It is important to see that the great object of the gospel is that God might be known in the hearts of men, and that men might live before Him in the divine nature. Indeed, this was His eternal thought, for from before the foundation of the world His purpose was to have us “Holy and without blame before Him in love.” No doubt it was for the joy and delight of His own heart, for if His purpose was formed before the world was, it is clear it must have originated with Himself; and if it originated with Himself it must have been for His own pleasure, I might say for the need of His own heart, for no need existed anywhere else. I do not mean need in the sense of want causing unhappiness, but in the sense of a desire to create intelligent beings, and bring them into the blessedness, as far as the creature could be brought, in which He dwelt Himself, the blessedness of eternal love. The way which He has taken to bring all this about, allowing the misshapen footprint of His foe to mar His perfect handiwork, and rebellion against His authority to stalk naked through the earth, while His patience and long-suffering have come to light, we may contemplate with adoring hearts, now that we see the end He has in view, conscious that that end will be attained, for the might is His, and the victory is sure, His dealings with man, with whom apparently He plays a losing game, may furnish the antagonistic and infidel mind of man with data for reasoning, and for judging his Creator, but the faithful heart follows the divine pathway through the world in the spirit of worship, knowing that it leads to glory everlasting.
This epistle unfolds to us the word of righteousness, that is to say, the righteous foundation upon which the soul is set in relationship with God. It prepares one to enter into the word of divine counsel which is unfolded in the epistle to the Ephesians. It is not the preaching of the gospel to the world, but the teaching of it to saints. We get it preached in the Acts of the Apostles. But when men are converted, they need what we have in this epistle, that they may be well established in the knowledge of God. Where the knowledge of God is feeble in the soul, the truth relating to divine counsel is usually rejected. The reason of this is, that there must always be reluctance to allow God to have everything in His own hand unless He can be absolutely trusted. If men could only flatter themselves that even a little has been given them to do, and that they have done that little, they then persuade themselves that they have in some measure earned the blessing, and that it is given to them by way of reward, but when God is really known in His righteousness, power and love, and when it is known that that righteousness, power and love have been put forth on our behalf, and that God has been for us in spite of the fact that we have been ungodly sinners, we are willing to allow Him to have His way altogether, and we are ready to hear Him tell us of His eternal counsels. The question of responsibility must first be settled, and our hearts set at rest as regards every question that could be raised before we are free to think of any interest but our own. A remedy for our ruin is about all we are free to think about until this is settled; but when our consciences have been purged by the blood of Jesus, and our affections won by the love declared in that blood, we are more free to listen to the unfolding of the mystery of the will of God. Of necessity there must be growth in the divine nature, for we all begin our new history with God as babes in Christ, and to enter upon the vast field of divine counsel we must be men; that is to say, of full growth.
The knowledge of God, so far as it was necessary for the glory of God and for the perfect happiness of the creature in the relationship in which he stood in innocence, Adam possessed. And I do not doubt that he loved God in the measure in which he knew Him, and rejoiced in His goodness with which his cup was filled. I cannot doubt that every unfallen intelligent being loves God, and my reason for believing so is because the nature of God is love, and therefore I should judge that He must be loved to be delighted in, and the being in whom He delights must love Him if He takes delight in him. But as soon as man fell from the place in which God had set him, he came under the judgment of death, and a new feeling entered into his heart, hitherto unknown to him; a feeling of terror. This new affection drove out every bit of love there was in his heart to God. He became alienated from God on the spot, and dreaded having to do with Him. From that moment he was dead in his sins. His one desire was to get as far away from God as ever he could. The dread breach had occurred, he had broken with God, and as far as he was concerned he had parted company with Him forever. It never entered into his mind whether there was any possibility of having the breach healed; he expected nothing but condemnation from the hand of God; and when he heard His voice in the garden it woke up all the terror that had taken possession of his soul. He feels he is exposed to the judgment that his sin merited, and the only light in which he views his Creator is as the executioner of that judgment. Naked and trembling behind the trees of the garden he cherishes the hope that his Maker will pass by without seeing him. Alone with the companion of his woes in the vast and unknown creation, how gladly would he have continued forever his rebellion and estrangement from the living God! Let the universe contain whatever it might, were it full of unknown horrors, the poor terror-stricken, sinful, devil-deceived creature was now willing to grapple with everything he might meet, if only he might not have to do with God. Like a giant oak struck by the thunder-flash, with the ivy still clinging to the lifeless trunk, he stands before his Creator along with his frail associate in sin, morally blasted, knarled, leafless, and withered, and laying the blame of his ruin upon the one whom be ought to have guarded and protected, and upon God for giving her to him Deceived by the devil, dominated by sin, under the judgment of death, his love to God and his affection for his wife turned to gall in his trembling soul, he has no thought of anything but a means of minimising his guilt; and to him it is of no importance who is condemned, if he escapes. Such is the creature away from God. And, indeed, how could it be otherwise? Away from God the creature knows no better than to fulfil every fleshly desire, live to the gratification of his own depraved appetite, hate, persecute and murder every one who opposes him, and throw the whole blame of his degradation upon the God who made him.
The first thing we get in Scripture after the creation of man is his fall, and the next his attempt to throw a veil over his deplorable circumstances, and the next the investigation of his offence by his Creator, and the announcement of the penalty incurred by each of the guilty parties, on account of the part played by each in the evil done, and lastly the manifestation of His grace and mercy on behalf of the two victims of satanic malice and subtlety, in clothing their nakedness with coats of skins. This action of grace on the part of God went, I have no doubt, to their hearts, so that they carried with them throughout their wanderings a sense of His goodness in their souls. But this was not natural to them, but was begotten in them by the little ray of light that found its way into their hearts from this intervention of God on their behalf. What had become natural to them was just that which has been, and is today, natural to all their descendants, distrust and dread of God, and unmixed enmity against Him, and everything that is His upon earth. This was not all demonstrated in a moment, or in one man. It took 4000 years to bring it all to light. It pleased God to bring it to light, that we might learn it, and know that in the flesh good does not dwell, and that the carnal mind is enmity against God, and full of rebellion against His authority.
The world before the flood earned for itself the title of “The world of the ungodly” (2 Peter 2:5), and a flood of water brought that to an end. God had no place among men who were animated only by lust and violence. But He has no more place in the world after the flood than He had in that which preceded it. It seems to be the world after the flood that is taken up from verse 19 of this first chapter. We see from this (chap. 1:19 to 3:19) that God never left Himself without a witness, and that that witness was invariably disregarded. It does not appear that in the antediluvian world men worshipped idols. This seems to have been a post-diluvian invention. The descendants of Noah possessed the knowledge of the true God. They had the traditions that were handed down through a long line of long-lived men. They could not have been ignorant of the fall of man, of God’s intolerance of sin, of His judgment of the wicked, and of His favour and mercy to the righteous; for all these things had come before them in very manifest and striking ways. Added to this there was the testimony of creation, and this the apostle takes up here, and leaves those who are without the law or the gospel excuseless. Creation witnesses to the power and divinity of God. It is the work of the Son. It has been often remarked that when creation is attributed to any single person of the Trinity, that person is in every instance the Son. “Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thy hands” (Heb. 1:10); and “By Him were all things created, that are in heaven and that are in earth, visible and invisible” (Col. 1:16).
I suppose this is the reason why the Son is designated “The Word.” The word is that by which God makes Himself manifest, it is the means by which He gives expression to His mind and will. Creation brought to light His power and divinity, and this was the work of the Son, who is not only God but the Word of God. We read in the beginning of the gospel of John, “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. The same was in the beginning with God All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.” The heavens and the earth, as I have been saying, brought to light His power and divinity; but this was not all that could be brought to light, there was still His nature to be made known. But the ray of light that men possessed was very quickly given up. They did not like to retain God in their knowledge; He was not the kind of being that their hearts desired; they would have preferred a god with passions like their own. They had known the true God, but they glorified Him not as God neither were thankful. It is a great favour bestowed upon the creature, to be given a little light as to the blessed God. It is that which lifts man above the level of the beast. And how thankful the creature should be for that light! Where the light is appreciated thanks will be given to God for it, and where no thanks is rendered to Him it is a sure sign that the light is despised, and will soon be given up. “Neither were thankful.” What a dreadful condition of mind and heart. But it only shows that from the beginning man desired not the knowledge of God. The language of the heart of man from the moment that sin entered the world has been, “Depart from us, for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways” (Job 21:14).
We get in this first chapter of Romans the downgrade of the sons of Noah. The cause of their departure is given—pride and lust. They became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. The tradition of their fathers, (though the family that God had so mercifully and miraculously preserved through the flood, still lived in their midst), was too antiquated for these wise men, and the testimony of the heavens was absolutely rejected. Their wisdom was their folly. And what lay deep down at the foundation of all their departure was the fact that they did not like to retain God in their knowledge. Professing themselves to be wise they became fools. In their madness they drew the curtain of wilful unbelief across the window of their hearts, and shut out the light of creation. There was now nothing to hinder their mad career toward the sink of corruption. Enticed by the devil, and deceived by the pride of their own hearts, they ran down the slippery steep of unbridled lust into the quagmire of bestial pollution, and wallowed wantonly in the slime of their horrible degradation. In few words their swift revoking descent is sketched by the pen of the Spirit of God. It is the course of man without divine support roaming in the midnight of his wilful ignorance, the sport of the devil, and the willing slave of his own corrupt fallen nature. Without divine support man comes out according to what he is in his own depraved heart; and who could sound that bottomless abyss of evil but the omniscient God? And if men dishonour God they cannot rightly complain if He withdraws His support, and leaves them to dishonour themselves. Men think that they are very well able to take care of themselves, and that they can do without God, but man left to himself becomes a prey to the powers of darkness and a slave to his degraded passions, and the hell that he thus creates within his own breast makes him the most miserable being in the universe. No intelligent creature is self-supporting. God is indispensable to the happiness of every creature set in relationship with Himself; and all who are maintained in their primitive condition are maintained by the power of God; and even unbelieving sinners, if in contact with the light of God in His redeemed people, are greatly influenced for good, and escape many of the grosser evils to which those less favoured are exposed. How blessed it is to be brought into His marvellous light! Well may our hearts rise up continually in praise and thanksgiving to the God of all grace and love for the heavenly light with which He has gladdened our vision.
In the midst of this lawless, demon-worshipping mass of fallen humanity sat hypocritical moralizers, who thought to solace their own guilty consciences by condemning others. The human heart is a strange wilderness of self-delusions, contradictions and error. These teachers of morals did the same things that they judged others for doing, thus in reality condemning themselves, indeed, if anything they were more guilty than those they condemned, for teachers must always receive greater judgment (Jas. 3:1). They take the place of knowing a thing to be wrong, and yet they practice it. But “The judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things.” The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness, and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness. A man may hold the truth, and may not practice it; but holding the truth will not avail him in the day of judgment, it will rather increase his judgment, for the judgment of God is against them that commit the sin; and He will render to every man according to his works. A sound creed is all very well, and we must avoid error in doctrine; for our conduct is not likely to be right if we are in error as to the will of God; but doctrine is to have an effect upon our lives, and where it has not it is a mere dead religion, and valueless, except to rise up against us to our condemnation. The judgment will be according to the light a man has received; it will be the standard by which he will be judged in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ.
The Jew was more favoured than the Gentile. No other nation had the light in which he boasted, but he was the most unfaithful to it. He was quite able to lay down the law, but he did not keep the law; this was his condemnation. He was no better practically than the Gentile. He had many privileges, but he was unfaithful to them all. He had broken the law in which he boasted, and by doing so he had dishonoured God; and through him the name of God had been blasphemed among the Gentiles.
Thus all flesh is laid in the dust. The old order is a complete failure. The flesh is worthless; it opposes God and His claims, it will invariably exalt itself, and dishonour Him whom it should glorify. If left in the world without cultivation, as the Gentile was, it will worship at the footstool of demons, and wallow nakedly in all manner of abominable corruptions. If it gets a little light, such as the Jew got, it will ignore the One from whom the light came, and by its unfaithfulness to the light dishonour Him in the eyes of those who sit in darkness.
Thus in a few simple sentences, from the beginning of verse 19 of chapter 1 till the end of verse 19 of chapter 3, does the Holy Spirit of God throw a flood of light over the whole face of the world, light above the brightness of the sun which can only expose the overt acts of men, but which cannot expose the mischievous plotting of the profligate heart. This light enters into the secret recesses, where the actions that proclaim what man is are begotten, and all flesh is exposed to the very roots, and involuntarily the verdict rises to one’s lips and must be pronounced, “There is no hope for that order of man.”
But this is just the object of the Spirit of God to show up the fleshly order in its true light, that the necessity of what He has to bring into view as glad tidings may be more clearly seen. The counsels of God in Christ must be fulfilled, but all His ways are in harmony with His counsels. The ruin of the old order serves as an occasion for setting it aside and introducing the new with which His counsels are concerned. In all this dark picture of man’s ruin there is not one white spot. Its inky blackness stands in the light of the glory of God, sharply silhouetted against the white wall of divine truth, according to which men are to be judged. Against this ungodliness and unrighteousness wrath is revealed from heaven. Escape is impossible for man unless God has, in His infinite wisdom, a means unknown to the creature for his deliverance.
