In the Epistle to the Romans, Christians are looked at as men living and walking on the earth, but possessing the life of Christ and the Holy Spirit, so that they are in Christ. Their sins are forgiven; they are justified by the work of Christ. Their duty is to present their bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, as they have been transformed by the renewing of their mind, that they may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God (chap. 12:1, 2).
The epistle begins with the responsibility of man, proving all to be guilty on the ground of what they have done, and then shewing the result of the death of Christ in the forgiveness of sins and the justification of the believer. Afterwards the apostle considers the condition in which man is found consequent on Adam’s sin, and shews how he is delivered from the power of sin.
In Romans it is not a question of the counsels of God, except in three or four verses of chapter 8, and then only to prove that the work of His grace is unchangeable, and that, when once it has been appropriated by the call of grace, it is stable and sure, and is carried on until the glory. The work of Christ is accomplished, and those who believe in Him will be conformed to His image. Thus all is perfectly secure. Possessing the life of Christ, so that we suffer with Him, we shall be also glorified with Him. The epistle contains nothing more relative to the counsels of God. If we want to learn about them we must turn to the Epistle to the Ephesians; while the Epistle to the Colossians instructs us as to the life of a man who to faith is risen. But in Romans we find the work of God in grace for the justification of the ungodly by the death and resurrection of Christ, and their acceptance in Christ, believers being looked at as in Him.
As already intimated above, the doctrine of the Epistle to the Romans divides into two parts, the first of which, up to chapter 5:11, treats of sins, the putting away of these, and the grace of God therein unfolded. From thence up to the end of chapter 8, the second part is taken up; namely, sin in the flesh, the condition in which we are found consequent on Adam’s sin, as well as our deliverance from the same, and our new condition in Christ. Then follow as an appendix three chapters explaining how the doctrine of the universal condition of sin in which man is found, and of the reconciliation by faith of all with God, can be compatible with the special promises made to the Jews. The conclusion is made up of exhortations and the rehearsal of certain important principles. The exposition of the doctrine of the reconciliation of man with God by faith, contained in the first part of the epistle is introduced by a preface in which the gospel is founded on the Person of Christ, and is presented as the revelation of the righteousness of God.
We see then in this epistle how God has met us in perfect grace, when, according to our responsibility as men and according to His righteousness, we were totally lost; how out of pure grace He has provided for us salvation and eternal life, when we were alienated from Him by sin; yea, when, according to the flesh, we were in enmity against Him.
But before considering more closely the doctrine of the epistle, and the order and contents of its different parts, we may say a word about the apostle himself. He had never been at Rome; but, endued with divine authority, he was the apostle of all the Gentiles, and for this reason he could write to the Romans, although he had not been the instrument of their conversion. Some of them, indeed, he knew, for Rome itself being the metropolis of the known world, people from all countries met there. This, however, gives a special character to the epistle, different from that of most of his other writings. It is more of a treatise than a letter from the apostle to one of the assemblies founded by himself. Personal relations are omitted to leave room for positive doctrine, although at the close of the epistle Paul salutes many saints whom he knew, as at its commencement he sought to establish a link of affection with the Christians at Rome; still his apostleship is primarily the basis of his communications to the believers at Rome. No apostle had founded the assembly at Rome. Paul had not yet been there; and if later on Peter went there to offer up his life in testimony for the Lord, until then he had had nothing to do with Rome, being the apostle of the circumcision.
Chapters 1 and 2
Paul begins the epistle with a reference to his office. He was the servant of Jesus Christ, a called apostle, separated unto the gospel of God; that is, so to speak, his title. He served the Lord, and to this end he had been called and separated, in quite a special way; he was hot amongst those who had followed the Lord on earth; he did not know Him thus. On the contrary, he had been the most violent enemy to the name of Jesus on earth, and sought to exterminate this new doctrine— that is, faith in Jesus—from the midst of Israel, and to punish every adherent of it. This path was put a stop to by the Lord, who revealed Himself to him in glory, and now this very glory became the starting-point of Paul’s service. It was the most signal proof of the work of reconciliation being accomplished, that He who had suffered for sins was now in glory; and not only that, but the persecuted Christians were acknowledged by the Lord, not as disciples, but as united to Him—the glorified Man, the Son of God in heaven. Thus Paul was called in an entirely special way; but he was separated also in a special way. The revelation of the Lord in glory separated him first of all from Judaism, yet not that he should turn to paganism; but, acknowledging Christ in divine glory as Lord, he was taken out “from amongst the people and the Gentiles” (Acts 26:17), and was sent into the world by the glorified Man, the Lord of glory, to proclaim an accomplished redemption, to deliver from sin all who should believe in Him, and the Jews from the yoke of the law. Therefore, henceforth, he knew no one after the flesh, not even the Lord Jesus; that is, not as the carnally-minded Jews desired to have Him here in the world, as Son of David, although fully recognising that He had come as such, and that He had a perfect right to this title. But the Lord had been rejected as Son of David, and now all should be pure grace, as well for the Jews as for the Gentiles, since the first had lost every title to the promises through their rejection of Him in whom they should have their fulfilment. God will assuredly make good His promises; but now all is of pure grace, and, through the risen Man, whom Paul had seen in glory. This point is clearly established further on in the epistle.
For the better understanding of the epistle, it may be well to remark, that Paul, although the Lord Jesus in glory was the starting-point and foundation of his ministry, goes no further in the doctrine of this epistle than the resurrection of the Lord. It is quite true that the position of the Lord in glory is assumed, and in the few verses which set forth the order of the counsels of God, the glory of the children of God is also not wanting; it is part of these counsels that the elect should be conformed to the image of His Son (chap. 8:29, 30). Nevertheless, when the apostle speaks of the groundwork of salvation, how one is justified and saved, he goes no farther than the Lord’s resurrection; for what Christ has acquired for us is another thing from the answer to the question, How can a sinner be accepted by God, and how is he brought into the position of an heir of God?
In the Epistle to the Romans we find precisely this position of the heir, as made fit in Christ to stand before God, and to inherit with Christ as man, according to righteousness, as a new quickened man accepted by God; but the glory and the inheritance itself are mentioned but briefly. As soon as Christ, as a dead man, had been raised, man was brought into an entirely new condition, quickened according to the power of the Spirit and of resurrection. The work which abolished sin had been accomplished; our sins had been borne and made an end of by death; God had been glorified in the place where sin was; the strength of him who had the power of death had been annulled, even as death itself. There was a new man over whom death had no power. I do not speak here of the Person of Christ, of what He was in His nature, but of the new position of men into which we are brought by the resurrection of the man Christ Jesus—of man in his new condition according to the counsels of God. It is there that we see the proof of the acceptance of the finished work of Christ according to the righteousness of God, as well as the pattern, if not yet of the glory, still of the normal condition of every believer in Christ. They are, so to speak, on the other side of death—of Satan’s power, sin, and the judgment of God—because God had been perfectly glorified in Christ: they stand in the favour of God according to righteousness. That is the importance of the resurrection of Christ as the fundamental doctrine of this epistle, His death being presented as the basis of His resurrection, and that which gives to the latter its value— “Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again.”
Thus Paul was called and separated from all men to preach the glad tidings of God, the message of this work of His love. This gospel had already been promised beforehand by the prophets in holy scripture, but now the announcement was no longer a promise. We have, it is true, precious promises for the path we must tread through this world, but the gospel is no promise. It is rather the fulfilment of the promises of God, in so far as they relate to the Lord’s incarnation, His finished work, His resurrection (i Peter i: n, 12), and to His being glorified, although this last point is. not treated in the Epistle to the Romans. It should be observed here that the “holy scriptures “are the promises of God, and that the prophets by whom they were given are prophets of God.
In what, then, do these glad tidings consist? They are “concerning his Son “(the Son of God), “Jesus Christ our Lord.” The Person of Christ is the primary subject of the gospel; it announces His having come into the world. But here we have two things: First, the promises are fulfilled; inasmuch as He is Son of David according to the flesh; secondly, He is “marked out Son of God in power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by resurrection of the dead.” These are the two great accomplished facts which constitute for man the value of the coming of the Lord into the world. The promises are fulfilled; the Son of David was there. The Jews would not receive Him, and have thus lost the fruit of the promises, although these had their accomplishment, inasmuch as the Lord had come. But then the power of God has been revealed in the fact that the Lord, after having submitted Himself to death, has by resurrection been proved to be Son of God. Although the strongest proof of the power of God has been given in Christ’s resurrection, yet we see already in the raising of Lazarus a manifestation of this divine power, as well as later on in the resurrection of all saints. “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby,” John 11:4. He was, and is, the resurrection and the life. The power of resurrection is the proof that He is Son of God. This is not a fulfilment of promises, but the power of God there, where death had intervened as the consequence of sin.
With regard to the expression, “the Spirit of holiness,” I would notice that the Holy Spirit is, so to speak, the operative power in the resurrection as in everything that God has created or done. Thus Peter says, with regard to the Lord’s resurrection, “Put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18); and of the believer it is said, “But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you,” Rom. 8:11. But why is it spoken of as “according to the Spirit of holiness”? Because the Holy Spirit is, as it were, the operative power of God for producing in man all that is well-pleasing to Him. This power is, of course, always in God. By it He created the world; by it He wrought in the instruments of the Old Testament and in the prophets. But now He had been acting in the human life of Christ, and in the production of the new form of humanity, according to this divine power. The prophets uttered what was given them to say, and with that the divine inspiration ceased; besides, what they announced was not for themselves. John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb. But Christ as Man was born of the Holy Spirit; His life, though human in every respect, was the expression of the power of the Holy Spirit. He cast out devils by the Holy Spirit. His words were spirit and life. The fulness of the Godhead dwelt in Him bodily, but His humanity was the expression of that which was divine by the Holy Spirit, in love, in power, and specially in holiness. He was the Holy One of God. By the Holy Spirit He offered Himself without spot to God. In all things He served His Father; but His service was the perfect presentation of what was divine, of the Father Himself, in the midst of men—He, as to His humanity, by the Spirit, at every moment answering to the Godhead, the expression and effulgence of it without spot or blemish. All the offerings of the Old Testament are types of Christ; but in this connection the meat-offering is the corresponding and most striking type. Cakes of fine flour, unleavened, mingled with oil, anointed with oil, parted in pieces, and oil poured upon them. What a striking type, of the humanity of Christ, which, as to its nature, was of the Spirit, and anointed with the Spirit, every part being characterised by the outpoured Spirit, and by which all the incense of His perfections was offered up to God as a sweet-smelling savour! So He had to be tried by fire, in death, to shew that all was a sweet savour, and nothing else. Finally, the power of the Holy Spirit was shewn in the greatest and most perfect way in the Lord’s resurrection. Being put to death in the flesh, He was quickened by the Spirit. The Spirit, who in divine power had been energetic in His birth, and in His whole life, and by whom He at length offered Himself to God, manifested all His power in quickening Jesus from death. It is true indeed that He was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father; also that He Himself raised up His body, the temple of God (John 2:19); but the Holy Spirit was the immediate agent in His resurrection (1 Peter 3:18); the body also of the risen One is a spiritual body.
Thus man has been brought by resurrection in the Person of Christ into an entirely new condition, beyond death, sin, judgment, and the power of Satan; and it was thus that Christ was proved to be the Son of God according to the Spirit of holiness by resurrection. This Spirit was the power of holiness throughout His whole life; for “by the eternal Spirit he offered himself without spot to God,” and according to this Spirit He is proved to be Son of God, and by Him was, even on earth, justified. As all was accomplished for God’s glory by a man, who was the Son of God, and who, as man, had manifested His perfect obedience and love to His Father, man, according to the value of this accomplished work and the quickening power of the Holy Spirit, has been brought into an entirely new position in the Person of the Son of God, so that by faith we are accepted and are sons. Christ, who, as Son of David, was the fulfilment of the Old Testament promises, being rejected on earth, after He had accomplished the work entrusted to Him by the Father, entered as the risen One, beyond death which He endured as the fruit of sin, into the position of the second Man, the last Adam.
Thus we have here presented in the Person of Christ the two main points in the ways of God—the fulfilment of promise (although the Jews by His rejection have lost all right to it), and the revelation of the Son of God, proved to be such according to the quickening power of the Holy Spirit in a risen Man. Thus the power of God is manifested, not in the fulfilment of a promise, but in the present life and position of the second Man in connection with an accomplished redemption. But here the divine power of life and the new position brought about by resurrection are specially connected with the relationship of man to God, as put into this position, yet in the Person of the Lord Himself in power.
How blessed is the thought, that the eternal Son of God, become Man, has taken up this new position of which we have spoken, and that, as pattern and Firstborn among many brethren, who will be perfectly like Him according to the living power of the Holy Spirit, and in the glory itself. “For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one; for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren,” Heb. 2:11. The subject here, indeed, is not the glory; but the Lord could say, after His resurrection, when all was accomplished (not before), “Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father, and unto my God, and your God,” John 20:17.
Thus the subject of the gospel, to which Paul was separated, is Jesus Christ our Lord as Son of David for the fulfilment of the promises, and declared to be Son of God in power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by resurrection from the dead. It is true, the apostle speaks in this epistle of righteousness, and sets forth all clearly and fully; but the principal object which he has in view is the Person of Christ Himself, and what He is as the fulfilment of the promises and as Son of God in power and in resurrection—that which the Holy Spirit presents as God’s own object in the gospel. From Him, as already glorified, Paul had received grace and apostleship, for obedience of faith among all the nations for His name. The Romans were amongst these nations. He does not address them as an assembly, as he usually did when writing to an assembly he had founded, but he addresses his epistle to all the beloved of God, called saints, which are in Rome. As apostle of the Gentiles, he could write to all with the authority of Christ.
In his epistles, he always gives the salutation of grace and peace from the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, names to which we often pay too little heed. In the one we have God Himself as Father, known as such in grace; in the other, the glorified Man, the Son of God, who is invested (and that officially) with presidency over the house and people of God. With the one we stand in the relation of children, with the other as servants.
