"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation, to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith." — Rom. 1:16, 17.
In the opening verses of the epistle to the saints at Rome, the gospel is spoken of as God's gospel — God's power unto salvation. It is that in which the righteousness of God is revealed. All is of God; and we are told what the gospel is about, what it reveals, what its power, and on whom its marvellous blessings are conferred. God is the source of all our blessings, and all is made ours on the principle of faith. We observe that Paul was an apostle by calling, and separated unto the work of the gospel by the sovereign acting of the Holy Ghost. He tells us he had received grace. Those, too, in Rome, to whom he wrote, were saints by calling, beloved of God, called of Jesus Christ. All these ways were entirely of grace, and completely opposed to the principle of law.
The real value and point of the glad tidings of God, however, can only be rightly estimated by the consideration of the alarming fact, stated in connection with these verses, that "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness" (v. 18), which shows that God's terrible judgment against all that is contrary to Himself is coming upon men from heaven. It is not a local or partial intervention of God's anger, but "against all ungodliness." Divine wrath then is coming, and happy are those who, like the Thessalonians, can say they are delivered from the wrath to come. But let us not fail to notice, that wrath is revealed from heaven, not only against all that is hostile to God, but against all those, who, while holding the letter of the truth, are practising unrighteous ways. In the days of our Lord, the Jews were the holders of the truth. All the truth of God known in the world was with them. The oracles of God had been committed unto them; but, alas! what grievous unrighteousness was among them, culminating in preferring a robber to Christ, and spitting upon and crucifying the Saviour whom God had sent. In our day Christendom holds the truth — professes to be for Christ in contradistinction to Mahometanism, Judaism, and idolatry; but the prophetic delineation of the last days is being rapidly fulfilled, that men would be "covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, . . . lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof." (2 Tim. 3:1-5.) What is this but holding the truth in unrighteousness? And on such may we not expect that the heaviest blow of the wrath of God will speedily fall? Are we not told concerning those who received not the love of the truth, that God will judicially send "men strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness"? (2 Thess. 2:11, 12.) However, the solemn and arousing fact remains unmistakably clear, that "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness." It is in connection with this alarming warning that the glad tidings of God are sent forth.
First, it is well to observe that the gospel is "the gospel of God" — God's message to man. It declares there is goodness in God's heart toward man. It is a ministry that makes no demands on man, but communicates glad tidings, which can make him happy (sinner though he be), and at rest in God's infinitely holy presence. In the gospel God speaks, and it becomes man to hearken. If a prophet in olden times said, "Hear and your soul shall live," the blessed Master was wont to say, "He that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life;" and an apostle could write, that "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." It is the goodness of God which leadeth to repentance. (Rom, 2:4.)
It was, then, "the gospel of God" that Paul preached and these glad tidings he was ready to minister in Rome by the will of God. It appears that up to that time no apostle had visited Rome. The gospel had effectually reached souls in that city by other instrumentality. Many there had evidently received it as the word of God, inasmuch as their faith was spoken of throughout the whole world. But there seems to have been something wanting in them, as to their grounding in "the righteousness of God" — the prominent subject of the epistle; so that Paul expressed himself as ready to preach to them at Rome as well as to others. He opens the epistle, therefore, with the foundation principles of the gospel; first of all asserting that it is "the gospel of God;" not like the law, which demanded righteousness and love from the creature, but God manifesting Himself in the activity of His own grace for man's eternal salvation and blessing.
Secondly, let us not fail to notice what the glad tidings of God are about. We are told they are "concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord." Whatever may be its effects, its source is from God, and the subject of it the Son of God — David's Son and David's Lord — who was raised from the dead. The gospel of God then sets before us the person and work of His Son, who was essentially and eternally Divine, and yet perfect Man; for only such a Saviour could meet our need, or answer the just claims of the Majesty on high.
To redeem us He must be a sinless, spotless, perfect Man; for, had there been the least flaw attachable to Him, He would have had to be judged for it, and therefore unfit to be a substitute for us. But, blessed be God, He was the "holy thing" as born of Mary; and after thirty years of trial and temptation in a path of sorrow and grief, the heavens opened over Him, and a voice from the excellent glory declared, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Beside this, because of His perfect spotlessness, the Holy Ghost came down and abode upon Him. This could not have been, had there been in Him the least taint of imperfection. When the Holy Ghost indwells a believer now, it is in virtue of his having received remission of sins through faith in the Lord Jesus; for the Holy Ghost could not take up His abode in anyone not cleansed from sin. The Holy Ghost then coming down and abiding on the Son of God, was another infallible proof of the perfect spotlessness of His person.
