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The way of salvation has always been the same. No man has ever been saved by his good works. The way by which the just have lived has always been the way of faith. There has not been the slightest advance upon this truth; it is established and settled, ever the same, like the God who uttered it. At all times, and everywhere, the gospel is and must forever be the same. “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Heb 13:8). We read of “the gospel” as one; never of two or three gospels. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but Christ’s Word shall never pass away.
It is also noteworthy not only that this truth should be so old, and should continue so unchanged, but that it should possess such vitality. This one sentence, “The just shall live by his faith,” produced the Reformation. Out of this one line, as from the opening of one of the apocalyptic seals, came forth all that sounding of gospel trumpets, and all that singing of gospel songs, which sounded like the noise of many waters in the world. This one seed, forgotten and hidden away in the dark medieval times, was brought out, dropped into the human heart, and made to grow by the Spirit of God so that it produced great results. The least bit of truth, thrown anywhere, will live! Certain plants are so full of vitality that if you only take a fragment of a leaf and place it on the soil, the leaf will take root and grow. It is utterly impossible that such vegetation should become extinct; and so, it is with the truth of God—it is living and incorruptible, and therefore there is no destroying it. As long as one Bible remains, the religion of free grace will live; indeed if they could burn all printed Scriptures, as long as there remained a child who remembered a single text of the Word, the truth would rise again. Even in the ashes of truth the fire is still living, and when the breath of the Lord blows upon it, the flame will burst forth gloriously.
In the Old Testament we are told that Abraham “believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Gen 15:6). This is the universal plan of justification. Faith lays hold upon the righteousness of God, by accepting God’s plan of justifying sinners through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and thus makes the sinner righteous. Faith accepts and appropriates for itself the whole system of divine righteousness which is unfolded in the person and work of the Lord Jesus. Faith rejoices to see him coming into the world in our nature and in that nature obeying the law in every jot and tittle, though not himself under that law until he chose to put himself there on our behalf; faith is further pleased when it sees the Lord, who had come under the law, offering up himself as a perfect atonement and making a complete vindication of divine justice by his suffering and death.
Fight the Fine Fight, Keep the Faith or Your Faith Will Be Shipwrecked, and You Will Be Handed Over to Satan
Faith lays hold upon the person, life, and death of the Lord Jesus as its sole hope, and in the righteousness of Christ, it arrays itself. It cries, “The chastisement of my peace was upon him, and by his stripes, I am healed.” Now, the man who believes in God’s method of making men righteous through the righteousness of Jesus and accepts Jesus and leans upon him is a just man. He who makes the life and death of God’s great propitiation his sole reliance and confidence is justified in the sight of God and is written down among the just by the Lord himself. His faith is imputed to him for righteousness because his faith grasps the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. “All that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:39). This is the testimony of the inspired Word, and who shall deny it?
But the believer is also just in another sense, which the outside world appreciates more, though it is no more valuable than the former. The man who believes in God becomes by that faith moved to everything that is right, and good, and true. His faith in God rectifies his mind and makes him just. In judgment, in desire, in aspiration, in heart, he is just. His sin has been forgiven him freely and now, in the hour of temptation, he cries, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” He believes in the blood-shedding which God has provided for the cleansing of sin, and, being washed in that blood, he cannot choose to defile himself again.
The love of Christ constrains him to seek after whatever is true, and right, and good, and loving, and honorable in the sight of God. Having received by faith the privilege of adoption, he strives to live as a child of God. Having obtained by faith a new life, he walks in the newness of life. “Immortal principles forbid the child of God to sin.” If any man lives in sin and loves it, he does not have the faith of God’s elect; for true faith purifies the soul. The faith which is worked out in us by the Holy Spirit is the greatest sin-killer under heaven. By the grace of God, it affects the inmost heart, changes the desires and the affections, and makes the man a new creature in Christ Jesus. If there are on earth any who can truly be called just, they are those who are made so by faith in God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Indeed, no other men are “just” except those to whom the holy God gives the title, and these live by faith. Faith trusts God, and therefore loves him, and therefore obeys him, and therefore grows like him. It is the root of holiness, the spring of righteousness, the life of the just.
God is so true that to doubt him is an injustice: and he who does the Lord such an injustice is not a just man. A just man must first be just with the greatest of all beings. It would be idle for him to be just to his fellow creatures only if he did a willful injustice to God. In fact, he would be unworthy of the name of just. Faith is what the Lord justly deserves to receive from his creatures: it is his due that we believe in what he says, and specially in reference to the gospel. When the great love of God in Christ Jesus is plainly expressed, it will be believed by the pure in heart. If the great love of Christ in dying for us is fully understood, it must be believed by every honest mind. To doubt the witness of God concerning his Son is to do the sorest injustice to infinite love. He who does not believe has rejected God’s witness to the unspeakable gift and rejected that which deserves man’s adoring gratitude since it alone can satisfy the justice of God and give peace to the conscience of man. A truly just man must, in order to be completely just, believe in God, and in all that he has revealed.
