We have seen in Romans 7, first, the doctrine in the opening verses; then the discussion of the manner in which the law works in the soul that is born again but that does not realize the deliverance with which he began, not only conflict under law but the discovery of the two natures, and besides of one’s own powerlessness though renewed — an experience which closes however not in the utter wretchedness which is its immediate result but in looking completely out of self to God’s deliverance in and through Christ, though the two natures abide none the less for all that, each with its own unchanged characteristics.
The beginning of Romans 8 is in some respects (as indeed in a larger sense is the entire chapter) a summary and conclusion in relation to the previous reasoning. Still the argument and the revelation of the truth are also pushed on, though there is allusion to the points already cleared in the discussion from Romans 5:12 to the close of Romans 7. Nothing can well be conceived more striking than the grandly explicit, and distinct, and comprehensive affirmation of verse 1. “There is therefore now no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus.” It is the broad truth laid down with all clearness for all who are set in this new place of acceptance — “in Christ Jesus.” For such he could not say more, he would not say less, as to the question before us; and what he says is said absolutely and peremptorily. There is purposely no loophole for modifying or enfeebling the deliverance.
Therefore I cannot at all agree with those who admit that the clause in the received text and ordinary translation is (i.e., thus the latter half in the Authorized Version)23 immaterial. Believing it to be spurious on the best and ample authority, I am of opinion that it is of great importance to the force of the passage that the gloss added should be rejected. These words are of the greatest value in verse 4; they are an incubus, a dead weight, in verse 1. Here. they would necessarily tend to act as a qualifying clause and throw the soul on an examination of walk as the means of certifying that one is in Christ Jesus. Now the duty of self-judgment as to my heart and ways is freely admitted; but it is not the way to ascertain that I am in Christ. If I did gather from my walk and spirit the assurance of such a standing for my soul, it would be in the highest degree self-righteous and presumptuous. The man whose assurance was founded on the good estimate he had formed of his own inward and outward ways would be an object not enviable but of the deepest pity. The true place of self-judgment for the Christian according to scripture is, while holding fast that by grace we are in Christ and hence possessors of the highest privileges, that we should detect our shortcomings and their causes in order to humble ourselves for practical inconsistencies of any kind measured by that exalted standard. If introduced here, it would dislocate all truth, impair all grace, and eventually destroy all the springs of power in walk.
The passage then in its true form denies all condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. It is not sins proved nor sins remitted in God’s righteousness through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; nor is it even the love of God shown so much the more because the object of it is a sinner ungodly and without strength. All this is in view of the sinner as such, though supposed to believe in Jesus. But here the old man is seen to be crucified, and the believer dead with Christ and alive to God in virtue of Him risen from the dead. In a word, they are viewed as being in an altogether new place, in Christ Jesus; where condemnation is not, and cannot be. It is not a question of degree but an absolute fact, true of all real Christians. They are one as much as another in Christ Jesus and outside condemnation. To say that in proportion as he is imbued with the Spirit of Christ he is free from condemnation is to miss the truth here revealed, however momentous it surely is for the Christian to be thus imbued. But here I repeat it is a question of the place grace gives them in Christ and not of their measure of making it good in feeling and ways. “In Christ” rightly understood precludes all question of degree or doubt quoad hoc. Bring in the walk, and therein at once we find abundant grounds, I will not say for doubt (which is always unjustifiable and profitless), but for sorrow and humiliation, and the more so because we are “in Christ Jesus.”
We have seen the precious principle of no condemnation to those that are in Christ Jesus re-asserted with yet greater strength and absoluteness than when first introduced in the latter half of Romans 5. Not only are such not condemned, but there is no condemnation for them. They are in Christ, and there no possible condemnation can reach. Undoubtedly they are justified; but what is said goes farther than justification by blood. Justifying of life is supposed; but there is more, as we shall see presently. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus freed me from the law of sin and death.”
Questions have been raised here as to “the law,” used at the beginning and at the end of this sentence. There is no real difficulty nor ground for doubt. The apostle has already given us to see his use of the term for a given principle acting uniformly, as when he speaks of “law of faith” (Rom. 3:27) in contrast with “law of works;” and later still “law in my members,” or “of sin,” there contradistinguished from the law of my mind.”
The meaning then is the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus acting constantly to a given end. Undoubtedly this is only since the gospel was preached, but it does not therefore mean the gospel. Nor does the apostle say life only, but “the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” In the distressing conflict under law, described in the latter portion of Romans 7, there was life: else there would have been insensibility to sin; but not the power of the Spirit working in and with it: else there would have been liberty, and not the bondage that there was then.
John 20:22 may illustrate the expression. The Spirit is not apart from quickening the soul; but here was more. It was life more abundantly, life in resurrection. Jesus risen breathed on the disciples, already quickened, and said “Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” It was not mere conversion; still less was it the appointment to an office or the conferring of a gift (
χάρισμα). It was life according to the position of Jesus now risen from the dead and no longer under law, and with this the Spirit is distinctly associated. The fruit of this we see in the disciples thenceforward. It is not that they might not make mistakes in thought, or word, or deed; but we see after this a liberty, joy, and intelligence unknown before.
So here “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus freed me from the law of sin and death.” For the last time in this discussion the “me” is spoken of. If the distress was personal, so is the deliverance; if he had reasoned out the case of one bound under law, transferred in its application to himself, so to himself he transferred the application of the freedom enjoyed. Sin and death were no longer a governing principle, and this by the very fact of the life in Christ which he had by the Spirit. It is not, as Theodore of Mopsuestia (in loc. p. 67, ed. Fritzsche) thinks, and many since, that he is anticipating the resurrection or future state, but the actual condition of the Christian. The freedom was his by the Holy Ghost when he left off seeking victory over indwelling evil by efforts under law, was willing to yield himself up as powerless for the good he desired, and submitted to the righteousness of God. Then the Spirit working in the life given proved Himself to be not of weakness any more than of fear; but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
Thus it is plain that the resurrection of Christ, which is the fountain of the life as we have it in Him, is the link between our justification and the practical holiness which God looks for and secures in the Christian. It is erroneous to treat this verse, or even the first, as a mere summary of justification. Calvin is nearer the mark than such as Haldane and Hodge who so limit it. Nevertheless, as I do not think the leader of Geneva warranted to speak as he does of the apostle’s language, so it appears to me that he betrays his own defective acquaintance with the gospel in the same sentence. “By the law of the Spirit he improperly designates the Spirit of God, who sprinkles our souls with the blood of Christ, not only to cleanse us from the stain of sin as regards guilt, but to sanctify us to true purity.”24 The mistake is exclusively in the commentator, who did not comprehend the profound and accurately expressed wisdom of the apostle. To have confessed his own ignorance, when he found himself out of his depth, would have been more modest, rather than to have adopted language hard to reconcile with a becoming sense of God’s word. Does He call things improperly? Thus far Calvin’s temerity, the more glaring because of the ignorance betrayed in what follows. For we have here to do, not with the blood of Christ sprinkling souls, but with the Spirit acting with the fixity of a law in the life which is ours in Christ — a life which is in resurrection power and hence has freed us from the power of sin and death: otherwise sin and death must have governed. It is no question of pardon here but freedom from the constant operation of sin and its wages. Our very life, now that the Spirit is given, declares and proves us freed.
“The law of sin and death” does not mean the law of God, as some of the divines strangely said through making “the law of the Spirit” to be the gospel; it simply means the uniform principle of the flesh in moral character and in result. Power is in the Spirit who has shown us our place in Christ and set us free as alive to God in Him. Thus the common place of no condemnation to those that are in Christ is shown to be inseparable from a new life in the power of the Spirit in Christ risen, which freed us from sin and death as a law; and this is made intensely personal. “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus freed me from the law of sin and death.” The next two verses will explain how God in His grace has effected this, without enfeebling, yea, maintaining in no other way so well, His holy condemnation of evil — of our evil.
Evidently, then, the resurrection, the death and resurrection of Jesus, is the basis of all this doctrine. It was viewed as the seal of redemption at the close of Romans 4. For He was delivered up for our offences and raised for our justification. But there is much more in His resurrection. It is a spring of life, and this too in the manifestation of victory over all the consequences of sin and death. Such is the power of Christ’s resurrection even now for the believer as far as concerns the soul. And herein lies the real and mighty link between justification and practical holiness. Not only has the Christian been justified by blood, but he has justifying of life in Christ; yea, the life of Him risen from the dead when all charge and judgment have had their course, sin been put away, and God glorified. Where this truth is not seen, a godly soul may well have fears, if not anxieties, as to the issue, and must naturally insist on the guards due to the grace of God in redemption; where it is simply and fully seen, there must be — there ought to be — confidence in the heart purified by faith. Not that there is not here below the need of habitual self-judgment; but, along with this, one is entitled, in looking to Christ dead and risen, to be as sure of the character of His life as of the efficacy of His blood. In both the believer finds his blessedness. But some, it must be spoken to their shame, are ignorant of the true character of God and of deliverance in and by Christ the Lord. Emancipation from the law of sin and death is the effect, as the apostle declares, of the law of the Spirit of life in the Saviour. The moral ground of this on God’s part is shown in verse 3, the practical result on our part in verse 4.
The same uncertainty which obscures the force of verses 1, 2, prevails as to verses 3, 4. Some regard the question handled as exclusively justification; others as no less exclusively the extirpation of the dominion of sin. It appears to me certain, that, while the subject is sin rather than sins, the apostle is summing up, and hence not confining himself to a single point, and that each of the contending parties has missed not only truth held by their opponents, but much which both have failed to see. Imperfect views of redemption occasion, if they are not the same thing as, these defects. The new place of the believer is feebly seen on either side. With this the chapter opens, not Christ in the believer (though this is also true, and will be shown shortly in the chapter), but the believer in Christ, and hence “no condemnation” proclaimed. Next, it is shown that the very life given, being in the power of the Spirit, the life of Christ risen, is the witness of our deliverance. Neither sin nor death remains a law to us, as we see in the state described in Romans 7. But there is more. The powerlessness of the law is confronted with the efficacy of redemption, and this to the moral end of the believer’s practical obedience. Such is the outline and connection of the four verses, as will appear more in detail presently.
