In Romans 1 - 8.
We may look on the epistle to the Romans, speaking generally, as a divine treatise on "The Righteousness of God," for which we have abundant cause for praise and thanksgiving. It consists of four parts.
1. After considering the state of men before law, and the common ruin of Jews and Gentiles since the law - and "all" are proved to "have sinned," to be "under sin," and "guilty before God" - the question is, "How can God be just and yet the Justifier of the ungodly?" This is fully met by God justifying "freely," or without a cause, by His "grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus . . . to declare at this time His righteousness: that He might be just, and the Justifier of him which believeth in Jesus." (Chap. 3:9, 19, 23-26.) Thus, Christ having in sovereign grace died for the ungodly, and fully glorified God about our sins, God has not only in righteousness raised Him up from among the dead who was delivered for our offences, and given Him glory, but He is also just to Christ in counting us righteous for whom He died. In this way the "ungodly" who believe are "justified;" they are reconciled to God by the death of His Son, and their faith is reckoned to them for righteousness.
This section of the epistle extends, as has often been noticed, to chap. 5:11. In it we have the righteousness of God manifested without law, God imputing righteousness without works. The righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel, so that instead of God, as by law, demanding righteousness, His righteousness is declared, and is "upon all them that believe."
2. The next subject treated of in this marvellous epistle is how God can, consistently with His own righteousness, deliver us from the condemnation to which we were exposed as having an evil nature - sin in the flesh - which was enmity against God, not subject to His law, and connected us with the first man Adam. Here again we find we are delivered by grace through the death of Christ, on the principle of divine righteousness. "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin" [a sacrifice for sin], "condemned sin in the flesh." (Chap. 8:3.) Thus our old man has been crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be annulled. We have died with Christ; we have died out of our Adam-standing, and have, by grace, a new life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This section extends from chap. 5:12 to the end of chap. 8. How truly it is said, "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: that as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord." (Chap. 5:20, 21.)
3. Another subject is brought before us in chapters 9, 10, 11, which shows how God can justly reconcile His dealings and purposes concerning law-breaking, covenant-breaking Israel, and yet fulfil His promises to them as a people connected with David and Abraham. Though they utterly failed under a covenant of works, are at this moment under judicial blindness, and in other ways under Jehovah's governmental wrath because of their sins, yet divine grace, through righteousness, will yet be put forth for their blessing, through the redemption-work of Him who died for that nation. "So all Israel shall be saved" (all the twelve tribes): "as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: for this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins." (Chap. 11:26, 27.) This will be after "the great tribulation" (see Matt. 24:21) of Jehovah's righteous retribution for the rejection of their true Messiah. Thus wisdom, judgment, mercy, and truth will all be established in connection with the nation of Israel's future blessing. God will also be vindicated in all His ways, and righteousness and peace will kiss each other. One of their own prophets referring to this says: "The work of righteousness shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever." Again, "In righteousness shalt thou be established . . . and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord." (Isa. 32:15-18; 54:14, 17.) Now God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all. But the word of the prophet must be fulfilled, that "Zion shall be redeemed with judgment." Well might an apostle exclaim, "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!"
4. The remainder of the epistle gives us for the most part instruction and exhortations as to the life and walk of those who are justified and in Christ Jesus, members of one body, and members one of another; and concludes with affectionate apostolic greetings. Even here, the first-mentioned of the moral ways of the kingdom of God is righteousness." (14:17.)
We have then in this epistle three different aspects of God's ways of grace to men through righteousness. The first and second sections show His present goodness and blessing to us; first, as sinners, or what we have done; and secondly, as having a sinful nature, or what we are. The third section, as we have seen, refers to Israel; but in every case blessing is founded on the death of God's own Son, and flows out in grace and mercy through righteousness.
In reference to the first part, where God is seen bringing such wondrous blessing to sinners - men living in sins - through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, the results stated are
1. As to standing, the believer is brought into a new position; for instead of being an enemy, guilty, ungodly, and unrighteous, he is reconciled to God, and justified by God; the righteousness of God is upon him, and he is standing in the favour of God. Such is the standing here brought before us; and the believer enters into the enjoyment of it by faith. "By whom" (our Lord Jesus Christ) "also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand." (Chap. 5:2.)
2. As to state. This also is new, and beyond anything we could have thought. When faith is in exercise on God's truth, he has "peace with God," stands consciously in the favour of God, rejoices in hope of the glory of God, and by the gift of the Holy Ghost has the love of God shed abroad in his heart. Thus his thoughts, affections, enjoyment, and hope are bright, peaceful, and spiritual.
When we come to the second section a very different line of instruction meets us. It is not about what we have done, but about what we were, as in Adam. For the former we needed forgiveness, for the latter deliverance. For "sins" we have remission, and righteousness is reckoned; but "sin in the flesh" - an evil nature - cannot be forgiven; we can only be delivered from it by death, from under the judgment of God. But there is more here than mere deliverance in righteousness, there is the positive "gift" of a new nature - "the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" - so that the delivered soul has two natures. (Chap. 6: 23; 7:25.) And more still; for the Holy Spirit is here seen as livingly connecting us with Christ Jesus - "the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus;" so that the believer who was in Adam in the flesh, is now "not in the flesh, but in the Spirit" - "in Christ Jesus." An experience and walk are necessarily associated with it.