From the entrance of sin into the world God had made promises of a Deliverer for man; One who would put an end to the oppression of the devil, swallow up death in victory, put away sin out of the world, reign in righteousness, bring in an era of peace and blessing, and encompass the wide world with the salvation of God. This was long delayed, for it was in the ways of God to put the flesh under probation, and by various tests bring out into result the whole weakness and wickedness that was in it. This test was completed by the sending of Christ into the world, and by the presentation of Him to the responsibility of man. This last test we do not get in this epistle It deals with man and his responsibility as a child of Adam, whether without law, or under it, and as having to do with God, who had shown goodness, forbearance and long-suffering, with the object in view of leading him to repentance. And this along with everything else, he had sinned against. And now that wrath was revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of man, where could he find a refuge? There was coming a day of wrath, in which the righteous judgment of God would be revealed; and in that day those who had sinned without law, would perish without law, and those who had sinned in the law, would be judged by the law. The Gentile had not received the law, but was left to the light that creation gave him, and to his conscience, which convicted him as a sinner; and in addition to these things there was witness borne to God by the fact that He did good, and gave rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling the hearts of men with food and gladness, His desire being that they might, feel after Him and find Him, for He was not far from any one of them (Acts 14:17; 17:27). The Jew had the law, and boasted in it, and was “confident that he was a guide of the blind, a light of them that are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law.” But however the Jew might pride himself in the law, he would find in that day that it would not justify him, but that it would judge and condemn him. The greater the privilege, the greater the judgment, if man is unfaithful. There are certain immutable principles upon which God judges, and from which He never departs, I might say, from which He cannot depart, and they are set down here. When He judges, He will render to every man according to his works. “To them who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality (incorruptibility), eternal life; but unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that does evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile: for there is no respect of persons with God. These principles are immutable when God puts on the character of a Judge and approaches man in that character; then He will neither justify the wicked, nor condemn the righteous. Even in the resurrection it is those that have done good that are in the resurrection of life, and those that have done evil that are in the resurrection of judgment. This epistle unfolds to us how it is brought about, that there are those found who by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory, honour and incorruptibility. It is clear that evil-doing and not well-doing is what distinguishes man by nature.
The privileges that men possessed only augmented their guilt, for man was the bond-slave of sin. Under law, like the Jew; or without law, like the Gentile, all were under sin; and the proof of this lay in the fact that man served sin with every member of his body. In chapter 3 the members are taken up in detail, and shown to be in the service of sin.
The THROAT, an open sepulchre.
The TONGUE, using deceit.
The LIPS, asp’s poison under them.
The MOUTH, full of cursing and bitterness.
The FEET, swift to shed blood.
The WAYS, destruction and misery in them.
The EYES, no fear of God before them.
NONE seeking after God.
NONE doing good.
ALL gone out of the way.
TOGETHER become unprofitable.
This is what the law says to them that are under it. He may boast himself in it, but it condemns him unmercifully; and what reply can he make? for he cannot but acknowledge that it is holy, just and good. Thus every mouth is stopped, and the whole world brought in guilty before God. It took the greater part of the history of the world to bring all this into evidence; but God was long-suffering and could afford to wait. One day is with Him as 1000 years, and 1000 years as one day. The first Adam, his fall, his race and probation, though no part of His eternal counsel, have their part in the fulfilment of this counsel, and it was necessary that the complete ruin of the creature should be brought to light, in order that the recovery of that creature should redound to the glory of God to all eternity. It is now no great wonder to us that we have heard throughout the darkness of the dispensations that are past the oft-repeated cry arise from hearts exercised by the Spirit of God,—“What is man that Thou art mindful of him?” Nor shall we ever know the true answer to that question until we are able to look up to the right hand of God by the clear eye of faith, and say, “We see JESUS.” Then the question will never be asked again. Then we will have found the key that unlocks the door to every mystery of the universe, and the answer to every moral question that could arise in the breast of any child of Adam’s race. There we will find the book of wisdom unsealed, wherein we may read the deep things of God, and satiate our souls with all the infinite treasures of wisdom and knowledge. And not only that, but there the heart may rest in the consciousness, that though evil may seem for the present moment to have the upper hand, and good be despised and persecuted, the day for its expulsion from the universe draws on apace, for Christ will cleanse the world from the presence of sin, and give rest to the weary, groaning Creation.
The Gospel turns us away from man, as one in whom it would be madness to trust, and fixes our thoughts on God revealed in Christ. The Gospel is the gospel of God. It is the intervention of God on behalf of His poor, ruined creature that it speaks of. It is no longer what man is to be for God that is brought before us. It is not His holy and just demand upon the children of men, spoken out of the thick darkness, and from the midst of the devouring fire that salutes our ears; but it is what the blessed God is for ruined sinners who have no claim upon Him. It is no longer man and his activities, but it is the wonderful works of God that is preached as glad tidings. God has drawn near to us to make Himself known to us, and by this means deliver us from our sins, from the dominion of sin, the fear of death, the oppression of the devil, the lust of the flesh and the influence of the world. We are to stand still and see the salvation of God. Under law it was man struggling to gain a righteousness that was always beyond his reach. Instead of finding life in the law, he found death; and instead of righteousness, condemnation; and instead of blessing, a curse. Now that order of things has come to an end, and God is seen drawing near to man in another character altogether. The time to fulfil the promises made to the fathers had arrived, and God is found to be faithful to every word that He had ever at any time uttered.
The dignity of the Person in whom God would intervene on behalf of man had been clearly set forth in the Scriptures. It had not been understood by the rulers of the people. When the question was put to them by the blessed Lord, “What think ye of Christ? whose son is He?” The Scribes answer, “The son of David.” They had no greater conception of their Messiah than this. And truly He was the son of David, the One who would take up every thing that was shadowed forth in David, and who would fulfil the will of God. But He had a greater glory than that of son of David; He was also Son of God. A mere son of David could have been no better than his father. David could paint a beautiful picture of what a king ought to be, but has to confess that he was not that man. His last words were a confession of his failure. But if he was able to describe what kind of man “He that rules over men” ought to be, it was by the Spirit of Jehovah, who gave his heart the impression of Christ. He was a beautiful figure of Christ, but like every other figure when examined closely there is more contrast than comparison. This Personage was not only David’s son, but He was David’s Lord. He was Son of God, and declared so by power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection of the dead. The Spirit of holiness that characterized Him in passing through this defiled world was the power by which He rose from the dead, having broken the power of death. Perfect surrender to the will of God, giving Himself up to do the will of Him that sent Him, whatever the cost might be to Himself, and absolute separation from the unhallowed scene through which He had to pass in His pathway of testimony for God, characterized Him, and, along with the destruction of the power of death, declared Him to be the Son of God.
This is the One who is the subject of the glad tidings of God. It is in Him that the power of God is vested for the recovery of man. The ear of every man is to be open to Him, the eye of every man is to be fixed upon Him, and the heart of every man is to get an impression of Him. He was the effulgence of God, so that He could say, He that has seen Me has seen the Father; He spoke the words of God so that God was speaking through His lips to the hearts of men; in Him God had come close to men in the grace and love of His own heart. The salvation of God was in Him. Man in the pride and obstinacy of his heart rejected Him, and cast Him out of the world, condemning Him to the death of a malefactor, and nailing Him to the cross, thus declaring his ignorance and his hatred of God. But all this, however wicked on the part of man, hindered not the carrying out of the counsels of God. God must ever be more than a match for Satan; He can never be defeated by the creature; indeed, what is said of Him is, that “He takes the wise in their own craftiness;” and it is always where the enemy thinks he is most successful that his defeat is the heaviest. How true it was of the devil, when he led man to pit forth his hand and by robbery to aspire to equality with God, thus ruining the handiwork of God and exulting in the victory, that “The triumphing of the wicked is short, and the joy of the hypocrite but for a moment” (Job 20:5), for then it was declared that the Seed of the weak woman whom he deceived would bruise his head. And again when he laid hold of the enmity of the human heart to induce man to crucify his Saviour, how true it was, that “He made a pit, and digged it, and is fallen into the ditch that he made. His mischief shall return upon his own head, and his violent dealing shall come down upon his own pate” (Ps. 7:15-16). He knew not the greatness of the Christ. He was confident that the stronghold of death would hold Him prisoner, as it had held every other son of Adam who had gone down into it; but the resurrection spread consternation in the ranks of Satan. He could not be holden of death; by entering into it He became its destruction. It lay upon man as the judgment of God on account of sin, but by entering into it the Son of God annulled it, and now every blessing for man is in Him in resurrection. Through Him forgiveness of sins is declared to all men; and in Him all that believe are justified from all things. He is the One who will give effect to every thought of the heart of God, and in whom men are to find the blessing of eternal life. God has made Him Lord and Christ. Every blessing that God has for man is in Him and to be found nowhere else, and all the authority and power of God are vested in Him for the subjugation of everything to Himself.
“God has highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11). Hence the gospel is for the obedience of faith. Christ is to be submitted to. And then it is world-wide. It has all men in view. The writer of this epistle was the apostle specially called out and appointed to go to the Gentiles. Peter was sent to the circumcision, Paul to the uncircumcision. The whole world has come into view for blessing before God. Nicodemus, like every proud Jew, thought that God would have respect to no people but those of his own nation; but he has to hear from the lips of the One whom He recognized as “Teacher sent from God,” that it so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16). Peter had his difficulties about going to the house of Cornelius, but he learned through the vision of the sheet let down from heaven that God was favourable to all men in the gospel. Paul would much have preferred to be sent to his own nation, and on account of the peculiar mission given to him, and what it meant to the Jew, in a moment of dreadful anxiety for the ancient people of God, he wished himself accursed from Christ (chap. 9:3). But if God is going to deal in grace with men who are all alike guilty, He will be no respecter of persons. If He is to judge men, He will judge righteously, according to men’s works, and if He is to show grace, He will show it alike to all. In raising up Jesus, God fulfilled the promises He had made to Israel, and when they rejected Him, He gave them the sure mercies of David in Him risen from the dead; but because He is acting thus in grace, and because He is also the God of the Gentile as well as of the Jew, He has set Christ as a light of the Gentiles, that He should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.
The sun is placed in the heavens, that men might be illuminated by its brightness, and warmed by its heat; and Christ is to be the Sun of the grace and love of God to all men. But He is Lord of all, and all must submit to Him. To refuse to submit to Him, is to refuse the intervention of God on behalf of men, and is to declare oneself a rebel, and therefore exposed to the wrath of God. In the day of His glory, when He shall take to Himself His great power and shall reign, all who refuse to submit to Him shall perish on the spot; now if men hear the gospel, and reject it, they place themselves outside the circle of blessing; for the blessing of God is confined to Christ, and is only made good to those who submit to Him.
Of this gospel Paul was not ashamed. He had no need to be; it was the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes. No reason now existed for any poor sinner continuing under the authority of darkness. This salvation had first been preached in Jerusalem, and it was “To the Jew first,” but it was also to the Gentile, and was being published to every creature under heaven. It was for the poor, but the rich was not passed over. The light of the kindness and love of God in Christ shone for men of every nationality, and of every class and colour. Light had sprung up for the whole human race, for God would have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth. What a change from the past darkness, the darkness of Judaism or the deeper darkness of the Gentile idolatry. It was not now the demand of God upon man, spoken from the midst of the thick darkness, neither was it the testimony of creation, of God “Doing good, and giving rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling the hearts of men with food and gladness;” it was tidings of salvation, the salvation of God. It is said to be the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes. It is the means by which God sets free the bond-slaves of sin and Satan.
The first need of man is righteousness. There are not many men bold enough to say that they are all that they ought to be. Most men are willing to admit that they are not altogether perfect, but that is to admit that they are not as God made them; for if I am just as God made me I certainly am all that I ought to be. If man is as God made him, and I am not satisfied with him in the state and condition in which I find him, it is quite clear that I am vain enough to think that I could improve upon the work of God; but the very fact that no man is satisfied with the general state in which men are found in the world is a proof to himself that he is in a fallen condition; that is, that he is not as God made him; and if he is not as God made him, what has taken place to bring him into this deplorable condition? And I might add, if he is in a state other than that in which he was created, has God got nothing to say about his ruin? None of us are satisfied with men as we find them, but we do not stop there, we admit the principle of responsibility, for we hold one another accountable for our actions. But I cannot very rightly hold my neighbour accountable for his actions towards me, and refuse to admit any responsibility on my part with respect to him. Now if we admit the principle of responsibility to one another, how can we refuse to admit it with regard to our relationships with God? I see man is not as he is morally, the work of a righteous Creator, but at the same time I refuse to him the right to carry out the dictates of his evil heart, for by doing so he would trespass upon me, and I do not allow him to trespass upon me with impunity; that is, I admit he is ruined, and that he is evil-disposed, but I do not allow that to be any excuse for any act of his that would be to my hurt. But can man be amenable to my judgment, and immune from the judgment of God? If I have a right, where my interests are involved, to say to my neighbour, “You must do this,” and, “You must not do that,” and “If you do such things, certain consequences must ensue,” has God no right to say anything? Is He the only One in the universe who is without the power to safeguard His rights? What wickedness the heart of man is privy to! Well may the blessed and righteous God say to the rebel sinner in the day of judgment, “Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee.” God is the only One to whom rights are denied in this world, but the “Day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” draws nigh, and in that day men will learn that He does not allow His creature to trample upon His rights with impunity. In that day the hidden things of darkness will be brought to light, and the counsels of the heart will be made manifest, and all men will learn that God is not mocked.
Men are sinners, and in need of righteousness wherewith to appear before God. The first thing Adam and his wife discovered, when they had sinned against God, was that they were naked. Their sin had exposed them to the judgment of God. What they now needed was a covering. They needed it in the presence of one another, but they found out, later on in the presence of God, that they needed it much more to shelter them from His eye than from the gaze of one another. Men do not like to appear in the presence of one another as they really are. We do not care to be too well known to one another. We resent the encroaches of an inquisitive person. We hide the secrets of our hearts from the gaze of our fellows. This in itself betokens something wrong. Why should I dread the day of manifestation? Why should I shrink from being exposed in the sight of the universe? Is it not because I know that I am unfit to be seen as I really am? If all that could be known of me would be to my praise how gladly would I court the closest inspection! How anxious would I be for every one to know everything about me! The inquisitiveness of my neighbour would be no annoyance to me; I would not resent the narrowest scrutiny. But no one of us is willing to appear as we really are; we all readily don the apron of fig leaves, otherwise society would be intolerable.
But something else is necessary for the eye of God than fig leaves. There was no word about fig leaves when Adam and Eve heard the voice of God. If they needed their nakedness hidden from one another, they needed much more to have it hidden from God. But the covering which they had made for themselves could not do this; so Adam says, “I heard Thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” No covering of man’s provision can shelter the sinner from the judgment of God. The only question is, “Can God Himself provide a covering?” and if He can will He so interest Himself in the welfare of His rebellious creature, that He will make provision for his need? Blessed be God, this question is answered before man is driven out from Paradise to toil for his bread. “The Lord God made goats of skins, and clothed them.” Here we get indicated to us that the judgment pronounced upon man must be inflicted, but that the One upon whom the judgment would be executed, would be of God’s provision, and would be the covering for the sinner. Death was the penalty lying upon man for his disobedience, and to obtain a covering of skins, a victim has to suffer the penalty. The covering of their nakedness indicates to us the way in which God would justify the believing sinner in Christ, “Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.”
