7. The Root of the Tree.
We now turn to the second section of the subject of the early part of the Epistle to the Romans, namely, man's nature.
A man's conscience tells him that he does wrong, and is an inward voice speaking to him of right and wrong. Even the heathen have this candle within them, the glimmering light of which shines with varied clearness in every human breast. But conscience is not the standard of what is right and wrong. Now while conscience within discriminates between good and evil, and detects our works, conscience never discovers to man what his nature is. This the light of the word of God reveals. We learn what we are, what our nature is, in the invariable light of God's own truth.
If a man could possibly know what he is, in himself, in God's sight, without the knowledge of God's grace, his end would be utter despair, for “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5); while man by nature is “of the night and darkness.” (1 Thess. 5:5.) God cannot change; “I am the Lord: I change not.” (Mal. 3:6.) Man cannot change his nature; “can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots?” (Jer. 13:23.)
The gospel of God does not propose to develop man's nature, to reform it, or to cultivate it; on the contrary, God regards it as a worthless thing. The gardener does not cultivate the crab tree, but grafts a sweet apple upon it, and with his knife cuts down the stem of the old tree. God does not allow the old nature any place in His presence, but brings in Christ, the life, instead.
The result of cultivating our old nature is sorrow. Yet we find sometimes even aged believers attempting to bring a clean thing out of an unclean, endeavouring, after a long life of religious disappointment, to bring themselves into a fit state for God's presence, and, perhaps, looking to Christ, as to a means, for effecting their desires.
A little while ago, an inexperienced hand had trained a rose tree over a porch. The leaves of the tree were green, and the growth was strong, but not a flower was there. “Why is this?” inquired the master of a skilled gardener. The answer was given by an act, not by words, for, taking out his pruning knife, the gardener in one moment levelled the rampant growth to the ground. “What have you done?” cried the master. “Don't you see, sir,” was the reply, “your man has been cultivating the wrong shoot!” and, at the same time, the gardener pointed out the grafted rose, which had barely struggled two inches above the ground, and which the wild shoot had completely overwhelmed. In a few months, the graft, set free from the encumbering growth of the wrong shoot, sent out in vigorous life its beautiful branches, and covered the porch with its luxuriance; and there it lives, a parable of heavenly things.
Not all the cultivation or training in the world could have made that wrong shoot become a beautiful and flowering tree, neither will the efforts of a whole life succeed in making our “old man” like Christ, or fruitful towards God. God has condemned our nature in the cross of Christ: He has judicially cut it down; and no fruit fit for God shall grow upon it for ever. The practical word, then, to those christians who are seeking to produce out of self, fruit acceptable to God is, Do not cultivate the wrong shoot.
Alas! that so many boast of what man is in himself, and so few believe what God declares the nature of man to be. Some suppose that they see in the flickering light of conscience sparks of life left in man at the fall; some imagine that in the senses, whereby man has the power of enjoying the externals of religion, lies the germ of life; others argue that it is to be found in reason. God declares that not only are the fruits of the tree corrupt, but that the tree itself is evil.
The latter part of the 5th chapter of Romans treats of our nature, and from it we take five divine proofs of man's condition opposite to which we place five views of divine grace abounding towards man in his lost condition, “for where sin abounded grace did much more abound.” (Rom. 5:20.)
1. (Rom. 5:12.) Sin, and death by sin, brought into the world: By one man — Adam.
2. (Rom. 5:15.) Many being dead: or having died: Through the offence of one man — Adam.
3. (Rom. 5:18.) The old judicial standing before God — to condemnation: By the one offence of Adam.
4. (Rom. 5:19.) Many made sinners: By one man's — Adam's' disobedience.
5. (Rom. 5:21) The reign of sin unto death: Brought in through one man — Adam.
1A. (end of Rom. 5:15.) The grace of God brought to men: By one Man — Christ.
2A. (Rom. 5:15.) The free gift by grace abounding unto many: By one Man — Jesus Christ.
3A. (Rom. 5:18.) The new judicial standing before God — justification of life: By the one righteousness of Christ.
4A. (Rom. 5:19.) Many made righteous: By one Man's — Christ's — obedience.
5A. (Rom. 5:21) The reign of grace unto eternal life: Brought in through one Man — Christ Jesus.
We arrange these five views of God's grace in the three divisions of Grace, Righteousness, and Life, opposite to man's Ruin, Sinfulness, and Death.
First, then, there is the RUIN. The ruin of God's work when He made man upright.