But while we needed a Saviour who was perfect Man, that He might, as our Substitute, bear our sins in His own body on the tree, and be made sin for us, it was also necessary that He should be a Person having such capacities and attributes, that He could bear God's eternal judgment of sin, and be able to satisfy all the demands of infinite holiness and righteousness. All this He could do because He was Son of God, and also Son of David — God and man — in His own spotless person. By His one offering on the cross then He discharged all the claims of divine righteousness as to our sin and guilt, and in it glorified God. The "gospel of God," therefore, must be concerning His Son our Lord Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David, according to the flesh, and raised up from among the dead.
Thirdly, in the gospel is revealed the righteousness of God on the principle of faith. "For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith" (or on the principle of faith unto faith); as it is written, "The just shall live by faith." (Rom. 1:17.) No doubt it was the gospel of the grace of God, of which Paul testified; but we are told that in it the righteousness of God is revealed. It is God's righteousness. We know that God, in His acting, cannot sacrifice righteousness to love, nor love to righteousness, but works all His counsels according to the unchanging character of His own nature. God must judge sin. He cannot do otherwise, for He "is righteous in all His ways." Jesus then magnified the law, and vindicated all the claims of justice. God condemned sin, and therefore He now justifies the ungodly who believe. Hence we read that "even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord." (Chap. 5:21.) In the gospel, then, it is not righteousness demanded from man, nor legal righteousness enforced, but God's righteousness revealed; not God requiring righteousness from man in the way of works for justification, but God bringing righteousness to man, suited to Himself, on the principle of faith. It is, then, not human righteousness, not the righteousness of the law, but "the righteousness of God" which the gospel reveals. It is righteousness wholly apart from law. It is a righteousness suited to God, and our faith is counted as righteousness. "But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe." (Chap. 3:21, 22.) Scripture then speaks clearly of another righteousness than the one connected with law, and also that the law and the prophets gave testimony to it. Hence we find in the ceremonial law, as it is called, the burnt-offering showed that the worshipper was accepted in its sweet savour — "It shall be accepted for him;" and the prophet Habakkuk, as we have quoted, declared that "the just shall live by his faith," showing that life and acceptance in another were contemplated by the law and the prophets, not on the principle of law-keeping, but on the principle of faith. David also, who lived under the law, wrote of "the blessedness of the man unto whom the Lord imputeth righteousness without works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered: blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin." (Rom. 4:6-8.) Again we find, some hundreds of years before the law was given, that Abram was accounted righteous on the principle of faith. We read that "he believed in Jehovah; and he counted it to him for righteousness." (Gen. 15:6.) Abel also, by his more excellent sacrifice obtained witness that he was righteous; and we find, that Noah became heir of the righteousness which is by faith. It is unquestionable then that a righteousness which was of God, and wholly apart from law, was reckoned to believers long before the law was given; that it was gloried in by the faithful who lived under the law; and that it is now revealed in the gospel, and is toward all and upon all them that "believe on Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from [among] the dead; who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification." (Rom. 4:23-25.)
Another point which Scripture brings before us, is God's righteousness in forgiving the sins of those who believed before the sacrifice of Christ. God, having now set forth Christ as a propitiation (mercy-seat) through faith in His blood, declares His righteousness in passing by the sins of Old Testament saints. His forbearance had been shown at the time, but now His righteousness in having done so is declared; for the atoning work of Christ, though then not accomplished, must have been always present to the eye of God. "Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time His righteousness: that He might be just, and the Justifier of him which believeth in Jesus." (Chap. 3:25, 26.)
