Hab_2:4. Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.
THE sense of these words is not very obvious. In truth, the sense of them, as standing in the context, and as quoted in the New Testament, is so different, that we need examine them with great care, in order to find their true and full import. Their literal meaning, I apprehend, is to this effect. The prophet had foretold the captivity of the Jews in Babylon. The Jews would not believe that the predicted events could ever take place [Note: Hab_1:5-6.]. They therefore contended with the prophet; and he, wearied with their perverseness, spread his case before the Lord, and implored direction from him: “I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say to me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved [Note: ver. 1].” The Lord answers him, and commands him to write it in large and legible characters, for the instruction of the whole nation, that the predicted events should take place in their appointed season; and that those who, through pride and hypocrisy, rejected the Divine testimony, should perish; whereas those who, with simplicity of mind, believed it, should be saved.
Had we no further insight given us into these words in the New Testament, we should rest in that exposition of them, and conceive that we had given nearly the full meaning of them. But the captivity in Babylon was a forerunner of a yet more terrible bondage which they would suffer, through their contempt of that great Prophet who should come into the world. Through their pride and hypocrisy, they would reject him, even the Lord Jesus Christ, and would perish in their unbelief [Note: Compare Hab_1:5. with Act_13:41.]: but those who should believe in Christ, and place their hopes entirely on him, should be saved by him with an everlasting salvation.
Now, if an uninspired man had put this construction upon the passage, we should consider the interpretation as forced. But when an inspired Apostle, not once or twice only, but repeatedly, quotes this passage in this very sense; and not in an incidental way only, as it were by accommodation, but in a way of solid argumentation; we cannot doubt but that, in putting this construction upon the words, we express the mind of the Holy Ghost. St. Paul shews from these words, that the way of salvation is simply by faith in Christ: “Therein,” that is, in the Gospel, “is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, The just shall live by faith [Note: Rom_1:17.].” Again, in another epistle, he takes occasion from these words to shew, that salvation is by faith alone, without the deeds of the law: “That no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident; for, The just shall live by faith [Note: Gal_3:11.].” In another epistle, he quotes the whole passage, to shew that, as our entrance into the way of salvation is by faith, so must also our continuance in it be: “Ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and he that shall come, will come, and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them that draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul [Note: Heb_10:36-39. The 37th and 38th verses are quoted from Habakkuk, exactly according to the translation of them in the Septuagint.].”
I conceive that the large and comprehensive view of this passage is that which we ought to take; and that it will properly give occasion for me to mark,
The evil of unbelief—
It was in reference to those who rejected his testimony, and who, by rejecting it, would perish, that the prophet said, “Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him.” Here he marks the evil of unbelief in its nature, as the fruit of pride and hypocrisy; and in its tendency, as leading to destruction.
Let us notice, then, the evil of it,
In its nature—
[Persons would fain have it thought, that their unbelief arises from want of evidence: but in whomsoever it is found, provided he have had the means of information fully set before him, we hesitate not to affirm that it is the offspring of pride and hypocrisy. Men will not submit their wisdom to the wisdom of God; and, instead of receiving humbly what he has revealed, they will presumptuously sit in judgment upon him, and teach him, what he shall reveal, and in what manner he shall reveal it. They like not to be told that they are such guilty and helpless creatures as they really are. They like not to have all grounds of self-confidence taken from them; and to be necessitated to found their hopes altogether on another, even though that other be the Son of God himself. They like not that measure of self-denial and of devotedness to God, which the Scriptures require of them. Hence they endeavour to explain away the force of Scripture, if not to set aside its authority altogether. They do not examine it with the candour which they would exercise in the investigation of any other subject: they have a bias within them, arising from their prejudices and their passions: they wish to find occasion against the Scriptures, or an interpretation which shall enable them to evade their force. They do not set themselves diligently to conform to the word of God, as far as they believe it true: so that their whole conduct shews that “their soul is not upright in them.” This habit of mind does not prevail in all to the same extent; but in every unbeliever is it found: and it is at the root of unbelief, wherever that baneful evil exists.]
