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Q. 20. Are all men then, as they perished in Adam, saved by Christ?

A. No; only those who are ingrafted into him, and receive all his benefits by. a true faith.

Q. 21. What is true faith?

A. True faith is not only a certain knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in his word, but also an assured confidence, which the Holy Ghost works by the gospel, in my heart; that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sin, everlasting righteousness and salvation, are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.

Q. 22. What is then necessary for a Christian to believe?

A. All things promised us in the gospel, which the articles of our catholic undoubted Christian faith briefly teach us.

Q. 23. What are these articles?

A. I. I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:

II. And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:

III. Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:

IV. Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead, and buried: He descended into hell:

V. The third day he rose again from the dead:

VI. He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:

VII. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:

VIII. I believe in the Holy Ghost:

IX. I believe an holy Catholic church:, the communion of saints:

X. The forgiveness of sins:

XI. The resurrection of the body.

XII. And the life everlasting. AMEN.

In the chapters that now follow, through Lord’s Day 24, the Heidelberg Catechism discusses the essence and nature, the contents and significance of saving faith. And it approaches and introduces this discussion with the question: “Are all men then, as they perished in Adam, saved by Christ?” And we realize immediately that this peculiar approach of the subject is due to the subjective and experimental method followed throughout by our instructor. In a dogmatic exposition of the truth, the order and arrangement of the different parts of the truth discussed would be quite different. Such a discussion would begin with the knowledge of God, to answer the question what He is, Who He is, and what He does. It would continue with a treatise on creation, man, and the fall. It would then expound the truth concerning Christ, His person and nature, His offices and work of salvation, His power and glory. And having finished this part of the truth, it would call attention to the Holy Spirit and His work in applying Christ and all His benefits to the elect. And as part of the work of the Holy Spirit it would discuss the important subject of saving faith. But how different is the order in the Heidelberg Catechism! In the preceding Lord’s Day mention was made of the Mediator, “Our Lord Jesus Christ: who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification and redemption.” And the source of the knowledge of this Mediator was pointed out as “the holy gospel.” And now, instead of developing the doctrine of this Mediator, our instructor turns to the question of faith. The result of this is that in the following chapters all the main doctrines of the Church, such as the trinity, creation and providence, the incarnation, the atonement, the resurrection and exaltation of Christ, the return of the Lord and judgment, the Holy Spirit and the Church, forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the dead, and everlasting life,—all these are considered and explained from the viewpoint of their being the object of the Christian’s faith. And since the Catechism views the whole truth from the standpoint of the Christian comfort, and, therefore, of salvation, it introduces all this with the question: “Are all men then, as they perished in Adam, saved by Christ?”

This question is a very important one, and should be taken very seriously. We would do well, perhaps, to look closely at the question, and to assure ourselves that we understand it in all its implications before we attempt to answer it. Are all men saved? Even this part of the question, taken by itself, is of tremendous import. It is hardly to be treated as if it were a mathematical problem, the solution of which is interesting, indeed, but which, for the rest, does not cause us any grave concern. One cannot really do justice to a question of this kind by making it the subject of a round table discussion in a philosophical club. It Is of very grave importance. It concerns men. It is interested in the reality of life and death, of everlasting bliss and desolation. Yes, but that is not the most important element in the question. For it really concerns God. The question, what may become of all men, is, indeed, sufficiently serious, and becomes more serious according as one considers men in their concrete existence and relations in this world. But a far more important question is, nevertheless, that which concerns God and His dealings with the children of men. And it is, evidently, from this aspect that the Catechism considers the matter of the salvation of all men. Are all men saved? is an inquiry that concerns God as the Subject, man as the object of salvation. The question is not, whether somehow it happens that, fortunately, all men are saved, as it might be reported of the crew and passengers of a shipwrecked ocean steamer, some of which save their lives in lifeboats, others with life-preservers or on rafts, and all of which are ultimately picked up and rescued. Nor does the question: “Are all men saved?” mean to inquire into the success of a determined attempt to save all men. Nor does it mean: are all men willing to be saved? or: do all men have a chance of salvation? or: is salvation offered to all men? On the contrary, the question wholly concerns God. For salvation is of the Lord. And, therefore, as the Catechism puts the question, it must certainly mean: does God save all men?

