The Righteousness Which is by Faith

By H. A. Wilson

Taken from Grace and Truth Magazine, March, 1926


THE heroes of the Old Testament with few exceptions were great rascals, but they were greatly blessed of God

These two facts are apparently inconsistent.

But because they are so patent the superficial student is in danger of reaching one of two erroneous conclusions.

Seeing God's wondrous forbearance with the sins of these men, he is apt to form an exceedingly poor conception of God's righteousness. Unless he permits the Spirit to shed the light of the other truths taught in the Word upon these facts, he is likely to conclude that God is partial, since He bore with the same sins in these men which He sorely punished in others, and against which He pronounced terrifying anathemas in subsequent portions of the Scripture.

This particular confusion is apparent in the infidel and the modernist as they rail against the "crude conceptions of God set forth in the Old Testament." Really their trouble is not with the conceptions of God set forth in the Old Testament, but with their own false conceptions of the God Who is set forth in the Old Testament.

But if they do not fall into this trap, such "students" are nearly certain to be taken in another. The only alternative which the natural man can see is that sin cannot be so serious as we have believed it. These men sinned grievously, but still God blessed them. If we admit the righteousness of God, therefore, surely it .would appear that the particular sins of His special proteges could not have been so bad after all.

This is the error of the extreme sanctification teachers. They claim to be "sanctified." And in so claiming they tacitly claim special favor from God, for their "sanctification" is supposed to have been received through a "second work of grace" or a "baptism of the Holy Spirit." Such people claim that they do not sin, but in honesty they are compelled to admit many things wrong in their lives. In attempting to explain this paradox, however, they refuse to call their wrongs sin, and prefer to dub them "mistakes." It is astonishing how many things are included in this category. The writer has personally known some "Holiness" people who call lying, stealing, oaths, and impurity of thought "mistakes." Others have been reported who actually go so far as to include adultery and other such things in this same classification. Strange as it may seem, therefore, one of the results of "holiness" teaching is to weaken the conviction of sin and to lead the soul to condone it.

But God has provided a safeguard for the willing and believing student of His Word. The teaching of the New Testament, when permitted to shed its light upon the Old, will give us an appreciation of the grace, righteousness, dignity and majesty of the God of the Old Testament which will forever make it impossible for us to listen with equanimity to the blasphemous pronunciamentos of the modernist concerning the "unethical character of the God of the Hebrews." And it will give us a realization of the seriousness of sin so deep and settled as forever to make us righteously impatient with the God-insulting and Christ-denying "holiness" of the Pentecostalist. For a thoughtful and prayerful study of the Old Testament in the light of the New will convince any reasonable and faithful soul that men become righteous in God's sight only through faith in the One Who bore our sins in His own body on the tree and shed His own precious blood to satisfy God's justice and vindicate His righteousness.

The great difference between the heroes of the Old Testament and other sinners was that they believed God. This made possible the great difference in God's attitude toward them and His dealing with them, for it brought them into covenant relation with Him and brought them by anticipation under the protection of the blood of Christ and robed them in His righteousness.

Let us now consider a number of them and see that their righteousness was a righteousness which was by faith.



THE first man concerning whom God witnessed that he was righteous was Abel. We read in Hebrews 11:4:

"By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts and by it he being dead yet speaketh."

Now it so happens that Abel was a man whose works were righteous. This is declared in I John 3:12 which says that Cain slew Abel "because his own works were evil and his brother's righteous." But when God testifies concerning the righteousness of Abel, He makes absolutely no mention of the righteousness of his deeds. He speaks only of his blood offering and of the faith in Christ of which it gave evidence. Surely He could not more effectively indicate that Abel's righteousness was a righteousness not dependent upon deeds but upon faith in the merits of Another.



THE next man mentioned in that great honor roll is Enoch. Of him this is recorded:

"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" (Heb. 11:5).

Enoch too, was a righteous man, for we are told twice in Genesis 5:22-24, "Enoch walked with God." But, as in the case of Abel, God makes no mention of Enoch's righteous deeds. His faith is the thing which is called to mind, and lest any should think that the record that he pleased God was based on righteous deeds, this special word of explanation is added, "Without faith it is impossible to please Him" (Heb. 1 1:6). No, the righteousness of Enoch was primarily a righteousness of faith. His walk with God was only the fruit.

Now it is not our purpose to attempt to exhaust the record in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. Rather we will limit ourselves to only a few others and will even discuss one who is not included in this record at all. But before we leave the discussion of Abel and Enoch it will be well to call attention to a very significant fact. Abel and Enoch, with Joseph, who is mentioned later, were undoubtedly especially righteous men in the lives, which they lived. But in the same list with them, others are included such as Jacob, Rahab, and Samson whose lives are notoriously wicked in contrast with the first three named. This emphasizes the fact that before God righteousness is obtained by faith. The only thing Sam- son, for instance, had in common with men like Enoch was his faith in the Word of God and the One of Whom it spoke. But simple faith in Christ was enough to make this poor man as righteous in his standing before God as was Enoch, the exceptionally upright. Of course we know that God will consider the difference between their works when it comes to meting out rewards, but this is another story. We are talking of the righteousness which is necessary for salvation.



