Editor's Note 64
My Dear Brother,
I have read the paper which you gave me, and which I understand is so much thought of by Christians of the Establishment. We are so apt, in getting hold of some truth, to pursue our own reasonings on it (reasonings in which, in divine things, there may be so easily some error or defect, some positive text forgotten that would shew the defect, or with which the conclusion is at variance), that it is important to review all one’s assertions and statements, and compare them with God’s word; and search that word that we may, in our measure, fully know all its teaching on any point, so as to be guarded against any self-drawn conclusion which may more or less swerve from it. At least, so I find it.
Conclusions are never knowing the truth. I draw a conclusion: this last is only a consequence, an idea which follows from another. The truth is what exists in Christ, or the shewing everything, as it is, by Him. I say as to the truth—it is. I say as to a conclusion—it must be right. It may be so. But in the truth I have what is—in a conclusion, an idea justly deduced: an immense difference, morally speaking. I am subject to the truth. I have proved, if it be so, the justice of my conclusion. I say this not to hinder enquiry, but to insist on testing by the scriptures all conclusions I arrive at— man’s conclusions, by a divine testimony.
If we were simply willing to bow to the word, reasoning really would not be necessary. We should need divine teaching to have our understandings opened, but we should learn—not have conclusions to draw. However we are not so simple as this; and there is pleading and reasoning; and if carried on in the spirit of grace, and continually tested by the word, it elicits truth, though it calls for watching one’s spirit very closely. God has so ordered it. There is a convincing of gainsayers, as well as teaching the truth. We need the Spirit of God for this as for all else. How bright examples do we see in scripture, as Paul, and Stephen, and others, of this power of confounding the opposers of truth! Discussion and enquiry, if rightly pursued, if there is, through grace, a love of the truth, are a means of enlarging and deepening our own thoughts also, as well as of convincing others; of correcting them too, of course, where needed, of perfecting them, rendering them, if in the main true, free from such objections as may apply really only to adjuncts to them, but serve to cast doubt on the truth we hold. Thus the truth and all its bearings are better known as they stand in the divine counsels, and it is held as from God (that which is alloy being removed).
I have searched thus, I trust sincerely, the scriptures, to learn what they say on righteousness; and I certainly (I hope with increased clearness of apprehension) believe the doctrine I have held to be the doctrine of scripture, while the reading of the article in the “Christian Examiner” has made me feel more deeply than ever that the ground on which my opponents rest in their views of righteousness is false; that the root of it lies deep, and that, when carefully searched, or, as here, elaborately unfolded, it is worse than it at first appears. Many a traditional error is held without seeing all it implies; nor would it be just to charge on those holding it all that it does imply, when they are not aware of it. But we are justified in shewing that the error involves it. The evil and deep and deadly doctrine involved in the common doctrine of Christ’s righteousness comes more clearly out in this paper than in anything I have yet seen. I do not in the least charge the editors or patrons of the journal with what is really involved in their article (other truths may guard them from it); but the insertion of such an article is a proof how the error they contend for blinds them to the exceeding evil doctrine whose germ is in it; and in these days this is becoming important.
The conventional landmarks of truth are being removed; confidence in the form truth took 300 years ago is being shaken; and, alas! though not yet so much, thank God, in Ireland, the truth contained in the form often thrown overboard. Then alas! a large class of the ministers of the Establishment cling in consequence more to formal ordinances to have something steady. But this does not keep souls who thirst for the truth itself; it only stunts the growth of those subject to them, and scripture in itself loses its authority. It does not recover those who are wandering. They see these things are not truth. If they return to them, it is to a practically popish form of them, in which truth is sacrificed to anything (that is, God’s authority to man’s). For God exercises His own authority over the conscience by the truth; man’s is jewishly maintained by subjection to ordinances. Nor is it possible to hold godly men in these bonds—at least a vast number of them: the word of God is too much studied. It may some; but it is soon found that, where the word of God has its own power— that is, when God is owned—souls get on into too much real solid sanctifying truth to remain bound to ordinances as the bond of Christianity and Christendom, even when they are divinely given ones. Those who do are more thrown back on mere forms.
Truth is needed to keep souls in progress and in holy subjection to God at the same time. In this case, scripture, the word of God, must have its authority. If the presence of the Holy Ghost, the Comforter on earth, as forming the unity of Christ’s body on earth, and dwelling in God’s assembly as His habitation; if the coming of Jesus to receive the saints to Himself, and then His appearing to judge the world, and the saints with Him, be taught, and these truths work their effect in people’s souls, conventional church forms will not hinder persons who bow to scripture (and they ought to bow to scripture) from receiving them. Nor will denying their importance lead people who have known their power to yield to theory. They find them presented in scripture as immense practical truths, and scripture as read—is the divinely declared safeguard in the perilous times.
No man who knows what darkness and light is can do otherwise than bless God with his whole heart for the blessed intervention of God in the Reformation. We cannot too highly prize that astonishing deliverance. But it set up the authority of scripture. That was one great half of the blessing of it when it prevailed. Men have gone into infidelity—in no way (far from it) in Protestant countries more than in Roman Catholic. Everyone acquainted with the latter knows the contrary. Only in Protestant countries, where there is liberty, it declares itself. But the principle of the authority of scripture remains firm wherever God is really owned. But, in all the present movement of mind, it must be its authority as God’s word which we appeal to as justifying our statements. I know, alas! man’s heart can reject it; but, then, I am authorized and bound to treat him as an unbeliever, for he is one. There is nothing to be believed but the word of God. Thus only can I set to my seal that God is true—thus only exercise true faith.
The appeal even to Reformers, or more modern authors, cannot avail. I do not believe in them. They cannot be, ought not to be, a ground of faith. They may instruct me: I may listen to them with personal respect. This is all right. But they cannot be authority for my soul. If I own them as such, the word has lost its authority; for I put man’s word and God’s word on a level. In receiving scripture I set to my seal that God is true, and hence His authority over my soul, while His love in giving His word is owned. Always a vital truth, this is now of inconceivable importance. On this question hangs that of the subjection of the soul to God, and in His word, or man’s wilful departure from it, be it in superstition or infidelity. On the subject we are now occupied with, men have sought to put down what I believe to be the truth by quoting Reformers and Puritan divines. It does not affect my mind in the smallest degree. If they are not in unison with scripture, I reject them at once. I value all their work, but God’s word is alone an authority. I may be told, it is only my thought on scripture instead of theirs. My faith must be mine, and must be direct, based on the word itself, or it is not faith. They may have been instruments, and blessed ones—they were, in their day; but they are not authority. Were I to hold them so, I must hold many errors, and many opposite things, and leave unlearned many important truths by which God is acting on the conscience of the Church at this day, which it was not in His wisdom to bring out in their day.
Let us search scripture together. God would, out of the common fund of scripture, lead by His Spirit by the use of certain truths, according to man’s need or the Church’s need at the time. Out of the same fund He will teach the humble enquirer by His Spirit now. They are momentous times: all is shaking; and the Holy Ghost knows on what truths to fix the attention of the saints now. Free enquiry is abroad—often without the smallest respect for the word of God. I am persuaded that the safe way for a soul to meet it, and all the difficulties that may arise, is perfect subjection to the word of God. Then let him enquire, and search as much as he can, provided it be humbly done in dependence on grace, in true subjection to the authority of the word. The conscience will thus be kept in play, and divine authority will be maintained over the soul; and that is all-important. These ecclesiastical forms cannot keep a soul, unless in darkness; yet, whenever a soul gets from under authority, it goes astray. Where am I to find God’s authority? In His word. There, in spirit, not only younger will be subject to elder, but in all grace one to another. Are we not in momentous times? Are we not in times when all is called in question? Does not the Church, and the Christian, need special founding in the truth? Do they not need from the word what is suited to the difficulties of these times, which are not the same as those of the Reformation, nor that of the Puritans either? Let us, then, take the word, and enquire by it of the Lord’s mind.
Our subject is righteousness, and specially the righteousness of God. Now this is used, as the terms imply, in an abstract and in a special sense. The word speaks of righteousness, and there is the special way revealed in which we can have it in a way worthy of, and suited to, God. When I read, “The righteous Lord loveth righteousness,” or, “grace reigns through righteousness,” I have the word used abstractedly: when I read, “the righteousness of God,” or “the righteousness of faith,” I have a special character or way of righteousness. We must keep in mind both. And first, what is righteousness? It is, I believe, the maintenance in my conduct, in my whole conversation, of what I ought to be (i.e., what I owe) towards others, the consistency of one’s ways with the duties founded on relative positions. That is being personally righteous. Judgment maintains the same by the authority of another; but this, too, is righteousness. But God owes nothing to others. It is His consistency with Himself. A man is just when he recognizes the claims of others. “Righteous “is the same, only habitually the latter word carries more of the internal character of a man. “Just” refers more exclusively to actual relationship towards others. In Greek, both are dikaios. Dtkaiosune is the habit and character required. But scripture necessarily introduces from its object a special use of it. Man has to do with God; and, hence, while righteousness in man’s dealings with his neighbour is fully treated of, yet the first part of righteousness is what he ought to be for God— what he owes to Him—I do not mean as a Saviour, but in the relationship in which he stands, so as to meet the requirements of God as revealed. If man does this, he is righteous with God. But this has, in fact, become impossible. For man is a sinner; which means that he is in a state wholly inconsistent with the relationship in which he stands. Hence, God in judging is righteous in taking vengeance. Holy in repelling evil by His very nature, He is righteous in making good His claims in judgment against those who have not made good what they owed under them.
