By Rev. Gerrit H. Hospers, D.D., Ontario, N. Y.
The Reformed Church has always believed that God has given but a single revelation, and that this, owing to His divine perfections, must necessarily be self-consistent. The record of this revelation is the Word of God, and it consists of the Old and New Testaments. How authoritative the Old Testament is appears from the fact that this Testament received the endorsement of the Savior and of His Apostles as inspired: the New Testament was then only coming into existence. All this being the inspired Word of God, it must follow that all of it is of one piece, of one mind: contradiction between any of its parts cannot obtain. There is indeed a development in the clearness of the matters revealed, but no contradiction in what there is. And we can find in the Old Testament the traces, some of them plain enough, of all the doctrines which in the New Testament have reached their highest expression. This certainly applies to the matters of sin and of salvation in which man is so vitally concerned and which weighed so heavily on the heart of God.
And indeed for this very purpose God gave His revelation to man in order to acquaint him with God’s character, with His will and with His acts as He designed to restore the broken relation caused by sin. There is only one way of salvation, and we must be prepared to find it in the Old Testament as well as in the New. Consistent thinkers have so seen it as appears from this passage in Calvin’s Institutes: “In the same passage Augustine, with great shrewdness, remarks, that from the beginning of the world the sons of promise, the divinely regenerated, who, through faith working by love obeyed the commandments, belonged to the New Testament; entertaining the hope not of carnal, earthly, temporal, but of spiritual, heavenly and eternal blessings; believing especially in a Mediator, by whom they doubted not both that the Spirit was administered to them, enabling them to do good, and pardon imparted as often as they sinned” (Inst. 11.11,10; p. 537).
Since the days of the Reformation peculiar stress has always been laid on the doctrine of Justification by Faith. This is according to Scripture. The New Testament insists that it is not by works of righteousness which we have done, but that we are saved through the merits of our Savior, this received as a free gift, and the changed relation verified in good works. Hence good works are not the procuring cause of salvation but they are the natural and necessary result of the new life.
It is agreed that sin came in with the fall of man, and its consequences have been the same ever since that grave event. Also in the days of the Old Testament it was necessary for a man to be righteous before God in order to be accepted of Him. And, per contra, a state of guilt, or unrighteousness, could only entail condemnation by the righteous Judge with whom there is no respect of persons. Hence they who lived under the Old Dispensation needed to be delivered from the guilt and power of sin as well as we do. Now, just how was this accomplished? Was it done by means of a righteousness acquired by the keeping of the Law? Or was there some other way?
A correct estimate of the nature and the design of the sacrifice will, we judge, give the key to the solution of our problem.
As they took the life of some animal, the main sacrifices exemplified the penalty of sin. The animal was the substitute for the guilty one and received instead of the sinner all his dues. Similarly, the sending away of the scape-goat typified the substitutionary character of God’s method of saving His people. The circumstance that these sacrifices were offered to God was not for the purpose of giving Him something He needed; indeed, He is not in need of anything. But a forensic proceeding underlay the sacrificial system. It was a matter of adjudication according to the eternal principles of right. The sacrifice was made and brought before the Judge to show that broken law had received its penalty; and thus, with all the facts before Him, the Judge could then declare the claims of justice met, and, on account of this, the sinner’s guilt, in its penal aspect, becomes ipso facto non-existent. This judicial conception is nothing derogatory to the perfections of God. There is nothing more divine than justice and righteousness. Our civil judicial system is in its nature of a very high order as it is grounded in the character of God and reflects the persistent demand for equity. Anyone must see that this is quite a different matter from thinking of God as thirsting for blood, or of needing to be appeased, or of requiring payment after a business man’s conception. The absurdity of such ideas must appear when you apply the same things to the ordinary administration of justice in our civil courts. Judge or jury do not think of needing to be appeased or anything of the sort. Calvary was not a shambles, nor a mercantile arrangement, as the Modernist likes to caricature it. On the contrary, it was all exhibition of justice, the loftiest of its kind. God’s attributes in their indissoluble union there manifested their most signal glory. Mercy is lovely and great, but it is absolutely helpless and useless unless supported by justice. Of course
Indeed, there could be no inherent merit in the sacrifice of animals; but they shadowed forth the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world. In Christ the full penalty of the sin of the whole world was properly assumed according to the Divine conceptions of jurisprudence, and it was adequately and satisfactorily discharged.