“For what the law could not do, in that25 it was weak through the flesh,26 God having sent his own Son in likeness of flesh of sin, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not according to flesh but according to Spirit.” (Ver. 3, 4.)
There is no need to supply anything, as the first clause, grammatically, is in apposition with what follows; doctrinally, in contradistinction. It was not within the power of the law to meet the case, for though law spiritually applied might detect sin, the characteristic sin of fallen human nature, it must condemn the person too in whom the sin was found. It was therefore wholly unavailing for the purposes of grace; it could curse, it could sentence, it could not save. It was essentially therefore for sinful man a ministry of condemnation and of death. “The flesh,” or natural condition of the race, was a state that admitted of no alternative. God would and did take the matter in hand, not by Moses through whom the law was given, but by the mission of His own Son. “Grace and truth came — was — through Jesus Christ.” Then, and by Him only, was this seen in the world. “The Word was made flesh.” God sent Him in likeness of flesh of sin, in real flesh and blood; not like a man, but in truth a man; in likeness not of flesh, but of flesh of sin. Such was the flesh of His mother, and of her was He born as truly as any son of any mother; but without an earthly father as to His birth. What was begotten in Mary was of the Holy Ghost. Wherefore also the Holy Thing that was in due season born was called the Son of God — for this reason of His supernatural and holy generation; though for higher reasons also of divine and eternal glory, of which not Luke but John is the appointed herald.
God sent Him then in likeness of flesh of sin, not in sinful flesh, but in its likeness; and in Him, the Son, the Father was glorified in a world departed from God, of which Satan was the prince; tried as never man was tried, and found perfect in each and all, in word and deed, in thought and feeling, inwardly, outwardly, every way, perfect; as God the Father had never before found in anyone or anything. Yet blessed and refreshing as is such a sight in such a world, and in such a nature, fraught with infinite results for the divine glory, all had come to nought for the deliverance of any from sin’s guilt or power, if God had done no more. Christ had glorified the Father as a holy, obedient, dependent man, who never did, never sought His own will, but God’s. But man was wilful, wretched, guilty, lost. God sent His own Son therefore, not alone as the exhibition of human perfection, and divine grace and truth withal, but also “for sin,”
περὶ ἁμαρτίας. It is the very reverse of an indefinite statement, being the well-known technical expression for sin-offering (as in Heb. 10, and the LXX.), and therefore distinctly pointing to the death, as the previous clause to the life, of Christ.
Thus was solved the otherwise insoluble problem: God had done it in and by His own Son to His own glory, and thus holily and righteously for sinful man. Impossible without the death of the Son of God. But now in Him, a sacrifice for sin (not more acceptable in His life than a sin-bearer in death, when consequently God must and did forsake even Him), God executed sentence of condemnation, not on sinners but on sin, sin in the flesh, and this expiatorily; for He made Jesus, who knew no sin, sin for us, that we might become God’s righteousness in Him. There is therefore now no condemnation to those that are in Christ Jesus. Not only has the Christian a new life in Christ risen by the Spirit, of which the law is liberation and liberty; but God laid the moral ground for such grace as this, in the utter condemnation of sin in the flesh, by His manifestation to take away our sins, in whom is no sin.
Thus was vindicated the free gift of God to us, eternal life, the righteous groundwork on which even now we possess in Christ that risen life with which no sin ever mingles, though we have still the old and evil nature of our own to mortify day by day.
And if the Son of man was glorified, and God glorified in Him thus, was there no present moral result in those whose new life He was in the infinite grace of our God? This could not be; and the apostle adds in the next words the answer. God so wrought in Christ, in order that the requirement (the righteous claim,
τὸ δικαίωμα) of the law might be fulfilled in us that walk not according to flesh, but according to Spirit. This, I cordially grant, applies not to justification, as so many of the divines erroneously teach. It is the practical consequence of justification, or rather of the infinite work of the Saviour, in those who receive Him; but this is no reason why we should overlook, with many other divines, the equally sure and yet more solemnly important basis for our holy walk in His atonement.
Another remark it is well to add on verse 4:- how admirably it falls in with Romans 6:14! It is only when the Holy Ghost works in a soul quickened with the life of Christ risen from the dead, by virtue of redemption through His blood, that power follows against sin. When practically under law, i.e., labouring to correct and improve the flesh, as too many saints are (like the case described in the latter half of Rom. 7), there is no power; and, spite of a renewed mind, there is constant failure and grief of heart in consequence. Christ, not the law, Christ in grace and truth, Christ dead and risen, is the sole power of holiness by the working of the Holy Spirit in us; and the heart answers in love to God and man, so that what the law required of those under itself, but in vain, is really fulfilled in those who are not under law but under grace.
The apostle proceeds to contrast more at length those who walk according to flesh with those who are in Christ. He shows that in both cases there is a nature with its own objects. It is not a question here of some faithful and others failing; “for those who are according to flesh mind the things of the flesh; but those according to Spirit, the things of the Spirit.” Each class has its own sphere, which engages its mind and feelings. Manner or measure is not before us; but flesh and Spirit, or rather those characterized by them, go out after their respective natures and love or hate accordingly. Duty has its place, and is invariably claimed and regulated by the relationship in which people stand; but here another topic is under discussion, not so much relative position and its responsibilities as the new principle and power of the Christian compared with all other men. He is characterized, not by flesh (i.e., human nature fallen, estranged from God, and as we shall see, enmity against Him) but the Spirit, and this identifying itself with the very being and state of the Christian, just as we see in the case of demoniacs that they were bound up with their evil possession, so that the man and the unclean spirit could only be severed by God’s power. Further on we have the Holy Spirit treated as an indwelling person, who acts in and with the believer; but here it is a characteristic state predicated of the Christian, contrasted with that of all other men out of which he is brought by faith in Christ. For all were alike in the same state, “in flesh,” as born of Adam; but those according to the Spirit mind the things of the Spirit, things which eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither hath it entered the heart of man to consider, things which God hath prepared for those that love Him.
Here it may be profitable to observe that the Spirit is not once brought before us in the first great division of our Epistle (Rom. 1 - 5:11) till redemption, the remission of sins, was fully established, cleared and done with. It is only in the conclusion (Rom. 5:1-11) which winds up this part of the apostle’s argument that he introduces (ver. 5) the earliest mention of the Holy Ghost. “And hope maketh not ashamed. because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” In the appendix of doctrine on the divine deliverance, not from sins, but from sin, the method of procedure is exactly similar; the Holy Spirit only reappears in Romans 8 which is the conclusion to this most momentous addition. Only here, as connected more with practical state and walk, we meet with a rich development and great variety of application, instead of the passing though sweet allusion of Romans 5.
Nor will the thoughtful Christian find it hard to discern the wisdom of God in both. For even in the face of this remarkable omission of the Spirit in the discussion of man’s unrighteousness, and then of God’s righteousness in the gospel by faith of Christ, man is prone enough to drag in what God has left out; and believers continually doom themselves to a lack of peace with God by an inquisitive search in themselves after the effects of the Spirit which might satisfy them of their renewal and acceptance. Now it is not denied for a moment that none but the Spirit quickens by the word, revealing Christ to the soul; yet this truth, acknowledged on all sides, makes the absence of reference to the Holy Ghost given so much the more notable.
Till redemption is known, God would direct the eye to Christ: He alone who died for the sinner is entitled to give him comfort in respect and in spite of his sins. His blood alone cleanses from all sin. It may be, it is, wholesome to look within as well as without, and to learn more and more what a sinner I am; but God will have me to look outside myself to Christ exclusively for pardon. To look within for righteousness by the Spirit enabling me is illusive, nay ruinous. I must be content with, and rejoice in, the blessedness David describes of the man to whom God imputes righteousness without works. Like Abraham, I need not be discouraged by my own weakness, or the inability of all around to help; I ought like him to give glory to God; for it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on Him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered for our offences and was raised again for our justification. And therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
After all this it is that God speaks to us of the gift of the Spirit, and the love that is shed abroad in our hearts by Him. We can bear this truth then, as then only indeed we are sealed by the Spirit. For though the Spirit can and does quicken one dead in trespasses and sins, He never seals a soul in such a state; He seals only where there is life and cleansing by the shed blood of the Saviour. Christ no doubt had the Holy Ghost descending and abiding on Him apart from blood; but He was the Holy One of God and came to redeem others, not to be redeemed. But none other was or could be sealed save as a consequence of His redemption. Hence we see in the Acts and the Epistles of the Apostles that the Holy Spirit was given in His name, even the quickened not being thus sealed till they submitted themselves (which was not always an immediate sequence) to the righteousness of God.
But here the allusion is brief. There is no dwelling on the internal operations of the Spirit till we come to Romans 8. The reason seems manifest. It would not be meat in due season till the mighty result of Christ’s death and resurrection was applied to our nature, to our conscious and intelligent deliverance (by faith of His work) from the sense and power of sin, as well as from guilt by our sins against God. Christendom affords solemn lessons, not only in the past but in the present, of the dangers those run who take a different route. For what is the necessary result of mixing up an inward search after the fruits and witness of the Spirit with the anxieties of the soul anxious, and it may be quickened? It can be none other than either to buoy him up with a joy founded on feelings more or less self-righteous, or to plunge him, if conscientious, into the depths of distress, endeavouring to extract a miserable comfort from the very fact that he is so harassed with a sense of sin while he clings to the barest hope that he may be a child of God.
