Editor's Note 23
In our relationship to God, there are two points of primary importance for us to remark: their responsibility as men, and the power of that life in which we live before Him. Both these were set forth to us by God in the garden of Eden, in the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and in the tree of life.
First, as to our responsibility, man has become a sinner; consequently he has in him no spiritual life at all (John 6:53). Sin brought in death and condemnation. After the fall God gave the law by Moses in order to prove the state of man. The law of God must exact righteousness according to the nature of him to whom it is given; but the law does not give life (Gal. 3:21). It is the very nature of the law to exact and not to give. Since it is the question of righteousness in man, God cannot lower the requirements of the law; and if we have the divine nature, we shall not desire its requirements to be lowered. The law is the measure of responsibility of the natural man, but it does not give life, and (because man is a sinner) the law, instead of being a resource, becomes the cause of death and condemnation. A mixture of law and grace, in so far as this last is found working in us, does not change this state. Grace does not destroy our responsibility, and that which the law requires is not fulfilled.
Christ came to be our Saviour and our Deliverer. He is the source of life to those who believe. He became subject to the death under which we were, and He bare upon the cross our sins, and the wrath of God which they deserved. But this is not all. In the person of this Saviour, man enters into a new position. He is the man who is risen and glorified before God. The righteousness of God is accomplished in Him, and He has received that glory as a reward. Let us now see how we are made partakers of this amazing position before God.
God cannot endure sin. The responsibility of the creature cannot be destroyed. At the beginning of the Epistle to the Romans the apostle unfolds the condition of sin under which both Jews and Gentiles are. Without law—man is without restraint (ungodly), debased by sin; he has lost every right thought about God, being given up to things not even suitable to man in nature. Under the law, he not only has corrupted himself through his lusts, but he is disobedient by reason of his own will—a transgressor. The law condemns not only sin, but also the sinner. The Saviour appears, born of a woman, and placed under the law; He shed His blood in order to purify us before God—to justify the sinner before God, the just Judge. Grace, rich and deep, is also presented to us in this work. It is the instruction of the Epistle to the Romans down to the end of chapter 3.
In chapter 4 he begins to examine another truth—the effect and the result of the resurrection of Christ. In chapters 5, 6, and 7 we have the effects of this truth; and in chapter 8 the result in full.
The history of Abraham is introduced in chapter 4. If the Jew found “himself condemned by the law, he could fall back upon the relationship God had established between Himself and Abraham. It was to this end that the apostle set forth what were the foundations of this relationship, and shewed it was built upon faith and the promise. Righteousness was by faith, and it was given to Abraham before he was circumcised— “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness.” There is yet another principle taught us in this chapter. Abraham was as dead, as also was Sarah his wife. But God had promised to him a seed. Abraham did not doubt His word because of the impossibility to man of the thing, but he believed in the power of God, whose part it was to fulfil His own promise, and that was counted to him for righteousness.
And so it is with us, only with this most remarkable difference: we do not believe that God is able to fulfil His promises, but that He has fulfilled them. “We believe in God who has raised up from the dead our Lord Jesus.” Observe, the apostle does not say here, We believe in Him who is raised, but in Him who has raised. It is thus that he teaches us the meaning of this doctrine. In the resurrection, God does not present Himself as the just Judge, satisfied as such by the work of Christ; but He acts according to His own power in the sphere of death’s power, in bringing forth His beloved Son from under it, and bringing us now, in Christ, into a new position where death and sin are not. It is God who works for us, to save us perfectly, and to set us before Him in truth and in righteousness. Man being dead as to that which concerns spiritual life, and living in sin as to natural life, it is only in Christ he has died and risen again, and finds his place before God in grace, where sin is taken away and righteousness is accomplished: “He was delivered for our offences and was raised again for our justification.”
From chapter 5 to 8 is the application of this truth to our own condition; in chapter 5 to our justification; in chapter 6 to the new life of the believer in Jesus; in chapter 7 to the law; and chapter 8 describes a soul in perfect liberty.
In chapter 5 he shews that the believer enjoys peace with God; that he lives in the sense of God’s favour, being heir of His glory, and rejoicing even in tribulations, which work for his spiritual good. Much more, he rejoices in God Himself, who is his source of endless joy. As man, he was under the first Adam, and, as a necessary consequence, an inheritor of the consequences of his disobedience; the believer is in the Second Adam, through whose obedience he is righteous. But because he is righteous through the obedience of another (that is, even Christ’s), the flesh says, No matter what I do—I can do what I like. But I say, Thou hast already done enough; all thou hast done has been to destroy thyself; and thou acknowledgest, without being aware of it, that thy will is to sin. But let us go on with our subject.