The parallel with the offering of the ancient sacrifice also applies to the manner in which this redemption becomes effective in the recipient. It does not become available in a mere mechanical manner. It concerns a transaction between moral agents. As in the New Testament, so in the Old, it was necessary that the sinner acknowledge his guilt and show his desire to be relieved of it, both to be done in such a manner as would please God. In other words, reconciliation is found on the road of confession and faith. This needed to be done willingly, truly, sincerely. As in the New Testament days, so in the time of the Old Dispensation there obtained enough of formalism and hypocrisy. But neither did the Old Testament condone this. In Isaiah 1, e. g., Jehovah expresses His abhorrence of sacrifice and prayer because they were offered in a way He could only detest. Hence Jehovah’s severe denunciation did not signify the abolition of Israel’s ritualism, as some have tried to persuade themselves for the purpose of casting disrepute upon the Old Testament.
In our evaluation of conditions and perceptions among the Israelites we must not rate the state of knowledge in their midst too high. They did not see things as clearly as we do. However, we must not overlook the presence of many things that were at least sensed and experienced. The presence and nature of sin, naturally, were readily recognized. The pious Israelite must have understood something of substitution. The Day of Atonement in particular must have spoken significantly to the spiritually troubled. We therefore believe that the pious offerer of a sacrifice was aware that this was for his own sin, and he might know that the lamb was killed for his sake and to free him of his sin. We believe also that, while the pious Israelite lacked a knowledge of the full rationale of the New Testament way of salvation, nevertheless he witnessed the offering of his own lamb with that faith which made him go home with a measure of peace as he believed that God had accepted him. Such, we are told, was the case as far back as Abel (Heb. 11:4).
We say advisedly “a measure of peace.” The earnest Israelite who knew something about the holiness, justice and power of Jehovah, and of his own guilt and worthlessness, could ponder the question of Job who discussed the very same issues with his friends, and who asked: “But how shall man be just with God?” (Job 9:2b). Many a one must have been puzzled on squarely facing the situation; and in the presence of the great problem he could say with the Psalmist: “And enter not into judgment with thy servant, for in thy sight shall no man living be justified,” or as in the R. V., “For in thy sight no man living is righteous” (Ps. 143:2). Aware of their sinfulness, and finding that as a matter of fact sin ever remained in their hearts and lives, however pious their aspirations or spiritual experiences might be, yes, how, then, could a man be just with God? True, they had numerous passages of Scripture which declared that God forgives sin and accepts the man that feareth Him; but, as they were conscious of a persistent sinful nature, they might again ask, How is this done that we can stand accepted before Him? Particularly with their limited knowledge, consciousness of sin would militate with their assurance of safety, except as they may have believed that with God there must be a way somehow. Of course, actual bestowment of pardon upon the Israelite did not depend upon an understanding of the full rationale; it does not today. But a good understanding thereof operates in the direction of giving greater assurance and peace as we have it now in the full light on the matter derived from the New Testament. This was but dimly perceived by the Old Testament saint.
Nevertheless direct statements of the rationale are to be found in the Old Testament, and they are supported by many passages which in their light point in the same direction. There are two passages in particular which declare that a man gains the standing of being righteous before God by imputation. The first passage concerns Abraham, the Father of believers. “And he believed in Jehovah; and He reckoned it to him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). All the New Testament elements in the matter are there, whether implied or stated. Abraham certainly recognized himself a sinner before God and was ever ready to confess it; he probably perceived the substitutionary character of sacrifice;1 and he walked before Him in obedience to His will and devoted himself to His service. When God gave Abraham his staggering promise, Abraham believed God that He was able and willing to do this and everything else. Whatever God commanded him to do, Abraham did in full surrender to His will. With the spiritual basis of a new heart; with sacrifice in which guilt was accounted for; with faith as the conscious expression of Abraham’s willingness to fall in with all of God’s arrangements; this particular act of faith in connection with all the other acts of Abraham’s faith constituted Abraham as such an one whom God would reckon as just, the penalty of his sin being disposed of, and his standing before God perfect. In other words, this mention of God’s reckoning for righteousness Abraham’s belief in this promise merely signifies that this particular instance was but one of a larger number which validated the Divine regard of Abraham’s standing before Him.
The second passage is Psa. 32:1, 2. Paul quotes this passage specifically as his ground for the doctrine of Justification by Faith.
