Part Two

by A.E. Knoch

ABRAHAM is set before us as the great example of justification by faith. In the epistle to the Romans, after showing that no one comes up to the standard of God's glory, Paul makes known the foundation truth of the evangel of the Uncircumcision, that justification is by gratuitous grace, through faith (Rom.3:22-26). He then enlarges on this and shows that Abraham was justified by faith before he was circumcised. In our search for the underlying basis for the evangel for today, we will consider carefully what is revealed concerning Abraham at the time of his justification, and, later, when he was circumcised, and, in this way, throw further light upon the truth, so that we may grasp the full import of justification, the importation of God's righteousness, as contrasted with pardon or forgiveness, which is for the Circumcision, for this is a basic distinction between the two.

First, however, let us consider briefly what Paul reveals concerning this great grace. To begin with, he tells us that his evangel is God's power for salvation to everyone who is believing because in it God's righteousness is revealed for faith (Rom.1:16,17). Here we have a tremendous contrast to almost all previous revelation. There we are occupied with man's righteousness or rather unrighteousness, from Adam on, and especially after Israel was given the law of Moses. Hitherto God's righteousness condemned man. Now it is made a part of the evangel to save him. Heretofore the revelation of His justice was against all because of their unrighteous acts, now it is on all who are believing because it is a gratuitous gift of grace bestowed on men for their faith (Rom.3:21-24). Hitherto man has sought to display his righteousness through his deeds, and failed. Now God displays His righteousness by justifying those who believe, and it is an unqualified success (Rom.3:24-26).

No man, of course, could acquire God's righteousness by means of his deeds. At best he could only establish one of his own. Nor can a man acquire his own righteousness by believing. It is God's righteousness that is reckoned ours by faith. This shows one of the vital distinctions between the evangel for the Circumcision and the Uncircumcision. In uncircumcision Abraham received this favor quite apart from what he had done (Rom.4:1-6). Just how it was "reckoned" to him we hope to see when we consider the passage itself.

Paul goes on to say that the Uncircumcision who believe, like Abraham, overtake this divine righteousness, while the Circumcision who seek it by works of law do not find it (Rom.9:30). Because they are ignorant of God's righteousness they seek to establish their own (Rom.10:3). The only One Who knew no sin was made a sin offering for our sakes that we may be becoming God's righteousness in Him (2 Cor.5:21). Paul considered his privileged place as one of the Circumcision a hindrance, and deemed it refuse, because it demanded a righteousness of his own, which he could not supply, and kept him from appropriating God's righteousness in Christ (Phil.3:8,9).


The righteousness of faith is usually deemed something so deep and mysterious that there is no possibility of understanding it. Theological explanations have only confused the matter, especially when unscriptural terms are brought in. It is generally supposed to be an imputed fiction, or the substitution of Christ's personal righteousness for the sinner's shortcomings, or a vicarious transfer to the saint of something which he does not really possess. These explanations do not satisfy our sense of justice, so they certainly cannot satisfy God's. There must be some substantial basis for faith righteousness that raises it out of the realm of fiction to that of fact. The only place where this is revealed is in God's Word, and in connection with this theme.

Why should faith be reckoned for righteousness? Whatever is not of faith is sin. What God says is supremely right, and it is a mistake not to assent to it. Confidence in God is the aim and object of all human experiences, along with distrust in man. At the consummation, God will become All in all, and man nothing in anyone. Whatever leads in that direction is in accord with God's purpose and will. When God speaks, no matter what He says, the only right lies in confidence in and conformity to His revelation. This alone will guide us to the universal goal. Nothing, therefore, can be more righteous than faith. It not only is right, but guides the believer aright, along the path that leads to the bread and wine of God, the life and joy which await all creation at the consummation. Those who have no faith cannot but stray from the way. They follow false trails that lead away from the goal. Even those who are respectable, and who know nothing of sordid sins, are bound to miss the path apart from faith. It is impossible to be right unless we believe what God has revealed.