And further, when Jesus was bearing our sins on the tree, we know that there was unsparingly poured out upon Him all that justice could inflict in the condemnation of sin; as He said, The Son of man must be lifted up. Yes, it must be, because the righteous claims of God demanded just punishment for our sins. On this account, He was numbered with the transgressors, and bare our sins in His own body on the tree. Hence He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities. He was oppressed, afflicted, stricken; above all, it pleased Jehovah to bruise Him, to put Him to grief, to forsake Him; so that He cried out, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" What all these atoning sufferings were, and the travail of soul that He passed through, no creature can comprehend, no tongue can tell. We know that His soul was made an offering for sin, and that "He poured out His soul unto death." Oh, the untold depths of agony and suffering which that blessed One so lovingly and willingly endured for us! Let us ponder what God has revealed of "the death of the cross" till our souls are melted, and peace fills every corner of our hearts! How loudly the atoning death of Jesus speaks to us of the righteousness of God! Though He was the righteous One, yet He endured all the righteous vengeance due to sin in His own self on the cross, and completely drained the cup of wrath, so that He could say, "It is finished." Thus in His death the wages of sin were fully dealt out, for He "died for our sins according to the Scriptures." He died unto sin once. All the demands of righteousness were fully met, and peace was made. There righteousness and peace kissed each other. How then was it possible that He should be holden of death? The debt having been justly cancelled, how could the prisoner be longer detained?
Again we see the righteousness of God in raising Him from among the dead. The Saviour having made a just atonement for our sins, having satisfied divine justice and glorified God, was it not a righteous thing that He should be raised from among the dead? Having brought eternal glory to God in the stupendous work of the cross, was it not a righteous thing that He should be exalted and glorified? Hence we hear Him saying, "Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in Him. If God be glorified in Him, God shall also glorify Him in Himself, and shall straightway glorify Him." (John 13:31, 32.) And again, "I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was." (John 17:4, 5.) This demand we know was granted, and we are sure that He was righteously entitled to be glorified as man. Hence we read elsewhere: He was "obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore, [that is, on account of His so glorifying God in His death on the cross,] God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven, and in earth, and under the earth and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Phil. 2:8-11.) Thus not only is the man Christ Jesus righteously raised from the dead, and exalted to the right hand. of God, having received a name that is above every name, (there being made Lord and Christ,) but He is righteously entitled to Lordship over heavenly, earthly, and infernal beings — universal dominion, not only by reason of His personal glory as the Son, but because of the infinite worth of the work of the cross. Hence, when He takes unto Himself His great power and reigns, He will do so as righteously entitled to it in virtue of His obedience unto death, even the death of the cross. He will then judge both the living and the dead, and put all enemies under His feet for to this end Christ hath died and risen again, that He might rule over both dead and living.
But more than this. It is because, in marvellous grace, Christ died for our sins under the righteous judgment of God that we have remission — that God can and does in righteousness forgive us. "He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins;" for we have forgiveness through the blood. How could God in righteousness condemn our sins in the person of His own Son, and afterwards condemn them on us? Impossible the idea would accuse God of injustice. But, blessed be His name, in virtue of the atoning work He justifies us — "Being now justified by His blood." Is it not due to Christ, just to Him, whose blood was shed for many for the remission of sins, that God should forgive us, and manifest the full outflow of His love in justifying the believer from all things? This we know, He does. Oh, how forcible and assuring are the words, "It is God that justifieth!" Instead of God condemning us, He now justifies us, and declares that He is "just, and the Justifier of him which believeth in Jesus." Precious words of comfort! Thus we see that the gospel reveals "the righteousness of God" in justifying us, who believe in Him, as due to Christ, "who was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification."
And yet further, He, who knew no sin, was made sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him — Christ Himself our righteousness. When the father fell upon the neck of the repentant prodigal, and imprinted on his cheek the kiss of love, he said to his servants, "Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him." It was the best robe. There could be nothing superior to it. It was the highest possible character of fitness for the father's presence. But the illustration fails to convey the full blessedness of the righteousness, which every believer now is in Christ, for He is not only graced for the Father's presence, but has acceptance in another the Beloved — so that we are become "the righteousness of God in Him." It is due to Christ, in virtue of His God-glorifying work of obedience, that those for whom He suffered should be accounted righteous in Him — "the Lord our righteousness" according to the eternal purpose. God in His grace has therefore made Him to be unto us "righteousness," and this on the principle of faith. How could Christ see "of the travail of His soul and be satisfied," if this were not so, if we were not with Him in glory? Besides, His work was not only for the glory of God, but for us. He "once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God." We are not then ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish our own righteousness, but have gladly submitted ourselves unto the righteousness of God. Having found all our righteousnesses as filthy rags, and all hope of righteousness by law-keeping having come to an end, we are rejoiced to find that "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth." (Chap. 10:4.) There is no solid peace in souls until they see the justice or righteousness of God in giving remission of sins through His blood, and counting them righteous in Christ. How blessedly the gospel reveals the righteousness of God
"The righteousness of God" thus revealed in the gospel is presented in contrast with "the righteousness of the law," and, as we have said, is entirely apart from it. It flows to us from the sovereign grace of God through the accomplished work of His Son, and is upon all them that believe. How sweet it is to know that Christ glorified is our righteousness, that through matchless grace we are become the righteousness of God in Him. Christ then is our subsisting righteousness in God's presence. The ever-present witness there, not only that all our sins have been righteously atoned for, but that He is of God made unto us righteousness. What rest of heart this gives I What boldness too in the day of judgment, because as He is, so are we in this world! Who can condemn whom God justifies? How these truths melt our hearts, and draw us out in worship and thanksgiving! What comfort too they give in darkest circumstances! It is no marvel that so many have found the true expression of their souls in such lines as these:
"Without one thought that's good to plead,
Oh, what could shield me from despair
But this: 'Though I am vile indeed,
The Lord my righteousness is there'?"