The apostle is not here speaking of the all-important motive which the believer finds in the blood of Christ to cause him to cease from sin, nor of the power which he finds in the love of God; but he shews that he cannot live in sin to which he is dead. The Christian partakes of the fruits of the obedience of Christ, because He is dead and risen. How can he live in sin, being already dead to sin? A dead man does not live. He is not a partaker of the blessing which is in Christ, if he has not the life of Christ. Though, as to the natural life, he is still living in the world, he ought nevertheless to reckon himself as dead to sin, since he lives by the life of Christ who is dead and risen.
In chapter 7 he considers the consequences of the same truth as to the law. The law, he says, has dominion over a man so long as he lives; he then gives the tie of marriage as an explanation of it. As long as the first husband lives, the wife cannot be to another man without guilt. The first husband then represents the law, the second is Christ raised from the dead (Christ when living on this earth was Himself under the law); and thus we cannot be at the same time under the law and united to Christ raised from the dead. However, it is not the law which dies, but Christ died under the law; for as many as have sinned under the law shall be condemned by the law; and the law is good if a man use it lawfully (Rom. 2:12; 1 Tim. 1:8, 9). If it were ourselves who were dead under the law, we should be lost; but Christ died for us. And because He is risen from the dead, our souls are united to Him, the law having no longer a hold over a dead man. Therefore, now, Christ, He who is raised from the dead, is our only husband. Thus the resurrection of Christ has delivered us from the law, as well as from sin and condemnation.
Romans 5, then, shews us our position in Christ, the Second Adam, who is risen; chapter 6, our new life in Him, a life of which the strength lies in reckoning ourselves dead to sin; chapter 7 is our complete deliverance from the law, which hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth. As to us we are dead and risen in Him. It is the new man in Christ which bears fruit unto God, and not the old man under the law. Yet the fault is not in the law; but, because sin is in the flesh, the effect of the law is to bring home guilt upon the conscience, and to become an occasion for exciting the desire to sin.
But, to return to the leading subject of the chapter, we see that we cannot be at the same time under the law and with Christ risen. This would be to have two husbands at once. In the second half of the chapter we are given the experience of one who wants to fulfil the righteousness of the law, and to bring forth fruit to God as standing under the law—the first husband. Awakened by God, and under the influence of the new life, he understands the spirituality of the law; he understands its requirements; he desires to keep the law, and bis conscience cannot be satisfied unless he does so. The new nature loves the righteousness of the law; but by reason of the opposition of the flesh it does not fulfil it (chap. 7:14, 16, 22). Sad state of a soul which, by reason of grace working in it, desires to do good; but because it is under the law, knows not how to do it! Now, let it be observed, that while in this state the soul is in its relationship with the first husband, and consequently has nothing to do with the Second. We have seen that no one can have two husbands at once: therefore in this passage there is no mention made either of Christ or of the Holy Spirit. It is the ordinary Christian experience of the spirituality of the law which we meet with. The conscience of the individual, being renewed, knows that it cannot fulfil the requirements of that spiritual law. The will renewed makes every possible effort to do so, but it cannot succeed. All the while it loves the spiritual nature of the law; it does not desire that it should be less perfect. It knows that God cannot give up His authority, nor lower His holiness. It tries with all its might to attain the end; but it has no power. The law demands perfect obedience; the conscience and the will assent; but the law gives no power: the end will never be attained. The awakening of the conscience in one who is sincere never produces in him the accomplishment of righteousness, but, on the contrary, despair. It is much more difficult to know and acknowledge that we cannot do a single good thing, than to know and acknowledge that we have sinned. The experience which the soul passes through under the law is a means of convincing it of its powerlessness; but holiness cannot be a subject of indifference, either to God or to the new-born soul; and as we find that we cannot work out righteousness, we are obliged to seek deliverance elsewhere. Yet, though God will convince a soul that is sincere of its powerlessness, He takes no pleasure in leaving it in this wretched state; but as soon as it acknowledges its state, and that it is, and knows itself to be, without any hope in itself, so that it can never attain to the righteousness of the law, then God reveals to it its perfect deliverance in Christ. Then at once the soul gives thanks to God for what He has done for it; it sees where its new place is in Christ risen—its true husband, that it may bring forth fruit unto God (v. 24, 25). Henceforth, it is not only a new position (in Christ risen) which is its position, but also strength and liberty. The flesh is there still, its nature is not changed; but our position before God is in the Spirit and not in the flesh. The power of the Spirit is present hvingly in us, so that we walk, not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. Christ in heaven is the expression of our true position before God. Christ living upon the earth is the representation and example of the heavenly man upon earth. Walking after the Spirit, we fulfil the law (by loving God and our neighbour) because we are not under the law.
