The Vision: and the Just Shall Live by Faith: Part 2

Haggai 2:2‑4  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 9
Again, in Gal. 3 we have a slightly different use of the same scripture. “But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God [it is] evident; for the just shall live by faith (ver. 11).” Here it is sufficiently plain that the apostle is excluding the thought of justification by law, and the way he disproves it is by the cited passage of Habakkuk. Hence the difference between Rom. 1 and Gal. 3 is this, that in Romans we have the positive statement and in Galatians the negative. There he positively affirms that God's righteousness is revealed “from faith to faith,” supported by this text; whereas the point here is to exclude the law distinctly and peremptorily from playing any part in the justification of a soul. Justification is in no way by law; for “the just shall live by faith:” such is the point in Galatians. Again, it is God's righteousness revealed by faith; for “the just shall live by faith:” such is the point in Romans. The difference therefore is plain.
In Hebrews the passage is used again in a way quite as different by the same apostle Paul. “For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith” (10:37,38). The emphasis here is not on “the just” which is strong in Romans, nor upon “faith” which is strong in Galatians, but on “live” which is as strong here. Thus every word seems to acquire the emphasis according to the object for which it is used in these three places. In the end of Heb. 10 the apostle is guarding the believer from discouragement and turning aside. He quotes once more “the just shall live by faith.” Accordingly we are shown in Heb. 11 the elders or Old Testament saints who obtained testimony in the power of faith. So they all lived in faith, every one whom God counts His worthies. It might be shown by faith in sacrifice, or in a walk of communion with God, or in anticipating judgment coming on the world, and accepting the divine means of escape. It might be in wearing the pilgrim character; or in the exertion of such power as delivered from the foe. But whatever the form, there was living by faith in every case. Hence we have here the most remarkable chapter in the Bible for its comprehensive grasp of the men of old who lived by faith, from the first great witness of its power here below to the blessed One who summed up every quality of faith, which others had manifested now and then: they separately and not without inconsistency, He perfectly and combined in His own person and ways here below, indeed with much more that is deeper and peculiar to Himself alone.
Thus I do not think that it is necessary to vindicate the wisdom of God at greater length. The passage seems most instructive, if it were only to show the fallacy of supposing that each shred of scripture can only warrant a single just application. Not so; though clothed in the language of men, scripture affords in this respect an answer to the infinite nature of God Himself, whose Spirit can unfold and apply it in distinct but compatible ways. Even among men there are not wanting wise words which bear more than one application, yet each true and just. If faith distinguished and secured the righteous in presence of the Chaldean invader, its value is even more pronounced now in the gospel, where it is a question of a soul before God, refusing false grounds of confidence, and walking unmoved in the path of trial among men.
Certainly the word of God is here proved to be susceptible of different uses, weighty and conclusively authoritative. That it is applied by the same apostle Paul makes the case far more remarkable than if it had been differently employed by various writers. Had it been so, I have no doubt that the rationalists would have set each of the different writers against the truth. But they would do well to weigh the fact that it is the same inspired man1 who applies to these different ends the same few words of our prophet. He was right. And yet it is very evident that in its own primary application, in its strict position in the prophecy, God is particularly providing for a state which lay before the Jews in that day; but then the same Spirit who wrote by Habakkuk applies it with divine precision in every one of the three instances in the New Testament. For what is common to all is that the word of God is to be believed, and that he who uses it holily, according to God by faith, lives by it, and is alone just and humble in it, as only this glorifies God withal. But what is true in the case of an Israelite so employing the prophetic word applies at least as fully to all the word of God used by faith, and more particularly to the gospel, wherein is God's mind more than in any word strictly prophetic. Prophecy shows us the character of God more especially in government; but the gospel is the display of God in grace, and this in the person and work of His Son, Jesus Christ. Is it possible to go beyond or even to reach this in depth? A simple Christian may indeed be led far beyond that which is usually proclaimed by preachers; but it is impossible to exaggerate the infinite character of the gospel as God has revealed it. We also learn from the use in Hebrews, as well as the prophet's context, that the vision looks on to the future coming of the Lord for the deliverance of His people. This indeed belongs to the prophetic word generally, and is in no way peculiar to this vision in particular. It is a striking passage—the vision, as setting forth, under the Chaldean the downfall of the hostile Gentile, proud as he might be, though Israel might have to wait for the accomplishment. And that the full force is only to be when the Lord is actually come in person, and in relationship with His ancient people renewed by grace, is the gist of the prophets in general.
But it is important of course to bear in mind that, save in special revelations of the Jewish prophets, the vision of coming deliverance vouchsafed did not discriminate the time between the sufferings of Christ and the glories that should follow. Perhaps we may safely say that none seems to have known beforehand that there would be a long interval between the two events; yet when the interval came we can bring passages from the prophets to prove it. So perfectly did God write the word by them, and so far beyond the very men who were the inspired witnesses of it; for no prophet knew the full extent or depth of his own inspired communications. This was a far better proof that God wrote by them than if all had been known; because whatever might have been the ignorance of Jeremiah or Isaiah, of Daniel or of Habakkuk, the Holy Ghost necessarily knew all from the beginning. Thus what they wrote, going far beyond their own intelligence, rendered His mind who employed them evident. Hence we read in 1 Peter 1:1111Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. (1 Peter 1:11), of “the Spirit of Christ which was in them;” and the same scripture which indicates the reality of the inspiring Spirit in the prophets just now quoted, shows that they themselves did not enter into all they wrote. They were “searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that should follow.” Certainly they did not know, but like others had to learn; and when they searched into it, they were told it was not for themselves, but “unto you they did minister the things that are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven.” It will be observed that the expression, “the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven,” as we know Him now, is in full contrast with the prophetic Spirit who wrought in them and is called “the Spirit of Christ.” The Lord Jesus was the great object of all the visions; and this it is important to note.
“Spirit of Christ,” in Rom. 8 I think, goes far beyond this. As employed by the apostle there, it means that the Holy Ghost characterizes the Christian with the full possession of his own proper portion as in Christ and Christ in him. The Holy Ghost is the soul of all and dwells in the believer on this ground.
W.K.
(Concluded from p. 152).