS THE WAY IT ALWAYS IS, NO EXCEPTIONS, is he putting God in a box? Is he denying that God can do whatever He wants to do? Is he denying God’s sovereignty? Well, we’ve been accused of that when we say that certain things that are ALWAYS the case based on God’s Word. But that’s the key, isn’t it - it’s based on GOD’S WORD! When GOD HIMSELF says that this is the ONLY way He does things, are the objectors going to talk back to God? When the Sovereign God says that this is the way He has sovereignly chosen to do things in order to magnify His glory, are the objectors going to tell God that He needs to make exceptions in order to show that He’s sovereign?
GOD says how He saves people. And when you look at how GOD says how He saves people, you see that he makes NO EXCEPTIONS. As I said before, if there were even ONE EXCEPTION to this logical string of rhetorical questions, then the whole argument fails and God’s Word is not true. These people who make exceptions must ultimately conclude that this passage in Romans 10:14 and 15 is logically flawed, and thus conclude that the Bible is not inerrant. “Oh, no!” they protest, “All we’re doing is interpreting it in a different way!” And how are they interpreting it? In light of their exceptions, which totally undermine the passage. Did God say that the gospel is USUALLY or ORDINARILY the power of God unto salvation? Did God say that it is USUALLY or ORDINARILY the case that those who are ignorant of the righteousness of God are lost? Did God say in Hebrews 11:6 that USUALLY or ORDINARILY without faith it is impossible to please God, unless someone is incapable of having faith? Away with such God-dishonoring dung. God clearly shows in the Scriptures that when He saves someone, He immediately gives that person a knowledge of the gospel of salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ alone. It matters not if this person is an infant or someone with a mental handicap or was a heathen. And why does He do this? It is to glorify Himself in the hearts of His people. WITHOUT EXCEPTION, God is glorified in the hearts of EVERY SINGLE REGENERATE PERSON, because EVERY SINGLE REGENERATE PERSON believes the gospel. The second response to the sovereignty argument is this: These people claim to exalt the sovereignty of God in salvation, yet THEY are the ones who put limits on what God says He does in salvation. If there is a heathen in some remote part of the world who has never heard of the gospel, is God not able to sovereignly bring the gospel to him so he will believe? If there is an unborn baby or a person with a mental handicap, is God not able to sovereignly cause that person to understand and believe the gospel? How much does one limit God when he says that God cannot do things the way He said He would do things in His Word? What’s to keep God from sovereignly bringing the gospel to a heathen or infant or person with a mental handicap? To you who would charge us with limiting God’s sovereignty, we bring the charge against YOU, and unlike you, we have the backing of Scripture. The sovereign God SAYS in HIS WORD how He saves people, and YOU would say NO, God CANNOT do that in every case. It is YOU who deny the sovereignty of God.
I’d also like you to notice something from the Boettner quote. He said that “If any such [meaning the heathen] are saved, however, it is by a miracle of pure grace.” What - is it NOT a miracle of pure grace when God saves people through belief of the gospel? Is it somehow “less than pure” grace when God regenerates a person and immediately causes that person to believe the gospel? Could he be saying that regeneration without means is more pure grace because regeneration with means involves some kind of condition or prerequisite on the part of the sinner? Something to think about.
Now let’s go into the next rhetorical question: “And how may they hear without preaching?” Well, here again, we hear the objections of the God-haters, mostly about those who have never had the OPPORTUNITY to hear the gospel, such as the heathen in a remote part of the world. They would say that the preaching is ORDINARILY the means by which people hear the gospel and believe, but there are exceptions to this ordinary means whereby those who have never heard the gospel, and thus cannot believe the gospel that they’ve never heard, are still regenerated.
Here’s quote from W.G.T. Shedd in his book Calvinism: Pure and Mixed: “... the Confession, in this section, intends to teach that there are some unevangelized men who are ‘regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit’ without ‘the ministry of the written word,’ and who differ in this respect from evangelized men who are regenerated in connection with it. There are these two classes of regenerate persons among God's elect. They are both alike in being born, ‘not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.’ They are both alike in respect to faith and repentance, because these are the natural and necessary effects of regeneration. Both alike feel and confess sin; and both alike hope in the Divine mercy, though the regenerate heathen has not yet had Christ presented to him. ... That the Church is not to expect and rely upon this extraordinary work of the Spirit, it is needless to say. That this work is extensive, and the number of saved unevangelized adults is great, cannot be affirmed. But that all the adult heathen are lost is not the teaching of the Bible or of the Westminster Standards. ... the Scriptures and the Confession teach that the Divine Spirit exerts his regenerating grace, to some extent, within adult heathendom, making use of conscience, or ‘the law written on the heart’, as the means of convicting of sin preparatory to imparting the new divine life; and that in the last day a part of God's elect ‘shall come from the east and from the west, and from the north and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God’ (Luke 13:29). These are all regenerated in this life. And since regeneration in the instance of the adult immediately produces faith and repentance, a regenerate heathen is both a believer and a penitent. He feels sorrow for sin, and the need of mercy. This felt need of mercy and desire for it is potentially and virtually faith in the Redeemer. For although the Redeemer has not been presented to him historically and personally as the object of faith, yet the Divine Spirit by the new birth has wrought in him the sincere and longing disposition to believe in him. With the penitent and believing man in the Gospel, he says, ‘Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him?’ (John 9:36). Such a man is ‘regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit’, and belongs to that class of ‘elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the word’ (Conf. x. 3).”