The meaning of the first verse need not detain us. All can understand the statements as such, “transgression forgiven,” “sins covered.” But how is this done? Answer: “Blessed is the man unto whom Jehovah imputeth not iniquity.” That word “imputeth” is the crucial one. In any social or civil transaction this word would be understood. Is its meaning other in Scripture? It signifies: to set to the account of a person. As a matter of fact the subject remains a sinner, but God does not account him as such, because “the perfect righteousness of Christ is imputed and freely given him as his own, yea, so perfectly as if he had [himself] satisfied in his own person for all his sins and fulfilled all righteousness” (Form Communion). This fits Psalm 32:2 exactly. And Paul so understands it. The substitution in the sacrifice meant the imputation upon the offerer of the death of the victim so setting the offerer free, who therefore is to be regarded as such. But did the pious Israelite grasp it? Perhaps not. Possibly a few sensed it. But the Divine method is there; viz., justification in a forensic sense. Even if the pious Israelite did not fully enter into the assurance of salvation this does not affect God’s attitude, but is to be ascribed to man’s being unaware of the solid grounds there are for it: it could not be due to deficiency in the truth of God, for God reckoned him in perfect standing on account of his laying hold of the sacrifice in which sins are “covered” and removed. And that there is truth and sincerity in the spiritual transaction, is expressed in the last line of the second verse: “and in whose spirit there is no guile.” Such is the man who reckons with spiritual realities as before God and man. God’s method then of saving the Old Testament sinner was through justifying him on account of the merits of his substitute foreshadowed in the animal sacrifices, and the justified sinner on his part exercised faith in his God—trust that his God would in some adequate way relieve him of the penalty of his sins. It actually brought him into personal contact with the grace held out to him, however imperfectly he may have intellectually accounted for it.
What evidence do the Gospels supply for the doctrine of Justification by faith? Particularly, to what extent did our Savior intimate it? Does the Sermon on the Mount— that talisman of the Modernist—accord with this doctrine? In answer: We must remember that Jesus stood on Old Testament ground; the New Dispensation did not commence till the sacrifice on Calvary had been rendered, when the shadows began to pass away.
The Sermon on the Mount is an advanced interpretation of the Law. It is a code of conduct, not a way of salvation. And in common with so many passages in the Old Testament, correct conduct is insisted on as the proper thing to do: the way thereto and the power to accomplish the same being assumed. However, in the Sermon on the Mount there are traces of the doctrine of Justification in the mention of the sacrifice (Mat. 5:23) and in prayer for pardon of sin (Mat. 6:12) and the righteousness of the Kingdom (Mat. 5:20; 6:33).
In his discourse to Nicodemus our Lord very explicitly declared that a new heart is absolutely necessary for entrance into the Kingdom. And this same requirement appears in the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus said that good fruit can be brought forth by good trees only. And to such only can apply the declarations of blessedness as found in the Beatitudes.
The Gospels furnish us with some of our strongest passages assuring of eternal life those who believe (John 3:15, 16, 18, 36; 5:24; 6:47; etc.).
There are passages which bear the marks of a judicial decree, as when our Lord, having first declared his own proper authority, said to the sick of the palsy: “Thy sins be forgiven thee!” and to the woman who was a sinner: “Thy sins are forgiven!” (Luke 7:48). These are official declarations of a righteous standing before the Judge of all the earth. The recipients of these benefits were undoubtedly regenerate. These pardons were not given by reason of works done in the past. It was all of grace. These people did not comprehend the full ground of this their eternal safety. Our Lord did.
Commentators have had difficulty with Rom. 3:25, 26. “Whom God set forth [to be] a propitiation, through faith, in his blood, to show his righteousness because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime, in the forbearance of God; for the showing [I say] of his righteousness at this present season: that he might himself be just and the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus.” No commentator, as far as I consulted, suits me in his comment on this passage. Even Calvin does not. A bald reading of the text gives the impression as if the salvation of the Old Testament saints hung, so to speak, in the air before Christ came. Strictly taken, this would mean that they were not forgiven, that these saints were not actually justified. This difficulty these commentators make good by pointing to the clause: “in the forbearance of God.” They say that justification came with the sacrifice of Christ, when God imputed it retroactively. Hence, as a matter of fact, there obtained meanwhile no actual justification in the case of any before that time: God had to bear with them meanwhile.
Now we think that this is all wrong. This explanation does no credit to God’s character, or to the perfection of His ways. And that view flatly contradicts Gen. 15:6 which expressly tells us that Abraham was justified by faith. Do not therefore stress the phrase “in the forbearance of God” to an improper purpose, and do not interpret it in such a way as if an actual justification hung in suspense. Indeed, is not God’s dealing with all New Testament saints as well, one of forbearance?