Some dream that his matter of justness only concerns the outer life and does not touch man’s belief. I say this is not so; righteousness concerns the inner parts of a man, the central region of his manhood; and truly just men desire to be made clean in the secret parts, and in the hidden parts they would know wisdom. Is it not so? We hear it continually asserted that the understanding and the belief constitute a province exempt from the jurisdiction of God. Is it indeed true that I may believe what I like without being accountable to God for my belief? No single part of our manhood is beyond the range of the divine law. Our whole capacity as men lies under the sovereignty of him who created us, and we are bound as much to believe rightly as we are bound to act rightly; in fact, our actions and our thoughts are so intertwined and entangled that it is impossible to divide one from the other. To say that the rightness of the outward life suffices is to argue contrary to the whole tenor of the Word of God. I am bound as much to serve God with my mind as with my heart. I am bound as much to believe what God reveals as I am to do what God enjoins.
“The just shall live by faith.” This sentence savors of the strait gate which stands at the head of the way—the narrow way which leads into eternal life. At one blow this ends all claims of righteousness apart from one mode of life. The best men in the world can only live by faith, there is no other way of being just in the sight of God. We cannot live in righteousness by self. If we are going to trust ourselves, or anything that comes from ourselves, we have not known the life of God according to the teaching of Holy Writ. You must abandon all confidence in everything that you are or hope to be. You must tear off the leprous garment of legal righteousness, and part with self in any and every form. Self-reliance as to the things of religion will be found to be self-destruction; you must rest in God as he is revealed in his Son Jesus Christ, and there alone.
The just shall live by faith, but those who look to the works of the law are under the curse and cannot live before God. The same is also true of those who endeavor to live by sense or feeling. They judge God by what they see: if he is bountiful to them in providence, he is a good God; if they are poor, they have nothing good to say of him, for they measure him by what they feel, and taste, and see. If God works steadily to a purpose, and they can see his purpose, they commend his wisdom; but when they either cannot see the purpose or cannot understand the way by which the Lord is working to attain it, immediately they judge him to be unwise. Living by sense turns out to be a senseless mode of life, bringing death to all comfort and hope.
Too many say, “I am my own guide, I shall make doctrines for myself, and I shall shift them and shape them according to my own devices.” This is death to the spirit. To be abreast of the times is to be an enemy to God. The way of life is to believe what God has taught, especially to believe in him whom God has set forth to be a propitiation for sin; for that is making God to be everything and ourselves nothing. Resting on an infallible revelation and trusting in an omnipotent Redeemer, we have rest and peace; but on the other unsettled principle, we become wandering stars, for whom is appointed the blackness of darkness forever. By faith the soul can live; in all other ways, we have a name to live and are dead.
The same is equally true of fancy. We often meet with a fanciful religion in which people trust impulses, dreams, noises and mystic things which they imagine they have seen: fiddle-faddle all of it, and yet they are quite wrapped up in it. I pray that you may cast out this chaffy stuff, for there is no food for the spirit in it. The life of my soul lies not in what I think, or what I fancy, or what I imagine, or what I enjoy of fine feeling, but only in that which faith apprehends to be the Word of God. We live before God by trusting a promise, depending on a person, accepting a sacrifice, wearing a righteousness, and surrendering ourselves up to God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Implicit trust in Jesus, our Lord, is the way of life, and every other way leads to death. Let those who call this statement narrow or intolerant say what they please; it will be just as true when they have execrated it as it is now.
Much is comprehended in the saying, “The just shall live by his faith.” It does not say what part of his life hangs on his believing, or what phase of his life best proves his believing: it comprehends the beginning, continuance, increase, and perfecting of spiritual life as being all by faith. The moment a man believes, he begins to live in the sight of God: he trusts his God, he accepts God’s revelation of himself, he confides, reposes, leans upon his Savior, and that moment he becomes a spiritually living man, quickened with spiritual life by God the Holy Spirit. All his existence before that belief was only a form of death: when he comes to trust in God he enters upon eternal life and is born from above.
Yes, but that is not all, nor even half of it; for if that man is to continue living before God, if he is to hold on his way in holiness, his perseverance must be the result of continued faith. The faith which saves is not one single act done and ended on a certain day: it is an act continued and persevered in throughout the entire life of a man. The just not only commences to live by his faith, but he continues to live by his faith: he does not begin in the spirit and end in the flesh, nor go so far by grace, and the rest of the way by the works of the law. “The just shall live by faith,” says the text in Hebrews, “but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition, but of them, that believe to the saving of the soul” (Heb 10:38–39). Faith is essential all along, every day and all day, in all things. Our natural life begins by breathing, and it must be continued by breathing what the breath is to the body, faith is to the soul.
by C. H. Spurgeon
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