When the apostle has set forth fully the work of redemption, when we know, as believers in Christ, not merely the sins effaced by His precious blood, but sin in the flesh condemned — both morally in Him who was absolutely free from it, yet withal in grace to us bearing its consequences judicially as a sacrifice for it that there might be no condemnation to those that are in Him — when this is learnt solidly by divine teaching, we are in a position to profit by the fullest instructions in the ways of God by His Spirit in respect of us. Here accordingly there is neither silence nor stint.
But it cannot be too rigidly insisted on that God’s condemnation of sin was on the cross in the sacrifice of Christ for it. Those who deny that the soul’s deliverance can be till we actually die, are no less in error than others who affirm that it means the new and sanctifying power of the Spirit by Christ. Both have to be taught a great truth which they have overlooked. Undoubtedly there is more before us than justification from our sins. It is a question of how to be rid of the burden of sin, indwelling sin; and till we lay hold of the revealed answer in Christ, the Spirit convicts of sin, instead of delivering from it. The answer is that God condemned sin in Him who was sent in the likeness of flesh of sin; but as a sacrifice for sin. Therefore to faith sin is as completely annulled as our sins — both righteously, but in grace, both by Him who for both suffered at God’s hand that we might be delivered and know our deliverance now by the faith of Jesus Christ our Lord. We must not confound the effect of this in victory over sin with the act of God who thus condemned sin in the flesh. Christ’s own personal overthrow of Satan and manifestation of uniform and spotless holiness here below would have but riveted condemnation on us more hopelessly, had He not also suffered for us on the cross. His sinlessness is incontestable; but it is ignorance and false doctrine to say that the condemnation of sin in the flesh is owing to it, not to His sacrifice for sin. Multitudes of divines may crowd the valley of indecision, and so say or write; but it is in vain. May their error perish, but not themselves! The sacrifice of Christ is the ground of our emancipation by the Spirit of life from the law of sin and death, as it is in order to a holy walk. The law, holy as it is, could effect neither; it claimed but never received righteousness, as it condemned the sinner without ever reaching sin in the flesh. This God did in Christ’s sacrifice for sin, with its infinite blessing for us in both standing and walk. The law dealt with the old nature, the flesh. exposing its sinful character, but weak through it. The Spirit strengthens the new nature; and thus the believer, feeding on the word, walks accordingly, loving God and his neighbour.
Then follows the explanation why those who are in Christ walk according to the Spirit. If they were after flesh, the mind and affection would be on the things of the flesh. Source, character, and conduct go together. Flesh is never sublimated into spirit; nor does spirit sink or change to flesh; for, as the Lord said, “that which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Even Adam unfallen was not spirit. Hence there was no question of resurrection or of heaven till all of original state was lost by sin. The Last Adam brings in the “better thing.” Flesh cannot rise above itself, though it may fall into the depths of Satan. Even in its best estate we may perhaps say, “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again; but whosoever drinketh of the water that I [Christ] shall give him shall never thirst: but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water, springing up into everlasting life.”
And as the essential character thus differs, as well as the range and objects of flesh and Spirit, so also the issues. “For the mind of the flesh [is] death, but the mind of the Spirit life and peace.” (Ver. 6.) The flesh has not one pulse of life Godward, however active in its pursuits and pleasures here. On the other hand, the mind of the Spirit, its exercise of thought and feeling, is life and peace. It was so in Christ; and so it is in the Christian. How a sinner is to find either life from God or peace with God is not the subject-matter in hand, but the moral bent and result of flesh and Spirit. Flesh satisfies itself, or at least its desires are set on things seen and felt apart from God or His word; the Spirit cannot rest short of the love and the glory of Christ. And as this only is the life of the Spirit, so it is peace of heart. In every sense God has called us in peace; whereas, there is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked. How could it be otherwise with fallen humanity? “Because the mind of the flesh [is] enmity against God; for to the law of God it is not subject;” nor need one wonder, “for it is not possible. But they then that are in flesh cannot please God.” (Ver. 7, 8.)
Awful conclusion for man as he is! Would that he laid it to heart as the truth, the sentence pronounced by the Judge of all the earth! No fruit for God grows on that tree for ever. There is and must be for the believer a new life in order to fruit-bearing. Not the things that are seen, the things of the flesh, but the revelation of the unseen, the word of God Himself, seen by faith in Christ, nourishes this life; for without faith, the same apostle tells us in another epistle, it is impossible to please God. Now the flesh never trusts God; its mind is enmity against Him. The law brings in His authority and interdicts to the flesh its own way, which is everything to it. Hence its independence proves to be enmity against God; for in virtue of seeking its own will it neither does nor can subject itself to His law. Obedience is essentially incompatible with the self-will, the
ἀνομία, of the flesh, which would cease to be itself if it obeyed God. Hence the application of the principle to the unrenewed. “And they that are in flesh cannot please God,” whose complacency is in the man that ever sought and did God’s will, not His own, and thus ever practised the things agreeable to His Father.
To be in flesh then is hopeless ruin, its mind being at variance with God, and in utter insubjection to His law; and this is the sad condition of all the sons of fallen Adam. It is not however the standing of the Christian. As in the beginning of our chapter he is said to be in Christ and consequently outside every possible condemnation, so here it is said, “but ye are not in flesh but in Spirit, if indeed God’s Spirit dwell in you.”
Thus the indwelling of the Holy Ghost is the witness and proof that we are “in Spirit,” and consequently not in flesh. But it would be a mistake to conclude that this condition was not reached and supposed in the preceding chapters. Indeed Romans 7:5 unquestionably implies the contrary — “for when we were in the flesh,” etc.; consequently we are not in the flesh now as Christians. So in Romans 6, the saints were bondmen of sin but now freed from it, bound therefore to reckon themselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus, under grace and not under law. This cannot be without life and the Spirit. The man who is alive of that new life takes the place of death at the word of the Lord, and attests the end of the old man in his own person. But in Romans 8, for reasons already given, the apostle is free to develop the relation of the Spirit to the Christian, and His various operations in and with the soul as far as would be suitable to the epistle in hand. We are in Spirit, if at all events God’s Spirit dwell in us. Now that it is evident that man is equally weak and ungodly, now that he has learnt that the way of God is not by victory over sin, but (owning his total powerlessness to recover or do well) by the work of Christ and death with Him, he can safely hear of the ways of the Spirit. He will not now seek by efforts to get free, for he has surrendered to the solemn and humbling fact of what he is as well as confessed his misdoings. God is wise and good in this as in all else: for if He strengthened the converted soul in its desire to gain the victory over indwelling evil by the work of the Spirit, it would make the work of Christ incomparably less prized and the soul satisfied with itself under pretence of trusting in the Spirit.
In truth scripture knows no such thing as trusting in the working of the Spirit in us as distinguished from trusting in ourselves or in our works. For what the Spirit enables us as God’s children to do is ever counted as our own, and will be remembered and rewarded accordingly when God proves Himself not unrighteous to forget our work and the love shown to His name.
Deliverance is by death — the death of Christ, with whom we died. But we are alive to God in Him, and the Spirit dwells in us. We can then without presumption say that we are not in flesh. We are not viewed as mere men, characterized by the first Adam state and responsibilities; as it had been already shown that we are not under law, like Israel, but under grace. Not, I must add, that we are not responsible, but that our responsibility is of a new character, founded on the new relationship which grace has given us when delivered from our old state of ruined men. “Ye are not in flesh.” Nothing short of this is the due language of the Christian. It is the most general expression for nature, for man as he is; and, as Christians, such is not our condition. We are “in Spirit,” not merely under the dominion of our own renewed mind; but that which was first set before us as being “in Christ” is here said to be “in Spirit,” a condition formed by the action of the Holy Ghost who is glorifying Christ according to the will and mission of the Father.
Let us bear in mind that it is more than being born of the Spirit, which in fact embraces all saints, and is not more true of the Christian than of the Old Testament or of the millennial saint. But to be “in Spirit” goes farther, and is proved by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit after Jesus died, rose, and went on high. “But ye are not in flesh but in Spirit, if at all events God’s Spirit dwell in you.” Christ risen is a life-giving Spirit, as we see in John 20; exalted, He sends down the Holy Spirit as power. (Acts 2.) If one really believes in Christ — i.e., the gospel, he receives the Spirit and so can be said to be “in Spirit.” This is the sole recognized condition, though there may be a state short of it for a season. The case described or personated by the apostle in the central and latter part of Romans 7 is that of one born of the Spirit, but not yet “in Spirit,” which is the proper christian state.
Observe that it is no question here of measure, or of moral disposition, but of new facts in the realm of grace. Certainly he of whom they are true is intended to realize their truth and to walk accordingly. Still it is important to see that God reveals to the Christian, not as a special privilege of a favoured soul here and there, but as a broad certain characteristic of those now called according to His purpose, that they are not in flesh but in Spirit. There is no mingling of the two states. We were in the one; we are now in the other. It is not a state, again, after our death physically, but after Christ’s death, at least when it can also be said that we died with Him. It is therefore true of the Christian now in this world, absolutely true from the beginning of his career on earth as a Christian till its close. I speak of course of the true believer only.
Is there no partial state recognized here? No fluctuating, no uncertainty, no mixing up of the old Adam state and Christ? Not in the slightest degree. “Ye are not in flesh but in Spirit.” Is the Christian then without the flesh? Clearly not; but the true state and statement of the case is, not that he is in flesh, but that flesh is in him. The old nature is there, and ready to break out into sin if there be not self-judgment, watchfulness against the enemy, and looking to Christ. The flesh is beyond doubt in the believer: only he is no longer in flesh, but in that new estate of which Christ is the display and the Holy Spirit is the power and character. The flesh is an evil thing, always to be hated and in nothing allowed. The Christian however is entitled to know that he is not in flesh, but that he is clean contrary to it as to his condition — in Spirit, always supposing that God’s Spirit dwells in him. Anything anomalous or intermediate is not here taken into account. The apostle contrasts this previous natural state with the full christian position, not strictly speaking, with the new birth. Thus the Spirit’s dwelling in the believer is used as the then public testimony on God’s part. This must be modified in the present confusion of doctrine, as well as the absence of manifestations in power. Yet the great substantial truth abides unchanged.
