“Pol Pot is dead!” So the CNN report stated. On April 15, 1998 a mosquito executed that deadly evil despot responsible for the massacre of millions of Khmer. Malaria accomplished what courts, armies, and police could not, though the form of justice seemed hollow compared to his tragic killing fields. News filtered out in May.
My students and I were in Battambang, Cambodia, working in surrounding villages near Pol Pot’s jungle hideout. In the hotel, I met a young Canadian Army Lieutenant. With other NATO specialists, he was clearing landmines. Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge factions randomly planted them without maps or in any semblance of order and that doubled the danger, even for removal. This Lieutenant faced life and death daily. Watching the CNN newsfeed in the commons area of the hotel prompted discussion. The Lieutenant was typically secular, but eternity entered the discussion when we wondered aloud as to why or how Pol Pot could escape any form of human justice. I told him that there is another court and certainly there will be eternal justice, and that the grace of God can cover all our sin, anyone’s sin.
Further into the trip, we entered a village where a corner, open-air drinking shop featured prominently and was nestled among the dwellings. There were three large TV’s playing, each with different movies, two kickboxing and one pornographic. The lady in charge, when asked, said she would enjoy seeing the Khmer film we had that is the most widely distributed film ever. It was the Jesus Film. She took out the pornographic movie, and inserted our VHS tape. She watched with great intent, and when the movie ended, we gave a brief translated invitation.
He asked, “Can this Jesus forgive me too? My hands are stained with too much blood!”
A weeping man came to talk. He asked, “Can this Jesus forgive me too? My hands are stained with too much blood!”
I assured him with God’s Word that indeed Jesus can—and promises He will—forgive; He even died and rose from the grave to prove it.
This man’s story unfolded, as repentance filled his heart. He told of his days as a Khmer Rouge commander during the most intensive times of the killing fields. His hands were blood stained with thousands of victims. I explained that Christ’s hands were stained, too, for very different reasons. That night, the commander was reborn, redeemed, forgiven!
I explained that Christ’s hands were stained, too, for very different reasons.
Paul said be ready to “preach the gospel in season or out” (2 Tim. 2:4). I take this to mean by planned intent seeking the lost or by serendipitous occasion that God prompts. Conversation with the Canadian Lieutenant was sudden and unplanned, prompted by a CNN report and a mosquito’s justice for a deserving despot. While we didn’t realize that the Khmer Rouge commander was even in the crowd at the start, nevertheless God brought him there that day as we planned to encounter lostness in that crowd. So “in season” or “out” we were there.
How often do we busy ourselves rushing through life not noticing the seasons?
by Dr. W. A. Criswell
Text: Luke 1.26-38
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and the service tonight is dedicated to our children, to their Sunday school and Training Union, and to their parents. And a beautiful opportunity it is for us to speak the Word of God out of the Holy Scriptures. It is entitled Mary: Beautiful Motherhood. It is a message concerning the child and the family. Let us turn in the Bible to Luke; Matthew, Mark, Luke, the Third Gospel, and let us turn to the first chapter and let us read this beautiful passage together. Luke chapter 1, verses 26-38: Luke chapter 1, verses 26-38. If your neighbor does not have a Bible, share it with him and let us all read it out loud together: Luke 1, beginning at verse 26, concluding at verse 38. Now all of us out loud together:
And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.
And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary; for thou hast found favor with God.
And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a Son, and shalt call His name Jesus.
He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David:
And He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end.
Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she also hath conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.
For with God nothing shall be impossible.
And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her [Luke 1:26-38].
Could you imagine a more beautiful, more precious, more spiritually significant story than that?
As I walk up the stairway in our home—oh, how many times do I do it? There on the right are two incomparable pictures of the holy family, Mary and the Lord Jesus, Elisabeth and John the Baptist as a small child, and in the background stands Joseph; the holy family. It is a part of the very heart of the Christian faith; the child, and the father and the mother.