The apostle would have wished to visit the Christians at Rome sooner, but had been hindered by Satan; for the work of the Lord is always pursued in presence of the enemy, who seeks to stay its progress, be it through persecution, or through stirring up evil in the assemblies, with which the labourer must be occupied; be it through heresies, which absorb his time, or through all sorts of other devices. It is important for the labourer to observe this. He thereby learns dependence, and that the strength and energy of the Lord are absolutely needed. Therefore Paul, while giving thanks to God for the faith of the believers at Rome, which was spoken of in all the world, besought in his prayers that God would open his way to them. He longed to see them, that he might impart unto them some spiritual gift, to the end that they might be established; but in the same breath he takes his place in love among them, by saying, “That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.” He was an apostle, and should act in love; as an apostle then, he should come down to the weakest, to raise them up to divine confidence. Often he had purposed coming to them, that he might have some fruit among them also. He was under obligation to all nations to bring the grace of God to them; and so, as far as depended on him, he was ready to preach the gospel to them also that were at Rome.
How anxious he is to express himself suitably! He could not call them Greeks, nor yet barbarians, for that would have been an offence to the inhabitants of the imperial city. He thinks thus of everything, so as to be useful to all.
This leads the apostle to the doctrine of the epistle. He was ready to preach to those who were at Rome because he was not ashamed of the gospel; “for,” said he, “it is the power of God unto salvation, to every one that believeth.” Power of man it is not—this he explains afterwards still more distinctly and fully—not even for acquiring human righteousness. It is a salvation brought to man—a holy, a righteous salvation—but a salvation from God, by the power of God, and this, because the righteousness of God was therein revealed, in contrast to human righteousness. It is God’s own righteousness in which we participate by faith; His righteousness on the principle of faith. All as to it is already perfect, before we believe in it. By faith we have part in it. This righteousness is not by the works of man, nor by the law, else it would be only for the Jews, who alone had the law. It avails rather for all men, because it is by faith, and so the Gentiles, if they believe, have part in it.
It will perhaps be of use to say a word as to the meaning of the expression, “Righteousness of God.” Although it is quite simple, much misapprehension prevails as to its meaning. The Lutheran translation has instead, “The righteousness which avails before God.” Now man’s righteousness, according to the law, avails before God; none such may be found, it is true, but it avails before God; but it is not the righteousness of God, were it ever so perfect. In John 16:10 we see wherein the righteousness of God has been shewn; namely, that God has set Christ at His right hand in His own glory, because Christ has perfectly glorified Him. The righteousness consists in this, that the Father has exalted Christ as Man to His own glory—the glory which He had with Him before the world was; and God, as a righteous God, has glorified Him because He has been glorified in Christ on the cross; John 17:5; ch. 13:31, 32. In the above-cited passage (John 16:10), the Lord says: The Spirit “will convince the world of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more.” By the rejection of Christ, the world has for ever lost Him as come in grace; but God has accepted and glorified Him. When the Lord speaks of the world, in John 17:25, He says, “Righteous Father!” on the other hand, in His prayer for His own, He says, “Holy Father! “(v. 11). Thus the proof of the righteousness of God lies in His having glorified Christ. When God was in Christ in the world, it had either to accept or reject Him. It has rejected Him, and is thereby judged, and will see Him no more until He come in judgment; but Christ, as Man, has perfectly, glorified God in all that He is, and God according to His righteousness has glorified Him. Now the gospel announces this righteousness of God; namely, that Christ, in what He has done for us, having glorified God, has been glorified as Man, and is seated at God’s right hand, clothed with divine glory; moreover, that our position before God is the consequence of what Christ has accomplished. Our justification and being glorified are a part of the righteousness of God; because what Christ has done to glorify God, has been done/or us. We are the righteousness of God in Him; 2 Cor. 5:21. Christ would lose the fruit of His work if we should not be with Him in glory as the fruit of the travail of His soul, after He has glorified all that is in God, although in ourselves we are absolutely unworthy.
The apostle then sets forth why such a righteousness, the righteousness of God Himself, was necessary, if man was to be saved. Human righteousness was not to be found on earth, and yet righteousness was necessary. But since it is God’s righteousness, and certainly not by our works, it must be reckoned to us through faith, on the principle of faith; for if the works of man contributed towards it, it would not be the righteousness of God. But if it is through faith man participates in this righteousness, then believers from amongst the nations had part in it just as much as the Jews.
We see, then, that as the Person of Christ was placed in the foreground as the first, the second main subject of the epistle is the righteousness of God revealed upon the principle of faith, so that it is for all, and to be received through faith, and thus appropriated by the soul. What made this righteousness necessary is the universal sinfulness of man, for the wrath of God has been revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who possess the truth in unrighteousness. With regard to the heathen, the apostle gives two reasons for this wrath. First, the testimony of creation (vers. 19, 20); and, secondly, that, knowing God, they did not wish to retain Him in their knowledge but preferred idolatry (v. 21-24). For the invisible things of Him are seen, that is, His eternal power and Godhead, perceived by the things that are made from the creation of the world; so that what can be known of God is manifested among them, and consequently they are without excuse (v. 20). This does not imply that they know God according to His nature, but that they should have known Him as Creator; unless one is blind, a Creator is seen in the creation.
But God has not only revealed Himself as Creator. Noah did not only know Him as such, but also as a God with whom man as a responsible being had to do, as a God who had judged the world for its wickedness, who took note of man’s ways, and who would not have unrighteousness and violence. At the building of the tower of Babel they had learnt to know Him as a God who had scattered them, because they desired to become independent in their own wisdom, and powerful in their own strength. Such a God, however, the heathen would not retain in their knowledge or acknowledge; they made themselves gods such as man could make, gods which favoured their passions; and instead of glorifying the true God, or being thankful to Him, they relapsed into the darkness of their own hearts. “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like unto corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.” And because they would not maintain the glory of God, but gave it up for their lusts, God gave them over to these lusts. He gave them up to shameful passions in which they did things unbecoming nature itself, and filled with all ungodliness and controlled by their passions, they not only did such things themselves, but with deliberate wickedness they found pleasure in those that did them. There were, it is true, some who judged these infamous ways (chap. 2:1), but they did the same, and thus condemned themselves, and became subject to the just judgment of God, while also they despised the riches of His goodness and patience, not perceiving that this goodness led them to repentance. Instead of yielding to this leading, with a stubborn and impenitent heart, they treasured up unto themselves wrath against the day of wrath.
The apostle comes now to an important principle, simple indeed, but throwing clear light upon the whole subject. Now that God is revealed, He deals with man according to his actions. In the day of judgment He will render to every one according to his deeds, be he Jew or Greek; for there is no respect of persons with God. He had indeed chosen a people, and brought them near to Himself, to put man to the test, and to maintain the truth that there is but one God; but fundamentally there was no difference amongst men. All were sinners by nature, and all had sinned. We see also that God with regard to His people, although He had given them a law, always remained behind the veil without revealing Himself. But now the veil is rent, and man—first the Jew and then the Greek—must be manifested before Him, each one according to what he is in his walk and actual moral condition; and here there is no question whether his position be that of Jew or Greek. God, according to His righteousness, takes into account only the measure of light which each possesses. The apostle when he speaks of those who seek for glory and honour and immortality, supposes Christianity; for the knowledge of these things depends upon a revelation. God will give eternal life, without distinction between Jew or Greek, to those who by patient continuance in well-doing seek these things. God would have the reality of divine life, not a mere external form. Those who do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, must expect “indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; but glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile.” All will be judged, every one according to his works, according to the light which he has possessed, without respect of persons. “For as many as have sinned without law, shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law, shall be judged by the law… In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ.” “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.” If one from the Gentiles does what the law requires, he is accepted, and has the advantage over one who possesses the law and does not observe it. As we have said, it is no longer a question, now that God has been revealed, of external relationships, according to which some are “near” and others “afar off,” but of what is just in the sight of God. In reality, one of the Gentiles who in spirit walked in love, did that which the law commanded; while a Jew, who had the law and walked in sin, could not be accepted of God. It is no longer a question of outward relationship with God, of His government of the world and of His people—in a word, of the government of God upon earth— but of the condition of the soul before God, and of the day of judgment, when the secrets of the heart will be brought to light, and man will be judged according to his works.
After the apostle has clearly laid down these great and important principles, he goes on to describe the actual condition of the Jews, as he had done with regard to the Gentiles in chapter 1. The Jews boasted of the law, and of the privileges they possessed; they knew the will of God, and were able to teach the ignorant; yea, they even boasted of God. But did they also teach themselves? On the contrary; they did all that which in their wisdom they taught others not to do. They dishonoured God whilst bearing His name. The one true God was blasphemed amongst the Gentiles through them, as it is written. They possessed privileges, but if the law to which those privileges belonged was broken, their circumcision became uncircumcision. And the Gentiles, if they observed the law, condemned those who, possessing the letter and circumcision, transgressed the law. For he was not a true Jew who was one outwardly, but he whose heart was circumcised, who was a Jew in heart and spirit, not in the letter; “whose praise is not of men, but of God.”
The apostle now begins to meet the Jews on their own ground. Their advantage was great; the profit of the circumcision was “much every way,” chiefly because that unto them were committed the oracles of God. The apostle certainly believed this, and rightly. It is not a question, in this respect, of their all being individually converted; they enjoyed the privileges of the people of God which were nowhere else to be found; and if they did not believe, their unbelief could not set aside the faithfulness of God. (It is just the same now with professing Christianity.) The promises of God will be fulfilled through His faithfulness to His people Israel, although they have lost every right to them. But the apostle does not speak of this until later on (chap. 11).
But, it might be said, man’s unbelief, then, brings out only the more conspicuously the infallible faithfulness of God. And does not this fact of man’s unbelief, causing the faithfulness of God to come out more plainly, do away with God’s right to judge man? By no means; for according to this principle He could judge no one, because the wickedness of the nations also brings out His faithfulness all the more clearly. The Jews are just as responsible as the others for their unbelief, and that these would be judged the Jew did not in any way doubt. Thus, in spite of their privileges, the Jews also have fallen under the judgment of God. The apostle does not stoop to reply to the wicked insinuation of some— “Let us do evil that good may come” —but merely says, “Whose damnation is just.” Christians were, indeed, accused by the world of speaking thus. Grace is always the occasion of accusation, as long as the soul is not convinced of sin; but as soon as the conscience comes to the knowledge of sin, grace becomes the occasion of heartfelt gratitude.
If, then, the Jew had such privileges, was he not better than the Gentiles. No, in nowise. The apostle had before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they were all under sin. And now he cites a number of passages to prove that the Jews in their own scriptures are considered as being under the guilt and power of sin. With regard to the heathen there could be no doubt of it; they were entirely alienated from God, sunk in idolatry and the service of false gods, and living in lawlessness. But the Jew thought quite otherwise of himself. He had been brought near, and made to participate in all privileges. The apostle had himself acknowledged it as the greatest privilege of the Jews, that to them were committed the word of God, the oracles of God. But now what said these oracles, which related to the Jews, and in which they boasted as belonging solely to them? They said, “There is none righteous, no, not one.” A whole series of passages, quoted by the apostle from the Psalms and Isaiah, demonstrate the thoroughly sinful condition in every respect of those of whom they speak. And that they speak of the Jews, they themselves must allow, according to their universal principle; for “we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law.” Thus every mouth is stopped, and the whole world guilty before God. The Gentiles are wholly without God; but the Jews are condemned by this very word of God in which they boast. So that by works of law shall no flesh be justified in His sight; “for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” The law, that they accepted as the rule of righteousness, proved that man was a sinner; it convicted and condemned him, and that expressly in his conscience, producing at the same time the consciousness of sin in him.
When the apostle had in this way proved that all men are sinners, he returns to what he had already laid down in chapter 1:17, as the principle of the gospel; namely, the revelation of the righteousness of God. All that comes between chapters 1:18 and 3:21 forms a parenthesis to shew that the righteousness of God is necessary because there is none in man. After this is done, the apostle enters more closely into the subject of the righteousness of God and its application to man. This righteousness stands in no relation to the law, which was only the perfect rule for man. But God cannot measure His righteousness by the standard of man’s righteousness, or his responsibility. It is according to this standard that He judges those who have had the law. His righteousness must be measured according to His own nature, and His nature is revealed in what He does. He must glorify Himself; that is to say, manifest Himself; for with God to be manifested is also to be glorified. If He judges, He judges man according to his human responsibility; if He acts, it is in accordance with His own nature. The law knows nothing of this nature; it says we ought to love God, but what is He? The law is adapted to man and his relationship towards God. The righteousness of God stands entirely outside all question of the law, of every description of law, unless the nature of God be regarded as such. He is a law for Himself, perfect in His nature. His righteousness is now shewn in what He has done with regard to the Person of Christ, by having set Him at His right hand as the result of His finished work. The law and the prophets testified of it. The righteousness of God has been exercised in the acceptance and glorifying of Christ in virtue of His work, and in this acceptance we share by faith, because He accomplished this work for us. Precisely because it is the righteousness of God founded on the work of Christ, in that He died for a//, it has to do with the whole world and with all men. All who believe on Christ, whether Jews or heathen, have part in it, and in all the privileges which flow from it. Were it human righteousness it would have to be according to the law; were it according to the law only the Jews would have had part in it, because they alone had the law. But as it is the righteousness of God it is manifested for all, and righteousness is reckoned to all who believe. Thus the righteousness of God by faith of Jesus Christ is manifested for all sinners; it rests on all who believe in Him. “For there is no difference: 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.”
By nature, then, all are found in the same condition, because all alike are in sin; but likewise grace also is the same for all, because the righteousness is God’s righteousness, and is the same for all believers, and, in consequence, all believers stand accepted in this righteousness on the same ground before God. God has openly set forth Jesus Christ as a mercy-seat, through faith in His blood, and has thereby shewn His righteousness in regard to the sins of the Old Testament saints, which in His forbearance He had passed over. But now, inasmuch as Christ has died for them, His righteousness in thus passing over is shewn. By reason of this expiatory death which God had in view He could pass over those sins. Further righteousness is also declared at this present time. It not only throws light upon the ways of God in the past, but is also, for the present time, the manifestation of the ground of justification of believers through an accomplished work; it is therefore a present thing realised in the justification of all believers, according to the righteousness of a righteous God. God is just, and justifies in virtue of the work of Christ; yea, He shews His righteousness in doing so. Not as though we deserved it; but in justifying us God recognises the value of the work of Christ. Thus justification is a manifest known thing, because the work is accomplished.