“But if any one hath not Christ’s Spirit, he is not his.” This parenthetical statement is to be weighed without deducing, as is often done, what it was clearly not intended to convey. Thus some would draw from it that the Old Testament saints must have had Christ’s Spirit in the sense here discussed, as others again would deny a condition of soul in which one may be quickened, as in the latter part of Romans, without being sealed, examples of which are so frequent in the Acts of the Apostles. But the fact is that the apostle is now treating of one who is no Christian at all save in outward name, like Simon Magus, in contrast with those. who have Christ’s Spirit. And this seems to be confirmed by the use of
αὐτοῦ rather than
αὐτῳ. Where the soul submits to divine righteousness in Christ, the Father seals with the Spirit. Here I suppose He is designated “Christ’s,” not as if it were another Spirit than God’s, but as having displayed Himself there above all in the perfection of a life consecrated to God from first to last. Grace gives the Spirit to all that believe on Him now, not necessarily when the soul is first ploughed up, but assuredly on receiving the word of truth, the gospel of salvation. So sure is it, that if one has not His Spirit, one is not of Him.
It is evident that the apostle is here closing the answer to the question in the latter verses of Romans 7: “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death?” In the answer there are three parts. The first is, that as Christians we start with a position of deliverance in Christ (Rom. 8:1) and the possession of a life of liberty (ver. 2), in both its parts founded on and justified by the cross of Christ (ver. 3). There could be, and there ought to be, no deliverance, unless sin were righteously atoned for and blotted out before God. Ought a single sinner to be set free, if God’s glory were enfeebled by it? But it is not so. On the contrary never was such glory brought to God as by the cross of the Lord Jesus; never such a display of righteousness as well as of love as in the cross; and more than this, there never can be such a display again. The one spot and hour and act and person that stands out from the whole of this world’s history from eternity and to eternity, distinct from all that ever was or ever will be, is the cross of the Lord Jesus; and yet it was in consequence of this very cross that God could deal in such tender mercy before it came; and it is in consequence of it that God will never rest in His love till all sin is completely gone, all evil judged, and all His mercy has had its full result in the accomplishment of His purposes. No wonder therefore that the cross of the Lord Jesus has brought in a signal change even now. It would not have been worthy of God had He not given by it a present deliverance to him that believes in Christ.
This deliverance then consists of these two parts: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that we are placed in and as Christ before God. For Christ was not an individual solely, who simply came and did a great work for others, but apart from bearing our sins He is a public man in an infinitely better sense than any other could be. The queen, for instance, is a public person. As sovereign she gives expression to whatever is the law of the land; her sign-manual is supreme authority. Properly speaking there is no statute law without her. I use this merely as an illustration. But the Lord Jesus is a public person in an infinitely higher yet closer and nearer way, because no subject could be said to be in the sovereign as the Christian is in Christ. She may represent the people that she governs, but there could be nothing more intimate in their relation to her. The wonderful truth of redemption shows that the Lord Jesus is a public person so far as to give us a place in Himself above, and not only in identifying Himself with our guilt before God which He did once for all on the cross. In another sense He died for every man. Nothing can be more certain than that both are true, that He died for those that believe, and that He died for every man — with this difference, that the believer alone can say that He bore our sins in His own body on the tree. But it is the guilt of the natural man that, Christ having died for all, he nevertheless rejects Him. Yes, the deepest aggravation of unbelief is that, though Christ came for every creature, none would have Him. Not a living soul would have had Him unless by the special grace of God that opens a believer’s eyes and inclines his heart to receive Him. This God does for the elect, though all be responsible.
But the Lord Jesus is more than a Saviour who died for us and our guilt. He is now the great pattern of One who, having been under the most intolerable judgment of sin, rose from the dead perfectly delivered and in the fullest sunshine of divine delight and peace and joy to show us where the Christian is and how God looks upon him. Is not his place in Christ Jesus, risen from the dead? Is he not entitled to look up and say, There is where I am? I am not denying that here we are still walking in this poor wretched world; but God’s word warrants us as Christians to receive what He has done in Christ and to say that we are thus in Him. As a man, I look back at Adam and see his sin, the power of his natural affections carrying him away. When he fell, did he remain the noble creature he was before he fell? Alas! he was deceitful, yet insolent, willing to throw the blame upon his wife or upon God in order to excuse himself. So every sinful man is apt to be not only bold against God but a coward with a bad conscience. And this is what we are in our natural state, some showing more of the insolence, others of the cowardice. There is not a bold man that is not sometimes a coward, and alas! there is no man so timid that he is not sometimes insolent. How complete the moral havoc before God and man!
God then has brought in this perfect deliverance now, but only for the soul in its standing in the first place. He that has received Christ has this wonderful boon, not only his sins forgiven, but his sin so judged that God can and does put him in Christ, and as Christ before Himself. He is entitled to repeat the language of faith and say, I am in Christ Jesus, and there is therefore no condemnation. How can there be condemnation for Christ? It is Christ that settles and determines the place that grace has given me as a believer. Consequently I may humbly say, as the word of God for my soul, There is no condemnation.
But there is more than this. He will not allow it to be merely vague, lest it might appear intangible general blessing, but as pointed and personal as can be. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” It is not merely the death of Christ Jesus. His death in itself never gives full christian liberty. It met my guilt, but I want more than this; I want a power of life that has won the victory. And this is what I have through grace. “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus freed me from the law of sin and death.” No wonder therefore that people, when not aware of this, are always occupied with a miserable toil under the law, rather hoping than knowing their sins forgiven. But the blood of Jesus, His mighty work, in death, simply meets their guilt and puts away the iniquities of the old man. Do you not also need the power of a new and risen life? This is what follows. “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus freed me from the law of sin and death.” Such is the second part of the deliverance. First, there is no condemnation in Christ; next, this power of life in Christ is mine; and both these things are vindicated by the cross of Christ which he mentions in the following verse. “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” The practical consequence follows: “That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”
Is there then no flesh? There is the old evil nature in the believer; but he is not in flesh, he is in Christ. You cannot be in sin and in Christ at the same time; you cannot be in Adam and in Christ together. You were in Adam as man, but are in Christ as a Christian. Hence the apostle goes so far as to declare that the Christian is not in flesh at all. Does this mean that we are perfect and nothing else? Not in the least. It does suppose that you are made perfect in Christ, but it admits the humiliating fact that flesh is in us: otherwise we should never do wrong at all, there would be no self, no vanity or pride in us. But if we are not in flesh, as has been often said, flesh is in us as a matter of fact. “Ye are not in flesh” is God’s estimate of the deliverance already given us in Christ Jesus.
Verse 10 does not speak about our being in Christ, but rather the converse, which is sometimes forgotten by the children of God. Not only am I in Christ, but Christ is in me as a believer. The effect of knowing that I am in Christ is that there is no condemnation: not merely am I not condemned in this or that, but all condemnation is absolutely annulled. There could not be anything of the sort for the Christian. God must condemn His own Son if He condemned those that are in Him; and every Christian is in Him. I grant you that people may make a bad use of this, but those who go on thus are not to be regarded as Christians at all, as indeed they never were. They were professors and nothing but professors; light-hearted men that would treat the Lord Jesus as they would one of their fellows, and the grace and truth of God as a common thing, making God the servant of their own lusts. Now He can be a Saviour from all evil, but never a servant to the will and passions of men. But what He loves is grace, where a poor sinner, miserable because of his sins, and hearing the announcement of His gift of Christ, comes to Him to be saved. Could God with Christ in His presence say No? Contrariwise, the measure of His salvation is that, first of all, as to our standing, we are put in Christ risen from the dead, who is his life in the power of the Spirit. Next, there is the active working of the Spirit of God in the believer. This is what is spoken of here: “If Christ be in you, the body [is] dead because of sin, but the Spirit life, because of righteousness.” If I allow the body its own will, there is nothing but sin produced. How am I to get power against its dragging me into sin? Hold it for dead: this is the prescription. “If Christ be in you” — he is not speaking of unbelievers, but simply about Christians. To them the word is, If Christ be in you. Remember, this is what you are to do: count the body as a dead thing; do not pamper it, never yield to it. It there be the allowance of the active will therein, it is not merely the body, it becomes then simply “flesh.” Where rein is given to the will, irrespective of course of God’s, the body is but the instrument of sin, not of righteousness. Thus the way for the Christian to get power against the sin that is in him is to count the body dead. Is he that is dead to allow such and such an evil thing to work? When you cease to hold it for dead, there is sin; but if you do, the Spirit works in moral power. “The Spirit [is] life, because of righteousness.”
It is only so far as you do not yield to your own will that sin is practically null and void, and the Spirit of God acts freely. The apostle is looking at the actual working of the Spirit of God in us. It is not life simply viewed as ours, but as in exercise, a matter of experience day by day. What is between these two points (i.e., the soul’s deliverance as in verses 1, 2, and the resurrection of our bodies)? “If Christ be in you, the body [is] dead because of sin, but the Spirit life because of righteousness.” Righteousness is not found simply by seeing that I am in Christ. This alone will not do. A man who merely talks about being in Christ and makes this his Christianity will turn out very bad indeed. He is merely making Christ a means for getting off eternal condemnation and present responsibility, but this will not do. As sure as you have got Christ and you are in Christ, Christ is in you; and if Christ is in you, take care you do not allow self to work. Where the body is not treated as dead but as alive, and is allowed to have its way, sin must be the result. If you treat it as dead, its career is cut short, its course is closed, and the Spirit of God deigns to become the sole spring of what you are seeking.