How then must we explain the passage in order to satisfy all requirements? Thus: We must remember that God is an eternal present: things that will be are as though they were. “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18). We may not shut God up to chronology, nor to secular and material molds. To Him the Lamb is the slain one from the foundation of the world. What He then does to every believer, to the Old Testament saints as well as to the New, is to impute that righteousness of His Son as eternal fact.
Now this text also says something valuable on the chronological side of the matter. It refers to the time when the historical deed of redemption was “manifested” to the world; when God “set him forth” a propitiation.2 He was in the divine regard a propitiation from the beginning of the world; but he was “manifested” as such on Calvary to human observation. God, then, did not justify retroactively. All this, furthermore, is supported by an important statement in the previous context. Paul says in Rom. 3:21 that this “righteousness of God” is “witnessed by the law and the prophets.” This simply confirms the unity of the two dispensations with reference to the doctrines involved in the way of salvation. Calvin’s comment is striking: “If then the law affords its testimony to gratuitous righteousness, it is evident that the law was not given for this end, to teach men how to obtain righteousness by works.”
This directly brings up the question of the significance of the Law in the way of salvation, as it is so greatly in evidence in the Old Testament bearing on religion.
The general tenor of the Old Testament easily gives the impression that under the Old Dispensation the way of salvation was conceived of as based upon the observance of the Law of God. And such passages can be found in the New Testament. There is the incident in the earthly ministry of our Lord when the Rich Young Ruler came to Jesus and said: “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” And Jesus told him to keep the Commandments (Mat. 19:16ss). On another occasion “a certain lawyer stood up and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus got him to repeat the summary of the Law and then said to him: “This do and thou shalt live” (Luke 10:25–28). This brings up the entire question of the Law, its significance and use; and we must carefully interpret the passages involved, reckoning with the analogy of faith as our guide lest we fall into confusion and contradiction.
What is the Law? A body of Divinely given regulations for human conduct whether written or unwritten. God Himself is the Law-giver, and as our sovereign, He may require us to conduct ourselves in accordance with His will. How can we find fault with this requirement? To our Creator and Sustainer we are under complete obligation. And His Law is perfect. “The law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Rom. 7:12). The 19th and the 119th Psalms glorify the Law in highest measure as something to be constantly observed. The highest liberty consists in strict observance of law. “It would be a serious mistake to suppose that they who are under grace are not subject to the law of God; for it is ‘the mind of the flesh that is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be’ (Rom. 8:7). Scripture does not condemn law-keeping but legalism” (Mauro, Our Lib. in Chr.).
Still, it may seem as if the New Testament condemns the law and the Old dispensation as legalistic. John 1:16, 17, may lend color to this idea. “And of his fulness have we all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” When Jesus Christ had come into the world and had offered himself, and the Holy Spirit had come in the plenitude of His blessedness, then the fulness of the Divine provision for man’s redemption was understood, realized and exhibited. These were the days when grace after grace in ever recurring volume and sweetness came to gladden the believer’s heart. Verse 17 simply means that this cannot be experienced through law-keeping as an end in itself. The verse therefore casts no reflection upon Moses as a person, but the mention of his name is incidental, as being that person under whom was given that Law of Sinai whose tendency was towards an acquiring of righteousness through law-keeping. For Moses also defined the way of life through confession of sin and recourse to sacrifices: he mentioned the pardon promised on account of them. Hence the text is not a sort of slur upon Moses, neither does it warrant us in believing that under the Mosaic dispensation only legalism prevailed. “The Law of the Ten Commandments make out a part not of the Covenant of Works, but of the Covenant of Grace. . . . Not for a moment is the thought entertained that Israel through a keeping of the Ten Commandments will earn eternal life. All of the priestly service involves that Israel shall live through grace and can be saved only through Divine reconciliation” (Kuyper, Heraut, No. 734). We believe that while at that time there obtained an inferior insight and experience of spiritual things, nevertheless John had in mind the legalistic practice which readily accompanied the promulgation of the Law, as even today under the Gospel the tendency obtains to make far too much of relying upon honesty, truthfulness and of doing one’s best in order to obtain favor in God’s sight, thus obscuring the righteousness of Christ and losing peace of mind.