Adam was not holy or righteous, but innocent; he did not know good and evil—hence could not be either. He was not called on to conform himself to any standard, but to be what he was—not leave his first estate. To this end his obedience was tested by a law. What the law referred to was not good or evil in itself. It was a test of obedience simply. Had the prohibition not been there, there would have been no harm in his eating. It was not life annexed to obedience of the law, as has been said. This is fatal error. It was death, on the contrary, coming in consequence of disobedience. “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” He ate; and estrangement from God and exclusion by God was the just and necessary consequence. Man was by nature a child of wrath. Now, how is peace to be restored, and needed righteousness attained? This is the serious question. How is he to be reconciled to God? The way back was barred—a return to innocence impossible. That relationship with God was for us wholly and irrevocably gone. The knowledge of good and evil had taken its place.
Then comes a second question. Man is a sinner by nature, a child of wrath. He stands in the condition and relationship of the first and fallen Adam. He is in flesh before God. Is he to be restored in that state and position, made righteous by the completion of what he owes according to the responsibilities under which he has stood as born of Adam, and alive in this world? or is he, as in flesh, born of Adam, and under the responsibilities under which he stands as man alive in this world, entirely condemned, and the whole condition to be set aside, death and condemnation being the only result of that responsibility, and an entirely new state introduced as that in which God introduces man into His presence, on a wholly new ground, and on a new footing, of which the life, righteousness, responsibilities, and sphere of development, are entirely new? And even if man be restored to blessing in this world (as in the millennium, I believe, he will be), yet even this upon the security of a glory, and a government, and a life which does not belong to it (“the sure mercies of David” proving a resurrection).
This is evidently a deep and serious question. It is really this: What is salvation? Is it making good the old state of man before God, as alive and responsible in this world? or is it transferring him into a new one, of which the second Adam is the pattern and perfection as risen from the dead? I affirm that, according to scripture, it is the latter and not the former. I believe man is wholly condemned and set aside on the ground of his old responsibilities. The first Adam has no more place before God. God is not looking for fruit from the old tree. I believe he is accepted in Christ risen and ascended, and there only has his place before God; that salvation is not making good the defect and completing the status of the first Adam, but the total setting aside of this, and an introduction into the last—the Second man; and that, in the accepted place, there is no mingling them. Conflict down here there is, but no acceptance of both the first and the last man. What is good and accepted is a new creation; all just exercise of conscience as to the state of the first, God glorified as to it in His own way of righteousness and grace. But if in flesh, we cannot please God; and it is not by finding a way to make that up that our condition is met, but by our being taken out of that condition, not our being in flesh at all, but in Spirit in Christ: we are dead, and our life is hid with Christ in God.
Now to what does law apply? To whom was it applied? It applies to man alive in this world, under the responsibilities of his Adam nature, before God; and it was applied to a peculiar people, brought out apart for the purpose, that man might be fully tested by it. Man ought to love God, he ought to love his neighbour. This was what he owed in these relationships. Had he done so, he would have been righteous as such. This was developed negatively, as to the evils he was prone to, in the ten commandments. His avoiding these evils would have been, under the circumstances, really fulfilling practically the positive requirements of the position he was in. Such was law. It addressed itself to man in flesh and would have been his righteousness had he kept it; that is, he would have been righteous in keeping it. But man was a sinner, and he did not.
Is now his old position under flesh made good, and the defects supplied? or he introduced into a wholly new one, by a new life, as a new man, no part of the old being allowed, and finally, none left, while we reckon ourselves to be dead even during our life here below? Is this last or the former Christianity? The system I combat admits a new life, or at least a moralizing action of the Holy Ghost (for some go very low with the idea of being born again); but they pretend that the defects of the old man are to be made good (whatever the means), so that that is to be set up in righteousness before God. The Christian even fails in walking as he ought, according to the measure of the law, the just rule for a child of Adam. And this is made up for him; so that he has the righteousness which he would have had as a child of Adam, had he kept perfect according to that just rule.
Now, I say, that is not Christianity. The life which we receive is Christ as our life. And this is not to make good our place in flesh. It makes me own that there is in me, that is, in my flesh, in me as a child of Adam, no good thing. And, hence, knowing that Christ has died to put away my sin, so that God’s glory is maintained and enhanced as to it, I reckon myself dead, and accept my condemnation as such, but find myself (Christ being in me) in Christ. I have put on the new man, and that is all I am before God. I have given up, died to, owned the just condemnation of (only that condemnation borne on the cross) the old man. I am not in the condition, status, responsibilities of a child of Adam at all. As such, I have owned myself as wholly lost. I have, through grace, put it off, am dead and risen with Christ. “They that are in the flesh cannot please God”; but I am not in the flesh, because the Spirit of Christ dwells in me. I do not look for any recapitulation of the old man by any performance of its duties. I have given it up as wholly bad and condemned, and take my place through grace in Christ. For all that I was in the flesh Christ died. He has put it away, and I reckon myself dead. I am in Him, with Him as my fife, and accepted in Him my righteousness.
The law, then, is the just measure of human righteousness: to speak of it as the measure of God’s as such (that is, as the expression of perfection in His relationships, if He is pleased to have any) is simply absurd, when the law, in its highest expression, is the requirement of loving Him with all our heart, and one’s neighbour as oneself. For a human being this is a perfect rule—for a divine, a contradiction in terms. By nature, man was simply lawless (anomos), with a consdence, or the sense of good and evil. But he, being lawless in nature, was expressly put under law. If he had fulfilled it, he was righteous; but the flesh is not subject to it, nor can it be. If Christ had fulfilled and made up the dendendes (a strange kind of righteousness), those for whom He had fulfilled it would have been legally righteous by His vicarious accomplishment. But it would have placed man on the ground of the fulfilled law, and given him a righteousness on the ground of his standing as a living man, a child of Adam in the flesh. That was the position to which the obligation he was under by the law attaches. It applies to a living man, not a dead and risen one. It was in that obligation that man is supposed to have failed in this world: and when we have failed and are unrighteous, Christ, by keeping the law for us, according to that our obligation, has made the defect good. It is simply setting up the old man according to the divine requirement under the law. That was the debt, this the payment. Whatever our obligations to God for its being done in grace may be, whoever was the author of it, that was the thing done. Man is replaced as righteous on the ground he had lost. He is a child of Adam, righteous according to the law of God. He himself could not do it, because of the flesh—of his sinfulness. Another has done it for him, and he is completdy righteous according to law, and is to live in virtue of that. All defects are made good, and perfectly. It is righteousness such as is required from a man, for that is what he failed in, and which is made good. It is that, blessedly done, but only that. But that is complete and perfect, and it is complete and perfect righteousness.
And now remark; Christ having accomplished this and set up the living man completely righteous, what place has death? There is no ground for death at all. I mean morally no place for Christ’s dying to atone for sin; for all defects are made good. He is not to die and make atonement for a perfectly righteous person. And we shall see, in examining the article you have sent me, how strikingly the death of Christ is left out. And this is what I think serious in this matter. But I must examine this vicarious legal righteousness a little more.
Scripture goes farther than anything I have said. Not only are we under death as a penalty, nor is it alone necessary that the flesh must die, but morally speaking we are dead—dead I mean in trespasses and sins. I admit fully the responsibility of man. Scripture is plain upon it. But when I am experimentally exercised under divine teaching, I find there is not a single living movement of the soul towards God. In me (that is, in my flesh) dwells no good thing. By the application of the law, known in its spirituality if applied to my conscience, this becomes known to me. My righteousness under the law is absolutely null. The contrary is there—sin. There can be no making up deficiencies. There is in God’s sight evil and nothing else. The flesh is thus judged. Then Christ dies for me because I am such, and I am born again—receive Him as eternal life. Is Christ now as to righteousness a maker up of defects, or absolutely my righteousness? Defects of what? Is my righteousness—what I am as living after the Spirit— made up as patchwork by Christ’s acts, when I have acted after the flesh? Is that the idea of divine righteousness?—of Christ being of God righteousness? The new man has in himself no defects—it is Christ as my life; and the old man has no good in it. Scripture says we have put it off; we are not seen in it. at all—we are not now in the flesh. If I have the life 6f Christ in me, I stand before God in Christ’s present perfectness. He, in all that He is, is my righteousness; and the workings of the old man, while they have been borne as my sins, and God glorified as to them, do not enter into account at all. I am not seen in flesh, but in Christ, in His absolute perfectness, apart from flesh altogether. “I have been crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” “If ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living [alive] in the world, are ye subject to ordinances? “If I am really alive in Christ, I have not a righteousness to be made up at all, since Christ is in the presence of God for me. I have to overcome. If I fail, Jesus Christ the righteous intercedes; God chastens me, if needed; but I am not seen in flesh at all.
On the question of righteousness and of the accuser, “He hath not seen iniquity in Jacob, nor beheld perverseness in Israel”; there are no defects to be made up, because I am only Christ before God—only seen in the new man. The old man is dead and gone for faith, because Christ has died for us as to all it is. God has condemned me in the flesh—is not making up my defects in it, for I am not in it: and in Christ there are surely no defects to be made up. But I am nothing else before God. The making out a particular legal righteousness of Christ for my failures is keeping me still in the flesh, and in my responsibilities as to righteousness as in it (and I should really perish on this ground), and making out the righteousness of man in flesh; that is, denying that I am dead and risen with Christ. For if He has thus made good my failures as in flesh, I am in flesh, subject to have them imputed, and having to make out a righteousness in it. To be corrected and disciplined I am, as a new creature, and a great blessing it is; but we are speaking of righteousness. Supposing I have lived half according to the Spirit, so far I am all right; the other half I have walked in the flesh. It is very sad, no doubt; but how am I now viewed of God as to righteousness? Am I still viewed as in flesh before God, and a righteousness to be made good as being so? Why, walking in the Spirit is really being dead as to the flesh! But this other bad half: am I to hold myself half righteous by my sanctified state in the Spirit, and half unrighteous because I have suffered the old man to act? and this half to be made good! But, then, it is the failure of the new man that is to be made good; or I must be considered as still in the old, a responsible man in flesh. But, then, there is no good at all.
The truth is, this doctrine leads to an absurdity. It is based on not seeing that the flesh is simply bad, and hopelessly bad, and never anything else. It confounds practical sanctification— an immensely important subject in its place, cannot be held too much so—with righteousness before God. I know it will be said that, by holding man righteous in Christ when we have failed, we are making allowance for sin. Quite the contrary. The truth of scripture is, we are all utterly dead in sin. No one has a place really in this righteousness in his consciousness, and cannot have it, till he is brought experimentally to know it; and then, while conflict will surely remain, he reckons himself dead and alive to God. Then scripture reasons thus: “How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein?” Every saint, even if obscure in doctrine, loves holiness; but, as a doctrine, the notion of this supplementary righteousness of Christ, instead of seeing the Christian wholly dead and only alive and righteous in Him, is to keep him quiet in sin, because death is not then its wages—it is made up for by the living acts of another.
Either Christ, in His own present perfectness risen from the dead, is my righteousness, His place my place, and I reckon myself absolutely dead and gone as regards the old man; or I am making Christ a completer of my standing as alive in the old man. For if I hold it to be dead and gone, there is no such living person whose defects are to be made good. I shall be told, You are living as a person, and it is your defects as a man living in the world which are to be made good, and to you as so alive in the world law applies; and you fail, and Christ must make it good. My answer is, Scripture teaches me exactly the contrary. It is this denial of the import of death in sin, and I must add in Christ, that is the great evil. I am not alive as a child of Adam in this world. In saying that I am a living person in flesh, you are depriving me exactly of all my privileges in Christ, of all my sense of what the wages of sin is, of all my sense of what a state of sin is, or what it is to be in the flesh before God. For by faith I am not alive in this world. In my conscience I have wholly died before God. Such is scripture teaching.
“Why as though alive in the world,” says the apostle. “If ye be dead with Christ,” etc., “reckon yourselves also to be dead indeed unto sin and alive unto God.” Why? Because, in that Christ died, He died unto sin once; in that He liveth, He liveth unto God. “I am crucified with Christ.” “Through law I am dead to law.” “I am dead to law (looking at man as under it) by the body of Christ.” “I am delivered from the law, having died in that in which I was held.” The whole doctrine of the apostle Paul is, that, for faith, the Christian is not alive as a child of Adam, that he has been crucified with Christ and yet lives—not he, but Christ in him. In the Ephesians the teaching goes a step farther, and views Christ Himself only as already dead, and us as dead in sin, and the whole thing in us as a new creation, quickened out of that state of death, raised, and sitting in Christ in heavenly places. Only this new creation is recognized associated with Christ; not known till He is already dead. And hence it gives the Church’s place.
Scripture, then, teaches, not a making good any defects of the old man (in the new such a thought has no place before God—it is Christ), but its death; and the Christian, holding himself for dead, and not in the flesh at all, consequently knows no making good the responsibilities of the child of Adam by himself or any other, but his death and condemnation. Now Christ, in infinite grace, has taken this on Himself on the cross, so that the guilt under which we were (as so responsible in a nature which in its corruption could do no good, and could never bear fruit) is borne and put away. And now I am in Christ, risen and ascended, and have no righteousness to make out, but to glorify God as His child, being the righteousness of God in Christ already. My defects have nothing to do with my righteousness; they have to my living to God and enjoying communion with Him; they have as to all my actual condition as a child of God.
Here then is the question: Is the old man to have a righteousness made out for it as still alive and responsible under law? or is the Christian accounted crucified as to that with Christ, alive only in Him, and having no other standing before God than His abiding perfection, and all his conduct here measured by that? If I am to believe scripture, the answer is plain. “Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” “Ye are not in the flesh.” We are created again in Christ, placed on a wholly new footing, have nothing to do with the old man (save as an enemy, which is no longer I), but are alive, and the righteousness of God in Christ. Having laid these general grounds for our enquiry, I turn now more directly to the article you have sent me.
First, as to the term “righteousness of God,” I should not call it properly an attribute of God, in the common sense of the word attribute. The word is generally used for what is essential to His being and nature, as power; whereas righteousness is a relative term. But the righteousness of God, like the righteousness of faith, is surely used to characterize the kind of righteousness in contrast with man’s towards God, if such were to be had. It must be divine in its character as well as its source. It must not be what man owes to God—that is man’s righteousness. Man’s righteousness is man’s consistency with the relationship in which he stands, or internally the quality which makes him always such. But this cannot be God’s righteousness. That, in the Old Testament, the Lord’s righteousness means a quality in the character of God, is beyond all question or controversy. It occurs too often to make it necessary to cite proofs. A concordance will suffice. Is it different wholly in the New? I do not believe it. I do not doubt that the righteousness of God is a wider and fuller term. I quite recognize that the application is peculiar in the New, in the full explanation of it, but that is connected with God, instead of Lord or Jehovah, and the full revelation of the way He has been glorified in Christ.
But as to the use of righteousness, Jerusalem is called “the Lord our righteousness.” Christ is called so too—exactly the same as the double use which is attempted to be insisted on, as making it impossible to use the righteousness of God as that which belongs to His character and nature. Christ is made to us righteousness, as “the Lord our righteousness” is said of the Jew. We are the righteousness of God in Him, as Jerusalem is called “the Lord our righteousness.” But why? Because Jehovah’s consistency with all His glorious character was displayed both in one and the other—in the latter, in grace and through righteousness: still that consistency was displayed. But that, most assuredly in the Old Testament, does not destroy the proper sense of the word as that which characterized God Himself. It displayed that character, and is the abiding witness of it.
But now I read what to me is the very serious aspect of this paper. “There can in it, indeed, be no allusion to the divine attribute of justice, inasmuch as the act is only of grace. The former acceptation would furnish the idea of an incensed God, which is the purport of the law, not of a reconciling or justifying God, which is the essence of the gospel.” This is doubly false. First, justice or righteousness does not in itself imply an incensed person. I may be just in blessing, and certainly, if scripture is to be believed, just in justifying.
Note, therefore, how this doctrine of legal righteousness destroys the thought of righteousness in God—God’s being just in justifying. This is important, but a small thing compared with the other error. The gospel does present God as reconciling, not the one to be reconciled. But has justice, as wrath against sin, nothing to do with our justification? Was no sacrifice, no sin-offering, no propitiation offered to His justice? Had Christ to drink no cup, to bear no wrath, that we might be justified? I pray you seriously to note this. I see a deadly tendency in the present day to substitute living obedience (carry it, if you please, into death, for that is true, and it was all one obedience as stated here—I should even urge that)—to substitute, I say, a living obedience for the wages of sin—the drinking the cup of wrath.