And because this inquiry concerns God, we should be very careful that we do not answer, that we do not offer our answer to this question. Probably we would feel inclined to answer the question in the affirmative, either if we solve this problem rationally, or if we let our emotions determine the answer. As to the latter, we must remember that the question concerns, not abstract conceptions of men, but men in their concrete existence and relationships,. The question concerns the child that is your flesh and blood, the wife of your love, the brother that grew up in the same home with you, the friend of your bosom, with whom you take sweet counsel, your fellowman that lives and struggles and dies in the same world with you, your own flesh and blood. If, then, you let your own flesh and blood determine the answer to this question, you will probably seek an affirmative reply. Did not Paul’s flesh and blood declare once that he could wish to be accursed from Christ for his brethren, his kinsmen according to the flesh? By all means, then, take this question seriously, and if you must answer negatively, let it be “with great heaviness and continual sorrow” as long as you, too, are still in the flesh! But also a logical or rational solution of this problem would seem to point in the same direction: the salvation of all men. Especially is this true if we consider the entire question as proposed by the Catechism: “Are all men then, as they perished in Adam, saved by Christ?” All men perished in Adam! Is it not quite rational, then, to suppose that God will also save them all? Does not the fact that all men perished in Adam imply that they are all one, one in a legal sense, and one in an organic sense? And, granted that all men also bear individual responsibility for their sin, does not the fact remain that the first beginning of their sin and death lies beyond their individual existence, and that they are born in guilt and damnation? If we, then, must give an answer to this question, would it not be most rational to conclude that God will certainly save the entire corporation and organism, and every individual of the human race?

And men have given and still do often give their own answer to this tremendous question. But even so they did not and do not agree. Very few are they who have the courage to give an affirmative answer without qualification to the question of the Catechism. Yet, from the earliest period of the history of the. church there were those who taught that in the end all will be saved. Already such early church fathers as Clemens of Alexandria and Origin favored the universalistic view. And in our day all shades of universalists defend the same theory. They usually argue, not (directly from Scripture, but from the fact that salvation is through Christ, and that there are a large number of men who, in this life never had an Opportunity to come into contact with Him. The majority of men die without ever having heard of the Savior. And so, there must be another opportunity to accept Christ, after death, or even after the final day of judgment. And in this way, according to some, all men will gradually obey the gospel and be saved; or, according to others, the majority will repent,” while the stubbornly impenitent will be annihilated.

However, like all teachers of false doctrines, these universalists also appeal to Scripture, and have their texts to support their doctrine. They point to such passages as Matt. 10:15: “Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.” Matt. 11:20-24: “Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not: Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have relented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, “that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for thee.” Luke 12:47, 48, where the Lord makes a distinction between the servant that shall be beaten with many, and he that shall be beaten with few stripes. But it is evident that no universal salvation is taught in these passages. They merely make a distinction of degree in the measure of punishment that is to be inflicted upon the wicked. 

Besides, they appeal to John 15:22-24: “If I had not come, and spoken unto them, they had not had sin, but now they have no cloke for their sin. He that hateth me hateth my Father also. If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin, but now they have both seen and hated both me and my Father.” From these words the general conclusion is drawn, that one has no sin and, therefore, cannot be condemned unless he had come into contact with Christ first. But it is evident that this is not the meaning of the Savior’s words. For if such were the meaning, it had been better if the Savior had never come into the world. And the Word of God teaches everywhere that sin and death have come upon all men through the first man Adam. The Savior, therefore, means, not that the Jews would have had no sin at all, that they would have been righteous, if Christ had not come and spoken and showed His mighty works unto them, but that the special sin of hating Him and His Father would not have become manifest in them. For it is this manifestation of sin that renders them wholly worthy of rejection.

