Abraham, My Friend
The Making of a Praying Man
Oh the blessednesses
Perhaps you think we are a little pre-occupied with this simple phrase; For what saith the scripture? And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness. (Rom 4:3 ASV) I hope not. Justification by faith is in many ways the foundation doctrine of the New Testament. It is not the only truth but all the others need this as their foundation because this is the basis on which God deals with men and women. He has credited men and women with His own righteousness at the point of their faith. Please note I do not say on the basis of their faith. Salvation is not by faith; it is by grace through faith. Salvation is Gods work but the channel that God has appointed to get that salvation to me is faith. Abraham is a particularly useful starting point because it was while he was in his uncircumcised state that his faith is credited as righteousness, (Rom 4:5 NASB) That is to say he has no inherent advantage of any kind; he has no covenant relationship at this time. All he has is overwhelming confidence that God is utterly reliable. But lets see if we can enlarge the picture a little.
Pale blue light is produced in certain circumstances by passing an electric current through a heated element in neon gas, but if you pass the same current through an element in sodium gas you get yellow light. Gods truth can be expressed in different ways at different times. In Romans 4 Paul asks the question; What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? (Rom 4:1 KJV) and we have our answer in the next few verses. As Paul continues we shall change the environment and see justification by faith in different colours. Lets ask the question what shall we say that David found? Bible students sometimes refer to a locus classicus it means an authoritative and often-quoted passage. On the topic of justification by faith Romans 4 is a locus classicus; we cannot understand the implications of this teaching without this chapter. Paul begins with Abraham but he doesnt end there; he now draws in Davids testimony; Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, (Rom 4:6 KJV); describes is just speaks about.
This is significant because, unlike Abraham, David lived under the period of the Law. In Abraham we find justification by faith in the experience of a man not under law, but in David we have the testimony of a man under the law. Psalm 32 is a maschil, a didactic (teaching) song intended not just for the momentary enjoyment of a good sing but to be meditated upon. Paul says that this psalm is the experience of someone who has been justified by faith. Lets join Paul in his meditation. Often the New Testament will give us a definitive explanation of the Old; this is such an instance. But this is the experience passing through a different era and it will produce different colours. Davids testimony will be expressed in very different terms to Abrahams although, according to Paul writing in the Spirit, this is the same experience.
As the electric current of justification by faith passes into the medium of the Law its effect is described in different language. Did you notice what the scripture recounted as regards sins in its narrative of Abraham? You are right! Not a word. There is no mention of sin in the whole history of Abraham. This is not an oversight, it is simply because
sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. (Rom 5:13 ESV) This does not mean that Abraham was without sin, but that sin was not charged to his account. Abraham was ungodly but his faith was reckoned as righteousness. (Rom 4:5) Davids case was very different. Psalm 32 is extremely sin conscious; I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah. (Psa 32:5 KJV). Abraham never used this kind of language. But Psalm 32 is not only sin conscious it is wonderfully blessing conscious. The literal translation is brimming with joy; Oh the blessednesses of he whose transgression is carried away, whose sin is hidden. Oh the blessednesses of he to whom Jehovah does not charge iniquity
It is this word does not charge, does not impute/reckon that provided Paul with his link. It is the word used in Genesis 15:6; Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. (NASB) David knew that Jehovah had not recorded his sin against him; oh the blessednesses of a bank account statement that has not had my sin charged to it! Those familiar with accounts will know that the item must have gone somewhere; it cant just vanish out of the system. If it was not charged to Davids account, whose account was it charged to?