A few years ago—and I kept it—sweet Francis Lord sent to me an invitation to a “Bible Lands” party. Once in the generation of children through the Beginner division, the three ages, they have a Bible Lands party, one of the most interesting convocations of youngsters you could ever think for. They dress up in costumes of the Old Testament and of the New Testament, and they have a little program presenting something in the life of that family that they represent. And this one I kept. It’s a picture of the Lord Jesus, and He is surrounded by little children. And it has a caption, a poem:
I wish that His hands had been placed on my head,
That His arms had been thrown around me,
And that I might have seen His kind look when He said:
Let the little ones come unto Me.
“Let the Little Ones Come unto Me”; Jemima T. Luke
That is our Lord. You could not imagine a more beautifully, typical image of Christ than our Lord surrounded by small children and inviting them to “come unto Me.” This is the Christian faith. It always has been, it ever will be.
In the tremendous twelfth chapter of the Revelation, there is the picture of the woman crowned with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and with seven stars in her diadem, and her Babe, which is destined for the salvation of the world, caught up unto God in heaven [Revelation 12:5]; this is the Christian faith. And I do not know of a more marvelous description of our ministries than these that we seek to dedicate to God with our small children. It has been said that no marriage is a howling success until a baby is born in the home. And I can surely add to that, that no church is a howling success until its nurseries are full of those bawling babies.
Our minister’s room is just right back there, and it is surrounded by four large nurseries. And when we gather there for prayer before coming into the sanctuary, if everything is quiet back there, we are not going to have a big day. But when we meet there for prayer, and we can’t hear ourselves for the yelling of bloody murder on all of the outside, I know we are going to have a great day in the house of the Lord.
What a glorious thing to bring our children with us to church! I asked my sweet mother, “How old was I when you brought me to church?” And she said, “You were four weeks old.” And I continued coming faithfully all through the years since.
So the child grows up, and they are so much a part and contribute so beautifully and interestingly to the family. The little baby was born, and the little youngster, a little older, said to the mother, “Well, why doesn’t baby talk?” And the mother replied, “Well, son, babies don’t talk.” And the little lad said, “Well, Mommy, I don’t understand that. At Sunday school this morning, our teacher read out of the Bible where Job cursed the day he was born.”
So they grow up and are increasingly more interesting. And this little fellow, Edward, was going to the hospital for a tonsillectomy. And his mother was encouraging him. And so the little lad replied to his mother, and he said, “Mommy, I will be brave, but I don’t want any crying baby put off on me as they did you when you went to the hospital.” And the little lad added, “I want a pup!”
That’s childhood, always beautiful, always innocent, and always interesting. And on those little feet and in those little hands, moves the destiny of the nation, and of the church, and of the consummation of the world.
I went to Springfield, Missouri, one time, in a journey, in a circle like that, to the north and to the east. I went to Springfield, Missouri, and to the shrine where Abraham Lincoln is buried. And in the midst of flags, and a sepulcher of silence, and all the accouterments of remembrance and memorial, there was a great placard above the sepulcher—what Secretary of State Stanton had said when his life ebbed away: “Now he belongs to the ages.”
Then in the journey, I went to Washington and stood there as most of you have at the tremendous memorial to Lincoln, standing there guardian of the Potomac River. At the end of the mall, the great capital of the United States there, and then the Washington Monument, then the reflecting pool, and at the end of the mall, the memorial to Lincoln, a beautifully wrought dedication to the memory of that marvelous Christian president.
Then in the providences of God, from my home at the seminary, I went down the highway 31E to my little pastorate. And driving down the highway, I passed Hodgenville. And in Hodgenville, Kentucky, is the memorial where the great president was born. It faces south, a beautiful marble building. And on the inside of the building is a tiny log cabin where Abraham Lincoln was born, a very small, small place, unbelievably small.
And on the side of the wall, incised in eternal letters in that marble, are the words of Abraham Lincoln: “All that I am or ever hope to be I owe to my angel mother.” And looking at that sign there from the words of Lincoln, I thought of the day when Nancy Hanks Lincoln died, and he was a boy ten years of age. He helped his father construct a rude coffin out of lumber, hand-hewn lumber. And he helped his father bury his mother in Hodgenville, Kentucky. A Baptist family, Lincoln’s father and mother were faithful Baptists. And I can’t ever forget, nor could you: “All that I am or ever hope to be I owe to my angel mother.”