Justice, we are told, cannot as an attribute of God be in question in our justifying, because it implies wrath, “an incensed God”—a term used to make it offensive in contrast with grace, but which betrays so much the more the mind of the writer. It has been the fancy latterly to designate the “Brethren” Socinians, as the early Christians were called Atheists. But this article in this respect does tread on the heels of Socinianism. Justice, as an attribute of God, had nothing to do with our justifying, for wrath (an incensed God) could not have to do with it. What becomes of the cross here? What of the cup Jesus had to drink? What of the bloody sweat in Gethsemane? It was obedience; to be sure it was: but what gave obedience such a character as this? Was it obedience to say, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” That He was perfectly obedient when He said it, I freely admit. But obedient in what? What was the obedience? Was there no bearing of wrath? no drinking of a cup such as none else could ever know the depth and bitterness of? Was He not made sin in that dreadful hour? I say in that dreadful hour. The notion that He was made sin at His birth has no ground in scripture. “He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin.” Does the apostle speak of a divine Person in heaven simply knowing no sin, or One who in a perfect life had proved His sinlessness on earth? Oh! it is terrible—this blotting out, this merging the sufferings of Christ, the true character of His death in its fulness, the bearing of wrath, His making His soul an offering for sin, the highest, most wonderful, act of love of that blessed One. I avow to you, that I hate with a perfect hatred the doctrine of these men. You will ask, How can good men acquiesce in such doctrine (and I have always heard that the Editor of the “Christian Examiner” is an excellent person)? My answer is, Good men often carry with them certain truths and are unsuspicious; they assume them to be held, and suppose they are only getting some clearer view in which this truth is tacitly contained, and then it is undermined. This is going on everywhere in the propagation of rationalist views.
Now, in this article the blood of Christ (save in a casual sentence, which has no force at all, unless to turn aside all thought of Christ’s laying down His life atoningly for sin) is never mentioned; but justification, and redemption, and forgiveness are attributed to something else. You will say, Is not Romans 3:18-26 alluded to? Frequently, but to the exclusion of the blood. “The one “(the righteousness as a substantive reality) is a completed fact as well as “the other “(the world’s ruin by sin). Man came short of that revenue of glory which would have resulted from a sinless obedience. In the righteousness of God that revenue or tribute is restored or paid.
Now, I am satisfied that almost all the exegesis of this paper is completely false—as to the gar, dikaiosune, and all the rest, utterly false. But I shall not dwell on it: the main point is too serious. Sin is the non-payment of the just revenue or tribute to God. In God’s righteousness that is restored (i.e., without propitiation or blood-shedding; and note the use of once for all, and how scripture uses it, Heb. 9 and 10) and paid. Christ’s life, even His death, is simply a restoring or paying to God a sinless obedience, in which Adam had failed.
Now read the passage on which this comment is made. “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood.” This is the revenue or tribute restored and paid to God of a pure nature and sinless obedience. Surely there was that in Christ. But what is left out in commenting on this passage, yea, really, denied in the offensive term of an “incensed God”? Propitiation. The whole true groundwork of peace and salvation is left out. The value of Christ’s blood—the only thing spoken of as that in which the righteousness of God was shewn in forgiving past sins—is left out. It is the “historical manifestation of righteousness,” and so there can be retributive justice. And this is fully brought out, and redemption grounded on the same obedience, without an allusion to blood-shedding or propitiation. “The manifestation of this righteousness as an historical fact is noticed by the apostle when he says, Now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested (Rom. 3:21). In that phrase he refers to its coming into existence, or to its manifestation as an historic fact, in the incarnation of Christ. The allusion is not to the preaching of it, or to what he calls the revelation of it in the gospel (Rom. 1:17); but to the bringing in of this righteousness once for all, when Christ was manifest in the flesh (1 Tim. 3:16).”
“And the language used by the apostle shews that it is coincident with the Person of Christ and found in Him. This is evident from the way in which he speaks of one of those terms which describe the one obedience of Christ in its manifoldness of its effects and benefits. When he says that the redemption is ‘in Christ Jesus,’ the meaning is, that it is found in His Person; that He is personally the redemption, just as He is called our peace (Eph. 2:14).” (There, too, note the reconciliation is made (v. 16) solely by the cross having slain the enmity thereby, which is wholly dropped here), and is “furthermore described as made of God unto us righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30). It does not denote that we have it in a state of union to His Person, however true that is in itself, but that it is actually in Him, that He is Himself that manifested righteousness, and will continue to be so while His living Person endures. The Judge, then, sees our righteousness and our eternal redemption whenever He looks upon the Person of Christ. The living Redeemer, in His crucified and risen humanity, is Himself the manifestation of the righteousness of God; and it must not be lost sight of that He is living through death according to the power of an endless life (Heb. 7:16), and the restoration of life to appear in the presence of God was essentially necessary to the existence, validity, and perpetuity of this righteousness “of God” (not, it seems, His laying it down or being a sacrifice for sin). “It is, therefore, no putative, past, or transitory righteousness that has been manifested; but one actually in the world, and the only great reality in it. Thus, when the righteous Judge beholds His Son, He sees in Him the righteousness of God, the grand re-adjustment of man’s relation to his Maker, the re-union of God and man.”
Now I could hardly conceive anything which could shew more distinctly the true character of this interpretation of the righteousness of God than the passage I have quoted:— justification without blood-shedding, no wrath—such a sense of justice would imply an incensed God; redemption by incarnation, in the Person of Christ, without blood-shedding; righteousness manifested, brought in once for all as an historic fact in the incarnation, only in the accomplishment of law, as we read (p. 39); peace found in His Person, not through His blood; Christ as righteousness, the re-adjustment of man’s relationship to his Maker, the re-union of God and man.
In scripture we are, in the passage referred to, justified by His blood for the manifestation of righteousness. In Ephesians 1, “we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins”; in chapter 2, peace is made by the cross; in Colossians, “He has made peace by the blood of his cross.” Without it is no remission; though, for our author, redemption (of which the apostle says, “even the forgiveness of sins”) is “in him.” “He is, personally, the redemption.” Scripture says He “entered in by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption for us”; that it is “by means of death for the redemption of the transgressions which were under the first testament.” Our author declares it was His righteousness in life.
And all this (and it might be greatly enlarged upon) is not because he is not speaking of the death of Christ; for he takes care to say it must not be lost sight of, because this righteousness. of God was to be manifested in His crucified and risen humanity. His account of this is “His living through death, according to the power of an endless life” (Heb. 7:16). And “the restoration of fife to appear in the presence of God for us was essentially necessary to the existence, validity, and perpetuity of this righteousness of God.” My soul, come not thou into their assembly! I cannot conceive a more complete, deliberate, careful setting aside of the necessity, value, and true sufferings of Christ’s death, viewed as atonement, as a victim—a propitiation for sins, as bearing our sins in His own body on the tree, as One who drank that dreadful cup of wrath. Death, as death for sin, is wholly gone, not lost sight of, but set aside by language which slights the agonies of the Son of God.
And see how distinctly it is, as I said, the setting up of the old standing of the creature with God, the old creation, the first Adam. It is “the grand re-adjustment of man’s relationship to his Maker”; no thought of a new creation, but an idea fit for a Rationalist, and never found in scripture at all— “a re-union of God and man.” God’s justice demanding satisfaction is referred to. “Righteousness is measured by the standard of justice.” (There is no difference in Greek, but let that pass.) There is first a manifestation of justice in demanding the satisfaction, and then a display of it in connection with the preparation of this righteousness of God, when it is added, “that he might be just and the justifier.” This righteousness came “into existence as an historic fact” “in the incarnation of Christ.” “He who has the righteousness of God with this rectified relation which it brings” is not condemned, not under the curse.
This leads me to another remark, which shews how carefully, as I have said, Christ’s expiatory sufferings are set aside here. The curse of the law is diligently spoken of. Christ came under the law as violated. “If law is the sphere of this righteousness, it is evident that no knowledge can be acquired respecting it without a clear conception of the law in its relation to sinners, not only in respect to its positive claims, but in the extent of its curse.” Here, surely, if anywhere, we should find “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us, for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” Not a word of it is found. All the unfathomable truth of the Holy One being made sin for us must be set aside. Not only so, but an entirely different view of the curse, or meeting the curse, of the law is given. I will give the whole passage, that I may not be charged with misstating it. He continues: “The law to which the surety must needs subject himself was, moreover, the law as violated,65 urging the unalterable demands which it made on man as man, and armed with the curse its violation entailed.66 Accordingly, the work of Christ is described in its relation to the law. He was made under the law (Gal. 4:4); the righteousness on which man’s acceptance is based is termed the righteousness of the law (Rom. 8:4); the work of Christ is the end of the law for (or unto) righteousness to every one that believeth (Rom. 10:4). This latter phrase (telos nomou) can only mean that fulfilment which the law demanded, and could not but demand, till its end or accomplishment was reached; and that additional word, that Christ is the end of it ‘unto righteousness’ (eis), leaves no doubt that this fulfilment of the law is to be found in Christ, and is received in the reception of Christ.” As yet we cannot find a word of the curse, only of fulfilling the law, which, I suppose, did not bring a curse. I continue: “More particularly the obedience of Christ (called upakoe) (Rom. 5:19) extended over His entire life, and formed one obedience from first to last.” … [This is perfectly true.] “The element of obedience pervaded His life, and went through all His sufferings. The great commandment laid on Him was to die; and here, amid temptations to recede, the extent of His obedience was displayed. [All right; but where is the curse?] His is no common obedience, but one that passed through superhuman temptations.” This is the worst part of all to me, because it seeks to satisfy Christian feeling as to Christ’s sorrow, while carefully excluding His being made a curse, or expiatory bearing of wrath, “and it has a dignity and value, from the greatness of His Person, that entitle it to be called infinite.” All true; but the curse? The infinite value of obedience is not a curse. Again, “He was the living law, the personal law; and this was an event with a far more important bearing than any other that ever occurred. It is the world’s new creation.”