There is, then, no room for man to boast, not even for the Jew, in spite of all his privileges. All boasting is excluded. On what principle? By what law? Of works? Nay, but by the law of faith. Man, whoever he may be, occupies the place of a sinner. Grace, and grace only, avails for all in the same way; for the conclusion has been reached, that one is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. “Is he the God of the Jews only? Is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also.” Such He must be, and such He was even in the Old Testament; although when all races of the earth were sunk in idolatry, He chose Israel out of their midst, in the person of Abraham, to preserve on the earth the knowledge of the one God; but now in grace He has taken His place as God over all men according to the truth of His immutable prerogative, inasmuch as it is one and the same God who justifies the circumcision by faith, and the uncircumcision through faith. The difference between the expressions here used— “by faith” (or “on the principle of faith”) and “through faith”—is explained by the fact that the Jews did indeed seek after righteousness, only on a false principle; namely, that of works. They must have righteousness, a divine righteousness surely, but on another principle—that of faith; and because it depends on the principle of faith, the believing Gentile participates in this divine righteousness through faith which is wrought in him by grace. Does this principle, then, make void the law? By no means. The authority of the law is fully established and confirmed, but to the condemnation of all those who are found under its authority. Nothing could so completely establish its authority as the fact, that the Lord took upon Himself the curse of the law.
But there was yet another proof that righteousness does not come from works of the law; namely, the example of Abraham, who had the promises before the law was given or promulgated. The apostle makes use of this part of Israel’s history and privileges in order to establish his main principle. “What shall we then say of Abraham?” he asks. “For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” Thus the principle of justification by faith is fully established in the example of Abraham. It is not of works; were it so, then the reward would have to be regarded, not as of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifies the ungodly, faith is reckoned for righteousness. And it was with David as with Abraham. (The apostle adduces the example of these two men, because they form the chief sources of Israel’s blessing.) David also describes the blessedness of the man whom God justifies without works, saying, “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord doth not impute sin.” Acceptance in Christ goes farther, it is true; but here, with regard to man’s responsibility, we have the truth expressed, that for those who believe in Christ all is accomplished. Sin is not imputed to them at all; they are free from all guilt; there is no more any charge against them for ever. Of our position in Christ the apostle speaks later on. To be accepted in a new position in Christ, according to the value and acceptance of Christ before God, goes farther than justification. But this justification is perfect for us as responsible men.
But now arises the question, Is this blessing only for Israel? The example of Abraham decides this also. Faith was reckoned to him for righteousness. But when? Was it when he was in circumcision or when still in uncircumcision? In uncircumcision. We see, then, in this old decisive example of Abraham that, according to the will and declaration of God, the faith of an uncircumcised man is reckoned to him for righteousness. Circumcision was given afterwards to Abraham as seal of the righteousness of faith which he had being uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all them that believe, as well of the uncircumcised (that after his example righteousness might be imputed to them also) as of the circumcised, so that he is the father of a true circumcision, not only of those who are of the circumcision, but also of all believers, who, in separation to God, walk in the footsteps of Abraham’s faith which he had in uncircumcision.
Moreover, the promise that Abraham should be the heir of the world was not given through the law either to him or to his seed, but through the righteousness of faith; for the law came much later. Thus the whole history of Israel proves that it is not through the law that one participates in the blessing, but through faith. For if they which are of the law, as such, are heirs, then the promise is annulled, and faith by which Abraham received it is in vain and without result. More than this, the law worketh wrath; for where no law is, there is no transgression; sin indeed exists, but one cannot transgress what is not commanded or forbidden. But the apostle further develops from the Scriptures this fundamental principle of the blessing of believers from the Gentiles. He says, “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed, not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all” (believers of the Gentiles as well as of the Jews), “before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were” (v. 16, 17). These words contain a new truth. They point to the power of resurrection, to the power of giving life where all lies in death, to creative power. This power admitted the Gentiles also. Abraham counted upon it when his body was in a manner already dead, and Sarah’s womb likewise. All depends for faith upon the activity of this power which brings about what God wills. It is not only that there is presented a mercy-seat for all those who draw nigh through faith in the blood of Christ to the place where God meets with the sinner, but there is a power which there, where there was nothing, creates children for itself out of dead souls. Still there is a difference between Abraham’s faith and ours. He believed, and rightly so, that God could raise the dead; we believe that God has done it. And this is a very important difference. Abraham was right in believing God’s own word; we have the same faith, but it is founded upon a finished work, and there the soul finds rest. Christ is risen. He, who was once offered for our offences, has been raised again that we may believe and be justified.
We are then justified by faith. With this the doctrine of Christ’s work, in so far as it is a question of His blood and of the putting away of our sins through the shedding thereof, in a manner closes. The resurrection of Christ is the proof, that God has accepted this work as satisfaction for our sins, and assuredly for His own glory. What a blessed thought! The righteousness of God rests in the value of the work of Christ. This righteousness has been displayed therein by His having raised up His Son from among the dead, and justified us on account of Him; our sins are forgiven, we are washed clean in His blood. We have contributed nothing to our justification, and can contribute nothing; we are justified solely by the work of Christ. Our sins are the only part we have in the sufferings of Christ, by which we are cleansed before God. The value of this work has become our portion by faith, which, however, can add nothing to it. This work is our highest motive for serving Him and for praising Him unceasingly for ever, but neither by it do we add aught to the work of Christ in the sight of God; it is complete, and not only that, but it is accepted and owned as fully sufficient before God. How blessed it is to know that all our sins are put away by God Himself, and this conformably to His own righteousness; inasmuch as He has raised Christ, on account of the work done by Him for us, an ever subsisting proof that God has accepted this work as fully satisfying His glory. This would be enough for our justification, but God has done yet more. He has raised Christ to His own right hand; there He sits now as Man at the right hand of God, until His enemies be made His footstool. “By one offering he has perfected for ever “(as regards the conscience) “them that are sanctified.” If they are not perfected by this offering, they never can be, nor can their sins ever be put away. For without shedding of blood is no remission, and Christ cannot shed His blood for us afresh; the work is done, or it carunever be done at all.
The first part of chapter 5 (vers. 1-11) summarises all the features of this infinite grace of God. Let us briefly consider the contents of these precious verses. The work is accomplished; faith knows that God has accepted it, because He has raised up Christ and seated Him at His right hand. Nothing remains between the man, born again and sanctified, and God, but the value of the work of Christ, and the acceptance of His Person. The blood of Christ is ever before the eye of God, and He Himself appears in the presence of God for us. This gives us, in the present, the most blessed privileges, as well as the hope of glory for the future which we shall enjoy with Him. We will not, however, go outside our chapter, but confine ourselves to the consideration of the perfection of the grace of God, so wondrously developed in it. We find here what God is for us, whilst our position before Him in Christ is only taken up later on.
The first eleven verses contain the development of grace and the ways of God in grace; they speak first of what grace gives, and then of the experiences of those that are the subjects of grace. Christ having been delivered for our sins, and raised again for our justification, we are justified by faith; it is a complete justification; our sins are blotted out, our conscience is purged, and since the value of this work is immutable and for ever before the eye of God, so our justification is valid for ever. Consequently we are in possession of unalterable peace with God. No sins can be imputed to us, for they have been already borne, so that we can have no more conscience of sins. We are, it is true, conscious of the presence of sin in the flesh, but there can be no question of sins that Christ has already borne for us. We have indeed to humble ourselves, when anything occurs to remind us that we were guilty of the hateful fruits of sin, and have brought the load of them upon the beloved Saviour; but in the presence of God, where Christ and His blood are for ever present, we can never question whether all is forgiven. It is important that I should not confound the state of my soul with the value of a work accomplished outside me, with the accomplishment of which I had nothing to do, unless by my sins. But if my sins were laid there on Christ, they cannot any longer be before God. Christ has not got them on Him in heaven. If I come before God, I find there, on the one hand, because Christ is there, infinite, unchangeable love; and, on the other, nothing but perfect and divine righteousness in Him, also because He is there. Infinite love, perfect and divine righteousness, and unchangeable favour, have become the believer’s portion in Christ before God.
This leads us a step farther in the consideration of the fruits of grace. Not only are our sins put away through grace, so that we have peace with God, but we can also enjoy the grace of God by which peace is made, grace which is now ever in the heart of God for us. Grace has not only set aside every obstacle through the work of Christ, but it remains unchangeably the same in the heart of God. His eye rests on us with the same love as on Christ. Through Christ we have peace, through Him also access by faith into the grace and favour in which we stand in Him before God. We enjoy this favour in the presence of God. Not only does the heavenly Judge justify us, but a heavenly Father receives us; the light of His gracious countenance, beaming with a Father’s love, illumines and gladdens our souls, and comforts our hearts, so that with perfectly restful hearts we are in His presence and walk in His ways; we have the precious consciousness of standing in favour. As regards our sins, they are all put away; as regards our present condition before God, all is love and favour in the bright light of His countenance; as regards the future, glory awaits us; it is our portion, although we do not yet enjoy it. Peace, divine favour, the glory in expectation, such is the portion of the believer, the blessed fruit of God’s love.
Here it might, then, be said, We have all, for past, present, and future. The apostle has still, however, something to add. The glory being still a thing of the future for us, we have yet a path to trace to reach it, and God does not forget us in the path also. Therefore the apostle says, “Not only so, but we glory in tribulations also.” The wilderness is the place where the experiences of the redeemed are gone through with regard to their actual condition and the ways of God in government. Redemption is accomplished; we have been brought to God, as it is written: “I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself.” This is a fact, determined beforehand in the counsels of God, and now accomplished. The glory forms part of the counsels of God, and this also must have its fulfilment for those who are justified. The wilderness forms no part of these counsels, but it is the place where we learn His ways with us. Assuredly the thief on the cross went the same day to be with Christ in paradise, to dwell with Him there. His condition was fit for such a position. If on the part of man he has to suffer the consequences of his misdeeds, on the part of God Christ bore for him all that he was guilty of before God, and the justified sinner follows Him the same day into the mansions of bliss, but had not therefore to enter upon a long pathway of experiences. But in general, the believer has to tread his pilgrim way through a world where difficulties and temptations encounter and surround him on every hand. Christ has gone before us through this world, and we are called to walk in His footsteps; but our condition is thereby tested. Redemption does not here come in question, for it is just that which brought us into the wilderness. But we are responsible according to the calling and position in which redemption has placed us, to walk “worthy of God who has called us to his own kingdom and glory.”
The soul is tested by afflictions as to how far self-will is active; they make manifest the working of sin in us, that we may be able to detect it. God searches us. By this means we learn on the one hand what we are, and on the other what God is for us in His faithfulness and daily care. We are weaned from the world, and our eyes become better able to discern and appreciate what is heavenly. Thus the hope that is already in the heart becomes more lively and clearer. It is in this light we can view all our afflictions, because we possess the key to everything— “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” The providential care of God in this respect is wonderful. “He withdraweth not his eyes from the righteous.” He thinks of everything that concerns His children, their characters, their circumstances, their trials; He does all that is necessary to bring them to the blessed end of their pilgrimage. After forty years’ wandering in the desert, the feet of the children of Israel did not swell, neither did their clothes wear out. He makes all things work together for good to them that love Him.
But we have yet to consider some other and very important points. We find the Holy Spirit mentioned here for the first time. The Holy Ghost shed abroad in the heart is quite another thing from the new birth. We must, of course, be born again to be able to receive the Holy Ghost, but the sinner needs something more than the new birth. In this passage the Holy Ghost is looked upon as the seal given to the believer of the value of the blood of Christ, and of the perfect purification in which he participates by the application of this blood. Washed from his sins, he becomes the habitation of the Holy Spirit. He is the unction, the believer’s seal, and the earnest of glory. By Him we cry, “Abba, Father,” Gal. 4:6. By Him we know that we are in Christ, and Christ in us; John 14:16-20. And here, in this passage, we learn that by Him also the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts. The ordinance of God for the purification of the leper (Lev. 14) furnishes us with a striking type of what takes place now with the believer. The leper was first washed with water, then sprinkled with blood, and finally anointed with oil. So now, also, a man is first converted, then made a partaker of the perfect purification wrought by the blood of Christ, and finally he receives the seal of the Holy Ghost. It is by Him we have the full assurance of our participation in an accomplished redemption by virtue of our blessed relationship with God and with Christ, and He is the earnest of the future glory. But all is the result of the sprinkling of the blood of Christ.
Thus we know God, we are made partakers of the divine nature, we have apprehension of our redemption and justification, and experience His faithfulness. He reveals Himself to our souls, and reveals to us also the glory which lies before us. We know that we are in Him, and that God dwells in us. Thus we glory, not only in what He has given us—not only in our salvation—but also in God Himself. A grateful child is not merely happy to have received much from his father, but his heart rejoices in having such a father as he has shewn himself to be by his loving ways. He is happy because his father is all that his heart could desire; he rejoices in what he personally finds his father to be, and glories in him. What a privilege for us to be able to boast in God Himself! That enhances the joy, and the enjoyment of grace. The highest character of our eternal joy is thus already realised here below, and profound peace accompanies this joy. What God is in Himself is the infinite yet present object for a nature that is capable of enjoying Him, the Holy Ghost revealing Him to the soul.
With this ends the first part of the epistle, and the doctrine of the whole epistle. What follows is our standing in Christ, as well as the experiences which the soul goes through in entering upon this position. Then follow exhortations to those who are delivered. Our position is not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, or in Christ. But to be truly delivered we must learn what the flesh is, and that by experience; then, and then only, do we pass from the legal condition of the soul into the spiritual in Christ, by virtue of the death and the life of Jesus Christ. But we shall return to this later on. We must first consider the position itself, or rather the two positions, and the doctrine relating thereto. It is of importance to remark here, that for deliverance it is a question of experience, by which alone it can be known. It is quite otherwise as to the forgiveness of sins. It is indeed true that God must teach us in all; but to believe that something is done, or has taken place, outside me, is entirely different from believing something about myself of which I do not find the practical realisation in myself. The work of Christ on the cross, by which I obtain forgiveness and peace, in so far as it has to do with forgiveness, is a thing accomplished outside me, and I am called to believe that God has accepted it in satisfaction for my sins. It is indeed the work of God in my heart that I believe this, but the thing in itself is simple.