Fourthly, the gospel is God's power unto salvation. (v. 16.) We say, with reverence, that in no other way could God's power be put forth to save sinners; for apart from the accomplished work of the person of the Son, He can only judge sinners, and must be against sinners; but in the death and blood-shedding of Jesus, God shows that He hates sin, but loves sinners, and is able to save the worst of sinners. The apostle Paul therefore gloried in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, and was not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes. It brings salvation to Jew and Gentile on the principle of faith, though in point of order it was preached to the Jew first.
Observe then that the gospel is preached for salvation, not to improve man in the flesh, but to save him; not to help the efforts of nature religiously, but to bring him to God; for the obedience of faith, not of all nations, but among all nations. It is not therefore preached to better the world, nor to convert the world, but it is the power of God unto salvation to individuals, "to every one that believeth." Now the power of God unto salvation is very specific in its meaning — a large expression; for while the freeness of the grace of God is shown in its blessing to every one that believes, fulness is set forth in not stopping short, in its blessing, of planting the saved one bodily in the presence of God in heavenly glory. We know that we are "called unto His eternal glory by Christ Jesus," and that He "suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God." (1 Peter 5:10; 1 Peter 3:18.) Not but that it is quite correct now to speak of believers as "saved," for we have the salvation of our souls now by faith, as Scripture says, "Receiving the end of your faith, the salvation of your souls." But we wait for salvation in its full sense, "The redemption of our body," "the salvation ready to be revealed in the last time," when, in spiritual bodies, suited to heavenly and eternal glory, and conformed to the image of the Son, we shall be in full possession and enjoyment of this great salvation.
The gospel then is the power of God unto salvation, because in the cross of Christ the foundation was laid in righteousness for its accomplishment, according to the eternal purpose and grace of God, to give life and righteousness in Christ Jesus to every one that believeth. We have, therefore, by the power of God in the gospel, deliverance from the wrath to come, remission of sins, present possession of eternal life, justification by the blood of Christ, peace with God, sonship, the gift of the Holy Ghost, hope of glory, and much more. As the Father has made us fit for sharing the portion of the saints in light, we wait for God's Son from heaven; for then we shall know the full power of God to us in this great salvation. Our hope then is glory. We do not hope for righteousness, for, as we have seen, the gospel reveals that Christ is our righteousness; but we hope for that, to which righteousness established in the accomplished work of Jesus entitles us, even glory. "We through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith." (Gal. 5:5.) We look for the Saviour who shall change this body of humiliation, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working, whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself. (Phil. 3:20, 21.) Then "salvation" will be fully consummated; and in this sense we can say, "Now is our salvation nearer [not surer] than when we believed;" because, as time rolls on, it hastens the blissful period of our Lord's return. It will not then be only salvation from the guilt and dominion of sin, the salvation of the soul, and deliverance from the wrath to come; but salvation from this old creation and its belongings, from a body of frailty and infirmity, for we shall be changed in a moment, and bodily translated into the presence of God and the Lamb for ever. Then, in uncreated light, we shall see His face; then we shall realise fully what we now apprehend so feebly, and sound forth so faintly, that the gospel "is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth."
"My hope is built on nothing less
Than Christ the Lord my righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame;
But wholly lean on Jesus' name;
On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand."