Continuing with the early views of the organization of the church as entertained by the early church fathers, we now call attention to Irenaeus. In our preceding article we called attention to the views as expressed by Ignatius, one of the apostolic fathers and bishop of the church at Antioch. The great esteem in which he held the office of bishop appears from all his writings, although we also called attention to the fact that Ignatius also held the office of the presbyter or elder in high regard. Later the office of bishop was held in much higher esteem.
Irenaeus is reputed to have been the first to have advocated the institution of bishop as a diocesan office and as the continuation of the apostolate. From him we quote the following quotation:
It is within the power of all, therefore, in every church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the churches, and to demonstrate the succession of these men to our own times; those who neither taught nor knew of anything like what these heretics rave about. For if the apostles had known hidden mysteries, which they were in the habit of imparting to the “perfect” apart and privily from the rest, they would have delivered them especially to those to whom they were committing the churches themselves.
“The just shall live by faith.”—Romans 1:7
Righteous, or just, by faith!
This is indeed the heart of the gospel. The apostle is not ashamed of the gospel of Christ because it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. Imagine if this gospel were merely a general, well-meaning offer of salvation! Imagine if a sinner must contribute something to his salvation! Imagine if the love of God were universal and that this love of God were dependent upon a sinner's will so that the living God could be thwarted in his desire to save! This would mean that no sinner could ever be saved, that the house of our Father would remain forever closed and empty. Salvation, then, would be wholly impossible.
But now we are righteous by faith. And faith always stands in scripture over against works. Faith is the gift of God. And because this faith is God's gift, and we are saved, righteous by faith, our salvation is sure. And therefore the apostle can say that he is not ashamed of the gospel of Christ because it is the power of God unto salvation.
Indeed, we are just by faith, only by faith, by means of God's gift, through Christ Jesus, the God of our salvation.
We read here of the just or righteous. The child of God is righteous or justified. How fascinating! Is there anything in the life, the conscious life of a believer that is more fascinating, more wonderful than his justification, that he is just or righteous before God? Indeed, the experience of this wonderful gift of divine grace has fascinated the church of God throughout the ages!
We read: "The just shall live by faith." Two interpretations are possible of this expression. On the one hand, we can understand the expression, "by faith," with "shall live." Then we read: The just shall live by faith. This is the interpretation favored by our translation. However, the words, "by faith," can also be understood in connection with "just" or "righteous." Then we would read: he who is just by faith shall live. We choose the interpretation: the one who is just by faith shall live. We connect the words, "by faith," with "just." We believe that the context demands this interpretation. Had he not written in the first part of verse 17 that the righteousness of God, our righteousness which is of God, is revealed out of faith unto faith, so that faith is the exclusive sphere in which our righteousness is revealed and experienced by us? Paul, therefore, is emphasizing here that this righteousness before God is surely a righteousness which we receive by faith. Besides, this interpretation is also in harmony with the scriptural idea of "shall live." Paul does not mean to say that we shall live by faith. But he writes that he who is just by faith shall live, forever and in heavenly immortality.
Literally we read here of the righteous one.
The righteous is he who is judged by God to be in perfect harmony with his law and who is also righteous in his own consciousness. The Judge of all the earth declares that he sees no guilt in him, and also declares him worthy of life everlasting. This righteousness is a legal concept. We are judged to be free of guilt and declared to be heirs of everlasting life and glory.
How unbelievably wonderful!
Wonderful, first of all, because of us. Fact is, we are so evil and corrupt. How weak we are and frail in the spiritual sense of the word! And, God is holy and good and righteous! He is the Judge of all the earth. When he expresses a judgment it is a true judgment. How, then, can he say he sees no sin in us, when even we know that there is so much sin in us? Secondly, there is life all about us. How contrary is this judgment of the Lord to all we see and experience! We are in a valley of the shadow of death. God declares of us that we are righteous, and we die all the day long! The Lord visits tornadoes, earthquakes, pestilences upon the peoples of the earth, also wars and the destruction they leave in their wake, and yet we claim to be righteous, free from death and heirs of life and glory! Besides, all these things are of the Lord. The world, we know, always seeks a natural cause for all these calamities. God, however, visits his wrath upon the children of men because of their sins, and these men refuse to look for the cause in themselves and from God. What folly! Sickness and death, etc., are no accidents; they are of God. And we, too, are involved in these calamities. How wonderful, therefore, in the second place is this righteous judgment of God! Thirdly, how wonderful is this judgment of God because of God! He is the supreme Judge of all the earth. When he speaks and judges, that judgment is final. There can be no appeal to another or higher court; his judgment is final! As the rock, the I AM, the unchangeable Jehovah, he never changes his judgment, cannot change it, because it is true and he can never deny himself. Let us understand this. It is God who justifieth, Paul exclaims, who shall condemn! Where in all the universe can, or will, anyone be found to dispute, counter-act, annul this divine judgment of righteousness? Once righteous, we are righteous forever! Whatever may befall us, sickness or enemy or death, once justified, we are righteous forever; nothing will be able to separate us from the love of that Judge of all the earth! What a wonderful gift, this gift of divine righteousness!