God has not passed over our sins, as if they were of no importance; the judgment that lay upon us has been executed; and we must learn this if we are to get the knowledge of God. We must learn that, though He may have mercy upon us, He can have none upon our sins. The gospel sets before us what God has done, how He has vindicated Himself, how sin has received its judgment, and how the sentence that was pronounced by God upon the sinner has been maintained, and his salvation made possible. In the gospel Christ Jesus is set forth a mercy-seat through faith in His blood, for the showing forth of His righteousness, in respect of the passing by the sins that had taken place before, through the forbearance of God; for the showing forth of His righteousness in the present time, so that He should be just and justify him that is of the faith of Jesus. Here my soul is instructed in righteousness, the righteousness of God. Whatever man may think of sin, I learn here that God will not tolerate it. I might have thought in the past dispensation that there was a possibility of God ignoring His judgment which He had pronounced against sin, when I see Him pass over the sins of His people before the cross. Now I learn that every atom of His righteousness has been vindicated. The blood on the mercy-seat is the witness to this. He has not recalled His judgment; He has executed it. The place from which He addresses me, and where I meet Him, is where I learn His righteousness; that is, His perfect consistency with Himself. He has been His own standard of moral rectitude, and it could not be otherwise, for all His actions must proceed from what He is in His own nature and attributes. And it is Him that I have to acquaint my heart with; hence it is important that I should know that His works are the outcome of what He is. He has not set up a standard lower, nor other than Himself, to model His conduct by. If He justifies the ungodly, He is just in doing so; and I might be willing to take His word for it that it is so; but He has taken in hand our instruction, that we might understand and know how it is so. The man that is described in the latter half of the first chapter, the whole of the second, and the first half of the third, has been brought to an end in the execution of the judgment under which he lay, and the blood on the mercy-seat is the witness to it.
We get a type of this in the blood-sprinkled lintel, on the night when the destroying angel passed through the land of Egypt. The angel was commissioned to destroy all the firstborn in the land, but God made provision for His people. A lamb was taken and killed, and its blood sprinkled upon the lintel and door post of the houses of the children of Israel. In the eye of the destroying angel there was no firstborn in the house where the blood was sprinkled. The judgment that he was executing had preceded him, and the witness to it was the blood that met his eye at the entrance to the house. Thus God set forth the way in which He would shelter His people by the blood of Jesus. He executed judgment that night upon all the firstborn in Egypt, either in their own persons or in the person of their substitute.
God would have His people saved and He provided a means of salvation. But when we come to the gospel of the grace of God it is for all men; He will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth; and therefore the Mediator gave Himself a ransom for all. God has provided a shelter for every child of Adam. Therefore the apostle was not ashamed of the gospel. He did not require to steal away out of sight from the presence of need; he carried that which could meet the need of man perfectly, and there were no limitations upon it. He brought righteousness to men as the gift of God, and every man might avail himself of it. Moreover it was upon the principle of faith, so that it was available for the vilest. It was held forth in the gospel: “Therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith”; that is to say, it is testified of in the report which is to be believed, and the man who believes has it. Or as we get in the third chapter, it is “By faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe.” And Paul was the herald of this gospel. He got his commission from the Lord; indeed, he was converted with that end in view, as was told him at his conversion: “I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things that thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I shall appear unto thee; delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes” (Acts 26:16-18). Therefore he says, “I am debtor both to the Greeks and to the Barbarians, both to the wise and to the unwise. So as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.” It was a great joy to the apostle that he was entrusted with the glad tidings. And what an honour it was to be entrusted with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God, the only means of salvation for Jew and Gentile; but no other means was required, for it was by the gospel God was saving the souls of men.
And how needful it was that all should hear these glad tidings! It might meet with great opposition in the world. The apostle who writes this epistle had himself been a persecutor of it, but the grace of God in Christ had overcome his insane opposition, and had made him the most willing servant of Christ upon earth, and therefore he had no reason to doubt its power to subdue the proudest heart. He knew that it was God’s way of saving the souls of sinners, and he knew there was no other means, and he also knew how much men needed the salvation that it was his privilege to proclaim world-wide. And Jew and Gentile needed it alike; for all had sinned, and come short of the glory of God. That all had sinned, both Jew and Gentile would have been willing to confess; but what was this apparently new standard that seemed to be introduced here? What it was to be short of the requirement of the law, the Jew knew well enough; but everything must now be measured by the glory of God. God is not now hidden in the thick darkness, He has come into the light in Christ; He stands before us in Christ perfectly revealed; hence what might have availed for man in the past dispensation will not do now. Man must be fit to stand in the presence of the glory of God. The old order of things has passed away, the probation of man is closed for ever, and God has come to light in the gospel, and man must be able to stand in the presence of this perfect revelation of God or perish. But it is to make man fit to stand in the light of God, that God has intervened on his behalf. If under law man was a transgressor, and without law lawless, and amenable to a judgment that would have been eternal condemnation to him, God had the right to bring in a new standard by which to measure His creature, and up to which to propose to bring him by His own almighty power; for it is in view of that glory that God justifies him. If the intervention of God became a necessity, if anyone was to be saved, and if God came fully to light in that intervention, then a new standard has been created for man to be measured by, and there is no other standing for man but in the presence of God thus revealed, and if he cannot stand there, he has no standing whatever. Therefore though the Jew was more privileged than the Gentile, there was no real difference for these two reasons: first, that both were alike sinners; and second, that both were short of the required stature—the glory of God. All men are viewed as under sin, and servants to it, and short of the glory of God. The trial is over, his worthlessness and guilt are fully proven; it must be mercy now on the part of God, or hopeless condemnation for man.
But redemption is in Christ Jesus, redemption that involves for man a new status entirely different from anything that could have been his portion in Adam, even had innocence been maintained. We can only learn what is involved in that redemption as we learn the new place that man has entered into in Christ in the presence of God fully revealed. It includes, in its most perfect character, a changed body, and glory with Christ; but at the present moment it goes no farther than justification. But if we are able to lay hold of the true character of this redemption that is said to be in Christ Jesus, we will better understand how it is that we can be held to be righteous by God, we who are nothing but sinners in ourselves. We have got a new standing in Christ in the presence of God; in Christ whose blood has been shed for the remission of our sins. We are said to be justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. The blood upon the mercy-seat shows us how God has vindicated His righteousness, so that when He justifies a poor sinner, we see how perfectly righteous He is in doing so.
But it is the believer that He justifies; that is to say, it is the man who, in the confession of his guilt and helplessness, throws himself upon the mercy of God, and believes the gospel. He may be in man’s account good or bad, in God’s account he is a sinner in the confession of his sin, and one as regards whom He will exercise His prerogative of mercy. Faith is the principle upon which men are now to come into blessing with God; it is His revealed way of putting men in relationship with Himself, and whatever a man may be, Jew or Gentile, far off or nigh, if he believes in Jesus, God is his justifier. And this excludes boasting. All men are placed upon one common ground; there is no difference; the flesh has no claim upon the mercy of God; He treats all alike; righteousness as the free gift of God is held out to all alike, and the man that believes in Jesus has it upon him. If man is in blessing with God, he is there by the grace of God, not by his own works, and therefore he has nothing to boast himself of.
Is faith then a new principle upon which man is just with God? Was any child of Adam at any time justified by works? Could the flesh ever have boasted in the presence of God? The apostle goes back to Abraham. How was he justified? If by works he might well have boasted; but this cannot be allowed, for no flesh shall boast in His presence. What then says the Scripture? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” However great a personage Abraham was, however God may have been pleased to identify His name with him, and whatever blessing may have been his, he was justified on the same principle as any other poor sinner. The Scripture is definite enough upon that point. He had no more to glory in than any other. He was as destitute of works of righteousness as the rest of mankind.
This was powerful testimony to a Jew that the flesh counted for nothing in the salvation of a man’s soul; and also very humbling to his pride, for he boasted of his descent from this great personage. It was a terrible blow upon the forehead of his boasted lineage from this great man, and biting deep to the brain of all his fleshly pretension, laid him for the moment in the dust. But to quote this testimony with regard to Abraham was not sufficient to settle the question, and prevent it being ever re-opened. It might have been replied, and with some appearance of reason, that this was true of Abraham because he lived 430 years before the law was given, but that the giving of the law changed the dealing of God with man, and since that time men have been justified on the principle of works. The apostle therefore chooses another smooth stone from the clear brook of divine truth, and slings it with all his force at the already wounded adversary of the grace of God. What is the testimony of David, who lived in the day when the law was in full vigour? He “Describes the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputes righteousness without works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” Here is a man justified, but certainly not on the principle of works, for he is a forgiven sinner. He has no works that would justify him; they are all evil works, and cry out for his condemnation. But God shows grace to him, and forgives him. Had his works been good, the righteous God could have done nothing else but justify him. He would have been discharging a debt in justifying the man whose works merited it. But here is a sinner forgiven, and accounted righteous. And this was in the dispensation of law. This demolished completely the fort of justification by works of law, which the Jew zealously guarded and caused him hastily to retire into his last stronghold—circumcision. But there the great soldier of the cross pursues him with weapons which were mighty through God to the pulling down of even this stronghold.
Was this blessedness confined to the circumcision, or did it reach out to the uncircumcision also? This question is decided by an examination into the justification of Abraham. On the principle of faith righteousness was reckoned to him while he was in uncircumcision, and afterwards he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of faith which he had being in uncircumcision, that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also. This puts the pretensions of the Jew out of court completely. He must come in on the principle of faith, and on the same principle a Gentile may come in also. Circumcision simply meant that, if God justifies a man by faith, that is the end of the flesh before God; it has no standing in His presence. Circumcision is the end of the flesh; it is really what took place at the cross; there it was brought to a complete end in the judgment of God, and circumcision was a figure of this. It was an indication that God could not put Himself in relationship with the flesh. If He took up Abraham, and justified him, and placed him in relationship with Himself, the mark of death must be in the flesh. It must be set aside.
This raises also the question of the inheritance. If they who are of the law be heirs, what about the faith of Abraham, and the promise made to him that he should be the heir of the world? He could not inherit, if the inheritance came on the principle of works of law. And where is the promise of God? Made altogether void, if this is to be accepted. But this is not all, for law works wrath; hence the impossibility of inheriting any blessing under it. Where no law is, there might be inheritance; but not were law is, if law is to have its force. Where no law is there is no transgression; that is, there is no violation of a given commandment; but where law is imposed, the flesh is certain to transgress, and wrath ensue, and to inherit under wrath is impossible. “Therefore it is of faith that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all, before Him whom he believed, even God, who quickens the dead and calls those things which be not as though they were.” Had the promise been by the law neither Abraham nor any of his seed could have inherited it, but it is of faith that it might be by grace, and therefore sure to all the seed, whether they be Jews or Gentiles.
Here we have the light in which God presented Himself to Abraham. It is as the God who quickens the dead, and calls those things which be not as though they were. God waited until the fulfilment of the promise was beyond the power of nature, and then said to Abraham, “I have made thee a father of many nations,” and pointing him to the stars of heaven said to him, “So shall thy seed be.” Abraham could not count upon himself for the fulfilment of this promise. If this was to be brought about it must be by the quickening power of God, and upon this Abraham counted. Now in the steps of that faith every true child of Abraham has walked ever since that day. It is in this way that God has brought Himself before us in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Whatever promises He may have made in the past ages He has been well able to perform. It might have been thought that, as the judgment of God lay upon man on account of sin, and that all were alike guilty, there was no hope for man at all. But we have to learn that there is nothing too hard for the Lord. He is able to relieve the sinner of the righteous judgment that lies upon him. If in the third chapter we see His righteousness declared in the execution of the judgment that pressed upon man on account of sin, so that the offending thing, flesh, has been brought to an end in the execution of that judgment, the blood being the witness to this; in the fourth chapter we see His almighty power put in operation, in bringing from the dead the One who was delivered for our offences; Jesus our Lord raised again for our justification. Thus God brings Himself before us, that we may learn Him in His righteousness, and in His almighty power, and that we might know that the exercise of these attributes has been in our favour. They might well have been exercised against us, to our eternal destruction, but in grace they have been put forth with a view to our eternal salvation. Blessed be His name for ever and ever! How infinite in wisdom He has shown Himself to be! Who could have thought it possible that the creature who had fallen under that judgment, which could not be revoked, would ever have had a way of deliverance opened out to Him? And into what heart in the universe would the thought have ever entered that, to the helpless enemy of God, mercy would be shown? But then what creature could have known his Creator, if the Creator had not declared Himself? And yet how easy it is to believe, that He who in the grace of His heart found clothes wherewith to cover the nakedness of our first parents, would provide righteousness for naked sinners. How good, indeed, it is to come to the knowledge of such a Creator, and find rest for our weary hearts!
By our Lord Jesus Christ the believer is led into all the blessed results that flow from the accomplishment of righteousness, and the putting forth of the power of God to deliver us from the consequences of our sins, and give us righteousness in His presence in Christ. Peace with God results from being justified by faith. We no longer dread the judgment to which we were righteously exposed on account of our offences; that judgment having been meted out to our blessed Substitute on the cross, who was delivered to bear it. We not only know that we have been forgiven, but we know that we have got a righteous standing in the presence of God, and that He has acted consistently with His nature and character in giving us this standing. We were sinners surely, and our sins have been forgiven us, every one of them according to the omniscience of God; but not only is this true, but He has dealt with them in unsparing judgment, and we know it so that our consciences are set at rest in His presence, we are perfectly assured that they can never come up against us again. They are all gone in the death of Christ, and though He has been raised again, it has been for our justification, there has been no resurrection of our sins. Therefore it is all peace between us and God, and our Lord Jesus Christ delights to lead us into the calm that has resulted from the fact that the storm of divine wrath against sin has spent itself upon His devoted head, and the place which He now occupies can never be visited by a single disturbing element.