1. Sin is brought into the world:
“By one man sin entered into the world.” Innocence existed in one man — Adam. God made Adam free from evil; without the knowledge of sin. This was the starting point of man's existence upon earth — a life in its moral characteristics totally distinct from our present life. But Adam preferring disobedience to obedience, and exercising his will, his nature became evil, and thereupon the character of the fountain of human life became changed. Innocence disappeared from the earth, and sin entered the world. This is the origin of our sinful nature which we received through our parents, and with which we were born. We trace the river from this present day to the past generation — we follow it back further and further till we reach its source — and we find that every age has produced a nature which is sinful.
The nature of man is, moreover, actively evil, and the activities of our nature are our own individual responsibilities. If a wicked father beget a wicked son, the wickedness of the son is his own wickedness and his own responsibility, and not that of his parent. The law of the land would not excuse a thief because his father and grandfather had been thieves before him, and neither does the divine law excuse us individually because of the sinful nature of the parent of our race.
Had any man been born innocent, and retained his innocency, from him a fresh stream of life should have flowed; but, “all have sinned.” This is the plain fact. It is unalterable. Neither does God Himself elect to change it; but in contrast to the dark reality of sin's entrance into the world there is GRACE.
1a. The grace of God is brought to men.
One man — Adam — by wilful transgression of God's command introduced sin and death into the world; by one Man — Jesus Christ — willingly, and in obedience to God's word, doing God's will, grace came to man.
Man failed in his state of innocence, and brought ruin upon the whole human race, thereupon God promised One by Whom man should be blessed, and Jesus, dying for sinners in the activity of divine love, brought grace to the ruined race, and brought it by accomplishing redemption. God's justifying grace flows to man from Christ, who died for the ungodly.
God does not repair the ruin, or rebuild what man has overthrown, but God brings grace to man in the ruin, and grace meets us just as we are, and just where we are. The grace of God brought to man in his present state by the one Man, Jesus Christ, is as distinct a reality as the ruin and the sin brought into the world in its first state by the one man — Adam. Sin entered the scene of innocence. Grace has entered the scene of ruin.
Not only has sin been brought into the world, but death also by sin, and thus
2. To man, as the offspring of Adam, is attached the penalty of death.
Through the offence of one many be dead,” or have died. (Rom. 5:15.) As a king, upon surrendering to the enemy, involves his kingdom by his act, and as, in his fall, his kingdom also falls, so the race of man suffers the penalty of its head — the many, the multitude of mankind has fallen with Adam under death's power.
“The wages of sin is death,” which solemn sentence Adam and myriads of men have proved in their own bodies. Death is the wages of sin, not the debt of nature. God did not make man in order to die, but by sin man forfeited his life, and now hath “death passed upon all men for all that have sinned,” and he who dies in his sins will be eternally banished from the presence of the holy God.
Thus, we have by Adam's act, innocence gone, continuous life upon this earth lost, and man sinning a few short years in a scene of suffering, and then leaving this earth altogether. No power in man to recover what is lost, no strength to lift himself out of his natural condition — Paradise behind, death before, and after death judgment.
Now, what is God's answer to this desolation? God looked from heaven upon man, and sent from heaven by the Person of His own Son the free gift. Nothing but a gift could avail for helpless man. Man had ruined himself and forfeited his life, and could not give God any single thing whatever. But, thanks be to God, in His love,
2a. The free gift by grace, by one Man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.
Divine grace, with its free gift, may, if God choose, enter the dark scene for purposes of blessing. And grace has entered. Christ has died; righteousness is accomplished. We fix our eyes upon the Christ of God. By Him comes to us, just as we are, the free gift in grace. There is, moreover, wondrous greatness in the way which this grace comes to us. It abounds to many! There are riches in God's grace which cannot be limited or exhausted. “Much more,” says the scripture, when viewing the extent of the ruin, “much more the grace of God and the gift by grace . . . hath abounded unto many.” And there are multitudes upon earth and myriads in heaven who have proved the aboundings of God's grace.
Now, how is this gift to be had? It is to be had upon only one principle. There are none other terms. It is to be had for nothing. It is to be received. The “free gift” is not to be won by works, or merited by anything which we can do or feel. It is sent to us by God through His Son, and faith rejoices to receive from God, and, those who do receive the free gift, are not occupied with what they have lost, but with what they have obtained.
Thus God does not recover man again to his primal innocence, or restore him to His presence by infusing a spirituality into him in his present sinful condition, but God bestows upon all who believe, by the one Man, Jesus Christ, a new thing — His free gift.
God's grace, then, is the contrast to man's ruin; and God in His grace does not amend man's ruined condition, but bestows a free gift upon man, and brings him into a new condition. The RIGHTEOUSNESS which God brings in is in contrast with the natural sinfulness of man. We must abide for ever in our natural condition if we are not justified according to the righteousness which subsists by the death of Christ. For man, being a sinner, occupies a judicial position before God, and
3. Man's judicial standing before God is that of being under judgment, and this results in condemnation.
“By the offence of one . . . upon all men to condemnation.” (Rom. 5:18.) By one false step, Adam fell from the heights of innocence, where God had placed him. We all received our life outside paradise, away from God. There is no ladder to reach the heights whence we fell, and even if we could regain those elevations we should carry ourselves with us. If we could get back to paradise, we should be ourselves still. If the paradise which Adam knew yet existed, and we could return there, we should enter it fallen creatures. As for entering heavenly glory, fallen as we are, it is out of the question; neither do any, save God's own people, so much as desire to enter the glory of God at all. In our natural standing the judgment of God is upon us, and that must result in condemnation: neither does God allow, that for man, as upon this standing, there is any cure whatever; on the contrary, God deals with us as those who occupy a position which results in condemnation, while in His grace, He brings in a
3a. New standing, which is that of justification of life.
This standing is beyond condemnation, and condemnation must be passed through in order that it may be reached in righteousness. And we have been judicially put aside in the cross of Christ, where God “condemned sin in the flesh.” The cross of the Son of God was God's declaration of man's condition. The cross was not a bettering of man's condition. The cross, in the Person of the Substitute, was the execution of the divine sentence against man as condemned. The black flag flying upon the walls of a prison is not a witness that there is still a period for the culprit's probation, neither is it a token of the culprit's reformation, but it is the voice of the law of the land declaring that the state of the prisoner is so utterly bad that death is his portion.
Now, how does God, in grace, bring us out of this terrible condition? How does God deal, in blessing, with the question of man's standing according to His own righteousness? He bestows upon man His free gift of righteousness — that is justification. Under judgment, as we are by nature, and guilty of many offences as we are personally, God sets us in a standing of judicial righteousness before Himself. By virtue of the death of Christ, God maintains His justice, and by grace justifies such as believe on Jesus. Ours is blessing upon the ground of righteousness.
Further, having condemned sin in the flesh by the cross of Christ, God introduces, those who believe, into a condition of life beyond condemnation. And this is termed justification of life. An accomplished righteousness has been effected by Christ's death. Those who believe are justified by God. But they are not only justified persons, they are brought into a new condition of life before God. They were alive in their sins, Christ by His death answered for them in righteousness, and now God has set them “in Christ,” who is alive from the dead.
The term “justification of life” is abstract, and not a little difficult to understand. When God speaks of our justification in relation to our sins, He tells us that we are justified by the blood of Christ. (Rom. 5:9.) When God speaks of our justification in relation to our standing before Him, He presents to us ourselves linked in life with Christ alive from the dead.
Every claim which divine righteousness had against us was answered by the cross, and being justified by God, we are freed from every claim according to the measure of His righteousness. Thus the believer's position before God is judicially according to God's own standard of righteousness, and he himself is “in Christ,” who dies no more.
Clearly, then, this state is not that of innocence regained, or of the fallen condition improved. There is no mingling of the two rivers. Each is absolutely distinct from the other. The one uprises from Adam, fallen from innocency and subject to death, the other flows from Christ, who has passed through death, and Who lives to die no more. Innocence was held upon the tenure of a frail man's obedience and was lost. Now the fallen condition of man has been judged by God, and set aside for ever. Justification of life is the believer's present standing, and it is his, because Christ, who was condemned in his stead, lives to die no more.
Let us note how God contrasts our old standing with the new into which His grace brings such as believe.
The judgment was of one to CONDEMNATION. By one offence unto all men to CONDEMNATION.
The act of favour of many offences unto JUSTIFICATION. By one righteousness unto all men to JUSTIFICATION or LIFE.
Not only is man's standing in fault, but his nature also is contrary to God.
4. We are by nature sinners:
By one man's disobedience mankind came to be sinners. Adam overstepped the boundary of obedience. He hearkened not to the direct command, and we, as his children, have his nature, and are sinners. It is as when a man is sold into slavery, not only has he become a slave, but the children he begets are also bondsmen, and grow up into slavery, with the thoughts and feelings natural to the slave. In spite of himself, he sins. He commits the crimes he resolved to shun. Whatever man may do he cannot change his nature. The brand, sinner, is upon his brow, as the spots are upon the leopard's skin. He can no more forsake being a sinner than a fish could become a bird, neither has he in him the instinct after divine liberty. An entire change must occur, a radical change the root is in fault, and cannot be transplanted into God's presence to blossom there. Now what God does is not to help man to become righteous in himself by works, nor to assist man to repair the old garment of unrighteousness by adding thereto a little of the new cloth of righteousness, but what God does is to bring in
4a. The new standing by grace — those who believe are constituted righteous:
“By the obedience of One shall many be made righteous.” The Lord was the obedient Man upon earth. From His cradle onwards His path was that of unwavering faithfulness. His ear was ever open to His Father's bidding; even from heaven itself we read of Him, “Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God.” Such was He. And as the one disobedient act of Adam made us sinners, so by the one obedience of the perfect Man — Jesus, in becoming “obedient to death, even the death of the cross,” God has made many righteous. The Lord's death, and His enduring divine judgment, results in those, who believe, being constituted righteous before God; “He hath made Him sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:21.) Thus the slave is not educated or clothed, but he ceases to be a slave. His old condition is gone; he is, in Christ, in a new state. In this — which is his entirely because of what Christ has done — God regards the believer with perfect satisfaction.
First, then, as we have seen, God brings in His grace to meet man in his ruin; next, God brings in righteousness for man in his sinfulness; now, we have the third thing, eternal life brought in for dying man. For nearly six thousand years upon this earth has been
5. The reign of sin unto death:
And death obtained its throne, and sin its rule over the world by Adam's one act. His disobedience was the key which opened the door to their entrance into the world. Sin reigns still, its kingdom is as wide as the world, and its end is death. But God has an answer even to this. He does not reform the old ruler, or alter the kingdom, but God brings in that which is altogether new, and that which is so noble, that the heart of the believer rejoices; God brings in
5a. The reign of grace through righteousness unto eternal life.
Grace, upon the ground of righteousness, brings in for the offspring of Adam, sinful and subject to death, new life, eternal life.
Grace reigns upon the principle of righteousness, through what God has done by the cross and resurrection of His Son. Righteousness has throned grace and given it its sceptre and sway. The very being of God is now glorified by the satisfaction made by Christ for sin, and consequently, without, in any degree, setting aside the eternal claims of His throne of justice, God's heart of love can go out in grace to the vilest of sinners and the most resolute of His foes. Whenever we speak of the grace of God to ruined man, we must remember that His grace is seen in the blood, the death, the empty grave of Jesus, in other words, the righteousness; and whenever we bring in the righteousness, there we have grace reigning unto eternal life.
Eternal life is God's answer to the graves and the death which surround us. Adam, the disobedient man, brought death into the world; Christ, the obedient Man, brought in eternal life. Through Him, and from Him, we obtain it, and in Him we have it. And this life is of such perfection that none who have it sigh for the innocence and the condition of things before the fall which Adam lost. It is greater than that which is lost, even as the Son of God, in His adorable Person, is above and beyond comparison with the head of our fallen race.
Once more let us trace these actings of God's grace to man. His gift in grace, His free gift of righteousness, His gift of eternal life, and each of those ours, who believe, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Man, alas, too frequently ignores his own ruin by seeking to raise himself to God, and thus despises the gift brought to him in grace; and by trying to work out a righteousness acceptable to God, he practically denies his own sinfulness, and so despises the free gift of righteousness brought to him in grace; and by saying he hopes to obtain eternal life in the future, he blinds his eyes to the gift of God through Jesus Christ our Lord, which is now, today, but never tomorrow, set before the sinner.
The glory of God, in these His gifts, shines in the words “Jesus Christ our Lord.”
“The gift in grace is by one Man, Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 5:15.)
“The free gift of righteousness . . . by One, Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 5:17.)
And “grace reigns through righteousness unto Eternal life by Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 5:21) May it, therefore, be ours to accept not only what God has said respecting the tree — human nature — that tree the root of which is ruin; the stem, sinfulness; the fruit, death; but also to accept God's thoughts of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, by Whom the priceless gifts of His grace are brought to us. Let us seek for nothing from the old tree of self, but let us make everything of the new tree. For Christ is our life, and through Him righteousness and free grace are ours.
God's way of meeting man's condition as that of a sinner departed from Him, and whose nature is actively evil, is this: —
CRUCIFIED WITH CHRIST. (Gal. 2:20; Rom. 6:6.)
DEAD WITH CHRIST. (Rom. 6:8; Col. 2:12.)
BURIED WITH CHRIST. (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12.)
And God introduces those who believe into a new state — He sets them in Christ” alive from the dead to die no more.