Romans 1 3.
It is blessed to see in the Scriptures, how God first shows us what we are in all our badness, and then what He is in all His goodness towards us. "God is Light," and "God is Love." (1 John 1:5; 1 John 4: 8.) The "light" shows us all that we are by nature, as guilty, lost, and ruined sinners; and then we see the "love" of God that, when He knew how bad we were, gave His own Son to save us. We find this beautifully brought out in the first eight chapters of the epistle to the Romans.
In Romans 1 to verse 20 of chapter 3, we find the "light" showing us the sad history of what man is, and what we all are by nature in the sight of God; and in Romans 5:8, we see God commending His "love," and giving Christ to die for us, when we were yet sinners.
Let us look at it a little as the Lord may enable us; and I would ask you, dear reader, to get your Bible and look at the passages yourself, as it is so important for us to get the truth from the Word itself; and thus we get a knowledge of the Scriptures, and are able to help others. Let us turn to chapter 1. The apostle, after saluting the Christians at Rome in the usual way, in the 7th verse, etc., says, in verse 16, that he is not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is God's power to salvation to every one that believeth; and in verse 17, we have in a few words the truth brought out in the epistle, that man, having been proved to have no righteousness of his own, God in the gospel reveals His righteousness; that is, a righteousness outside man altogether. How beautiful this is, that God should say to us, "I am not going to require righteousness from you, because you have none, but I can now justify the believer on the ground of the death of Christ!" and this is what is revealed in. the gospel.
How do we have part in God's righteousness? By works? No; by faith, or on the principle of faith. And who gets the benefit of it? Those who have faith; i.e. those who believe. That is what is meant by the expression "from faith to faith," or, as it might be explained, "on the principle of faith to faith;" that is to say, that God's righteousness is revealed, not on the principle of works, but on the principle of faith, or "from faith;" and it is revealed "to faith;" that is to say, to those who believe. But if the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel, God's wrath is also revealed against all unrighteousness and ungodliness of men (v. 18), whether of Jews, or of Gentiles; and this unrighteousness and ungodliness is fully brought out by the Spirit of God from Romans 1:19 to 3:20. This is the part, as we have remarked, where God's "light" comes in and shows all that we are by nature; just as when you bring a light into a dark room, full of all manner of filth and corruption; when it is all dark you see nothing of what is inside, but when the light is brought in, it shows all the filth and dirt that are there. From verse 19 to the end of chapter 1 we find the dreadful state of the heathen described; showing that they ought to have known God's eternal power and Godhead by the things that He created. Thus if a savage saw the sun, he must know that the sun did not make itself, but that there must be a God who created it; and if he worshipped it instead of its Creator, he would be without excuse; for "the heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth His handiwork. . . . There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard." (Ps. 19:1-3.) Then again, verses 21-25, "when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, . . . and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever." Then God gives them up, and they become utterly reprobate. Verses 29 to 32 give us in a few words the terrible state of the heathen without God. They gave God up, and God gave them up, even to dishonour their own bodies; and they are left without excuse. (v. 20.) These verses answer the question so often put, On what ground does God deal with the heathen?
Romans 2:1-16 takes up another class; some who, like the philosophers of old, condemned the evil practices of the heathen then but were as bad themselves. And would "they who judged them that did such things escape the judgment of God"? (v. 3.) No; for He "will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory, honour, immortality" (incorruptibility is the right word, same as in 1 Cor. 15:42, 54), He will give "eternal life;" but "indignation and wrath upon every soul of man that doeth evil," and "glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good." (vv. 8-10.) These are general principles. It does not enter upon the question as to how a person can "work good," or can "patiently continue in well doing;" but we know now by the Scriptures, that a man, in order to "work good," must be born again; for "there is none that doeth good; no, not one." (Rom. 3:12.)
Verses 17 to end, take up the question of the Jews. A Jew would say, "But I am not like these heathen Gentiles; I rest in the law which God has given to us only: I know His will; I am one of a privileged people." Verse 21 answers him. "If you boast in your law, why do you do the very things that it forbids? You teach others that they should not steal, and you steal yourself. You teach a poor heathen that he should not worship idols, and it is the very thing that you have been guilty of." For the chief sin of Israel was idolatry, and the name of God was blasphemed amongst the Gentiles through the Jews; so that, in spite of all their boasting of their superiority to the Gentiles, they were just as bad themselves. But still (Rom. 3:1, 2) they had advantages; for "to them were committed the oracles of God;" and now, in Romans 3:9, the Spirit of God sums up the whole with, "We have before proved, both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin" — the heathen, the philosophers who judged them, and the Jews, in the sight of God, one was as bad as the other; and some passages are adduced from the Old Testament to prove it which a Jew must own applied to him. (vv. 10-19.) But the principle applies to all, and in these verses we have a clear and unmistakeable account of what man is by nature in the sight of God; the day of judgment will not bring it out clearer than it is brought out here. In that day, when the great white throne is set up, and the wicked dead stand to be judged, every thing will be brought out — man in all his badness judged in the light of God's holy presence; but then there will be no grace, no blood, no salvation, to meet all the dreadful guilt that will then come out; and the wicked will have to suffer their fearful doom, an eternity in the lake of fire — eternal monuments of the holiness of God, and of His punishment of sin. But now, those whose eyes are opened to see from God's word, that they are lost, for them there is salvation, and pardon, and peace, through the blood of Christ; and when we are at peace with God, we can afford to see all the hideousness of our selves by nature, and it only magnifies the grace of God that could love us when we were in such a state. And mark, dear reader, these verses do not show what one man thinks of another, or what a man thinks of himself, but how God sees every child of Adam, as we read in Ps. 53: 2, 3, from which verses 11 and 12 are quoted. "God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God. Every one of them is gone back : they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no not one." A man may form a very good opinion of himself, and think he is no worse than his neighbours, perhaps a little better; but, dear reader, you and I have to do with God, and to meet Him, and it matters little what we think of ourselves, and of one another. The thing is, What does God think of us? And as we examine these verses, let us not only say, "That is how God sees unconverted man," but, "This is a true picture of what I am by nature in His sight." First of all we read, in verse 10, "There is none righteous, no, not one." I suppose nearly every one would own that. Well, even that is enough to shut us out from heaven; for in 1 Cor. 6:9 the apostle says, "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?" "There is none that understandeth." (v. 11.) The unconverted cannot understand the things of God, it seems all a mystery to them; and not only that, but "there is none that seeketh after God" — there is not the smallest desire after God, or the things of God.
How different the expression of a soul that is born again in Ps. 42: 2, "My Soul THIRSTETH FOR GOD!" So, if a soul is really seeking God, it is not death, but the first movement of life. "They are all gone out of the way, they are altogether become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no not one." (v. 12.) What a sweeping statement, "None that doeth good!" How hard to be believed, and yet how solemn, that an unsaved person has never done a good thing in the sight of God! And if they have never done a good thing, it follows that all they have done must be sin in God's sight. Have you ever thought, dear fellow-believer, that, from the day of your birth till you were born again, you never did a single good action? And if any read these lines who are unsaved, I pray you think and consider, that God says He not only sees you unrighteous, but that you have never done a single good thing in His sight, and that till you are born again you never can. Some might say, "But did not that man who gave £500 to an hospital do a good thing? It might be good in the sight of man; but this scripture is plain, "There is none that doeth good, no, not one." God looks at the heart. Was the motive for giving the £500 the glory of God, or from love to Him! In the case of the unsaved, the answer is simple. No; for he does not even seek God, much less love Him.
Then follows "their throat like an open sepulchre" (v. 13); "mouth full of cursing and bitterness" (v. 14); "feet swift to shed blood" (v. 15); "destruction and misery in their ways" (v. 16); "the way of peace they have not known" (v. 17). Some may say, "I am sure I am not as bad as that; my mouth is not full of cursing and bitterness; I have never shed blood." Perhaps not; but your nature is the same as those who do. It is only a question of the difference of the fruit produced on the same tree. Suppose two men, one is brought up in the worst way among thieves from his birth, in the midst of every form of open sin and corruption. He flies into a passion with another, and commits murder, sheds his blood, and he is condemned to death, and people say he richly deserved it. The other has been brought up in the greatest refinement and worldly advantage. He would not, perhaps, do the same gross outward acts of sin; but the angry thought that led the one to commit murder might lead the other to do some spiteful action, which sprung from the same evil root in both men. Verse 17 says, "The way of peace they have not known." And is not that true of the most refined and even outwardly religious person, as of the openly wicked and profane? "There is no fear of God before their eyes." (v. 18.) This is one of the most distinctive marks of the unconverted. There may be a fear of hell, or of death; but when there is true fear of God, the Scripture says it is "the beginning of wisdom." (Prov. 1:7.) I believe that when a soul is awakened for the first time to see that he has to meet God, and is responsible to Him for what He has done, the fear of God begins. The thief on the cross said to his fellow, "Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation; and we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds?" (Luke 23:40, 41) as though he said, "Are you not afraid to meet God, you, who in a few hours must be in eternity, and are now receiving the just punishment for your crimes? are you not alive to the fact that you have to face a holy God, with all your sins upon you?" This showed a real fear of God before the eyes of the converted thief.
All these verses (10-18) have been quoted from the Old Testament, which a Jew would own; so that, what ever things the law said, it said to those who were under it. There was no question about the guilt of the Gentiles, and the very law the Jews boasted in condemned them. So what is the great result? What is the verdict formed by the Spirit of God upon every child of Adam? "Every mouth stopped, and all the world guilty before God;" or, as the margin reads, "become subject to the judgment of God." (v. 19.) That is what God says of every unconverted soul. Not a word to say, and under judgment; like a prisoner who has been accused, his case looked into, and proved guilty. "So that by the deeds of the law no flesh shall be justified in His sight;" because the law only brought home the sin, and unveiled the sinner, and brought him in guilty before God.
Up to this point we have had the dark, sad picture of what man is, unfolded to us. As we saw at the beginning, the "light" has shown us all that we are, as sinners, in God's sight: nothing hidden, nothing undetected; but it is only to pave the way, so to speak, to bring out God's wonderful remedy, and His glorious salvation. He shuts us up in unbelief and sin, and shows us that if He were to deal with us in righteousness, we should be for ever banished from His presence in the "lake of fire;" and then He acts in pure sovereign grace towards us, not only pardoning us, but giving us a portion in the Son of His love. "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!" (Rom. 11:33.) Up to verse 20, we have seen man's ruin, and now verse 21 begins God's wonderful remedy. Man has been fully proved to have no righteousness of his own; "but now the righteousness of God without (or apart from) the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets." (Rom. 3:21.) One might have expected that, after bringing out what man is, the love of God towards him would be "manifested;" but no, "God's righteousness is manifested." "Righteousness" before love is a principle we find all through Scripture; for righteousness must be satisfied before love can flow out. But one might say, "God's righteousness manifested! Why then I must be lost! If God deals with me in righteousness, I have no hope!" Quite true; and this would be the experience of every soul born of God: "If I received what I deserved, I should be in hell for ever." "Enter not into judgment with thy servant: for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified." (Ps. 143:2.)
What then does the expression in verse 21 mean "But now the righteousness of God apart from law is manifested"? It is most important to be clear on this point, and most establishing to the soul. One would think at first sight that "the righteousness of God" was always "manifested" from the beginning. It does not mean simply that God is righteous, that was known in Old Testament times, but that God is now righteous in reckoning the believer righteous on the ground of the death of Christ; or, as it is expressed in verse 26, "that He might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus." (Just and righteous are the same word.)* This glorious truth was not revealed till after Christ had died. The way we have part in this righteousness is not by law-keeping, not by Christ keeping the law for us, but "by faith of Jesus Christ." (v. 22.) It is "witnessed by the law and the prophets." (v. 21.) Here I understand the "law" not to mean the Ten Commandments, but the five books of Moses; and the whole expression, "the law and the prophets," simply to mean what we call the Old Testament, as in Luke 24:27: "And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself." "The law and the prophets" did not reveal this righteousness, but "bore witness" to it. All through the Old Testament we see it. Even as early as Gen. 3:21, directly after sin had come in, and Adam and his wife were naked sinners in God's presence, we read, "Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them." A beautiful picture of how God was going to clothe us with Christ on the ground of His death; for there must have been death in order to procure the skins. Again, in Abel's offering (Gen. 4:4), we must see that the only ground of acceptance before God was the death of another; and the Holy Ghost's comment upon it in Heb. 11:4 brings out distinctly the very truth we are considering: "By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which (sacrifice) he obtained witness that he was righteous." He was reckoned righteous, not on the ground of anything he was, but on the ground of the value of the sacrifice in God's sight; and it was "by faith," and had nothing to do with law-keeping whatever. Then there are all the offerings under the law — all looked forward to that blessed One who was "an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour" (Eph. 5:2) — and were the witness that God had another way of reckoning righteous than by the law. The prophets were more definite still, and we read direct promises of the One who was coming; also of His sufferings and death. (Isa. 53 and other passages; compare also Acts 26:22, 23.) In Hab. 2:4 we see it openly and boldly stated, "The just shall live by his faith." Examples might be multiplied; but these will suffice to show how the "law and the prophets" bore witness to a righteousness of God which was apart from law, or works, and could not be revealed till the Christ had come and died, and redemption was accomplished.
*It is essential to remember that God's righteousness is, first of all, His own righteousness; i.e. His perfect consistency with His own nature; and then, as stated above, that this righteousness is manifested in virtue of the blood of Christ, and thus God is just, and the justifier of the believer. Ed.
We have seen what the expression means, "The righteousness of God is revealed;" and now in verse 22 we read it is "by faith of Jesus Christ;" that is to say, that the way we have part in this righteousness is not by works, but by believing. Is this righteousness of God only for the Jew, or is it only for a limited number No; "it is unto all," Jew and Gentile indiscriminately; but it is only "upon all them that believe;" "for there is no difference." How blessed this is! It does not say it is upon those that have this or that experience, or who feel saved; but if you can say, dear reader, that you are one of those who believe, you have God's word to say that His "righteousness" is upon you; and if "God's righteousness" is upon you, you are fit to dwell in His presence without a spot. "For there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." (vv. 22, 23.) How wonderfully this comes in here "God's righteousness is unto all" because "all have sinned," "and there is no difference."