And our place is in the favour of God. We apprehend the grace in which He has approached us in Christ, and that Christ being our righteousness we have no place with God apart from Him, but the favour in which He is, is the favour in which we are, and it is our constant unchangeable place with God. We are in favour which we never merited, and of which we know no demerit on our part can ever deprive us. It is a question now of the One who is our righteousness, and of what He is as our righteousness in the presence of God. What a place this is, and how eternally secure! One thing only now we wait and long for, and boast in hope of, and that is the glory of God. Once we were short of it, and dreaded to think of the day in which it would be revealed. We could think of nothing in connection with it but condemnation and wrath; now we rejoice in hope of it. We are justified in view of it, and we have got a righteousness that in the presence of that glory will shine more brightly than the radiant sun in the cloudless dome of heaven.
We may well boast now. Boasting comes in in its right place in this chapter. It is excluded in chapter 3, for there man’s sinful condition is brought to light, and no one is better than his neighbour, for “All have sinned, and come short if the glory of God;” and the additional fact that righteousness is on the principle of faith puts all boasting to silence. But here boasting is permissible, for we are fit for the glory by the work of God, and therefore we boast in that which He has wrought. We boast in hope of the glory, the grace that brought salvation to us teaches us to do this (Titus 2:13). The glory is the next step. We have been justified by faith, we stand in grace, and the glory of God is the prospect before our souls.
But the wilderness comes in between with all its testings and trials; and the hostility of the world to Christ, and to us because we are His, must be met on our way to the glory; and this, where there is an assent to the gospel unaccompanied by a divine work in the soul, has the effect of driving back into the world those that bid fair to have left it. We are told by the Lord (Matt. 13) that, like the seed sown in stony places are they who hear the word and receive it with joy, but having no root are offended when tribulation or persecution arises. But the true heart is greatly helped by tribulation, for it is cast more upon Christ than it would have been if everything had gone smoothly, and it is driven from the world which is such a snare to the people of God. We boast in tribulation, knowing that it works endurance; it may not be pleasant to be constantly exposed to the attacks of the enemy; and as we keep the highway to glory, to be made the target of the powers of darkness, who shoot their poisoned arrows from the surrounding gloom; but where the heart is true, it becomes more taken up with Christ, instead of being driven from Him, which to accomplish is the object of the devil. And endurance works hope, for we get to see how the faithful God comes in at the right moment for the deliverance of His people, and makes a way of escape for us where we could see none ourselves. We also get to see that the enemy is not invincible, and that though he may be very powerful, He that is on our side is more than a match for him. We might think at the outset, that we were going to be altogether swallowed up, and for the moment God might be obscured from our vision, and the enemy only in evidence; but we find that at the right moment God intervenes, and the enemy melts away, like the mists of night before the presence of the lord of day. And in this way we come to be established in the faithfulness of God. We get to know that He is as good as His word, and the way He comes in for us in our difficulties by the way, is a witness to our souls that the future will be as rich in His deliverances as the past has been, until the appearing of His glory, when will have ended forever the desert journey. Thus experience works hope. And hope does not make ashamed, for the love of God has been shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. The day of the revelation of His glory will be a great day for us; it will be a day of unmingled joy, in which we shall see Him, who is now despised and slighted, honoured of all; when the heavens shall bend before Him, and the earth shall throb her homage, responsive to the touch of her Creator’s feet; when the angels of the might of God shall come like flames of fire from the utmost limits of the universe, to do homage to the Man whom God delights to honour; when the gates and the everlasting doors shall be commanded to lift up their heads, that the King of glory may enter, and when to the challenge, “Who is this King of glory?” the answer will be returned, “Jehovah of hosts, He is the King of glory.” This indeed will be a great day for us, for we shall be His companions in that day. And there is no fear in our hearts that, when that day comes, there is any likelihood of our being forgotten, for already the love of God is the great light of our hearts. We have the witness and guarantee that we have not hoped in vain, for that love could not be satisfied without us; it was—
“Love divine that did decree
We should be part through Jesus’ blood.”
Therefore our boasting is not in any feebleness or hesitation. We are not afraid to take our place for God in the world, and to appear in it as pilgrims and strangers, and to let it be understood that all our hopes are centred in Him who is at the right hand of God, and that we expect nothing from the world. The love of God in our hearts has assured to us our part with Him in the day of His glory.
And this love is not some sentimental chimerical dream of the superstitious mind of man. It has had its manifestation in the death of Christ. “When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” When it had been thoroughly proven that there lay in man no power that could bring about his own recovery; that is, when it had been demonstrated that not only was man an ungodly sinner, but that there was no strength in him to do better, then it was what is called here, “Due time.” And how the state of man brings into relief the love of God! Had the ungodly creature a morsel of strength to support the state of rebellion in which he was found, it might have demanded a measure of respect to be paid to the position he had taken up; but to be an enemy, and without strength, is indeed contemptible as well as evil. But when this was fully proven, then the love of God to man is declared. This is encouraging to us, for as we find out the evil of the flesh in the school of God, we are apt to get disheartened and think that this coming to light may turn away the love of God from us; but it encourages us greatly to see that the love of God to us came to light when our vileness and helplessness were fully exposed. God does not expect to find any goodness in us except what He has put there Himself; neither does He expect strength in us more than the strength He has given to us. He has not approached us to look for any good in us, but to divert our thoughts from ourselves to Himself.
And this love of God is like no other love under the sun. For a righteous man one is not likely to die. There is nothing in a merely righteous man to draw out the affections of the heart, and the love of the creature is not sovereign; there is ever a reason for the love of man, and though an upright man after the flesh may be respected, it is not likely that he will provoke love. But for a good man some would even dare to die. A good man is one who is kind and philanthropic. The righteous man here is not one righteous according to God, but rather one who is straight and honest in his dealings with men. And the good man is, as I have said, the man who is kind and affectionate and tender with those who have to do with him. “Scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.” That is to say, there must be a reason for man’s love. But the love of God is not like this; there was nothing in us to provoke anything from God but wrath, yet He loved us. “God commends His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” This is the love of God, and it is in its manifestation we have to learn it. This is something that is outside the creature. Love is of God. It is sovereign. It has not been drawn out by anything in us, there was nothing in us to draw it out, it is this that has become the great light of our hearts. It is in the sense of this that we boast in hope of the glory of God. We were short of it as sinners, whether Jews or Gentiles, and the thought of it was only a terror to us. The prophet Isaiah felt his unfitness to stand in the presence of that glory, and the sight of it wrung from his lips the fearful cry, “Woe is me” He had never seen himself such a sinner as at that moment. How different it was with Stephen! He had never felt himself so much at home any other place as he did in the presence of the glory of God. There was no “Woe is me” with him. He felt himself the most blessed man upon earth, and he felt himself in the most blessed place that it was possible for a man to occupy. What mattered the shower of stones that beat the life out of his frail body, when his soul was basking in the bright beams of the glory of God, in which he saw Jesus? Let life upon earth go: a better life was assured to him where Jesus was. O what a place for a mortal man to be found in! Not in the glory actually, and yet in the full light of it, and his place in it held for him by Jesus, who had shed His blood for him, that he might be justified in view of finding his place there. The heavens were opened through for him, that he might get a vision of that glorious scene in the hour of his martyrdom; and his testimony is valuable to us, for though we may not be privileged to look through those heavens in the same way in which he did, they are no less opened for us, and everything is there as he saw it, with this difference that Christ is not now standing there, for He has set Himself down on the right hand of God. We are toiling through the wilderness in the midst of opposition of all kinds, but the glory is the goal before us, and with the eye fixed upon Jesus there, and the heart filled with the love of God, we boast in hope of it.
The day of wrath lies in the pathway of this world, and though the worldling knows nothing about it, we know that it is coming, and it will be a testing day for every living soul upon earth; but the One, in the power of whose blood we have been justified, will save us out of it. I have no doubt that the way He will do this will be, that He will come and take His church to Himself before that day of wrath comes. The Thessalonian believers had found a deliverer from the coming wrath in the person of the Son of God. When that day of wrath comes, the church of Christ will have been gathered to Him in heaven. In this way He will keep us out of the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole habitable world, to try them that dwell on the earth. Therefore the apostle assures us that if we have been justified in the power of His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.
And this love of God which has been shed abroad in our hearts, has brought us into right relations with God, for it is not only that our sins have been put away by His death, but the love declared in that which has put away the sins has made an end of the enmity that lay in our very nature, and has produced a response in our hearts, so that we love God; and thus, through the death of God’s Son, we have been reconciled; and that being so, we shall be saved in the power of His life. He has not only died for us, but He lives for us in heaven. How blessed it is to know that the same One who died for us in the great love of His heart, and in the boundless love of God, now lives for us in the glory into which He has gone! What could be greater joy and comfort to our hearts in all our sorrows here, than to be continually in the sense that we have got Himself alive from the dead in the presence of God, with all the love that came to light in His death living in His heart, where it will live throughout all eternity, and that we are the objects of all that love.
And not only that, but our boast is in God Himself. We boast in hope of the glory, for we are justified in view of it, and with the love of God in our hearts our place in that glory is assured to us, and we boast in tribulation, because it is the world giving its verdict that we belong to Christ, and it works endurance, we are not overcome by it, neither can it separate us from the love of Christ, and above all we boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. It is reconciliation here, not atonement. No doubt that which has made atonement is the basis of reconciliation, but reconciliation is more than making atonement. Reconciliation means that right relations have been established between man and God; sin dealt with in the judgment of the cross, and man in right and proper relationships with God. This has been effected in the cross and resurrection of Jesus. On the cross He was made sin, and there sin was dealt with as it deserved, and in that judgment it was made an end of; and in Christ risen I see man to the delight of God. I do not mean to convey the thought that Christ was ever anything else than to the delight of God, but He gave Himself for us, and bore the wrath of God against sin, and the hiding of the face of God, so that He knew what it was to be forsaken for sin; and man as a sinner, deserved this, but all that is now over, and over forever; and He who measured and felt the distance that sin had created between man and God, now enjoys uninterruptedly the blessedness that flows from having part in a sphere where all things are of God.
And we make our boast in God, for it is He who has brought all this about. And it is all through our Lord Jesus Christ, for it is in Him that God has intervened for us. Christ is everything to us, but it is God who has made Him everything to us. It is in Christ that we have learned God in His righteousness, and in His almighty power, and in the infinite love of His heart, for it is in Christ that God has thus come to light. We see how God has been for us when everything was against us, and how He has drawn near to us, to put right that which we had put wrong; to bring man who had wandered from Him, and whose mind was enmity against Him, back into His presence, that he might find his home there, that his affections would be set upon his Creator, and that everything that had been out of gear and discordant in our relations with God, should be brought into perfect harmony, and placed beyond the reach of disturbance for ever. This God has accomplished by and in Christ on our behalf. We had plunged everything into confusion, and the earth through our rebellion was a scene of darkness and chaos, but God has undertaken to bring all things into harmony with His blessed nature and attributes, and with all that He is; and He has placed everything upon a right footing in Christ, who lives before Him to the delight of His heart. The reconciliation was effected before there was anyone in the benefit of it. It was effected in Christ, and we can never have any true thought of reconciliation until we see the place that Christ occupies in the presence of God. There we see the effect of the intervention of God on man’s behalf. There we see His way of bringing order out of chaos, and His way of bringing man into true and eternal relationships with Himself. There old things have passed away, and all things have become new; and all the new things are of God, so that He can have delight in them. What a contrast to the old creation even at its best state. And the word of reconciliation is preached in the gospel, and we have received it. We had no hand in bringing it about; it has been the work of God from first to last. It is our privilege to receive it, to rejoice in it, and to boast in Him who has effected it. We have seen Him at work in and by Christ, toiling to bring in a new state and a new place, and new relationships for man. We have contemplated Him in His intervention for us in the birth of Christ, in the service of Christ for man in the days of His flesh, and we have seen Him in the death of Christ and in the resurrection and glory of Christ on our behalf, and our hearts have been won by the love that has thus come to light; and we know that all that He has been for us He is for us at this moment; and all that He is for us He shall be throughout all eternity. We know this today, but we shall know it better tomorrow, and better still the day following, and perfectly when we shall find ourselves in that home on high with Jesus and like Him for ever.
There is nothing in the epistle higher than boasting in God, nor do I see how there could be. It is not that we boast in that which He has done for us, though it is in that which He has done for us that He has come to light; it is in that we have got to know Him; but having got to know Him, it is in Himself that we boast. Nothing that we know of Him, and nothing that we can ever know of Him, can cause the slightest uneasiness in our hearts. We know His inflexible righteousness, but it is on our behalf it has come to light; we know His spotless holiness, but it has come before us in the work that He has wrought in our favour; we know His power, but it has all been put forth to effect deliverance for us; we know His love as the spring of all His activities us-ward. We are in the light as He is in the light; that is, we know Him in the way in which He has manifested Himself, and we are, as it were, beside ourselves with joy. The wise man boasts in his wisdom, and the mighty man boasts in his might, and the rich man boasts in his riches, but we boast in the knowledge of God, as He has shone forth in His beloved Son. For us the darkness is past, the morning of an eternal day has dawned upon our souls, the vapours of night have all been dispersed, the blackness and the darkness of our past blind history have given place to the glory of God fully declared, and which fills our souls with unspeakable delight. Surely the light is sweet. Some of us remember the thoughts we had of God before we got to know Him in Christ. We have not forgotten the feeling of awe and fear that came over our hearts when the thought of having to do with Him came into our minds. The horror of those days of darkness we can well remember. And we can remember also when the light of God first reached us; when the day began to dawn for us, when the first bright ray of the grace of God penetrated the gloom that surrounded us, and when with mingled hopes and fears we turned to Him. We little knew in that hour the welcome that awaited us. We fled for refuge from the death that lay upon us. But what a reception we got. And what love was lavished upon us. We crept to Him as slaves to a master for a piece of bread, and He received us to His bosom as sons, clothed us as princes, and set us in His presence in all the acceptance of His own Son. And it was just because He would have us there. It was not because we were longing to have such a place; a “Lone place within His door” would have satisfied the desire of our loveless hearts, but it would not have satisfied His. And it was to satisfy His own heart that He approached us in Christ. When he drew near to us, to deliver us, we had no desire for Him; we loved Him not; nay, we hated Him; we were sinners, ungodly, enemies. Coming into His own world, He received no ovation from His creatures; indifferentism marked the human race. All heaven was stirred, and a heavenly host woke up the heart of midnight with the announcement that the long-promised Saviour had at length appeared. True, Herod and all Jerusalem with him are troubled; and also a few of the godly in Israel are ready to welcome Him; and the magi from the east come to do homage to Him. Every soul influenced by heaven above, or by hell beneath, wakes up at the advent of the Son of God; but the mass of humanity remains indifferent. What a welcome for the Creator to receive from His own creation. It was the black shadow of the cross falling over the cradle of the Saviour of the world. Yet the coldness of His reception chilled not the warmth of His infinite love to His poor wayward, deceived, benighted creature. At His birth there might be no room for Him in the inn, and during His sojourn here below through the world He might not have where to lay His head, and His onward path might be through grief and sorrow to the gibbet on Golgotha’s hill, but in the might of His unquenchable love He pursued His lonely way in obedience to His Father’s commandment, and in unwearying service to man; and when the place of sacrifice was reached, crowned with thorns, and subjected to every indignity that the depraved heart of man could invent, gave Himself a ransom for all in the grace of God to man. Thus has the goodness of the heart of God triumphed over the evil of the heart of man, and His love over all man’s hatred. Surely we may well say, “Love never fails.” Well may our boast be in God!
