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The Equation of Faith.
BY REV. W. ASHMORE, D.d.
[Baptist Missionary Union.]
HERE is an exactness of parallel between the Gentiles and
the Jews as regards their relations to moral law, unwritten in the one case, written in the other, and yet substantially one and the same moral law. This, it seems to us, is the aim of the argument of the Apostle Paul in the I. and II. of Romans.
In the course of the same argument to the Romans, and in the subsequent expansion of it, the Apostle indicates that, as there is an exact equation in their relations to law so there is also a still further equation in the conditions of faith of both Gentiles and Jews.
When reasoning about law the Apostle began by a survey, first of the position of the Gentiles, and from it he established the fact of the condemnation of the Gentiles. This done he proceeds next to reason about the Jews and further establishes the condemnation of the Jews also. So, as regards law and condemnation, both Jews and Gentiles are on the same footing. The Jew is no better off than his Gentile neighbor, and the Gentile is no more exempt than is his Jewish neighbor.
When next he takes up the matter of justifying faith the Apostle reverses the order. He begins with the Jews and ends with the Gentiles. He teaches that the latter stand on as solid ground as the former, and more than that, they stand on identically the same ground. If the Jew can be justified by faith then also the Gentile may be. Each one had been condemned for violating such moral law as he had in the measure and degree thereof. And so, to match and to correspond, each one may be justified by believing up to such degree of light and evidence that he had, in the measure and degree thereof, for "Is he the God of the Jews only? Is he not the God of the Gentiles also."
This equation of conditions, as we must view it, applies not only in prospective but also in retrospective circumstances, "for there is no difference." The just Judge of all the earth deals with all men on one and the same principle of law, and one and the same principle of grace, and not on two different principles in regard to each. As in the one case we apprehend better the status of the Jews in regard to law by first considering that of the Gentiles, so in the other we shall be able to estimate the grounds of hope through faith for the Gentiles, by first considering what acceptances have
been granted to different degrees of faith among the Jews from age to age, from faith to faith, as it is written, "The just shall live by faith." The justified man, whoever he is, is justified through the agency of faith. Whatever door of hope may exist for heathen must therefore be sought for in this direction. Salvation by works the Apostle declares impossible. The "deeds of the law," whether of the unwritten law or of the written law, are alike unavailable. Be it specially noted that the Apostle in drawing his conclusion drew it from a consideration of both unwritten and written law.
History of Faith.
An investigation of this nature requires us to take a survey of the entire history of faith as contained in the Old Testament. We find that, following the general analogy in God's works, faith has been progressive. It has kept pace with the gradual unfolding of the plan of redemption and the gradual increase of light concerning Jesus Christ. The eye has discerned with increasing clearness in proportion as the object to be seen has stood out with increasing distinctness. As regards God the Creator men did discern clearly in the very first period of Hebrew history, but as regards God the Father and Christ the Anointed they did not discern clearly. They saw through a glass darkly, through the medium of types and shadows and symbols and obscure adumbrations of the coming One" the man that shall be," as was said to Eve," he that cometh," as was said in Revelation. There was no such fulness of evidence in these early times as was enjoyed after Christ came. The day had not dawned, and the prophecies were as a light shining in a dark place until the day dawn and the day-star should arise. Now as was the evidence so was their faith. In these our own days faith must comprise a clear discernment of a personal Saviour, a Saviour crucified and risen, and of the truths He taught concerning the world to come, at least in a general way. It will hardly be contended for by any one that those who lived in the days of Moses and Aaron had any such clearness of perception as ordinary believers may have now. Indeed the declaration of the Saviour concerning John the Baptist leaves no doubt on that point. They believed in God, and they had to put their trust in a provisional Gospel, whose remissions of sin through the blood of bulls and goats was also provisional. It was like an issuance of bonds which only represented an unseen value and which were to be taken up at some future day. They accepted these provisional remissions as valid; they had faith in them, because they were of God's appointment. As yet they knew but little about Him, by whom and through whom these provisional releases were to be ratified and made good. These men, we believe, were saved and
were saved because of their faith which foreshadowed the unknown Saviour.
The farther back we go the less abundant does this testimony become, on which faith has had to build. In Abraham's day it was less than in Aaron's, in Noah's day it was less than in Abraham's and in the time of Abel less again than in Noah's. Yet in these various ages there were saints of eminent degree. It was accepted from them according to what they had and not according to what they had not. These persons saw Messiah's day only in a shadow, but they rejoiced in their shadow and were glad. It will not be claimed that they had any clear knowledge of the details of the actual way in which they were to be reconciled to God. An analysis of the faith by which they were justified seems to resolve itself into a simple trust in God, that He Himself would interpose and find some way for them and some sort of substitute which should be accepted in place of the actual offender and thus sin be wiped out. Definite ideas as to time and mode and instrumentality they certainly did not possess, for these things were afterwards revealed gradually. Abel's faith would seem to be of this kind. The faith of Eve was still less informed if we accept the interpretation that when her child was born instead of saying "I have gotten a man Jehovah from the Lord" she said, "I have gotten the man that shall be," thus referring, though mistakenly, to the promised seed that should bruise the serpent's head. And so primitive faith was taken up with the promise of the coming One in His character of avenger, which was one of the offices afterwards filled by the goel or kinsman Redeemer.