So here we see Shedd’s regenerate heathen. He hasn’t heard the gospel, has never heard of Jesus Christ, but he has been regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit. Instead of just remaining one of those awful unconcerned heathens, he has sorrow for his sin and feels the need of mercy, although he doesn’t know where mercy is to be found. Yet this felt need is POTENTIAL and VIRTUAL faith in Christ because there is a DISPOSITION to believe in Christ, although he doesn’t KNOW about Christ. This is exactly what Romans 10:14 and 15 is preaching AGAINST. It’s as if Shedd saw these verses and said, “I don’t believe this.” That’s how blatant it is. In fact, if you look at the context of this passage, you see that part of the reason Paul says what he does is to address a possible objection that some may have when they see that Paul says that the Gentiles, the heathen, are now included in the covenant. Some could object, “But these heathens have never been preached to! How could they be saved?” Paul says that they are saved the same way anyone is saved - through hearing and believing the preached gospel. Shedd’s blatant opposition to the truth is something we’ve come to expect. But I want to remind you that Shedd is included by many in Reformed and Calvinist circles as someone who articulates what the so-called “Reformed faith” is all about.
So let’s talk about what this question DOES mean. It means that every single person without exception who has heard of and believed and called on the name of the Lord - every single regenerate person - has heard the preaching of the gospel. Does this hearing necessarily mean perceiving sound by detecting vibrations that pass through the ear that are then transduced into nerve impulses that are perceived by the brain? By no means. I’m not going to go into a study on “hearing” and the “ear” in the Bible, but suffice it to say that this hearing that is talked about in this passage is a receiving, an acquiring of certain information, specific truth. It does not exclude deaf people. It can be a receiving of information through such things as reading with the eyes or with the touch of the fingers, such as when someone reads Braille. It includes any way that this information can be received so as to be understood. So when we’re talking about the gospel, it means acquiring the truth of the gospel by whatever means.
Now let’s talk about what “preaching” means. Is it necessarily the communication of the gospel using the vocal cords and tongue and lips and the other speech organs? By no means. Preaching is the putting forth, the sending out, the conveyance of specific truth, by whatever means. It can include nonverbal communication such as sign language, and it can include written communication. I am preaching right now through verbal communication. But when someone reads this sermon on the internet, I am still preaching to that person. When someone reads the Bible, he is being preached to, and he is hearing the preaching, even though there is are no sound waves involved. Preaching and hearing in this verse mean the giving and receiving of information – in particular, the specific truth of the gospel. Everyone who BELIEVES in the person and work of Christ has HEARD of the person and work of Christ by the PREACHING of the person and work of Christ. In every case without exception of a true believer, there has been a conveyance of truth from the giver to the receiver.
Let’s again go into God’s sovereignty as it relates to this truth. Many would say that it is limiting God’s sovereignty to say that belief only comes through the hearing of the Word of God and thus only those who have heard and believed the Word of God preached are saved. (Remember that I’m not talking about just verbal preaching and hearing through the physical ear.) These people would have to say that the Holy Spirit through the apostle Paul is limiting God’s sovereignty. And once again, who is really limiting God’s sovereignty? God says that this is how He does things. Is God unable to bring every single one of His unregenerate elect under the preaching of the gospel? Who’s the one limiting God here? Is God not able to get a Bible into the hands of the heathen? Is God not able to cause an infant to hear and believe the gospel? If God says that this is the way He saves people, is He not able to cause events to happen in which His elect, no matter who they are or where they are, come into contact with the gospel? As you can see, the enemies of God twist God’s sovereignty so they can say that there are some regenerate people who have never heard the gospel. This is a DENIAL of God’s sovereignty.
I think I’ll stop right there and start with verse 15 next time, the Lord willing. Are you going to agree with the sovereign God who reveals in His inspired, inerrant Word what He does and does not do, all for His own glory? Or are you going to shake your fist at God and tell Him that in order for Him to be sovereign, He needs to make exceptions to what He said in His Word regarding what He does and does not do? When God says that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone believing, does He leave room for exceptions, or has He determined that this is how He will glorify Himself in the hearts of everyone whom He saves? We who are believers know that the gospel is not just some unnecessary and expendable add-on. We know that God has determined that this is the way that He will save sinners - that He will have them glory in nothing in themselves but will glory in the cross of Christ alone. Not a single regenerate person is ignorant of the righteousness of God in the gospel. Not a single regenerate person is seeking to establish his own righteousness. Not a single regenerate person is unsubmitted to the righteousness of God. In John 8:32, Jesus Christ says, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” He says in John 17:3, “And this is everlasting life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the One whom You sent.” All regenerate people without exception know the true and living God, who shows Himself to be just and justifier through the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of the God-Man mediator, Jesus Christ. Knowledge of this truth is everlasting life. This truth will set free everyone who believes.
This gospel I preach is the same gospel that has been preached down through the ages. Think about that. Right now, you are hearing the gospel preached, which God has ordained to be the means by which He has saved people since the world began and continues to be the means by which He saves people. You’re hearing that gospel message RIGHT NOW! Is there any greater privilege? Is there any greater responsibility? You are commanded to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ today. Seek Him while He may be found. Call on Him while He is near. And in this preaching of the Word today, He is near. Amen.