NEXT let us notice Noah. Of Noah, Hebrews 11:7 says:

"By faith Noah being warned of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house ; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith."

God says that Noah's righteousness was the righteousness which was by faith. And when we consider the sad and sinful incident which shortly followed his great deliverance we are bound to confess that it must have been so. For as soon as Noah could harvest the grapes from his vineyard, that poor old fellow got drunk and exposed himself to his own shame. But even if we were to admit that this was not habitual, still the record of God's Word is very clear, — Noah's righteousness was the righteousness which is by faith.



ABRAHAM is the outstanding example of imputed righteousness referred to in the New Testament. But we will not attempt to discuss his case in detail inasmuch as this task is to be undertaken by another writer in this same issue. We wish merely to call attention to the fact that Abraham was in the same class with the rest of them. His righteousness was the righteousness which is by faith, and it must of necessity have been so, for he was guilty of many base and unworthy actions, one of which at least was of such a character as would lead the men of today who have any sense of morality and decency whatever to characterize him as a "hound" (see Gen. 12:10-20).



PASSING over Isaac we come to his younger son Jacob, who without doubt is a clear example of the righteousness which is by faith. That Jacob was a righteous man we can only infer. Surely the record of his life is one well-nigh unparalleled in the records of crookedness and dishonesty. He was a mean, despicable cheat. There were very few of the real characteristics of manhood manifested in his life. But he was a believer, according to the record of Hebrews 11:21 which says:

"By faith Jacob when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff."

Being a believer, of him it was true as well as it was of Abraham, that

"To him that worketh not but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly his faith is counted for righteousness" (Rom. 4:5).

This is enough to establish the righteousness of Jacob. But there is more evidence than this. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself once declared that:

"Many shall come from the east and west and shall sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven" (Matt. 8:11).

But a short time previous He had said:

"Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees ye shall in no case enter into the Kingdom of Heaven" (Matt. 5:20).

It being a settled fact that Jacob shall be in the Kingdom of Heaven, he must therefore have been righteous, and not only so but his righteousness must have exceeded that of the Scribes and' Pharisees. It is certain that the righteousness of his life was not of such a superlative character. So it is apparent that his was the righteous- ness which is by faith.



DAVID is another whose presence in that Kingdom F^has been foretold, and he is another whose righteousness is a clear example of the righteousness which is by faith. God says of this man:

"I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, which shall fulfil all My will" (Acts 13:22).

This statement has greatly puzzled many because of at least one incident in the story of David. We refer to the matter of Uriah's wife in which David was guilty of the double sin of murder and adultery. Surely God's pleasure in David seems strange in the light of such actions. But the mystery is cleared up when we take into account the righteousness which is by faith. God's pleasure in David self -evidently was not based on the righteous deeds which he performed but upon his faith.



LOT now we come to Lot. We have purposely saved him till last. This man was one of the most consistently wicked men of whose life we are told in all the Old Testament. It is impossible to enter into a discussion of the depths of degradation and sin to which this man had sunk. Yet marvelous to say, God declares that this deep-dyed sinner was righteous. He says in II Peter 2:7-8 that He considered:

"And delivered just (righteous) Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked; for that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds."

Three times in these two verses God calls Lot righteous. Perhaps the reason He repeated this expression thrice is because He knew that we would have difficulty in believing it, having once read the story of his life. Be that as it may, it is certain that if Lot had any righteousness it was by faith, for we can search his life with a microscope and we will fail to find any other kind, even when judged by imperfect human standards of morality.

Surely with such examples before us we cannot doubt that men are made righteous before God only through faith.

But perhaps it is not yet apparent to some that the only basis on which God can righteously declare such scoundrels righteous is the sacrificial death of Christ. Let us therefore conclude our study by referring to the Scripture which declares this:

"Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.

"Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

"But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;

"Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe; for there is no difference:

"For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

"Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

"Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God:

"To declare, I say, at this time His righteousness : that He might be just and the Justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

"Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay; but by the law of faith.

"Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." (Rom. 3:19-28).

Surely the history of God's people magnifies His grace, for it clearly proves that when Jesus took our sins and bare our judgment, He gave to all who believe in Him His own perfect righteousness. Surely if Abraham and Lot and Jacob were counted righteous, and received marvelous blessings from God, merely because they believed the promises of a coming Saviour; we who have believed in the Saviour Who has come, need not stagger at the truly amazing declaration:

"The righteousness of God is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe" (Rom. 3:22).