The Theme And Analysis
The epistle to the Romans is undoubtedly the most scientific statement of the divine plan for the redemption of mankind that God has been pleased to give us. Apart altogether from the question of inspiration, we may think of it as a treatise of transcendent, intellectual power, putting to shame the most brilliant philosophies ever conceived by the minds of men.
It is noteworthy that the Holy Spirit did not take up an unlettered fisherman or provincial Galilean to unfold His redemption plan in all its majesty and grandeur. He selected a man of international outlook: a Roman citizen, yet a Hebrew of the Hebrews. A man whose education combined familiarity with Greek and Roman lore, including history, religion, philosophy, poetry, science and music, together with closest acquaintance with Judaism both as a divine revelation and as a body of rabbinical traditions and additions to the sacred deposit of the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms. This man, born in the proud educational center, Tarsus of Cilicia, and brought up at the feet of Gamaliel in Jerusalem, was the chosen vessel to make known to all nations for the obedience of faith the gospel of the glory of the blessed God, as so marvelously set forth in this immortal letter.
It was evidently written somewhere along the journey from Macedonia to Jerusalem, and very likely, as tradition asserts, at Corinth.
About to leave Europe for Palestine to carry to the Jewish Christians, his brethren after the flesh and in the Lord, the bounty provided by the Gentile assemblies, his heart turns longingly to Rome, the “eternal city,” the mistress of the ancient world, where already apart from direct apostolic ministry a Christian church had been formed. To a number of its members he was already known, to others he was a stranger, but he yearned over them all as a true father in Christ and earnestly desired to share with them the precious treasure committed to him. The Spirit had already indicated that a visit to Rome was in the will of God for him, but the time and circumstances were hidden from him. So he wrote this exposition of the divine plan and sent it on by a godly woman, Phebe, a deaconess of the assembly at Cenchrea, who had been called to Rome on business. The letter served the double purpose of introducing her to the Christians there and ministering to them the marvelous unfolding of the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel in accordance with the testimony committed to Paul. Think of the grace that entrusted this matchless epistle to the feeble hand of a woman in times such as those! The whole church of God throughout the centuries owes to Phebe a debt of gratitude and to the God who watched over her unending praise, for the preservation of the valuable manuscript that she delivered safely into the hands of the elders at Rome and through them to us.
The theme of the epistle is the righteousness of God. It forms one of an inspired trio of expositions that together give us an amazingly rich exegesis of a very brief Old Testament text. The text is found in Habakkuk 2:4: “The just shall live by his faith.” As quoted three times in the New Testament, there are just six words. The pronoun his being omitted. The three letters referred to are Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews, each of which is based upon this text.
Romans has to do particularly with the first two words. Its message is, “The just shall live by faith” (1:17), answering the question that is raised in the book of Job, “How [shall] man be just with God?” (9:2).
Galatians expounds the two central words, “The just shall live by faith” (3:11). The Galatian error was in supposing that while we begin in faith, we are perfected by works. But the apostle shows that we live by that same faith through which we were justified. “Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (v. 3).
Hebrews takes up the last two words, “The just shall live by faith” (10:38). It emphasizes the nature and power of faith itself, by which alone the justified believer walks. Incidentally, this is one reason why, after having carefully examined many arguments against the Pauline authorship of Hebrews, I have not the slightest doubt that it is correctly attributed to the same one who wrote Romans and Galatians. This is confirmed by the testimony of the apostle Peter in his second epistle, 2 Peter 3:15-16, for it was to converted Hebrews Peter was addressing himself and to them Paul had also written.
The epistles to the Romans may be readily divided into three great divisions:
1. Chapters 1-8 are doctrinal and give us the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel.
2. Chapters 9-11 are dispensational and give us the righteousness of God harmonized with His dispensational ways.
3. Chapters 12-16 are practical and set forth the righteousness of God producing practical righteousness in the believer.
Each of these divisions will be found to break naturally into smaller subdivisions, and these into sections and subsections.
In submitting the following outline, I do so only suggestively. The careful student may think of more apt designations for each particular part and may possibly find it simpler to separate the different paragraphs according to some other arrangement. But I suggest the following analysis as one that seems to me to be simple and illuminating.