Now, I ask any Christian reader whether, as we have seen the expiatory value of Christ’s death, and justification, and redemption through blood omitted and denied, so the being made a curse for those under the curse of the law, as hanging on the tree—that unfathomable truth of scripture—is not here wholly set aside?—spoken of, but set aside? If Christ is made a curse at all in this system, it was by birth. He was born under the curse; but if it be that, there is not one word of it. He kept the law, was obedient, and that is righteousness. What scripture speaks of as the curse is set aside. The world’s new creation is before His death and resurrection: His keeping the law on earth was this. This I will touch on hereafter.
Now I affirm that scripture speaks of the death of Christ in a way wholly different and the opposite of this. It was a baptism He was looking forward to. It was this hour pressed upon His spirit. It was then, and then only, He was made sin for us. Then He was a victim of propitiation. Then He was delivered for our offences, thereon raised again for our justification. Then He was made a curse to redeem from the curse of the law. Forgiveness the author does not speak of, nor the non-imputing of sin. But “without shedding of blood there is no remission.” “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone.” It is out of the side of the dead Christ that the water and the blood flow, in the power of which Christ came to cleanse and expiate. Of this, of all this, nothing is found in this false gospel! Righteousness is by law. Of forgiveness he does not speak; of cleansing he knows nothing; of justifying by blood (i.e., being made righteous in God’s sight) he will not hear. Redemption is by incarnation in the Person of Christ. Is all this the gospel, or the denial of it? If scripture be true, the denial of it.
I have now to shew how, as to law, he contradicts himself and the scripture, and then see what he says of righteousness, and how scripture speaks of it.
First, as to law, he contradicts himself. “The fact that it is commonly put in contrast to ‘our own righteousness’ (Rom. 10:3); that ‘our own’ is said to be of the law, as compared with that which is ‘of God’ (Phil. 3:9); and that it is furthermore called ‘a gift of righteousness’ (Rom. 5:17), determines the significance of the term to be something widely different from the divine attribute on the one hand, or a work of law on the other.” … “This is, however, abhorrent to the divine rectitude, which insists on a true fulfilment of the divine law, and acquits only on account of an actual obedience.” This, as an abstract or absolute statement, is simply nonsense. An actual obedience does not need an acquittal. It is contrary to scripture, for we are justified by blood. But to pursue. “It is obvious that, in the government of a righteous God, no one can be justified by a mere connivance at defects, or by being accounted what he is not.”
This last, he says, is a legal fiction—the believer must be really righteous when he is declared so. All this is muddy enough. If it means anything, the man must himself be what he is held to be, which denies the whole truth of vicarious work and of believing on Him who justifies the ungodly. And it is quite clear that, if Christ has kept the law, and I am counted righteous, that is a legal fiction. His having borne my sin and put it away is no fiction: my sin has been dealt with.
But I return to the contradiction of the writer. “The standard or measure of this righteousness of God is divine justice and the law.” Yet it is not a work of law which is the significance of the term! And a man, if righteous, must be righteous according to the measure of the law, and only on account of actual obedience, yet “it is not a work of law!” Yet, again, “it is the accomplishment of law.” How true is the apostle, “desiring to be teachers of the law, they know not what they say nor whereof they affirm!”
But if I turn to scripture, I find the whole system of its doctrines in direct opposition to our righteousness having anything to do with law. Whatever the contradictions, the doctrine of the paper is, that the accomplishment of the law is righteousness—that fulfilment which the law demanded. Now, I affirm that what is demanded now is, that I should be fit for the presence of God in heaven, fit for the glory of God, fit to see His face: that the only goal is “the resurrection from among the dead,” and that we are risen with Christ; and that this, consequent on the death of Christ, is our standing before God. But it is better to answer directly—in vain, almost, to quote the positive declarations of our death and resurrection in Christ. They will have legal righteousness for children of Adam alive in the flesh. I will therefore turn to their own ground. Is righteousness by the law? That is the question.
Now, scripture speaks on this head: let us hear it. If righteousness come by the law, Christ is dead in vain. No matter who kept it, it was not to come by the law. And mark two things: first, Christ’s death is what comes in contrast with it; secondly, This one grand foundation of Christianity is all in vain, if righteousness comes by the law. “That no man is justified by the law, is evident: for the just shall live by faith. But the law is not of faith.” The nature of the righteousness is different. So, in a remarkable verse, it is said, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” It will be said, But it means, not by our own doing these works, but by Christ doing them; and then we believe in Him, and this is held as our doing them. But this is being justified by the works of the law: Christ has done them and I am thereby justified. Only this is what is rejected by the author as “a legal fiction”; next, it is “putative” righteousness, which he equally rejects. It is not the man’s actually being righteous, but accounted what he is not. “They have fulfilled it (we are told) in a Representative, with whom they are one.” But the passage allows of nothing of this. It puts not merely my sin and works in contrast with the deeds of the law, but it puts the faith of Christ in contrast with works of law. “Christ received by faith establishes the law,” says the writer. “By the faith of Christ,” says the apostle, “not by the works of the law.” By the law he was dead to the law, that he might live to God. It is perfectly impossible for any person to read Galatians 2:15 to the end, and chapters 3 and 4, without seeing that works of law, in every shape and in every way, are rejected as the means of righteousness; and that a statement that Christ has done them, and that thereby we are righteous, is incompatible with the statements of this part of scripture. The idea of Christ keeping the law for us is never made the object of faith in scripture; nor is it said, that He kept it for our righteousness. Man has said it; scripture does not. If it does, let the text be produced. When He is said to be made under it, it is said that it was that He might redeem those who were under it.
On the other hand, where righteousness is said to be imputed, it is that “Christ was delivered for our offences and raised again for our justification: therefore being justified by faith.” Another thing, ay, another thing is presented as the object of justifying faith—” He was delivered for our offences.” “The promise … was not … through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.” God “imputes, or reckons, righteousness without works.” “We conclude that a man is justified by faith without the works of the law” (choris ergon nomou). It is impossible to have a more complete denial that it is by works of the law, keep them who may. “Therefore by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified; for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law,” choris nomou, apart from law. How comes it, if Christ’s keeping the law is our righteousness, that these statements are not guarded?—that it is never said that it was by His keeping the law?—that it should be said, not that it was not by our keeping it, but not by law at all?—not by Christ’s doing it as a representative, but apart from law altogether? Could these teachers of the law say what stronger language could be used, if the object of the apostle had been to shew that it is quite apart from law and on another principle?
I do not see how it is possible that statements could be made stronger to prove that the Christian is not under it. “As many as are of the works of the law (that seek life on this principle) are under the curse.” Our justification by faith is rested on what? Christ being delivered for our offences and raised again. In Romans 10 there is a righteousness by law— Do this and live. Well, is not, then, righteousness to be by law only—Christ fulfilling it and I getting the benefit? No; “the righteousness by faith speaks “quite differently. “Say not in thine heart,” etc. The two righteousnesses speak quite differently. So the apostle insists. I may leave this point. I do not see how language could make it plainer than the apostle has. Let any unprejudiced person read the Galatians, and say if righteousness be by law or not for the Christian; and whether righteousness by law, get it how you will, is not rejected, and another proclaimed.
But we are told more particularly, that wherever the phrase, “righteousness of God,” occurs, it “always comes back to this, that it is the accomplishment of law.”
First, it is said, “Herein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith.” How this is the accomplishment of the law, I do not know. There is not the smallest hint that it has anything to do with it, save that it is of God (i.e., not man’s keeping it before God), and that it is on the principle of faith. “And the law is not of faith.” Indeed, the writer admits that it seems to be in God, as the wrath is. Matthew 6:33: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” Here there is no possible connection with Christ keeping the law vicariously for sinners. It was their own walk which was the question. Men are to seek, not the comforts of this world, but God’s kingdom and righteousness, to have a part in the blessing, and glory, and acceptance which He was setting up. “If our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God” (Rom. 3:5). Here, clearly, it is equally far from the thought of Christ fulfilling the law. It is God’s consistency with Himself and faithfulness to His promises, even when man is unfaithful; as before—our unbelief, the faithfulness of God: God was true, if every man was a liar. It is expressly “the righteousness of God without law” (chap. 3:21). “The righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ” (chap. 3:22). “Ignorant of God’s righteousness … have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God” (chap. 10:3). But this is so far from being the righteousness of the law, that it is specifically contrasted with it. “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. For Moses describeth the righteousness of the law … but the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise.”