That’s true of the whole course of the Bible, and it’s true of the whole course of history. Do you wonder how it was that Moses grew up the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, but when he was forty years of age, chose rather to suffer with the people of God than to enjoy the affluence, and the power, and the fame, as being Pharaoh of the greatest empire in that ancient day? [Hebrews 11:24-26]. How did he do that and why? The answer is easily discovered: when the little lad was placed in the arms of a nurse, to take care of the boy and to rear him for Pharaohs daughter, that nurse was Jochebed, his own Hebrew mother [Exodus 2:7-8]. And she taught that baby as he grew up the faith of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob—the faith of his fathers. And when he came of age, the repercussions of the teaching of that godly Hebrew woman found fruit and glory in the life of Ramoses, Moses.
The same beautiful story is in the life of Samuel, the last of the judges and the first of the prophets, truly one of the noblest men that ever lived: Samuel, “Asked of God” [1 Samuel 1:20]. And his father Elkanah and his sweet, praying mother Hannah gave the boy to the Lord, “All the days of his life, he shall be lent to the Lord” [1 Samuel 1:28]. And the life of the faith of father and mother found a glorious repercussion in the life of Samuel, God’s great prophet.
Thus, the story continues in the life of John the Baptist, and in the life of Jesus Himself. God placed those children in a devout, and praying, and faithful home.
I could say the same thing about Timothy. In 2 Timothy—Paul’s last letter before he was martyred in the Ostian Way of Rome, being a citizen, before his head was cut off—he wrote to his son Timothy and reminded him of the faith that dwelt first in his grandmother Lois, and in his mother Eunice, and now in him also [2 Timothy 1:5]. That’s God. And the whole story throughout the march of history and civilization never varies from that; it’s the same.
When you read the life of John Chrysostom, I suppose the most eloquent preacher who ever lived—John Chrysostom, the Greek name for “golden-mouth”— John “the Golden-mouth” Chrysostom. He was sent to Libanius, a teacher of rhetoric. And this gifted man, John, was to be trained to be a lawyer, and an orator, and a rhetorician. But when he was in the midst of his training as a brilliant scholar and orator, he left his school and his dedicated life for rhetoric, and he went off into the desert and came back a preacher of the gospel of Christ, unexcelled, unparalleled. And Libanius, the professor and teacher of the school of rhetoric, said that his mother had prayed the young man into a life of piety and religious dedication; that’s John Chrysostom.
The same story is found in the tremendous and the greatest intellectual Latin father, Augustine. Augustine was a vile young man, immoral in the extreme, a vile sinner. Augustine—he broke his mother’s heart. She went so constantly to the church and so constantly made appeal in prayer for her son that the bishop, the pastor of the church at Carthage, said to her, her name was Monica, “Mother, go thy way. The child of so many prayers could never be lost.” And when you read the Confessions of Augustine, as I did recently for the first time in my life, he tells in intimate detail the answer to his mother’s prayer and to the marvelous experience of conversion, of turning, that entered into his life: a glorious Christian mother, praying a wayward and sinful boy into the kingdom of God.
I haven’t time to speak of Constantine. His father was general of the Roman armies. He went to Great Britain, and there he fell in love with a British girl named Helen. And the girl was a Christian, and when the general married her, he married a Christian girl. And she was the mother of Constantine. And in her prayers and commitment to God, Constantine, who followed his father as general of the Roman armies, became the first Christian Roman emperor; mother, a Christian family.
I can say the same thing about Vladimir, who in the 800s took Russia into the circle and the orbit of the Christian faith because of the prayers of Olga, his Christian mother. The story continues through all of the centuries. It’s the same.
When Oliver Cromwell was the procurator of the British people and lived in the capital of London at Whitehall, the first thing he did was to bring to his palace in Whitehall his mother. And loving her and caring for her until she died, he buried her in Westminster Abbey. This is the story of all mankind. That child, loved and prayed for, becomes the leader of the destiny of the world.