A child who has to be punished understands perfectly what is meant by receiving forgiveness. But if it be said, If you believe, you are dead to sin; I reply, and all the more that I am in earnest and sincere, That is not true, for I feel the activity of sin in my heart. The question, then, of our condition, is treated in the second part of the Epistle to the Romans. Are we in the flesh or in the Spirit? Are we in Christ, and Christ in us? Have we thus died to sin, or are we merely children of Adam, so that sin exercises its power in us even when we would not have it so?
The consideration of this question begins with chapter 5:12. The apostle speaks no longer of what we have done, as in the first part of the epistle, but of what we are, and that in consequence of Adam’s sin. By the disobedience of one, the many (that is, all who are by birth connected with him as their father) were made sinners. “Wherefore as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (v. 12). The continuation of this statement is found in verse 18. Verses 13-17 form a parenthesis, the object of which is to shew in what relation the law stands to this question, and to prove that man, without having received a law from God, is under the yoke of sin, and subject to judgment. Death is the proof that sin reigns over all men. Adam was under a law; he was forbidden to eat of a certain tree. The Jews, as we all know, were placed as a people under the law of Moses. Now, if Adam did not observe the original commandment, nor the Jews the law of God, they were definitely guilty in those points wherein they had disobeyed. They had done that which the law had forbidden. Verse 14 refers to what is said of Israel in Hosea 6:7: “They, like Adam, have transgressed the covenant.” Adam, like Israel, stood in relation with God by a positive law. With the heathen it was otherwise, they possessed no law. They had conscience, indeed, and obedience to God was obligatory, but one could not say that in this or-that point they had transgressed a known commandment of God, because there was none. No law existed for them, so what they had done could not be reckoned to them as transgression. But sin was there; conscience took cognisance of everything that was done against its voice, and death reigned over them. The reign of death accordingly demonstrated the existence of sin, of which it was the consequence. Each one, even if not placed under law, had defiled his conscience, and death was the constant proof of the existence of sin. The Gentiles, who had no law, died just as much as the Jews.
Were the operations of grace to be limited, then, to the narrow circle of Judaism, because the Jews alone possessed the promises and all the privileges of a revelation, specially the word of God? On the contrary. Christianity was the revelation of God Himself, not merely of the will of God with regard to man; therefore this revelation necessarily reached far beyond the limits of Judaism. In Christianity there is no nation singled out with a law given to them. To Israel a law was given which taught what man ought to be, but it did not reveal God. It was accompanied, it is true, by promises, but promises which were not yet fulfilled; and at the same time it precluded man from approach to God. But Christianity brought in a revelation of God in love in the Person of His Son; it announced an accomplished redemption through His death, a perfect, present, justification by faith, in virtue of His death. It testified that the veil which precluded access to God was rent, so that access became perfectly free, and the believer can draw near with boldness by this new and living way. Thus eternal blessing is not in the first and sinful man, nor yet through the law. For this, as applied to him, could not do otherwise than condemn him, because it formed the perfect, divine, rule of conduct for man; and since man is a sinner, it puts all under the curse who were placed under the law. The blessing of God is in the last Adam, the second Man and that as glorified, after having been previously made sin for us— in Him who met the power of Satan and subjected Himself to death, although He could not be holden of it; who underwent in His soul the curse and the forsaking of God, and whom God, having been perfectly glorified by His work, raised from the dead and seated as Man at His own right hand. A God who has revealed Himself in such a way could not be God of the Jews only.
In verses 15-17 the apostle shews that grace far surpasses sin. If (ver. 15) the consequences of Adam’s sin did not remain limited to him, but extended also to his descendants, how much more the consequences of the work of Christ extend to those who are His! According to verse 16, by Adam’s sin all his descendants are lost; but grace, the free gift, is not merely efficacious for the lost condition, but also for many offences. The superabounding of grace comes out in special relief in verse 17, where it says, “For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one” —one would expect the corresponding thought to be “much more life will reign”; but no, “much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.”
The parenthesis closes with verse 17, and the apostle resumes in verse 18 the train of thought interrupted at verse 12. The consequences of Adam’s fall concern all; in the same way the free gift through the work of Christ concerns all. The gospel can thus be applied to all; it addresses the whole world, all sinners. In verse 19 we have the actual application. By the disobedience of one man, the many connected with him, that is to say all men are found in the condition of this one, which is a sinful condition. By the obedience of one man, all who are connected with him, that is, all Christians, are found in the position of this One, namely, in a position of righteousness before God. Adam was the figure of the Man that was to come. In the one we were lost, in the other all those who are connected with Him are saved, righteous before God. The guilt of a man depends upon what he has done; his actual condition, on the contrary, on what Adam has done. Adam and Christ are the heads of two races; the one of a sinful, and the other of a race righteous before God, and here life and standing are inseparable. The law came in by the way between the first and second Adam. The root of the fallen human race was Adam, the first man. The Head and the root of life of the blessed and saved race is Christ.
But “the law came in by the way,” as the measure of what fallen humanity should have been, but never actually was. The law was never the means of life or of salvation, but the rule of what man ought to have been down here, connected with a promise of life: “the man that doeth them shall live in them” (Gal. 3:12); but it commanded sinful man not to sin. Its object was, as the apostle here says, to make the offence abound, not sinsfor God can do nothing to augment sin; but when sin was already there, He could give a rule to bring the fruits of it to light. Thus, although the law formed the perfect rule of conduct for a child of Adam, yet as a matter of fact it was always something by the way. Man was already a lost sinner, and the law brought out the fruit of the rotten and corrupt tree. We shall see, further on, that it did more than this. In this passage we are only told that it made the offence to abound.
We get a glimpse, indeed, of the ways of God in the first, as in the second Adam. Man was a sinner, a lost sinner; Christ, a Saviour. The law was of use as a proof of what man was, because it required righteousness from man, according to the measure of his responsibility. The object of the law in the government of God was to manifest man’s self-will in disobedience and transgressions, for without law there is no transgression. Now that supposes sin, as may be seen in the law itself. The judgment of God is exercised according to man’s responsibility according to what he has done, whether without law or under law. His lost condition is another thing. He was lost in Adam; the world furnishes a proof of it in a terrible way, and our own hearts even more if indeed we know them. The disobedience of the one has alone brought in the condition. This condition is not a future judgment, but a present fact; we are constituted sinners. The whole family is, through its father, in the same condition with himself; separated from God, yea, driven out in enmity against Him, shut out from His presence, and without even a desire to enter into it. Man prefers pleasure, money, vanity, worldly power, fine apparel, in short, everything, to God, even when he professes to be one who believes that the Son of God has died for him in love. There is but one subject which in the world is intolerable; namely, Christ, and the revelation of God in Him, although it be a revelation of love. By the disobedience of one the many have been brought into the position of sinners.
Thus the important truth here set before us is not the guilt brought about by wicked works, and the grace by which it has been put away, but the condition of the fallen children of Adam, as a general principle. (This is why the law is set aside as a secondary thing, although it was valid for the conscience of the Jew, and remains always a perfect rule of human righteousness, and also represented that rule wherever, supported by the authority of God, it was applied.) In connection with this there is the introduction of a new or second root of saved men, and this in the risen One, just as Adam is the root of fallen man. Adam did not become the head of a race till he became sinful, and Christ was not in fact the head of a new creation (although God from the beginning had wrought by His Spirit) until divine righteousness had been manifested in His being glorified. Now when the righteousness of God had been revealed, and indeed become applicable to us, in that Christ was glorified after He had borne our sins, and perfectly glorified God when He had been made sin—not till then did Christ become the fife-giving Head of the new race, accepted of God; and all, from first to last, is the fruit of the unfathomable, infinite, and unutterable grace of God. Grace reigns, but being founded on the work of Christ, reigns through righteousness. The end is eternal life, and that in its full and true character, according to the counsels of God, in the glory where Christ, according to this righteousness, has already entered as Man. Righteousness does not yet reign; it will reign in the day of judgment. But then human righteousness, namely, that which was due from man, will form the measure of judgment; man will then be judged according to the duties towards God and towards his neighbour, which were imposed upon him by the righteous claims of God. But the original source of salvation for man is grace, because God is love and we are sinners; for grace is the exercise of love towards those who have no desert, no merit. And love has therein been manifested, so that the angels learn to know it by God’s ways towards us. But God is also righteous, and must maintain righteousness, and His holiness cannot for ever tolerate sin in His presence. He has proved that all men lie under sin and are guilty, and then He has acted in His infinite love, not merely in forgiving sins (of which we have already spoken), but in providing an entirely new position according to His eternal counsels, and for His eternal glory, according to what He is in His own nature. The carrying out of this counsel, and that too in virtue of the work of Christ according to His perfect righteousness, is the expression and the manifestation of His infinite love. Love is therein manifested, in that He sent His Son and gave Him up for us to death and the curse. Righteousness is manifested therein, in that He has set Christ, who had glorified Him perfectly, at His right hand in divine glory—in that glory which as Son of God He had already with the Father before the world was, but to which He had won His title as Son of man, so that divine righteousness must of necessity give Him this place. And we have part in this glory of God, because the work by which God has been perfectly glorified was at the same time accomplished for us. We form part of the glory of Christ for eternity. He would not see of the fruit of the travail of His soul, if He had not His redeemed people with Him in glory.
But here the flesh, which wants to have its own righteousness, and the world, which affects to be the guardian of morality, brings forward an objection in order to resist the truth and grace which shew man to be lost on account of sin. They say, if by the obedience of one we are constituted righteous, it is then just the same whether we be obedient or disobedient. This objection only proves that he who makes it knows nothing of the truth, that he has no apprehension whatever of his own lost condition, nor of the new life which the believer has received, and which, because it is of God, cannot tolerate sin.
Let us observe here what important truths are involved in the change of ground on which man’s relation with God rests. The turning-point is the cross, the death of Christ. The old man, Adam’s race, has been tested without law, under law, and then under the revelation of grace and truth when the Son of God was in this world as Man. God Himself was come, manifest in the flesh, not to impute sins, but “reconciling the world unto himself”; and if the blessing of the race of the first Adam had been possible it ought to have taken place then; but it was impossible. Much is said of a connecting link found between God and man, but even God manifested in grace and truth found none. On the contrary, the death of Christ is the positive, definitive, and absolute breach between man and God. It was not only that man without law was under sin, nor that under law he was openly disobedient to it, but in rejecting Christ he refused the grace of God which shone forth in Him. The Lord said (John 12:31), in speaking of His death, “Now is the judgment of this world”; and in John 15:24, “They have both seen and hated both me and my Father.” Therefore it says, in Hebrews 9:26, “Now once in the end of the world hath he appeared.” The cross was morally the end of man; but at the same time, and by the same fact in the death of Christ, was laid the foundation of the new creation according to the righteousness of God. The same fact which on God’s part has made an end of the first Adam, inasmuch as his race rejected the Son of God, has also laid the foundation of the new condition of man in the second Adam. Christ was made sin on the cross; sin was there judged, and the old man for ever set aside. Now access to God through faith has been made possible; in the resurrection, the new life, even for the body, has been actually brought to light, and the second Man has taken His place in glory. Just as the first man was driven out of the garden, to become the root of a sinful and lost race, so the second Man has entered the heavenly paradise as root and head of the saved race, as the righteousness of God which is valid for man; and so life and righteousness have become inseparable. Forgiveness through the blood of Christ is the most powerful motive for an upright walk; the resurrection of Christ in itself unites righteousness and life; it is a “justification of life” (chap. 5:18).
The truth that we are risen with Christ is not further developed in the Epistle to the Romans. As to the part we have in His death and resurrection, it only says that by faith we reckon ourselves dead to sin, that the glorified Christ is our life, and the Holy Spirit is given to us.
If, then, by the obedience of the One we are constituted righteous, and if there, where sin abounded, grace did much more abound, “shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” “Far be the thought,” says the apostle. But in his answer to this question, he does not place us again under law. That would be nothing short of recognising the old man, the flesh, and, when we are already lost, to introduce afresh responsibility and condemnation; for the flesh is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. The answer of the Spirit points, on the contrary, to the death of Christ; but all that He has done is valid for us. The old man has proved itself irremediably bad, and this was, in fact, shewn in the death of Christ. It is impossible for me now, who am crucified with Him, to recognise the very man that put Christ to death— I am come to Christ, because man (I myself in my old condition) was such—and because I have now received a new life, Christ risen from amongst the dead. But we must consider this somewhat more closely.
In having been baptised unto Christ Jesus (our true confession of faith), we were not baptised to a Christ whom the world has received, or who found a connecting link with the first Adam. On the contrary, the world, man, rejected Him, and drove Him out of the earth; and in this way, as already said, it was shewn that a union between God and man as a child of Adam was perfectly impossible. Therefore God has begun afresh; we are born anew; Christ has, thanks be to God, as the rejected One, accomplished the work of atonement; He has acquired for those who believe on Him, justification, forgiveness, and glory. But He is the second Man, and in Him man is found in an entirely new position before God, as well as in an entirely new condition. A risen Christ is our life, a risen Christ our righteousness; the old man is for ever condemned. He who possesses Christ as his life shares in all this, because he has part in His death and resurrection. In Romans the first part only is developed—we are dead with Him, have died with Him. He is indeed presented also as our life; but our resurrection with Him is not treated of, because the Holy Spirit here looks at Christians as men living on the earth. Christ is dead and risen; we are baptised unto His death. We have part in His death, inasmuch as He is our life. He, who is my life, died, and He died to sin. I recognise Him alone as my “I,” and as this new “I,” I reckon my old “I” as dead. According to this new life I am alive to God; but as regards my old man I have died with Christ. How could I still live the life of the old man, if as such I have died? Therefore, buried with Christ by baptism unto death, it behoves us to walk in newness of life. If we have part in His position, as dead to sin, we shall also have part in His resurrection. The apostle does not say that we have part in it, but that we shall have part in it. This resurrection life will be perfect in glory; but it expresses itself now already in a new walk; just as the power of the life of Christ, which, in a positive way, came out in His resurrection, was also actually manifested in His walk on earth. “Knowing this,” says the apostle, “that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed” (that is to say, that sin in us as a whole might be annulled), “that henceforth we should not serve sin” (ver. 6); “for he that is dead is freed [or justified] from sin.” But this requires fuller explanation.
First it is important to seize clearly that the Christian has not yet to die to sin, but that he has died inasmuch as he is crucified with Christ; now that he has received Christ as his life, he reckons the old man dead. It is not only particular sins or lusts from which he has been delivered, but the old man as a whole is set aside, dead, and to be held for dead by faith which acts according to the new man. It is true that the nature of the old man is still present in us; our having died with Christ does not result in its having no longer any existence in us, but it has no more dominion— “that henceforth we should not serve sin.” There is no necessity to have even a single evil thought, although the nature which produces them still exists; but we do not in any way serve this nature, not even in thought, when the new life and the power of the Holy Spirit are active in us. The Christian is made free, not because his sins are for ever pardoned, but because he is dead to sin, crucified with Christ. As dead with Christ he is justified from sin, just because he is dead; but he is also alive in Christ. It is not only true that sin has no longer dominion, but the Christian is also free to yield himself up; he possesses a new nature, a new holy life. But to whom shall he now yield himself? —to righteousness and to God. This yielding of oneself is not the act of the sinner, as is very often falsely affirmed, but that of the delivered soul. The Christian, because he is purified, justified, assured of the love and favour of God, and in possession of a conscience made perfect through the blood of Christ, in that no sin can any more be reckoned to him, is free, has boldness before God. The same blow that rent the veil removed also all his sin. Now through the rent veil the light of God shines openly upon him, to shew that his garments are white as snow. He is set free from the power of sin, because Christ is his life, and, crucified with Christ, and now living by Him alone, he reckons himself dead as regards the flesh. He is free before God, and also freed from sin. In this liberty he yields himself to God.
Thus the new life, walking with God, gains already something along the way. We have fruits, even before we reach the glory, and this fruit is holiness. Blessed fruit! Beginning with being made partakers of the divine nature, we grow also in practical communion with God, by the growth of holiness in us. This growth does not set aside the truth that the new nature which we have received is perfect in itself. We belong absolutely to God, are bought with a price, separated from sin and the world. We belong to God, according to the value of the sacrifice of Christ, according to the new nature, and the power of the Holy Spirit. After the inward man we already belong to the new creation, although “we have this treasure in earthen vessels.” We are in Christ, and in Him we are perfectly accepted. He is our righteousness, a righteousness which is fit for the glory; for He is in the glory according to this righteousness. But He is also in us as our life, and according to the power of the Spirit. This life in itself is perfect, and cannot sin; but we must also have a sanctifying object before us. Therefore the Holy Spirit takes what is in Christ and reveals it to us; yea, He reveals to us all that is up there where Christ is, and where the Father is also. By this we grow objectively in that which is heavenly; we are weaned from the world, live in spirit in the heavenly places, enjoy the Father’s love, and become thus holy in practical ways.
We are sanctified according to the counsels of God the Father, through the sacrifice of Christ, by His blood; we are so, as to our being, because we possess a new nature, a new life; we are so by the presence and operation of the Holy Spirit; and we may add, by the word of God. The sanctification of the Spirit is brought about by our being born of God. But we must, as I have said, have an object, and the divine nature, the life which we have received, is capable of enjoying this object, God Himself. By the word the Holy Spirit communicates to us the objects that are holy and divine. We are first born anew by the word through faith; then we are nourished by the same, and the heart is purified also by faith; and, indeed the one as well as the other by the revelation of Christ in the heart— “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth… And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth,” John 17:17-19.
If we would be accurate, we could not say that the new man, the life which we have received from God, is being sanctified; for the new life itself is holy, and inasmuch as we have received it, we are sanctified for God; therefore it is that in the apostolic epistles believers are called saints. But holiness in us is relative; that is to say, it refers to God, because we cannot be independent. No doubt an actual condition is thereby produced in us; but we are not holy as independent; for it is sin for a creature to be independent, nor is it possible to be really independent. Thus holiness in us is objective; this is an important principle. All that the Holy Spirit has revealed to us—the love of the Father and of Christ, the holiness of God, the perfection of Christ, His Person which has been given to us and delivered up for us, His being glorified now in heaven— all this operates in us, and forms the heart, the thoughts, the inward and thereby also the outward man, according to the object that we contemplate. All that Christ has done and suffered is concerned in it, not only because His walk and His ways are a pattern for us, but because they engage the heart with Him. The affections of the heart are occupied with Christ and with His perfection, and He fills our hearts. That is sanctification; for this also fills the Father’s heart. “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life,” John 10:17. The Father appreciates what Christ has done, and what He was in doing it, and it was done for us. We have holy thoughts in loving and appreciating what He has done, and what He was. Thus we have in us the mind which was in Christ. It is one side of the Christian character.
But the power of sanctification is wrought in us especially by the contemplation of the glory of Christ. The heart is indeed nourished by all that He was down here; we eat His flesh and drink His blood, enjoy also the bread which came down from heaven; but what transforms us into His image (2 Cor. 3:18; 1 John 3:2, 3) is the glory in which He now dwells. Beholding this glory we are changed into the same image. The glory of Christ produces in us the energy of life, because we count all else for loss. The life and the sufferings of Christ engage the heart with Him. (See Philippians 2 and 3.)
He has for our sakes sanctified Himself, so that we might be sanctified by the word. Wondrous grace! wondrous association! This separates us from the world, associates us with what is heavenly, and conforms us to the heavenly. The end is eternal fife in this very glory, when our earthly vessels also shall have been transformed into the likeness of this glory.
With regard to holiness we learn further, in Hebrews 12:10, that the discipline of God has for its object to make us partakers of His holiness. In this passage we discover not only the unceasing care of God, but we learn also the precious character of this holiness. We have deserved death as the mournful wages of our sad work; eternal life, the gift of God, has become ours through Jesus Christ our Lord; and this is pure grace. Who else could give us life—eternal life, divine life, but God Himself? Christ Himself is this life, sent from the Father into the world, and here revealed in manhood. Now “he that hath the Son hath life”; “he that believeth on him hath everlasting life,” 1 John 1:2; ch. 5:12; John 3:36. Although in the last verse (of our chapter) the reference is more to the result in glory, because in the counsels of God eternal life means perfect conformity to Christ in glory; yet it is none the less given to us now as life, although we are not yet in the glory. It is important for us to remark that it is the gift of God. Man had through sin earned death for himself; life, eternal life, in which we are capable of having fellowship with God, must be given of God. This life is Christ Himself; 1 John 1. He is the life which was with the Father, and came down here. In Him was life; he that hath the Son hath life, and this life will be fully manifested in glory. That is the principle of the new standing. We have died with Christ to the old standing, and Christ is become our life.
The apostle treats a new question in this chapter: What is the effect of the law in relation to our new position? The principle is simple. We have died with Christ; but law has dominion over a man only so long as he lives. If a murderer is condemned to death, and suffers death according to the sentence, the judicial authority has nothing more to do with him. Now we have died; yet if it were only by the law that we were put to death, we should be not only dead but condemned also. But now we have died with Christ, and He has borne for us the consequences of sin, as guilt. Thus we are dead, and the law, therefore, exercises no more authority over us. Christ has taken the place of the law. Instead of a law which forbade sins and lusts, and must of necessity condemn us (because the flesh, to which the law addressed its claims, was not subject to it, nor could be), we possess a new life in Christ; while by faith we reckon the flesh dead, which is disposed to sin. The apostle makes use of marriage as an illustration; death dissolves the tie between husband and wife. Thus we are dead with respect to the law, and are connected with another husband; namely, the risen Christ. The figure is employed here inversely. Not the law, but we, as having had our life in the flesh, have died. Such is the doctrine. In what follows, the apostle speaks of experience. This in no wise annuls the important principle, but rather confirms the deliverance of the soul from the law by having died with Christ, who is now become our new life. According to the figure of marriage employed by the apostle, we are connected as by marriage with Christ, and thereby are brought into an entirely new position— that of relationship. Therefore it says, “When we were in the flesh.” Being “in the flesh” means standing on the ground or in the position of the first Adam before God, and being responsible to Him according to this position. It is not a question here of guilt, but of the deliverance of the soul from the yoke of sin. When one is lawless, and seeking nothing but pleasure, the conscience can indeed be awakened for a time, but the power of sin is not felt. He goes with the stream, and is not aware that he is under the dominion of sin. When one is converted one is first occupied with guilt, with the burden of sins. Even when one has learnt to know the forgiveness of sins, and to believe that one is a child of God, the form of experience may indeed be changed because it is no longer a question of justification; but the soul is none the less troubled so long as, in the path of experience, it is not delivered from the power of indwelling sin. The question ever afresh arises, “How can God accept me, or how can He delight in me, when sin, which I cannot overcome, is still present?” As long as forgiveness is not known, the question is, “How can I obtain forgiveness?” If it has been found, the question still remains, “What am I before God? How can such an one as I be accepted? May I not really have deceived myself?” In a word, the eye is solely directed to that which we are in ourselves before God. We see that sin is still there, and yet a Christian ought to obtain the victory over sin. Such an one is in fact, or in the condition of his mind and thoughts, still in the flesh. We have already remarked that the position is found in the first four verses. The fifth and sixth verses lead us on to experience. In the flesh we were connected as by marriage with the law. This gave neither life, nor strength, nor confidence in God; it forbade sins, and imputed them to me. Not only that, but it gave occasion to sin in the flesh to become active so as to bring forth fruit unto death. It brought sins and lusts before the heart by forbidding them. If a heap of money lie on the table, and I am told not to take any of it, immediately the desire to do so is awakened in me. Or if I say, “I have something here in this drawer, but no one must know what it is,” instantly every one, small and great, feels a desire to open it. The passions of sins are in no way of the law, but by it. It supposes, however, the existence of the flesh, and that we do not possess the strength of Christ. But now (in Christ) we are delivered from the law, being dead to that wherein we were held. In the flesh we were under the yoke of the law; the flesh was the source of sins, and now for faith it is dead, that we may serve in newness of spirit. The death of the flesh, of the old man, forms the basis of the transition from bondage in the flesh to liberty in the Spirit. At the same time this death stands in connection with redemption.
But how is this end to be attained? This is quite another thing from desiring it. The doctrine is presented very clearly and simply in the word of God. But there are many who, according to this doctrine, know that the Christian is dead with Christ, and even raised with Him; who believe also that they have died with Him, because the word of God so plainly declares it; who do not doubt that they are children of God, and that such a position belongs to the child of God, and who, in spite of all this, are not delivered. There are even upright souls, who, seeing that they do not walk as they would wish, begin to doubt, and to ask if they are not hypocrites, if they have not deceived themselves. They believe, and rightly, that God looks for something in them other than He sees. They make everything depend on what they are in themselves before God. But that is law, and not grace. The answer to the question, how the condition of liberty is reached, is developed from verse 7 onwards.
In order to be truly delivered, one must learn, and that by experience, that one is captive to the power of sin, and has no power to deliver oneself, even when desiring to be free. To this end God makes use of the law, and the desire of the new man to be free from the yoke of sin that he hates. Thus the Christian learns, not that he has sinned—this is not here the subject under consideration—but that while he would like to attain to holiness, a principle of sin is at work in his flesh. The law teaches him that God cannot permit this; his renewed mind recognises that God could not allow it; neither does he himself desire it. And yet this principle of sin exists, powerfully active, too strong for him to be able to free himself from it.
On this account the law has not only established with divine authority, the duties for all human relationships, but has also added, “Thou shalt not lust.” That is a touchstone for man, bringing clearly to light what his state is, even if he has not outwardly sinned, even when through conversion his will is directed to holiness. This holiness after which he seeks he cannot attain. When he was without law, the sentence of death was not felt, if he had not done anything against the voice of his conscience. He lived on at ease, not carrying about with him the sense of condemnation. But the law came, and pronounced condemnation on lust. Experience teaches that this lust exists in the heart, and now conscience feels the sentence of condemnation; lust itself is awakened, and all comes to light. Conscience feels the sentence. One would like to do good, but finds that evil is constantly present.
The law says, “This do and thou shalt live.” The converted man, over whose conscience the law exercises its power, regards it as the law of God. The fear of God is in his heart, and he would fain do what the law says. We speak here of the condition of one who is converted, not of a delivered soul. Since the law promised life to the one who kept it, it was accordingly given for life; but since the flesh is not subject to the law, it was found to be in reality for man unto death. The upright converted soul makes experience of this. It is well to remark here the difference between a natural man who has only conscience, and the condition of a man as here presented to us. The conscience discerns between good and evil. God has taken care that man, become a sinner, should bring conscience with him into the world. It condemns according to its nature what is evil; man none the less practises evil. A heathen, whose will is not changed, might say, ‘I approve indeed what is better, but I do not desire what is good, and follow what is evil.’ But it is not thus with the man of whom the apostle here speaks. His will is renewed; he delights in the law of God. That is the mind of Christ Himself, and proves that the man in whom this mind is found is converted, and in the bottom of his heart has received a new life. Conscience in the unconverted man leads him to acknowledge what is good; but the will of the flesh remains ever the same. He lives even in the flesh, has indeed a conscience, but not a new will. The will, on the contrary, is not lacking in the man described in Romans 7, but the power to do what he would. It is the condition of a soul which desires good which is in question here.
In verse 13, the apostle goes on to describe the effect of the law on the experience of the soul who thus desires what is good. In the previous verse it is recognised that the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. The question now naturally arises, “Was then that which is good made death unto me?” In nowise. But sin worked death by that which is good (the law) in order that sin might be fully manifested, might assume its true character, and become exceeding sinful, in that it has made use of what is good to bring about death. The evil does not manifest itself only as evil in itself, but also as disobedience, because it is forbidden, and thus through the prohibition becomes exceeding sinful. Sin in man has a strong will; in that he wills to do what is evil, even when God has forbidden it. If my child runs out to amuse himself instead of doing his tasks, it is a bad habit; but if I forbid him to run out, and he still goes on with the bad habit, it is disobedience besides. By the commandment sin has become exceeding sinful. It shews that in me not only were there evil lusts, but that self-will which commits the evil, in spite of God’s prohibition, is also there; God and His word are despised.
But we learn yet more from the law; namely, our weakness, even when we would do good. The converted but undelivered man does not find it in him to do what he desires to do; he lacks the power. He finds that he is carnal, sold under sin; that is to say, a slave to it. He knows that the law is spiritual; but he is in the flesh, carnal, under the yoke of sin, to which he is sold as a slave. Conscience is active in so far as by the law he knows the will of God, and he sees indeed in the law not only external precepts, but something which condemns the springs of evil in the heart. He may be outwardly blameless; Saul and many others were; but they were thereby full of self-righteousness. But the law in forbidding lust might as well forbid us to be men; therefore God has added the commandment, “Thou shalt not covet.”