To bring out the meaning of John 1:17 we might paraphrase it thus: “For the mere keeping of the Law as an end in itself (that Law which was given by Moses) would but bring condemnation; but the full measure of grace and the reality of the means of securing the Divine pardon was effectually accomplished by Jesus Christ in whom the fulness of this grace came forth.”
It is well to bear in mind certain aspects and distinctions of the Law. Basic of all is the so-called “Moral Law,” or that body of requirements which ever existed— necessarily, let us say—and which will be valid to the end of time. The civil and ceremonial laws of Israel are of a temporary and relative character except in so far as they have developed into something higher. The Ten Commandments are not in every detail identical with the Moral Law. On this we give the following good quotation from Kuyper: “Hence the Moral Law is nothing else than the law for our conduct which was ingrained in human nature at creation. A moral existence with which God created us is simply inconceivable without a moral law which inheres in it. Now Adam did not posses the Ten Commandments as such. But what did obtain in him by virtue of his divinely given constitution was the consciousness of obligation to place himself in the right relation to his God, his neighbor and the world on every incidental occasion, for God had given him the capacity instinctively to perceive the correct attitude he must assume in accordance with the Divine will” (Heraut, No. 736, p. 1).
Kuyper also writes as follows concerning the relative value of the Moral Law and the Ten Commandments: “As they lie before us the Ten Commandments are not valid for all nations, times and persons, but they bear a very special character. They contain expressions which have been fulfilled and are no longer applicable, as, e. g., “the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” It is therefore a big mistake to take the Ten Commandments as a general human law given from Horeb to all peoples and nations. We do not dispute that these Ten Commandments apply also at present and to all nations; but nevertheless we take the position that we must first begin with viewing this Law as particularly and peculiarly given to Israel, and next we must ascertain in how far it concerns us.”
“It directly follows that the Ten Commandments are not simply a copy of the Moral Law, but a very special formulation of the same” (Heraut, 736, 1, 5).
Prof. Ridderbos speaks in a similar manner: “In the Old Testament we constantly meet with the limitations of revelation as conditioned by the spiritual state of Israel. The Law given from Horeb is not the pure expression of the highest Divine will, but was obliged in every way to reckon with conditions as they obtained in Israel” (Ger. Schriftbew., p. 26).
To return to our discussion. As already remarked, the Moral Law is inherent in the human constitution and obtained from the beginning. The Law given on Mt. Sinai was not something new or first to be reckoned with from that time on, but in a special form and for a definite purpose gave expression to the Divine will. In principle it existed from the beginning, and it obtained everywhere; whence Paul said: “For as many as have sinned without the law shall also perish without the law; and as many as have sinned under the law shall be judged by the law;3 . . . for when the Gentiles that have not the law do by nature the things of the law, these, not having the law, are the law unto themselves; in that they show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness therewith” (Rom. 2:12, 14, 15).
Of course, the requirement is that all shall obey law in respect of the purpose for which it is given, and receive praise or incur penalty. The Old Testament very much urges on to such obedience. And Jesus was altogether within his rights in speaking as he did to the Rich Young Ruler and to the Lawyer, admonishing them to keep the commandments. He could truly say: “Do this and thou shalt live.” But does this mean that these two persons could do this? That is quite a different matter. There is enough Scripture to tell us that the emphasizing of the Divine requirements had the special design of demonstrating man’s helplessness, that thus he might be induced to seek relief. This pointed in their time to the sacrifices, as today this finds its only solution at the Cross. Under the Old Testament as well as under the New, the Law is a pedagogue to lead to Christ, or to the sacrifices where he was foreshadowed, as the case might be.
It will be urged that Old and New Testaments do indeed speak of righteous persons, said righteousness being that of the Law. Thus Luke 1:6 can be adduced; it is a good example of Old Testament saintliness. “And they [Zacharias and Elizabeth] were both righteous before God walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” There can be only one way of interpreting this. Perfectionism existed then as little as it does now. Zacharias and Elizabeth simply exhibited a general deportment and correct observance of the outward requirements of religion which to human eyes appeared beyond approach. After this fashion one ever looks upon the “model citizen,” upon the exemplary Christian. Still, Zacharias and Elizabeth would have told quite a different story, if they should have recounted their inner experiences and spiritual consciousness.4 Moreover, as far as God could approve of it at all, He would do so only as recognizing in them the fruits of faith: He could never find enough in them to make them a procuring cause of salvation. And we may say that the roots of this life, like the roots and the saps of a tree, lie largely, if not entirely, out of sight. In the Old Testament the righteousness of man is mentioned so often that it would seem as if he lived by works. But this is done for the practical ends of religion. And in our New Testament day we set great store by a beautiful Christian life and consistent walk and gracious deeds as these validate our Christian profession. Indeed, it is well to insist upon this because an overwrought emphasis on justification without works has among Protestants often led to taking advantage of this precious doctrine so as deliberately to commit sin, figuring that we can safely “get away with it.”