Lift up your heads, O ye gates. And be ye lifted up, Ye everlasting doors. And the queen of glory Will come in. Who is this queen of glory? Mother, sweet and gentle. Mother, mighty in character. Lift up your heads, O ye gates. Even lift them up, Ye everlasting doors. And the queen of glory Shall come in. Who is this queen of glory? Mother, precious mother. She is the queen of glory.
[adapted from Psalm 24:7-10]
In the providences of God, the Lord made a choice in His creation. And it is this: He chose for the children and for the framing of their lives, not to be in the hands of the senate, or of the government, or of the king, or of the congress, or of the judiciary, or of the legislature, but He chose for the training of the child to be in the home. In Exodus 12, [verses 26-27] after the institution of the Feast of the Passover:
It shall come to pass, when your children shall say unto you,
What mean you by this service?
That you will say, This is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover…
And the people bowed their heads and worshiped.
Or look again. I turn to Deuteronomy, the second giving, the repetition of the Law. And I suppose there is no passage more famous and more repeated in Jewish culture and synagogue worship than the shema:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and soul, and might. And these words, which I command thee, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children. When you sit down, when you rise up, when you go in, and when you go out. And when thy son asketh thee in time to come, What mean the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgments, which the Lord our God hath commanded you? Then shall you say unto thy son… [Deuteronomy 6:4-7, 20-21]
And this is the answer of God to the children born in those Jewish homes.
If you asked the question, “How is it that the Jewish race, without a homeland for thousands of years, has remained distinct and separate—like the Gulf Stream coursing its way through the vast Atlantic Ocean—how does it stay separate and apart? Why isn’t it dissolved, buried in the nations of the world?” The answer lies in the child and in the way the child is taught in the home. There’s no separation from that.
“When your children shall ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean these stones?” Joshua says, “You are to let your children know saying Israel came over this Jordan on dry land” [Joshua 4:21-22]. That’s God. The education of our children somewhat may lie in a school, it never lies in a government. God says it lies mostly in the home.
Now our blessed, blessed apostle Paul writes a so-pertinent address to the wife, to the husband, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church. Let everyone of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband” [Ephesians 5:25, 33]. This is the Word of God. Then—it’s too bad there is a chapter heading there, there ought not to be a chapter heading there—having spoken to the husband in the home and to the wife in the home, then, “Children, honor your parents in the Lord: this is right. It’s the first commandment with promise…and bring them up”—father and mother—“in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” [Ephesians 6:1-2, 4]. The reverence of the wife for her husband and the loving and tender reverence and care of the husband for his wife is a message to a child that needs no elaboration or exposition. The child senses it, knows it. And if there is a beautiful relationship between father and mother, and mother and father, the child grows up strong, foundationally strong in the home. But if there is not that reverence, the child grows up weak and anemic and confused. It is a great thing, the Christian home, and the dedicated father and mother, and the child who knows no other thing than to honor in the love and nurture of the Lord.
One of the most unusual events in Southern history, I read in the life of Henry W. Grady. He was the editor of the Atlanta Constitution. He was an orator in the days when oratory was looked upon as the supreme gift of a man. And he represented the South in the days after the tragedy of the Civil War. He was a worthy spokesman for the reconstructing and re-resurrected South; Henry W. Grady, a great, a tremendously great man, and a great Christian. Well, what I read in the history book was this: in the busy and pressing political and social and forensic life in which Henry W. Grady was caught up, spokesman for the South, he found himself drifting away from God. How easy that is for a man to do; get so involved in his life’s work—whether it’s in politics, or journalism, or merchandising, or selling, or buying, or building, whatever—it’s easy for a man to get so involved that he leaves God out of his life. Henry W. Grady found himself adrift from the God that he knew in the days of his youth and young manhood. And this is what he did. His old mother still lived in the home place on a little country farm where he grew up as a boy. He left his busy life in the eye of the world, and he made his way to that old farm place, and to that cottage home where his aged mother lived, and he said to her, “Mother, I need God. Will you, as you did when I was a boy, will you tuck me in bed in the eventide? And will you kneel down by my side, as you did when I was a boy, and will you pray for me? And then will you kiss me goodnight?”