1. As to standing, the believer is looked at in a very different character of standing from what we saw in chap. 5, because of the additional blessings here made known. He is no less a justified person, an object of divine grace and reconciliation, standing in the favour of God, and having the Holy Ghost, than he was in chap. 5; but besides all these wondrous blessings, he is IN CHRIST JESUS, IN THE SPIRIT, and therefore NOT IN THE FLESH; though the flesh is still in him, and he is enjoined to mortify (not the body, but) the deeds of the body through the Spirit. It is the fixed, unalterable standing of the believer in the One who is the other side of death and judgment, and alive for evermore. "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus." It is true we do not find the Spirit using the word "stand" here as in chap. 5, but we have the fact so fully stated, that the believer is no longer looked at as in Adam, or described as in the flesh, but as in Christ Jesus. The believer's position then is in Christ Jesus.
2. As to state, besides peace, joy, hope of glory, and God's love shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit as in chap. 5, we have freedom from the dominion of sin, deliverance from self, spiritual power, and a known relationship of children; we have a divine Leader, and a divine Helper in prayer; we know that God is for us, that all things work together for our good, and, though in present groaning and suffering, are looking for the redemption of the body. We are not only set where there is no condemnation, but are associated in life and love with Christ, from whom there is no separation. Such, more or less, is the state of the believer who knows deliverance through and in Christ Jesus.
It may be, however, that such spiritual power, liberty, and enjoyment will not be known unless the soul has in some measure learnt experimentally what he is, in his nature as a child of Adam, and on the authority of God's word, sees that God has delivered him. We say in some measure; for the sense of these things is always being deepened in those who walk in the truth. When the soul knows that in his flesh dwells nothing good, that it is capable of everything bad, that putting it under law only brings out its opposition to God, and with all his desires for good he has no power over it, then, after continually struggling against it, he is forced to the conclusion that the only way it could be dealt with was by death and judgment. Then, recalling to mind the work of the cross and His resurrection, he can say, "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not 1;" and he now finds that all his resources are in a triumphant and glorified Saviour, and that the Holy Spirit is his power for all godliness.
It is not absolutely necessary that he should be in the truth of chap. 5 before he knows his standing as in chap. 8: 1, though it is perhaps the usual course. It is possible that he may see at first from the truth of God that he is in Christ Jesus; and if so, he will not know the power of this deliverance till afterwards, when the experience of what he is in the flesh casts him upon the redemption and deliverance God hath wrought for him in and through our Lord Jesus Christ.
We speak of being delivered experimentally, because it is a real emancipation from the principle of sin and death, from sin as a master, from our first Adam standing, and a conscious freedom and power to serve and honour the Lord. We are set free from the law of sin and death, notwithstanding it is still true that in us - that is, in our flesh - dwelleth no good thing; and, though having the first-fruits of the Spirit, we groan within ourselves waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.
It is well to bear in mind that deliverance may be accepted as a doctrine without deliverance being really known, except so far as informing the mind about it. We believe it is often the case. When this deliverance is known experimentally, such habitually take their new position as in Christ Jesus on approaching God, and "walk, not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."
We must be careful, however, that we do not confound experience with standing. Paul was as much "a man in Christ" when buffeted on this earth by Satan as when he was in the third heaven. Nor should we confound doctrine with experience, though we generally accept doctrine before we have experience. There are, however, some who enjoy much liberty of soul (for they are so occupied with Christ that the Spirit is not grieved) who have but little knowledge of doctrine. They have great nearness to God by knowing Christ their righteousness. Intelligence is not faith. It is by faith we understand, and it is by faith we have peace and joy. Experience, however otherwise useful, never gives peace with God; for peace has been made. We are justified by faith, reconciled, and delivered through Jesus Christ. God is our Justifier, Reconciler, Deliverer, and Glorifier, and to Him be everlasting praise.
Romans 8 is proper Christian experience. May the Lord give us to know it better! It is founded on redemption accomplished, peace made, the believer justified by the blood, reconciled to God, and reckoned righteous; having died with Christ, and now alive in Christ, and having the Spirit of Christ dwelling in him. It is, however, blessed to know that every one who is contemplated in chap. 5 as justified by God and having the Holy Ghost, is also in Christ Jesus, as spoken of in chap. 8, whether he knows it or not. In chap. 5 we have what God has done for us wholly outside ourselves,' save giving us the Spirit; and in chaps. 7 and 8 it is God showing how he delivers a distressed soul under law, ready to despair on account of what he finds in himself, bringing him deliverance through his having died with Christ; thus judicially setting him aside altogether as a man in the flesh, and giving him a totally new standing the other side of death and judgment "in Christ Jesus." The difference between chaps. 5 and 8 is not, therefore, one of attainment, but the way God in grace through righteousness has met every believer as to "sins" and "sin."
Well might the devoted apostle, after tracing out for us these mercies of God, say, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost! H. H. Snell.