6. The Fruit of the Tree.
No right estimate can be formed of what sin is in God's sight, until the gospel itself be known: hence our chapters upon God's grace towards us, precede this and the following chapter upon the fruit and root of the tree, human nature.
True, the Holy Spirit makes us to feel our need of Christ before showing to us who Christ is, and what He has done for us, yet as a matter of fact, we learn more about what we are, after having the knowledge of Christ, than during our anxiety to be assured of salvation; and the farther advanced we are in the knowledge of grace the more fit are we to read self in the light of divine holiness.
In the grand gospel epistle — that to the Romans — God first shows what man is by the evidence of his acts, and next by the setting out of what he is by nature. Romans 1, verses 1-15, are the introduction to what maybe called the divine gospel sermon, the text of which
THE GOSPEL OF GOD
is found in verses 16-18. This sermon has, so far as it relates to fallen man, two great parts — one discovering what the fruit of the tree is; the other, what the tree itself is. And God in His abounding grace first reveals His remedy for the corrupt fruit, and next His provision for the state of the root. In other words, the gospel of God first meets the guilt of man; next, the nature of man.
Looking at and judging the tree by its fruits, God from verse 19 of chapter 1 to verse 20 of chapter 3 — divides the world into three parts, and surveys man in each. The field of the world is mapped out into three portions, and the crops borne by each are judged by God.
We have — first, the uncultivated portion (Rom. 1:19-32); second, the portion tended by the hand of philosophy (Rom. 2:1-11) third, that favoured part which was ploughed by the law and watered by the prophets. (Rom. 2:12 — 3:20.)
Before the cross of Christ a large part of the world was allowed to grow on without any restraint. A section of it, however, had human hands to tend it; it was sown with philosophy and reason. But a part of the world had been under the direct care of God, whose watchful energy over His nation we well know. When Christ died the period of human cultivation ended, and in our epistle the fruits are brought in and examined.
Man's estimate of the field!
Let us inquire what was man's idea of the fruits of the field. The philosopher, walled around with reason and human wisdom, gloried in his powers of mind, but, while judging the vile weeds and evil growth in the barbarians around him, he acted as vilely as they. The Jew — the religious man, who had been fenced in by Jehovah — boasted in the fence, boasted in the possession of the letter of the law, and of having the oracles of God committed to his custody, yet brought forth fruits as worthless as the rest. Then, as now, man was very well satisfied with himself.
But what was God's estimate of the field?
Of the wild part, we read “As they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind” — “they are without excuse.” (Rom. 1:28, 20.) Of that which man's philosophy had cultivated, God says, Thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?” (Rom. 2:3.) Of the religious, the Jewish part, the record is, “They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” (Rom. 3:12.) And the condition of the whole world is summed up with these solemn and terrible words
“GUILTY BEFORE GOD,” (Rom. 3:19.)
Wherever God looked at man's works He found them utterly bad — the fruits of the tree were hopelessly evil.
Jew or Gentile, philosopher or simple, none were righteous, none understood, none sought after God. Man's throat was an open sepulchre; his tongue the instrument of deceit; under his lips was poison; his mouth was filled with cursing and bitterness; his feet were swift to shed blood; his ways were destruction and misery; the way of peace he knew not and no fear of God was before his eyes.
Such is God's photograph of man!
Yes, in such terrible language the God of Light and Truth photographs His guilty creature man. This was the end of the choicest religious and mental cultivation. This was the fruit borne after four thousand years of testing. Reader, do you believe God? Do you bow to this view of yourself as a human being? Do you practically confess that eighteen hundred years ago God declared man to be utterly evil?
Faith refuses to excuse self, owning before God, man's hopeless guilt, and learns, by grace, the way of peace. Unbelief, on the contrary, attempts to improve self, persists in seeking to cultivate the tree, and then proceeds wilfully and deliberately upon the way of destruction.
No difference existing:
The grace of God meets us just as and where we are, and meets all men alike, whether Jew or Gentile, philosopher or simple. The whole race of man is guilty before God; “there is no difference; for all have sinned” (Rom. 3:22, 23): the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ is “unto all; and upon all them that believe; for there is no difference.” All are alike in the ruin — all are alike the objects of the remedy.
The righteous record of God concerning man: “GUILTY BEFORE GOD.” (Rom. 3:19.)
The declaration of God respecting man's powerlessness in his lost state: “BY THE DEEDS OF THE LAW THERE SHALL NO FLESH BE JUSTIFIED IN HIS SIGHT.”(Rom. 3:20.)
The righteous remedy of God for man: THE BLOOD OF HIS SON. (Rom. 3:25.)
The declaration of God respecting His grace for man in his lost state: “JUSTIFIED FREELY BY HIS GRACE THROUGH THE REDEMPTION THAT IS IN CHRIST JESUS.” (Rom. 3:24.)
Thus righteousness condemns, and on the ground of righteousness God justifies.
Righteousness is the ground whereon grace is built.
God forgives in righteousness; God justifies in righteousness; God's gospel reveals His righteousness.
Our guilt calls for righteous judgment; the blood of God's Son is the righteous answer for our guilt. When Jesus took the sinner's place upon the cross, God in righteousness hid His face from Him. When the Lord had finished the work, God in righteousness raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in glory. And now God holds forth to the eye of faith His own Son a propitiation through faith in His blood to declare His righteousness . . . that He might be just and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus. (Rom. 3:25, 26.)
Upon whom is the righteousness of God?
Mark well, if judged according to divine righteousness, the most moral, the most religious of men, will be levelled down to hell along with the vilest, “for there is no difference” — degrees of distance from God are not to be brought into the question. Since, then, none can merit divine favour, grace flows freely to all. The satisfaction rendered by Christ to divine righteousness is perfect. God Himself is the source of His gospel, His Son the essence of it, the cross the channel for it to reach us. The righteousness of God is “unto all,” it is towards all men; but it is also as circumscribed as the number of those hearts which delight in it, for it is only “upon all them that believe.” Man in himself is thus completely set aside as a fruit-bearer, treated as helpless and utterly bad, but God, in Christ, has wrought out a righteousness for man, and “whosoever” believes receives the blessing. “It is of faith that it might be by grace.” The blood of Jesus has perfectly answered to the righteous God for the sins of all who believe. By that blood, God in His grace counts such as believe to be righteous. God justifies such through the blood of His Son.