And when the evening came, she tucked him into bed, as she had done as he grew up as a boy. She knelt down by his side and prayed for him, as she did when he was a boy, and kissed him goodnight. That is strength. The very memory of it will guide a man through the stormy seas of life. There is no substitute for the Christian home, for the Christian father, for the Christian mother, for the praying intercessory remembrance of the child. And that is our dedication, beautiful responsibility, all of us to whom God has given a child. Now, may we stand together?
Our Lord, it is a beautiful way the Lord has provided for us in this pilgrimage: the sweet companionship of someone who loves us and the welcome of the child who is born of prayer like little Samuel, and the high privilege of a Christian parent to rear the child in the love and admonition of the Lord. O wonderful Savior bless Thou the dedication we make to Thee tonight in giving our homes to Thee, in bringing our children to Thee, that Jesus might bless them and watch over them. And thank Thee Lord for the guardian angel that He assigned to each one of our children [Matthew 18:10]; that they are cared for against the day when heaven’s door opens and we, with them, can enter in.
And in this precious moment tonight, a family you to rededicate your life and home to the Lord, feel free to come. “Pastor, we would just like to kneel and to reconsecrate our days and our children to Jesus.” Or to put your life as a family in the circle of our wonderful church, or to take Jesus as your Savior and to follow Him in baptism, as the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, answer with your life. In the balcony round, down one of those stairways, in the press of people on this floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, God has spoken to my heart tonight, and we are coming.” Make the decision now, and when we sing our hymn of appeal, “Here I am, pastor, here I come.” And our Lord bless them as they come to Thee and to us, in Thy wonderful and saving and keeping name, amen. While we wait, while we pray, while we sing, you come.
Copyright © 2013 The W. A. Criswell Foundation.
All Rights Reserved.
Posted with permission.
Visit www.wacriswell.org to view/read hundreds of sermons by Dr. Criswell.
by Hariette Petersen*
You can bring a bouquet of roses or potted daisies, or even hand your mom a gift certificate for a pedicure and spa treatment. However, the most endearing, long-lasting gift is more than a peck on the cheek, a quick hug and a “happy mother’s day” greeting. Even though all gifts are treasured and any recognition is appreciated, there is no gift as precious as time.
Thank you for your willing and unselfish sacrifice for my undeserved freedom of religion in America!
It seems to me that most Americans, including many Baptists, are either unaware or have forgotten the extraordinary role that Baptists played in securing religious liberty in America. Many Americans who are aware seek to minimize Christianity’s role in general and Baptist’s role in particular. Then there are those whose lack of acknowledgement and appreciation sometimes manifests itself in admonishments to pastors, particularly Baptist pastors, against speaking out or being involved in politics. Some of these chastisements come from Baptist pews and pulpits. Let me mention one historical example of Baptist influence.
Many Baptists who were persecuted in New England for preaching the gospel were deeply concerned that the proposed Constitution did not go far enough to guarantee liberty of conscience in religious freedom. The approval of nine states was required to ratify the Constitution, and Rhode Island and Virginia were both refusing to sign because it did not guarantee liberty of conscience in religious freedom.
The Constitutional Convention was embracing the Virginian, James Madison’s version of the new Constitution. However, there were Baptists in various counties who did not trust Madison. They actually looked to the separatist Baptist preacher, John Leland, for leadership. He was a powerful Baptist preacher and leader who was highly esteemed and trusted by Virginians.
At the time, Baptists were siding more and more with Patrick Henry in an attempt to unseat Madison as the Virginia delegate to the convention. Madison also became aware that Leland and the people were growing hesitant of supporting him and the new Constitution.
Madison was a Federalist, and Henry was an Anti-Federalist. Henry was not in favor of Virginia’s secession from the Union, but he did believe that the proposed new Constitution for the United States based upon “we the people” would produce a “consolidated” government rather than a confederation, which could only be based upon “we the states.”
In a speech delivered June 5, 1788 in the Virginia ratifying convention, Patrick Henry asked, “Is this a Monarchy, like England—a compact between Prince and people?” He referenced the Bill of Rights of Virginia in his arguments and then noted various rights that would be lost under a “consolidated” or national government of “we the people.” The continual expansion of the national government seems to have vindicated his concern. Even though the Anti-Federalists lost, they did greatly influence the adoption of the “Bill of Rights” to the Constitution of the United States. Baptists played a significant role in that adoption.