Part l: Doctrinal: The Righteousness of God Revealed in the Gospel (Rom. 1—8)
A. The need of the gospel (1:1—3:20)
1. Salutation (1:1-7)
2. Introduction (1:8-17)
a. The apostle’s stewardship (1:8-15)
b. The theme stated (1:16-17)
3. The ungodliness and unrighteousness of the entire human family demonstrated; or, the need of the gospel (1:18—3:20)
a. The state of the degraded heathen: The barbarian world. (1:18-32)
b. The state of the cultured Gentiles: The moralists (2:1-16)
c. The state of the religious Jews (2:17-29)
d. The complete indictment of the entire world (3:1-20)
B. The gospel in relation to the question of our sins (3:21—5:11)
1. Justification by grace through faith on the ground of accomplished redemption (3:21-31)
2. The witness of the Law and the Prophets (4:1-25)
a. Abraham’s justification (4:1-6)
b. David’s testimony (4:7-8)
c. For all mankind on the same principle (4:9-25)
3. Peace with God: Its basis and results (5:1-5)
4. The summing “up” (5:6-11)
C. The gospel in relation to indwelling sin (5:12—8:39)
1. The two races and two heads (5:12-21)
2. The two masters: Sin and righteousness (6:1-23)
3. The two husbands, two natures, and two laws (7:1-25)
4. The triumph of grace (8:1-39)
a. No condemnation in Christ (8:1-4)
b. The Spirit of Christ in the believer (8:5-27)
c. God for us (8:28-34)
d. No separation (8:35-39)
Part 2: Dispensational: The Righteousness of God Harmonized with His Dispensational Ways (Rom. 9—11)
A. God’s past dealings with Israel in electing grace (9:1-33)
B. God’s present dealings with Israel in governmental discipline (10:1-21)
C. God’s future dealings with Israel in fulfillment of the prophetic Scriptures (11:1-36)
Part 3: Practical: Divine Righteousness Producing Practical Righteousness in the Believer (Rom. 12—16)
A. God’s good, acceptable, and perfect will revealed (12:1—15:7)
1. The walk of the Christian in relation to his fellow believers and to men of the world (12:1-21)
2. The Christian’s relation to worldly governments (13:1-14)
3. Christian liberty and consideration for others (14:1-23)
4. Christ: The believer’s pattern (15:1-7)
B. Conclusion (15:8-33)
C. Salutations (16:1-24)
Epilogue: The Mystery Revealed (Rom. 16:25-27)
I would earnestly press upon the student the importance of committing to memory, if possible, this outline or some similar analysis of the epistle, before attempting the study of the letter itself. Failure to get the great divisions and subdivisions firmly fixed in the mind leaves the door open for false interpretations and confused views later on. Many, for instance, through not observing that the question of justification is settled in chapters 3-5, are greatly perplexed when they come to chapter 7. But if the teaching of the first chapters referred to be clearly understood, then it will be seen that the man in chapter 7 is not raising again the question of a sinner’s acceptance with God, but is concerned about a saint’s walk in holiness. Then again, how many a soul has become almost distracted by reading eternal issues into chapter 9, altogether beyond what the apostle intended, and endeavoring to bring heaven and hell into it as though these were here the chief questions at issue, whereas God is dealing with the great dispensational question of His sovereign electing grace toward Israel, and His temporary repudiation of them nationally, while in a special way His grace goes out to the Gentiles. I only mention these instances at this time in order to impress upon each student the importance of having an “[outline] of sound words” (2 Tim. 1:13) in studying this or any other book of the Bible.
I add an additional suggestion or two. It is good to have “catchwords” sometimes to fix things in the mind. Someone has aptly designated Romans as “The Epistle of the Forum.” This, I think, is most helpful. In this letter the sinner is brought into the courtroom, the forum, the place of judgment, and shown to be utterly guilty and undone. But through the work of Christ a righteous basis has been laid upon which he can be justified from every charge. Nor does God stop here, but He openly acknowledges the believing sinner as His own son, making him a citizen of a favored race and owning him as His heir. Thus the challenge can be hurled at all objectors, “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” Every voice is silenced, for “it is God that justifieth” (Rom. 8:33), and this not at the expense of righteousness but in full accord therewith. This view readily accounts for the use of legal and judicial terms so frequently found in the argument.
A dying sinner was once asked if he would not like to be saved. “I certainly would,” he replied. “But,” he added earnestly, “I don’t want God to do anything wrong in saving me.” It was through the letter to the Romans he learned how “[God can] be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26). You will remember how Socrates expressed himself five hundred years before Christ. “It may be,” he said, addressing himself to Plato, “that the Deity can forgive sins, but I do not see how.” It is this that the Holy Spirit takes up so fully in this epistle. He shows us that God does not save sinners at the expense of His righteousness. In other words, if saved at all, it will not be because righteousness has been set aside in order that mercy might triumph, but mercy has found a way whereby divine righteousness can be fully satisfied and, yet, guilty sinners justified before the throne of high heaven.
The apostle John suggests the same wondrous truth when in his first epistle, he says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). How much more natural the sense would seem to our poor minds before being divinely instructed, if it read, “He is merciful and gracious to forgive.” Although the gospel is in the most marvelous way the unfolding of the mercy of God and exalts His grace as nothing else can, yet it is because it rests on a firm foundation of righteousness that it gives such settled peace to the soul who believes it. Since Christ has died, God could not be faithful to Him nor just to the believing sinner if He still condemned the one who trusts in Him who bore “our sins in his own body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24).
It is, therefore, the righteousness of God that is magnified in this epistle to the Romans, even as David of old cried, “[Save (or deliver)] me in thy righteousness” (Pss. 31:1; 71:2). It was as Luther was meditating on this verse that light began to dawn upon his darkened soul. He could understand how God could damn him in His righteousness, but it was when he saw that God can save in righteousness that his soul entered into peace. And untold myriads have found the same deliverance from perplexity when through this glorious unfolding of the righteousness of God as revealed in the gospel, they saw how “God can save, yet righteous be.” If we fail to see this as we study the epistle, we have missed the great purpose for which it was given of God.
