Friday, March 29, 2013

“The just shall live by faith”— A Study of the Relationship of Faith to Salvation in its Justifying, Sanctifying, and Glorifying Fulness, part 8

The New Testament confirms the Old Testament doctrine that, as evidenced in the paradigmatic example of Abraham,[i] the “just shall live by faith.”[ii]  The quotations of Genesis 15:6 and Habakkuk 2:4 in the New Testament emphasize different aspects of the truth taught in the Old Testament text. Before the specific New Testament texts are examined, a general overview of New Testament teaching about the just, about life, and about faith will be conducted in subsequent posts.  First, the following very helpful quotes by Warfield will be reproduced:

It lies on the very surface of the New Testament that its writers were not conscious of a chasm between the fundamental principle of the religious life of the saints of the old covenant and the faith by which they themselves lived. To them, too, Abraham is the typical example of a true believer (Romans 4; Galatians 3; Hebrews 11; James 2); and in their apprehension “those who are of faith,” that is, “Christians,” are by that very fact constituted Abraham’s sons (Galatians 3:7; Romans 4:16), and receive their blessing only along with that “believer” (Galatians 3:9) in the steps of whose faith it is that they are walking (Romans 4:12) when they believe on Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead (Romans 4:24). And not only Abraham, but the whole series of Old Testament heroes are conceived by them to be examples of the same faith which was required of them “unto the gaining of the soul” (Hebrews 11). Wrought in them by the same Spirit (2 Corinthians 4:13), it produced in them the same fruits, and constituted them a “cloud of witnesses” by whose testimony we should be stimulated to run our own race with like patience in dependence on Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). Nowhere is the demand of faith treated as a novelty of the new covenant, or is there a distinction drawn between the faith of the two covenants; everywhere the sense of continuity is prominent (John 5:24, 46; 12:38, 39, 44; 1 Peter 2:6), and the “proclamation of faith” (Galatians 3:2, 5; Romans 10:16) is conceived as essentially one in both dispensations, under both of which the law reigns that “the just shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38). Nor do we need to penetrate beneath the surface of the Old Testament to perceive the justice of this New Testament view. Despite the infrequency of the occurrence on its pages of the terms “faith” [and] “to believe,” the religion of the Old Testament is obviously as fundamentally a religion of faith as is that of the New Testament. There is a sense, to be sure, in which all religion presupposes faith (Hebrews 11:6), and in this broad sense the religion of Israel, too, necessarily rested on faith. But the religion of Israel was a religion of faith in a far more specific sense than this; and that not merely because faith was more consciously its foundation, but because its very essence consisted in faith, and this faith was the same radical self-commitment to God, not merely as the highest good of the holy soul, but as the gracious Saviour of the sinner, which meets us as the characteristic feature of the religion of the New Testament. Between the faith of the two Testaments there exists, indeed, no further difference than that which the progress of the historical working out of redemption brought with it.