That the common amenities of life, without observing the specific requirements of religion, satisfy God, is strongly urged on the ground of Micah 6:6–8. “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings?” etc. Answer: “He hath showed thee, O man, what is good. And what doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God?” Similarly there obtains a faulty reasoning to the uselessness of offerings of any kind because Jehovah Himself said: “To what profit is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord. I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats. . . . Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination to me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with: it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. . . . And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you, yea, when ye make many prayers I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes. Learn to do well.” The point of the contrast in these passages is not between religion and a good life; but, as the contrast clearly shows, the contrast is between evil practices and good practices, and that true religion is not related to the former. The holiest ordinances of religion observed in an unholy way and for unholy ends thereby become an abomination. God denounces formalism and hypocrisy. But in the passages quoted God did not formally abrogate sacrifices, as little as He would abrogate prayer. The alternative, then, is not one between a respectable life and one observing religious requirements; but the alternative is between a religion of formality and hypocrisy and iniquitous practices, on the one hand, and a religion of reality and fruit-fulness in its appropriate expression, on the other hand. The “respectable citizen” must beware of relying on a “doing justly and loving mercy” as a righteousness sufficient to discharge his sins, in lieu of the cleansing through the blood of Calvary. The last clause in the quotation altogether upsets the notion of the self-righteous man who has so confidently appealed to it for a justification of his dispensing with specific religion. A “walking humbly with our God” is such only in the case where the deep significance of Calvary is understood and appreciated as the means on account of which all these requirements can in a measure be met.
It is very much to be deplored that the vogue is increasing of discrediting Scripture by so distorting details as to lose the glory of the whole. One would think that there should ever be a studied desire, if at all possible to find this, rather than to be led astray by snap-judgments or to succumb to a kowtowing to men who parade learning. It is a mark not only of true wisdom, but is also a characteristic of sincerity to reckon with the relativity of language and to use comprehensive exegetical methods in order to bring out the unity of the work of the Only Wise God. We trust that our treatment of the precious doctrine of Justification by Faith, as it must have its roots in the Old Testament, may tend to a greater appreciation of the glory and the grace of the Divine Word.
1) John 8:56. “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it and was glad.” This is a significant passage. It may refer to two occasions: first, the one we are discussing where he received that great promise in which he would become the father of many nations and in which the Messiahship was involved; and secondly, the occasion of the sacrifice of the ram in lieu of Isaac in which vicarious atonement came to view in a striking manner and in which Abraham may have sensed a Messianic import, thus well according with Jesus’ statement.
2) The text supplies the word “to be.” This may convey an idea of futurity, and therefore mislead. We might better supply the words “as the,” and thus escape some confusion of ideas.
3) We have omitted a verse in the quotation because it is apt to confuse the point of Paul’s argument. Indeed, the verse requires careful interpretation. It reads: “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified” (Rom. 2:13). This must be interpreted in the light of the people who lived in the knowledge of the Ten Commandments and those who did not have them. Those who had the Ten Commandments were “hearers of the law”; but that would not be enough; they must be also “doers” of the same. “If righteousness be sought from the law, the law must be fulfilled; for the righteousness of the law consists in the perfection of works” (Calvin). And per contra, the Gentiles who have not the law, if only they should be doers thereof, would answer the requirements of God in so far. As to the objection that there is then a possibility of doing the law and seemingly being able fully to keep it so as to gain acceptance with God, we answer that the perfect doing of the law is required now, always was and always will be; but actual success in keeping it is not necessarily indicated in the text. These expressions are sometimes put in an absolute or ideal form; their validity is adversely affected by nothing. All these strict requirements, as well of the Moral Law as of the Ten Commandments, serve to make them pedagogues to bring to Christ.
4) “Mrs. Jonathan Edwards is a case in point. From her early youth onward she was known as so godly in her deportment, exhibiting the grace of God in every way to such an extent that her celebrated husband, austere as he was, declared that he could not lay a finger upon her in criticism. Nevertheless Mrs. Edwards has left an account of her inner depravity which under these circumstances is most striking.