More difficult to explain, perhaps, is a passage like that in I Pet. 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.” The universalists use this text to prove that there is another opportunity after death to hear the gospel. Roman Catholics and Lutherans find proof here for a personal descension of Christ into hell, although they differ with respect to the purpose of this descension. Reformed interpreters usually explain that Jesus did not preach to the spirits in prison after His death, but at the time of Noah and through the Spirit of prophecy. It was then that God’s Spirit strove with men, and that through the prophets the gospel was preached to the predeluvian ungodly. However, it seems to us: 1. That the text speaks of a preaching to the spirits in prison, not at the time before the flood, but after the resurrection of Christ. Jesus was put to death in the flesh, quickened by the Spirit, and then, in that Spirit He went and preached. 2. That He preached, not to men in the flesh, not to the disobedient when they were on earth, but to disembodied spirits, to the predeluvian wicked after they had gone into “prison.” This, is plainly stated: he “preached to the spirits in prison,” And to this is added that they were “sometime disobedient.” This, of course, refers to the time when “the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah.” But the point is that this refers to a period before the preaching took place of which the text speaks. 3. That the text does not speak of a personal descension of Christ into hell in order to preach to these spirits in prison; He went in the Spirit. 4. That the text gives no ground for the contention that the Lord preached the gospel to them; The word that is used here in the Greek is the mere formal term for preaching, without informing us as to the contents of the preaching. It means “to herald”, loudly to proclaim. Hence, the text expresses no more than that Christ in the Spirit after His resurrection, proclaimed something to the Spirits of predeluvian ungodly in prison. Now, if we consider that this predeluvian race of ungodly men had been extremely wicked, had, in fact, filled the measure of iniquity for that time, so that God executed final judgment in the destruction of the first world; and if we recall that the saints of that period had proclaimed to that wicked world that the Lord would come to execute judgment, and that, although they witnessed the judgment of God upon them in the flood, yet did not see the justification of the saints they had persecuted and killed; we can at least conjecture why the Lord should preach to these particular spirits of the predeluvian world, and what must have been His message. He, through whose death and resurrection the world was judged and the prince of this world had been cast out, through the Spirit convicted the spirits of the ungodly in prison of their own utter condemnation and defeat, and of the justification and victory of Himself and His people. For let us not forget that before Him, Whom God exalted at His right hand, “every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” And this is the result of this preaching of the exalted Lord through the Spirit, even in them that are in hell.

One more text to which universalists often appeal to sustain their view that there will be another opportunity to come to Christ and be saved after death, must be briefly considered here. I refer to I Pet. 4:6: “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.” Now, it may be said at once that this text, whatever may be the correct explanation of it, certainly does not speak of a preaching of the gospel after death, for the simple reason that the preaching here spoken of is presented as antecedent to the death of those to whom it was preached: the gospel was preached to them that are dead, or simply to the “dead” (nekrois). For this same reason, I cannot agree with the interpretation that explains the “dead” as referring to spiritual death. Rather do I think that the apostle has in mind a special class of dead: those of the church that had died in martyrdom. This seems clearly expressed in the text, for they were those that had been “judged according to men in the flesh,” but they had been justified, for they lived “according to God in the spirit,” And this also is suggested by the context. To those martyrs the gospel had been preached exactly in order that they might suffer according to men, be condemned and killed by them; “for this cause,” i.e. in order that the wicked world may be condemned in the day when they shall “give account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead.” vs. 5.

But it is not only those that are known as universalists, who answer the question: “Are all men saved?” affirmatively, at least with certain qualifications, and as far as God is concerned in the work of salvation. The Pelagians held that there are several degrees of salvation, and, accordingly, different ways to be saved. Man can be saved from condemnation if he obeys the “law of nature.” The Israelite could be saved by keeping the law of Moses. And the believer is saved thru obedience to the faith, the “law of Christ,” And the Arminian proposes that, as far as God is concerned, all men are saved. For in God’s intention, Christ died for all men. It is true that some men are not saved, but this is not due to any limitation God places upon salvation, but to the will of man that rejects the well-meaning offer of salvation in Christ Jesus. It is evident that it follows from this, not only that salvation as a work of God is universal, and that it is man that limits this universal work of God; but also that salvation must be extended to all those that never come into contact with the preaching of the gospel, such as all the little children that die before they come to years of discretion, and all the heathen to whom the gospel was never proclaimed. Surely, if it be true that God wills all men to be saved, it must follow that there be other ways of salvation than the one that is prepared through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. It is evident that, underlying all these universalistic errors, are two main errors. The one is, that one can be damned only for the sin of rejecting Christ and the proffered salvation: original as well as actual sin in itself is not a sufficient ground for damnation. And the other 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.