In its tendency—
[It operated to the ruin of those who would not listen to the warnings of the prophets respecting the judgments that would be inflicted on them by their Chaldean invaders. And a similar consequence ensued to those who rejected the Saviour of the world. And what other effect can ever be produced by it? Were not the Apostles commanded to declare, through all the world, “He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not, shall be damned?” Nor does this consequence result from any arbitrary appointment of God: it is, and must be so, in the very nature of things. “This is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life; and this life is in his Son: he that hath the Son, hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God, hath not life.” Now, if this life be in the Lord Jesus Christ, how can we receive it, if we believe not on him? We put it away from us: we do in fact say, ‘I will not have life: if God will not save me in any other way, I will not be saved at all.’ This is what our blessed Lord himself complained of: “Ye will not come unto me, that ye may have life.” It is to no purpose to dispute against this. We cannot alter the Divine appointment. A Saviour is given us: a free offer of salvation through Him is sent us: not a creature in the universe is excepted: not any one who comes to God through Him shall be cast out. But, if this Saviour be rejected, “there is no other sacrifice for sin;” no other foundation on which we can build;” “no other name whereby we can be saved.” We ought to be fully aware of this: for if we persist in our unbelief, “there remains for us nothing but a certain fearful looking for of judgment, and of fiery indignation to consume us.”]
Let us now view, in contrast with this,
The transcendent excellence of faith—
Faith is highly commended in the Scriptures of truth. And well it may be; for,
It is associated with candour—
[“The just,” is he who weighs with candour whatever is brought before him, and embraces truth wherever he can find it. This disposition of mind is called, in Scripture, “an honest and good heart:” and wherever that is, the seed of the Gospel which is sown on it will grow up, and bring forth its appointed fruit. The believer will not reject this or that declaration, saying, “This is an hard saying; who can hear it?” nor will he complain of “any commandment, that it is grievous.” He will sit at the feet of Jesus, and hear his word: and, if he meet with any thing which strikes him as new, he will “search the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things be so:” and when any thing exceeds his comprehension, he will go to God in prayer, and implore the gift of his Holy Spirit to “open the eyes of his understanding,” and to “guide him into all truth.” In this way, his doubts are cleared; his difficulties are removed; his perception of truth is quickened: his submission to it increased; and his faith, which at first was only as a grain of mustard-seed, becomes a large tree, under the shadow of which he can safely repose, and by the fruits of which he is nourished unto life eternal. In a word, his faith unites him to the Lord, “in whom he finds both righteousness and strength.” Thus, from his integrity of heart, he is enabled to discern what a jaundiced mind would reject: and, from a readiness to obey the truth, he is put into possession of all those blessings which a proud, unbelieving hypocrite can never attain.]
It issues in salvation—
[“The just shall live by his faith.” At the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, the believers availed themselves of a favourable moment, and fled to Pella, and escaped; whilst the whole unbelieving nation endured the righteous vengeance of an offended God. And who are they that shall be saved in the last day? Believers; and they alone. They will be then acknowledged by their God: they shall stand at the light hand of their Judge: they shall be exalted to thrones of glory: they shall live before him for ever and ever. To this the whole sacred volume bears witness. Not an exception to this truth shall ever be found: however God may suffer his people to be sifted, “not the least grain shall fall to the earth.” “It is not the will of our Father, that one of his little ones should perish.” No, verily, “they shall never perish, but shall have eternal life.”]
Suffer ye now, Brethren, a word of exhortation—
[Be aware of the bias that is upon your own minds. You cannot but be sensible that there is in all of us a love of this present evil world, and a distaste for heavenly employments. You cannot but have seen it, both in your hearts and lives, from the very first moment that you began to act. You know that you have, by nature, no delight in communion with God, nor any realizing views of things invisible and eternal. You know that your affections are naturally set on the things of time and sense, and that you look to them with an intensity of interest which you do not feel in the concerns of your souls. How all this must operate on your minds, in relation to the Gospel, is obvious. That, as you well know, calls you to a renunciation of all earthly vanities, a mortification of all corrupt appetites, and a pursuit of holiness as your supreme good. Be sensible of this, when you either hear or read the blessed word of God: and beg of him to “put truth in your inward parts;” and, by the mighty power of his Spirit, to cast down all your lofty and carnal imaginations, and to bring into captivity every thought that exalts itself against the knowledge of Christ.”]
Be in earnest—
[It is not a mere speculation which I would impress upon your minds. No: it is the very truth of God; yea, “it is your very life.” Your rejecting of the truth will “not make void the faith of God.” It will stand, whether you reject it or not: and the final judgment will assuredly be in conformity with it. Do not then trifle. Remember how much you have at stake. Lose no time. Hear the threatenings of God, and tremble at them: and listen to the promises of God with lively gratitude and humble confidence. Bear in mind the issue of things with respect to the Jewish people: has not every word of God been fulfilled to them? You shall surely, ere long, see the same in reference to yourselves. If you proudly despise the word of God, or hypocritically pretend a submission to it which you do not yield, nothing remains for you but the stroke of God’s avenging rod. But if you will believe in Christ, and give yourselves up to him, you shall surely experience all the riches of his grace, and finally inherit all the fulness of his glory.]