And let no one suppose that this is bondage. It is christian liberty. To do a thing because you must do it is never christian liberty. A slave thus works because he must; and we also, when in a low state, are apt to make a law of everything. When the affections are not flowing, we are only kept from what is openly evil, because there is a servile dread of doing what our consciences know is contrary to God. When this is the case, I am forgetting my ground of duty. What is it? Even now Christ is in me. If Christ be in me here, I am responsible to do His will. How is this to be done? I have got my body: if I allow it to have its own will and way, it will land me in sin. Treat it as dead; and let the one spring of what you desire be that which pleases the Holy Spirit. “The Spirit [is] life because of righteousness.” There is no practical righteousness produced in the Christian, except by the power of the Spirit of God. If the body is allowed loose rein in what we desire, it is only sin. The Spirit, on the contrary, is life in the practical sense, and this is the only way of righteousness for our walk.
But then there is a third point of the deliverance, this is, that, “if the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you” (which we have been shown now to be the case, not only dwelling in us but also life because of righteousness), “he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by [or rather because of] his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” This is a rich and precious word. As sure as you now have the Spirit of God dwelling in you — the Spirit that raised up the humbled man Jesus, He that raised up the glorious One, who was made Lord and Christ, will raise up your mortal bodies. We have to mark the contrast of His personal name “Jesus” as compared with what follows. “He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies” and this “because of his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” Deliverance is then complete.
I grant you there is no power intrinsically, there is mortality, working in our bodies; but “he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies, because of His Spirit that dwelleth in you.” What a sure hope and full portion is that of the Christian! For thus I am delivered in my soul; I am called to give my testimony practically by the Holy Ghost that I am delivered, instead of being a man under law or in the flesh; and, again, I shall be raised. Even this mortal body shall be quickened — not a new body created and given me, but this mortal body shall be changed. This is no mere fresh creation but the most glorious proof of God’s love and grace towards us. The mortal body shall be raised because of His Spirit that dwelleth in us. The Holy One who now dwells in us will never let go His claim to the mortal body in which He now dwells. He dwells in us, because of the risen life of Christ that is in the redeemed. If redemption had not been accomplished, and the life of Christ had not been given to us, He could not dwell in us; but where these are, He as it were says, There I must be. The Holy Ghost cannot be separated from Christ in the believer. He acts as one who loves to be there to the glory of Christ; and thus He strengthens us, the active mighty spring of good and the watchful guard against evil. “The Spirit [is] life because of righteousness.” But as sure as this is the case, “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 because of his Spirit that dwelleth in you.”
The practical conclusion of the apostle follows. “So, then, brethren, we are debtors not to the flesh, to live according to flesh. For if ye live according to flesh, ye are about to die; but if by [the] Spirit ye put to death the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” (Ver. 12, 13.) The deliverance of the Christian gives him the fullest title against the flesh; and he has the power of the Spirit that he should live according to Christ, not according to flesh. The structure of the phraseology is peculiar, but I believe admirably wise. The sentence looks unfinished and sounds as if another member were wanting to complete it. But God is always right; and no addition is needful or even admissible: if anything were added, it would but detract from the force of the truth as now stated. “We are debtors not to the flesh to live according to flesh.” Used to the schools and forms of man, one waits for some such statement to be added as that we are debtors to the Spirit or to Christ the Lord. This the inspired writer avoids saying. He knows the tendency to legalism, and would cut off excuse first. He would maintain us in liberty, the full liberty with which Christ set us free. But there is no enfeebling of responsibility. On the one hand, “If ye live according to flesh, ye are about to die; but if by the Spirit ye put to death the deeds of the body, ye shall live” on the other hand. The former is a natural and necessary consequence; the latter is a gracious and assuring pledge from God.
“For as many as are led by God’s Spirit, they are sons of God.” (Ver. 14.) Here we begin to hear of our relationship in contrast with the place of servants or slaves, which Israel had under law. It also paves the way for the introduction of the Spirit as the personal agent, instead of being viewed simply as characterizing our new nature and status in contrast with flesh. But it is not correct to say that
υἱὸς Θεοῦ differs from
τέκνον Θ. in implying the higher and more mature and conscious member of God’s family. The true distinction is that the former is the less intimate of the two and does not necessarily suppose a proper birth-tie. It need not go beyond public position by adoption, without being really born into the family, but in full contradistinction in every case to the place of a slave. Hence John, who treats of life, never speaks of us as “sons;” for the word is wrongly rendered so in John 1:12 and in 1 John 3:1, 2. It should be “children,” as being truly born of God. Nor is this at all enfeebled by the fact on the other side that Jesus is never called
υἱός. It would be derogatory to, and a denial of, His eternal glory to speak of Him as God’s
τέκνον (child). But He is Son (
υἱός) in more senses than one. He is Son of God as born in time and viewed on earth in His predicted association with Israel as their Messiah and king. (Psalm 2.) He is determined as Son of God in power by resurrection from the dead. (Rom. 1.) And what is more important than all, and the basis of all, He is Son of God, only-begotten Son in the Father’s bosom, entirely apart from the time of His manifestation or the results of His work of redemption, Son of the Father in His own nature and personal relationship in that eternal subsistence which is essential to the Godhead and characteristic of it. For this last we have chiefly to consult the Gospel and Epistles of John. Nothing therefore can be more correct than the language of all the inspired writers; nothing more feeble than its appreciation by theological writers even with the facts and words before their eyes. But the source of their failure is quite intelligible: a sense of Christ’s glory as inadequate as of the derived privileges of the Christian.
Thus we have seen the weighty and momentous fact that the Holy Spirit in distinct personal action associates Himself with the Christian. It is not only that He produces a new spiritual being and estate into which those who are Christ’s are now brought: this we have had largely, but there is more insisted on here. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” Not merely must one be born of water and the Spirit to enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5); not merely did the disciples receive the Holy Spirit, as Spirit of life more abundantly, when the risen Jesus breathed on them (John 20:22); but now the Holy Ghost, personally present, guided these richly favoured saints in the conscious dignity of God’s sons. There is liberty where He is, not law; yet the moral result which law demanded grace produced; for if they in dependence look to the Lord Jesus, and to their God and Father, He on His part is no spirit of weakness or of cowardice, but of power and of love and of a sound mind, and by Him are they thus led.
“For ye received not a spirit of bondage again to [or for] fear; but ye received a spirit of sonship, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” (Ver. 15.) Gentiles though they were (for there is no allusion here as in Romans 7 to such as know the law), they were not brought into the spiritual condition of the saints in Old Testament times, especially indeed of those under law, who through fear of death were subject to bondage during the whole of their life. Out of this the Jewish saints were brought by the gospel, which equally met the Gentile who had never experienced the legal discipline, but had lain here and there, seemingly overlooked in their wild course of lawlessness and idolatry. The one as much as the other received a spirit of adoption or sonship, as indeed it is said elsewhere: “because ye are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” The Holy Ghost could not but act in unison with the Son who had revealed the Father, and would give the sense of no relationship short of sons. The slaves had morally closed their history, not only by persistent rebellion, but by war to the death of the Son of God. From a lost world grace was saving, and placing those who believed in the Lord Jesus in the position of sons; and the Holy Ghost personally deigned to lead them, beside imparting a nature conformable to God and distinct from man though made good in man. It is in contrast then not merely with Gentile license and boldness, but with Jewish bondage and fear; and the Spirit gives us to cry, Abba, Father. So cried Jesus in Gethsemane, not on the cross. If we cry thus, it is the expression of dependence on and confidence in our Father, not of a suffering such as His, where His utter abandonment draws forth the still deeper and essentially distinct “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God: and if children, heirs also; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if indeed we suffer with [him] that we may also be glorified with [him].” (Ver. 16, 17.)
Thus the Holy Spirit takes part in all. Does He content Himself only with imparting a new and divine nature? By no means. He has His appropriate internal witness; He Himself bears it with our spirit that we are of the very family of God, as indeed we are born of God. But now it is not alone the fact but the conscious joy of it. Christianity is not objective only, but just as remarkable for the gift by grace of inner power and comfort; the Son reveals the Father, and gives the Spirit. It is not merely the gospel believed, but a real inward witnessing of the Spirit with ours that we are God’s children. There is far more no doubt; but this there is, and it is of consequence to recognize it. Some may have substituted it for the testimony to Christ and redemption; but we must avoid the error of denying it. He would not be absent from the joy of the saint. Have we not this consciousness of being God’s children? Whence have we it? Is it a process of reasoning from the gospel? God forbid. Let us call realities by their right names. It is the Spirit itself witnessing with our spirit that we are children of God. How Calvinists or Arminians misuse it may be of importance in each case; but this is the truth of God, realized in every simple-minded Christian, whether opposing parties hear or forbear.
Here the reasoning, it will be remarked, is not to our being God’s children, but from it. The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God: the inference is, that if children, we are also heirs. Wondrous to say, we are “heirs of God;” more wonderful still, “joint-heirs with Christ.” Israel were the lot of Jehovah’s inheritance. Not such is our place; we are heirs of what God possesses; and this is both asserted in all its fulness as well as accounted for in our added title — “joint-heirs with Christ.” We are to share all things with Him, for as all things are His by right of creation and redemption, so are they ours by His grace who has placed in the utmost possible nearness to Himself. There is indeed the condition of suffering with Him in order that we may be glorified together; but this He makes good in all that are His. It is not suffering for Him; for all Christians do not. But all suffer with Him, who have the divine nature, even Himself as their life, in an evil world, which constantly wounds and tries those who have that nature. It will not be so in the millennial age; when, as the state of things will preclude suffering, so there will be no specific glorification with Him as the hope of such sufferers. Special trials and rewards will be no more, though there will still remain the reigning in life by one, Jesus Christ our Lord, for ever, But the reign with Him for a thousand years will be past, as also concurrently the place of suffering with Him.
