Notes of an Address on Romans 4:6-8; 8:38-39
I do not consider either of these subjects too elementary to occupy the minds of believers with for a few minutes. It is, we are told, “a good thing that the heart be established with grace” (Heb. 13:9), and the most advanced among us need occasionally to be reminded of the simplest elements. I venture to think that those who are farthest on in the apprehension of the mind of God are not beyond learning a little more of the grace which turned them to Christ; and as we grow in acquaintance with that which is most advanced, we get a more firm and certain grasp of that which is most elementary. I think a mistake is made in supposing that as we get on in the school of God we leave the old lessons behind as things we have perfectly acquired, and have no need ever again to return to them. It has been said that every fresh acquisition of light illuminates more brightly all that we had previously learned, and I am confident the experience of every one of us bears out the truth of the statement. I doubt if we know any truth well if we do not know something of that which lies ahead of it. The more we learn, the more we get established in that which we have already learned; and this is true in natural things as well as in spiritual. A youth at school does not forget the old helps as he enters upon the new, but the old helps him to lay hold of the new, and as he acquires the new he sees more clearly and gets better grounded in the old. Still, we all have to begin at the beginning, and in days like these our progress is at best very slow, and there are always those in the household of God, who, like the Romans, need that which is most elementary.
The first of these scriptures is a quotation from Psalm 32, and refers to the blessing of Israel under the new covenant. It is the blessedness of the man to whom God imputeth righteousness without works. Abraham is referred to in the first part of the chapter, to bring out the principle upon which God holds a man to be righteous. It is by faith. Psalm 32 declares it is “without works,” for the man is forgiven; Genesis 15 shows it is “by faith,” for Abraham believed God. In Genesis we have the justified man, in Psalm 32 his blessedness described. From verse 9 of Romans 4 the argument is that the Gentile may come in, if he believes upon Abraham’s God, viz., the God who quickens the dead, and calls the things that be not as though they were, in short, in the God who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification. The God of resurrection was the object of the faith of Abraham, and the same blessed God comes before us in the death and resurrection of Christ. Christ has through the grace of God removed the judgment under which we lay, and in him raised from the dead we have found righteousness. We are no longer naked sinners, God has clothed us with Christ, “Jesus Christ the righteous” is our righteousness. God has made Him this to us. This is “BY FAITH,” “WITHOUT WORKS.” And David describes the blessedness of such.
Jeremiah lays down the terms of the new covenant that God will make with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. He says, “not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt” (Jer. 22:32). The old covenant was written upon two tables of stone and presented to Israel for their observance, and if they were obedient they were to eat the good of the land, and be blest. If they performed their part of the covenant God would perform His part. But He says, “which My covenant they brake.”
But the new covenant is to be very different from the old. It will not be written upon tables of stone, but upon the hearts of the people. It will be no question of the will of the flesh. It will not be “If you will, I will,” but upon God’s side it will be all “I will.” “I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts (it will be in their affections by the work of God so that it will be sweeter than the honeycomb to them), and will be their God (there will be no strange God among them), and they shall be My people (He will be able to own them as His among all the nations of the earth, for they will answer to His mind), and they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, know the Lord, for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says Jehovah, for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:33-34). As I have said it is no longer “if you will I will.” It is all “I will,” “I will,” “I will.” And this is sure and everlasting. The blood of Jesus is the basis and expression of it. The great Shepherd has been brought again from the dead through the blood of the everlasting covenant. It is the will of God for His people, and they find rest and peace under it.
Though not formally made with us, we come, along with the Jewish remnant, under the terms of it, and in the Lord’s supper, the cup, He says, “is My blood of the new covenant which is shed for you.” We are not under the curse of the old and broken covenant, but under the blessing of the new and everlasting covenant, and we are brought from “afar off” to be of the household of God, and “nigh,” that we might learn and enjoy it.
The first point is the work of God in the soul, by which Christ gets into our affections. We must have the Holy Spirit before this begins to take place, and the Spirit gives us to see that Christ is the perfect answer to every demand previously made by God upon man. It is important to see that God neither has nor can abrogate His claims upon man. Whether God comes out to declare these demands as under law, or whether He comes out to supply the answer to these demands as under grace, the demands are there, and must be met. The demands exist as much today I as they did under law, and there must be an answer in man to these demands. Thank God it is so. One would not wish it otherwise. Less God cannot accept from man than that laid down in the law of Moses. It is what man ought to be. No man answered to at, and all who had to do with it came under its curse. But in Christ we are the perfect and blessed answer to every demand of the nature and character of God. Not only this, but by His blood He has made propitiation for sins; and risen from the dead, that righteous One is our righteousness, and the last Adam from whom we have got the Spirit, that the will of God concerning us may be effected in us.