The hinge of Old Testament religion from the very beginning turns on the facts of man’s sin (Genesis 3) and consequent unworthiness (Genesis 3:2-10), and of God’s grace (Genesis 3:15) and consequent saving activity (Genesis 3:4; 4:5; 6:8, 13f.). This saving activity presents itself from the very beginning also under the form of promise or covenant, the radical idea of which is naturally faithfulness on the part of the promising God with the answering attitude of faith on the part of the receptive people. Face to face with a holy God, the sinner has no hope except in the free mercy of God, and can be authorized to trust in that mercy only by express assurance. Accordingly, the only cause of salvation is from the first the pitying love of God (Genesis 3:15, 8:21), which freely grants benefits to man; while on man’s part there is never question of merit or of a strength by which he may prevail (1 Samuel 2:9), but rather a constant sense of unworthiness (Genesis 32:10), by virtue of which humility appears from the first as the keynote of Old Testament piety. . . . [F]rom the very beginning the distinctive feature of the life of the pious is that it is a life of faith, that its regulative principle is drawn, not from the earth but from above. Thus the first recorded human acts after the Fall—the naming of Eve, and the birth and naming of Cain—are expressive of trust in God’s promise that, though men should die for their sins, yet man should not perish from the earth, but should triumph over the tempter; in a word, in the great promise of the Seed (Genesis 3:15). Similarly, the whole story of the Flood is so ordered as to throw into relief, on the one hand, the free grace of God in His dealings with Noah (Genesis 6:8, 18; 8:1, 21; 9:8), and, on the other, the determination of Noah’s whole life by trust in God and His promises (Genesis 6:22; 7:5; 9:20). The open declaration of the faith-principle of Abraham’s life (Genesis 15:6) only puts into words, in the case of him who stands at the root of Israel’s whole national and religious existence, what not only might also be said of all the patriarchs, but what actually is most distinctly said both of Abraham and of them through the medium of their recorded history. The entire patriarchal narrative is set forth with the design and effect of exhibiting the life of the servants of God as a life of faith, and it is just by the fact of their implicit self-commitment to God that throughout the narrative the servants of God are differentiated from others. This does not mean, of course, that with them faith took the place of obedience: an entire self-commitment to God which did not show itself in obedience to Him would be self-contradictory, and the testing of faith by obedience is therefore a marked feature of the patriarchal narrative. But it does mean that faith was with them the precondition of all obedience. The patriarchal religion is essentially a religion, not of law but of promise, and therefore not primarily of obedience but of trust; the holy walk is characteristic of God’s servants (Genesis 5:22, 24; 6:9; 17:1; 24:40; 48:15), but it is characteristically described as a walk “with God”; its peculiarity consisted precisely in the ordering of life by entire trust in God, and it expressed itself in conduct growing out of this trust (Genesis 3:20; 4:1; 6:22; 7:5; 8:18; 12:4; 17:23; 21:12, 16, 22). The righteousness of the patriarchal age was thus but the manifestation in life of an entire self-commitment to God, in unwavering trust in His promises.

The piety of the Old Testament thus began with faith. . . . Faith, therefore, does not appear as one of the precepts of the law, nor as a virtue superior to its precepts, nor yet as a substitute for keeping them; it rather lies behind the law as its presupposition. Accordingly, in the history of the giving of the law, faith is expressly emphasized as the presupposition of the whole relation existing between Israel and Jehovah. The signs by which Moses was accredited, and all Jehovah’s deeds of power, had as their design (Exodus 3:12; 4:1, 5, 8, 9; 19:4, 9) and their effect (Exodus 4:31; 12:28, 34; 14:31; 24:3, 7; Psalm 106:12) the working of faith in the people; and their subsequent unbelief is treated as the deepest crime they could commit (Numbers 14:11; Deuteronomy 1:32; 9:23; Psalm 78:22, 32, 106:24), as is even momentary failure of faith on the part of their leaders (Numbers 20:12). It is only as a consequent of the relation of the people to Him, instituted by grace on His part and by faith on theirs, that Jehovah proceeds to carry out His gracious purposes for them, delivering them from bondage, giving them a law for the regulation of their lives, and framing them in the promised land into a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. In other words, it is a precondition of the law that Israel’s life is not of the earth, but is hid with God, and is therefore to be ordered by His precepts. Its design was, therefore, not to provide a means by which man might come into relation with Jehovah, but to publish the mode of life incumbent on those who stand in the relation of children to Jehovah[.] ((“The Biblical Doctrine of Faith,” Warfield, in Biblical Doctrines, vol. 2 of Works)

Summarizing the evidence of the New Testament, Warfield writes:

By means of the providentially mediated diversity of emphasis of the New Testament writers on the several aspects of faith, the outlines of the biblical conception of faith are thrown into very high relief.