Thus our association with Christ brings us into the new place which He has entered by death and resurrection, and into the relationship of sons. Yea, the Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs — heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ, the Heir of all things. But this supposes moral conformity with Him in this world, before we are conformed to His image in glory as in verses 29, 30, if we are suffering together that we may be also glorified together. This suffering flows from possessing life in Him whilst passing through a scene where all is opposed to Him; and the indwelling of the Spirit, instead of hindering this holy sorrow, is rather the spring of energy both in keen apprehension and deep feeling of every way in which Christ is dishonoured, and in meek endurance of all by which we may be tried according to the will of God. Hence, if this place of suffering in the world as it now is be a necessary consequence of divine life surrounded by all that is working out its way of misery, estrangement, and rebellion against Him, it is an immense privilege to suffer with Christ, cheered along the road by the prospect of sharing His glory.
“For I reckon that the sufferings of this present season [are] of no account in comparison with the coming glory to be revealed in regard to us.”27 No Christian doubts that the apostle estimates according to divine truth; and certainly if none had by God’s sovereign will and power of the Spirit such a vivid foresight of the coming glory, none of those that followed Christ ever tasted as He of sorrows by the way. And this is made known to us that we may rest and rejoice in the reckoning. The divine excellency will then shine forth unhindered, and we shall have the fellowship of His delight everywhere.
Far as the distance may seem between creation in general and those whom grace has now taken out of its ruin and associated in so intimate and complete a way with Christ as the Christian knows it, there is a link of the most direct and momentous sort. “For the earnest expectation of the creation is waiting for the revelation of the sons of God. For the creation was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but on account of him who made [it] subject, in hope that28 even the creation itself shall be freed from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God.” Here, as it is a passage of very great interest and value, so ignorance of the truth conveyed has embarassed most of those who have sought to expound it, whether orally or in formal commentaries. There is no real difficulty where the main drift of the apostle is caught. The perplexity, as is usually the case, is brought in with notions extraneous to his reasoning. Let us then consider briefly the truth conveyed, and that which has made it obscure to the mass of readers.
Both the present sufferings and the future glory in the apostle’s mind touch on the creation, which he here personifies. It is represented first of all as on the stretch of outlook, waiting for the revelation of the sons of God. Externally His sons do not differ in bodily appearance, power, or glory from the rest of mankind; they may be weak, they may suffer, as also they fall asleep or die while the Lord tarries on high. But after the resurrection or change, at His coming, they are to be manifested in glory with Christ when He is thus manifested also. Creation too awaits this blissful moment. Its deliverance from its actual misery hinges on them and their revelation.
Nor is there any ground of surprise at such a connection with men; for creation was made subject to vanity, not of course by its own will, but on his account who made it subject. Man was set by God as the head of the lower creation. When he fell, creation shared his ruin. When the sons of God are revealed at the appearing of Christ, there will be a proof that it was made dependent on them, and that the hope of emancipation is not in vain. If it was righteous that by the fall of its head creation should be subjected to vanity, how consistent and worthy of God that the redemption of His children and heirs should be followed by its glorious retrievement!
To explain this of the Gentile world, as is done by Whitby and others, is poor indeed; as also Doddridge’s notion that it is merely the whole unevangelized world looking out eagerly for such a remedy and relief as the gospel brings, by which humanity would be secured from vanity and corruption, and inferior creatures from tyranny and abuse.
The apostle however is not speaking of the prevalency of the gospel of grace, but of the incoming and display of glory, and hence of the divine power which will free the creation, ruined by man, according to His own counsels. When the heirs are glorified around the great Firstborn and appear with Him in glory, then and thus is the inheritance to emerge from the thraldom under which it has long groaned, “the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.” Compare Isa. 11, Isa. 12, Isa. 25, Isa. 32, Isa. 35-51, Isa. 60-65; Jer. 31-33; Ezek. 36-48; Dan. 2:44, 45; Dan. 7:14, 27; Dan. 12; Hosea 1:11; Hosea 2; Hosea 3:5; Joel 3; Amos 9; Obadiah 17, Obadiah 21; Jonah (typically); Micah 4, Micah 5, Micah 7; Nahum 1:15; Hab. 3; Zeph. 3; Haggai 2:6-9, 21-23; Zech. 2:4-13, Zech. 6, Zech. 8-14; Mal. 3, Mal. 4. It is the regeneration of which our Lord spoke when His rights shall be made good in the full and duly ordered blessing of Israel on earth. (Matt. 19.) It is the administration of the fulness of times when God’s will is to gather up together all things in Christ, the things which are in the heavens and the things which are on the earth, even in Him in whom we also have obtained an inheritance. (Eph. 1:10, 11.) For the reconciliation is to take in all things, not merely the saints who are now reconciled. (Col. 1.) This will be the rest of God (Heb. 4); and then will be manifested the wide and various circles of blessedness and glory, fruit of pure grace, to which we are come before they come in fact for the earth (Heb. 12), the world-kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, who shall reign unto the ages of the ages (Rev. 11), as is set forth in a crowd of other scriptures.
The creation was not made (as it now is) in decay, degradation, suffering, death. That God originally designed that it should be in such confusion and misery would be hard to digest; but the scriptures teach the contrary, as it shows that, whilst subjected to its present disorder on account of man’s guilt and ruin, it longs not in vain for deliverance, but awaits in hope His revelation in glory. The very struggle of everything for life and against sickness witnesses that it is fallen to rise. Thus not only is the riddle of what now is solved by God’s account of the past, but His word casts its own bright light on the future; for, though subjected to vanity, it was “in hope that even the creation itself shall be freed from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God.” It is only by faith that any enter into the liberty of grace; and this is the portion even now of God’s children under the gospel. Creation cannot of necessity know such liberty, being unintelligent even where it is animate; but even itself shall exchange the slavery of corruption by which it is now held down for the liberty of glory when the children of God are glorified. Thus all will be vindicated on God’s part, and all in due order. There can be no communion between us and creation in grace; there will be in glory when the power of God deals with all creation in honour of Christ’s death, whose blood has bought not the treasure only but the field, the world which contained it, yea, all things.
“For we know that the whole creation groaneth together and travaileth in pain together until now; and not only [so], but ourselves, having the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan in ourselves, waiting for adoption, the redemption of our body. For by hope were we saved; but a hope seen is not hope; for what a man seeth, why doth he also hope for? But if we hope for what we see not, we await with patience.” (Ver. 22-25.) Here is the most decisive evidence, were more wanted, of the distinction between the creation29 on the one hand and the Christian on the other. And observe that the contrast is drawn most sharply and exclusively; for “all the creation” is distinguished from “ourselves.” Again, the mistake of embracing impenitent souls within “the creation” here intended is no less plain; for it is certain that, as their will is engaged, contrary to what is said of the subjection of the creation to vanity, so their earnest expectation awaits anything rather than the revelation of the sons of God, and they will be cast into hell instead of being delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of glory.
As Christians then we are not deceived by appearances and the mind and will of man who would fain hide the testimony to his own guilt and ruin in the wretchedness of creation dragged down by his fault. For we know that it is all in groans and throes till now: neither Christ’s coming in grace and humiliation, nor the gospel preached in the power of the Spirit sent down from heaven set this aside, but called believers to glory above it, and to virtue in spite of it. Yet the groaning of creation was not only unintelligent but selfish, though in no way a matter of indifference to God, whatever it may be to dreamy or hard philosophy. And ourselves too, having the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan in ourselves, awaiting as sonship the redemption of our bodies. For the body of the believer has not yet experienced the power of Christ, and thus we have our link with the groaning creation. And the Spirit gives us so much the more to groan because we have access by faith into this favour in which we stand and we exult in hope of the glory of God. Our groaning therefore is not unintelligent, nor is it simply because of our personal suffering; but in fellowship with Christ, in horror of abounding evil, in love of good despised, in yearning after man and in desire for God’s truth and majesty. The Spirit, though of power and love and discreetness, makes us so much the more long for the day, when we shall be changed and manifestly sons of God as sons of the resurrection. It is not the sorrow of ignorant unbelieving uncertainty, but of the inward mind and heart over what is far from God and unlike Him, because of knowing what He is in Christ and in full confidence that we shall be like Him in that day. For we have only salvation by hope, not yet seen or in present possession; we hope for it complete according to Christ risen, and with patience await. It is well worth while.
We have seen the function of the Spirit in bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, as we saw previously the new condition which He forms in contrast with the flesh, and in which we now find ourselves by grace — in Spirit if so be that the Spirit of God dwells in us. Then we had the apostle contrasting the creation as it now groans with the liberty of glory when the sons of God, the heirs, are manifested in glory at the appearing of Christ; and along with this, the groaning of the saints, whose bodies are not yet delivered, no longer because of selfish feelings but in the interests and sympathies of divine love.
Now we are told of the relation of the indwelling Spirit to this state of weakness and suffering.
“And likewise the Spirit also joineth help to our weakness; for we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedeth30 with unutterable groanings, and he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what [is] the mind of the Spirit, because he intercedeth for saints according to God.”