We read literally, he who is just out of faith shall live. To be just or righteous out of faith emphasizes the fact that this lives in the consciousness of the child of God. It means that I live out of faith, draw this justification out of faith.
How vividly this lives in the consciousness of the child of God! How wonderful is this assurance for the afflicted, harassed child of God, as he is plagued and tormented by the consciousness of his sin and guilt! He realizes his sin and guilt, is conscious of the holiness and righteousness of God, that no sinner can ever return into the fellowship of God and of his covenant, and that he can never pay even one farthing of that debt. The fellowship of God which he craves lies hopelessly beyond and outside of his reach. And now the wonderful gospel truth is flashed into his tormented soul: fear not, ye weary pilgrim, thou art just by faith; you cannot and need not contribute toward your justification; Christ did it all. Believing, trusting not in oneself, but only in God through Christ, I am justified.
Righteous out of faith—what does this mean? O, this does not mean that we justify ourselves by means of faith. This is Rome's accursed heresy. To them, faith is the means to do all kinds of good works; and the doing of these works justifies. Neither does this mean that faith is a condition for our righteousness. God, then, knows that we can never pay for all our sin and guilt. Christ died for everybody. The Lord now accepts our faith as a substitute. We are justified if we merely believe, acknowledge our sin and the righteousness of God. However, there is no substitute for atonement; there is no substitute for the payment of all our sin and guilt.
Now we understand what it means to be just out of faith. Christ suffered and died for all his own upon the cross of Calvary. He took upon himself the awful burden of our sin and guilt, bore God's awful wrath upon them, in perfect love and obedience. And now we receive this righteousness of Christ from God by sovereign grace. God, in Christ, calls us out of death into life; he unites us with Christ, engrafts us into him, makes us one plant with him. God lays us prostrate before him in the dust, presses from us the penitent's cry of utter anguish: O God, be merciful to me, a sinner. God leads us to the cross, gives us to see in that man of sorrows our sinbearer, our Redeemer. To him we flee; in him we trust; to him we look up; out of him we live and experience the truth: out of faith we know that we are righteous before God, only for Jesus' sake.
How wonderful this is! How futile it would be if our righteousness were left to us! How futile if we must merit it, we who are in ourselves dead in sins and in trespasses! How hopeless would be our lot if God were to demand of us faith as a condition of salvation, something which God will accept from us as a substitute. What man is there who could possibly believe? Is not the truth that we are saved only by grace, through faith, humanly speaking, utterly devastating? No man will confess that he is lost in sin and can do nothing unto his salvation! If we are not saved by grace, we simply cannot be saved. How wonderful, however, are the mercies of our God! How wonderful that we need not do what we never could do! How wonderful it is that we are righteous out of faith, only for Jesus' sake, because God loved us, sovereignly, eternally, unconditionally before the foundations of the world!
We shall live—of course! We read in Romans 8:32: "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" That he who is just out of faith shall live must follow. He who spared not his own Son will surely with him also freely give us all things. If he did the one, the other must follow. He died to save us from sin and guilt and hell, and to lead us into life and glory. The purpose of his redemption was exactly that, saved from death and hell, we should be partakers of his life and glory. The fruit of his work must follow: God has justified me, declared me to be free from all guilt and to be an heir of everlasting life; surely we shall live!
We shall live now. He who is righteous out of faith shall live immediately. Life, we understand, is fellowship and communion with God, to love him and be loved of him, to taste his life, to know and enjoy his fellowship, to say in all humble and unbelievably wonderful adoration: O God of all the earth, Thou art my God!
And we shall also live presently. Now we have and enjoy this eternal life, this blessed fellowship with God, only in smallest principle. Now the evil we hate we do, and the good we love we practice not. But, when all this weary night is passed, with all its sin and sorrow and disappointments, all its struggles and lamenting, as we read in Romans 7:24: “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me out of the body of this death?” Then we shall live; then we shall be clothed in righteousness, in perfect righteousness with no more sin or death or sorrow, but an everlasting knowing, a knowing as we are known, a seeing of God face to face in Jesus Christ, in that wonderful day when God's tabernacle shall be with man.
Indeed, the just is righteous only out of faith.
And, just out of faith, he shall live.
Now, and surely forevermore!
This meditation was written by Rev. Herman Veldman published in the Standard Bearer, Volume 57, Issue 15, dated May 1, 1981.