In view of this, let us consider man's conception of justice. What is right and what is wrong? Where is the boundary between that which is good and that which is bad? Many vices are misplaced or exaggerated virtues, and virtues may easily become vices. Even grace without truth may harm more than help. Where shall we put the dividing line between firmness and obstinacy? When we consider ourselves justly indignant, others may think that we are unduly angry. When they are mild, we may mistake it for lack of zeal. Who is competent to judge another whose motives are hidden, and whose heart he cannot read? How much allowance shall be made for immaturity, ill-health or nervousness, which makes us act unnaturally? As we grow in grace we become more lenient, more sympathetic. That is why novices are not given control in an ecclesia, for the experience of evil is needed to temper the hand of justice and guide the heart in its decisions.

At the bema of Christ the decisions will be based on the motives behind our acts which no one else can see. That is why we are told to judge nothing before the appointed time, till the Lord should be coming, Who will illuminate the hidden things of darkness and manifest the counsels of the hearts. The apostle adds the comforting conclusion that applause will be coming to each one from God (1 Cor.4:5). In another place he asks, Why are you judging your brother? Or why are you scorning your brother? For all of us shall be presented at the dais of God (Rom.14:10-13). We all do things which some saints would condemn because of their background and upbringing, but which others would commend because of a different environment and experience.

In our service we cannot please everyone. This is luridly evident in our own earnest efforts to provide the saints with a safe and satisfactory translation of God's Word. Some are extravagant in their praise. Others are unsparing in their condemnation. Some revel in the consistency and accuracy of our renderings. Others condemn every departure from the Greek, even if it gives a false impression in idiomatic English, and they themselves cannot express it in our tongue. Others again denounce every departure from tradition and would burn me at the stake to please their god. Hardly a single opponent acts in accord with the present administration or even with the mercy found in the evangel of the Uncircumcision. Their hearts have not been softened by the contemplation of the complete failure of mankind, nor become grateful for any effort which humiliates man and exalts God to His place of supremacy.

What a contrast there is between the course of Israel and the apostle Paul! They sought to establish their own righteousness, but were not subject to God's (Rom.10:3). Paul was condemned by the saints, unjustly most likely, yet he considered it unwise to defend himself. If he does so he is careful to characterize his act as imprudence (2 Cor.12:11,19). But was it not necessary that the apostle keep his name unsullied? Would the cause of Christ not suffer if men spoke slightingly of him! The second epistle of the Corinthians shows that even the great apostle was severely criticism by the saints, yet he deals with his detractors only under protest. It is plain that, ordinarily, he did not even try to justify his course in the eyes of his fellow-believers.

Let us not gather from this that he was careless in his conduct, or indifferent as to his reputation. He warned against behavior which would harm the service. But who is free from defamation? Not even our Lord Himself, Whose conduct was far above reproach, was spared the sting of slanderous tongues. We must not expect our acts to meet the approval of the saints. Happy are we when we are doubly denounced. It is a satisfaction to me when I receive two letters at once, one condemning the version because it is slavishly literal and the other because it is too idiomatic. It is interesting to consider the background of each critic and see why he objects to the CONCORDANT VERSION. Some would have me deal with each one and show him where he is wrong. This would lead to interminable controversy unless I could correct the background in each case. When I do, I am roundly denounced by both. One makes me an ignorant, lazy amateur. The other condemns my departure from the Word of God. My guilt will never be settled until Christ Himself pronounces the verdict in that day.


I do not wish to be merely righteous in myself. I wish to be gracious. I do not demand my rights. I sigh for grace alone. I am already righteous in Christ, and I need no righteousness of my own. Much as I strive to be just, I am not at all satisfied that I attain to anything like that which God demands. Even if I fulfill my duty to my fellow men, I certainly do not do it to God. Even if my conscience is clear, that does not justify me. The most exemplary of all saints, when they enter the presence of God's glory, realize how imperfect their highest attainments must appear to Him.