From verse 12 to the end of the chapter the first Adam and the Last are contrasted, and the effect of the obedience of the latter with that resulting from the disobedience of the former. Sin and death came in by the first Adam; righteousness and life have come in by the last Adam. By the first sin entered into the world and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned. It was not the law that brought sin into the world; death as the witness of man’s sinful condition reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not transgressed like Adam, or like the Jews a given commandment. An infant who has not known good or evil may die, for men are born under death; and the proof that death lies righteously upon all is that all have sinned. Let an infant come to years of responsibility, and it is sure to sin, for it is born with a sinful nature through its descent from Adam. Hence, before the law, sin was in the world; a sinful act might not be put to account as a transgression, there having been no law given, nevertheless the sin was there, and death lay upon man as a sinner. The reason we have in verse 14 Adam spoken of as the figure of Christ is, because the apostle is about to take up the consequences to others of the transgression of Adam, and contrast it with the obedience of Christ. By the offence of the one man (Adam) the many in connection with him have come under the effect of that offence and death has reigned over them, apart from the question of their own personal guilt. In contrast with this the grace of God and the free gift (righteousness) in grace, which is by the one Man Jesus Christ, has abounded unto the many who are through grace in connection with Him. Sin came in by Adam, and death by sin; and the many in connection with him have suffered the consequences; but righteousness came in by Christ, and those in connection with Him have that righteousness upon them. By the offence of Adam death reigned, but those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by Jesus Christ. The bearing of the one offence of Adam was toward all men to condemnation, but the bearing of the one accomplished righteousness (the sacrifice of Christ) was toward all men to justification of life; that is, to place all men beyond the reach of death in the life of Christ. Of course to be in the benefit of this, each individual must exercise faith in the gospel, and submit to the salvation which is in Christ Jesus. But the bearing of the disobedience of Adam was to condemn every one, and the bearing of the act of Christ’s obedience on the cross was to justify every one.
What a mighty victory on the part of God! He has triumphed over all the power of the enemy. To Him be all the glory! Sin, death, and condemnation came in by Adam, and all the human race came under their power, and lay in the dust, crushed, lost, and helpless. But God has taken account of our deep need, and has wrought by Christ on our behalf to His eternal praise and glory, and He has proved more than a match for all the hosts of evil. It might have been thought, that when sin came in, all was hopeless; and as far as man was concerned, no doubt, this was so, for everything looked black as the heart of midnight, from the standpoint of weak, degraded man; and had not God intervened on our behalf, we must have perished forever. But God will not allow Himself to be defeated by His creature in His own creation. He is infinite in wisdom and in power, and knows just how far to allow the rebellious creature to plot and plan, as he seeks to sap the foundations of His eternal throne; and He knows just the right moment to intervene, and remove the proud worm from His path, as He moves onward in the fulfilment of His deep designs. The folly and madness of the creature is manifested in his taking the field as the antagonist of his Creator. Happy is the man who humbles himself in the presence of his Maker, and confesses himself to be but dust and ashes. In the dust upon our faces is the place that becomes us as children of Adam; and, to lie there until He is pleased to lift us up, is true wisdom on our part. He has given us to see how truly He is for us in raising up His Son to be our righteous Head, that we might not be naked before Him in our sin and shame, but that we might have upon us a righteousness, fit to appear in before the revelation of His glory. He has not left us to the consequences of the sin of Adam, nor to bear the judgment of our own transgressions, but has made a way whereby the vilest sinner of Adam’s race may be saved. Our sin has not been greater than His grace, for where sin abounded grace has much more abounded; that as sin has reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. Thus has the whole effect of the offence of Adam been nullified by the one obedient act of Christ, when He gave Himself a ransom for all. If a sinner hears today of the grace of God and dies unsaved, it is in spite of all that that has been wrought on his behalf. The righteousness of God has been revealed in his favour; the power of God has been put forth for his deliverance, and the love of God has been the spring from whence have proceeded all His activities in His intervention through Christ. There is no reason why a sinner should perish; and if he does, the blame must lie at his own door. I do not imply that he would have been blameless had not Christ died, for man is a rebellious creature, and cannot be allowed to prolong a life of lawlessness and enmity against his Creator; but now that salvation has been obtained for him at such infinite cost, and without his co-operation in any way, what must be the judgment of the rejecter of such grace? The apostle says to the opposers at Antioch, “Ye judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life.” The gospel which was announced to them, made known the disposition of God toward them, and pointed out the way of life, which had been opened by the death and resurrection of the Son of God.
No barrier lay in the way; no work too burdensome for them to perform was imposed upon them; no yoke of ordinances too grievous to be borne was placed around their necks; no mount that might be touched loomed up before the affrighted vision, browbound with blackness, and around which wrathful lightning flamed, and which trembled to its roots beneath the tread of man’s almighty Creditor, come down to thunder in his ears the full amount of his liabilities; but God revealed in grace, drawn near to man in Christ, in whom His righteousness and power and love were all displayed, to rescue from destruction helpless sinners who wallowed in sin, indifferent to God. If he that despised the law of Moses died without mercy, it may well be asked, “Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and has counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and has done despite unto the Spirit of grace?” (Heb. 10:29). To turn away from the word spoken by Moses, was to rebel against the authority of God; but to reject the gospel, is to reject God Himself revealed in infinite love. If the punishment is to be proportionate to the offence, what must the judgment be of those who refuse to submit themselves to the revelation of the grace of God in His beloved Son? To make no response to His righteous demand is surely provoking; but to despise the salvation of God, which is founded in the death of His own Son, is the most supreme act of wickedness and madness the creature could be guilty of. How terrible for man, with death lying upon him as the wages of sin, to judge himself unworthy of eternal life! And this he does by his rejection of the gospel. Life has come to man in the Son of God; it came into the world in Him, but by His death and resurrection it has been made available for man, and the object of the preaching of the gospel in the world is, that men might possess that gift. The gospel does not set man up in the life of the first Adam; this would be impossible, for death has come in upon that, but man is to live in the life of the last Adam, the One in whom he finds justification. Hence if the gospel is rejected, eternal life is rejected, and man must be judged according to the deeds done in a life which can do nothing but evil.
The third, fourth and fifth chapters set before us the light in which it has pleased God to draw near to us in Christ, His intervention on our behalf. His righteousness is seen to be on our behalf in the third chapter, as His power is active in our favour in the fourth chapter; and both His righteousness and His power are set in motion by the love of His heart. The past has been all cleared away, and the witness to this is the blood of Jesus; and the future is also provided for, for He who died for us lives for us, and in Him risen from the dead we have found a Deliverer from the coming wrath. But when we come to chapter six, the question taken up is, how are we to conduct ourselves as recipients of the grace that has come to us in Christ? The flesh, ever ready to find an excuse to continue in the service of sin, would plead that as the grace of God was manifested towards us when there was nothing good in us or about us, and as our sins, however great they may have been, were no barrier to that grace, but rather our deep sinfulness brought out more into relief its magnitude, it might be well to continue in sin so that the grace might be still more magnified. Christ in the power of that grace had died for the ungodly, and God, through that same grace, had justified the ungodly; and this being so, why not remain ungodly? Let grace have its way, and let it be all grace, and let man continue in the service of sin. This is how the flesh would plead, for the nature of the flesh is always antagonistic to God, and disposed to sin.
The apostle meets this subtle question by a statement that closes the door for ever upon the exercise of the fleshly will of man. We are dead to sin. It is impossible, then, to continue in its service. He asks them if they are ignorant of the meaning of their baptism. If they were baptised to Christ, they were baptised to His death. We had the Red Sea in the end of chapter four, and in this chapter six the bitter water. The children of Israel were baptised to Moses in the cloud and in the sea. He was their leader—the leader of their salvation, and he led them out of Egypt into the desert. Canaan was the purpose of God for them, and answers to the place Christ has gone into in heaven, and into which we will enter at the coming of the Lord. But in the ways of God with us, as with Israel, the wilderness lies between, and it is in our pathway through the wilderness we learn what is in our natural hearts. No doubt we are brought out of Egypt that we may be brought into Canaan, and the power that brought us out is able to bring us in. If it had pleased God to glorify us the moment He justified us He could have done so; but this has not been His way with us. He brings His people through the desert for their good. We will learn there what we could learn nowhere else. We will learn there what the flesh is. It may be a bitter lesson, and we may have to lament many a grievous fall on our part; but while we learn the evil of our natural hearts, we will learn the grace and faithfulness of His in a way that will be to our eternal profit. But we enter the desert in the life of Christ, and for that life we will find no support. The desert is what the world becomes to us when 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. With the glory of God as the goal before our hearts we set out to follow Christ, who, as the Leader of our salvation, has undertaken to bring us there. We are baptised to Him, as Israel was baptised to Moses in the cloud and in the sea. But if we are baptised to Him who is beyond death as risen out of it, we are of necessity baptised to His death; His death is to characterise us in our pathway to the glory. The flesh would lust after the food of Egypt; it would hold us in the things from which God has intervened to deliver us. The carnal appetite craves only for the indulgence of its corrupt desires, hence death must be brought to bear upon its will the whole journey through the desert. This is the bitter water that has to be made sweet before it can be drunk. But Christ has died for us; He has suffered for the sins that have been the fruit of our life of sin, and that in the love of God, and when we see this it is like casting the tree into the water that sweetened it, so that the people could drink. If Christ has gone into death for me, so that all that which was the fruit of my life of flesh might be put away, then I shall be glad to bring the cross to bear upon that fleshly will that caused such suffering to the Son of God. It has been actual death with Him; He has left this scene of sin by the death of the cross. The accomplishment of the will of God meant death to Him in the flesh, and if we are to be doers of the will of God it will mean death to our fleshly wills.
“Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism unto death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” In the light of the revelation of the Father we take our journey through the world, and shine in the moral characteristics of Christ. This is what I understand by “newness of life.” The glory of the Father was concerned in the resurrection of Christ, for it was the Son who lay in death; and the glory of the Father is also concerned in our behaviour as we pass through the world, for He has called us into the place of children of God by associating us with Christ before men. This is why the glory of the Father is introduced here; it was to His glory that His Son should be raised from the dead, and it is to His glory that we should walk in newness of life. Newness of life is really Christ coming out in us down here. But for this we must have our place in Christ, and we are in Him if we have His Spirit, for “He that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit.” When we believe the gospel of our salvation, we are sealed with the Spirit, and are in Christ, partakers of His life, and in an entirely new relationship with God. What we were in the flesh has been ended in the cross of Christ who gave Himself to bear the judgment of it; “Our old man has been crucified with Him,” and this is all the same as if I had been crucified. My old condition as in Adam has been brought to an end, and I have a new standing before God in Christ, who is beyond death and judgment, and entirely outside the whole sphere in which sin holds sway. If I am able thus to reckon, sin has nothing to work on. It could only act on the old man, it could have nothing to say to the life in which Christ lives to God, and this life is my life, the life in which I live to God, if I live to Him in any sense. Thus the body of sin is annulled, sin has nothing to act upon. It can only act upon my old man; that is to say, my Adam nature, but that has been left behind in the death of Christ, no more to come up again, and I live in the life of Christ to God known in infinite love. I reckon myself to be dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. What a great and perfect deliverance! The flesh is in us, but we are not to reckon on ourselves to be in it, but as we get here “alive to God in Christ Jesus.” God revealed in love is the great object before our hearts. There are, I have no doubt, many making the attempt to reckon themselves dead to sin, looking at this as the only means of deliverance, and are terribly disappointed, as deliverance from sin seems as far from them as ever; and the reason of this is not difficult to find. They have not yet learned their new standing in Christ. I do not mean that they have not the Spirit, I am supposing they have: neither do I insinuate that divine affections have not been begotten in their hearts. The affections are there if the Spirit is there, for He sheds the love of God abroad in the heart; but they still take account of themselves as in the flesh; they have not grasped the great fact that their old man has been crucified with Him, and that they are not in the flesh in their relationship with God; that He sees them only in Christ, and that He takes account of them in no other way as before Him. Then again, while attempting to reckon themselves dead to sin, they are ever occupied with it; and you cannot be dead to that with which you are occupied. They have to learn to take up the new place into which they have been brought in Christ by the gift of the Spirit, and reckon themselves to be alive to God in Him. Thus in heart and mind the sphere in which the flesh lived, and in which it indulged its evil and corrupt desires, is left behind, Egypt is forgotten, the bitter water has become sweet to the taste, and the erstwhile slave to sin and Satan, now rejoicing in hope of the glory of God, steps lightly across the desert singing:
“Rise my soul! Thy God directs thee
Stranger hands no more impede:
Pass thou on. His hand protects thee,
Strength that has the captive freed.
Is the wilderness before thee,
Desert lands where drought abides?
Heavenly springs shall there restore thee,
Fresh from God’s exhaustless tides.
Light divine surrounds thy going;
God Himself shall mark thy way;
Secret blessings, richly flowing,
Lead to everlasting day.
God, thine everlasting portion,
Feeds thee with the mighty’s meat;
Price of Egypt’s hard extortion—
Egypt’s food no more to eat.”