Thus the blessed Spirit of God will not be severed from our weakness, now that He deigns to take His abode in us because of Christ’s redemption. Even he who could work signs and miracles did not differ from his brethren by exemption from infirmity. Rather was Paul, the greatest of apostles, more than any other sensible of it. Caught up to the third heaven (whether in the body or out of it, he could not tell), he gloried of such an one, not of himself save in his weaknesses. And when he prayed to the Lord for the removal of the thorn for the flesh given to him, what was the answer? Not its departure; but “my grace sufficeth for thee; for my power is made perfect in weakness.” “Most gladly therefore,” says he, “will I rather glory in my weaknesses that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
It was not otherwise with the perfect pattern of all excellency in man here below. “Jesus wept.” He was deeply pained, sighing sorely in His Spirit. He knew what to say and what to do, conscious that the Father always heard Him. But we do not know what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself pleads for us with groanings unutterable. It is not now simply Christ with us but the Spirit in us, condescending to give our groanings a character entirely above the mere feelings of human sorrow. We feel the evil of the misery; we do not know what to ask; but at least we groan. Wondrous grace! the Spirit associates Himself with our groaning; and the searcher of the hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit. Instead of slighting the ignorance which cannot ask a suitable means of relief, He interprets us by His mind who dwells in us, and who intercedes for saints (for of them only is it a question) according to God. It is not merely “according to his will,” as in the Authorized Version, but according to Himself. The inference of Macedonius from the passage is the working of the spirit of man wholly ignorant of God’s mind which he altogether missed; nay, it is worse than this, it betrays the beguiling power of the serpent, for it evinces that enmity to God and man which not only loses all the comfort of the truth but turns the word to the dishonour of the Holy Spirit. For the unhappy man concluded from the text that the Spirit must be inferior to God and a creature, because He prays to God for us. He knew not grace, he appreciated not the moral glory of God which stoops to serve, as love must do, if it save sinners in an evil world. Man can understand power in God; but love, especially love active spite of evil, humbling itself, and sympathizing, he overlooks and denies even to the denial of God Himself in those of whom it is predicated. The believer knows it as his deepest joy, and never adores with so full a sense of what God is as when he sees the Father declared in the Son, and knows that even his groans come up before God clothed with a divine character because of the Holy Ghost who is in us by the grace of our God. Just as evil spirits identified the miserable man who was thus possessed with their demoniacal character, and an individual was called Legion because many demons were entered into him; so the Spirit of God not less but more in divine goodness and power identifies us with Himself spite of our weakness and our ignorance, not for a moment lowering His own dignity but meeting us in love as only God could, and as even God would only in virtue of redemption.
These verses are a transitional link from the work of the Spirit in us to the bold challenge in the conclusion of the chapter (ver. 31-39), grounded on the assurance that God is for us against all adversaries and spite of every weakness. That they may be rightly viewed thus is apparent. First, there is a distinct allusion, in the opening words, to the previous clause, which traced the value and comfort of the Spirit in helping our infirmity. For He, when we know not what to pray for as we ought, Himself intercedes for us with unutterable groanings, yet according to God. Secondly, on the other hand, they are in bearing still more intimately a groundwork for what follows; for they set forth in a striking and connected manner the purpose of God as far as it is consistent with our epistle to treat of it.
We do not know what we should pray for as we ought; “but we do know that to those that love God all things work together for good, to those that are called according to purpose. Because those whom he foreknew he also predestined [to be] conformed to the image of his Son, that he should be the firstborn among many brethren. But whom he predestined, those he also called; and whom he called, those he also justified. but whom he justified, those he also glorified.” (Ver. 28-30.) The chain is thus complete from His own purpose in eternity to their glorification for eternity. It is the activity, extent, and scope of the grace of God for its objects apart from all circumstances, and, as we shall see later, in spite of them, let them be what they may, because they are but creature causes or effects, whilst God is for us and supreme above all, not a mere causa causata, but the one causa causans.
Even Paul, in 2 Corinthians 12, did not know what to pray for as he ought; but the Lord was faithful and made the sufficiency of His grace known — an answer far better than the prayer. And yet not Paul only, but even we know that all things work together for good — not merely shall, but do now, and this for others as well as ourselves, for those that love God. Otherwise sorrows irritate. Here they are twice blessed, blessed to those exercised by them, blessed to other children of God; in short, to those that love Him and to those that are called according to purpose, for this is here carefully stated, lest the love of God on our part might enfeeble the thought of grace on His. Hence purpose and calling according to it are put forward.
It is important to observe that the apostle does not speak of a passive or naked foreknowledge (ver. 29) as if God only saw beforehand what some would be, and do, or believe. His foreknowledge is of persons, not of their state or conduct; it is not what, but “whom” He foreknew.
Further, those whom He foreknew, all of them and no others, He also fore-ordained to be conformed to the image of His Son. It is plain and well to note that we have the end bound up with the beginning; for the conformity here spoken of is not of that sort which is now produced in the soul practically by the Spirit through the word. The latter is most true, and often insisted on elsewhere, as in John 13, John 15; Rom. 12, Rom. 13; 1 Cor. 5, 1 Cor. 6; 2 Cor. 3:18, 2 Cor. 7:1, Gal. 5:16, 25; Eph. 2:10, Eph. 4, Eph. 5, etc. 1 John 3:2, 3, combines both: “We know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him is he is.” This is the conformity to the image of His Son of which the apostle here speaks; whereas the moral work in the heart of the believer is spoken of in the following verse: “And every man that hath this hope in him (i.e., founded on Christ) purifieth himself even as he (Christ) is pure.” There is and can be no less a standard for the Christian, whatever may have been the rule by which the Jew was tried. The purifying goes on now within us, but answers rather to the central teaching of our chapter; the likeness to Christ in glory, which will be seen in us when Christ is manifested, is the conformity to His image which is here assured to us.
It seems harsh, however, with Augustine and others to drag in sins here among the “all things;” for though no doubt grace can turn everything to account, scripture is the more careful to guard against the least real appearance of dealing lightly with that which is morally offensive to God.
Thus God fore-ordained the objects of His foreknowledge to conformity with the image of His Son in resurrection glory. Then they will be as He, according to divine counsels, in the predestined condition of man, the first-born among many brethren. The corn of wheat which died, but sprang up again, will have borne much fruit, Himself alike the pattern and the power; for nothing short of this meets the purpose according to which we have been called. The saints shall be manifestly then sons of God being sons of the resurrection, when He will transform the body of humiliation into conformity to His body of glory. For if God delights in His own Son as the risen man, such and nothing less is the destiny to which He has ordained us beforehand. Nevertheless, whatever the communion, rightly will our Lord have His due place in that bright family — the chief or “Firstborn among many brethren.”
Verse 30 pursues the matter, connecting the ways of God in time with what is before and out of time. “But whom he predestinated, those he also called.” It is not only the call of grace in a general way, but made effectual to such as He foreknew and foreordained. “And whom he called, those he also justified.” Justification, like the call, is in time, and even subsequent to the call by the gospel. The Calvinists greatly err who teach that Christ rose because we were justified, a notion as subversive of sound doctrine as of holiness, and quite opposed to the scriptures which bind it up with faith.31 But this is not the only danger here.
For on the other side the Arminians are in error who apply
συμμόρφους τῆς εἰκόνος τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ (conformed to the image of His Son) to holiness, as verse 30 abundantly confirms. For while foreknowledge, predestination, calling, and justification are set out in regular order, the series is suddenly closed by the words “but whom he justified, those he also glorified,” without one word about that spiritual conformity which we all confess to be a necessary condition in the salvation of a soul.
Was this omission an oversight of man, or divine intention? The latter only, I am persuaded; and with a wisdom by no means hard to discern. We are here in presence of the apostle’s unfolding of God’s purpose in its application to us and our security in the face of all difficulties and dangers. Now it is clear that the inner work would draw off to questions of our state. However important this may be, it were out of place here, besides the fact that it had been already insisted on with care and fulness after the opening verses of this chapter. In its own place the Holy Spirit had pressed it strongly and with solemn warning for any and every soul bearing the Lord’s name. But here God would give the believer the unmingled comfort of what He is for us; and this excludes what He does within us, wholesome and indispensable though it may be.
It will be observed too that (
ἐδόξασεν) “glorified” is an aorist, no less than the other verbs in verse 30. This is due to a similar reason. All is looked at from God’s side and purpose, not as if the call, justification, and glorification were already accomplished facts, but because the Spirit is emphatically asserting the whole from first to last, as assured in His eyes and by His word who does these things, known from eternity in His own everlasting now.
We now enter on the distinct portion which closes this division of the epistle, where the apostle interrogates and, I may say, challenges all adversaries in presence of the rich and varied provisions of redemption.
“What then shall we say to these things? If God [is] for us, who [shall be] against us? He who spared not his own Son but gave him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things?” (Ver. 31, 32.)
It is no longer that we are in Christ and Christ in us, nor is it the witness and work of the Spirit in us whether in joy or sorrow; but the deduction from all that God is for us, not only superior to all that would hurt us, but leading to the bold question, Who dare be against us? All is measured by God’s gift of His own Son, not spared but delivered up for us all; a plain and irrefragable answer to every doubt both of the reality of His love and of its extent; and this for the entire family of God. There was one object above all dear and precious to God, His own Son; and it was His own Son whom for us He spared in no way, but for us all surrendered Him to all that is dreadful in our eyes, to His heart infinitely worse — who knew His Father’s love and felt evil as none but He could. That God should in His grace secure all things to us after such a gift is what we cannot but feel to be easily understood and suitable to His love, if not even necessarily due to the glory of Christ. Nothing can be lacking by the way: in the end we shall share all things with Him who is the Heir of all things. He made all, has reconciled all and will take all under His glorious sway; but we shall reign with Him. He is head over all to the Church which is His body, says our apostle elsewhere. Here he does not pursue the counsels of God but affirms the principle of grace in righteousness as applied to our individual relationship. It was no sudden thought but a settled design which went right through to glory with Christ, after the full trial and demonstration of the uniform and complete failure of the first man. It is now a question of the Second man and of those that are His; and thus it is as plain as it is sure that God is for them; and if so, who is against them? Our sins have been remitted, sin in the flesh condemned, ourselves believing in Jesus and His blood, yea dead with Him and alive in Him to God: who then is against us? God has proved Himself for us where we had most ground for dread, and dread of Him above all; for against Him had we sinned. But in nothing has He shown His grace so deep and conspicuous as in our hopelessly evil state; in nothing so exhibited the worth and efficacy of the redemption through His Son. We are entitled then in faith to ask: “If God [is] for us, who [shall be] against us?” We are entitled to count that He who spared not His own Son will along with Him lavish on us everything good for us now, everything glorious by and by.