It is not here, then, a question of what I have done, but of what I am, and thus for the first time I discover that in me there is no good thing. I would do good, but I do it not. I am under the yoke of sin in the flesh. I acknowledge that the law is good; I hate sin, and yet I do it. But what I hate, I am not myself; I do, indeed, hate it. Thus taught of God, I learn to distinguish between myself and what I do. As the apostle says, “Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.” Yet this is not liberty; that requires power. But it is none the less a very real comfort, by the way, to have learnt not only that in me dwells no good thing, but also to distinguish between me and the sin that dwells in me. I delight in the law after the inward man; the conscience is in activity, and the will is controlled. What is still wanting is power, and that is not there because of redemption not being fully known. We learn, experimentally, not only that we do nothing good, but also that we are unable to do it; the yoke of sin is ever there. And this is precisely what has to be learnt; viz., that one has “no strength” to do the will of God.
Up to this, then, three truths have been spoken of, which have to be learnt experimentally:
1. In the flesh dwells no good thing.
2. We have to distinguish between the self, that would do good, and the sin that dwells in us.
3. There is no power in us to overcome sin in the flesh as long as we are not delivered; we are rather overcome by it.
We cannot then deliver ourselves; on the contrary, we have to be delivered; and the soul must be brought to the knowledge of this. “Who shall deliver me?” is the expression of the consciousness that we cannot do it ourselves; we look round for another. That is what we have to learn, not our guilt, but our weakness—our utter powerlessness, our dependence upon God. But here there are several things for us to notice.
Only one who has been in this condition, and has come out of it, can describe it. It is impossible for a man, who has got into a bog, quietly to describe his situation as long as he is in it. He only feels that he is sinking and perishing, so that he can do nothing but call for help. But after he is delivered, he can calmly describe it all. One who has never been in such a situation might perhaps say to him, “Why did you not go on until you found a firm footing?” “Well,” may the other reply, “that is easily said, but in the bog when I lifted up one foot the other sank in all the deeper.” That is just the state of the soul in Romans 7, described, it is true, by a Christian who had himself been in it, but is now delivered. I say, “by a Christian”; for when the apostle says “we know” (ver. 14), this is Christian knowledge. But the experience is that of individual consciousness. Thus, when he says, “I am,” it is experience and not doctrine. Everything in the experiences communicated to us here is legal throughout. The person concerned consents to the law that it is good; yea, he delights in the law. The conscience and the will are right in divine things; but both have the law as object and measure. We do not hear a word of Christ or of the Spirit; the law is the only object before the soul. But in verse 25 true liberty is reached, and the delivered Christian thanks God. Conflict, it is true, continues; we find this in Galatians 5:16-18. But there it is said that the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, but the Spirit against the flesh. If, however, we are led by the Spirit we are not under the law; that is, not in the state described in Romans 7.
This deliverance stands in the closest connection with redemption, not so much with regard to forgiveness as with regard to our having died with Christ. We have already seen that there are two main points in redemption: namely, the forgiveness of sins, or justification, and deliverance: liberty before God, and liberty from the yoke of sin in the flesh. Now if we have died with Christ, we have died to sin, and are no longer in the flesh before God. Life in the flesh is no more our position, because Christ, after having died, has become our life. Sin in the flesh is judged, condemned—not forgiven— and that in the death of Christ on the cross. The power of the life of Christ is in me, is my life; yet not only that. Sin in the.flesh, which was my torment, is already judged, but in another; so that there is for me no more condemnation on account of the flesh. Death has entered in where this condemnation, the judgment of the flesh, has been executed, and those who are in Christ Jesus have died with Him, so that there is no more condemnation for them. What has happened to Him has happened to us; He died to sin, and the condemnation is passed. This is our condition with respect to sin in the flesh. If the first part of the epistle has shewn clearly how sins are taken away, we find here as clearly how sin in the flesh and condemnation are taken away; yea, for faith the flesh itself is done away with, since we are dead.
This condition is described in the first three verses of chapter 8. The Christian is in an entirely new position: he is in Christ. Not only has the grace of God been manifested in the sins of the old man being forgiven, but his position also is an entirely new one; we are redeemed. It does not say, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those whose sins are forgiven,” but “to them which are in Christ Jesus.” This position is the result of the work of Christ, of redemption. The Christian is delivered with Christ from his position in the flesh because he has died with Him, and has part in the life of the risen and glorified Christ. Thus he no longer stands before God as a child of Adam responsible in the flesh, but as one who has actually, by death, left this position, and who is alive in Christ. The flesh is considered as dead, as condemned, as no more to be seen, but as vanquished in the death of Christ. The Christian is alive in Christ; he is no longer in the flesh. (Compare Galatians 2:19, 20.)
The expression, “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus,” in the second verse of our chapter, may appear strange to many readers. It means, I believe, that the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus operates constantly, unceasingly, according to one and the same principle, in order that, since the flesh has been condemned in another, it should be dead in the believer. Through the life of Christ and the Holy Spirit the believer is in Christ. How could there be any more condemnation there? God has already occupied Himself with sin in the flesh at the cross, and now, if one may say so, is done with it. The new life and the Holy Spirit give to the quickened believer his place in Christ; he is redeemed and alive before God in Christ. It is not a question here, as already said, of forgiveness of the sins of the old man, but of a new living position in Christ. This is what is presented in the first three verses of chapter 8.
After that, in chapter 7, the experience of the first position, as well as deliverance through redemption in Christ, and the continuance of the two natures as an actual fact, have been described, the first three verses of chapter 8 give us the new position in Christ in contrast with the position in the flesh, or in the first Adam. In the first verse, no condemnation; in the second, the power of life; in the third, the judgment of sin in the flesh in Christ on the cross. The second verse is characterised by life in Christ according to the power of the Holy Spirit, and that as a principle unceasingly in operation. The judgment of sin in the flesh in the sin-offering of Christ marks the third verse. Sin is, indeed, still there, and, if we are not faithful, if we do not practically bear about with us the dying of the Lord Jesus, it is active in us; we lose communion with God, and dishonour the Lord by our behaviour, in not walking, according to the Spirit of life, worthy of the Lord. But we are no longer under the law of sin, but, having died with Christ, and become partakers of a new life in Him and of the Holy Spirit, we are delivered from this law. We are in a new position, in the second Adam before God, and our normal walk is according to the Spirit, not according to the flesh. Thus the law of God and its requirements are fulfilled in us. The doctrine does not go beyond that, because it is a question of one who desired the law.
But the law is not the measure of Christian walk; it only says that he who walks according to the Spirit fulfils it. When I was in the flesh I could not fulfil it, because the flesh is not subject to the law, nor can be, but only follows its own will. But the Spirit will assuredly not lead us into that which is contrary to the law of God. The law is practically fulfilled, while we are not under the law, but under the guidance of the Spirit. We are under the influence of the Spirit and it is not a question of a law outside us, but of a nature in us, which possesses an object suitable to it. They who live after the Spirit, according to the new man, desire the things of the Spirit; but they that are after the flesh set their minds on the objects of their fleshly lusts. We have not to do with an imposed law, but a new mind, the mind of a nature which is born of the Spirit, and which seeks what is spiritual; a holy liberty, in that the man, as having died with Christ, is delivered from the yoke of sin, possesses a holy nature born of God, has holy objects before him, and is the habitation of the Holy Spirit, who produces holy thoughts in the heart, and reveals the things that are above. The minding of the flesh is death to the soul; it bears no fruit, and separates the soul from God, now and for eternity. But the minding of the Spirit is life, a well in us which springs up into everlasting life, and fills the soul with peace. The mind of the flesh rebels against the authority of God. Inasmuch as it makes up the activity of the natural man, it has to do with the law, which is the expression of this authority of God over man, and the rule of his responsibility as a creature of God. But it is not subject to the law, neither indeed can be, because self-will will go its own way; besides it has no love whatever for what pleases God. Thus they that are in the flesh, who are found before God in the position of the first Adam, and walk according to the life of the first Adam, cannot please God.
In verse 9 we find a very important principle. When can one say, “I am not in the flesh”? The answer is: When the Holy Spirit dwells in him. A man may be converted, and yet be found in the condition described in chapter 7; as, for example, the prodigal son before he met his father. He was converted and in the right way, yet he desired only to become a hired servant of his father. But as soon as he had met his father we hear nothing more of that, but only of what his father was and what he did for him. Deliverance comes through the personal knowledge of what the Father is, known in Jesus Christ, through the knowledge of redemption. And this knowledge is only found in a soul in which the Holy Spirit dwells. A converted man, as such, is only in the Christian position when he has been anointed. When the prodigal son was on the way to his father’s house, his conscience and heart were reached by grace and rightly directed; but he was not yet clad in the best robe, nor did he yet know the father’s heart. He first entered upon the Christian position when he reached the father; and from that moment we hear no more of him, but only of the father. Before that, his condition was not fit for the house.
In verse 10 we see the other side of the Christian relationship. At the beginning of the chapter it says, “Which are in Christ Jesus”; and here, “If Christ be in you.” Thus on the one hand the Christian is in Christ; and on the other, Christ is in him. We are in Christ, according to His perfection before God; Christ in us is the ground and measure of our responsibility, but in which He is the source of our strength, and that according to what has been said in the beginning of the chapter. A Christian is a man who has not only been born again (which is absolutely necessary), but in whom also the Holy Spirit dwells. He directs the eye of the believer to the work of Christ, and teaches him to appreciate its worth. He it is who gives him the consciousness that he is in Christ, and Christ in him (John 14), and fills his heart with the hope of glory, with the certainty that he will be like Christ and with Christ for ever and ever. When the converted man knows that his sins are forgiven; when he can cry, “Abba, Father”; when he has the knowledge that for him there is no more condemnation, he is delivered; he stands in liberty before God, and is freed from the law of sin and death. But he is a full Christian, “perfect,” only when he understands by the Holy Spirit that he occupies the position of Christ, that God is his Father and God in the same manner as He is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ—when he understands that he has passed out of the position of Adam into the position of Christ, that he has died with Christ, and thus that it is no more he who lives, but Christ in him; Gal. 2:20.
This liberty is presented and developed very clearly in the Epistle to the Romans, but only so far as that the believer is there looked at as having died with Christ, and possessing Christ as his life, whereby he has been delivered from the law of sin, as well as from the law of Moses, because this has dominion over a man so long as he lives, and cannot go further. The epistle, however, does not take up the counsels of God and the glory of our new position, though this doctrine is approached in chapter 8:29, 30. But in general the epistle treats of man’s responsibility, as well as of what God has done to cleanse and to justify us from our guilt, teaching us at the same time how we have been delivered from the law of sin and death by our death with Christ. The above-mentioned verses open out a somewhat more extended view; but the new position is not further developed. The epistle does not go beyond the truth that we have been quickened by Christ; it does not speak of our resurrection with Him. This, the starting-point of our new position, we must look for in the Epistle to the Colossians. That to the Ephesians develops this doctrine yet further, from another point of view, however. There we do not find that a child of Adam must die, and rise again, and that the believer has died, although he is represented as risen with Christ. The unconverted man in the Ephesians, is looked at rather as dead in sins, and all is a new creation. We find there all the counsels of God, both as to believers raised with Christ, as to Christ Himself, as to the children of God, and our union with Christ as His body.
It is well to remark, that while the first three verses of chapter 8 give us the principles of deliverance, so the following eight verses describe the practical character and the result of deliverance. The Holy Spirit acts in the new life, instead of a law given outside it to which the flesh opposes an insuperable resistance. The Spirit furnishes the new life with heavenly objects, in which it finds its joy and sustenance. “The mind of the Spirit is life and peace.” All this depends on the dwelling of the Holy Spirit in us. “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” We have already said that the condition of such an one is similar to that of the prodigal son before he had found his father. If, on the other hand, the Spirit of Christ dwells in one who is converted, the body for him is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the body lives by virtue of its own life, it brings forth nothing but sin; the spiritual man, according to chapter 6, reckons it dead.
The Spirit is not to be separated from the new life. He is the source of the life, and characterises it. Now if the Spirit of Him who raised up Jesus dwells in us, He who raised up Christ from the dead will also quicken our mortal bodies on account of His Spirit which dwelleth in us. That is the blessed end of the life of the Spirit in Christ Jesus, or rather the beginning of it in its true perfection. The Spirit is God’s Spirit. God has raised up Jesus as Man—Jesus is His personal name. But it was not for Himself that He lay in death; Christ is His name, as come for others. If, then, the Spirit of God dwells in us, He who raised up the First-Begotten, will raise up also the sheep He has redeemed.
Three characteristic names are here attributed to the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of God (ver. 9) in contrast with the flesh; the Spirit of Christ as the formative power of the new man; and the Spirit of Him who raised up Christ from among the dead, because He is in us the pledge of our resurrection.
The glorious end of delivering grace is reached; the circumstances by which we are surrounded remain indeed the same; and the following verses of the chapter give us our position before God in connection with these circumstances.
“Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh” (v. 12). That brought us into a bad condition and a bad position; nor are we any longer in the flesh, but are delivered from it through redemption; through the Redeemer’s death we have been brought into a new position, of which we have also the consciousness by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. The two lives, the two principles, are directly opposed to each other; and it is important to observe (what has already been set forth as a principle in chapter 2) that where these natures act, they bring forth their natural results. I can overcome the flesh by the Spirit; I have the right and the duty to reckon it dead. But if the flesh lives, it brings forth death; and if I live according to the flesh, death is my lot. The nature, and the working of this nature—its result—are ever the same. God can give me a new nature, and—His name be praised for it—He gives it to me in Christ; and that in such a way that I have part in redemption, and in the power of the Spirit can overcome the old nature, and walk according to the Spirit. But the nature of the flesh is not changed essentially, any more than its consequences. If I live after the flesh I must die. Grace redeems; gives me a new life in which I walk after the Spirit and reckon the flesh dead; and, finally, it gives me the glory. But this new life does not live after the flesh; nay, it cannot do so. If I live after the flesh, I die, alienated from God; for the fruit and wages of the life of the flesh is death. But if through the Spirit I mortify the deeds of the body, I live, and shall live for ever with God from whom this life of my soul flows, and whose Spirit is its strength and guide.