The close of verse 25 is brought in by the Holy Spirit in order to shew us that, though we are seen in perfect liberty, the nature of the flesh is not changed; but the law (which means here a principle acting always in the same way)—the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has completely set us free from the law of sin and death which reigns in the old man. In Christ we live in the new man (there the old man has no right), but the Holy Spirit is the power which works in it. As to the question of righteousness, the Christian is in perfect peace, because he knows that God, instead of condemning him, has done what the law could not do—that is, “condemned sin in the flesh,” by means of Christ come in the likeness of sinful flesh, and as the atoning sacrifice for sin. A soul who is in earnest will always mourn more over the sin which he finds working in him, than on account of the sins already committed; but he knows that Christ has died in his stead, not only for sins but for sin itself. So, then, in chapter 8 we see Christ as the sacrifice upon the cross, then alive in resurrection, and then the blessed testimony, as the living power^ of the Holy Spirit is fully unfolded to us.
From verse 5-11 of this chapter the Holy Spirit is declared to be the character and the power of the life. From verse 12-27 He is in us the personal witness of our adoption and of our right of inheritance, and the helper of our infirmity. From verse 28-39 the Holy Spirit is proving that God is not only working in us, but, much more, He is for us, in His own power and faithfulness, so that the happy believer is assured that nothing can separate him from the love of God—a love which he knows by the Holy Spirit which dwells in him.
The height of the glory, the depth of humiliation in death, are in Christ the proof and the means of our being everlastingly blessed in the presence of God Himself—in the blessedness which grace has given us.
But there is still more instruction to be drawn out of chapter 8:8. Verses 1-3 are a summing up of the three preceding chapters, and three things are taught us in them. First, the position of the guilt of man when considered in the light of responsibility. The answer to this is His being justified by God. This is the subject of chapter 5. Secondly, the nature of the old man and that of the new is the subject of chapter 6. Thirdly, God, in order to put to the proof the ability of man to work out righteousness for himself, brought in the law, and man, through the fall, being a sinner, could not fulfil righteousness. Even before he was a sinner, when his obedience was put to the proof by a law, it became the occasion of his fall. But when, by means of the new birth, he understands the spirituality of the law, then he knows not only that he has committed sins, but that the law of sin is in his members. This is the subject examined by the Holy Spirit in chapter 7.
The power and the nature of the new life in Christ, who has died and is risen from the dead, is the answer of God’s grace to the wickedness of the flesh. This is taught us in chapter 6. The soul set free, through fully knowing the work of God in Christ, is the answer of grace to the experiences of chapter 7. By considering attentively the first three verses of chapter 8 it will be easily seen that verse 1 corresponds to chapter 5, verse 2, to chapter 6, and verse 3 to chapter 7. Chapters 6 and 7 are closely connected, because the soul that is born again finds out the true character of the old man by means of the law. We have, then, the summing up of these two chapters in verses 2 and 3 of chapter 8. All hope of deliverance is shewn, in chapter 5, to flow out of justification. But this is not man’s thought. He would wish to deliver himself actually from the law of sin by his own effort, and thus be without fault before God; but God will not have it so, and it never could be according to His truth, because that, on the one hand, the work of Christ would have been in vain, and, on the other, man would not have known what is the true nature and sinfulness of sin. If by efforts in the conscience we could find deliverance before God, the work of justification, though it might not be by strength of man, would at least be by the work of the Holy Spirit, and not by the work of Christ. But God will not; and for man it is impossible to have it so; because the work of the Spirit of God is to shew him how intolerable sin is to God, and that the nature of man is not changed. Now his very nature is sin. Man must submit himself to the righteousness of God. Convinced of sin, condemned by the law, he must find his righteousness in another—in Christ, who died for him, and is now risen and in the presence of God. This is the reason why chapters 3 and 5 come before chapters 6 and 7, and verse 1 of chapter 8 before verses 2 and 3.