I would add one other thought, which I believe is of moment, particularly for those who seek to present the gospel to others. It is this: in Romans, we have the gospel taught to saints rather than the gospel preached to unsaved sinners. I believe it is very important to see this. In order to be saved it is only necessary to trust in Christ. But in order to understand our salvation and, thus, to get out of it the joy and blessing God intends to be our portion, we need to have the work of Christ unfolded to us. This is what the Holy Spirit has done in this precious epistle. It is written to people who are already saved to show them the secure foundation upon which their salvation rests: namely, the righteousness of God. When faith apprehends this, doubts and fears are gone and the soul enters into settled peace.
Salutation And Introduction
As we come to a verse-by-verse examination of this epistle, we may well remind ourselves once more of the precious truth that “all scripture is God-breathed and profitable” (2 Tim. 3:16). God has spoken through His Word, and this letter contains some of the most important messages He has ever given to mankind. It will be well for us, therefore, to approach the study of it in a prayerful and self-judged spirit, putting all our own preconceived ideas to one side and letting God through the inspired Word correct our thoughts, or, better still, supplant them with His own.
The first seven verses, as we have already noticed, form the salutation and demand a careful examination. Some most precious truths are here communicated in what might seem a most casual manner. The writer, Paul, designates himself a servant—literally, bondman—of Jesus Christ. He does not mean, however, that his was a service of bondage, but rather the wholehearted obedience of one who realized that he had been “bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23), even the precious blood of Christ.
There is a story told of an African slave whose master was about to slay him with a spear when a chivalrous British traveler thrust out his arm to ward off the blow, and it was pierced by the cruel weapon. As the blood spurted out, he demanded the person of the slave, saying he had bought him by his suffering. To this the former master ruefully agreed. As the latter walked away, the slave threw himself at the feet of his deliverer, exclaiming, “The blood-bought is now the slave of the son of pity. He will serve him faithfully.” And he insisted on accompanying his generous deliverer and took delight in waiting upon him in every possible way.
Thus had Paul, thus has each redeemed one, become the bondman of Jesus Christ. We have been set free to serve and may well exclaim with the psalmist, “O LORD, truly I am thy servant; I am thy servant and the son of thine handmaid: thou hast loosed my bonds” (Ps. 116:16).
Not only was Paul in the general sense a servant, but he was a servant of peculiar and exalted character. He was a called apostle, not as in the Authorized Version, “called to be an apostle” (Rom. 1:1). The words “to be” are in italics and are not required to complete the sense. It may seem a small thing to which to call attention, but the same interpolation occurs in verse 7, where it is altogether misleading as we shall see when we come to consider it.
We need not think of Paul as one of the Twelve. Some question the regularity of the appointment of Matthias, but it seems to me we may well consider his selection by casting lots as the last official act of the old economy. It was necessary that one who had kept company with the Lord and His disciples from the baptism of John should fill the place that Judas had forfeited. Thus the number of the twelve apostles of the Lamb who are (in the glorious days of earth’s regeneration that we generally call the Millennium) to sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel, would be completed. Paul’s ministry is of a different character. He was preeminently the apostle to the Gentiles and to him was committed the special “dispensation of the mystery.” This puts his apostleship on an altogether different plane from that of the Twelve. They knew Christ on earth, and their ministry in a very definite way was linked with the kingdom and the family of God. Paul knew him first as the glorified Lord Jesus, and his was distinctively the gospel of the glory.
He was “separated unto the gospel of God” (v. 1). We may rightfully think of this separation from several different viewpoints. He had been set apart for his special ministry before his birth. As in the instances of Moses, Jeremiah, and John the Baptist, he was separated from his mother’s womb (Gal. 1:15). But he must first learn the weakness and unprofitableness of the flesh. Then God had mercy on him, and he was separated from the Christless mass and called by divine grace. But there was more than this. He was in a peculiar sense delivered from both the people of Israel and the Gentile nations to be a minister and witness of the things he had seen and heard. And lastly, he was separated with Barnabas for the specific work of carrying the gospel to the Gentiles, when at Antioch in Pisidia, the brethren, in accordance with the divine command, laid their hands upon them and sent them away to carry the gospel to the regions beyond. This gospel is here called “the gospel of God.” In verse 9 it is called “the gospel of his Son,” and in verse 16, “the gospel of Christ,” although there is a possibility that the words “of Christ” should be dropped, as they do not appear in some of the best manuscripts.
Verse 2 is parenthetical and identifies the gospel with the glad tidings promised in Old Testament times and predicted by the prophets in the Holy Scripture. “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43). Timothy had been taught from childhood the Holy Scriptures, and the apostle says that these “are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15).
This gospel is not a new law. It is not a code of morals or ethics. It is not a creed to be accepted. It is not a system of religion to be adhered to. It is not good advice to be followed. It is a divinely given message concerning a divine Person, the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord. This glorious Being is true Man, yet very God. He is the Branch that grew out of the root of David, therefore true Man. But He is also the Son of God, the virgin-born, who had no human father, and this His works of power demonstrate. To this blessed fact the Spirit of Holiness bare witness when He raised dead persons to life. The expression, “by the resurrection from the dead,” is literally, “by resurrection of dead persons” (Rom. 1:4). It includes His own resurrection, of course; but it also takes in the resurrection of the daughter of Jairus, of the widow’s son, and of Lazarus. He who could thus rob death of its prey was God and man in one blessed, adorable Person, worthy of all worship and praise, now and forevermore.
From Him, the risen One, Paul had received grace (not only unmerited favor, but favor against merit, for he had deserved the very opposite) and apostleship by divine call that he might make known the gospel unto all nations to the obedience of faith for Christ’s name’s sake.
His apostleship, therefore, extended to those who were in Rome. Hitherto, he had not been able to visit them personally, but his heart went out to them as the called of Jesus Christ, and so he writes “to all that be in Rome,…called…saints” (v. 7). Observe that they were saints in the same way that he was an apostle, namely, by divine call. We do not become saints by acting in a saintly way, but because we are constituted saints we should manifest saintliness.
As is customary in his letters, he wishes them grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Saved by grace in the first place, we need grace for seasonable help all along the way. Having peace with God through the blood of His cross, we need the peace of God to keep our hearts at rest as we journey on toward the eternal Sabbath-keeping that remains for the people of God.
Verses 8-17 are the introduction, which make clear his reasons for writing.
It is evident that a work of God had begun in Rome a number of years before the writing of this letter, for already the faith of the Christian assembly there was spoken of throughout the whole world, that is, throughout the Roman Empire. There is no evidence whatever that this work was in any sense linked with apostolic ministry. Both Scripture and history are silent as to who founded the church in Rome. Certainly Peter did not. There is not the remotest reason for connecting his name with it. The boast of the Roman Catholic Church that it is founded on Peter as the rock and that the Roman Bishop is the successor of St. Peter is all the merest twaddle. We have no means of knowing whether any apostle visited Rome until Paul himself was taken there in chains.
There seems to have been a providential reason why he was hindered from going there earlier. He calls God to witness (that God whom he served not merely outwardly but in his spirit, the inward man, in the gospel of His Son) that he had never ceased to pray for those Roman believers since he first heard of them. Coupled with his petitions for them was his earnest request that if it was the will of God he might have the opportunity to visit them and “have a prosperous journey” (v. 10). How differently that prayer was answered from what he might have expected, we well know. It gives us a little idea of the overruling wisdom of God in answering all our prayers. No man is competent to say what is prosperous and what is not. God’s ways are not ours.
Paul longed to see them, hoping that he might be used of God to impart unto them some spiritual gift which would be for their establishment in the truth. Nor did he think only of being a blessing to them, but he fully expected that they would be a blessing to him. Both would be comforted together.
Many times during the past years he had prepared to go to Rome, but his plans had miscarried. He longed to have some fruit there as in other Gentile cities, for he felt himself to be a debtor to all mankind. The treasure committed to him was not for his own enjoyment but that he might make it known to others, whether Greeks or barbarians, cultured or ignorant. And realizing this he was ready to preach the gospel in Rome as elsewhere.
When in verse 16 he says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ,” I understand that he means far more than people generally attach to these words. It was not merely that he did not blush to be called a Christian or that he was always ready boldly to declare his faith in Christ, but the gospel was to him a wonderful, because inspired, scheme for the redemption of mankind, a divinely revealed system of truth transcending all the philosophies of earth, which he was ready to defend on every occasion. It was not, as some might have supposed, that he had refrained from visiting Rome because he did not feel competent to present the claims of Christ in the metropolis of the world in such a manner that they could not be answered and logically repudiated by the cultured philosophers who thronged the great city. He had no fear that they would be able to overthrow by their subtle reasonings that which he knew to be the only authoritative plan of salvation. It is beyond human reason, but it is not illogical or unreasonable. It is perfect because of God.
This gospel had been demonstratively proven to be the divine dynamic bringing deliverance to all who put faith in it, whether the religious Jew or the cultured Greek. It was the power of God and the wisdom of God unto salvation. It met every need of the mind, the conscience, and the heart of man, for in it the righteousness of God was revealed faith-wise. This I take to be the real meaning of the somewhat difficult expression translated “from faith to faith” (v. 17). It is really “out of faith unto faith.” That is, on the principle of faith to those who have faith. In other words, it is not a doctrine of salvation by works, but a proclamation of salvation entirely on the faith principle. This had been declared to Habakkuk long centuries before when God said to the troubled prophet, “The just shall live by faith.”
This is the text of the entire epistle, as we have already seen, and of Galatians and Hebrews likewise.
It gives us the quintessence of the divine plan. It has been the rest of millions throughout the centuries. It was the foundation of what has been designated the Augustinian Theology. It was the key that opened the door of liberty to Martin Luther. It became the battle cry of the Reformation. And it is the touchstone of every system since that professes to be of God. If wrong here, they are bound to be wrong throughout. It is impossible to understand the gospel if the basic principle be misunderstood or denied. Justification by faith alone is the test of orthodoxy. But no mind untaught by the Holy Spirit will ever receive it, for it sets the first man aside altogether as in the flesh and unprofitable in order that the Second Man, the Man of God’s counsels, the Lord Jesus Christ, may alone be exalted. Faith gives all honor to Him as the One who has finished the work that saves and in whom alone God has been fully glorified, His holiness maintained, and His righteousness vindicated, and that not in the death of the sinner but in the salvation of all who believe. It is a gospel worthy of God, and it has demonstrated its power by what it has accomplished in those who have received it in faith.