It does not, I think, mean here that there is no difference in degrees of wickedness, or that God makes no distinction between men; for we read in Rev. 20 12, "The dead were judged . . . . according to their works," and in Luke 12:47, 48 we have the same thing; but that there is no difference in the sight of God between the Jew and the Gentile for the simple reason that "all have sinned," and "all" do "come short of the glory of God." See how this sentence cuts at the root of all human pride and self-righteousness. First of all God says "all have sinned." How easily, and with what indifference, do people use the language of Scripture! How common to hear people say, "Yes, of course we are all sinners," as if it was a matter of course, and it did not make much difference whether we were or not. But have you ever thought, dear reader, what God says is the consequence of being a sinner? He says, in Rom. 6:23, "The wages of sin is death." And what then? "After this the judgment." (Heb. 9:27.) And after the judgment? "The lake of fire." (Rev. 20:15.) And then? Eternity. But not only have all sinned but notice the expression, "all do come short of the glory of God;" not "have come short," but "do come short," is the correct way of reading it. What a standard God gives! God does not say, "You have come short of what you ought to be." Most would own that; but He says, "You have come short of my glory."
How many have said, when asked about their soul's salvation, "I do the best I can; I have always been moral, and have never done anybody any harm, I say my prayers, and read my Bible," etc. But that is not the question. God's glory is put as the standard, and it is not a question of whether we are better than our neighbours; but, Are we fit to stand in that bright glory of God, where nothing inconsistent with that glory can be, and where there is nothing but unsullied holiness? It was a sight of the glory, and the seraphim crying "Holy, holy, holy," that brought the cry to the lips of the prophet Isaiah: "Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips." (Isa. 6:3, 5.) What a solemn thought, that a soul is either fit to be in the glory of God, or, if not, the only other portion is the lake of fire for ever! Which is yours, dear reader? for there is nothing between the two.
How beautifully do verses 24 to 26 come in! at the same time opening up more fully this righteousness of God which is now revealed. All had sinned, and come short of the glory of God, and were unable to save themselves; but now God acts in pure sovereign grace, and justifies freely, as we read in verse 24: "Being justified" (reckoned righteous) "freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." How full every word of this verse is! There is a poor sinner who has come short of the glory of God; he has no righteousness of his own; he has never done any good; his "throat is like an open sepulchre." "The way of peace" he has not known, his "mouth is stopped;" and he has the solemn verdict pronounced upon him, "Guilty before God;" and then the just sentence passed, Death! judgment! hell! Can the sentence be avoided? No; God is holy, and God is just. But, blessed be His name, He has found a way by which He can be just, and yet save the sinner! He can say to such an one, if he believes in Jesus, "You are justified;" that is, cleared from every charge that could be laid against him "freely," for nothing, without money, without works. On what ground then? "By His grace;" that is, undeserved favour and love. How wonderful, that when we deserved nothing but hell, God acts in love towards us! And that is grace. But how can God thus justify a sinner if He is so holy? "Through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." Ah! that is the secret, "The redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (v. 24): "whom God has set forth to be a propitiation" (or mercy seat is the right word) "through faith in His blood." (v. 25) That wonderful work of Christ on the cross laid the foundation for all this blessing; there all God's righteous claims were fully met and satisfied.
In the three first chapters of this epistle we find all the dreadful guilt and condition of man brought out. He has no righteousness of his own; his mouth is stopped, and he has become subject to the judgment of God. But now, in Romans 3:25, God sets forth Christ Jesus as a propitiation (mercy-seat, same word as in Heb. 9:5), the ground upon which He can meet the vilest sinner, and at the same time declare His perfect righteousness in justifying the believer. The word "mercy-seat" here is an evident allusion to "the great day of atonement" in Leviticus 16, when Aaron went into the holiest once a year, and sprinkled the blood on the golden mercy-seat. In that chapter we have two distinct things; the blood on the mercy-seat in verse 14, and the sins confessed over and borne by the goat in verses 21, 22, showing forth the double aspect of the death of Christ — propitiation, and substitution; or, as we get it in verses 8 and 15, "the Lord's lot" and "the people's lot." It is most important for the soul to be clear upon this point; and the consequence of not seeing the difference between these two aspects of the death of Christ has been great confusion in the minds of many of the Lord's people; therefore I do not think it would be out of place here to dwell a little upon the distinction between the two. Propitiation is Godward, "the Lord's lot" — all the holy requirements of God's nature perfectly met and satisfied by the work of Christ on the cross; and Leviticus 16:14 is a beautiful type of this.
The mercy-seat was of pure gold (Exodus 25:17), and Aaron on that solemn occasion was to enter the holiest once a year, in a cloud of incense, which typifies the acceptableness and sweet savour of the person of Christ to God, and sprinkle the blood upon the mercy seat. Gold in Scripture generally typifies divine righteousness; so how beautiful is the figure! the blood and the gold meeting. That is, divine righteousness fully met and satisfied by the blood. How true that was when the Lord Jesus offered Himself "without spot to God," and His precious blood was shed at the cross. There all God's holiness, His righteousness, the holy claims of His throne, were fully satisfied; and on the ground of this work the gospel can be proclaimed to every creature. The blood is shed, God is satisfied, and you may come; nothing could be freer or fuller. But now there is another side — substitution; that is, Christ bearing the sins of those who believe, and answering to God for them. We find this prefigured by the live goat in Leviticus 16:20-22* Aaron was to bring the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel and all their transgressions, and all their sins, putting them (the sins) upon the head of the goat, and the goat was to "bear upon him all their iniquities into a land not inhabited." (v. 22.)
*The direct application would be to Israel here, but the principle would apply equally to us. It is implied for us in the bullock for the sin-offering for Aaron and his house in verse 11.
Do you believe, dear fellow-believer, that Christ answered to God for all your sins upon the cross 2000 years ago? Do not speak of past, present, or future sins; for when Christ bore them they were all future, and Scripture never speaks in that way. No, if one of your sins was borne, they were all borne; not up to your conversion, as some would say, for in that case what about the sins committed after conversion? Christ would have to die again. "For then must He often have suffered since the foundation of the world." (Heb. 9:26.)
This truth seems to me to be so blessedly brought out in verse 21. We find the word "all" mentioned three times: "all the iniquities," "all their transgressions," "all their sins," putting them (that is, all the sins) upon the head of the live goat. How wonderful? to think that if you are a true believer in Christ, you can say on the authority of Scripture, "God laid all my sins upon Christ 2000 years ago, and Christ bore the judgment of them in His own body on the tree." This truth realised gives us a wonderful power for walk; for could you think of this, and then go and commit sin? God forbid.