This gives the apostle occasion to speak of the position of those led by the Spirit of God, and in the first place of their relationship to God. The Spirit that they have received is the Spirit of adoption; they possess Him because they are children. But extensive results in blessing flow from this relationship; if they are children, they are also heirs—heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ. Meanwhile the condition of the creation around us here below, and particularly that of our own bodies, is not yet restored. The mind of the flesh is enmity against God, just as also the friendship of the world is enmity against Him. The principles of the flesh, as of the world, are opposed to us; both are subject to the bondage of corruption. Moreover the world through which we have to pass as pilgrims, being alienated from God, and under the dominion of Satan, furnishes us with innumerable sources of sorrow and pain. The Lord Jesus was in this world “a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” A world of sin in contrast with His holiness, a world of sorrow and suffering in contrast with His love, could not but be for His heart a source of sorrow and pain. He found Himself isolated and alone in such a world, and not even His disciples understood Him. Full of sympathy for all, He found sympathy nowhere for Himself. If such did once break through the darkness of man’s heart, it was something so wonderful that the Lord says, “Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her,” Mark 14:9.
Could we, if we have the Spirit of Christ, go through such a world without feeling its condition? Should not our hearts be sad when at every step we see the dominion of sin, and have daily before our eyes the sorrows of sinful man, when we see that all is subject to the bondage of corruption? The time will come when we shall behold the universal blessing of the world, and when we shall rejoice with God Himself in it. But now, as those that are renewed in heart, and delivered, we can but suffer in the midst of an undelivered creation.
Let us remark, however, that this is suffering with Christ, not for Him. To suffer for Christ is a privilege, a special gift of God; Phil. 1:29. One cannot be a Christian without suffering with Christ; for how could the Spirit of Christ produce in us a different mind from that which was in Christ as He passed through this poor world? The glory of the children of God is a subject of hope; now the sufferings of Christ in weakness are reproduced in a heart in which Christ dwells. We suffer here, where Christ suffered, as joint-heirs of the kingdom of love, where all will be joy and gladness. Although we are already, as a present thing, children, or rather sons, and therefore heirs also, we do not yet possess the inheritance; indeed, we cannot yet possess it, for it is still corrupt, defiled, and in this condition would not be suitable for us. Christ is seated at the right hand of God until His enemies be made His footstool. Then shall we reign with Him and be like Him.
Therefore the apostle, who knew well what suffering was, could say, “I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” We possess the relationship of sons, and have besides the consciousness of it, and therefore no longer fear. Where there is fear, the heart has not the knowledge of this position. The Spirit in us cries, “Abba, Father!” and it cannot be otherwise, for He only came after all was accomplished which has placed us in this relationship. Christ has given us His own position before God. After accomplishing all that was requisite, as well for the glory of God as for our redemption, and, indeed, where it was necessary for both—namely, in the place of sin— “made sin,” as Man He has gone up into heaven. In Him a Man has entered into the glory of God, beyond sin, death, the power of Satan, the judgment of God against sin, so that He could send the message by Mary Magdalene— “Say to my brethren, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” Thereupon He sent down the Holy Spirit as the blessed result of His ascension as Man into heaven, after having accomplished all for our redemption. This Spirit dwells in believers who rest in the value of His blood, so that their body is a temple of the Holy Ghost; 1 Cor. 6. They are sealed by the Spirit and have the earnest of the inheritance, the consciousness that they are the children of God. He makes present to us Christ who is in heaven, and causes us to enjoy unseen things. It would therefore be impossible that He should be a Spirit of fear or of bondage.
But the operation of the Spirit in us is two-fold. He leads us to appreciate the glory that lies before us, and gives us the sense that the sufferings into which we are brought in endeavouring to reach this glory, and in faithfulness to Christ, are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us, so that we can pursue the path of God with fresh courage and endurance. He helps our weakness likewise, that we may take part, according to God, in these sufferings; and that, by the Spirit, our hearts may be vessels of sympathy answering to the heart of Christ, while by our groans we give expression before God to the groans of a suffering creation. What a precious position, to be able thus to realise His glory and love, who came down into the midst of a suffering creation, so that, while by our bodies having part in a fallen creation, our hearts by the Spirit can be the mouth-piece of the whole creation, and can express according to God its groans before Him. Into this feeling the heart of Christ entered to the full, in perfect love and perfection. Inasmuch as He, though truly Man, was in Himself absolutely free from sin, which had brought this suffering upon the creature, His sympathy with the consequences of sin for us was all the more perfect. “He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows,” Matt. 8:17. At the grave of Lazarus, seeing Mary and all the Jews weeping, He groaned in His spirit, and was troubled.54 To us also, though as fallen creatures, weak and imperfect, is given by the indwelling Spirit to take part in the sufferings of creation, and that not with selfish impatience, because we suffer ourselves, but according to God. The way the apostle presents the condition of creation around us will make this experience clearer; although we have already considered some points of it, we can nevertheless begin afresh at verse 19.
It has been already observed that we have to suffer in the world because it is all lying in sin and disorder, while we have been brought back to God; and further, that we have also to suffer in hearty because we dwell in the midst of an undelivered creation. But the eye of faith is directed to the glory which lies before us, and this joyful prospect, together with the fellowship which we enjoy with God, already down here, makes us realise that all around us is unreconciled.
This creation awaits its redemption; but it cannot be delivered and restored until the children of God, in the glory of the kingdom, are ready to take possession of it as joint-heirs with Christ. Christ sits at the right hand of God until these joint-heirs are gathered. It is a blessed thought, that as we have brought the earthly creation under the bondage of corruption, so now it must wait for our being glorified, to be restored and delivered from this bondage (v. 19). It is not the will of the creature that subjected it to this bondage; we have done it— but in hope; for this condition will not continue always: the creation will be restored. God, however, in the counsels of His grace, begins with the guilty, with those who are most alienated, with those in whom He will, in the ages to come, shew the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness towards us in Christ Jesus; Eph 2:7; compare Colossians 1:20, 21.
Creation, inasmuch as it is only physical, could not enter into the liberty of grace; it must await the liberty of the glory of the children of God. When they are delivered, and their bodies which belong to this creation are changed and glorified, and when Satan is bound, then the creature also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption in which it lies enthralled. For we know, we that are instructed in Christian doctrine—that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. We know it yet more because we have the firstfruits of the Spirit; and “we groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” Thus we wait to possess that which is saved in hope; not only to possess eternal life as life—that we have already— but to be glorified, by our bodies, which belong to this creation, being changed, and we made like unto Christ the Lord, according to the power whereby He is able to subdue all things unto Himself (Phil. 3:21).
Thus peace is made; our sins are put away, we have a new life, possess the earnest of the Spirit, the glory lies before us in hope, and we shall be like the Lord. But as long as we have not reached the glory, we groan with the creation. For while realising our glorious hope, we feel the sad condition of the whole creation being connected with it as fallen, by our bodies. Free before God, free from the law of sin and death, filled with the hope of glory, we are led, through the knowledge of this glory, and of the full deliverance of the creature, to groan, which is the expression of its groan to God. But our groaning is not a complaint, the fruit of discontent, but the operation of the Holy Spirit in the heart. The Spirit directs our eye to the glory, where we shall have no more occasion to groan; and leads us to feel according to the love of God, the suffering of a creation under bondage; we at the same time feel it, because by our bodies we still belong to it. The Spirit of God which dwells in us forms these feelings according to God. God searches the human heart, and He finds this operation of the Spirit in the heart of the delivered Christian. The Spirit Himself is there, the source of divine sympathy with a groaning creation (v. 27). The eye of the Christian will be, by the indwelling Holy Spirit, directed above, to the glory and the rest of God, where all is blessing. With joy he realises what is before him. But, as he is still in the body, he feels so much the more the condition of a fallen creation, shares its groans, and thereby becomes the voice of a creation groaning before God. But his groaning is in the spirit of love, according to God, because in his relationship with God he is perfectly free. With regard to his condition, he is saved in hope; but before God his heart is free in the consciousness of His love. He can rejoice in hope—the hope of glory; his conscience is perfect; the love of God is shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost. And thus according to this love he can sympathise with the universal misery around him. He knows not, it is true, what remedy he ought to look for in his prayers; perhaps there is none. But love can express the needs, and does it according to the operation of the Spirit; and although the Christian does not know what he should ask for, He who searches the hearts finds the mind of the Spirit in his groans; for it is the Spirit that in the depths of the heart gives expression to the feelings of need. Being ourselves still in the body, and as to our own condition forming part of the groaning creation and awaiting the redemption of our bodies, our sympathy is the more heartfelt.
But although we know not what we ought to pray for, yet there is what we know with perfect certainty, namely, that God makes all things work together for good to them that love Him, whom He has called according to His purpose.
What privilege is ours through grace—privilege that we enjoy by the Holy Ghost! We are children of God, we know our relationship with God, and can realise it by the Holy Ghost; we cry, “Abba, Father!” are children, therefore heirs—heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ. The Spirit reveals to us our inheritance, and gives us to understand what it is. We shall be like Christ in the rest of God, and in His own rest—perfectly to the glory of Christ, and shall reign with Him over all things. As men upon earth we lift our eyes to the glory of God which is our hope, and which we shall share with Christ, there where all is pure conformably to the purity of God. Looking at this poor world, our hearts are filled with the love of God, in which we share the sufferings of an undelivered creation, and that according to God; so that He who searches the hearts finds therein the mind of the Spirit, who produces in us this sympathy with the sufferings of the fallen creation in order that we in our groans may become the mouthpiece of the creation before God. And as from our lack of intelligence we do not always know what we should pray for, the word of God comforts us with the assurance that God, according to His own will and love, makes all things work together for our good.
This leads the apostle to say a few words as to the counsels of God, although this is not the subject of the epistle. He does so only to shew the foundation of all blessing. Otherwise the epistle treats, as already remarked, of man’s responsibility, as well as of the grace and the work of God to deliver us from the consequences of this responsibility.
God acts constantly in behalf of those who are called, for they are foreknown; and whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son. Moreover, “Whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” All is grace, and therefore all is secure. Thus also God does not terminate the course of the manifestations of His grace until the object is attained; the activity of God’s grace does not cease until they that are called are glorified. The whole teaching of the gospel leads us back to God and to His thoughts, which cannot fail, and cannot be hindered. And there we find, His name be praised for it, that God is for us. The apostle develops this doctrine in verses 31-39. We see the proof of God’s being for us, first, in what He gives, then in His justifying us, and, finally, in that nothing can separate us from His love. Such is the blessed consequence of the whole teaching of the Epistle, “God is for us”; that is the source of blessing; that is the conclusion the heart draws from all that is here revealed of Him. Not only has the righteousness of God been glorified and satisfied in the work of Christ, but we see also that the love of God is the source of all; and that changes all our thoughts as to God. It was just on this point that the doctrine of the reformers of the sixteenth century was defective. Far be it from me to depreciate the value of these men. No one could be more thankful for the deliverance from superstition which we gained by the Reformation; no one can more highly appreciate than, I do the faith of those who even sacrificed their lives for the truth. It would be impossible for me now quietly to write of what was wanting in their doctrine, if they had not joyfully given up their lives for the maintenance of the truth. Nevertheless, the truth remains ever the same in the word of God. The reformers taught, it is true, that Christ had done all that was requisite to satisfy the righteousness of God, but not that it was the love of God that gave the Lamb, His own Son, to accomplish the work. According to them, God was ever the Judge, reconciled indeed to us through the work of Christ, but not known as the One who loved us when we were yet sinners. In John 3:14 the Lord says, “The Son of man must be lifted up,” for God is a holy and righteous God. Then in verse 16 follows the motive of all: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son.” The practical consequence of the teaching of the reformers was—not that they thought of or perhaps desired it—that the love is in Christy and that God sits on the judgment-seat as a cold Judge. But “grace reigns through righteousness,” Rom. 5:21. In the day of judgment righteousness will reign. Love has established the righteousness of God in our favour in Christ. Righteousness was needed; love has provided it.
Thus we know that God is for us according to His infinite love, and according to His eternal and immutable righteousness. The first proof of it is that He spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us; “how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” Yes, we can count on Him to give us every good thing; but how can He, the Holy One, be for us in view of our sins? It is just in that, that we have seen how fully He is for us, for He has given His Son even for our sins. “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? “God Himself justifies us, who shall condemn us? Let us observe that all is here attributed to God. It does not say, we are justified before God, but “It is God that justifieth”; so that the apostle may well exclaim, “Who is he that con-demneth,” whoever he may be?
Then he changes somewhat the form of the sentence. He must think of Christ, and then through Him he sees also all the difficulties of the way disappear. Not as though they did not exist; they are there; but they disappear because Christ Himself has passed through every difficulty. Become man, in His love, He has experienced all the trials of the way, all human sorrow, all that in which the enemy has sought to oppose the faithful servant of God in the path of holiness, even unto death. Accordingly, not only do we overcome, by His assured power, but we make experience of His love in a special manner. The sufferings are the pledge of a better glory; and while as Man He has passed through everything, as God He has thereby proved His infinite love, and we know that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.
In every respect God is for us. Precious truth! He has given His own Son, He will give us all things. He Himself justifies us, who shall condemn us? And nothing can separate us from the love that has been thus proved. All that is against us on the way to glory cannot, as the creature, be greater than He who is above all. God is for us in Christ, in Him who overcame all. Not only is the path which He trod—as Man so as to suffer, and as God to manifest all love in the sufferings— the proof of His love, but, following Him in this path, we also experience His love. Nothing can separate us from this love.
The doctrine of the epistle closes with chapter 8. The two principal questions which concern man as a sinner—his guilt and his sinful condition; in other words, what he has done and what he is—have been fully treated. Christ died for our sins, so that we (believers) are justified; and we have died with Christ, so that we are delivered from the power of sin and the flesh. All the deeds of the flesh are forgiven us, and we are no more in the flesh, but in Christ. There is, therefore, no more condemnation for us, and no more separation from God.