The Need Of The Gospel
We have seen that the gospel reveals the righteousness of God. The apostle now proceeds to show the need of such a revelation and piles proof upon proof, evidence upon evidence, and Scripture upon Scripture to demonstrate the solemn fact that man has no righteousness of his own, but is both by nature and practice utterly unsuited to a God of infinite holiness whose throne is established on righteousness. This he does in the next section of the epistle, Romans 1:18—3:20. In a masterly way he brings the whole world into court and shows that condemnation rests upon all because all have sinned. Man is guilty, hopelessly so, and can do nothing to retrieve his condition. If God has not a righteousness for him his case is ended.
In verses 18-32 of the first chapter the case of the barbarian is considered. “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness” (v. 18). The first class is the pagan world. The second, those to whom a divine revelation had come. The barbarians and heathen generally are ungodly. They know not the true God and so are “without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). Therefore, their behavior is described as ungodliness.
On the other hand, to the Jew had been committed the knowledge of God and a divine code of righteousness. He gloried in this while walking in unrighteousness. He held the truth (as something on which he had a “corner”) in unrighteousness. Against both classes the wrath of God is revealed.
The heathen are without excuse. Paganism and idolatry are not steps in human evolution as man advances from slime to divinity. Heathenism is a declension not an upward reach. The great pagan nations once knew more than they do now. The knowledge of God brought through the flood was disseminated throughout the ancient world. Back of all the great idolatrous systems is pure monotheism. But men could not stand this intimate knowledge of God, for it made them uncomfortable in their sins. So a host of lesser deities and divinities were invented as go-betweens and, eventually, the knowledge of the true God was entirely lost. But even today creation is His constant witness: “That which may be known of God is manifest [to] them; for God hath shown it unto them” (Rom. 1:19). This orderly universe with its succession of the seasons and the mathematical accuracy of the movements of the heavenly bodies bears testimony to the Divine Mind. The stars in their courses proclaim the great Creator’s power:
Forever singing as they shine,
The Hand that made us is divine.
So, “the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead” (v. 20). One word in the original is rendered by four words in English: “Things-that-are-made” is Poima, and from this we get our word poem. Creation is God’s great epic poem, every part fitted together like the lines and verses of a majestic hymn. In Ephesians 2:10 we find the same word again. “We are his workmanship [His poem] created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” This is God’s greatest poem: the epic of redemption.
‘Twas great to call a world from naught;
‘Twas greater to redeem.
These two wondrous poems are celebrated in Revelation 4—5. In chapter 4 the enthroned and crowned saints worship Christ as Creator. In chapter 5 they adore Him as Redeemer.
Pursuing Paul’s argument we note in verses 21-23 that the barbarous nations are without excuse for their present ignorance and bestial condition,
Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts and creeping things.
Observe the downward steps on the toboggan-slide of idolatry—God first thought of as an idealized man, then likened to the birds that soar into the heavens, next to the beasts that prowl over the earth, and finally to serpents and other detestable creeping things, whether reptilian or insectivorous. Even the Egyptian worshiped the serpent and the scarabaeus, and yet back of all Egyptian mythology is hidden the original revelation of one true and living God! What degradation does this imply on the part of one of the most enlightened nations of antiquity! And others bear similar marks of declension and deterioration.
Because men gave God up, He gave them up. Twice in the verses that follow we read, “God gave them up,” first to uncleanness and then to vile affections. Once we are told, “God gave them over to a reprobate mind” (v. 28). The vile immoralities depicted here are the natural result of turning from the Holy One. The picture of heathenism in its unspeakable obscenities is not overdrawn, as any one acquainted with the lives of idolatrous people will testify. The awful thing is that all this vileness and filthiness is being reproduced in modern high society where men and women repudiate God. If people change the truth of God into a lie and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator, the whole order of nature is violated. For apart from the fear of God there is no power known that will hold the evil desires of the natural heart in check. It is part of the very nature of things that flesh will be manifested in its worst aspects when God gives men up to follow the bent of their unholy lusts.
What a picture of mankind away from Him do we get in the closing verses. Sin and corruption are everywhere triumphant. Righteousness is not to be found when the back is turned on God. Nor are men sensitive about their sins or ashamed of their evil ways, but “knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.”
That the apostle’s picture of heathenism is still true, the following clipping bears witness: “A Chinese teacher once told a missionary that the Bible could not be so ancient a book after all, because the first chapter of Romans gave an account of Chinese conduct, such as the missionary could only have written after full acquaintance with the people. The mistake was not an unnatural one, but it is a heathen’s testimony to the truth of the Bible.”
In the first sixteen verses of the next chapter another class is brought into view: it is the world of culture and refinement. Surely among the educated, the followers of the various philosophic systems, will be found men who lead such righteous lives that they can come into the presence of God claiming His blessing on the ground of their own goodness! Certainly there were those who professed to look with disgust and abhorrence upon the vile lewdness of the ignorant rabble, but were their private lives any holier or any cleaner than those whom they so loudly condemned?