One of the best signs of maturity in grace is to rejoice when you are wrong and another is right. This is entirely foreign to the Circumcision administrations, where personal rightness is the great object of all. To be wrong is to be condemned. We should be sorry to see others wrong. That puts an entirely different spirit into fellowship and cooperation. Only yesterday two of us were going to a certain address, and we disagreed as to the street down which to turn. But one of us graciously gave way, and, finding that he had been mistaken said, "I am so glad that you were right! I don't like to see you in the wrong." Not a word about his own mistake. Occupation with self, even with our failures, is not good for one who is in Christ. In the Circumcision scheme of things it is necessary, for it is the object there to demonstrate the failure of self, rather than the rightness of another. In all our shortcomings, let us rather rejoice in the opposite in others, especially in our Lord Jesus Christ.

An illuminating scripture is found in Deuteronomy 25:1. "They shall justify the just and condemn (or wicked-ify) the wicked." We have the very opposite of this in the evangel of the Uncircumcision, for the just are not justified (seeing that there are none) but the unjust are justified, and there is no condemnation for the wicked (Rom.8:1). This arises from the fact that the experiment in Israel has demonstrated that Adam's offence brought condemnation on all mankind, and now Christ's one just award is for all mankind for life's justifying (Rom.5:18).

Once we are thoroughly satisfied that self-righteousness is not within our reach, that we cannot live up to the standard set before us by God, or even attain the much lower grade of righteousness which would justify every act in the eyes of our associates, we will throw ourselves entirely on the grace of God and on the favor of our fellows. We will steer a course quite the opposite of those who feel that they must justify themselves at all costs or lose their pride and self-respect, their most precious possessions. We will acknowledge our shortcomings, even if we are not conscious of them, and throw ourselves on the forbearance and love of others.

The grand doctrine of justification or divine righteousness is not readily apprehended in the abstract, so we will take concrete and conspicuous examples which will help us to see how and why God can and does justify and vindicate that which is contrary to His will. Perhaps the best illustrations and the most glaring sins can be found clustered about the cross of Christ. And there we can easily distinguish between the Circumcision and the Uncircumcision, for both were involved, yet they differ greatly from each other in their words and deeds. And here we can see also how necessary it is that judgment should be according to words as well as works, for the Jews really did not do very much outside of their false and furious accusations, while the aliens actually crucified the Christ. It was the words, rather than the works, that revealed the heart, on which all true adjudication must be based.


Let us take the case of the soldier who stabbed our Lord, with a lance head (Matt.27:49, omitted in AV, John 19:34). In his case the great white throne judgment has already been anticipated in the Scriptures in a very remarkable way. There is no question that this soldier committed this crime, for we have a double witness in the Scriptures, and, in one case John, who was there, adds his solemn attestation, as follows: "And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true. And he is aware that he is telling the truth." Nevertheless other scriptures seem to contradict this, for they insist that the Jews stabbed or pierced Him. The prophet who foretold this circumstance lays the blame on his own people. In John's account, right after testifying that one of the soldiers pierced His side, this is given as the fulfillment of Zechariah 12:10: "They shall see Him Whom they stab." According to this it was not one soldier, but the house of David and the dwellers in Jerusalem who were chargeable with this climacteric and vindictive act which was to put His death beyond a doubt.

John, in the introduction to his Unveiling of Jesus Christ, seems to widen its scope still further, for he adds that all the tribes of the land will be grieving over Him (Rev.1:7). Indeed, the impression is created that Israel will acknowledge this crime as their own, although, as we have seen, a Roman soldier really perpetrated the deed. All of this should help us to see how God can justify the nations, yet must demand repentance from Israel, although, in the last analysis, He will justify all (Rom.5:18). In every case we must go beneath the surface and discover the heart. We will find that this is more important than mere fact. Israel did not stab Him in fact, yet in heart they were the guilty parties. The soldier was guilty in fact, but not in heart.