But this doctrine, complete in itself, still left a difficult question unanswered; that is, in respect to the condition of the Jews. The apostle has clearly demonstrated that the Jew is guilty because he has transgressed the law, and that consequently there is no difference between the Jews and the heathen; all have sinned, are guilty before God, and subject to His judgment. The Jews could not deny that they had transgressed the law; but they could appeal to the unconditional promises made to them in Abraham and their other forefathers. Now chapters 9-11 meet these difficulties.
There are undoubtedly unconditional promises made to the Jewish nation. But, in the first place, they are not all Israel that are of the stock of Israel; and what is still more important, they have rejected Him in whom these promises were to be fulfilled, and in whom their fulfilment was offered to them, thereby losing all right to such fulfilment; “they stumbled at that stumbling-stone.” But then, after that all blessing, for them no less than for the heathen, is become a matter of pure mercy, the apostle shews that God, who is unchangeably faithful, will in grace accomplish all that He has promised. We find the proof of these principles in chapters 9-11.
In the first place, the apostle gives expression to his unalterable love for his people. His heart was filled with sorrow at their rejection; yea, so far was he from being indifferent as to this, that he would rather have seen himself accursed, separated from Christ, than the beloved people. As Christ Himself, when from the summit of the Mount of Olives He saw Jerusalem stretched out before His eyes, wept over it on account of the hardness of heart of the people, or as Moses once (Exod. 32:32) interceded for the idolatrous people, so here we find the apostle giving expression to the same feelings of love and sorrow. This wish was not the expression of serious and calm deliberation, neither did it belong to the moment then present; but it had arisen from a heart deeply oppressed by the thought of the rejection of the people beloved of God—his kinsmen according to the flesh. It was the exclamation of a heart unable to repress its overwhelming feelings. He enumerates their privileges up to the Messiah descended from them according to the flesh, for his heart was yet full of all that appertained to them in connection with God. Moreover, he does not speak as if the word of God had failed in its object, “For they are not all Israel which are of Israel, neither because they are the seed of Abraham are they all children.” In Isaac only had the seed the children’s place before God. The children of the flesh are not on that account children of God, but the children according to the promise are alone counted for the seed. Ishmael did not belong to this seed of God; for the word, “At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son,” is a word of promise, and does not refer to Ishmael. If it be objected, “But Hagar was only a bondwoman, a concubine,” such, however, was not the case with Rebekah; and to her it was said concerning the children which should be born of her—of her only, and at the same time, and that before they were born, or had done either good or evil (that the purpose of God according to the election of grace might stand)— “The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written: Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” If, then, the Jews would not recognise God’s sovereignty, but desired to take their stand upon their descent from Abraham after the flesh, they must also allow the Edomites and Ishmaelites to have part in the promises; this, however, they would not tolerate.
However, important as this may be, it is not all that the apostle has to bring forward as proof of his position. He asks, “Is there unrighteousness with God? Far be the thought.” According to His divine title He can without doubt shew mercy to whom He will, as He says also to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.” “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.” And what was the occasion on which God spoke thus to Moses? When Israel had made the golden calf, at a time when God, if He had not retreated into His own sovereignty in which He was free to shew grace, must have destroyed the whole nation except Moses and Joshua; so that then, according to the carnal Jewish principle, the Ishmaelites and Edomites must have become heirs of the promises, while Israel would have been shut out. We find the same principle in Israel’s deliverance out of bondage in Egypt. God had not made Pharaoh’s heart bad, it was so already; but He hardened it, that He might glorify His name and power in all the earth. Thus He shews mercy to whom He will, and whom He will He hardens. His ways with Israel were a clear and indisputable proof of it; for otherwise their enemies would have become heirs of the promises, but they themselves would have been excluded, and the glorious beginning of their history would have been falsified.
Further, the apostle proceeds to consider the doctrine which is connected with this exposition, and applies the whole to the ways of God with Israel and with the heathen of that time, anticipating the objections of the flesh. What becomes, then, of man’s responsibility? Why does God still impute sin to man? Who hath resisted His will? The apostle answers these questions in a threefold manner. First, as creatures of God we have not the right to judge His actions; that which is formed cannot say to Him who formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? This absolute right of God forms the foundation of the apostle’s argument. If the rights of the creature must be maintained, how much more then must the Almighty God have His own? He judges men, but men are not competent to judge Him. The apostle here comes to facts, and shews how God had endured the wicked with much long-suffering, in order to make known His power despised by them, and has revealed His wrath against hardened wickedness in them; how, on the other hand, He makes known the riches of His glory in the vessels of mercy which He had afore prepared unto glory. God is not subject to the opinions of men; but the order of His revealed ways is, that He endures the wicked for whom judgment is meet, and prepares the vessels of mercy for glory, that is to say, Christians from among the Jews and Gentiles. The force and bearing, thus, of the apostle’s argument is this: If God is not entirely free to act according to His election and His determinate^, purpose, and the Jews would rely upon their natural descent (as they actually did), then they must admit the Ishmaelites; but if they refuse their admittance on the pretext that Ishmael was the son of a slave, on no pretext can they reject the Edomites. Not only so, but with the single exception of the family of Moses, and perhaps that of Joshua, the Jews themselves would have had to be excluded, because it was only by the will of God that they were spared at Sinai. Since, however, God does what He wills, He also saves souls from amongst the Gentiles, as it is written in Hosea. The apostle says, in verse 24, “Us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles.” Accordingly verse 25 has its application to the people of Israel; verse 26, however, to the Gentiles, who are not called His people, but “sons of the living God.” Peter, writing to the Jews, quotes only the first passage. Paul brings forward besides a passage from the prophet Isaiah, in proof of God’s having foreseen and predicted the setting aside of Israel. A remnant only should be spared; had this not been the case they would have “been as Sodom, and been made like unto Gomorrha.”
The Gentiles, who followed not after righteousness, had then attained to righteousness, but the righteousness which is of faith; whilst Israel, following after the law of righteousness, missed the mark. And why? Because they sought righteousness by means of the law, and not by faith. “For they stumbled at that stumbling-stone; as it is written, Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling-stone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.”
The apostle then enters more fully into this subject—the difference between legal righteousness, and that which is by faith, the righteousness of God. This is of the utmost importance. Legal righteousness is human righteousness. True, there is no such thing; but conscience feels, and rightly so, that man must have righteousness. Where there is confidence in self, one presumes to accomplish this righteousness, and to be able to offer it for God’s acceptance. That man is responsible is perfectly true; but not only has he never fulfilled his responsibility, but he has not even made a beginning, because the flesh is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. The carnal man is contrary to God. The righteousness of God is in God Himself, in His being; it is exercised in grace towards men, and imputed to them through Christ. One’s own righteousness is nothing but pride and want of conscience; it is only found where the heart is not divinely enlightened. For the light of God gives us clearly to know that we are sinners, and brings this upon the conscience before God. In this light the law also, applied by the Holy Spirit, can convince of sin, but it cannot produce righteousness for us; for the ministry of the law is the ministry of death and condemnation; 2 Cor. 3.
The righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel (Rom. 1:17); and we have become this righteousness in Christ; 2 Cor. 5:21. Let us examine how this has taken place. On the cross Christ was made sin for us, and there bore all the believer’s sins. In this position He perfectly glorified God— His majesty, truth, righteousness against sin, His love to sinners, yea, all that He is; and that by having proved His obedience unto death, and His love to His Father in perfect self-sacrifice. The proof of the righteousness of God, and that with regard to what He is in Himself, to what sin is, and what it is in relation to Him, is now shewn in God’s having glorified Christ, who perfectly glorified Him in all that He is, in this place of sin, where by man’s sin, all this had been dishonoured; and His having set at His own right hand the Man who died—His own Son—and crowned Him with divine glory. This is what the Lord says in view of His death after Satan had entered into Judas. “Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him,” John 13:31, 32. The Son of man has glorified God on the cross, and God has glorified Him with Himself. A man is ascended into the glory of God. (See John 17:4, 5; Phil. 2:5-11.) The righteousness of God has been revealed in that He has given Christ, who glorified Him, a place with Himself in divine glory. In John 16:10 this is expressly declared. The descent and presence of the Holy Ghost upon earth is the proof of righteousness, because, since it did not believe on the Son, but had rejected Him, there was none in the world. The presence of the Saviour in heaven at the right hand of God is, likewise, the proof of the righteousness of God: the same Person who was rejected by the world, has been accepted by God, and is now, as come in grace, for ever separated from the world.
But now the question arises, How can we have part in this? It is because the work which placed Him in the glory was accomplished for us. Through it He has glorified God. If we, who believe on Him, were not justified and made like Him, He would not see of “the fruit and travail of his soul.” It forms part of the righteousness of God to give Him this fruit. Individually, of course, He is glorified; but a Redeemer without the redeemed would have lost the reward of His work and sufferings. We form part of the glory of Christ; and it is a deep source of joy to our souls that we, by our likeness to Him, in eternity shall be the proof of the value of the work of Christ. God only manifests His righteousness towards Christ in giving us the same glory with Him. How sure is our hope! We shall be with Him in the righteousness of God throughout eternity.
The Jews wanted to have their own righteousness according to the law—a human righteousness, had such a thing existed, which, however, was not the case; therefore they stumbled at Christ, the stone of stumbling, because for this purpose He had to be abased. His death was necessary to redeem us, and to acquire righteousness for us, and even glory, according to the counsels of God. Thus Christ was the end of the law for righteousness to every believer. It was impossible for the law to be maintained any longer as the rule and measure of righteousness for man, after divine righteousness had been revealed in Christ, and bestowed on believers. The righteousness of the law was human, and besides, did not exist at all; the righteousness imputed in grace to the believer was divine and perfect. The law has not lost its validity for those who were under it, for they who have sinned under the law shall be judged according to the law. But we have died with and in Christ, and the law has dominion over a man only so long as he lives. Whoever wants human righteousness must accomplish it for himself, for the man which doeth the requirements of the law shall live by them.
The apostle then quotes a passage from the Book of Deuteronomy (chap. 30:12-14), on which I would say a word. Moses had in this book declared the commandments of God, to the observance of which was attached the possession of the land into which Israel should be introduced. He had presented the blessings as consequent upon obedience, and the curse as consequent upon disobedience. Then in the chapter quoted (ch. 30) it is presupposed that Israel, in consequence of their disobedience, would lose the land; and a promise is given as to what the mercy of the Lord would do, after the people, languishing in captivity, are through grace brought to repentance. As this promise will be fulfilled in Christ, the apostle applies verses 12-14 to Christ. It is impossible for Israel to fulfil the law in a strange land; but when the people return in heart and in obedience to Jehovah, then God will bless them, although the law could not be observed. And since the doing of the law was impossible, this blessing will take place on the ground of a righteousness which is of faith, as Paul shews in verse 6. Therefore Christ, being Himself for the Jew the object of hope, is here introduced as the restorer of the nation. The apostle says it is not necessary to go far, to ascend or descend, to find Christ. If the word, which, according to the power of the Holy Ghost, reveals Christ as risen from among the dead, is in the heart; if in sincerity of heart one confesses Him, one is saved. “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth [that is to say openly] confession is made unto salvation.” And this applies to the Gentiles quite as much as to the Jews, for “whosoever believeth on him [whoever he may be] shall not be ashamed.” There is no difference between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich in grace towards all that call upon Him. How beautiful this verse is when one compares it with chapter 3:22, 23. There, there is no difference, for all have sinned; here, no difference, for the same Lord over all is rich in grace towards all that call upon Him. “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (v. 13). But to be able to call upon Him one must believe on Him; and to be able to believe on Him, one must have heard of Him; but to hear of Him, He must be preached, and for that there must be a preacher. As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (ver. 15); that is to say, divine blessings. But all have not obeyed the gospel, as Isaiah says: “Lord, who hath believed our report?” So then, faith is by a report, the report is by the word of God.
The apostle then alludes to the relative position of the Jews and Gentiles, with regard to this report. Of the Jews Isaiah says, “Who hath believed our report?” But it was the purpose of God that the testimony should sound forth to the ends of the earth, and be heard by the heathen. For Moses says that God would provoke Israel to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation would anger them. “But Esaias was very bold and saith: I was found of them that sought me not, I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me. But to Israel he saith: All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.” Israel accordingly fell under God’s judgment, was excluded from His presence, and, on the ground of responsibility, had lost all claim to the promises. Was he then rejected for ever? By no means. Such is the answer, the teaching of the following chapter.
Israel is the subject of God’s counsels. God does not cast away what He has foreknown and appointed to blessing. This rests upon positive grace; God does not change His counsels though Israel have no righteousness. The righteousness of God will save him. God is faithful, if all men are liars. “I say then,” says the apostle, “God hath not cast away his people.” The apostle gives three proofs of this truth. First, there was a remnant according to election; next, salvation is come unto the Gentiles to provoke the Jews to jealousy: thirdly, the Deliverer shall come out of Zion to turn away the ungodliness of Israel.
We have here much to consider. The first proof was that there was a remnant. The apostle gives the instance of Elijah. The faithful prophet believed that he alone remained of godly men. Faithful though he was, this was pure unbelief. God had reserved for Himself seven thousand that had not bowed down to Baal. The eye of God better knew how to discern His own, was more faithful in taking account of them, than was the faith of the prophet, dismayed by the threats of Jezebel, to seek them out and find them. And so at the time of the apostle there was a remnant according to the election of grace. But if it was according to grace, it was not according to works, otherwise grace was no more grace. Thus Israel had not obtained what he sought for. The election had obtained it. The others were blinded, and that according to the words of the prophet; Isa. 29:10. What David had said was confirmed by the words of the prophet. Their table would become a snare and a trap unto them. Did they then stumble that they should fall? By no means. Rather through their fall salvation had come unto the Gentiles, to provoke them to jealousy. Now, if their fall had become the riches of the Gentiles and of the world, how much more their fulness! Consequently the apostle of the Gentiles magnified his office, because it served to provoke Israel to jealousy. He sought thereby to constrain some of them to this jealousy. For if the casting away of them were the reconciling of the world, what would the receiving of them be? For they shall certainly be brought back. But this gives occasion to the statement of the relation borne to the Jews by the Gentiles that were accepted, and of the responsibility of the latter in the position in which they were placed: a statement covering principles of the highest importance.55
54 Both the words employed here in the original Greek are very strongly expressive of inward emotion.
55 The above (in German, from which this is a translation) was broken off by the last illness of the writer.