It is now their turn to be summoned into court, so to speak, where the apostle fearlessly arraigns them before the august tribunal of “the righteous LORD [who] loveth righteousness” (Ps. 11:7). “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest; for wherein thou judgest another thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things” (Rom. 2:1). Philosophy does not preserve its devotee from the indulgence of the flesh. A recognition of the evil is not necessarily power to overcome the evil. Culture does not cleanse the heart nor education alter the nature. It is against the doer of evil that the judgment of God according to truth will be rendered. To praise virtue while practicing vice may enable one to get by with his fellows, but it will not deceive Him who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity.
Sternly he asks, “Thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? Or despisest thou the riches of His goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” (vv. 2-3). Men are inclined to consider that God is condoning their ways, if “sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily” (Eccl. 8:11), whereas He waits in long-suffering mercy that men may have opportunity to face their sins and own their guilt, thus finding mercy. Instead of doing this, after the hardness and impenitence of their hearts, men untouched by divine grace “treasurest up unto themselves wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his deeds” (Rom. 2:5-6).
What a solemn expression is this—“treasurest up [or storing up]…wrath against the day of wrath!” How apt was the answer of the poor old colored woman who when taunted with the folly of believing in a “lake of fire and brimstone” (Rev. 20:10) because “no such an amount of brimstone could be found in one place,” exclaimed solemnly, “Ebryone takes his own brimstone wif’ him!” Ah, that is it! Each rebel against God, each sinner against light, each violator of his own conscience carries his own brimstone with him! He is making his own destiny.
Properly, I believe, we should consider verses 7-15 as parenthetical, not merely 13-15, as indicated in the Authorized Version. In these verses great principles of judgment are laid down that should forever silence the caviler who would charge God with unrighteousness because some have light and privileges that others do not enjoy.
Judgment will be “according to truth” (Rom. 2:2) and “according to…deeds” (v. 6). Men will be judged by the light they have had, not by the light they never knew. Eternal life is offered to all who “by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and [incorruptibility]” (v. 7). (Observe it is not immortality, but incorruptibility. The distinction is of great importance, though the two terms are often confounded in the Authorized Version.) If any were so characterized, it would prove that there was a divine work in the soul. But where is the natural man who so lives? Well then, “unto them that are contentious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness,” there can but be meted out in the day of judgment “indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil,” whether privileged Jew or ignorant Gentile (vv. 8-9).
It is not that God will deal in indiscriminate judgment with all men, therefore, but light given will be the standard by which they are judged. None can complain, for if one but “follow the gleam” he will find light enough to guide his steps and ensure his salvation. If, by the light of nature, men realize their responsibility to their Creator, He will make Himself responsible to give them further light unto the salvation of their souls.
With Him there is no respect of persons. The greater the privileges, the greater the responsibility. But where privileges are comparatively few, He regards ignorant men with no less interest and tender compassion than He does those whose outward circumstances are seemingly better.
“As many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law” (v. 12). No principle could be sounder. Men are held responsible for what they know, or might know if they would. They are not condemned for ignorance unless that ignorance be the result of the willful rejection of light. “Men [love] darkness rather than light, because their deeds [are] evil” (John 3:19).
The parenthetical verses 13-15 of Romans 2 emphasize the plain principle already laid down so forcibly. Judgment is according to deeds. To know the law and fail to obey it only increases the condemnation. Doers of the law will be justified, if such there are. But elsewhere we learn that from this standpoint all would be lost, for “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight” (3:20). The Jew prided himself upon being in possession of the divine oracles and thought this made him superior to the Gentile nations round about. But God has not left Himself without wit ness. To these nations He has given both the light of conscience and the light of nature. They “show the work of the law written in their hearts” (2:15).
Observe, it is not that the law is written in their hearts. That is new birth and is the distinctive blessing of the new covenant. If the law were written there, they would fulfill its righteousness. But the work of the law is quite another thing. “The law worketh wrath” (4:15). It is a “[ministry] of condemnation” (2 Cor. 3:9). And Gentile sinners who never heard of the Sinaitic code have a sense of condemnation resting upon them when they live in violation of the dictates of their divinely-implanted conscience which testifies either for or against them—“accusing or else excusing one another” (Rom. 2:15). This is experimental proof that they are on the ground of responsibility and that God will be righteous in judging them in that solemn day when the Man Christ Jesus will sit upon the august tribunal of the ages and manifest the secret motives and springs of conduct. This, Paul says is “according to my gospel” (v. 16). He declares that the Crucified will sit upon the throne at the last great assize. “[God] hath appointed a day, in which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).
With all that the apostle had written concerning the sinfulness and degeneracy of the Gentiles, whether barbarian or highly civilized, the Jew would be in fullest agreement. They were “dogs,” outside of the Abrahamic covenant, “aliens [to] the commonwealth of Israel” (Eph. 2:12). Their judgment was just, for they were the enemies of God and His chosen people. But it was otherwise with the Hebrews. They were the elect of Jehovah, the chosen race to whom God had given His holy law and favored with abundant tokens of His special regard. So they reasoned, forgetting that holding correct doctrine does not avail if practical righteousness be overlooked or disregarded.
The apostle suddenly summons the proud worldly Sadducee and the complacent Pharisee into court, and proceeds to arraign them along with the despised Gentiles. Verses 17-29 give us the examination of the chosen people.
