by D. M. Panton

Chapter Fourteen


Once more the Holy Spirit puts the dual truth afresh. For one man God has chosen to be the supreme model of all justification; and one apostle the Holy Spirit has specially selected to express justification by faith. For to Abraham, a repentant heathen idolater with his face set towards the Holy Land, God said, - "He that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir" (Gen. 15:4); then, leading him out under the countless stars, God said again, - "So shall thy seed be." Then we read, "Abraham believed in the Lord" - that is, as Paul puts it, he believed God (Rom. 4:3); "and God counted it [his faith] to him for righteousness." Abraham believed God - that was all: as God dimly, but really, presented Christ to him, far down the ages - the single Seed as well as the plural seed (Gal. 3:16) - he accepted God’s Word without question or doubt; and God thereby instantly accepted him as a righteous man. No voice ratified it from Heaven; no wave of emotion (so far as we know) swept over believing Abraham: silently, mysteriously, suddenly God regenerated, and Abraham, on bare faith, was justified.

Now the apostle asks the critical question, "We say, To Abraham his faith was reckoned for righteousness. How then was it reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision?" (Rom. 4:9). Had Abraham earned his justification? or obtained it by "sacraments"? or won it by long obedience and a holy life supplementing the mercy of God? or was it by faith alone? So vital is the reply that it is couched both negatively and positively, - "not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision: that he might be the father" - the progenitor, the pattern - "of all them that believe." The reply of the Holy Ghost is thus perfectly explicit. Abraham was justified before he brought forth any works at all, or submitted to any ritual; therefore he must have been justified by faith; before ever he worked for God he believed God; and until he believed, Abraham was a Chaldean idolater, a lost soul. Behold, therefore, the perfect model and the unchanging example of how God saves: "the father of ALL them that believe."

But there is a reverse side to the shield of Faith. Abraham had reached the end of a radiantly holy life; God had asked of him his last great renunciation, and he had yielded it: now upon the aged patriarch, tested again and again, a second great justification falls. The moment Isaac had been (in intent) offered, the Angel of the Lord said, - "Because thou hast done this thing" - that is, works - "and hast not withheld thy son, in blessing I will bless thee" (Gen. 22:16). Here was no regeneration silent, mysterious, internal: it was coronation, an open and solemn approval of God unto reward. Paul is the New Testament parallel. "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith" - all works; - "henceforth there is laid up for me the crown" - a special revelation made to Paul, as to Abraham, at the close of life - "of righteousness" - the crown consequent on righteousness - "which the righteous Judge" - awarding a second justification - " shall give to me at that day" (2 Tim. 4:7). From that moment Paul knew that of which he had been ignorant (1 Cor. 9:27; Phil. 3:11-14) before.

So the Holy Spirit has selected a second apostle through whom to reveal the second justification with startling emphasis. "Was not Abraham our father JUSTIFIED by works, in that he offered up Isaac upon the altar? works was faith made works a man is justified, and not only by faith" (Jas. 2:21-24). That Abraham’s second justification was a justification before God, not men, is clear, because God alone - apart from Isaac - was present when he was so justified (Gen. 22:16). James is not speaking of works before faith, that is, works of law: for "faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect": faith was already there. The justification of James, therefore, is not justification unto eternal life. Scripture strenuously denies that works before faith can ever justify: "by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified" (Rom. 3:20). But works done after faith, works done in faith, the ‘work of faith’ (2 Thess. 1:11) does justify for reward. "If any [disciple’s] work shall abide, he shall receive a reward. If any [disciple’s] work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved" (1 Cor. 3:14-15) - as already possessed of the justification unto life. "I know nothing against myself ; yet am I not hereby justified" - with the second justification: even a conscience void of offence in a regenerate apostle cannot ensure that: nothing can (apart from a special revelation) but the Judge upon the Bema - "but he that judgeth me is the Lord. Wherefore judge nothing before the time" (1 Cor. 4:4-5). Therefore the Spirit bids us, - "So speak ye, and so do, as men that are to be judged by a law of liberty" (Jas. 2:12) - the law, not of Moses, but of Christ.

God called Abraham, and be believed; God proved Abraham, and he endured: the two justifications were then complete. For his justification by faith Paul points to the moment of his regeneration; for his justification by works James points to his final act of accomplished obedience. Both justifications are demanded from every human soul. First, justification by blood, then justification by obedience; first, justification by faith, then justification by works; first, justification for life, then justification for reward; first, the escape of Israel out of Egypt, then the escape of Caleb and Joshua out of the wilderness: the one is an adjudication on a transferred righteousness through the obedience of Another; the other is an adjudication on an active righteousness through obedience of our own. For blessed is "the man unto whom God reckoneth righteousness apart from works" (Rom. 4:6): blessed also is "the man that endureth temptation [testing]; for when he hath been approved, he shall receive THE CROWN OF LIFE" (Jas. 1:12).

So there are also two overcomings. "Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). The "world" is all the mass of temptation, allurements to sin, ungodly habits, unholy life, which make up our present environment: by steadily, unceasingly, and completely resisting its pressure, the Lord Jesus overcame. The term is most expressive, an "overcomer"; it implies pressure, resistance, battle, victory, over that which calls for beating down and subduing; it is constant effort carried through to a victorious issue. Never to sin, in spite of fierce and unceasing temptation, is to be an absolute overcomer; and One only ever so overcame - Jesus the Christ. Now this conquest of our Lord is the victory of all His saints "God giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 15:57); for "this is the victory that hath overcome the world, even our faith" (1 John 5:4). Not ‘will’ overcome, but ‘hath’ overcome (R.V.); yet not ‘Christ,’ but ‘we’: for faith transfers Christ’s conquest to me: I have overcome in Christ; for He and I are one. "The conflict and suffering which we now have is not the real battle, but only the celebration of the victory" (Luther). From the first moment of faith the victory of every disciple is an assured fact: "whatsoever is begotten of God" - the whole mass of the regenerate - "overcometh the world: and this is the victory that hath overcome the world, even our faith." But there is a second overcoming. Seven times our Lord invokes every member of His Churches to become an overcomer. "The reason why so many Christians fail," says Mr. Moody, "is just this - they underestimate the strength of the enemy." We thus arrive at God’s duplex truth. Compared with the world, all believers are overcomers; compared with one another some are overcomers, and some are not: for the first overcoming is by simple faith, whereas the second is by unswerving obedience. The second overcoming, no more than the first, is a sudden act, or the victory of a moment, or a rush of holy emotion; it is a confirmed habit of goodness, - the long wind, the hard biceps, the iron muscle of the unwavering, faltering runner; it is not a victorious battle, but a victorious campaign. "He that overcometh, I will give to him to sit down with Me in my throne, as I also overcame" - for the two overcomings are identical in kind though not in degree - "and sat down with my Father in His throne" (Rev. 3:21). Caleb’s cry should now ring through the Churches of Christ: - "WE ARE WELL ABLE TO OVERCOME" (Num. 13:30).

Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)