Of its subjective nature we have what is almost a formal definition in the description of it as an “assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). It obviously contains in it, therefore, an element of knowledge (Hebrews 11:6), and it as obviously issues in conduct (Hebrews 11:8, cf. 5:9; 1 Peter 1:22). But it consists neither in assent nor in obedience, but in a reliant trust in the invisible Author of all good (Hebrews 11:27), in which the mind is set upon the things that are above and not on the things that are upon the earth (Colossians 3:2, cf. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18; Matthew 6:25. The examples cited in Hebrews 11 are themselves enough to show that the faith there commended is not a mere belief in God’s existence and justice and goodness, or crediting of His word and promises, but a practical counting of Him faithful (Hebrews 11:11), with a trust so profound that no trial can shake it (Hebrews 11:35), and so absolute that it survives the loss of even its own pledge (Hebrews 11:17). So little is faith in its biblical conception merely a conviction of the understanding, that, when that is called faith, the true idea of faith needs to be built up above this word (James 2:14ff). It is a movement of the whole inner man (Romans 10:9, 10), and is set in contrast with an unbelief that is akin, not to ignorance but to disobedience (Hebrews 3:18, 19; John 3:36; Romans 11:20, 30, 15:31; 1 Thessalonians 1:8; Hebrews 4:2, 6; 1 Peter 1:7, 8; 3:1, 20; 4:18; Acts 14:2; 19:9), and that grows out of, not lack of information, but that aversion of the heart from God (Hebrews 3:12) which takes pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thessalonians 2:12), and is so unsparingly exposed by our Lord (John 3:19; 5:44; 8:47; 10:26). In the breadth of its idea, it is thus the going out of the heart from itself and its resting on God in confident trust for all good. But the scriptural revelation has to do with, and is directed to the needs of, not man in the abstract, but sinful man; and for sinful man this hearty reliance on God necessarily becomes humble trust in Him for the fundamental need of the sinner—forgiveness of sins and reception into favour. In response to the revelations of His grace and the provisions of His mercy, it commits itself without reserve and with abnegation of all self-dependence, to Him as its sole and sufficient Saviour, and thus, in one act, empties itself of all claim on God and casts itself upon His grace alone for salvation.

It is, accordingly, solely from its object that faith derives its value. This object is uniformly the God of grace, whether conceived of broadly as the source of all life, light, and blessing, on whom man in his creaturely weakness is entirely dependent, or, whenever sin and the eternal welfare of the soul are in view, as the Author of salvation in whom alone the hope of unworthy man can be placed. This one object of saving faith never varies from the beginning to the end of the scriptural revelation; though, naturally, there is an immense difference between its earlier and later stages in fulness of knowledge as to the nature of the redemptive work by which the salvation intrusted to God shall be accomplished; and as naturally there occurs a very great variety of forms of statement in which trust in the God of salvation receives expression. Already, however, at the gate of Eden, the God in whom the trust of our first parents is reposed is the God of the gracious promise of the retrieval of the injury inflicted by the serpent; and from that beginning of knowledge the progress is steady, until, what is implied in the primal promise having become express in the accomplished work of redemption, the trust of sinners is explicitly placed in the God who was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19). Such a faith, again, could not fail to embrace with humble confidence all the gracious promises of the God of salvation, from which indeed it draws its life and strength; nor could it fail to lay hold with strong conviction on all those revealed truths concerning Him which constitute, indeed, in the varied circumstances in which it has been called upon to persist throughout the ages, the very grounds in view of which it has been able to rest upon Him with steadfast trust. These truths, in which the “Gospel” or glad-tidings to God’s people has been from time to time embodied, run all the way from such simple facts as that it was the very God of their fathers that had appeared unto Moses for their deliverance (Exodus 4:5), to such stupendous facts, lying at the root of the very work of salvation itself, as that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God sent of God to save the world (John 6:69; 8:24; 11:42; 13:19; 16:27, 30; 17:8, 21; 20:31; 1 John 5:15), that God has raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9; 1 Thessalonians 4:14), and that as His children we shall live with Him (Romans 6:8). But in believing this variously presented Gospel, faith has ever terminated with trustful reliance, not on the promise but on the Promiser,— not on the propositions which declare God’s grace and willingness to save, or Christ’s divine nature and power, or the reality and perfection of His saving work, but on the Saviour upon whom, because of these great facts, it could securely rest as on One able to save to the uttermost. Jesus Christ, God the Redeemer, is accordingly the one object of saving faith, presented to its embrace at first implicitly and in promise, and ever more and more openly until at last it is entirely explicit and we read that “a man is not justified save through faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16). If, with even greater explicitness still, faith is sometimes said to rest upon some element in the saving work of Christ, as, for example, upon His blood or His righteousness (Romans 3:25; 2 Peter 1:1), obviously such a singling out of the very thing in His work on which faith takes hold, in no way derogates from its repose upon Him, and Him only, as the sole and sufficient Saviour.