After the Holy Spirit has described the conflicts of the soul that is born again, and shewn its helplessness, then the “there is no condemnation” (chap. 8:1) is the first want of the soul, and the beginning of God’s answer to it in His grace. But, because we have this privilege (“no condemnation”) in a risen Christ, this does not separate from life, and cannot be separated from it; so it is not simply a doctrine upon a particular subject expressing the thoughts of God, but it is a change in what passes in the soul within—a change wrought through the knowledge of this subject by means of faith. The soul has learned its own helplessness by means of the law; the law of God has discovered to it the law of sin that is in the members. The man sees the sin that dwells in him; he hates it, but he cannot deliver himself from it.
Whilst we are upon this subject of the law, it ought to be remarked, before going farther, that there are some who make a law of Christ Himself. They acknowledge His love; they see in His work on the cross, how great is His love. They find in it a reason why they should love Christ perfectly, with their whole hearts; but they cannot find this love in themselves. They ought to love Christ with their whole heart, but they do not love Him thus. Now it is precisely the law which commands that we should love God with all our heart. We have found in Christ a new motive, we have perhaps given a new form to the law, but we find ourselves still under the law, though we have clothed it with the name of Christ. The power of sin is still there; it prevents us from fulfilling the law, which requires that we should love with the whole heart. Sin is in the flesh; it harasses me, and gets the better of me. Where can I look for deliverance from this terrible and skilful adversary? Our very helplessness is our resource. We find that God Himself must come in, because we can do nothing. No sooner have I understood the work of God (not the promises), than I find that God Himself has done the whole work. This is what is meant by verse 3: God Himself has met and conquered the evil which was always too much for me. Christ, who knew no sin, having been made sin for us, has taken away, not only the sins which we have actually committed, but also sin in the flesh, in the presence of God, because He died not only for sins, but also for sin.
In this the love of God has been revealed to us, that Christ came into the world when we were nothing but sinners; but this revelation of His love does not purify the conscience. Moreover, so long as the conscience is not purified, the heart cannot rejoice in His love; because doubt in the conscience causes fear, and this prevents the heart from resting with confidence on His love. It is most true that love is in God; but the heart cannot make this love its own, because conscience tells us that God cannot bear sin.
The Holy Spirit who speaks of love in the gospel, speaking by the same word is also light to convince of sin, and, this convincing, brings home to the heart not only sins committed but sin as in itself. A child may be convinced of his father’s love, but he fears to meet him if his conscience tells him he has done anything wrong. “Fear hath torment.” But if we are risen with Christ, not only is it true that God has loved us in our state of sin, but He has also raised us up into quite a new position—into the same position as Christ Himself is in before God, where we ourselves are the result of the mighty power of God, according to the power by which He raised up Christ from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places (Eph. 1:9-23; 2 Cor. 5:5).
The manifestation of the love of God in Christ whilst we were yet sinners is recalled to our attention in 1 John 4:9; but our perfect position in Christ, by being made partakers of His life, is set forth in verse 17 of the same chapter. Now Christ came into this position after having entirely finished His work—a work by which the conscience is purified; and thus love is shed abroad without hindrance in the heart. Because I am united to Christ, who has died and is risen again for me, sin can no more be imputed to me than it can be imputed to Christ; His position before God is quite the same as mine, and (let us remember: it is a solemn thought!) to have any other would be nothing short of damnation. There is no middle place between the first and Second Adam; and we well know that Christ’s position now before God is without sin, not only as to the perfection of His Person (which was always perfect), but besides as it regards the imputation of sin. What then? Has God become indifferent to sin? Did Christ do nothing as to it? Did He shrink back on account of the difficulty of the work? Did He claim at His Father’s hand twelve legions of angels to deliver Him? or did He follow the counsel of the chief priests by saving Himself as He had so often saved others? No! we know it well; He is the Head, without sin, of those who believe on Him, because, as the One who has stood in their stead, He has made an end of sin upon the cross, and, having finished this work, He has united them to Himself by a new life which flows from Him, and by the power of the Holy Spirit which has made them one with Him. And now what does this truth say as to believers? Not only did Christ bear our sins upon the cross, but He was there personally our substitute before God. For all that which the Holy Ghost now shews us as sin before God, in the light of His countenance— for all that Christ died upon the cross and He has borne it for us. He is Himself in the presence of God, judged of according to the light of His glory; He is there who knew no sin, yet who was made sin for us. Now, thanks be to God, all is over— the work is accomplished.
The cloud whence the lightning of God’s judgment came forth, the tempest of His wrath, has passed away, taking out of the way our sin; and now the sunshine of God’s love rests on us without a cloud—that perfect love which gave Jesus to finish the work. The conscience is purified according to the holiness of God who has Himself judged the sin.