That is, it does not say that the man that does them is righteous, for they are done by Christ, and if I believe in Christ, they are done for me; but it is not now living by doing, but living by believing, and believing that One, Jesus, who was dead, God hath raised from the dead. In this passage the writer has attempted to say, that the end of the law can only mean that fulfilment which the law demanded, and could not but demand, till its end or accomplishment was reached. This is, I must say, impudent. Telos, he says, means fulfilling a demand till the accomplishment is reached. It is too barefaced —the rather, as the apostle says, Christ is the end of the law, because the law says so-and-so, but the righteousness of faith says quite otherwise, and hence the say of the law is at an end, and something else comes in as righteous. Righteousness is on another principle.
“That we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:31). But this is explicitly Christ not keeping the law, but His being made sin. “Who knew no sin” marks a Christ, who has lived holily through this world. I have not heard that they have been bold enough as yet to say, it means— God has no consciousness of sin, but was made it in incarnation. But if this most painful thought, even to mention, is not their opinion, then it is not keeping the law which is spoken of here, but Christ’s being made a sacrifice for sin upon the cross. It is again contrasted with law: “Not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is of the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Phil. 3:9). Titus 3:5 leads to the same point, but the word “righteousness of God” is not there. “The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” (James 1:30). This, clearly, can in no possible way refer to Christ keeping the law. The wrath of man cannot produce a righteousness according to God, a righteousness which has its character in His nature.
2 Peter 1:1 is the only one remaining, where it has nothing to do with the law. We have received, not a personal Messiah present in glory in the body, but the faith, Christianity, the revelation of Messiah to faith, by God’s faithfulness to His promise to him that waited on Him. Our God and Saviour has been faithfully righteous in giving it.
These are all the passages: not one hint at accomplishment of law. Several contrast law and the new way of righteousness, which has finished the law for those that believe. I defy any one to trace a single expression which makes it “come back to an accomplishment of law.” It carefully does the contrary; it goes forward, leaving law as done with, to a new way of righteousness—faith in Christ, who, having been delivered for our offences, has been raised again for our justification. That God is the author of it is not the sense, unless, perhaps, in Philippians 3 where Paul is speaking of his having it, not of its accomplishment; and so contrasts man and the source of his having it. Its general sense is the character of the righteousness, as in all such genitives, where they are not possessive, as, the peace of God, the righteousness of faith; but it rises up to what it is in God Himself, as giving it this character. In the Old Testament it is constantly so. “If our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God.” Here it is His own righteousness in Himself. “The righteousness of God without law,” is plainly characteristic. The righteousness of God, then, is a far wider term than His being the author of it, which He is of everything that is good, save Himself, who is Author of all. It is that kind of righteousness which is suited to, fitted for, His presence and glory; and that is found only in Himself. Man had been tried, and all was in vain, and he is wholly condemned. Righteousness would be measured by the law, then, if any had existed. Now, if we have to say to God, we must have to say to Him with a rent veil—be fit for His glory. This was always true, once sin had entered; but it is now revealed. Judgment shall flow forth from His glorious presence, but in righteousness.
But how can we have it as a saving righteousness, a righteousness for us in the unveiled presence of God? It is now for us a new one—the only true one, by faith, fit for the throne of God, as we have seen it must be. We are called to stand in the presence of God. The righteousness we must have must answer to the absolute perfectness of His character as it is, and perfectly revealed (all His righteousness, His holiness, His truth, His majesty, even His love—nothing must be discordant, or it could not be accepted by what He is—unveiled). To be accepted according to all that God is, it must meet all that God is, and this must be in respect of sin; for indeed all He is, in grace and love and righteousness against evil, could not be displayed if sin were not there. It is this: sin there, and yet with that, in view of that, everything that God is in His own infinite excellency must be satisfied and glorified. This is what Christ has done.
Speaking of His dying, He says, “Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him; and if God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him.” He does not wait for the kingdom, but takes a heavenly and divine glory as man sitting at the right hand of God. We are accepted in Him. Our acceptance is according to the perfect glorifying of God by Him on the cross. He has, besides, borne our sins, so that they are wholly removed out of the way. His blood, and His blood only, cleanses from all sin. Christ does not draw all men as a living Christ, but if lifted up. Then the veil was rent. The holiest was shut up till then for us; His death alone could open it for sinners. Hence the Holy Ghost convinces the world of righteousness, because He goes to the Father. Till the corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone—is not in the condition to bear fruit. When it dies, it brings forth much fruit. Hence, too, He is raised again for our justification; and, therefore, “being justified by faith, we have peace with God.”
The righteousness by the law is that which meets the requirements of God from man. Of course, Christ fulfilled this—that it is important to remember. The righteousness of God is that which He requires to meet the necessary demands of His own glory and nature in His presence. Christ did glorify God as a man under law; but in this there was no drawing of all men. He abode alone; but He glorified God Himself in His own nature, in the place where it all came out, and was made good by Him in spite of all. God’s highest love and our perfect sin were both here displayed. Here man stands on a new ground altogether, through the work of and in Him who is risen from the dead. God is glorified in the highest, in all the qualities of His nature, which must be made good. We are reconciled to God. “He suffered, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.” No doubt, all He did glorified God in its place; but this glorified Him as to sin, and brought out all His nature so as to glorify it; and so He, and we in Him, are accepted according to that glory. When I say I am righteous before God, I stand before God in the consciousness of acceptance according to the perfectness of His nature perfectly revealed. This was what Christ was, and He glorified it when He was made sin for us. Hence I am made the righteousness of God in Him: because Christ is so before Him, and through a work—in the virtue of which and in the glory He has gained by it I have a part—so as to be the righteousness of God in it; for that is what is made good in it in the place where I am in Christ. All that He was and did met that in God, which was perfection, glorified it, made it good—all that God is; for His glory was made good in Christ’s cross, and so in me for whom it was done.
Would there have been perfect love displayed without the cross? No. Perfect, unescapable judgment against sin in the highest way? No. Necessary divine majesty? No. In nothing could it have been shewn that it must be glorified like the death of Christ. So His truth, that the wages of sin is death. I repeat, this was the making good of what God is in His perfections, and those perfections are displayed now in glorifying Christ, and then, in making me have a place in virtue of it, in which I enjoy Him righteously and as He is. I thus become in Christ the display and making good of God’s righteousness. I am God’s righteousness; I live before God according to all the truth of what He is in His glory. Is the law this? Does it display God as Christ on the cross did? The true measure of man’s duty it was; but to say that the law was the true measure of God’s glory proves man knows neither the law nor that glory. We have come short of that glory, and are justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Him; so that the justifying (that is, grace and redemption) is not law, nor any one’s keeping it perfectly as Christ kept it.
I turn, then, from the question of the righteousness of God to the application of it, and what we are to understand by righteousness and by imputing it. We have already seen that righteousness is the maintaining what is due to our relationship with others. In this general expression of it, it has its double expression of being it in our conduct, or securing it by judgment, in which, in English, it is more commonly called justice. It is thus always relative, though it is practically employed for the conduct which maintains this consistency with the relationship. It is thus used also for the condition in which I stand towards another who has a claim, in virtue of my conduct. I am righteous in God’s sight, righteous before Him.
Now righteousness is constantly used in scripture for conduct suited to our position with man and God. So the law; if kept, it would have maintained man in consistency with his relative place as regards God and as regards man. The two tables contained the twofold obligation. Here, personal conduct is the ground of relative acceptance. I am righteous before God by personal righteousness. This may be spiritually carried on to the state of the heart, and has then been called inherent. Still it is my just acceptance in my relationship in virtue of my being perfectly what it demands. This the sinner is not. True, he receives divine life, so that there will be reality (of this a word hereafter). But this is not his righteousness: first, because He gets it in Christ, who makes Him righteousness before God in another way (God’s righteousness and a new divine life going together); and, secondly, because, the flesh being still in him in fact, there is not perfectness according to the relationship into which the new life has put him—perhaps even positive failure. Hence his righteousness must be something else, and though he has divine life he must be accounted righteous beyond the measure of attainment in truth (blessed be God, according to the perfectness of Christ as He now is before God). His righteousness is not his conduct nor his nature, but his being seen and held by God as consistent with the relationship in which he stands before Him, that is, the revelation of His glory. God holds him for perfect according to His own glory in that relationship. What is that? Christ’s actual one as risen and in His sight. I am crucified and risen with Christ, and in that standing am seen to meet the glory of God as absolutely there displayed. How this? Because Christ has actually glorified God in what He is, as so displayed, and I am so seen before God—am so placed in Christ.
