E. J. Waggoner
“The just shall live by faith.” Rom. 1:17. This statement is the summing up of what the apostle has to say about the gospel. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation, but only “to every one that believeth.” In it the righteousness of God is revealed. The righteousness of God is the perfect law of God, which is but the transcript of his own righteous will. All unrighteousness is sin or the transgression of the law. The gospel is God’s remedy for sin; its work, therefore, must be to bring men into harmony with the law—to cause the workings of the righteous law to be manifested in their lives. But this is wholly a work of faith—the righteousness of God is revealed from “faith to faith”— faith in the beginning and faith to the end—as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”
This is true in all ages since the fall of man and will be true until the saints of God have His name in their foreheads and see Him as He is. It was from the prophet Habakkuk (2:4) that the apostle quoted the statement. If the prophets had not revealed it, the first Christians could not have known of it, for they had only the Old Testament. To say that in the most ancient times men had but an imperfect idea of faith in Christ is to say that there were no just men in those times. But Paul goes right back to the very beginning and cites an instance of saving faith. He says, “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous.” Heb. 11:4. He says of Noah also that it was by faith that he built the ark to the saving of his house, “by the which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.” Heb. 11:7. We say that their faith was in Christ, because it was faith unto salvation and besides the name of Jesus “there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Acts 4:12.
There are too many who try to live the Christian life on the strength of the faith which they exercised when they realized their need of pardon for sins of their past life. They know that God alone can pardon sins and that He does this through Christ, but they imagine that having once been started they must run the race in their own strength. We know that many have this idea, first, because we have heard some say so, and second, because there are such multitudes of professed Christians who show the working of no greater power than their own. If they ever have anything to say in social meeting, besides the ever-recurring formula, “I want to be a Christian, so that I may be saved,” they tell only of a past experience, the joy they had when they first believed. Of the joy of living for God and of walking with Him by faith, they know nothing, and he who tells of it speaks of a strange language to them. But the apostle carries this matter of faith clear through to the glorious kingdom in the following most forcible illustration:
By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him; for before his translation he had this testimony that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. Heb. 11:5, 6.
Note the argument to prove that Enoch was translated by faith: Enoch was translated because he walked with God, and had the testimony that he pleased God; but without faith it is impossible to please God. That is enough to prove the point. Without faith not an act can be performed that will meet the approval of God. Without faith the best deeds that a man can do will come infinitely short of the perfect righteousness of God, which is the only standard. Wherever real faith is found it is a good thing, but the best of faith in God to take away the load of the sins of the past will profit a person nothing unless it is carried right through in ever-increasing measure until the close of his probation.
We have heard many people tell how hard they found it to do right. Their Christian life was most unsatisfactory to them, being marked only by failure, and they were tempted to give up in discouragement. No wonder they get discouraged. Continual failure is enough to discourage anybody. The bravest soldier in the world would become faint-hearted if he had been defeated in every battle. Sometimes these persons will mournfully tell that they have about lost confident in themselves. Poor souls. If they would only lose confidence in themselves entirely and would put their whole trust in the One who is mighty to save, they would have a different story to tell. They would then “joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Says the apostle, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice.” Phil. 4:4. The man who doesn’t rejoice in God, even though tempted and afflicted, is not fighting the good fight of faith. He is fighting the poor fight of self-confidence and defeat. (continues)