Thus we have seen these two sides of the work of Christ-propitiation, and substitution. There might be propitiation, and not a sinner saved, for it is all Godward; God's holy nature satisfied. This we get in verse 25 of our chapter (Rom. 3); in Romans 4:25 we get more substitution, which we may look at again, if the Lord will. In verses 25 and 26 we have unfolded in the fullest way this "righteousness of God," which is the subject of this part of the epistle: First, God sets forth Christ Jesus as the mercy-seat; then to declare His righteousness — that is, what God is in Himself, His perfect consistency with Himself. This righteousness is declared in a double way. First, for the remission ("passing over," see margin) of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God. This does not mean past sins of believers, as some have taken it; but that God passed by (or pretermitted) the sins that were committed before Christ had died; for instance, the sins of Abraham, David, Daniel, etc.; and the cross of Christ showed that He was righteous in so doing. The sins of Old Testament saints were passed by, on the ground that Christ was going to suffer.
Secondly (v. 26), God's righteousness is declared at this time (i.e. since the cross), not in forbearing with sins, but "that God might be just, and the justifier of Him that believeth in Jesus;" a thing unknown in Old Testament times. What a wonderful truth this is to lay hold of; and yet one not generally understood. It is not said that God might be merciful and loving, and thus save the sinner; that is the human thought. Truly, God is merciful, and He is love; but here it is "that He might be just" (or righteous), and yet justify the one who believes in Jesus. Many a one has the thought, though they may not have expressed it, that God is a merciful God, and hence that since they have prayed earnestly for forgiveness, and rest upon what are called "the promises," such as, "Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you," they may entertain a humble hope that they are forgiven; but at the same time they have a sort of fear that if they do not walk well, God will, again bring their sins to remembrance.
If that is your experience, dear reader, I would ask you to weigh prayerfully the wondrous truth contained. in verse 26, that God is now "just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus." God is truly love, and He so loved the world that He gave His Son to die; and on the cross, during those hours of darkness, the cry came to His lips, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Why indeed? What was the meaning of it? A righteous man all His life, forsaken of God in His death? Ah! He was bearing the wrath and judgment of God against sin, and that to the very uttermost. God was satisfied, yea, glorified, by His atoning death; and now, on the ground of that death, God is just (just to the person and work of Christ), and yet justifies Him that believeth in Jesus.
How full this is. Suppose Christ had not died? God's justice (or righteousness) would have been our utter condemnation; for who could stand and be judged by such a standard as the perfect righteousness of God? But now that Christ has died, God's justice instead of being against us is in our favour; for God's holy, righteous, claims have been so fully met at the cross, that God can say to the one who believes in Jesus, "I have nothing to lay to your charge, I have nothing against you, you are righteous."
Suppose you owed a large sum of money, and had nothing to pay it with, and a kind friend paid it all for you, would it be just if your creditor was to cone to you for the money again? Certainly not. So, if Christ has paid that mighty debt of sin on the cross, and you are a believer in Jesus, will God come and require it at your hand again? Impossible. His justice would be at stake; and what is more, He not only justifies the believer, but He delights to do it. Why it was the love of His own heart that provided the Lamb for the sacrifice, so that there might be a way by which He could justify the believer in Jesus. But there is no glory due to us; for it is all on the ground of the death of Christ; and God does not justify Him who does this or that, or tries to keep the law, but one who comes as a poor, worthless, hell-deserving sinner, having no righteousness of His own, but believing in Jesus.
It is beautiful to see that this is the ground the apostle Paul takes in Phil. 3:8, 9. After speaking of his counting all things loss, and suffering the loss of all things, he counts them but dung that he may win Christ, and be found in Him. On what ground? Because his was such a good walk? or because he was such a good servant? No. "Not having mine own righteousness, which is by the law, but that, which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith." He takes the ground of Rom. 3, no righteousness of His own, but found in Christ, on the ground of having God's righteousness; the same ground upon which the thief on the cross, the woman of Samaria, and the vilest sinner that ever lived, and you and I, will be in glory. "Where is boasting then? It is excluded." (Rom. 3: 27.) Of course it is; for who could boast upon such a ground as this? "By what law (or on what principle)? Of works? Nay but by the law (i.e. principle) of faith."
In verse 28 we have one of those magnificent conclusions drawn by the apostle (or rather by the Holy Ghost) from what he has before been proving: "Therefore we conclude" — what? — a most important, weighty truth — "that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." How astonishing it is, in the face of such a plain Scripture as this, that there are to be found some who say that the way to be saved is to keep the law. It is equally true of the Gentile as of the Jew, that both are justified by faith before God. The great distinguishing feature of the Jews was, that they had the law. But this justification was "without the deeds of the law," and it was by faith; therefore it would admit the Gentile as well as the Jew. "Is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also;" for both Jews and Gentiles are justified before Him on one common ground, i.e. on the principle of faith: "Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law." (vv. 30, 31.)
It might appear that the principle of justifying by faith would set aside the law and make it void; but, on the contrary, it "established the law:" its claims are fully recognized, and it is upheld in all its holiness, justness, and goodness; for the principle of justification by faith supposes what has been brought out in this epistle; namely, taking the place of being condemned under law, proved guilty, the mouth stopped, and owning the just sentence which the law pronounced on the sinner. Surely that would be establishing the law in all its force, and so much so, that, before we could be freed from its condemnation, the Son of God must die, and this is what faith owns.
It has been clearly proved that both Jews and Gentiles were justified before God upon one common ground; that is, justification by faith, and apart from law altogether. But there is another question which would be of great importance, especially to a Jew; viz., What about Abraham, to whom all the promises were made, and of whom the Jews were the natural descendants? for they gloried in being children of Abraham. These verses (Romans 4:2, 3) show, and that from the Old Testament, that Abraham was only another example of the very truth which has already been brought out in the epistle, i.e. justification by faith: "For what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness." (v. 3.)
It is beautiful to see how the apostle, through the Spirit of God, brings the Old Testament Scriptures to prove what he is saying; not that we require the Old Testament to prove that the New is inspired, but it shows how that He who wrote the book of Genesis is the One who, hundreds of years afterwards, wrote the epistle to the Romans.
Our Lord, when on earth, constantly quoted from the Old Testament; and in the desert, when tempted of Satan, always answered him with, "It is written;" so here it is — "What saith the Scripture?" — an important word for us in these days. It is not "What does this or that man think?" or, What is your opinion or mine? but, "What does God say?" that is the question. Let the Scripture decide everything. This verse is quoted from Genesis 15:6, and is an unanswerable proof to a Jew, taken from his own Scriptures, that Abraham was justified by faith. "For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God." (v. 2) Now let the Scripture decide the question. "Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness." This would be unanswerable, for he was counted righteous, not for any works that he had done, but because he believed God.
It is the same with us as it is brought out further on in the chapter. Verses 4 and 5 seem to be a sort of practical comment upon this truth; and they bring out in a most clear and full way the fact that we are justified, not upon the ground of our works at all, but by faith. And this is very necessary, for it is the natural thought of our hearts that we must do something in order to merit the favour of God, and to be saved. How universal is the answer, when one asks another as to their hope of salvation, "We must do the best we can." Another says, "We must keep the law;" and another, "Believe in Christ and keep the law." The law truly is of works "Do this and thou shalt live." But the law and the gospel are two distinct things, and are as opposite as the east to the west; and mixing up the two must lead to endless confusion. You cannot be saved half by the works of the law and half by faith in Christ; either you must be saved by Christ, or you must be lost, "for as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse." (Gal. 3:10.)
