The Word of God plainly teaches that we are all born in sin and corruption and death, and that the sin of Adam is imputed to the whole human race. It is evident, therefore, that the Savior in these words cannot have meant to teach that no man has sinned unless he comes in touch with Christ first, but that the special sin of hating Him and His Father would not have become revealed, would not have been manifest, if Christ had not spoken unto them and had not shown unto them His mighty works. They also appeal to the text in I Peter 3:18-20: “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.'” This text is supposed to teach that all men will still have an opportunity to believe in Christ after death. It is evident from the text that it speaks of a preaching to the spirits in prison, not as most Reformed theologians have it, at the time of the flood and before the flood, but rather after the resurrection of Christ. For the text tells us that Jesus was put to death in the flesh and quickened by the Spirit. And therefore, in that Spirit He went and preached to the spirits in prison. It is also evident that He preached not to men in the flesh, but to disembodied spirits that lived in the prediluvian period and that had already gone into hell. For the text adds that these disembodied were “sometime disobedient,” referring to the time when the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah. Nor does the text teach a personal descension of Christ into hell, as is the teaching of the Roman Catholics and also of the Lutherans. For He did not go into hell personally, but in the Spirit. Nor is there any ground in the text to maintain that in His preaching the Lord proclaimed the gospel unto these spirits in prison. The text merely states that Christ in the Spirit proclaimed something to the prediluvian ungodly that were in prison, that is, in hell. We may probably ask in connection with this somewhat difficult passage: why, and in what way, did the Lord after His death and resurrection proclaim something to those spirits in prison? And my answer would be, in the first place, that the prediluvian ungodly were, indeed, very wicked, so wicked, in fact, that the Lord destroyed them, together with the entire prediluvian world. In the second place, as we said before, there is no reason whatever to maintain that the Lord preached the gospel unto them. Rather, by His message unto them in the Spirit. He convicted the spirits of the ungodly in prison of their own utter condemnation and defeat and of the justification and victory of Himself and of His people. A similar passage to which the universalists also appeal is found in I Peter 4:6: “For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.'” Again we say that the text does not mean and does not say that the gospel was preached unto men after death. In fact, according to the text, the preaching that is here spoken of is presented as antecedent to the death of those to whom it was preached. The gospel was not preached to them after they had died, but while they were still living in the flesh. They were judged according to men in the flesh, but they had been justified, and they lived according to God in the spirit. To the martyrs of Peter’s time the gospel had been preached, and that too, in order that they might suffer according to men, in order that they might be condemned and killed by the wicked world? and in order that that wicked world may be condemned in the day when they shall have to give account to Him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead.
Are all men saved in Christ as they perished in Adam?
That is the question which the Heidelberger asks and answers with an emphatic “No.” But the Pelagians and also the Arminians answer this same question, as far as God is concerned, in the affirmative. According to the latter, that is, the Arminians, Christ died, according to God’s intention, for all men without exception. That all men are not saved is not due to any limitation which God places upon salvation, but to the fact that all men do not accept the offer of salvation as preached in the gospel. In other words, salvation is universal as far as God is concerned, but man limits this universal work of salvation on the part of God.
Underlying these various universal errors are two suppositions. The one is that men can only be condemned because they do not accept Christ, so that sin in itself, either original or actual sin, is no sufficient ground for damnation. And the second supposition is that salvation depends for its realization upon the will of man, who can either accept or reject the salvation which, as far as God is concerned, is universal.
But the answer of the Catechism is radically opposed to these theories. For it answers: “No; only those who are engrafted into him, and receive all his benefits, by a true faith.”