That man is under the dominion of sin requires no proving where the conscience is inactivity, and that death lies upon every one as the judgment of God is also plain enough to any thoughtful mind. Sin and death prevail in this world. Every man by nature serves sin, and is under death on this account. No one alive today is responsible for its introduction. We found it reigning here, having every child of Adam as its bondslave, and we willingly subjected ourselves to its domination. It came in by Adam. He was not its author, the devil was, but he opened the door to it, fell under its power, and it reigns in this world over all his posterity. Righteousness and life may be sought after, but where are they to be found? Sin and death are everywhere around us, righteousness nowhere in this world. Men feel they need it, but have it not, would desire to enter into life, but death lies upon them. Most people try to flatter themselves that there is not much amiss, that in the main they are all that can be desired; but this comes from comparing themselves with others who are more openly wicked, not from seeing themselves in the light of a perfect standard. Besides, death advances upon them utterly regardless of their pretension, and they are made to feel that their fancied goodness is not sufficient to keep alive their own souls.
Were a man righteous, death would have no power over him. If a man could justify himself by his works he would place himself beyond the reach of death, for it lies only upon man on account of sin; it has no reference to the righteous. Death is the portion of all, but that is because all are sinners. I am told that death is the natural end of all, but who says so? What is the testimony to this? Does death itself affirm this to be true? Does it come as a welcome angel of light, announcing the goodness of God to His creature? Does it speak of His good pleasure in the man to whom it approaches? And does it indicate to him the approval of his Maker? Is it a welcome visitor in the household where it enters? and does it fill every heart with gladness in the circle from which it selects its victim? If it be the tender consideration of the Creator for His creature, the gracious manner in which He removes the humble but worthy mortal to glory and immortality, why this shrinking from its presence on the part of the fortunate subject of such favour? and why is the passage hence accompanied with such indescribable terror? That it is an indication of God’s approval of His creature may do to tell men on the race course, in the ball room, or in the theatre, but it avails nothing to a man when he is told to get into his bed and die.
Death lies upon man on account of sin. He needs righteousness. Where is it to be found? In vain I look for it in myself, my neighbour, or in the world. I hearken to the glad tidings. The testimony of God directs me to Christ. Sin came in by Adam, righteousness has come in by Christ. He died for our sins, was buried, and rose again. He is preached as righteousness for all. Forgiveness of sins is declared to every creature in His name, and in Him all who believe are justified. He is become unto the believer righteousness. Jesus Christ the righteous is the believer’s justification in the presence of God.
But life is also in Him. Sin and death go together, so do righteousness and life. This was declared under law—“This do and thou shalt live”; and “the soul that sinneth it shall die.” Righteousness is found nowhere but in Christ, and neither is life anywhere but in Christ. But in Him righteousness and life, are both available for man. He bore the judgment that lay upon man, in order that He might be able to take up the place of last Adam in relation to all men, that anyone who submitted to Him might find Him to be both righteousness and life. And He is both to the believer.
But the question has been raised that if righteousness and life have come in for man in Christ, and if both are the believer’s portion, how comes it that. He is still, and as much as others, subject to the consequences of sin, and whatever may be his state beyond the grave, as a matter of fact he dies like the rest of men? The answer is easily given. It is plain that if I am in my Adam condition an utter ruin and displeasing to God, and if I am to be recovered in Christ, who is a Man after a heavenly, order, all that is of the old earthly order in me must be brought to an end and I must take character from the last Adam, the One in whom I am recovered for God.
It would be a great mistake to suppose that the death of Christ was for the purpose of reinstating the man after the flesh. He died for us, but not that we might be relieved from death, and live forever in the condition in which He found us. Illustrations of the gospel taken from things which transpire in the world do not always convey the truth. If death lay upon me, and if a friend were accepted as my substitute, I would go altogether free in the condition in which I was while the penalty of my offence lay upon me. But Christ was not my substitute in that sense. I am a debtor, and cannot pay; a friend steps in and pays for me, and I owe nothing to my creditor. He does not forgive me. The debt has been paid. This one can see at a glance will not do to illustrate the grace of God. When my substitute dies for me, I am free; I do not need him in resurrection. And if my friend pays my debt, I don’t need forgiveness from my creditor; but I need Christ risen, for not His death but Himself is my justification. His death made my salvation a possibility. It is the basis of everything, but I am saved in the power of His life, He died for me that He might take me out of death, and this was not at all possible while death as the judgment of God lay upon me. The death of Christ enabled Him to take the place of last Adam to the whole human race, and made the gift of the Spirit possible, that man might live in the life of Christ, and that all that he was in Adam might be brought to an end, first, morally, by Christ being formed in him, and, second, actually, by the quickening of his mortal body.