The saving power of faith resides thus not in itself, but in the Almighty Saviour on whom it rests. It is never on account of its formal nature as a psychic act that faith is conceived in Scripture to be saving,—as if this frame of mind or attitude of heart were itself a virtue with claims on God for reward, or at least especially pleasing to Him (either in its nature or as an act of obedience) and thus predisposing Him to favour, or as if it brought the soul into an attitude of receptivity or of sympathy with God, or opened a channel of communication from Him. It is not faith that saves, but faith in Jesus Christ: faith in any other saviour, or in this or that philosophy or human conceit (Colossians 2:16, 18; 1 Timothy 4:1), or in any other gospel than that of Jesus Christ and Him as crucified (Galatians 1:8, 9), brings not salvation but a curse. It is not, strictly speaking, even faith in Christ that saves, but Christ that saves through faith. The saving power resides exclusively, not in the act of faith or the attitude of faith or the nature of faith, but in the object of faith; and in this the whole biblical representation centres, so that we could not more radically misconceive it than by transferring to faith even the smallest fraction of that saving energy which is attributed in the Scriptures solely to Christ Himself. This purely mediatory function of faith is very clearly indicated in the regimens in which it stands, which ordinarily express simple instrumentality. It is most frequently joined to its verb as the dative of means or instrument (Acts 15:9; 26:18; Romans 3:28; 4:20; 5:2; 11:20; 2 Corinthians 1:24; Hebrews 11:3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11, 17, 20, 21, 23, 24, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31); and the relationship intended is further explained by the use to express it of the prepositions e˙k (Romans 1:17; 3:26, 30; 4:16; 5:1; 9:30, 32; 10:6; 14:23; Galatians 2:16; 3:7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 27, 28; 5:5, 1 Timothy 1:5; Hebrews 10:38; James 2:24) and dia¿ (with the genitive, never with the accusative, Romans 3:22, 25, 30; 2 Corinthians 5:7; Galatians 2:16; 3:14, 26; 2 Timothy 3:15; Hebrews 6:12; 11:33, 39; 1 Peter 1:5),—the fundamental idea of the former construction being that of source or origin, and of the latter that of mediation or instrumentality, though they are used together in the same context, apparently with no distinction of meaning (Romans 3:25, 26, 30; Galatians 2:16). It is not necessary to discover an essentially different implication in the exceptional usage of the prepositions e˙pi÷ (Acts 3:16; Philippians 3:9) and kata¿ (Hebrews 11:7, 13; cf. Matthew 9:29) in this connexion: e˙pi÷  is apparently to be taken in a quasi-temporal sense, “on faith,” giving the occasion of the divine act, and kata¿ very similarly in the sense of conformability, “in conformity with faith.” Not infrequently we meet also with a construction with the preposition e˙n which properly designates the sphere, but which in passages like Galatians 2:20; Colossians 2:7; 2 Thessalonians 2:13 appears to pass over into the conception of instrumentality.