Before this, though God sent the law among men, yet He Himself was hidden from them; but the same stroke which tore the veil, so that God was revealed in His holiness, has at the same moment taken away the sin which forbids our standing before His unveiled face. The full light (for the true light has now shined) which shines around us, and in which we are, shews that we are without sin before the face of God; and that our garments are washed in the blood of the Lamb. The nearer we are to the light, the more clearly will our perfect purity before God be seen.
It is thus, then, that what the law could not do (because it condemned the sinner without being able to change the flesh) God has done, because Christ has not only borne our sins, but has come in the likeness of sinful flesh, and become the sacrifice for sin. Thus God has condemned sin in the flesh. Let this be particularly noticed. It is not said, Sin shall be condemned, as a thing that is yet to be done; neither is it by the power of the Holy Spirit, but it is by the atoning sacrifice of Christ.
Christ has given Himself up as the atoning sacrifice for the sin of which the Holy Spirit has convinced thee, O believer. God has condemned the sin which has been thy constant sorrow; but He has condemned it on the cross of Christ; He has taken it away; and thou art free. Thou hatest it—it cannot be otherwise, if the Holy Spirit is at work in thee. Now it is no more imputed to thee than are the other sad fruits borne by this corrupt tree. Thou art before God in Christ, in whom sin has been condemned on the cross.
Now, as regards holiness, what is the effect of this truth? What have we to say of the position of the believer? He is set in the light, even before the face of God. He has a life which rejoices in this light; he has the Holy Spirit to enjoy it. Holiness is measured by this light. Since we are in the presence of God, all things shall be judged according to the perfection of His presence. “We have communion with the Father and with His Son.” Therefore, when the apostle speaks of sin in Romans 3:23, he does not say, “We have sinned, and we come short of what men ought to do,” but we “come short of the glory of God.” And because we are on the ground of grace, it is not merely that holiness is expected from us, but we are made partakers of His holiness. And not only so, but because God is for us, we find power to realize in our life this setting apart to Him; and because we know He is for us, we have the assurance that He will give us this power when we draw near to Him. Holiness is realized by communion with God; but with the conscience of sin, communion is impossible. Where shall we find strength for practical separation to God, unless in God Himself? How can we ourselves walk in this practical holiness if we have not His strength? How can I seek this strength from God if I have not the assurance that He is for me, and if my conscience prevents me from approaching Him? Efforts made after holiness may be sincere before the soul is set at liberty, because the tendencies of the new life are there; but such efforts are always mixed up with the felt need of justification, and thus the true nature of holiness is overthrown and lost, or, rather, it has never been known.
As to our rule of life, in accordance with our position of being in Christ, it is His life on earth which is our model. “He that saith he abideth in him, ought himself also so to walk even as he walked.” These two things were seen in Him. He was the righteous man before God, and before man He was the revelation of God’s character. Such ought also to be our life upon earth; walking in the presence of God, we ought to manifest His character before men. And the reason for this is, because Christ Himself is already our life, as the apostle says, “That the life of Jesus might be manifest in our mortal flesh.”
And herein is the important difference between the law and the commands of Christ. The law promises life if we fulfil its commands. The commands of Christ, as with all His words and works, are the expression of the course of that life which we possess already in Him. And what were the principles of this life in Christ Himself? First, He could say, “the Son of man which is in heaven.” It was love from which all His service flowed. Even as man, He was born of God; and He could say of Himself, that for the joy that was set before Him He endured the cross and despised the shame. The same thing is true of us, with this necessary difference, which there must be, because of His glorious Person, for He is God Himself. United to Him, our life is hid with Him in God.
Then as to our life on earth as believers, it begins with our being born of God. The love of God in our hearts is the spring of our walk; and the glory in Christ which is set before us strengthens us in all the sufferings of our pilgrimage on earth. And, moreover, there is the power of the Holy Spirit, by whose fulness He lived and acted whilst on earth, and which is our strength to follow Him. Thus we have two rules by which to measure good and evil: on the one hand, the Holy Spirit dwelling in us; and, on the other, the life and fulness of Christ Himself glorified. Concerning the Holy Spirit, by which we are sealed unto the day of redemption, we ought not to grieve it; rather ought we to be filled with it, that we may realize our communion with God with perfect joy. From our connection with Christ, we ought to put off the old man and put on the new, created in righteousness and true holiness; and in addition to all this, in sight of the fulness of His glory, we ought to grow up unto Him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ, unto a perfect man—unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.
23 [This paper appeared originally in German.—Ed.]