To show how the law and the gospel are confused in the minds of people, a person who was told that if he was to be saved it was not by working for it, said, "Now I can prove to you from Scripture that we must do something to be saved" — he would not have it that a person could be saved without any works of his own — so taking a large Bible down from the shelf, he turned over the leaves, and found Ezek. 18:27, and read exultingly, "When the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive." "There!" he said, "is not that works?" He did not see that the whole of the passage was not the gospel at all, but the law, and God's dealings with Israel under law; also, that Gal. 3:10 says, "As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse;" so, that if a person is on the ground of law-keeping at all before God, he is under the curse, because he is totally unable to keep it. It is astonishing how the mind of man tenaciously sticks to the idea that there must be something to do to be saved. "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" one said to the Lord when on earth. The jailor at Philippi again, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" But let us look at verse 4 of our chapter: "Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt." Grace means unmerited love and favour. If a person works or does anything for salvation, he makes God his debtor — he has done this and that, and he thinks that God owes him salvation for it; but this is not the ground of grace at all. In natural things it is the same principle. If a man works hard all the week, he claims his wages as his right; it is no act of favour of his master to give him what he has earned. So with salvation. If we had done the smallest thing to deserve it, it would not be of grace; for grace is favour bestowed upon one who does not deserve it. No; it must be one thing or the other — saved wholly on the principle of works, and thus earning salvation; or wholly on the principle of grace, as we read in Romans 11:6, which is the same principle: "And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work." But the Scripture is as plain as possible on the point, and this fifth verse of our chapter is perhaps one of the strongest on the subject, "But to him that worketh not." No one could get over this plain statement of Scripture; and this verse not only clears the ground by telling us it is "to him that worketh not," but unfolds to us in few words — but how full and weighty — the whole plan of justification.
We constantly find this in Scripture, that in one short verse we have contained a whole volume of precious truth; and so it is here. It is, "To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted unto him for righteousness." Here God is the object of faith, as in Abraham's case "Abraham believed God."
First, "It is to him that worketh not, but believeth" (working and believing are here contrasted). And who are we to believe in? The God "that justifies the ungodly." Who but God could do that? A human judge could not do it: he might let the guilty one off, or be merciful to him; but it is not in the power of any human judge to justify a guilty criminal: for to justify him he must clear him from every charge that could be brought against him, which if he was guilty he could not do. But, blessed be His name, God can, and that in a way perfectly consistent with His own perfect righteousness. He justifies the ungodly.
We have seen on what ground He does it in the third chapter; how He can say to an ungodly sinner, on the ground of the death of Christ, "I have nothing against you." We have to go back to this blessed truth over and over again, even as Christians, for we are often apt to be disappointed because we do not find some good in us; but we are justified, not upon the ground of being good, but upon the ground of being ungodly. So now, if a soul sees he is utterly ungodly, and owns he can do nothing at all to merit salvation, and believes in the God who justifies him as an ungodly one, on the ground of Christ's death, his faith is counted for righteousness, even as "Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness."
There is a passage in the epistle of James (chap. 2:14-26), which to some might appear to contradict this "not of works" doctrine: What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? .... Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which said, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness." This might seem to be a contradiction to Romans 4, but in reality it is not so; it only brings out the perfection of the word of God. In Rom. 4 the question is justification before God (v. 2); in James it is rather before men. And as God alone can read the heart, when it is a question of our fellow-men, we can only judge of what is within by outward actions. If we see this, verse 14 of James 2 becomes clear; the stress is upon the word "say." It His not said, "What shall it profit if a man has faith;" but "if a man say he has faith." It is outward profession. What is the use of a man saying he believes, if his outward actions deny it; it shows there is no reality in it. Thus the act of Abraham offering up Isaac on the altar showed he believed God who was able to raise him up from the dead, and thus he could offer up the one in whom the promises of God were to be fulfilled. (See Heb. 11:17-19.) Also the action of Rahab the harlot, in hiding the spies, proved that she believed that the Lord had given them the land, and that Jericho was to be destroyed.
Thus before God we are justified by faith; before men by works. The works before men show that we possess the faith that justifies us before God; just as you see smoke coming out of a chimney, you say, "There must be a fire inside, for I see the smoke." So you see the good works, and you say, "That person must be a child of God, because of such and such things that he does;" as in 1 Thessalonians 1:3 the apostle saw their "work of faith, labour of love, and patience of hope," and therefore he knew their election of God. As to the ground of our justification before God, it is as clear as possible that it is, as we have been seeing in Romans 4, "to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness."
And now what David says is cited as another example to prove the same thing; for Abraham and David were the two that a Jew would recognize as indisputable authority. "David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying" (quoting Ps. 32), "Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin." (vv. 6-8.) Here it is not a question of works, or of having any righteousness of our own; on the contrary, it supposes a man to be a sinner, and to have no righteousness of his own, and God forgives him on the ground of pure grace, and although the sin is there, does not impute it. Blessed is that man! We see a beautiful illustration of this in Num. 23:21. Israel was indeed a sinful people, murmuring and rebellious; as Moses said, "Ye have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you." (Deut. 9:24.) Sin was unmistakeably there, and yet when the enemy sought to curse them, what was Balaam forced to say? "He [God] hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath He seen perverseness in Israel." The iniquity was there; but God said, "I do not behold it." The perverseness was apparent; but God said, "I do not see it." We know on what ground God could say that of Israel, and does say it of us — the blood of the Lamb.
We are all sinners by nature, "and in many things we offend all;" but God does not impute sin to those who believe in Jesus. This is the only thing that can give us confidence in the presence of God, the knowledge that whatever sin there may be, God will not impute it to us, if we are true believers on His Son. This is indeed blessedness that David describes. But, to renew the thread of our subject, "cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness." (v. 9.) Is this blessedness spoken of (i.e. justification by faith) only for the Jew, or is it for the Gentile as well? for the point we are considering is, that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. Circumcision was the characteristic sign of being a Jew, the token of God's covenant with His earthly people Israel. (Gen. 17:10.) But when was Abraham reckoned righteous? Before he was circumcised at all, thus showing that the righteousness by faith was not to be confined to God's earthly people Israel alone, but to all who believe, although they are not circumcised. (vv. 10, 11.) This would be an unanswerable argument to a Jew, who gloried in circumcision as the distinguishing mark of God's earthly people; that when Abraham was reckoned righteous, he was uncircumcised: And "he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed to them also." (v. 11.)
Abraham was reckoned righteous by faith before he was circumcised, so that circumcision has nothing to do with it; therefore he is the father of all them that believe; i.e. he is the first example; the head of the family, so to speak, of those that are justified upon the same principle, i.e. by faith — as in Gal. in. 7, "They which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham." He is also "the father of circumcision" to those "who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised." Here circumcision is the true spiritual circumcision; not "that which is outward in the flesh," but real separation to God; and Abraham was the first pattern of this. That is the meaning of the expression, "Father of circumcision," in verse 12.