I trust this is plain to the reader. The death of Christ does not in itself justify me, I am justified in the power of it. It is, as I have said before, the groundwork of everything, and a revelation of the mighty love of God. But Christ in resurrection is my righteousness. I am justified In Him. His resurrection has been said to be the receipt that the debt is paid. I do not think so. I think we had better hold to scripture. He is our justification. It has been presented as if the death of Christ compelled God to justify us, and that in the day of judgment the believer could tell God that as Christ had borne his sins, in righteousness he was bound to go free. But if this were so, God could judge no one in the world, for Christ died for all. That God cannot judge me because Christ died for me will not do for an exercised soul. He is our justification, and takes us out of death by communicating to us the Spirit, who is life in us.
But let me come to righteousness and life in the believer. The fact of Christ being our righteousness does not in itself make me practically righteous; and yet it cannot be doubted that it is not His mind that I should remain a sinner, and the fact that life is in Him for all does not in itself say that I have passed out of death into life. Both these things are effected in us by the Spirit, which He has given us. His desire is that we should practise righteousness, and live to God.
In Romans 6 the way of righteousness is set before us, and in Romans 8, the way of life, but both are very closely bound together. When we were sinners Christ died for us, and was raised again as our justification, and in Him risen from the dead we found righteousness before we had done one act of righteousness ourselves. But the mind of God for us was that we should be set free from the service of sin. Now sin reigns over every man who is alive in the world, that is to say, who lives in the natural life of flesh. There is no way of getting free from the bondage of sin except by death. Now there are two things in the sixth chapter I want my reader to consider. Our old man is said to have been crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth, we should not serve sin; and we are buried with Him by baptism unto death. This gives us the position we are to take up with regard to sin. The death of Christ has been the end of all that we were as in Adam in the judgment of God, and we have been placed upon the ground of death in baptism. I am entitled to take this ground, because our old man has been crucified with Him, and because I have been buried with Him in baptism, and I am enabled to take it, because I am empowered by the Spirit. Christ is the example, “In that He died, He died to sin once, and in that He liveth, He liveth unto God.” And now I am to reckon myself dead to sin and alive to God in Him. I am discharged from sin by death as a slave is discharged from his master’s service when he dies. I was slave to sin, but I take up the ground of dead to it and am discharged from its service. It is the ground God gives me, because baptism was not my act. No one but God could give me title to take up such a position as dead to sin. I never ought to serve it, but dead to it is another matter. He that is dead is freed from sin. I am to reckon myself as to sin—dead as to God—alive in Christ.
Therefore, sin is not to reign in my mortal body. My members are not to be servants of sin, but of righteousness. I am to yield myself to God, as alive from the dead, and thus to walk in newness of life. In this way we are to become servants to God, have our fruit to holiness, and the end everlasting life.
In chapter 8 it is life which is in view, and sin is looked at, not so much as a master to whom we were bondslaves, as a principle in the flesh, inherent in our very nature. It is not only that it reigns over men, but it is in the flesh, a law in the members, from which deliverance is necessary. To this end God sent His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and in His cross condemned sin in the flesh, condemned the whole condition of man in which sin had its seat. On this ground we have received the Spirit, who is in us a well of water springing up unto everlasting life. In the Spirit we have a new fountain of life. The spring of our activities is not to be in the flesh but in the Spirit. The apostle says, “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.” Life is in Christ. He gives us the Spirit that we might live by Him. I believe the way it works is this: the Spirit sheds abroad the love of God in our heart, so that divine affections are begotten in us, we love God, and we love His people. We have new objects before our hearts, a new world opens up to our souls, and the things presented to me by the Spirit are more attractive to us than the things which appeal to the natural mind. We are empowered by the Spirit who forms us after Christ, to pursue these things. In this way we are “after the Spirit,” and mind the things of the Spirit, while those who are “after the flesh” mind the things of the flesh. It is all death for the latter, but life and peace for the former. We are in the Spirit, not in the flesh, and Christ is in us by the Spirit, and the body is not actuated by its own will (on that principle it is dead on account of sin) but the Spirit is life on account of righteousness; and by the same Spirit who dwells in us, He who raised up Jesus from the dead will quicken our mortal bodies at Christ’s coming. In the meantime, by His power, we put to death the deed of the body, and live. He is also the Spirit of sonship in us, by which we cry, “Abba Father!” and He witnesses with our spirits that we are the children of God, and assures us that if children then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, and that if we suffer with Him we shall be glorified together.
Let me recapitulate what we have had before us. Sin and death came in by Adam. Every man becomes servant to sin, and lies under death. Righteousness and life came in by the last Adam who bore the judgment which lay upon us. He is declared in the glad tidings as a shelter, a covering, righteousness for all. He is upon the believer. In Him the believer has found righteousness. Life is also in Him for all. The last Adam is a life-giving Spirit. He also enables us to practise righteousness, and to live He leads us in the paths of righteousness—dead to gin, and alive to God. In the Spirit we have a new fountain of life, so that we might be able to mortify the deeds of the body, and live. The old fountain, the flesh, sent forth bitter water—death. The new fountain springs up to everlasting life.
May we know what it is to have Christ as righteousness and life; and not only this, but may we also know something of the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God; and may we live to Him who died for us and rose again.