Degrees of Faith.
An administration of strict justice can show no indulgence, but an administration of free grace can do so. We may rest assured that whatever indulgence God has shown to the imperfectly discerning faith of Jews in their early history He will show the same to Gentiles in their imperfect discernment. It must be remembered that before the call of Abraham all men were on the same basis, a fact of greater significance than many are aware of. There were no Jews and Gentiles then. All were Gentiles alike, all were under the same administration. However coming back to the separation into two lines of development, if it can be shown that a sincere though vague trust in divine mercy, fully up to the light possessed, has been accepted in one case, it surely will be in the other. If God counts it for righteousness in the one case He will in the other, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ unto all them that believe, for there is no distinction * and "if so be that God is one and He shall justify the circumcision by faith and the
uncircumcision through faith," or very literally, "if so be that one is the God who shall justify the circumcision out of faith and the uncircumcision through faith," that is, if He is one and not two. The argument as we apprehend it is-not that there are two Gods, and therefore two administrations; it is one and the same God who deals with both Jews and Gentiles, and therefore the principles of administration are one and the same. To say though, as some do, that as regards methods of application of these same principles the particles ex, "out of" and dia, "through," have no special difference of meaning seems hardly to do justice to the language. There may be some variation in the process by which one under the covenant and one out of the covenant arrive at faith, though there may be no difference in the generic quality of the faith and in the justification to which it leads. For faith is both generic and specific. "Ye believe in God believe also in me;" the first is generic, the second is specific. The two are related-the latter is an outflow from the former and has a derivative as well as an intrinsic value.
The Gospel of Nature.
This has already been hinted at. Let us expand the thought. There is in nature a certain amount of unwritten Gospel proclaimed by the merciful dealings of God with all mankind; goodness leads to the expectation of goodness. This was the Gospel of nature preached at Lystra, "Nevertheless He left not Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness." There is a vast deal taught and implied here. In Romans Paul teaches that in nature the wrath of God is revealed; here he teaches that the mercy of God is also revealed. It was not law but Gospel which Paul told these heathen at Lystra that they had been having all along the ages. God has not left Himself without witness of either. The lesson of it is that they should know better than to be clinging to such vanities and should have turned towards a witnessing God and have hoped in His mercy. This Gospel of nature is preached, it may be said, to every creature under heaven. "There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard, their line is gone out through all the earth and their words to the end of the world." We would not assume such a thing on slight grounds, but we sometimes wonder if Paul's opening sentence in the Epistle to the Romans might not have a significance of its own. He was writing to those who had been heathen, and he speaks of himself as separated unto the Gospel of God. Not that there are two Gospels-one the Gospel of Jesus Christ and one the Gospel of God. They are the same. Before Christ came, the Gospel-to the eye of man at least-was
administered by God. He appears as the operator in the Old Testament. Under the New Testament régime Jesus Christ is the administrator. The relationship of Christ to the Gospel of nature as well as to the provisional Gospel of Levi was a mystery hidden from generation to generation, but the relationship of God to them both was not a mystery. The Gospel of God includes all these gracious promises and intimations and foreshadowings of grace and mercy, made in the ages past before Christ came, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the fulfilment, verification and consummation of all the former. And at the same time the Gospel of Jesus Christ is also the Gospel of God.
The Faith of Heathen.
What is now said will aid us in our perplexity at the apparent severity of God's dealings with those who have never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There have been many persons among Gentile nations in various ages-very many-who have been distinguished for noble qualities and righteous acts. Is there no hope for them simply because they have not heard of the "Historic Christ?" To this we reply: on the ground of their so-called meritorious deeds, or of their noble and exalted traits of character there is no ground of hope-for however good they may have been and whatever benefactions they have rendered they still have "sinned and come short of the glory of God." Let us not forget the absoluteness of Paul's declaration, "By the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified." No body! Nobody ever has been or ever can be saved by the deeds of the law. The question is sometimes put, "Will not the heathen be saved if they do as well as they know how?" That is only another way of asking whether the heathen cannot be saved by a righteousness of their own. The thing is impossible. The word "do" is the wrong one to use. If the question be asked whether these can be saved, who have believed up to the light they possessed, the whole question is taken out of the category of law and becomes a question in the category of grace. Here to us is the true ground of hope, and it may comprehend in the history of the mighty past a vastly greater aggregate of human beings than we have dared to dream of. If, quite apart from alms deeds and memorials, these persons may have had some small measure of faith, somewhat commensurate with the light enjoyed, we believe that it will receive all the recognition possible under a scheme of grace, and that from a gracious God, who will give to a lower degree of evidence the same considerate treatment that He does to a fainter publication of law.
In the vast multitudes of Gentiles, who have lived and died without knowing, of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, there are many, as