How good it is to be able to take account of ourselves as in the life of Christ, the life in which He now lives to God! It is not to be assumed that because it is said that “in that He died, He died unto sin once; and in that He lives, He lives unto God,” that He did not always, even when on earth, live to God; but when here on earth, in a world of sin and sinners, He had to do with sin, and was met with it at every footstep of His way, and every effort of men and Satan was to drive Him from the path of obedience, and on the cross He was made sin, and gave Himself a sacrifice for the putting of it away; but now He is done with it, and lives absolutely to God; and in His life by the Spirit we live to God, our whole life of flesh, our Adam Life, in which we served sin is closed for ever in the judgment of that cross. I am privileged to take account of myself in this way, nay I am exhorted to do so: “Reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
This being so, I am not to allow sin to reign in my mortal body. My body has not yet come under the quickening power of the life of Christ. As to it I am still connected with the old order. I wait for its redemption. It was once the vessel of sin, and my members were instruments of unrighteousness. This we saw when meditating on the third chapter. There every man is proven to be dominated by sin, and the way in which it is proven is that every man serves sin with all the members of his body. But now we are to yield ourselves to God, and our members are to be instruments of righteousness to God. We are to live to God as those that are alive from the dead. This is our happy privilege, and we have the assurance that sin shall not have dominion over us, for we are not under the law, which would occupy us with ourselves, and with our responsibilities and shortcomings, and which would give sin the mastery over us, and leave us helpless under its yoke; but we are under grace, which ministers to as all the help we need for the fulfilment of the will of God, in which is all our delight; and which, even though we fail, will impute nothing.
All this makes God such a blessed object to our hearts that His service becomes a perfect delight, and we become bondmen to righteousness, as formerly we were slaves of sin; and this results in holiness, for becoming bondmen to God we are entirely set apart to Him in heart and thought and mind; and, as the outcome of the flesh resulted in death, so now in the service of God we have our fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. Sin had been our master, and it paid wages terrible to contemplate, but God has come in in grace, and has given us as a free gift eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord, but if we are to be in the enjoyment of this we must pass experimentally out of the flesh, and reckon ourselves alive to God in Him in whom that eternal life is.
As chapter six speaks of deliverance from sin, so chapter seven sets forth deliverance from law. He speaks to them that know law, unquestionably the Jew; but inasmuch as the natural thought of the human heart is to gain the favour of God by the fulfilment of his responsibilities, the deliverance set forth here is as necessary for the Gentile as for those who were placed on the footing of the old covenant. He takes up the figure of marriage. A bond is formed in marriage which nothing but death can sever. A woman is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives; if while her husband lives she be joined to another man she is called an adulteress. If, however, her husband be dead, she is loosed from his law, so that she can be rightly joined to another man. In this way the old covenant bound the Jew. The law was his husband, and as joined to that husband he never bore fruit for God. All that was brought forth was evil, “fruit unto death.” Now law rules over a man as long as he lives in the flesh. It is the perfect rule for every child of Adam, though never presented to any but Israel. Death, and death only, can free him from it. A dead man cannot be said to be under law. Now Christ has died for us, and it is all one as if we ourselves had died. The offering of the body of Christ has most surely closed our history as men in the flesh before God, and now our husband is Christ raised from the dead, to whom we are united by the Spirit. And therefore there can be fruit for God for as having His Spirit we are in His life, and all the beautiful, moral characteristics of that life, that were so pleasing to God, come out in us down here. As the law was the husband of the Jew—the man after the flesh; so Christ is the Husband of the believer—the man after the Spirit. What precious fruit must result froth such a union! Our husband is not now one who makes great demands upon us, and who gives us no power to fulfil those demands, but He is one who loves us with a love infinite and eternal, and who ministers to us all the strength we need to fulfil every righteous obligation. He makes no demand upon us for the love of our hearts, as the old husband did, but fills our ears with the tale of His fathomless love to us. There is no curse upon His lips when our failures and even our wilfulnesses become apparent. His love knows no limit. His death has declared it. The power of life is in Him, and His resurrection is the witness to it. He took all our blame upon His own head; our sins He bore; He makes intercession for us. What a Husband He is! Blessed be His name for ever and ever!
Chapter 7 verse 5 refers to our past state: “when we were in the flesh.” We are not in the flesh now. We can look back upon that condition, as the time when sin reigned over us, and when we were married to the old husband; when the law that forbade the disobedience provoked the passion to disobey, by referring our attention to that which we had an innate desire to do; thus bringing the evil before our minds by the very prohibitory commandment. And in this way more evil fruit was brought forth than would have come to light had there been no law to forbid it. And this fruit was fruit unto death. But now we are dead to the law; as completely severed from the yoke of the old husband as death can make us, in order that we may serve in newness of spirit, and not in oldness of the letter; that is, that we, as under the control of the New Husband Christ, may serve in the power of divine love, with which He has filled our hearts.
Was the law, then, a bad husband that I needed deliverance from it, if I was to bring forth fruit unto God? Far be the thought. I had not known sin unless by it. Saul was, as touching the righteousness that was in the law, blameless. But this was all outward, and before the eyes of men. No man could have convicted him of an act of sin, neither did his own conscience condemn him, until he saw that the law took account, not only of the overt act, but of the tendency toward the act. It not only forbade him to steal, but it also forbade him to desire what was not his. He saw that all hope was over for him on the ground of law, when it said, “Thou shalt not covet.” It might as well have said to him that he was not to breathe. Thus sin got the mastery over him, and slew him in his conscience; he saw he was as good as dead. The commandment which was ordained to life, and in which he expected to find life, ministered death to his conscience. The commandment itself was holy, just, and good, but he was unholy, unjust and evil, and it could do no other than condemn him. It is not because the law is evil that we need deliverance from it, but because the flesh is utterly evil, rebellious, and corrupt. It will do its own will in spite of the commandment, and in spite of the curse pronounced upon the transgressor.
The next question raised is, was the law which is good made death to me? Surely not. It was sin that wrought death in me by the law; the law bringing the sin to light, which was there in the members, that it by the commandment might be seen in its true character, and become exceeding sinful. Its inherent opposition to God and to all His claims is manifested by the commandment, for it becomes apparent that not only does it not regard the commandment, but it scorns the consequences resulting from disobedience. By the law we come to know what sin is; for we who believe know that the law is spiritual. An unconverted man may not see this. He may see in it nothing more than a commandment forbidding certain outward acts, but we see that by it the whole inward man is laid bare, and that the thought of evil in the heart cannot be justified if the overt act is condemned. It may be that only one of the commandments definitely declares this (“Thou shalt not covet”), but it is plain that, if I have to do with God in the light, He will not condemn the overt act of sin, and justify the movement of the mind in that direction. In the government of God He takes account of the actions of men, and condemns or justifies accordingly; but this is only in His government of the world. If we have to do with God in the light as He is in the light, the secrets of the heart must be manifested, not only the outward actions that men might be able to take account of. It says here, “We know that the law is spiritual.” This is not the knowledge that the Jew possessed, but it is Christian knowledge.
From this forward to the end of the twenty-third verse he shows the inability of man in the flesh to fulfil the requirement of the law, even when that man may be the subject of a work of grace. It is not two natures in conflict with one another, but a man desiring to do good, and unable to do it. He is an awakened soul, one in whom there is a work of grace, but taking account of Himself as a child of Adam, in the flesh, responsible to keep the law as a means of righteousness, and having delight in it. He speaks of himself as carnal, sold under sin. I need not say that the apostle is not in these verses giving his experience as a Christian. It is a past experience, “when we were in the flesh” (v. 5) he is describing. But the believer is not in the flesh, but in the Spirit (chap. 8:9)
I doubt not, that a man who is sealed by the Spirit, and therefore not in the flesh in the mind of God, may have an experience resembling to an extent that which is related in this chapter; but it is because he still accounts himself under law, in the flesh, and responsible to gain righteousness by his works. It is an experience that everyone has to go through before he is brought into liberty. Just as everyone must feel the weight of his sins before he can enjoy forgiveness, so everyone who is to enjoy this deliverance must first learn what the flesh is.
It is one thing to know that I am a sinner, and quite another thing to know that in the flesh dwells no good thing. Most people know that they have done evil, but not many know that they are evil. One has to go through deep waters in learning this, but it has to be learned, otherwise the deliverance effected for us by the cross of Christ, and the gift of the Spirit, can never be known. When we learn by experience what the flesh is, we will be very thankful for the cross, which has made an end of it in the sight of God. We are not in it in our relationship with God, and it is our privilege to take account of ourselves as in Christ, and in the Spirit, and in connection with His work in our souls. This is of all importance, and until we can so account of ourselves we will never know what real deliverance is. The struggle to fulfil the demand of the law while in the flesh ends in failure, and the “wretched man” cries out for a deliverer, and finds Him in God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. It is God that has wrought, not only to deliver us from the judgment of our sins, but to place us in entirely new relationship with Himself; closing up for ever in the judgment of the cross our Adam history, and placing us in Christ by the Spirit, beyond the reach of condemnation.
Well may we praise Him. How merciful, and good, and gracious He has shown Himself towards us! There was nothing in us to commend us to Him, nothing but what was abominable and filthy, and obnoxious to Him, and yet to see that He could think of us with compassion, and be at such infinite cost to effect deliverance for us; how it fills our hearts with unspeakable gratitude! What a subject His grace is for our contemplation! What profound wisdom is brought to light in His intervention on our behalf! How He has declared His righteousness, and clothed us with it as with a spotless robe, so that we are no longer naked before Him! How His power has come to light, active on our behalf, when we could have raised no protest had it been put in operation to destroy us! How His love has been declared toward unworthy objects—helpless, ungodly sinners! What new relationships He has brought us into! What new affections He has created within our hearts! What an Object He has set before us in His Only Begotten Son! What deliverance from sin’s unhallowed dominion! What glory awaits us! What an eternity of unspeakable joy, and peace, and light, and love, and blessedness rises up before our vision, and beckons us away from a rebellious and sin-defiled world! What a God we have to do with! Well may each of us say, “Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless His holy name.” in a sense of this great salvation we shall surely exclaim:
Arise my soul. Awake with voice of praise
The earth, the sea, the vault of heaven above.
To God Salvation’s song triumphant raise;
Extol His grace, and thought-surpassing love.
Sing till the angels hear, faithful and fell.
Praise Him who gave His Son to succour thee.
On earth to every human being tell
How Jesus died to set the sinner free.
In life, in death, in resurrection might,
In height, in depth, in deserts—everywhere.
Morning, or noon, or evening, or night,
Ceaseless the riches of His grace declare.
Praise Him, whatever be thy earthly lot.
The glory shines before thee, O my soul
Praise Him with all thy powers. Who would not
His boundless and eternal love extol.
The learning what the flesh is is a hard and bitter lesson, and often a very tedious one, and possibly many saints of God go out of the world without having learned it; but to have settled peace, and to be able to refuse its sinful desires, and to be able to go on with God without being disturbed by its presence, it must be learned. And the lesson is exceedingly sad and humbling because we find out that there is no mending it. We have to come to it, that “With the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” Hence the only thing to do is not to allow the will of the flesh to act. But if we are to do this we must first of all be able to take account of ourselves as in the life of Christ, and say of the flesh “not I.” And then I have this assurance, that if I am in the life of Christ, I am beyond the reach of condemnation.
With this statement the eighth chapter opens: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” There was nothing but condemnation to me when in the flesh as a child of Adam, but in Christ I am beyond the reach of condemnation. I am in a new Head, a righteous Head, and He is righteousness to me, and holiness, and redemption, and all I need. In Him my standing is perfect; my practical state may not be everything I would wish, but the better I apprehend my place before God in Christ, the better will I be able to come out in the fulfilment of my obligations before men. In Christ I have reached a spot inviolate from sin, death, and condemnation. It is not a question of my apprehension of the blessedness of the place, nor even of the place itself; if I have the Holy Spirit I am in Christ, whether I understand the doctrine of “in Christ” or whether I do not, and I am beyond the reach of condemnation. It is new creation in Christ, but this scripture does not use the term to convey the truth of new creation to our minds; it is simply that in Christ there is no condemnation. It is on a line with what we have brought before us in the latter part of chapter 5; the blessedness of being in connection with the new and righteous Head. It is a very sweeping statement, and we do well to allow it to have its full force upon our minds and hearts. It brings a sense of security and of peace to the soul that nothing else can. If we, on our side, are to be in the full benefit of it, we must learn the doctrine of it; but, thank God, the truth, and reality, and security involved in the expression does not depend upon our apprehension of the doctrine, but upon the fact of our having believed the gospel, and of having been sealed with the Holy Spirit. The latter part of verse 1 had better be left out; its right to be there has been called in question. If it is to be read there at all, it must be read as giving character to them that are in Christ, not as conditional. It is in its rightful place in verse 4.
How good it is to be in Christ, and to know that we are there. It is the result of the intervention of God on our behalf, and it speaks peace to our troubled souls. In Adam, or in the flesh, which is the same thing, we were slaves of sin, under death and condemnation, bad trees bringing forth corrupt fruit, the fountain of our life impure, and therefore sending forth polluted water, our nature rebellious against the authority of God, and in our minds His enemies; and even when the mind was renewed through His grace to us, and therefore, having a desire to please Him, utterly unable to do so, because of the incorrigible badness of the flesh, our sinful nature, inherited from Adam. But now in Christ Jesus, and in the enjoyment of the love of God—for all the love of God is in Christ, and is the portion of every heart that is His—the law of the Spirit of His life has made me free from the law of sin and death.
The fountain of my life does not now lie in the flesh. I have got a springing well within, that springs up into everlasting life. It was what the Lord proposed to do for the woman at the well of Sychar. He told her that whoever drank of the water that He would give would never thirst, for it would be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. The flesh is in its nature lust, the new nature is love; the love of God getting into the heart by the Holy Spirit becomes a new fountain of life, and all that flows from it is as pure as the river of God, from which it has its source.