Behold, [he exclaims,] thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, and knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent [or, triest things that differ; see margin], being instructed out of the law; and art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law. (vv. 17-20)
In these masterly clauses he sums up all their pretensions. And when I say pretensions, I do not mean pretenses. These were the things in which they gloried and they were largely true. God had revealed Himself to this people as to no other, but they were wrong in supposing that this exempted them from judgment if they failed to keep His covenant. He had said long before, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities” (Amos 3:2).
Privilege increases responsibility. It does not, as they seemed to think, set it aside. The knowledge of the divine oracles gave to the Jew a standard of judgment that no others had. Therefore, how much holier should be his life! Were the Israelites then a more righteous people than the nations about them? On the contrary, they failed more miserably than those of less light and fewer privileges.
Incisively the Spirit of God drives home the truth as to their actual state in four questions calculated to expose the inmost secrets of their hearts and to lay bare the hidden sins of their lives. “Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?” (Rom. 2:21). You are so confident that you are fitted to instruct the ignorant, have you heeded the instruction given in the law? No answer!
“Thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?” (v. 21). Throughout the ancient world the Jew was looked upon as the arch-thief, using every cunning device known to the money lender and usurer to part his clients from their wealth. True, driven by desperation, the Gentile voluntarily put himself into the hand of the Jewish pawnbroker, but he knew as he did so that he was dealing with one who had no niceties of pity or compassion for an indigent debtor when the debtor was a hated Gentile dog. The Jew is again speechless.
“Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery?” (v. 22). Lechery of the gravest kind was not an uncommon offense in Israel, as the divine records prove and as history bears witness. The evil is in the very nature of man. Out of the heart proceed fornication, lasciviousness, and every unclean thing. In this respect the Jew is as guilty as his Gentile neighbor. He has no reply.
Perhaps the keenest thrust is in the last question of all. “Thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?” (v. 22). The word translated “commit sacrilege” really means “to traffic in idols.” This was an offense of which the Jew was peculiarly guilty. Abhorring images, he nevertheless was often known to act as a go-between in disposing of idols stolen from the temples of a conquered people and those ready to purchase them in other districts. He was even charged with systematically robbing temples and then selling the images. The town clerk of Ephesus had this in mind when he said, “Ye have brought hither these men, which are neither robbers of [temples, not churches], nor yet blasphemers of your goddess” (Acts 19:37). So this was indeed a home thrust, exposing at once the hypocritical character of the man who professed detestation of idolatry and all its works, and yet was not above profiting financially at the expense of idolaters in a manner so thoroughly dishonest.
So the apostle drives home the tremendous indictment! “For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written” (Rom. 2:24). This their own prophets had declared, and he but insists upon what Scripture and their consciences confirmed.
To trust in circumcision, the sign of the Abrahamic covenant, while walking in so carnal a manner was but deceiving themselves. Ordinances do not profit if that of which the ordinance speaks is neglected. The uncircumcised Gentile, if he walk before God in righteousness, will be accounted as circumcised, whereas the covenant mark on the flesh of a Jew will only add to his condemnation if he lives in opposition to the law.
It is reality that counts with God. The true Jew (and “Jew” is a contraction of “Judah,” meaning, “Praise”) is not one who is such by natural birth alone or by outward conformity to ritual, but one who is circumcised in heart, who has judged his sinfulness in the sight of the Lord, and who now seeks to walk in accordance with the revealed will of God (see vv. 26-29). “Whose praise [note the play on the word Jew] is not of men, but of God” (v. 29).
In Romans 3:1-20 we have the great indictment, the summing up of all that has gone before. There is no moral distinction between Jew and Gentile. All are bereft of righteousness. All are shut up to judgment, unless God has a righteousness of His own providing for them.
That the Jew has certain advantages over the Gentile is acknowledged as self-evident, and of these the chief is the possession of the Holy Scripture, the oracles of God. But these very Scripture passages only made his guilt the more evident. Even if they did not really have faith in these sacred writings yet their unfaith cannot make void the faithfulness of God. He will fulfill His Word even if it be in the setting aside of the people He chose for Himself. He must be true though all others prove untrue. In judgment He will maintain His righteousness, as David confesses in Psalm 51:1-4.
Does man’s unrighteousness then but prepare the way for God to display His righteousness, and is it a necessity of the case? If so, sin is a part of the divine plan and man cannot be held accountable. But this the apostle indignantly refutes. God is just. He will judge men for their sins in righteousness. And this could not be if sin were foreordained and predetermined. If the latter were true, man might have just cause to complain: “If the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner?” (Rom. 3:7). And in that case what was being slanderously reported by some as the teaching of Paul, “Let us do evil that good may come” (v. 8), would be correct. But all who so plead show themselves deficient in moral principle. Their judgment is just.
Then in verses 9-20 we have the divine verdict on the entire human race. The Jew is no better than the Gentile. All alike are under—that is, slaves to—sin. And this the Old Testament confirms. Like a masterly lawyer he cites authority after authority to prove his case. The quotations are largely from the Psalms, and one from the prophet Isaiah (see Pss. 5:9; 10:7; 14:1-3; 36:1; 53:1-3; 140:3; Isa. 59:7-8). These are testimonies the Jew could not attempt to refute, coming as they do from his own acknowledged Scripture. There are fourteen distinct counts in this indictment or summary of evidence.