The demand of God today is not engraved upon two tables of stone. I cannot read it there. Christ is the only Man who will do for God. That which was written upon stone was the demand of God in a day when there was only a very partial revelation of God, and the character of the man who might stand in the light of that revelation you may read upon the stony tablets. But today God stands fully revealed in all that He is, and one Man, and only one, is fit to stand in the light of that revelation, and that is the Man who declared Him.
And He has declared Him that we may know Him. All that God is shines in the face of Jesus Christ, i.e., it is all presented in Him. If the law of Moses told us what we ought to be, Christ has told us what God is, and all that He is, as thus declared in Christ, is in our favour. In Christ all that God is—His glory, is effulgent; and He is our righteousness there, and from that glory He has given us the Spirit to conform us to it. I see what the demand is, because the revelation of God is itself the expression of the demand, but the blessed One in whom the demand is learned is Himself the perfect answer to the demand. Thus Christ gets into my affections, and becomes engraved upon the fleshy table of my heart; and I delight to contemplate Him in whom all the glory of God shines forth and rests with satisfaction; and as I contemplate that glory I become changed into moral accord with it.
But we have also the knowledge of God. We are His household, where all know Him from the least to the greatest. Christ has declared His name to us. He says to Mary at His empty sepulchre, “Go to My brethren and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father and your Father; and to My God and your God” (John 20:17), and the Holy Spirit which has been given to us is the Spirit of God’s Son in our hearts crying, “Abba, Father!” In God’s household all know the Father, even the babes.
But Romans 4 does not go so far as this. It only speaks of the latter part of the covenant, “I will remember their sins no more.” There is eternal forgiveness. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin. Christ is our righteousness before the face of God. In Him we are justified from all things; and if so the blessedness of the man to whom God reckons righteousness without works is ours, nothing will ever be able to induce the blessed God to reckon a single sin to the believer.
It might be replied, but what if the believer does sin? “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 3:1). But is it no matter if one go on sinning? If one go on sinning, it would be well for such an one to look to it that he has an interest in Christ at all. If we walk carelessly God may come in in discipline to deliver us from the will of the flesh, and we may be brought into very deep waters on account of it, but God has taken us up in Christ, apart from the flesh, and formed links between Himself and us in this way, and sin cannot come in to disturb the relationship. Sin cannot alter the disposition of God toward us; if it did, we might just as well be under the old covenant. Christ is our subsisting righteousness, and God will not at all reckon sin.
Now I come to the love of God, and just as there can be no imputation of sin to the believer, so, from the love of God, there can be no separation. Will He cast me off for being weak and helpless? It was all poured out at my feet when I was without strength. Will He disown me because I am not what I ought to be? It was all expressed to me when I was ungodly. Shall sin separate me from it? If so, the love had never reached me. It has found a way of removing the sin, and blessing me. While we were yet sinners Christ died for us. God has not been disappointed in me. I have been terribly disappointed in myself. I had no idea when that God took me up, that I would prove such a failure. He knew it all and yet beamed upon me in the infinite tenderness and power of that holy love through the sacrifice of His own Son. Who shall separate us from it?
Can death? It was in that very thing it was expressed in all its greatness. Can life? Love is the very thing that has quickened me into life, and I have found that all life is in the love of God. Outside the love of God lie death and corruption. Can angels? They are but the servants of that love sent forth to minister to those who are the objects of it. Can principalities or powers? They learn in the kindness of God to us the power of that love that picked us up from the pit of destruction and gave as to have part with Christ above every position that they are privileged to occupy. Can things present? These all work for good to them that love God. Can things to come? These things will all be according to God, where He will rest in His love and where we will be displayed in Christ’s glory in such a way that all will know that God has loved us as He has loved His Son. Can height? It is in the height of heaven we know it best. Can depth? Nothing can be deeper than the judgment under which we lay, and love reached us there and removed the judgment from us. Can any other creature? No, because it is only a creature, and the love in which we boast is the love of the Creator Himself.
How good and blessed all this is! Justified in Christ so that imputation of sin is impossible, and taken up in Christ, in whom the love of God has been expressed and where it has found its resting place, so that separation from it is as impossible as imputation of sin. The love of God is in Christ Jesus our Lord, and God has placed us in that same Person in whom His love rests, and this is what makes separation from it impossible. May we be able to boast like the apostle in the same blessed persuasion.