God's promise to Abraham that he should be heir of the world was not through the law (v. 13), for we see in Gal. 3:17 that the law was given four hundred and thirty years after, but through the righteousness of faith. This truth is fully unfolded in Galatians 3, showing that the law, which was given after the promise, could not make the promise void. The law was introduced afterwards, and "was added because of transgressions." (Gal. 2:19.) Because "the law worketh wrath" (v. 15), all that the law could do was to work wrath, because it said to a man that had a sinful nature, "Thou shalt not lust." He lusted by nature; but when the law said, "Thou shalt not lust" (covet), it made it a positive act of disobedience, and thus a transgression; "for where no law is, there is no transgression." It is not said, "There is no sin;" but, "There is no transgression;" for sin is ever sin in God's sight, whether a person knows it or not; but where God gives an express command, such as, "Thou shalt not lust," then disobedience to that command becomes a transgression; and, where the transgression is proved, there is nothing but the wrath of God against it. But now in verse 16 we have the blessed fact, "Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace." Faith and grace go side by side, "By grace are ye saved through faith" (Eph. 2:8); but you cannot mix up the law with either, it was added as a thing by the way to bring out what man was, that sin might be made exceeding sinful. It is of faith that it might be by grace, in order that the promise might be sure to all the seed; i.e. not only to those who are naturally descended from Abraham, but those who have Abraham's faith.
The next verses unfold more in detail the character of Abraham's faith, and also of ours, which is very instructive and practical; for many souls are exercised about their faith, wondering whether they have believed rightly, etc. In verse 17, we have not only that Abraham believed God, but that he believed the God of resurrection; "Before Him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were." In verse 3, we find the simple expression of Abraham's faith, "Abraham believed God." It is not said that he believed in God, but that "he believed God;" i.e. believed what God told him. Beautiful and simple expression of what faith is. Many think of faith as a sort of inward feeling or experience, and so, because they do not have these experiences, often wonder whether they have the right faith. But faith is not feeling or experience, but dependence upon what another has said or done. In natural things it is simple enough. If some one that you can trust tells you something, you believe him; you do not question whether you have believed rightly, or whether your faith in what he has said is strong enough, you simply take him at his word. For instance, if you are going to London, you ask one of the railway officials which is the London carriage, and you take your seat, perfectly satisfied that you are right, because you believe the man that told you. You have no feeling that you are in the right train; but because you trust to what the official told you, you are perfectly happy and confident that you are right. That is faith in a man. Faith in God is the same, only in the one case it is believing what a man says, and in the other it is believing what God says and this is what true faith always does. There is such a thing as mere head belief; i.e. the natural intellect acknowledging the truth of God, as we find an instance in John 2:23: "Many believed in His name, when they saw the miracles which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself unto them." There was simple outward recognition of the truth, but no saving faith. Again, in the case of Simon, in Acts 8:12: "When they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Then Simon himself believed also." His was only an intellectual assent to the truth, without any saving faith at all; for "he had neither part nor lot in the matter." (v. 21.)
But some might ask, "How am I to know that mine is not mere intellectual assent, but real saving faith?" I think this verse (Rom. 4:3) gives us an example of what true faith is — "Abraham believed God." One may intellectually believe what man says, and a person may be taught about Christ, and believe about Him, just in the same way that he believes there was such a person as Henry VIII., or any other matter of history. When one is really in earnest as to his soul's salvation, and believes what God says about Christ, that is not head-belief, but faith in God. Intellectual faith believes what man says; saving faith believes what God says. In 1 Thess. 2:13, they received the word of God not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, and consequently they were saved. Abraham's case is a beautiful and simple illustration of what faith, is; he believed God. Let us turn to the account in Genesis 15. Abraham was about an hundred years old, and Sarah, his wife, ninety, and they had no child; and God said, "Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and He said unto him, So shall thy seed be." (v. 5.) Suppose Abraham had looked at himself, or had attempted to reason for a moment, where would he have been? But no; in Rom. 4:19 we read, "And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb." He did not look at himself at all. How many have said, "But I don't feel saved; surely if I was saved I should feel differently to what I do." Suppose Abraham had said, when God said, "So shall thy seed be," "But I don't feel as though this was true:" how could he have felt it? He did not think of himself at all, he did not wait to feel it; but, contrary to nature and reason and human possibility, he simply took God at His word, he believed what God had said, and that is faith. "He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief." Unbelief always staggers at what God says, and so does human reason, because it cannot understand it. But "Abraham staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strong in faith," and the result was, he gave glory to God. For it does glorify God to take Him simply at His word, and trust Him implicitly without reasoning or doubting. Some say it is presumption to say we are saved. So it would be, if God did not say so; but if God says we are saved, it is not giving glory to God to doubt it, but the contrary. Surely it is greater presumption to doubt what God says, than to take Him simply at His word; and He says, "All that believe are justified from all things." Abraham was "strong in faith." What constitutes being strong in faith? Simply taking God at His word, as Abraham did, and thus he gave glory to God; and he was "fully persuaded that, what He had promised, He was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; but for us also." That is, not only was Abraham reckoned righteous because he believed God, but we shall also be reckoned. righteous if we believe God in the same way; only, although we believe the same God that Abraham did, the character of our faith is a little different. Abraham believed in a promise, "that what He had promised, He was able also to perform;" we are reckoned righteous "if we believe on Him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification." We do not believe, like Abraham, in what God is going to do, but in what He has done, in raising up Jesus, our Lord from the dead; but the object of our faith is the same as Abraham's; that is, God. These three last verses of this chapter are most important, for they give us the ground of our justification, and of peace with God; for the first verse of chapter 5 is linked on to them: the division of the chapters breaks the connection. And notice here, it is not said our faith will be counted for righteousness, if we believe in Christ, true as that is; but on the God that raised up Christ; and this is most important, for many have peace as long as they think of Jesus come to seek the lost, and of His love and peace, as seen, for instance, in the gospels, who, nevertheless, when they hear of God and His holiness and the judgment-throne, have misgivings as to whether it is all right; but if this truth is realised that we find in these verses, there must be peace.
Peace with God.