But what about the old nature, the flesh with all its uncleanness? It has come under the judgment of the Cross of Christ. This we get in verse 3, “For what the law could not do.” What could it not do? It could not control the flesh and guide it in the right direction, it was unable to make it fulfil its obligations, because the flesh was in its very nature rebellious, obstinate, and uncontrollable. “God sending His own Son.” There the love of God came to light. “His own Son”! How wonderful! There is a reason for the Spirit of God speaking in this way. It shows us how dear to the heart of God the deliverance of man was from the dominion of sin, that He might have His creature living to Himself in love. “In the likeness of sinful flesh.” Not in sinful flesh, but in its likeness. It has been remarked that we have innocent flesh in the Garden of Eden before Adam sinned, and after the fall we have sinful flesh; but in Christ only we have holy flesh. He came in our likeness that He might give Himself for us. “And (by a sacrifice) for sin, condemned sin in the flesh”; set aside in the cross that whole condition in which we lived as children of Adam, so that we might no longer live in that condition which was dominated by sin, and out of which no good could be got, for there was no good in it; that we might no longer follow its inclinations, nor seek to hold it in check, nor make any attempt to guide it in the way of righteousness; but that we might turn away from it as a condemned and judged thing, and walk after the Spirit, and thus fulfil the righteous requirement of the law. If we walk after the Spirit our hearts are kept in the sense of the love of God, and this fountain of living water wells up in our hearts in love to God and in love to our neighbour, and thus the righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled. We serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. If we love God with all our heart we are certain to keep the first table of the law, and if we love our neighbour we will keep the second table of the law, “Love works no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10).
But this involves walking after the Spirit. No condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus is independent of walk; it is the position in which God has set us in the last Adam, and is not affected by our practical conduct. Thank God it is not. It would be a very uncertain kind of salvation if it were. The salvation that is in Christ Jesus is worthy of God. But if we are to fulfil the righteous requirement of the law we must be careful to walk after the Spirit; but this is our happy privilege.
If we know the evil of the flesh, and that there is no mending it, we are not likely to trust it; we will expect everything from our union with Christ, we will walk in the refusal of the will of the flesh, we will draw all our resources from Him. I need hardly say that this involves constant dependence upon God, and constant watchfulness over self. There is no such thing as arriving at a state of sinless perfection in which I shall have no more need of watchfulness against its attack. Sin is still in the believer. The old nature is unchanged. It has been condemned in the cross, and set aside in the judgment that was executed there, and the believer is in the life of the risen Christ; but as long as he is down here the flesh is in him, and ready to assert its will at any moment, and therefore we need ever to be on our guard, and we need to walk carefully and in dependence upon God, or we are sure to fall. We are in an evil world, and we carry about with us an evil nature which answers to all the evil of the world around us, and therefore we require to reckon ourselves to be dead to sin, and alive to God in Christ Jesus. I fear that many true believers are looking for a deliverance from sin which would amount to the removal of indwelling sin, or a sort of purification of the flesh, that would make them incapable of committing sin. Hence they are for ever disappointed with themselves, and very miserable, or else their estimate of sin sinks to the level of the breach of a given commandment. What is needful is to see that Christ has on the cross not only died for my sins, but has died for the nature that committed the sins, and that we are in Christ, and quickened with Him in His life, and that in Him, and in Him only, we are in relationship with God; and that though the flesh be in us, we are not in it in our relationship with Him.
As born of the flesh we were after the flesh, and minded the things of the flesh; we could not mind anything else; we acted according to our nature, and nothing but sin resulted, and this called for death as the judgment of God. The mind of the flesh is enmity against God; it will not have Him in any character in which He may present Himself. It is an awful thought to contemplate. How terrible to come to the discovery that my natural mind must be ever antagonistic to God! It is not subject to His law, nor can it be made subject. It is always rebellious. It has been well proven, and it will neither have God nor His rule. Hence they that are in the flesh cannot please Him. It is all over with that order of man.
But as born of the Spirit we are “after the Spirit,” and we naturally mind the things of the Spirit. This is just as true as they that are “after the flesh” mind the things of the flesh. As born of the Spirit we have a new nature, new desires, and a new order of things comes before our vision; and the result of minding the things of the Spirit is that the will of God is done, righteousness is produced. Of course the Spirit is the power by which righteousness is produced. The new nature—that which is born of the Spirit—has no power in itself, but the Holy Spirit empowers the new nature that is produced by His operation, and enables us to carry out the desires of the new nature, and the effect of this is life and peace. We sow to the Spirit, and reap life everlasting. When walking in the flesh it is continual rebellion against the authority of God, the mind is in a constant state of revolt, the conscience accusing, and the heart vacant, ill at ease and hankering after that which can never satisfy it; God is at a distance from the soul, and the very remembrance of His love, that is not now enjoyed, adds to the deep misery that is only known to those who have experienced it. But in walking after the Spirit the heart is kept in the light and warmth of that heavenly love; the believer’s thoughts are diverted from himself and fixed upon the Son of God; the glory of God is bright before the eye; earth with its clouds and darkness is out of sight; and the feet press on toward the heavenly goal; the pathway teems with life, and peace rests upon the mind and heart. It is not only peace with God, which is the effect of being justified by faith, but the conscience is quiet, and the heart is happy, and satisfied with divine favour, and in the consciousness of that favour there is no fear in the soul, or apprehension of coming evil. It is a great calm, but not the calm of death with all the springs of the moral being stupefied with sin, but it is the calm of life that has its source in God, known in His infinite and changeless love; it is the calm that is found in walking after His commandments, and in the exercise of divine affections May both writer and reader know the blessedness of walking after the Spirit.
In verse 1 we are told that there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. The believer is placed where no condemnation can reach him. Then in verse 2 we have the Spirit of the life that is in Christ Jesus. This sets us free from the law of sin and death. It is a new fountain of life in us, and flows in the direction of the will of God. But when we come to verse 9 it is the principle of our relationship with God: “Ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you.” It is not quite “not in the flesh, but in the Spirit,” but, rather, “not in flesh, but in spirit.” It is not the Holy Spirit personally, but rather the life of Christ—the springing well, as we get in verse 2, and also in John 4 and John 20. It could not be without the Spirit personally, hence we get “if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you.” As I have said above, we are born of the Spirit, and He, when we believe the gospel, unites Himself with that which is of Himself in us, and gives power to it, so that we are in spirit in our relationships with God. We are not in flesh before God. And this spirit, being the spirit of the life that is in Christ Jesus, gives us to come out in His moral characteristics; and had we not this spirit we would not be of Him, for that which is of Him must bear His moral features.
What rest, and peace, and joy, and happiness the knowledge of this brings to our hearts We are in Christ; we have His spirit; we are in His life; His life is our life; it is a life of obedience and of holy love, as in it we are in relationship with God; and as to the flesh, the cross has been the end of that before God. And this being so, it is Christ that is in us; for if it be His spirit and His life, it is Himself. And without this we would be nothing, and our profession of Christianity would be the veriest sham. “None of His” is what is true of all who have not His spirit.
But if Christ be in us, giving character to our ways in passing through this world, the body, looked at as energised by its own will, is dead. Were the cross not brought to bear upon its will, sin would result from all its activities. A new power of life has come in with the gift of the Spirit, and, acting by His power, righteousness is produced. It is the spirit of Christ, that which gave character to Him in His pathway through the world, that is now to be the power by which we tread the same pathway of righteousness, holiness, and love. This is “newness of life,” and under the eye of the Father, as the life of Christ was. That life, that was so pleasing to the eye of the Father, is reproduced in His people down here. How encouraging it is to the heart to come to the understanding that we are privileged to exhibit in our ways in this world that which is so pleasing to the blessed God—the life of Jesus! What could give greater joy to the delivered soul than the knowledge that he is called to set forth in his mortal body that in which God takes such infinite delight? The thought of the natural heart is that He is hard to please; and neither can they that are in the flesh please Him. Nothing can please Him but Christ. The history of the race of Adam has been a grief to His heart. But His Son has been here, and has passed through the world to the unbounded satisfaction of the Father, and in Christ we see the only One in whom He can have pleasure. If we are to please Him, we must set that holy and righteous One before God in our walk and ways through this lawless world. This only can please Him. But we have received His Spirit that Christ might be in us, giving character to us, to the delight of God. How beautiful the word is, “If Christ be in you”! No longer self and all its hateful history, but Christ for the eye of God to rest upon. The body no longer serving sin, but as regards sin, dead; and righteousness produced in the energy of the Spirit.
The body is that against which we have to be on our guard. It is our present link with the old creation, which is corrupted by sin. Sin reigned in the mortal body; the will that energised it was antagonistic to God. Living in the life that is natural to us as children of Adam, it is moved by lust and pride and rebellion against God; its will is hostile to the will of God. But a new power has come in. Christ has laid hold of these bodies by His Spirit that they may be for Himself—that God may be glorified in them. He has redeemed them by His precious blood, and they are His. We are no longer to live to their lusts, or to magnify ourselves in them; but we are to live to the will of God, and set forth Christ in them. But if this is to be done, we must apply the death of Christ to the will that formerly energised them, so that the new power that has come in may bring forth in them the characteristics of Jesus. In a little while He who has made them His own by His precious blood, and by the sealing of the Spirit, will redeem them by power. He will change them and fashion them like His own body of glory, by the power by which He will subdue everything to Himself.
“If the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you.” God, the God of resurrection, raised up His Son Jesus from the dead. That Spirit that carried Him through this scene of defilement, untainted by it, to the glory of God, was the guarantee that death would not be able to hold Him. It was the Spirit of holiness. The power of His holy life was the power of His resurrection. Now that same power dwells in believers, for we have received the Spirit from the risen Christ; and this being so, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken our mortal bodies by that same Spirit. When it is only a question of God and His Son, it is “Him that raised up Jesus”; but when others are involved, it is “He that raised up Christ.” Jesus is His own personal name, but Christ is the last Adam and Head of the redeemed family. The Spirit of the God of resurrection has taken hold of our bodies and will quicken them at the coming of Christ. What a gift the Spirit of God is! The groundwork of all our blessing is the death of Christ, and He is everything to us in resurrection; but the Spirit is the power of God in us, effecting the purpose of God with regard to our state, even to the quickening of our mortal bodies. Redeemed by the blood of Christ, and sealed by the Holy Ghost, we only wait that touch of the power of God, by the finger of Christ, to give us our place in the glory along with Himself. What a happy people we are! How secure all our blessings are! To God be all the glory!
All this being so, it is quite clear we are not debtors to the flesh, to live after it; for if we lived after it, death would result. There is no gain to us in following the lead of the flesh, and living to the gratification of its lusts. It can offer nothing that would serve as an inducement to follow its unholy desires. A little momentary excitement will not make up for the loss of the soul. There may be pleasures in sin, but they are but for a short season, and are poor compensation for an eternity of woe. It is well when our eyes are opened to the evil of the flesh, and what the fulfilling of its desires leads to. We cannot be too well assured that we can reap no advantage by giving heed to its inordinate pleadings. It may be hard to convince us that to gratify the hunger of the flesh is to minister destruction to the immortal soul, nor will we believe it until we have learned by bitter experience what the flesh is in its nature; but when this is learned, deliverance from it will not only be looked for with earnest heart, but that deliverance that has been effected for us through Christ will be immensely appreciated.
We expect everything from the Spirit. By Him we are enabled to put to death the deeds of the body, and are glad to do so, for by the Spirit our hearts are kept in the freshness of divine love, and our minds are fixed on the things that God has given to them that love Him; and to allow our wills to give impulse to our bodies would be to subject us afresh to the service of sin, defile our consciences, and rob us of the enjoyment of our portion in Christ. We cannot go on with both flesh and Spirit. It cannot be a little of the flesh here and a little of the Spirit there; a little of the things of the world and a little of the things of Christ. We cannot bring the life of Christ into the things of the flesh, neither can we bring the life of flesh into the things of the Spirit of God. It must be the cross for the flesh, from the beginning of our journey through the world right to the very end of it. The Spirit has not been given to us to help the flesh and to make up for its deficiencies; He is against the flesh, and by His power we are to put to death the deeds of the body and live. This is the way in which He leads us. On the one hand He is the power by which we put to death the deeds of the body, and on the other it is by Him we cry Abba, Father.
“As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” To be led by law is to be in the place of a bond-slave; and this is a spirit of bondage, producing fear, and keeping the soul at a distance from God. It is the spirit the Jew prided himself in, and that which Satan sought to deceive the saints into receiving, or rather the character he sought to give the Spirit they had already received. But the apostle lets the Galatians know that they had received the Spirit of God’s Son in their hearts, which enabled them to enjoy that new and close relationship with God, and gave them the sense that they were no longer in the position of bond-slaves. This was the place which was in the purpose of God for us before the world was. In the fullness of time He sent His Son to bring us there. His work on the cross made an end of us as of Adam, for He gave Himself for us, to stand in our room and stead, that all that we were as of Adam and in the flesh, might be under the eye of God in Him who gave Himself for us, and that it might be brought to an end in the judgment of that cross. It is all the same as if we ourselves had borne the judgment, and all the same in the judicial mind of God, as if in that judgment that was executed there we had been brought to an actual end as in the flesh. Therefore, when Christ was risen He could speak of the disciples as His brethren, and of His Father as their Father, and of His God as their God. This was their new and eternal place with God. The place that Christ had determined theirs; their place depended upon the place He had. In the old order man’s relationship and place with God is in the flesh; it is the place of the fallen head, Adam. But the place of the believer depends upon the last Adam, and the last Adam is the Son of God. But it was not only that the new relationship was made known to the disciples, but He came into their midst and breathed on them, thus communicating to them the Spirit of His own life, without which they could have enjoyed nothing of the new sphere into which they had been brought. And we also have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry Abba Father.
Adoption in its fullest sense we await (v. 23), and that will involve the redemption of the body. Then we shall be like the Son of God, and with Him in the place that belongs to sons—the Father’s house. Divine love will never rest until it brings us there. But now we have the Spirit of adoption, which enables us to take our place as sons in the presence of God, and to feel at home there, knowing that the Father loves to have us there; that it is a greater joy to His heart to see us take up our place before His face than it is to ours to take the place, however great our joy may be. We must keep in mind that the place of sons was not given to us in answer to any desire in our hearts; but it was His own eternal thought to have us as sons before His face. Even when we became exercised about our sins, and the judgment to which we were exposed on account of them, it did not occur to us that more than forgiveness would be extended to us, nor did we desire more. The position of a hired servant, a “lone place within His door” was the height of our expectation. It was not love to God that attracted us to Him. Had we not heard of His grace, we had never come; but we came because it would have been death to us to have remained away. But He first loved us. How hard it is for us to believe this. But the witness of it is the death of His Son. Though we may be long in learning it, we were in His thoughts before the world was, and that we should be sons with His Son was what He had in view for us. It was all to satisfy His own heart, for, as I have said, we had no wish for such a place, even when we turned to Him through the preaching of the gospel. And even now that He has made known His mind toward us, we are very slow to enter into possession of this great privilege. Yet it is true that He thought of us individually before the earth’s foundation—thought of you, my reader, if you have believed on His beloved Son, and in His counsels you had your place given to you along with that Son in heavenly glory. You may think yourself very unworthy, but you had better not think of yourself at all; think only of Him and of His unspeakable love.
