Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Vos on the Difference Between Eschatological Faith and Justifying Faith

The Lord Jesus Christ exercised eschatological faith but never justifying faith. The Christian exercises both.

More below:

"The chapter from which our text is taken is preeminently the chapter on faith. It illustrates the nature, power and effects of this grace in a series of examples from sacred history. In the context the prophecy of Habakkuk is quoted: 'The righteous shall live by faith.' We remember that in the Epistles to the Romans and Galatians also the same prophecy appears with prominence. Abraham similarly figures there as the great example of faith. In consequence one might easily be led to think that the development of the idea of faith in these epistles and in our chapter moves along identical lines. This would be only partially correct. Although the two types of teaching are in perfect accord, and touch each other at certain points, yet the angle of vision is not the same.

In Romans and Galatians faith is in the main trust in the grace of God, the instrument of justification, the channel through which the vital influences flowing from Christ are received by the believer. Here in Hebrews the conception is wider; faith is 'the proving of things not seen, the assurance of things hoped for'. It is the organ for apprehension of the unseen and future realities, giving access to and contact with another world. It is the hand stretched out through the vast distances of space and time, whereby the Christian draws to himself the things far beyond, so that they become actual to him. The earlier epistles are not unfamiliar with this aspect of faith. Paul in 2 Corinthians declares that for the present the Christian walks through a land of faith and not of sight. And on the other hand this chapter is not unfamiliar with the justifying function of faith, for we are told of Noah, that he became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.

Nevertheless, taking the two representations as a whole, the distinctness of the point of view in each should not be neglected. It can be best appreciated by observing that, while in these other writings Christ is the object of faith, the One towards whom the sinner's trust is directed, here the Saviour is described as himself exercising faith, in fact as the one perfect, ideal believer. The writer exhorts his readers: 'Let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the leader and perfecter of our faith.' Faith in that other sense of specific trust, through which a guilty sinner becomes just in the sight of God, our Lord could not exercise, because he was sinless. But the faith that is an assurance of things hoped for and a proving of things not seen had a large place in his experience. By very reason of the contrast between the higher world to which he belonged and this dark lower world of suffering and death to which he had surrendered himself it could not be otherwise than that faith, as a projection of his soul into the unseen and future, should have been the fundamental habit of the earthly life of his human nature, and should have developed in him a degree of intensity not attained elsewhere.

But, although, for the reason stated, in the unique case of Jesus the two types of faith did not go together, they by no means exclude each other in the mind of the Christian. For, after all, justifying faith is but a special application in one particular direction of the frame of mind here described. Among all the realities of the invisible world, mediated to us by the disclosures and promises of God, and to which our faith responds there is none that more strongly calls into action this faculty for grasping the unseen than the divine pronouncement through the gospel, that, though sinners, we are righteous in the judgment of God. That is not only the invisible, it seems the impossible; it is the paradox of all paradoxes; it requires a unique energy of believing; it is the supreme victory of faith over the apparent reality of things; it credits God with calling the things that are not as though they were; it penetrates more deeply into the deity of God than any other act of faith.

What we read in this chapter about the various activities and acts of faith in the lives of the Old Testament saints might perhaps at first create the impression that the word 'faith' is used in a looser sense, and that many things are attributed to it not strictly belonging there on the author's own definition. One might be inclined in more precise language to classify them with other Christian graces. There is certainly large variety of costume in the procession that is made to pass before our eyes. The understanding that the worlds were framed out of nothing, the ability to offer God an acceptable sacrifice, the experience of translation unto God, the preparing of the ark, the responsiveness to the call to leave one's country, the power to conceive seed when past age, the willingness to sacrifice an only son, Joseph's mention beforehand of the deliverance from Egypt, and his commandment concerning his bones, the hiding of the child Moses, the choice by Moses, when grown up, of the reproach of God's people in preference to the treasures of Egypt, all this and more is represented as belonging to the one rubric of faith. But let us not misunderstand the writer. When he affirms that by faith all these things were suffered and done, his idea is not that what is enumerated was in each case the expression of faith. What he means is that in the last analysis faith alone made possible every one of the acts described, that as an underlying frame of mind it enabled all these other graces to function, and to produce the rich fruitage here set forth, the exercise of all these in the profound Christian sense would have been impossible, if the saints had not had through faith their eye firmly fixed on the unseen and promised world.

Whether the call was to believe or to follow, to do or to bear, the obedience to it sprang not from any earth-fed sources but from the infinite reservoir of strength stored up in the mountain-land above. If Moses endured it was not due to the power of resistance in his human frame, but because the weakness in him was compensated by the vision of him who is invisible. If Abraham, who had gladly received the promises, offered up his only-begotten son, it was not because in heroic resignation he steeled himself to obedience, but because through faith he saw God as greater and stronger than the most inexorable physical law of nature: 'For he accounted that God is able to raise up even from the dead.' And so in all the other instances. Through faith the powers of the higher world were placed at the disposal of those whom this world threatened to overwhelm, and so the miracle resulted that from weakness they were made strong" (Geerhardus Vos, "Heavenly-Mindedness", Grace and Glory: Sermons Preached in the Chapel of Princeton Theological Seminary [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, repr. 1994], 103-107).

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