Maranatha Media

Is There any Excuse

Posted Dec 12, 2023 by E.J. Waggoner in The Judgment
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[Waggoner lays out the basis of how the judgement works. In addressing the subject of ignorance and whether the heathen who have little chance to hear the gospel, he spells out that each man will judge himself according to the light he has. He concludes that this arrangement prevents the possibilty of universalism as universalism subtly charges God with not giving people a fair chance in this life. But a true understanding of the judgement shows this charge to be false.]

The Signs of the Times November 10, 1887

E. J. Waggoner
"If the sin of ignorance is a sufficient excuse for Christians when endeavoring to live up to the gospel light, why not a sufficient excuse for the heathen who have not the light, and never did have? a fact which is easily proved in many instances. "G. I. H." 

Our correspondent doubtless meant to say, "If ignorance is a sufficient excuse for sin," etc., instead of, "If the sin of ignorance is a sufficient excuse;" for certainly no sin could excuse itself. But in either case, our answer would be this:- 

  1.  There is no excuse for any sin whatever. Sin is inexcusable in any person; and there is no authority for saying that God will excuse any sin in anybody. True, Paul says of his career as a persecutor, "I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief" (1 Tim. 1:13), but this shows that Paul was not excused for his sin which he committed in his ignorance. If he had not repented, he would not have found mercy. His sin of ignorance had to be pardoned. He says further: "And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus." Verse 14. If it had not been for the exceeding abundance of the grace of God, through faith in Christ Jesus, his sin of ignorance would have caused his ruin. 
  2. Again, the following provision for the people in ancient times, shows that sins of ignorance are not excused, but that they must be atoned for:- 
  3. "And if ye have erred, and not observed all these commandments, which the Lord hath spoken unto Moses, even all that the Lord hath commanded you by the hand of Moses, from the day that the Lord commanded Moses, and henceforward among your generations; then it shall be, if ought be committed by ignorance without the knowledge of the congregation, that all the congregation shall offer one young bullock for a burnt offering, for a sweet savour unto the Lord, with his meat offering, and his drink offering, according to the manner, and one kid of the goats for a sin offering. And the priest shall make an atonement for all the congregation of the children of Israel, and it shall be forgiven them; for it is ignorance; and they shall bring their offering, a sacrifice made by fire unto the Lord, and their sin offering before the Lord, for their ignorance; and it shall be forgiven all the congregation of the children of Israel, and the stranger that sojourneth among them; seeing all the people were in ignorance." Num. 15:22-26. 
  4. In Ps. 19:12, 13 we read the following words: "Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me; then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression." This is part of a prayer which David offered to God. This brings to view a case different from that supposed in Num. 15:22-26. There the people were directed to offer sacrifices indicative of repentance, when the sin committed in ignorance came to their knowledge; but David's prayer is for cleansing from sins of which he was ignorant at the time. He knew that he must have committed sins of which he was not aware, and he recognized the fact that they were sins, and that he needed forgiveness for them as well as for those sins of which he was conscious. These instances show clearly that God does not excuse sin. Every sin whether known or unknown must be atoned for by the blood of Christ; there is no other way by which anybody can be freed from its guilt.

The above conclusion does not militate against the statement that men are judged according to the light that they have received. No man will be condemned for not doing what he did not know, and had no means of knowing, was commanded. Both are judged by the light which they have received. If they have conscientiously lived up to that, it will be well with them, for their secret sins will be forgiven. But it is claimed that the heathen have no light at all. This is a mistake, as will be seen from certain scriptures which we shall quote.

In Rom. 1:18-20 we read: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath showed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse." From this we learn that there are no people who may not know that there is one God, of infinite power and goodness; that "he giveth to all life and breath and all things;" and that for this reason they ought to worship him. And from Acts 17:27, and context, we learn that if men would thus recognize the power of God, and seek to know more of him, they would find him, because he is not far from every one of us. See also Rom. 10:6-8. The righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.

Again, in the second chapter of Romans, Paul shows exactly by what every man is judged, and condemned or justified. He speaks of those who have the revealed word of God, and of those who have it not, saying: "For there is no respect of persons with God. For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law; and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law;" "In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel." Verses 11, 12, 16. 

But lest someone should question the impartiality of this, and should ask how men who have not the written word of God, could be justly condemned, the apostle throws in an explanation in verses 13-15, as follows: "For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves; which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another." 

The meaning of the passage is simply this: There is nobody who does not know the difference between right and wrong, to some extent. The heathen who have never heard of the Bible or the gospel, know that there are some things that they ought not to do. This is shown by the fact, to which Paul refers, that their consciences condemn or approve, according as they have done ill or well, and they also accuse or else excuse one another for their deeds. Now if the heathen have a little knowledge of right and wrong, no matter how little it may be, and do not live up to even that little, it is manifest that justice demands that they should be condemned, just the same as it demands the condemnation of the man who had greater light but has not lived up to it. 

But what if the heathen should live up to all the light that he has by nature? Then he certainly cannot be condemned. The one who lives up to all the light that he has, will receive more light, as did Abraham, who feared God, although he had been surrounded by heathen from his infancy; and because he lived up to that light which he had, God revealed himself to him in a more marked manner. And as with the Christian, so with the heathen who does every duty of which he has any knowledge; his sins of ignorance will be forgiven. But it must be evident that sins of ignorance do not figure in the case at all, so long as a person is sinning against light, no matter how small that light may be. That is to say, it is not necessary to bring the whole law against a man who knows but part of the law, when he does not live out that part. The part that he knows and does not perform is sufficient to condemn him. 

The idea suggested by the question of our brother, namely, that many of the heathen "have not had a fair chance," is becoming quite popular. The inevitable result of entertaining it is either to impeach the justice of God, or else to claim that another probation will be provided for those heathen. And from this the transition is easy, and many people are making it, that for people in so-called Christian lands there will be another probation; and this speedily runs into universalism. But there is no excuse for any of these errors; God is just; he is "no respecter of persons; but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him;" and he gives to every man that comes into the world sufficient knowledge to enable him to fear God and keep his commandments.