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The force of this is found in the fact that the Christian life, which is the result of faith, is progressive. The Christian life is a continual growth. Peter says: "Beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." 2 Peter 3:17, 18. The only way to keep from falling from that which we have, is to grow. David says of the righteous man that "he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water." Psalms 1:3. This means continual growth.
We read of the path of the just, that it "shall be as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day." Proverbs 4:18. But "the just shall live by faith;" therefore it must be that their faith increases.
Again: Paul says to the Corinthians, "Now He that ministereth seed to the sower both minister bread for your food, and multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness." 2 Corinthians 9:10. To the Thessalonians he wrote, "And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men." 1 Thessalonians 3:12. And again he said, "But we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more." 1 Thessalonians 4:10. But faith works by love (Galatians 5:6); that is, love is the outgrowth of true faith; therefore increasing love must be the result of increasing faith.
To the Hebrews the apostle wrote: "Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection." Hebrews 6:1. And in the epistle to the Philippians Paul said: "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which I also am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended; but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:12-14. Here is set forth a continual reaching out for some higher attainment. The calling of God in Christ Jesus is a calling to holy or righteous living, for we read, "But like as He which called you is holy, be ye yourselves also holy in all manner of living; because as it is written, Ye shall be holy; for I am holy." 1 Peter 1:15, 16. Revised Version
This righteousness to which we are called, and for higher attainments in which we must constantly press, is obtained only by faith, as Paul expresses his desire to be found in Christ, not having his own righteousness, "but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith." Philippians 3:9. Therefore, since righteousness comes only by faith, and it must increase, it follows that faith must also increase. So it was not a vain prayer which the disciples uttered when they said, "Lord, increase our faith." Luke 17:5.
That faith is susceptible of growth is plainly declared by the Scriptures. Paul had hope that when the faith of the Corinthian brethren was increased, he should be helped by them to preach the gospel in the regions beyond them. 2 Corinthians 10:15, 16. To the Thessalonians he wrote that he prayed exceedingly night and day, that he might see them, and might perfect that which was lacking in their faith. 1 Thessalonians 3:10. And still later he wrote, "We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth." 2 Thessalonians 1:3.
This last text contains the whole of the argument that we have made. Their faith grew, and as a consequence their charity abounded. Charity, or love, is the fulfilling of the law. Romans 13:10; 1 John 5:3. It is the manifestation of the righteousness of God, and is a result of true faith, for faith works by love, and the only righteousness which will be accepted when the Lord comes is that which is by the faith of Christ, "the righteousness which is of God by faith." Such being the teaching of Scripture, there is no reason why we should not understand Romans 1:17 just as it reads. The righteousness of God is revealed, or manifested, from faith to faith.
One or two notable instances recorded in Scripture will illustrate this. The apostle records that "by faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace." Hebrews 11:31. This case has been a cause of stumbling to some who have not given careful thought to it. It is well known that Rahab lied to the men sent by the king of Jericho to seize the spies (see Joshua 2:2-6), and they imagine that in saving her God placed a premium on lying, and that it is right sometimes to lie. Neither is true. Rahab was saved, not because of her lie, but because of her faith. She, in common with all the people of Jericho, had heard how the Lord dried up the waters of the Red Sea and how He had led the Israelites; but she alone, of all the inhabitants of Jericho, believed that the hand of the Lord was in the matter, and that He had given the land of Canaan to the Israelites. She had simple faith, but was totally ignorant of God's law. In the code of the heathen morality, lying was accounted a virtue, and she knew nothing better. But her faith made it possible for her to be saved, and brought her into a place where she could learn righteousness. As a natural consequence her faith in God would increase when she learned more of Him. In her case we have a clear instance of the revelation of the righteousness of God from faith to faith.
The same thing is true of Cornelius. He feared God with all his house, and gave much alms, and "prayed to God alway." As a consequence, an angel was sent to him, directing him to send for Peter, who should tell him what he ought to do.
The sum of the whole thing is that it is faith that brings God near to us. If we first believe that He is, He will reveal Himself to us more fully. If we rejoice in that light and walk in it, our faith will be increased, and that will bring more light. As with Rahab, so with all. God does not grant us a blessing because we are righteous, but in order that we may become righteous. When our faith brings us to Christ, it is that we may learn of Him. To our faith, we add virtue and knowledge. But as faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God, it follows that the more we really know — accept — of the Word of God, the greater will be our faith. And so, increasing daily in faith, the just go on from strength to strength, until the dawning of the perfect day ushers them into the immediate presence of God.
From the book: “Living by Faith” The Bible Student’s Library, no. 75, Dec. 1, 1890, By E. J. Waggoner, Chapter: LIVING BY FAITH, in the Chapter: “Christian Growth”, p. 10-11.
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