Since Madison feared losing the support of Baptists, he arranged a meeting with Mr. Leland during which Madison promised Leland that he would include a definite declaration for religious liberty and conscience in the new Constitution, which would guarantee religious liberty to all Americans. Subsequently Mr. Leland publicly endorsed James Madison.
Madison informed Pastor George Eve that the Constitution needed to address particularly rights of conscience. On January 27, 1789, Pastor Eve defended Madison during a public meeting at his church Blue Run Baptist Church.
Then, on December 15, 1791, under the direct leadership of James Madison and in large part due to the extraordinary influence of John Leland and his Baptist supporters, the Bill of Rights was ratified. Thus Americans have known religious freedom that is unparalleled in human history or the current world milieu.
Much of our heritage of religious freedom is the result of God working in and through His people. Will our descendants say the same about us?
 This is chronicled in my book The Death of Man as Man: The Rise and Decline of Liberty (Bloomington, IN.: CrossBooks, 2011) and a sermon series entitled “Those Darn Baptists.”
 The Anti-Federalists: Selected Writings and Speeches, introduction by Bruce Frohnen (Washington, D.C., Regnery Publishing, Inc., 1999) 695-696.
 Anti-Federalists, 676.
 Anti-Federalists, 676-737.
 Interestingly, Baptists supported Madison’s attempt in Virginia to defeat a 1784 bill sponsored by Henry for a general religious assessment. “Madison and his allies passed in January 1786 Thomas Jefferson’s famous Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, which brought the debate in Virginia to a close by severing, once and for all, the links between government and religion.” http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/rel05.html accessed 12/17/12.
 I would include the profound influence of all of Anti-Federalists as well.
 The basis for this can be found in Richard Land’s book, The Divided States of America? What Liberals AND Conservatives are missing in the God-and-country shouting match! (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc. 2007) 119-124 and my book The Death of Man as Man, primarily pages 38-40.
Read more of Dr. White at www.randywhiteministries.org.
One of the most common questions asked among the faithful is the question of Old Testament salvation. The sheer volume of those asking this question is a testament to dispensationalism, that the logical mind recognizes a change in dispensations even without knowing the answers to the questions or the specifics to the changes. Theologians, however, often somewhat allergic to dispensationalism, quickly undo the clear change and then force-fit all of history and theology into one neat package called Covenant theology. But when we check the facts, do they align with the oft given answers?
The typical answer to the question about Old Testament salvation goes something like this: All people of all time have always and forever been saved in the same way, “by grace, through faith.” Then they “prove” their point using the proof-text of Genesis 15:6, “Then he (Abraham) believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Case closed. Next question?
The discerning mind will say, “Not so fast!” What did Abraham believe? What does it mean that “it was reckoned to him as righteousness?” Is this proof that Abraham and other Old Testament believers were saved by grace, through faith? Are you sure, as we are told, that those living before Christ simply looked forward and believe, while those since Christ look back and believe? While this answer sounds simple, perhaps it is simplistic.
First, in Genesis 15:6, Abraham is believing the Lord concerning His promise to make a great nation through him. Specifically, that Eliezer of Damascus, Abraham’s servant, would not be the heir, but rather, “one who will come forth from your own body” (Genesis 15:4). Abraham believed that God would give him a physical offspring and, through that boy, the nation would come. Abraham believed this promise, and it was counted to him as righteousness.
Abraham’s belief was in a baby, a land, and a nation. But is Genesis 15:6, quoted numerous times in the New Testament, used in such a way that one can trust these words as proof-text of Old Testament salvation by grace through faith? When studied, one will find that each New Testament quote of the Genesis verse simply proclaims that the Abrahamic promise was received by faith, and in the same manner, the salvation of our age is a gift of God’s grace, received in faith. Some will protest that Romans 4 declares that Abraham was justified by faith (quoting Genesis 15:6). However, James also quotes Genesis 15:6 and says that Abraham was justified “by works and not by faith alone.” Simply because the word “justified” is used is not evidence that salvation unto eternal life is the context.