The first thing for us to see, as believers, in order to our having peace is, that "He (Christ) was delivered for our offences." When we were considering chap. 3 we touched upon the twofold aspect of the death of Christ, propitiation and substitution, as typified on the great day of atonement (Lev. 16) — the blood on the mercy-seat for God's eye, and the sins confessed over and borne by the scapegoat. In chap. 3:25 we have the mercy-seat; the blood is shed, God is satisfied, and upou this ground the gospel can be freely proclaimed to every creature. In verses 23-25 it is substitution; that is, Christ actually taking the place of those who believe, and answering to God for their sins, "He was delivered for our offences;" and in 1 Peter 2:24, "Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree." Yes, precious truth! the Lord of glory left the throne, and, emptying Himself, took a servant's form, and was made in the likeness of man; but that would not suffice. If we are to be saved, He must go to the cross, and take our sins upon Him. There is such a danger of the ear getting accustomed to certain well-known passages of God's word, such as the above, that the sense is in measure lost. But let me ask, Have you in any little measure realized (as we all profess to believe) that the Lord Jesus really took your sins upon Him on the cross; not some of them, but all of them, made them His own? Have you ever pondered that verse in Psalm 40:12, "Mine iniquities have taken hold upon Me?"* It is Christ that is speaking, as is unmistakably clear from verses 6-8, quoted in Heb. 10:5, etc. How could that blessed One speak of "mine iniquities"? Had He any? No; they were our iniquities. He in grace took our sins upon Him on the cross, and what is the result? He is forsaken of God on account of them, drinking that cup of wrath to the very dregs, and bearing the judgment of God, which otherwise must have fallen on us; and after saying, "It is finished," "bowed His head, and gave up the ghost." Then "He was buried" in the "new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid," thus showing the reality of His death. Now we see the One who took our sins upon Him dying in death on account of them. Whom had we offended? God. And who has to be satisfied about our sins? God. If Christ had been left in the grave, it would have shown that the work was insufficient to put away our sins; and that God, against whom we had sinned, was not satisfied with the work of our Substitute. But it was not so. God raised Him from the dead. What did that show? That He was satisfied with the work that was accomplished for our sins. The Lord, as we have seen, took our sins upon Him; and the same God, who gave Him in love, now raises Him from the dead-the eternal proof that He is satisfied, and that, our sins are gone for ever.
*As is often the case in the Psalms, the direct application is to Israel, but of course true that Christ took the sins of all the redeemed.
The death of Christ paid the mighty debt of sin; but God's raising Him from the dead is God's acknowledgement that the debt is paid. The resurrection of Christ is the proof to the believer that his sins are gone for ever; for "He was raised again for our justification." In 1 Cor. 15:17 we find the converse, "If Christ be not raised, ye are yet in your sins." It does not say, "If Christ has not died," but, "If Christ be not raised, ye are yet in your sins. But He is raised; then what is the blessed conclusion for believers to draw? Ye are not in your sins. Look up into the glory of God, dear trembling believer, and there see that blessed One, the Lord Jesus Christ, the risen, glorified man, at God's right hand! He took your sins upon Him on the cross; but He has not got them on Him now. Where are they then? Gone for ever. We believe in the God "that has raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead." And if God has raised Him from the dead who took all our sins upon Him, that God can have nothing whatever against us, any more than He has against Christ Himself; for He "was raised again for our justification." "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." (Rom. 5:1)
There are two things in this verse; first, we are justified by faith; and secondly, we have peace with God, the latter the result of the former. It is God Himself, as we have seen, who has come in, and in love given His Son for our sins, and has now raised Him from the dead, and has perfectly justified us who believe; and what is the blessed result? "We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." How blessed! And this peace with God belongs to every true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ; it is not confined to those only who are fathers in Christ, or to advanced Christians, but it is the common portion of all who are justified. It is so beautifully simple when we take Scripture as it stands. In Acts 13:39 we read, "All that believe are justified;" and in Rom. 5, "Being justified, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Yes, blessed be His name, it is all through Him that we have this peace with God. Many are trying to find peace by looking in at themselves, or by waiting, for some inward change or feeling. But, dear reader, you will never find peace that way; it is not God's way; the ground of peace, and God's way of getting peace, is found in these verses we have been considering. (Rom. 4:23 — 5:1.) And what does the Holy Ghost occupy us with in this passage — our experiences or feelings? No; but with Christ, and God's raising Him from the dead. He occupies us with an object outside of us altogether. We are justified who believe; and "being justified, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." We possess peace; for the expression," peace with God," does not simply mean that we are saved, but that we know that God has nothing to lay to our charge, and that we can be in His presence without fear. That is the first step, and till we know this peace with God there can be no growth in spiritual things or advance in truth.
But in verse 2 we have something more; not only have we peace with God as regards our sins, but "we have access by faith into this grace (favour) wherein we stand." As there were two parts in verse 1, so are there. in this clause. First, we stand in favour; second, we have access by faith into it. We ever stand, as Christians, in the unclouded favour of God: this is our portion. It does not enter here into what this place is, or how we are there; it simply states the fact. If it were asked, "What is this favour in which we stand?" the answer would be, in one word — Christ; for Christ is gone back to God as the risen Man, having glorified Him on the earth, and finished the work that was given Him to do; and now He is before God, in the most perfect acceptance and favour, and we, as believers, are brought into the same place — "My Father, your Father; my God, your God." (John 20:17.) His place is ours. But all this is only implied in verse 2: "This favour in which we stand." It is well for us to remember this: that if we are Christians at all, we always stand in the perfect favour of God; and God never hides His face from a true believer, because He never hides His face from Christ; and we are accepted in Him.
But there is more. Not only do we stand in favour, but we have access by faith into it; that is, by faith we enter now into what is our unchanging standing before God in Christ. We have not to wait to get to glory to enjoy it, but we enter into it now by faith. We are justified, and we have peace with God; we stand in favour, and have access into it. This is what we possess now. But although we have all these blessings, we have still these bodies of humiliation, we still bear the "image of the earthy," and are in the wilderness, encompassed with infirmity and failure on every hand; still there is something bright before — the glory of God, and we rejoice in hope of that; we possess all the rest that we have been speaking of now, but the glory is a hope, because we have not got it yet — "For what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?" (Rom. 8:24.) It is not a hope in the sense of there being any uncertainty about it; but when Scripture speaks of anything in the future that we do not yet possess, it is called a hope. We do not hope to be justified, for we are justified; but we hope for the glory, because we have not got it yet. And not only are we going to be in glory, but the thought of that bright glory of God, which is to be our eternal home, where we shall be like Christ, makes us rejoice in the midst of suffering and infirmity here. Do you, dear reader, rejoice in hope of the glory of God? Is the glory such a bright reality to your soul, that it makes you rejoice even now? Once we had come short of the glory of God (chap. 3:23); but now we can rejoice in hope of that same glory; we have been made fit to be there, through the work of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But there is more — "we glory in tribulations also." We are in the wilderness, surrounded by trials and difficulties, and in early days persecution too; but now we can even glory in them. What a wonderful man a Christian is! An unconverted man might endure tribulations, and even be patient under them; but he could not glory in them. How is it then that Christians can? "Knowing that tribulation worketh patience." Trials which come, subdue our will, and are used of God to make us patient, and cast us on God, and bring us more into His presence, and by that means we gain experience, both in what God is and what we are; and if that is the case, we can glory in them, and this experience makes the hope of glory all the brighter and more real. And this hope is not a false hope, or one we have need to be ashamed of, because, although we are in trials, and men might say, "How can God love you, and let you be in such trouble?" His love is "shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost," which is given to every believer; we have a sense of the perfect love of our God toward us. Even here the Spirit of God does not lead us to look in at ourselves, but points out the greatest expressions of the love of God that could be "For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly" (v. 6); "Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us." (1 John 3:16.) Let us look for a moment at the order in which the various truths are brought out in these five verses of this chapter; for it is God's order, and therefore must be instructive to us. Many have the thought that they must have this or that experience, or look within and see certain fruits of the Spirit, in order to have peace with God, and put the knowledge of justification and peace at the end of the Christian course, and a something which is to be attained to, and that it is only some very spiritual Christians that arrive at this state of assurance.
