Why Some People. Are In Error
How could God allow so many sincere, devout and deeply religious people to be in error — those who have lived their entire lives in the work of the Lord? This question is rather poorly stated; however, I believe you will understand for what I am asking. At this particular time I am trying to teach someone else along the lines of the church as taught in the New Testament, and an article on this subject would be of invaluable assistance.
If you should see fit to print an article on this question in an early issue of the Gospel Guardian, it would certainly be beneficial and appreciated. Your paper has helped clarify many points in my mind, and I should like for you to know of this.
There is no intimation in the word of God that any responsible person, whose heart is free from all prejudice and is "honest and good" (Luke 8:15), and who wants to know and to obey the will of God (John 7:17), will go through life in honest and sincere disobedience unto the Lord. To claim there are such cases is to express an opinion where there is nothing in the Bible to support it.
When people with the word of God and with all the advantages to study and understand it still fail to understand what to do to be saved, such failures to understand are due to one of two reasons: (1) God did not make the gospel plan of salvation plain enough to be understood; or (2) Something is wrong with the hearts of those who study but are "never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." (2 Tim. 3:7) God's message to man on the way of salvation is not so difficult, complicated and mystical as to be beyond the comprehension of responsible human beings. All the confusion and misunderstanding of man's duty is due to the imperfections of the human heart, and it is no fault of the gospel.
The gospel was intended for every responsible creature on earth. Jesus said to the apostles: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation." (Mark 16:15) It is not reasonable to suppose that God in His wisdom and goodness would have given the gospel for all, then stated it in a form so difficult that a single responsible creature could not understand his duty to the Lord.
What Paul says to the Ephesians, he says to all: "Wherefore be ye not foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is." This command would not have been given, if it had not been possible for all to obey it. If anyone does not understand what the will of the Lord is, it is not the fault of the gospel. All such misunderstandings must be attributed to the faulty condition of human hearts.
Every perverter of the gospel stands condemned in the sight of God. "But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema." (Gal. 1:8,9) Consistency with God's goodness requires that He reveal the truth so plainly that every teacher can state it clearly to others in the same degree of simplicity in which it was first written by the pen of inspiration. The Almighty would not place a man under anathema for perverting a complicated message so mystical and confusing in its construction as to be beyond the power of human beings to understand.
Eternal punishment is the penalty for failing to obey the gospel. (2 Thes. 1:7-9) Does it seem reasonable that a merciful God would make man's duty difficult to understand, and then condemn the disobedient who could not learn the will of the Lord, regardless of how hard they may try?
The scriptures declare that the way of salvation is plain, simple and easily understood. "The wayfaring men, yea fools, shall not err therein." (Isaiah 35:8) Jesus said, "Seek and ye shall find." (Matt. 7:7) "If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching." (John 7:17) "Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled." (Matt. 5:6)
On the day of Pentecost one sermon was preached to thousands who had never heard the gospel before. They understood what was preached concerning the miracles, death, burial, resurrection and exaltation of Christ, and they asked what to do. Peter told them in one sentence. (Acts 2:38) There is not the slightest indication that even one failed to understand just what all were told to do for the remission of sins. Acts 2:38 today is not beyond the comprehension of any person who really loves the truth and desires to obey it above everything else.
Just one sermon by Philip was all the Ethiopian eunuch needed in order to understand the plan of salvation. The gospel is so simple and plain that the eunuch ordered the chariot to stop, did exactly what Philip taught him to do, and went on his way rejoicing in the knowledge of the fact that he had understood and complied with the terms of pardon. (Acts 8:26-39)
When Ananias came to Saul of Tarsus and told him to "arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins," Saul understood every word and did it. (Acts 22:16) How can anyone whose heart is "honest and good" fail to understand just what Ananias told Saul to do to wash away his sins?
In less than one hour the heathen jailor learned the conditions of salvation and obeyed them. (Acts 16:27-34) It would not take the people any longer than that today, if their minds had never been corrupted from the simplicity of apostolic teaching.
But why are so many "ever learning, and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth"? Some of these reasons are given below:
1. The minds of many have been corrupted from the simplicity of the gospel of Christ.
Paul expressed fear that the minds of the people would be beguiled and corrupted from the simplicity of the gospel in the same manner that the serpent beguiled Eve. "But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve in his craftiness, your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity and the purity that is toward Christ." (2 Cor. 11:3) The "serpent beguiled Eve in his craftiness" by causing her to believe what God did not say. Her obedience was not due to any misunderstanding of what God had said to her. So thoroughly did she understand what God had commanded her, that she was able to repeat the command to the serpent and also to state the penalty for disobedience. (Gen. 3:1-3) But the Tempter told her something God never said. He told her that if she ate the forbidden fruit, her eyes would be opened and she would be as God, knowing good and evil. She was beguiled and her mind was corrupted from the simplicity of God's commandment by that which God had not said.
By that same process the minds of many people are corrupted from the simplicity that is toward Christ. They are led to believe things God has not said, and this necessitates disbelief in what God has said, as it did in the case of Eve.
2. Some do not love the truth and are determined not to believe it.
"And for this cause God sendeth them a working of error, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be judged who believe not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." (1 Thes. 2:11-12)
3. Some deceive themselves or permit blind guides to deceive them (Matt. 15:14), and such may go to the judgment of the last great day thinking that they had done "many mighty works" in the name of the Lord (Matt. 7:22), but were workers of iniquity instead. (Matt. 7:23)
Therefore, it behooves every man to study the parable of the sower (Luke 8:4-15), and to make sure that his heart is "honest and good"; for it is not given to those whose hearts are corrupted by prejudice and hatred of the word to know the truth. And it is possible for a man to so deceive himself as to think his heart is "honest and good," when in reality he hates the truth and closes his eyes to it. (Matt. 13:11-15)