I want to be careful that I do not use Genesis 15:6 as a proof-text and never really research the details. Too often, those of us who are believers are dismissive of hard questions, which make our faith vulnerable to twisting and perversion, and makes skeptics (who often ask good questions, penetrating questions) dismissive of our faith.
Problems come when you begin to find other passages of Scripture that clearly are talking about salvation, and they don’t seem to agree with the standard “Abraham believed, and that settles it” response. For example, Ephesians 2:11-12 says that gentiles were “having no hope and without God in the world” during the period of the Law. Do we really believe this? If so, how does it align with our easy faith answer? If we really believe Ephesians 2:11-12, then we would have to say that, outside the commonwealth of Israel and the covenants of promise, the faith of gentiles in the Old Testament meant nothing, did nothing, accomplished nothing. Unless a gentile of faith converted to Judaism and became a citizen of Israel and an adherent to Judaism, there was no hope. Only “now, in Christ Jesus” have we “been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13).
Furthermore, when we look at the people of the Old Testament in the dispensation of the Law, were they really saved simply by believing? If so, why the sacrifices? Were they all just symbolic? Was the blood on the doorpost at Passover symbolic? Would God have saved a believer who did not put the blood on the doorpost? Would a Jew who failed to participate in the Day of Atonement find atonement anyway, as long as that Jew had faith? I think we have a hard time proving that any pre-cross individual who simply believed that God would someday send a Savior would receive imputed righteousness and be saved.
The real problem, in my estimation, is that we are asking the wrong question. In fact, we are asking a question which the Bible doesn’t answer (because it doesn’t ask that question). While this article will not give the specifics, I believe that the Old Testament is about the restoration of creation, and man’s dominion over it. Creation would be brought back to man’s dominion (and thus its intended glory) through a man (Abraham) who would produce a nation (Israel) who would produce a King, Who would have dominion over all the earth. The Old Testament does not concern itself with matters of individual salvation. When one reads of salvation in the Old Testament, it is the salvation of the nation and the created order. There is very little about heaven and hell or a personal relationship with God in the Old Testament. It is not that those in the Old Testament did not believe in individual salvation or in the resurrection or in the afterlife, it is that the Old Testament is simply about another subject: the salvation of the created order. Only with the current dispensation of grace did the individual become the prominent theological concern, and only in this dispensation are we taught that we are personally saved, have a personal relationship with God through Christ, and will immediately be in Heaven when we die.
To ask questions about personal salvation in the Old Testament is intriguing, but beyond the scope of the text itself. While we could have interesting speculations about what constituted personal salvation, any of our answers would be speculation. And that which we don’t know, we should not answer with confidence!
Still Not Sure?
Before the age of Grace in which we live, there were plenty of people who lived by faith. Hebrews 11 gives a starter list for anyone wanting some further study. There are also plenty of people who were declared righteous in the Old Testament. For example:
Which of the above proof-texts shall we use to answer the question about Salvation before Christ?
Further, one could build a pretty strong argument that obedience to the Law was the way to salvation during the dispensation of the Law. Consider these verses:
Can we really be dismissive of all these scriptures by declaring that those of previous dispensations were saved the same way that those of this dispensation are saved? I simply do not think the answer is that easy. Further, I think that such an answer marginalizes the severity of physical obedience to the Law for those who lived under the Law. And, perhaps of even greater consequence, I think that such an answer confuses the divisions between dispensations for those of us living and studying the Word of God today.
If the test for salvation is always the same, then what is “rightly dividing the Word of truth” all about? I think it is this kind of sloppy division that has caused modern believers to partially release Old Testament Israelites from the Law and partially encumber New Testament believers with the Law. We have taken a middle-ground approach, which has caused the necessary re-interpretation of the non-middle-ground passages of Scripture. When you rightly divide the Word, you will see that it clearly states requirements for personal salvation in the dispensation in which we live. It also clearly states our freedom from the Law, under Christ. Let’s be satisfied with the answers the Bible gives, and know that only when we are no longer seeing through a glass dimly will we have full answer for all our questions.