‘Without Faith . . . ‘
It was a remarkable testimony that God gave of Enoch: ‘He pleased God’ (Heb. 11:5). Enoch was a sinner and, if God was to mark iniquity against him, he could not stand. At best, his works were imperfect; they could never satisfy the demands of God’s holy law; so he could not earn a right to heaven. But he was taught not to rely on any of his works; instead he looked to God’s provision for the salvation of helpless sinners. The Holy Spirit worked in Enoch’s heart and made him a new creature, and he walked with God. Here was an unusually holy man, and God was pleased as he looked on the results of his own work in Enoch’s heart and life.
No more could Abel earn his salvation; yet he had this testimony: ‘The Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering” (Gen. 4:4). God had revealed how sinners are to approach him, and Abel was willing to come in that way. By faith he knew that he could not earn his way to heaven. It was otherwise with Cain; he had no faith, and ‘without faith it is impossible to please’ God (Heb. 11:6). Cain demonstrated his lack of faith by rejecting the testimony of God about how sinners may be accepted – through sacrifice, through the death of a substitute. He expected to be accepted by some means which he could devise himself, but he ignored the fact that ‘the wages of sin is death’.
Today the way of salvation is far more clear than it was for Abel or Enoch or any of the other Old Testament believers. We have a complete Bible but, more significantly, we can look back to Christ and the work he has already completed rather than having to look forward to a work which has not yet taken place. Yet, by faith, men and women have found salvation ever since the first promise to sinners was given, in the Garden of Eden, revealing ‘the Seed of the woman’ and his conquest of Satan. But, even after Christ has been proclaimed to them, sinners go on in unbelief. While they do so, they cannot please God. And, in spite of their wonderful privileges, they must be condemned at last, for they are rejecting the way which God has, in infinite wisdom, devised so that sinners may be saved. And when they reject God’s way, they are making themselves wiser than God.
Not only has man’s understanding been corrupted by the Fall; so has his will. When Adam and Eve fled among the trees of Eden, they were afraid of God’s wrath against them as sinners. But more fundamentally, they wished not to be in his presence. Similarly, when God in infinite mercy calls sinners to himself through Christ the Mediator, they have no will to come. But not only is it ‘a faithful saying…that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’, it is also ‘worthy of all acceptation’ (1 Tim. 1:15). Clearly for a sinner to reject testimony from God – particularly testimony which is described as worthy of all acceptance – must be offensive to him. Such a sinner cannot begin to please God until he has a change of heart.
Until Lydia’s heart was opened by divine power while listening to Paul’s preaching, she was an unbeliever; she could not please God. Although she was in a place where people were approaching God in prayer, her heart was shut against the claims of God’s law and gospel. But when Paul proclaimed salvation through Jesus Christ – that he ‘came into the world to save sinners’ – the Holy Spirit made her able and willing to receive this truth; she believed. So, when the Lord looked on her from then on, he viewed her as one who had been united to Christ – and he saw the righteousness of Christ rather than Lydia’s sins. Her sins had been washed away because of Christ’s suffering unto death on behalf of sinners like her, and she was treated as perfectly righteous because Christ’s righteousness had been laid to her account. In other words, she had been justified. Thus God was well pleased with her for Christ’s sake. She was one of the fruits of Christ’s death. So when he looked on her in the midst of his suffering, it was fulfilled: ‘He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied’ (Isa. 53:11).
When the Holy Spirit opened Lydia’s heart, there was a great change in her life. She began to walk with God, to do his will, to obey his commands. She trusted God in the various events of her life; she loved him, his ways and his people; she valued his Word and the throne of grace; she resisted temptation. And God was pleased with every evidence of spiritual life in her heart, however imperfect; it was all the result of his own work.
So it is with those whose hearts the Holy Spirit opens today. They believe in Christ and are united to him. He sees them as righteous because Christ’s righteousness has been imputed to them. He sees also the effects of his own work in their hearts and lives. That sanctifying work is a developing work, which will be completed when they pass into glory. He is pleased with it all and he will make his pleasure public on the last day, when we must all appear before him to give in our account of how we lived in this world.
But many, solemnly, will be there who never believed in Christ. They may have attempted to please God – but only by their own efforts; they did not depend on Christ. The Pharisee, who looked so disparagingly on the tax gatherer at the temple, had a long list of his own good works: he was free from many sins; he fasted twice a week, he gave tithes of everything he possessed. Accordingly he was convinced that God was pleased with him. But no; this man, in contrast with the publican, went home unjustified; he was without faith; he could not please God. He was not the last to try to please God by his religious duties and other good works, as he imagined them to be. But the futility of them all, as a means of pleasing God, is made obvious by Paul’s statement: ‘By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight’ (Rom. 3:20). No one can gain acceptance with God by their own efforts to keep God’s law; their works are inevitably defective.
Apart from faith, there is nothing in the soul which can please God; there is no holiness, no love to him and his people, no sincere obedience. All that he can see in such people is sin, and that also will be publicly proved on the Day of Judgement. Their sins were unforgiven in this life; they were never covered by the blood of Christ. And when the books are opened (see Rev. 20), all their sins will be made public, and these sinners will be sent away to a lost eternity. In particular, those who had contact with the Word of God, and with the gospel revealed in it, will be condemned for their rejection of Christ. They followed the wisdom of their fallen hearts and refused to receive the salvation the all-wise God had provided. They perhaps promised themselves that, at some point in the uncertain future, they would believe, but they never trusted him as ‘a rewarder of them that diligently seek him’ (Heb. 11:6). Their unbelief, and all that flowed from it, was offensive to God, and their condemnation will be confirmed on the last day.
Whatever Satan may focus his great powers on, he will pay particular attention to hindering sinners from believing in Christ. His clear testimony, recorded in Scripture under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is: ‘Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out’ (John 6:37). But Satan will tempt sinners to think that their past is such that they will be cast out; he was a liar from the beginning, and always will be. He is on no account to be believed. In Babylon King Manasseh might have felt justified in thinking that his sins had been too great for him to be accepted by God. But all such thoughts were, and are, forbidden, given the depth of divine mercy. So ‘in affliction, he besought the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed unto him: and he was intreated of him, and heard his supplication’. In spite of all his past wickedness, Manasseh obtained mercy. He began to walk with God; he began to please Him. He was perfectly safe in his death and will be equally safe on the Day of Judgement. This will likewise be true of all who obey Christ’s call: ‘Come unto Me…and I will give you rest’. Only by faith can a sinner begin to please God.
Rev Kenneth D Macleod is pastor of a Free Presbyterian Church on the Isle of Harris, Scotland. He edits The Free Presbyterian Magazine, from the June 2008 issue of which this Editorial is taken, with kind permission.
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