There is a beautiful cameo in the little letter of Paul to Philemon which will give us an insight. Philemon was a prosperous house-holder in Colosse; he was also one of Pauls converts; and so was Onesimus. Onesimus was Philemons runaway slave who had come to Christ through Paul while Paul was imprisoned. (Im looking forward to hearing Onesimus testimony one day; it must have been fascinating.) Paul now sends Onesimus home to Philemon with the instruction that Philemon must treat him no longer as a slave but as a brother. The little letter contains this additional comment; But if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge that to my account; (Phm 1:18 NASB) Now this is what happens when the love of God is shed abroad in the heart of a man; he begins to behave as God would, instinctively. This, of course, is exactly what God has done. Who will bear the worlds sins? Who will carry the responsibility before the Justice of God? I will, says the Son, charge it to my account. And then the account was paid in full; that was the technical meaning of τετέλεσται, it is finished. (John 19:30)
So David knows that his iniquities have been charged to the account of another. Revealed truth is progressive and single seeds of revelation often spring up and blossom into fuller revelation. Abraham knew his faith was reckoned as righteousness; David saw that his own sins had been reckoned to anothers account. Oh, the blessednesses of such a revelation. Others in the time of the Law saw it and expressed in ways which are now familiar to us; But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isa 53:5-6 KJV)
David used other language that was key to the era of Law in which he lived. Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven... (Psa 32:1 KJV) This word forgiven is nâsâh; it means to lift up or carry away, but David had something quite specific in mind. What he had in mind was an annual ritual that was actually suspended during his own lifetime. From the time that the Ark was taken in battle by the Philistines it remained separated from the Tabernacle and the Altar of Sacrifice; this separation of the ark and the altar lasted until Solomon reunited them and meant that from Samuel to Solomon much of the Levitical worship was in abeyance. What he had in mind was a particular moment in the ceremony; and the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a solitary land: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness. (Lev 16:22 ASV) The word bear is nâsâh. It seems that although David knew the Scapegoat had not carried away his sins, he still knew the blessednesses of sins carried away. Later John Baptist would put words to the revelation; The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh (lifts up/bear away) away the sin of the world. (Joh 1:29 KJV)
Imagine an Israelite of old. Their consciences could never be at rest but the symbols told of sins removed and fellowship with God restored. Then Aaron shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins; and he shall lay them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who stands in readiness. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a solitary land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness. (Lev 16:21-22 NASB) There were two goats which in the symbolism represent one. This is what the Bible students call substitutionary atonement; the goat becomes the substitute for the people. The first goat died; the evitable consequence of sin. In confession and laying of hands the High Priest conveyed the sins of the people onto the head of the second or (e)scapegoat; the sins no longer rested on Israel but on the goat. Their sins were united with the goat. From now on whatever happens to the goat happens to their sins. Their sins are borne away into the wilderness, away from Gods presence and theirs. It would seem that David never saw this ceremony, and yet he experienced the blessednesses of iniquities carried away. There can be no genuine legal justification unless sins are actually dealt with. This is not play-acting or a legal fiction. The death penalty has been exacted on the first goat; the second now, symbolically, bears away Israels sins. God can only reckon righteousness to our account because the penalties have been paid; justification by faith and substitutionary atonement are integral to each other. These truths are great tests for orthodox Christianity.
Theres more; Blessed is he whose transgression is carried away, whose sin is hidden. (Psa 32:1 Lit) This introduces another powerful picture from the era of the Law; symbolically, sins could be covered/hidden. The ceremony of the two goats was known officially as yôm kippûr; the day of atonement/covering. It is the picture of something unacceptable being covered so that peace becomes possible. And say ye moreover, Behold, thy servant Jacob is behind us. For he said, I will appease him with the present that goeth before me, and afterward I will see his face; peradventure he will accept of me. (Gen 32:20 KJV); appease is the word kaphar meaning atone or cover. If the bearing away points to sins dealt with, the whole purpose of the atonement/covering was to effect a reconciliation that made it possible for God to fellowship with His people for one more year. Its interesting how this idiom of covering persists to our own day. who will pay the debt? this will cover it. As a result of the death and sending away of the goats the people of Israel were covered and Gods presence in their midst would not destroy them.
So we can see that forensic justification is not a rabbinic mind-game but part of a comprehensive revelation that God has provided a thoroughly safe means for the sinner to appear in His presence without fear. His iniquities have been carried away by Calvarys Sacrifice; as a result his sins are hidden and not charged to his account. Every angle has been covered. We may not understand all the implications but those who put their faith in God will have this testimony
Oh the blessednesses