So little indeed is faith conceived as containing in itself the energy or ground of salvation, that it is consistently represented as, in its origin, itself a gratuity from God in the prosecution of His saving work. It comes, not of one’s own strength or virtue, but only to those who are chosen of God for its reception (2 Thessalonians 2:13), and hence is His gift (Ephesians 6:23, cf. 2:8, 9; Philippians 1:29), through Christ (Acts 3:16; Philippians 1:29; 1 Peter 1:21; cf. Hebrews 12:2), by the Spirit (2 Corinthians 4:13; Galatians 5:5), by means of the preached word (Romans 10:17; Galatians 3:2, 5); and as it is thus obtained from God (2 Peter 1:1; Jude 3; 1 Peter 1:21), thanks are to be returned to God for it (Colossians 1:4; 2 Thessalonians 1:3). Thus, even here all boasting is excluded, and salvation is conceived in all its elements as the pure product of unalloyed grace, issuing not from, but in, good works (Ephesians 2:8-12). The place of faith in the process of salvation, as biblically conceived, could scarcely, therefore, be better described than by the use of the scholastic term “instrumental cause.” Not in one portion of the Scriptures alone, but throughout their whole extent, it is conceived as a boon from above which comes to men, no doubt through the channels of their own activities, but not as if it were an effect of their energies, but rather, as it has been finely phrased, as a gift which God lays in the lap of the soul. “With the heart,” indeed, “man believeth unto righteousness”; but this believing does not arise of itself out of any heart indifferently, nor is it grounded in the heart’s own potencies; it is grounded rather in the freely-giving goodness of God, and comes to man as a benefaction out of heaven. . . 

[H]e who humbly but confidently casts himself on the God of salvation has the assurance that he shall not be put to shame (Romans 11:11; 9:33), but shall receive the end of his faith, even the salvation of his soul (1 Peter 1:9). This salvation is no doubt, in its idea, received all at once (John 3:36; 1 John 5:12); but it is in its very nature a process, and its stages come, each in its order. First of all, the believer, renouncing by the very act of faith his own righteousness which is out of the law, receives that “righteousness which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God on faith” (Philippians 3:9, cf. Romans 3:22; 4:11; 9:30; 10:3, 10; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 5:5; Hebrews 11:7; 2 Peter 1:1). On the ground of this righteousness, which in its origin is the “righteous act” of Christ, constituted by His “obedience” (Romans 5:18, 19), and comes to the believer as a “gift” (Romans 5:17), being reckoned to him apart from works (Romans 4:6), he that believes in Christ is justified in God’s sight, received into His favour, and made the recipient of the Holy Spirit (John 7:39, cf. Acts 5:32), by whose indwelling men are constituted the sons of God (Romans 8:13). And if children, then are they heirs (Romans 8:17), assured of an incorruptible, undefiled, and unfading inheritance, reserved in heaven for them; and meanwhile they are guarded by the power of God through faith unto this gloriously complete salvation (1 Peter 1:4, 5). Thus, though the immediate effect of faith is only to make the believer possessor before the judgment-seat of God of the alien righteousness wrought out by Christ, through this one effect it draws in its train the whole series of saving acts of God, and of saving effects on the soul. Being justified by faith, the enmity which has existed between the sinner and God has been abolished, and he has been introduced into the very family of God, and made sharer in all the blessings of His house (Ephesians 2:13f.). Being justified by faith, he has peace with God, and rejoices in the hope of the glory of God, and is enabled to meet the trials of life, not merely with patience but with joy (Romans 5:1f.). Being justified by faith, he has already working within him the life which the Son has brought into the world, and by which, through the operations of the Spirit which those who believe in Him receive (John 7:39), he is enabled to overcome the world lying in the evil one, and, kept by God from the evil one, to sin not (1 John 5:19). In a word, because we are justified by faith, we are, through faith, endowedwith all the privileges and supplied with all the graces of the children of God. (“The Biblical Doctrine of Faith,” Biblical Doctrines, Warfield, vol. 2 of Works)

This post is part of the complete study here.


[i] Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23.

[ii] Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38;  ÔO . . . di÷kaioß e˙k pi÷stewß zh/setai.

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