But that is not God's order, In these verses the first thing is, we are justified; that is the starting-point. Then, being justified, the result is, "we have peace with God." But a person may have got to know that they are justified from their sins, and then get into trouble about their state, and the sinful nature that dwells in them. Thus the next truth that they learn is their standing in Christ; they enter by faith into this place of favour in which we stand, and then rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Now they are in a condition to walk through the wilderness, and we get patience and experience spoken of; but mark, experience is put after peace, and not before. In verse 5 we have the Holy Ghost, which dwells in the body of every believer, and it is remarkable that here is the first mention of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, connecting it with having peace with God; for it is only "after having believed the gospel of your salvation" that we are "sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise." (Eph. 1:13.)
It is beautiful to see that after peace is known, and there has been the learning of patience and experience, gained perhaps by years of the wilderness journey, that the Holy Ghost leads back to the first simple truths of the gospel, as they are called, in order to give us a sense of the love of God; and thus it ever is, as we grow in grace, and get experience in the things of God, the so-called simple foundation truths become the deepest and most wonderful. It is always a bad sign to hear saints say, "Oh, it is only the gospel, we have got beyond that!" Can we ever, shall we ever, throughout eternity, get beyond the truths of the gospel? Shall we ever know the depths of the meaning of such a verse as John 3:16, "God so loved the world, that. He gave His only begotten Son"? Never!
Christ Dying for the Ungodly.
After the apostle has spoken of peace, patience, experience, rejoicing in hope of glory, the love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given us, he leads us back to the simple, yet comprehensive truth, "For when we were yet, without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly." This verse is very full.
First, we were ungodly. That is the first thing we find out; but many know they are ungodly who have not yet found out that they are without strength. How many have been going on in the ways of sin, careless and indifferent as to their eternal welfare and the salvation of their precious souls, and have been convicted of sin and seen their danger, perhaps through hearing the gospel preached, or a tract, or in conversation, or, it may be, without any human instrumentality at all; and what is often the thought of such an one? "I am determined to alter my ways, or I shall be lost; I will turn over a new leaf." The new leaf is turned, and all may goon well for a time; but soon temptations come; one resolution after another is broken, and he thinks "It is no use my trying to be a Christian; I have tried, and tried again, and the more I try to give up my sins the more I seem to fail;" and Satan then tempts him to give all up in despair. Have I been describing the state of any one who may be reading these lines? Have you tried turning over the new leaf? Ah, you knew you were "ungodly," but you had yet to learn that you were "without strength." Does not that word "without strength" suit your case? Have you not tried to keep the law, tried to live without sin, tried to be a Christian? Ah, your desires were right, and we can thank God for them; but you were going the wrong way to work. You were trying to fit yourself for God's presence, and the consequence was that you found you were utterly unable to do it. Now look at the verse: "When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly." Ungodly! is that you? Yes; without strength, unable to keep the law, to live without sin; unable to fit yourself for the presence of God. Does that suit your case? Yes. Now comes the blessed truth — it was for such Christ died; so that if you have been led to see that you are "ungodly" and "without strength," here is God's word to say that it was for such as you that Christ died. Now, instead of trying to do something you may take your stand before God as an ungodly sinner, with no pretence to righteousness, utterly without strength. You now find that what you never could do, Christ has done for you by His atoning death on the cross — "Christ died for the ungodly."
But there is more in the verse: "In due time Christ died for the ungodly." What is this "due time"? For four thousand years, from the time that Adam sinned, God was proving man — seeing if any good could be found in the race of the first Adam. Man was weighed in God's balances, and found completely wanting. He was tried without law, and under law. And lastly, God's Son was presented to the world, to see if they would receive Him. But no; they rejected Him! And what did they do? "Crucified the Lord of glory!" What a dreadful crime! How the cross brings out what man is! This was God's due time; and then it was that Christ died for the ungodly. It is important therefore to see that now God is not looking for improvement from man; but that the way of salvation is, to take the place of a guilty sinner before Him, and own His grace in giving Christ to die for sinners.
In verse 7, the Holy Ghost goes on to show the wonders and reality of God's love in giving His Son, and the love of Christ in dying for us. "For scarcely for a righteous man would one die." If there were a righteous man, who was perfectly just and unblameable in his ways, yet there would be nothing in that to draw out the affections, and it would be difficult to find one who would love him enough to die for him; but possibly there might be a good man, be loved by all, and some one might possibly be found to lay down his life for him. But if such a thing really happened, what a stir and talk it would make! The life of this good man, beloved by all, is in jeopardy; can any one be found who will risk their lives to save his? Yes; one has actually been found to do it! But what a wonder of love. This would be the greatest proof of love in man. But God's love far eclipses it, as we read in verse 8: "But God commendeth His love toward us, in that," while we were neither good nor righteous, but "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." That is why it is called His love, because it is a love peculiar to God Himself. With us, there must always be something in another to draw out our love; in other words, there must be something to love. But God loved us when there was nothing in us to love, but our hearts at enmity to Him, and nothing but a mass of sin; for it was "while we were yet sinners" that God's love went out toward us; and the perfect expression of that love was, He gave His Son to die for us, so that now (verse 9) we are "justified by His blood." His precious blood meets every charge that the enemy could bring against us; and now, being already justified, we shall be saved from the wrath that is about to be revealed upon a guilty world. If we believe in the love now, we shall be saved from the wrath that is coming; but if the love is rejected, wrath must be the consequence.
Verse 10. "For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life." The death of Christ was the way by which we were reconciled to God; but we are not yet in glory, and we have to walk through the wilderness, and we still have these bodies of humiliation; but the One who died for us now lives for us, and because He lives we shall be saved through all the difficulties and dangers of the way; and finally we shall get the body of glory like His, "according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself. (Phil. 3:21.) But not only so, but even now we "joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement" (reconciliation, margin). Having peace with God, standing in His perfect favour, and rejoicing in hope of the glory, we are at leisure to forget ourselves, and joy in God Himself-in what He is; and this draws out the worship which He delights to have from these poor hearts of ours.
These verses, 1-11 of chapter 5, as we have seen, give us in a very full and blessed way the whole Christian portion; at any rate it is implied, if not brought out.
Peace, standing in favour, the glory to come, the wilderness walk, the indwelling of the Holy Ghost; with the sense of God's perfect love toward us, reconciliation, saved by His life, Christ's present and future service to us; and ending with worship, joying in God.
Many have wondered why the experience in these verses is so far beyond that of chapter 7: "O wretched man that I am." The reason, I believe, is this there are two distinct subjects treated of in this epistle; the first ending at verse 11 of chapter 5, which treats of sins, the fruits of our evil nature, showing how they are put away; the second part, commencing with verse 12 of chapter 5, treats not of sins but of sin, the evil nature itself, and how we are delivered from it.* The end of the first, as said above, is at verse 11 of chapter 5, and any one can see that there is a distinct break in the subject, verse 12 commencing a new theme.
*It is very important to see the difference which Scripture makes between sin and sins. Sin is the evil principle in us which we acquired through the fall, the evil nature. Sins, the natural fruit of having an evil nature, sinful actions committed.