Let us seek to pronounce judgment on this Roman soldier. It is quite likely that he acted as a representative of the nations, and illustrated the relation of the nations to the death of the Saviour. Let us sit as judge and see if we can justify his deed. He was acting under orders. The centurion in charge stood by. He, also, was simply doing his duty. There is no record that they exceeded this or showed any personal, cruelty or vindictiveness. On the contrary, the centurion was powerfully impressed with the manner of our Saviour's death, so unnatural in that He cried out with a loud, strong voice, just before He breathed His last. Then it was that he exclaimed, "Truly, this Man was God's Son!" (Matt.27:54). From the human standpoint it would be difficult to convict these men of any crime. Indeed, if they had refused they could have been court-martialled and disgraced. But what is right in the sight of men may be very wrong when related to God.

Can this act be justified in the sight of God? It is most remarkable that this deed was foretold in the Scriptures. God's Word must be fulfilled! I doubt very much that the soldier knew of this prediction or that he deliberately set about to carry it out. He could not justify himself on this score. But can God condemn an act like this when there is no disobedience or enmity? It is possible that the stabbing was done twice, once before and once after His death. In that latter case it was done to make sure that life no longer was present. This alone was important, as, later on, rumors were spread that He had not really died. In this light it could be called a necessary or even a good act. But, much more than this, it not only fulfilled one part of God's Word, but made it unnecessary to break His bones, which would have made Him unfit to be the great Antitype of the Mosaic sacrifices (Num.9:12). If the lance head had not shown that He was already dead, they would have fractured His legs as they did those of the two robbers and the two malefactors.

So here we have an act, done ignorantly and in unbelief by one of the Uncircumcision, which might superficially be construed as an atrocious crime against God's Beloved, yet, judged from God's side as well as man's, we would not have it otherwise, and cannot justly condemn the one whose hands handled the lance head. Rather we find it in our hearts to justify his acts, even though we ourselves are immeasurably thankful that we were not called upon to have any personal part in it. We cannot say that we would forgive this soldier, for there are no feelings involved. We would not even be right to pardon him, for that would imply that he had done wrong. We simply are compelled to vindicate this evil deed. He did right. Does not this open up a vista of possibilities in regard to all the evil committed by sinners of the Uncircumcision? Nothing that they do is quite so bad in itself as giving the death-stroke to God's Beloved Son, so it may also be found within the scope of His gracious justification.


But can we, in any way, justify the Jews? That they can be pardoned, or forgiven, is evident from our Lord's prayer, "Father, forgive them, for they are not aware what they are doing" (Luke 23:34). O that His saints would show this spirit to their persecutors! The Jews will eventually be justified by God when this is the portion of all mankind (Rom.5:18). But judged by their law, and in the light of their evangel, we must condemn them. Had they been as true to Moses' law as the soldiers to the law of Rome we might have justified them also. But they went contrary to the law and the oracles that God had committed to them. The very revelation that should have prepared them for the Messiah, condemns them for rejecting Him.

The great Antitype of all the sacrifices was about to be offered. He was the true Passover Lamb. No bone of this is to be broken (Num.9:12). Yet they ask Pilate to have his legs fractured so that He could be taken down from the cross, lest He defile their festival! They are so holy that they commit the greatest of all sins! They break the law in order to break His bones!

Yet, all had been foretold and must be fulfilled. They were the appointed priests, and must offer the Sacrifice, for all blessing depends upon it. Therefore they also will be justified, but not until the close of the eons. So long as they are under law, so long as they stand on the flesh, they receive pardon or forgiveness, or judgment. In this their evangel differs from ours. We are pictured by the soldier who ignorantly thrust his spear into the side of His Saviour and was justified. They brought down upon their heads the sore afflictions and distress which still pursue the stubborn nation, which will not be pardoned until He appears.

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