There are two points here. First, abstractedly, I am held to be righteous (that is, to have no failure in the relationship in which I stand, to be perfect in it, that it has been perfectly maintained). I am accounted righteous. When I inquire what and how it is, I say, I am as an ungodly person so accounted; I am, as risen in Christ, in this perfect acceptance of delight. But it is by a work which would never have had its character, if it had not been about sinners, and by Christ being made sin. Here it was all divine perfections were brought out, as they could not be to angels. It is in this I am justified. Hence it is by faith, and according to the perfections of God so revealed and glorified. I have it as a sinner. Bring in any righteousness in me, any law-keeping, so that I am not in every aspect a mere sinner, and it has lost its glorious character of divine perfection displayed where the blessed One was made sin.
And see how this gives truth in the inward parts. For I am a mere “sinner” (in me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good “thing”), and I come as such. I come in truth when I come to the cross. There Christ is made sin, and, wondrous work and thought! there meets God. I come in through grace and say, I am that—I am that sin; and I pass as a quickened soul into that in which He now stands, for it is accomplished in the presence of God. It is grace as well as truth, and righteousness, a mere sinner’s righteousness; for it is made about, and in respect of, sin, not a making up human or legal righteousness. It is glorifying God in respect of my actual relationship as a sinner to God.
Was not that which Christ was doing on the cross glorifying God in the place and in respect of sin (where we really were) in His own perfectness, divine perfectness?—death, wrath, all that could be, being gone through by Him who was made sin. Bring in any human righteousness in me or wrought for me, this is destroyed in its very nature. It is a justifying the ungodly, or it is gone in glory, nature, and fact. If the heart says, But I must have reality in myself, as it does and will say, I reply, To be sure; that desire is the reality. But I say more. This risen Christ is your life too. You are as far from gaining life by legal righteousness as from the righteousness itself. Thus it is Christ finished the work His Father gave Him to do. Having done it so that the ground of your acceptance, of your righteousness, is complete, He becomes your life really, and you have part in His righteousness.
Now, imputing righteousness is God’s seeing a man in an accepted state before Him, according to the relationship in which he stands. He holds him—accounts him—righteous. We can add, according to His own nature, and the full revelation of Himself. It is God’s righteousness: we are made the righteousness of God in Christ. A man is seen in perfectness of relationship towards God, fully revealed in all His perfections, and according to the claim of these perfections on all that is before it, according to the perfectness in which Christ so stands as glorified according to His work. And this is, in result, true in every way—we are sons, we shall be like Him actually in glory. We know this livingly, as it is now by faith. Love is made perfect with us, so that we have boldness in the day of judgment; because, as He is, so are we in this world. We are in the perfectness of the Judge; yet—ay, therefore—it is absolute grace. Now for the words “imputed righteousness.”
As the paper you have put into my hands comes from the established clergy, I may appeal to their own documents. Take the Eleventh Article, “Of Justification.” “We are accounted righteous before God.” It “is more largely expressed in the homily of justification.” When I turn to this, then, righteousness and justification are absolutely identified— “justified and made righteous before God.” “Constrained to seek for another righteousness or justification, to be received at God’s own hands, that is to say, the forgiveness of sins and trespasses.” “And this justification or righteousness which we so receive,” etc. “This is that justification or righteousness.” Now I am not quoting this for any doctrine: I would not in many points; but merely to shew that righteousness and justification are held for one. Now in Romans 4 justifying and accounting for righteousness are identified; but every one knows—at any rate, every one can know, and if he knows Greek can easily ascertain—that accounted for righteousness, or imputed for righteousness, is one and the same; that is, accounting righteousness and imputing righteousness are identical. Imputed righteousness is a person being accounted righteous, and nothing else. All else is false, and throwing dust in the eyes. We may enquire how. Is it by Christ keeping the law, or by His dying and rising again? That enquiry is all right; but the word to impute righteousness to a person is simply and solely holding him, the person, for righteous. If I impute sin to a person, it is holding him guilty of the sin. Why, is another question.
Now it may be that reformers and puritans and divines are not clear about the law; the word of God is, and tells me if I am justified by law I am fallen from grace. If Christ has kept the law for me, and that is imputed to me, I am justified by law. By what else in that case am I? He did keep the law— it was part of His perfectness, a needed part. He should have all human as well as divine perfectness; but where is it said He kept it for us, save as everything He did and was, was for us, but I mean for us vicariously to impute it? I ask again and again for scripture for this. I make no cavil as to words. Give me the sense, the thought, in scripture in any words; I will bow to- it at once. They cannot. According to the word of God their doctrine is false.
But to return: let us examine the use of the term, “imputed righteousness “in scripture. Almost all the cases of this use are in Romans 4. The spring is in Genesis 15. Now what I say is this—that imputing righteousness to a man is reckoning him righteous because of something. Even if I impute a work to a man for righteousness (eis dikaiosunen), I esteem him so far thereby righteous. Supposing he has done it, I may say I esteem it a righteous act, but I will not hold him justified or righteous for it. I do not impute it to him for righteousness nor righteousness to him. But if I say I impute righteousness to him because of it, or I impute it to him for righteousness, in both cases it is his standing and relative condition I speak of when I say righteousness; only we know it is not by works.
Let us take the passages. First, Abraham’s faith was counted to him for righteousness (Rom. 4:3). Was it not that he was accounted righteous because of it? Clearly so. What else does it mean? That he was not counted righteous because of it—only that particular act as a righteous act imputed to him? It could not. He had done or felt it; it could not be itself imputed to him. He Was it, morally speaking; but God could esteem him righteous in virtue of it, in His grace (that is, it was imputed to him for righteousness). He was, in God’s esteem or account, righteous by this means. This is clear here, but this is the leading cardinal text from which all is drawn, on which all hangs. Nine out of the eleven passages are here (Rom. 4). Galatians 3:6 is identical. The only one which is not governed by this (and in sense it is) is James 2:23. But let us see if they give a different sense. It is reckoned of grace, not of debt; that is, the reward or wages to a person who does not work. This says nothing as to it. If he gets the wages without working, it is clearly grace; only, by saying it is not debt, the principles of the paper are set aside. It says, “If the act of justification is conceived of as proceeding on no underlying righteousness, we are lost in the mists of uncertainty. This is, moreover, abhorrent to the divine rectitude, which insists on a true fulfilment of the divine law, and acquits only on account of an actual obedience.” I have already said this is nonsense, and assumes, besides, the point to be proved. But it is more; it is asserting that it cannot be by grace to one that works not. It must be, he says, of debt to actual obedience. It only proves total ignorance of what grace and righteousness are.
To proceed: “To him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” Here we believe on God, who justifies the ungodly, and our faith, not our law-keeping, is imputed. The man is held for righteous. His relationship to God is according to the estimate of Him who justifies. He is righteous—has righteousness in God’s sight. Verse 6 is clear beyond controversy: the man is blessed, and the imputing righteousness is forgiveness of iniquities and covering sin; i.e., the standing of the man faultless before God. Verse 9 rests on the same— “this blessedness”; only the verse carries this sense over all that precedes, by the words “for we say”; and this goes on to the end of verse 11. Abraham had it before the law came in, that it might be valid for those who came not under the law, that they might be held righteous before God. But why insist it was before law, if it is made out by keeping the law? And this is urgently pressed by the apostle. It was not through the law but through the righteousness of faith, which is not of law. “For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect.” Yet these doctors would place us all under law to get it and make Christ fulfil it for us to make it out—the point the apostle reasons so earnestly against, shewing us in conclusion that it is by God’s quickening the dead. We were dead in sin, and are then a new creation in that. Christ, as he then goes on to say, has been delivered for our offences, then raised again to put us, cleared from them (comp. Col. 2:13), into this new position, beyond the river of death, and life under law.
So Galatians: the Spirit is not by works of law, but by the hearing of faith (i.e., the report (akoe) faith takes hold of); and then Genesis 15 is quoted—righteousness is imputed. But this is justifying the heathen. And he declares that “no man is justified by law,” and that those who are of its works (on that principle) are under the curse. How so, if I am justified by them—by Christ keeping them? Here, too, imputing righteousness, or justifying, is for the apostle the same thing (i.e., imputing righteousness is accounting righteous), Abraham’s case being introduced to distinguish it from, and to contrast it with, the obligation of law.
In James it is the same truth. Works, as fruits of faith, are introduced in order to a man’s being esteemed righteous; and the notion of imputing Christ’s previous law-keeping can have no possible place in his argument. A national faith was of no avail, but one which wrought livingly; and then a man was justified, accounted righteous before God.