If His Son is the measureless measure of His love to us, “who shall bring a charge against God’s elect?” In this epistle the Spirit glories in connecting the objects He is handling with God. Not only is the righteousness, the grace, the glory, God’s, but so also is the gospel at the very commencement, and so here are the elect. The enemy had better beware of meddling with God’s elect. What did Satan make of it when it was only Joshua the type of One greater, only about Jerusalem that he dared to resist? Did not Jehovah then take up the matter for the encouragement of the guilty whom He meant to save in sovereign mercy? Did He not declare that He had chosen Jerusalem, a brand plucked out of the fire? Not more distant but nearer is His relationship with us; not darker but far more clear the revelation of His grace to us since the death and resurrection of His own Son. Just as God interposed for the high priest in Zechariah 3, so here (says the apostle), “[It is] God that justifieth: who [is] he that condemneth?” This I think is the true way of arranging as well as punctuating the clauses. The Authorized Version impairs the link between the end of verse 33 and the beginning of verse 34, as also between the rest of verse 34 and verse 35; while others seem to me to injure the force by putting a note of interrogation at the end of verses 33 and 34.
Remark here that God is represented as the Justifier. It is not only that we have been justified by faith, justified before God, but He justifies. How does He justify? Is it not with that absolute perfection in which He carries on His work and His ways? Is it less perfect where He justifies those He destines to be conformed to the image of His Son in virtue of His infinite work on the cross?
But if there be an analogy with one prophet, there is a clear allusion to another. Isaiah 1. introduces God’s elect Servant, substituted for Israel who had rejected Him, and shows that He was not more certainly the obedient and suffering One than the Jehovah God of Israel who made heaven and earth. Hence whatever the indignities He endured, the issue is sure, and all through He reckons on the fullest vindication. He in the midst of His shame, though thinking it not robbery to be on equality with God, can say “the Lord Jehovah will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed. He is near that justifieth me; who will contend with me? let us stand together: who is mine adversary? let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord Jehovah will help me; who is he that shall condemn me? lo, they all shall wax old as a garment; the moth shall eat them up.” (Isaiah 50:7-9.)
What Christ says in the prophecy the apostle does not hesitate to apply to the Christian. How blessed is this identification! It is the more striking too because immediately follow words descriptive neither of Himself nor of the Christian who now enjoys His righteous vindication along with Him, but of the godly remnant who have to walk in darkness, though trusting in the name of Jehovah while they obey the voice of His servant (ver. 10), and of the godless mass who with increasing unbelief turn to every refuge of lies to end all in sorrow, shame, and judgment. (Ver. 11) This brings out very definitely the peculiar blessedness of the Christian through known redemption, and the indwelling of the Spirit who glorifies Christ in their behalf as cannot be with even the righteous remnant.
It was needful to point out our distinctive position before a psalm is quoted (ver. 36) where we are viewed in circumstances analogous to theirs. For both are true: we have much that is common to all saints till Christ comes; but we and they have respectively what is characteristic and peculiar. Compare Psalm 44:22.
“[It is] God that justifieth: who [is] he that condemneth? [It is] Christ that died, but rather was raised, who is also at [the] right hand of God, who also intercedeth for us: who shall separate us from the love of Christ? tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? even as it is written, ‘For thy sake we are being put to death all the day; we were reckoned sheep for slaughter.’ Nay but in all these things we more than conquer through him that loved us.” (Ver. 32-37.)
Here not only have we Christ presented in the full extent of His work from His death on the cross through resurrection to His presence and activity of intercession for us at God’s right hand, as the ground for the challenge, Who shall sever us from the love of Christ but the difficulties and perils and sufferings for us along the road are mustered and arrayed in all their strength in order to prove its fidelity and unfathomable depth. Certainly, if we now, as the godly of old and ere long in the latter day, taste somewhat the bitterness of the way and the obstacles the enemy puts before us, Christ drank that cup and more to the dregs. Not only did He drink what was and could be His alone; but which of our afflictions was He a stranger to? Deeper by far, and felt according to the competency of His person to estimate and suffer, they became only the demonstration of His perfect love to us, Himself all the while the faithful witness. Christ who is risen and on high has been in them all, having gone down incomparably lower than the lowest of us. None of these then shall separate us from the love of Christ.
Thus God has proved Himself for us, first, in the gift of His own Son and of all things with Him; secondly, in justifying us Himself according to His value for Christ and His work; thirdly, in the love of Christ who has borne witness of its strength here below in all possible trials that could separate us from any other as surely as He is exercising it for us before God in virtue of redemption. “In all these things we more than conquer through him that loved us.”
“For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,32 nor height nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Ver. 38, 39.) Here we have still deeper difficulties, not the visible, but the invisible, the spiritual; but after all (sum them all up as the apostle does in his climax), they are but the creature, and they are arrayed at their strongest in order to be blotted out as nothing in presence of the all-vanquishing love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
For here, as the suited winding up, let it be remarked that it is the love of God, rather than of Christ as in verse 35. Each is exactly in place; the love of Christ as evident in suffering to the utmost for us here, and animated with the self-same love in His intercession in heaven for us who suffer still where He suffered; the love of God none the less real if less in sight, His immense and unchanging love whose grace planned all, gave all, forgave all, justified all, sustains all, and will bring all to that fulness of love and joy and glory which can satisfy such a God and the redemption of such a Saviour. If “the love of Christ” is our boast for its tender fidelity in fathoming all depths and pleading our cause above all heights, the immutable strength of “the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord,” before all and through all and to all eternity, imparts the fullest rest and confidence to our hearts.
23 The great uncials , B, C, D, F, G, with some good cursives and ancient versions omit, while A, D (corr.), omit the last part. The English Version even so is incorrect; for, if genuine, the meaning would be “those in Christ Jesus who walk,” or “those who in Christ Jesus walk,” etc. (not “them which are in Christ Jesus who walk.”)
24 “Legem spiritus improprie vocat Dei Spiritum, qui animas nostras Christi sanguine aspergit, non tantum ut a peccati labe emundet quoad reatum; sed in veram puritatem sanctificet.” — In loc. cit. ed. Tholuck.
25 The expression
ἐν ῳ seems to be used with a certain variety of application. It is either want of knowledge or strength of system which alone can account for the effort of some moderns to restrict it to the sense “wherein.” Nevertheless it never, that I am aware of, passes the bounds of correct usage, so as to be used, as Grotius says, for
ἐφ᾽ ῳ, which expresses the condition or occasion under which a thing is done or occurs; while
ἐν ῳ is the time, sphere, state, or power in question. Alford is singularly vacillating; for whilst on our text he says “because” (not ‘wherein,’ as in Romans 2:1, but ‘in that’) and refers in his margin to Hebrews 2:18; on the latter text he says, 4 ‘in that which,’ and remarks, “The ordinary rendering is to take
ἐν ῳ as equivalent to ‘forasmuch as,’ ‘in that,’ English Version, and to justify it by the Hebrew.But it is doubtful whether
ἐν ῳ has ever this meaning absolutely.(!) It seems only to approach to it through ‘quatenus,’ ‘in as far as,’ which is an extension of its strict meaning, ‘in that particular in which,’ ‘wherein.’ (!!) And this slightly extended meaning is preferable in all the places usually cited to justify the other: e.g., Rom. 8:3; Heb. 6:17.” It is a little strong to send us to a reference and then to nullify the meaning first, and add there a new reference (Heb. 6:17), where he contradicts himself again and substantially confirms his first statement, for he there says, “in which behalf,” nearly equivalent to “wherefore,” which he expressly prefers to “in which.”
26 I reject the notion that
διὰ τῆς σαρκὸς means “in having to act through the flesh,” or “through the medium of the flesh.” No doubt the construction is decisive against “on account of the flesh;” but
διά with a genitive often means in a given state, though oftener still “by means of.”
27 The phraseology seems to me choice and precise. It is not
ἡμῖν, which after
ἀποκαλυφθῆναι would be ambiguous and is already appropriated to the sense of receiving spiritual communication. It is not
ἐν ἡμῖν, which makes or tends to make the glory concentrated and terminated in us.
Εἰς ἡμᾶς leaves room for us to be reached by the glory but takes it in universally.
28 Or, “in hope: because.”
29 Theodoret (in loc. ed. Sirmondi, tom. iii.) seems to err on the side of comprehending too much; for he includes not only the material universe, heaven, earth, sea, air, sun, moon, all the visible, but the invisible besides, angels, archangel(s?), powers, authorities, principalities. It is true that he is not consistent; for, in commenting on verse 20, he is obliged to restrain the subjection to vanity to all the visible creation by the decree of the Creator; yet in verse 22 he extends it even to the invisible on the rather far-fetched plea that, if angels rejoice over a repentant sinner, they must needs be saddened at the sight of our delinquencies. The same writer, I may add, is quite wrong, like others since his day, in fancying that by the first-fruits of the Spirit, the apostle implies the gift to us of manifold more of the Spirit in the age to come. The reader will notice how commonly current errors are due to the fathers, or perhaps independently to the same corrupt root of unbelief which slights the teaching of the scriptures.
30 The received text inserts here
ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν contrary to the best authorities. It seems to me implied, and needless to say, if not rather narrowing the thought. In the following verse we have
ὑπὲρ ἁγίων expressed in its due place.
31 It is mere ignorance, and a superficial mind, to infer that
διά must mean the same thing in the two clauses of Romans 4:25 any more than “for” by which our translators render it. In the first it means “because of,” in the second, “for the sake of;” or “on account of” in both cases, but with a force decidedly different, as Romans 5:1 ought to prove to any fair mind. We cannot be justified apart from faith, but on that principle and by that only.
32 This is the true place of
δυνάμεις according to ample authority of the highest order. The oldest Greek MSS. which give the place of “powers” as in the common text are two uncials of the ninth century, but they are supported by several very ancient versions which were (probably through inadvertence) swayed by Ephesians 1:21, Ephesians 3:10, Ephesians 6:12; and Colossians 2:15.