When in the grace of God we have been brought to see ourselves as sinners needing mercy, and have believed in that mercy, as it has been shown us in Christ; and when we know that Christ, in the mighty love of God, has borne the judgment of our sins, and has set us in righteousness before the face of God, and when that love that has come to light in the death that Christ died for us is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us, we are able to view things apart from their bearing upon ourselves, and as taught by the Spirit we get a right estimate of everything, and in the divine nature feel the ruin in which man is as Christ Himself felt it. This causes intense suffering, takes the glamour off the illusive world, turns the garden of man’s pleasures into the slaughterhouse of his immortal soul, and makes the lowly follower of Christ like his Master, a man of sorrows. The inward joy of his heart may be, and is, unspeakable, but it springs not from earth, nor from the things in which the worldling finds his happiness, but it has its source in the love of God, and in the knowledge that there is One at the right hand of God who will bring the woes of creation to an end, and fill heaven and earth with righteousness, peace and eternal joy. Peter says to those to whom he writes, “Jesus Christ, whom having not seen ye love; in whom though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.”
For this day when the glory of God will burst upon our vision we wait. It will be a morning without clouds, and it will usher in a day of everlasting sunshine. The wilderness with its dangers, drought, and death will be left behind, and the Father’s house with its peace and joy and pure delight will be our home and rest for ever. And above all we will be with Jesus in that home, and like Him too, to the delight of His and the Father’s heart. And there to behold His glory, that glory that is peculiarly His own, and which not even His bride, the beloved object of His heart, and for whom He gave Himself, can share with Him. But we shall see it, and the sight of it will make our already full cup of unspeakable delight overflow with rapture and worship and adoration. We shall be with the Father also; and never were children so much at home with any father as we shall be with ours, for never was love so great as His, and never was there such a home of love as that home shall be. We shall see His face without a veil. That home no human tongue can describe. The human heart can now entertain its glorious light, and count the sufferings of the present time unworthy to be compared with such boundless joys, but the blessedness of those saint-thronged courts is beyond the power of mortal to portray. This is the glory that shall be revealed to us.
But there is a glory the creation waits for, the glory of the children of God. This will come to light when the sons of God are manifested. The creation fell with its head Adam. He is the one who subjected it to vanity. But God had His eye upon everything, and the fall of man did not take Him by surprise. He allowed it to take place that by it His counsels of love might be fulfilled. If the creation fell under one head, He knew how to recover it under Another. But this involved bringing the children of God home to heaven, and gathering them as sons into the Father’s house; and not only this, but it also involved their manifestation. The last Adam, in the day of His glory, must not be without His bride. The fall and ruin of the creation was not without the bride of the first Adam, neither will the recovery be without the bride of the last Adam. The Eve of the first Adam was prominent in the fall, and the Eve of the last Adam will be prominent in recovery. Therefore the whole creation waits the manifestation of the sons of God. In contrast with this we wait the redemption of the body. The body links us at present with the groaning creation; and we who have the firstfruits of the Spirit wait for the adoption of the redemption of our body. We wait to go in; the creation waits until we come out. Our groaning will cease at the rapture, when we are taken up. The groans of creation will cease when Christ appears and all the sons of God with Him. Until that day comes the creation must go on groaning. Men may seek to alleviate its woes by legislation and in various ways, but the creation expects nothing from earth in the way of deliverance; this will come from heaven at the manifestation of the sons of God.
In hope of this glory and blessedness when creation shall enter the rest of God we have been saved. We read in Genesis that when the six days’ work of creation was over God rested; but into that rest the creature never entered. Sin came in at once and toil and sorrow and sore travail became the lot of the creature; and this must continue until we enter the rest of God upon the ground of redemption. This rest will be glory, the glory of redemption, which when it comes will see the heart of creation warmed into life and joy with the love of God, for He will rest in His love. It has not yet come into display, but it will come, and in hope of it we have been saved, and in patience wait for it. The blessing cannot reach the groaning creature until we appear with Christ; and this involves our going in first of all that we may be made ready to come out. We are quite ready to go in, for we have been washed in the blood of Jesus, and we have received a new and divine nature which fits us for the enjoyment of this holy scene. We only wait a change of body, and that we will have when Christ comes to take us to be with Himself.
Before we are ready to come out there must be the manifestation of every one of us before the judgment seat, where each one will receive for the deeds done in the body, and when each will be appointed to his own particular place in the kingdom, one to rule over ten cities and another over five (Luke 19), and another over all that He has (Luke 12:24). Also there is to be the robing with fine linen, clean and white, which is the righteousness of the saints (Rev. 19:8). Then Christ will be manifested along with all His glorified companions. The heavens will be opened and the whole universe will witness His glorious advent. All the angels of God will be called to do Him homage. His enemies will perish from before His face, and the kingdoms of the world will become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign for ever and ever. The heavens will then declare His glory, and the firmament His handiwork. Day will utter speech unto day, and night unto night will teach knowledge. In them will be placed a tabernacle (the Holy City) for the sun (Christ), who will go forth as a bridegroom from His chamber, and as a strong man to run a race; His going forth in blessing will be from the end of heaven, and His circuit unto the end of it, and from its heat (the love of God) nothing will be hid. Then also the law of the Lord will go out, more to be desired than gold and sweeter than honey (Ps. 19).
For this day of glory we wait in this groaning creation with which we are still connected by our bodies; and the pressure may be so great and our understanding so limited that we know not what to ask for as we ought. But it is just here that the Spirit comes to our aid, and makes intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered. How infinite are our resources. How perfect is the provision made for us, so that we may not be overcome and crushed and swallowed up by the surrounding evil. Without this provision we never could get through dreadful circumstances that seem sometimes to close us in on every side, and from which we see no way of escape. A groan is all that escapes from our hearts as we go into the presence of God, but the Spirit gives intelligent voice to that groan in the ear of God. And He who searches the heart knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because He makes intercession for saints according to God. Well may we praise God for the great gift He has given to us. He has given His Son for us, and He has given His Spirit to us, and what else is needed that we may arrive safely at the rest of God? Christ makes intercession for us before the face of God in heaven, and the Spirit makes intercession for us in ourselves here upon earth; and the intercession of both Christ and the Spirit is according to God.
But if we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, we do know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are called according to His purpose. If God has called you and me by His grace He had something in view in doing so. It was not merely that He felt compassion for us, and showed mercy to us in saving our souls, but in our salvation He had something in view for us that was the subject of His counsels before the world was; for whom He has foreknown, He has also predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He should be the first-born among many brethren. It has all been for the glory of His beloved Son. His companions are all to be like Him. He will be anointed with the oil of gladness above them, and they will delight in seeing Him supreme in the universe, for in all things He must have the pre-eminence. But they will have their delight in Him, only His delight in them will be infinitely greater than theirs in Him. For their sakes He has gone lower than all their lost condition, and thus has shown Himself pre-eminent in love, and to see Him glorified will be to them supreme delight. This is what is before us, and to which the love and grace and power of God combined will bring us. For whom He has predestinated these He has also called. Man purposes, but often finds himself unable to carry out that which he has purposed. Not so God. He is able to give effect to every thought of His heart. We may have preferred to listen to the voice of the tempter rather than to the voice of God in the gospel of His Son, but He knew how to make us willing to hear His voice. He called us, and we came, glad to confess the voice divine.
And whom He called He justified. Our sinful condition was no barrier to His grace. On the ground of the blood of Jesus He has been able to justify us righteously. And whom He has justified, them also He has glorified. When God takes up any work it is as good as done. He calls those things that be not as though they were (Rom. 4:17). This passage looks at everything from the standpoint of divine counsel. All those whom He has predestinated have not yet been called, possibly not yet born into the world; but their names are in the book of life, as called, justified and glorified. Nothing can hinder the carrying out of those counsels of love. Satan, sin, death, judgment, the evil of the flesh, and the host of wickedness in the heavenlies may be all arrayed against those great thoughts of God; but not only are they powerless to hinder the blessed God arriving at the end He has in view, but they are made to serve to the accomplishing of that end. God has made every evil thing serve His purpose. It has been often remarked that the greatest sin the world ever committed has resulted in the greatest blessing. What greater sin was ever committed in the sight of the universe than the murder of the Son of God? And yet through the grace and love of God to us what blessing has sprung from it. It is the foundation of all blessing to us.
From the beginning of the epistle up till the end of this verse (chap. 8:30) we have completely set before us the guilt and ruin of the whole world, the intervention of God on our behalf in Christ, the basis of all our blessing laid in the blood of Jesus, the principle upon which that blessing is made ours, the power by which we enjoy it, the answer in us to the grace shown to us—the righteous requirement of the law being fulfilled in us, and the love of our hearts won by the expression of His love to us. We have been predestinated by God to be conformed to the image of His Son; He has called us, justified us, and will most assuredly glorify us.
What then, the apostle asks, are we to say to these things? What is to be the reply of your heart and mine to this marvellous display of grace and love on the part of God? He has been for us when everyone else was against us. He was the only One our natural hearts feared to have to do with; the One whom our guilty consciences clothed with wrath and curse and condemnation; the One of whom every thought was a terror to us, and from whose holy eye we longed to find a hiding-place. And yet He was for us all the time; for us in the blood of Jesus, where His love was declared; for us in the resurrection, where His power was declared; and for us in the gift of the Holy Spirit, by whom we are led into every blessing that is made ours in Christ. Therefore we may boldly make our boast in God and fling out the challenge in the face of every foe: “If God be for us, who can be against us?” What finite creature, however evil disposed toward the people of God, would pit its puny might against the Omnipotent? Utter and everlasting defeat could be the only result to the creature that would attempt such an insane and rash adventure. If God spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all that He might fulfil His counsels with regard to us, there can be no question as to the putting forth of the whole power of God that He may have the objects of His love. With that blessed Son of His He is certain to give us all things. All things have been given to Jesus, and we are to inherit all things along with Him. Already, indeed, all things are ours, but we have not as yet entered into possession. We will take hold of everything along with Christ in the day of His glory. We have the earnest of this in the gift of the Spirit; by Him we are sealed until the day of redemption.
But this does not finish the boasting of the apostle. “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?” Satan may do his best to accuse the people of God, and as to their practical lives there may seem to be good ground for their condemnation. But the blood of Jesus is a perfect answer to everything. God has passed over nothing that they are or have done, but has dealt with it in the cross, as we have learned in the earlier portion of this epistle, so that righteously no charge can be laid against us. Besides, it is God who justifies. The condemnation of man or of the devil is of little importance. The only One whose condemnation we have need to fear is God’s, and He has taken up the attitude of Justifier towards us; and not only that, but He has actually justified us in the power of the blood and in Christ risen: so that we may well demand, “Who is He that condemns?” And as to Christ, to whom all judgment is committed, it is He who has died for us, thus expressing His own personal love to us; and not only has He died for us, but He is risen again. We have not lost Him in His sacrifice for us, as is the case when a mortal man dies for us. No, we have Him in resurrection; and not only that, but He is at the right hand of God, in the place of might and authority, supreme in the universe of God, and there occupies Himself in making intercession for us. He is our Great High Priest appearing in the presence of God for us. We have to cross this world on our way to glory, and we have many a foe to contend against. The apostle enumerates them: “Tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword,” but “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” These things will be really good for us; as we saw in chapter 5, tribulation will work endurance; and we shall be really gainers through every onslaught of the enemy. We shall not only be not overcome, but we shall take much spoil, all will be really for our profit. Another thing, it is for His sake we suffer these things; it is because we are following in the path marked out for us by the blessed Son of God, that we have to encounter the opposition of the enemy, whose rage is not really directed against us, but against the Christ whom we seek to follow into the place where He has gone. It is also, next to glory with Christ, the greatest favour God could bestow upon us, to bear a little for Him who has done so much for us. Everything that God could bestow upon creatures, in the way of blessing, He has bestowed upon us where Christ is, and on these things we are exhorted to set our minds; they are in heaven, unseen and eternal. But even here on earth He has given us that which is better than the wealth of the whole world. Our inheritance under the sun is the reproach of Christ, and next to glory with Him nothing greater could be conferred upon us. Moses esteemed it greater riches than the treasures of Egypt. How wonderful that God should confer such a favour upon poor things like ourselves, picked out of the very gutter of the world, as to give us the high privilege of suffering a little for that Christ who so loved us and whom we have learned to value! And nothing can separate us from His love. He loved us in spite of the judgment that lay upon us, and in His mighty love gave Himself to bear that judgment. His love brought Him to the lowest point of dishonour, that He might possess us as His own, and all that He bore for us has not dimmed it in the least. In resurrection it lives in His heart in all its almighty power; through all our desert wanderings it accompanies us; nothing that we may meet with on the way can weaken it in the least, and it will be satisfied only when we are in the image of Him in whose heart it shall burn for eternal ages, and who in its glorious might makes intercession for us.
Finally the apostle makes known to the Romans the confidence of his own heart as to the love of God. He had shown that there was no reason for the manifestation of that love at the outset; we were ungodly sinners and enemies when it came forth for our deliverance from the power of evil; it had been declared in the death of His own Son; nothing had been able to stand in its way; it had triumphed over every opposition, and everything was against it; but it had been victorious, and now nothing could separate us from it. And this love is our everlasting portion. To God be all the glory! May our hearts be ever in the deep and blessed enjoyment of this great love, and may our lips pour forth His praises unceasingly!
“O mind divine! so must it be
That glory all belongs to God:
O love divine that did decree
We should be part through Jesus blood!
“O keep us, love divine, near thee,
That we our nothingness may know,
And ever to Thy glory be
Walking in faith while here below.”