I have gone through these texts to have all cleared up. I return to the paper in the “Christian Examiner.” I should not, as I have said elsewhere, think of any one’s holding Christ’s fulfilling the law for us as, in itself, more than want of clearness, the effect being to injure their conscious standing before God, and their faith in the power of the Spirit to make them walk after Christ’s steps. But this article has shewn some deadly principles connected with it. I do not, I may beg leave to say, attribute them in the least to the editor, who, I suppose, is a truly excellent man; nor to the journal, which, I dare say, would repudiate them. I am only surprised that the editor and the readers of the journal should not have found out the evil of it. It only shews the blinding process of the enemy, and how he is working. The atonement, as meeting the wrath of God—the death of Christ, as drinking the cup, being made sin for us—is wholly excluded by this paper. A perfect, active obedience, even through superhuman temptations, is taught; but a passive one, a bearing wrath, being made a curse, is excluded. I cannot go into all the details here. I judge it wrong in every material point it refers to. I have spoken of the main points; I now refer to one or two consequences connected with it, proving how a main error leads away from all scriptural truth.
“Righteousness stands in the same causal connection with life.” “This second member of the parallel is expressed in the words, ‘unto the justification of life,’ but with the obvious meaning that, this righteousness having come in the room of sin, there must be life. The thought is, that where sin is, there must be death, and that where righteousness is, there must be life.” Horrible poverty and falsehood! This is law. “He that doeth these things shall live in them.” It is not by grace, but by justice, we get life. Thus righteousness is the way to life, only Christ has done it. What does the word of God teach us? “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; for the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life which was with the Father, and was manifested to us.” “This is the record that God hath given unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” Talk of getting life by righteousness, and calling a man’s self a Christian! “As the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them, so the Son quickeneth whom he will.”
So, in Ephesians, God had raised Christ from the dead. “And you hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins.” “We were children of wrath.” “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved), and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” And this is so striking in this epistle, that he does not, in chapter 1:20, see Christ at all till He is dead; and then God’s power comes in and raises Him up, and us with Him, to have His place. He knows of no Christ keeping the law here at all— no righteousness to gain life by.
And the passage which might seem at first sight to one who did not know what divine life as the gift of God was (as it is evident the writer of this article does not) to justify the obtaining of fife by righteousness, is the remarkable proof of the falseness of the view I combat here. “As sin has reigned unto death,” says the article, “so where righteousness is, there must be life.” What says the scripture? “So might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life.” It is not that where sin had reigned unto death, so righteousness by law must bring life; but grace reigns. And if God took care that even so this should not be without righteousness, it is carefully taught that it is the Second Adam in contrast with the first—that it could not be shut up to law, but must extend to the case where there was none—that where there was not, still sin reigned unto death, and therefore the blessing must be for those not under law—that the ruin came by one offence, and that the law was to be considered only as a thing that came in by the by to make it abound; and if indeed the many offences under that were borne, yet the thing met, and met too by Christ, was sin reigning by death; and the answer to it, grace reigning by righteousness, not to life under law, nor by life unto law, but to eternal life by Jesus, of Whom Adam had been the image.
This leads me to another point: “The entrance of a sinless humanity, with the law in his heart, and comprehending all the seed, thus becomes the central point of all time, to which previous ages looked forward, and after ages look back. He was the living law, the personal law; and this was an event with a far more important bearing than any other that ever occurred. It is the world’s new creation.” I have difficulty in restraining the expression of unlimited indignation that this sentence produces. The use of the precious incarnation of that holy and blessed One to deceive and destroy souls!—But I refrain. There are almost as many errors as words. Could any one rightly look to have any place with God short of Christ’s death? Is it not true, that, except He had died, He had remained alone? that, if any are saved, they have part in Christ after and not before His death? that except He wash them, they have no part with Him, but that the water and blood came out of His pierced side? It is horribly, destructively false—exactly the avowed ground of Puseyism, and more recently of the “Essays and Reviews.”
What is a living law, a personal law? Nonsense; simply nonsense. A perfect example for a renewed soul Christ was; but grace towards a sinner is not even law in the exemplification of it. A law does not forgive. This I judge (with the very fairest appearance, and that it is arouses my indignation) is the devil’s own doctrine to deceive: this exclusion of Christ’s death to set up a living law, in which no sinner could have part with Him, instead of seeing we are dead, One dying for all, that we might live, our sin being atoned for by Him.
But this is the world’s new creation. Now, where is new creation spoken of? Ephesians 2. We are created again in Christ Jesus when we are raised from the dead, as having been dead in trespasses and sins. The world’s new creation is nonsense, unless it be the new heavens and the new earth, which is past death and resurrection. Our new creation, short of death and resurrection, is a he against our state of original sin, and Christ’s death and resurrection to deliver us by redemption. The place where new creation is spoken of, in express terms, is remarkable in this respect. The apostle, in 2 Corinthians, had been shewing how he had the sentence of death in himself, that he should not trust in himself, but in God that raiseth the dead. He had then contrasted the law, as a ministration of death and condemnation, with the ministration of righteousness; and the Spirit shews that we belong to and look into another’s, an unseen, world; and then declares, “The love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead; and he died for all, that they which live should live not to themselves, but to him who died for them and rose again. Wherefore, henceforth know we no man after the flesh; yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh [i.e., as a living Messiah in the world connected with Jewish and legal state, a Christ under law], yet henceforth know we him no more.” He had died for sin and risen; that was the way he knew Him. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature [kaine ktisis—it is a new creation, the whole scene entered onl: old things are passed away, all things are become new; and all things are of God, who hath reconciled us unto himself.” And how is this? God was in Christ reconciling—He was rejected. It was not even then to this end man and sinless humanity keeping the law, but God reconciling; and then, if rejected, making Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. That is, the new creation in Ephesians and in 2 Corinthians is in resurrection—is not a connection with Christ in flesh, which was impossible, but our union to Him when He had begun the new state of man as risen from the dead, when redemption was accomplished.
This writer, who makes redemption by incarnation without blood, without death, can, of course, make a new creation of the world without the death and resurrection of the Saviour.
There are many other statements I should wholly object to. Many points, distressing to a Christian, maintained in this paper, have occurred to me; but I refrain from noticing them. The great principles are before you. I see plainly that a great warfare as to what is the truth has begun (not mistakes—we are all liable to them); but what is Christianity? What is divine righteousness? What is the desert of sin? What is bearing sin? Is Christianity the re-adjustment of the old creation by the law, or a new one of which Christ risen is the first of the first-fruits? Did Christ bear our sins as dying, enduring wrath there for us; or living, so that death is not the wages of sin? These are the weighty questions involved in the present controversy. On these points I hold the paper you have sent me to be nothing less than the denial of the foundations of Christianity.
I see, when the scripture speaks of this righteousness of God, not the law sent out from the God who dwelt in the thick darkness, giving the perfect rule of man’s righteousness, but God fully revealed in all His perfections, and glorified as to them all on the cross, so that Christ past death takes a new place founded on redemption, the putting away of sin by His blood, and perfectly glorifying God in all His perfections, love, righteousness, majesty; and all, so that we, blessed be His name, are reconciled to God. God as He is, in all that He is, glorified, made known, is that which reconciles us. We have peace with God. See what blessing there is in this. I stand before God in the conscious perfectness of that which He is, one with it morally, in Christ who has glorified it in the act done for me, who is now in glory, where righteousness has placed Him because of it, and all the favour of God in love can shine out on me according to this. Not one blessed perfection of God, with which I am not brought into perfect accord, which has not been glorified in my being brought there by Christ. And by faith I stand in the consciousness of it, and I know Him in the full revelation of Himself. I am reconciled to Him as He is.
Now, I admit a man may be a sincere Christian, and not enter into all the privileges of his position, may not see that he is risen with Christ, and sitting in Him in heavenly places. But the simplest Christian recognizes the blood of Christ as that which has reconciled him and made peace, and that he is at peace with God, according to the value of that blood-shedding; and with such we are taught to walk as heartily as if they understood being risen with Christ. They may not know how fully God has revealed Himself and what the extent of reconciliation in our resurrection with Christ is: who does? But they are reconciled, and they know it. They do not think they want something else than Christ’s work on the cross. Above all they do not deny the full putting away of sin by the sacrifice of Himself on the cross. They do not suppress and annul the value of Christ’s blood and work. Their faith is sound and genuine, though it may be enlarged. That one almighty work of putting away of sin is fully owned by them; it is their hope. The price of Christ’s blood is owned, not denied. They may blessedly add to their knowledge, but their faith is sound. The article I have been commenting on is the opposite to sound in the faith. It sets up the law: that is mischievous, but may be borne with. But it annuls the value of the blood-shedding—the cup of wrath; and that is intolerable.
64 In reply to an article in the “British and Foreign Evangelical Review,” copied into the “Christian Examiner,” February 7th, 1862.
65 This has really no sense, because He had not violated it. Subjection to a law is intelligible; but subjection to a violated law has no sense in it. If it means anything, it is that Christ was personally born subject to the curse of sin.
66 But, note, Christ never violated it. It entailed, therefore, no curse on Him.