Righteousness — (Correspondence)

W. H. Westcott.

Extracted from Scripture Truth magazine Volume 3, 1911, page 152.

Q. It is often stated, in evangelical circles, that while the believers sins are put away by the blood of Christ, what constitutes his positive righteousness before God is the perfect life of the Lord Jesus, as described for us in the four Gospels. It is further stated that this is not a mere legal righteousness, in that the perfection of the Lord's earthly life far transcended a bare obedience to the letter of the law. Perfection was found in Him, and this, it is said, and not merely His obedience to the law, constitutes the believer's righteousness. Would you kindly help with this?

In reply to the query of your correspondent it is surely important to first avow one's glad accord with much that is held by those who appear to have this difficulty, e.g. their apprehension of the perfection of our Lord's obedience, of the necessity of a righteousness other than our own, and of that necessity being met in Christ alone — whatever defect there may be in apprehending the manner in which it is met.

When we come to deal directly with the matter of our being before God in righteousness in harmony with His holy nature and attributes, we are absolutely shut up to Christ. For the Jew who is under the law, "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth" (Rom. 10:4). For the Gentile who calls on Christ for salvation and blessing, He "of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption" (1 Cor. 1:30). Both of these chapters are written of Christ in His resurrection state. The Apostle, describing the righteousness which is of faith, i.e. the righteousness in which the Christian is seen before God, says that it is not necessary to ascend up into heaven to bring Christ down, nor yet is it necessary to descend into the deep to bring Christ up again from the dead, these being accomplished facts subsisting in all their blessed value before God for the good of men. But when a man believes in his heart that God raised Christ — our Saviour and Deliverer — from the dead, this is an introduction for him into a position in which God reckons him to be righteous before Him (Rom. 10:6-10). Confession with the mouth accompanies this, and the believer is thus recognizable as a saved person.

Everywhere in the New Testament where the doctrine of justification before God is expounded, and our standing in righteousness, the resurrection of Christ is implied and taught. He was delivered for our offences and raised again for our justification (Rom. 4:25). Adam was the federal head of a race who inherited from him death and condemnation, Christ having completed one righteousness in contrast to Adam's one offence, becomes in resurrection the federal Head of a new race who participate with Him in life and justification of life (Rom. 5:14-21). The grace that reigns through righteousness unto eternal life, subsists in Jesus Christ our Lord, and is administered by Him (ver. 21). It pleases God by the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe. and of such it is written, "Of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us … righteousness …" (1 Cor. 1:21-30). What Christ is made to us, and what we are made in Him, is stated alone of Him risen from the dead, and now ascended on high. Though we have known Christ after the flesh," says the Apostle Paul, "yet now henceforth know we Him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, there is new creation; old things are passed away behold all things are become new. And all things are of God … For He hath made Him to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God IN HIM." Whatever may be the meaning of these wonderful utterances, it is clear that the one who believes in Christ receives most wonderful blessings in Him where He now is and one element in that blessing is that, in Him, God now views the believer with unclouded satisfaction, and invests him with favour which is measured only by what Christ is to Him. It is in Christ, risen and glorified, that he is now seen, and his blessing is not in Adam, nor in himself, nor does it lie in the flesh, nor in the sphere where flesh finds its home.

It is, I judge, in regard to this that your correspondent finds that some Christians while evangelical in their testimony, do not reach the scriptural truth. Beholding the unassailable perfection of Christ as He was after the flesh (I use the Apostle's term), they say that this perfection is transferred to the believer's account, and constitutes his righteousness before the face of God. Now is it not incomprehensible, if such be indeed the case, that the Apostle says "we know Him henceforth no more" in that character? If he owed his standing to what Christ was, in His blessed perfection as a Man on earth how could he pen such a sweeping exclusion of what formed his only hope?

We do not lose by having our misconceptions corrected, and I think we all have to learn that what Christ was in His life on earth, and the official glories comprised in His person, have all been carried forward into resurrection. Had it not been so, all that He is would have been unavailable for us. He would still have been nothing less than Himself, but He would have remained without associates in His glory and in whatever character we view Him it was necessary for Him to go down into death that He might remove our every disqualification, and then put us on the same platform with Himself in resurrection before His God and Father.

In the four Gospels Christ is presented in various characters. The records there given are our only means of discovering the excellences that were resident in Him, and His perfect suitability for the offices He is to fill. But in each of the four records He is rejected in these several offices and characters and goes into death. What He was after the flesh has GONE. It is true that the remembrance of His humiliation can never pass away. A pot of manna was ever kept in the holiest in the tabernacle of old, and God will never, never forget how lovely Christ was in the days of His lowliness, though He was slighted and rejected and slain. We also are reminded every time we break the bread and drink the cup of Christian fellowship, of the perfection of the One who loved us and gave Himself for us. Yet all that He was here was presented in death to God; and everything went in death. The old footing on which things were proposed to man was destroyed for ever in the judgment of the cross: "one shall burn the heifer in his sight, her skin, and her flesh, and her blood, with her dung, shall he burn: and the priest shall take cedar wood, and hyssop, and scarlet, and cast it into the midst of the burning of the heifer" (Num. 19:5-6). Everything went. The cedar wood in its glory, and the hyssop in its lowliness, Christ in His human greatness and Christ in His humiliation, Christ in His characters, and Christ in His offices, all went into death. Nothing shows so much as this the purpose of God to set flesh utterly aside. What Christ was after the flesh has passed into the burning; and there exists no such righteousness any more of that order that can be applied to us. Everything moved forward into resurrection. What Jesus was charms and attracts us, but it draws us to where He has gone, and that is into resurrection and glory.

Hence, in each of the four Gospels, the character which Christ presented in His earthly life is closed in death, but reopened in resurrection. This is a tempting theme, but I must not try the patience of the reader. Nothing is missing of all that Christ is, and nothing will fail of all that Christ was to be but all subsists for God and for us in resurrection now.

It is therefore Christ risen, and seated at the right hand of God, who forms our all. It is not Christ in glory for our Object, and Christ on earth for our righteousness; Christ in glory is ALL as well as in all. To get any adequate idea of the favour in which we are set, or of the righteousness according to which we stand before God, it is necessary to study Christ where He is. To begin with, just as it was a righteous thing with God to consume everything in "the burning" when Christ stood as our proxy at the cross, so has it been a righteous thing with God to raise our Representative from the dead and to give Him glory, The height to which He is raised corresponds to the depth to which He went for the securing of God's glory and our blessing. But He has taken that place for us, for His redeemed ones. It is true that we are still down here in our bodies, and are marked by weakness and frequent failure; but nothing of this enters into our standing before God. For a time we tread the desert sand, but our destiny is to be conformed to Christ in glory. By and by there will be no weakness to mourn over, and no failure to confess. The nature within, and the body itself in its resurrection condition, and all the environment without, will be in accordance with God's nature and attributes; there will be no thought or movement divergent from His will. This is what the Apostle Paul calls "the hope of righteousness," i.e. full conformity to Christ in glory.

In the meantime, our position before God being assured, and our destiny secured, it is ours to cherish Christ as our present Object, and to yield our members servants to righteousness, that practical holiness may characterize us in this unholy world.

Others are far more competent than the writer to open out the position and excellence of the glorified Man who constitutes our righteousness at the right hand of God; but perhaps some of those of whom your correspondent speaks may be led to prayerfully consider and to heartily accept from God as much as has been said.