1. “There is none righteous, no, not one” (v. 10). All have failed in something.
2. “There is none that understandeth” (v. 11a). All have become willfully ignorant.
3. “There is none that seeketh after God” (v. lib). All seek their own.
4. “They are all gone out of the way” (v. 12a). They have deliberately turned their backs on the truth.
5. “They are together become unprofitable” (v. 12b). They have dishonored God instead of glorifying Him.
6. “There is none that doeth good, no, not one” (v. 12c). Their practices are evil. They do not follow after that which is good.
7. “Their throat is an open sepulchre” (v. 13a). because of the corruption within.
8. “With their tongues they have used deceit” (v. 13b). Lying and deception are characteristic.
9. “The poison of asps is under their lips” (v. 13c). It is the poison inserted into the very nature of man by “that old serpent,…the Devil, and Satan” (Rev. 12:9; 20:2) at the very beginning.
10. “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness” (v. 14) for “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matt. 12:34).
11. “Their feet are swift to shed blood” (v. 15). Hatred produces murder and, alas, in how many ways it is manifested!
12. “Destruction and misery are in their ways” (v. 16), because they have forgotten God the source of life and blessing.
13. “The way of peace have they not known” (v. 17), for they have deliberately chosen the ways of death.
14. “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (v. 18). Hence there is no wisdom in them.
Can any plead “Not guilty” to all of these charges? If so, let him speak. But none can honestly do so. And so he concludes, “We know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (vv. 19-20).
It is God saying again, as in the days of Noah, “The end of all flesh is come before me” (Gen. 6:13). “They that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8). “The flesh profiteth nothing” (John 6:63). How slow we are to learn this! How hard it is for the natural man to give up all pretension to righteousness and to fall down in the dust of self-judgment and repentance before God, only to find he is then in the very place where grace can meet him!
The law was given to a special people as we have seen. They alone were “under the law.” That Gentiles were not, we have already been told in Romans 2:12-14. How, then, does the failure of those under the law bring in all the world as guilty before God? An illustration may help. A man has a desert ranch of large extent. He is told it is worthless as pasturage or farming land. He fences off twelve acres; breaks it, harrows it, fertilizes it, sows it, cultivates it, and reaps only sagebrush and cactus! It is no use trying out the rest, for all is of the same character. He says it is all good-for-nothing, so far as agriculture is concerned. Israel was God’s twelve acres. He gave them His law, instructed them, disciplined them, warned them, restrained them, protected them, and sent His Son to them. It was Him they rejected and crucified. In this act the Gentiles joined. Ail are under judgment to God. There is no use of further test. There is nothing in the flesh for God. Man is hopelessly corrupt. He is not only guilty but is utterly unable to retrieve his condition. The law but accentuates his guilt. It cannot justify. It can only condemn.
How hopeless is the picture! But it is the dark background on which God will display the riches of His grace in Christ Jesus!
The Gospel In Relation To Our Sins
It is with a sense of the greatest relief that we turn from the sad story of man’s sin and shame to contemplate the wondrous grace of God as told out in the gospel, the divine remedy for the ruin that came in by the fall. And this presentation of the Good News is in two parts: it presents the gospel first as having to do with the question of our sins and, then when that is settled, as having to do with our sin—the sin-principle, sin in the flesh, the carnal mind which dominates the unsaved, unregenerated man. The first theme is fully taken up in Romans 3:21—5:11, and this we will now consider.
“But now,” exclaims the apostle. It marks a decided change of subject. Now that man has been fully shown up, God will be revealed. Now upon the proven unrighteousness of all mankind “the righteousness of God…is manifested” (3:21). Of old He had declared, “I [will] bring near my righteousness” (Isa. 46:13). This is in no sense a wrought-out, legal righteousness, such as man was unable to produce for God. It is a righteousness “without the law,” that is, altogether apart from any principle of human obedience to a divinely-ordained code of morals. It is a righteousness of God for unrighteous men and is in no wise dependent upon human merit or attainment.
The righteousness of God is a term of wide import. Here it means a righteousness of God’s providing—a perfect standing for guilty men for which God makes Himself responsible. If men are saved at all, it must be in righteousness. But of this, man is utterly bereft. Therefore, God must find a way whereby every claim of His righteous throne shall be met, and yet guilty sinners be justified from all things. His very nature demands that this must not be at the expense of righteousness but in full accord with it.
And this has been in His mind from the beginning. It is “witnessed,” or borne testimony to, “by the law and the prophets” (v. 21). Moses depicts it in many types of remarkable beauty. The coats of skin wherein our first parents were clothed, the sacrificial victims accepted in behalf of the offerers, the wonderful symbolism of the tabernacle all tell out the story of a righteousness provided by God for the unrighteous sinner who turns to Him in faith. The prophets, too, take up the same story. They predict the coming of the Just One who was to die to bring unjust men nigh to God. “Deliver me in thy righteousness,” cries David (Ps. 31:1). “Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow,” he prays (51:7). “He hath clothed [us in] the garments of salvation, … in the robe of righteousness” (Isa. 61:10), says Isaiah, for “the chastisement of our peace was upon him” who was “bruised for our iniquities” (53:5). “This is his name,” exclaims Jeremiah, “whereby he shall be called, the Lord our Righteousness” (Jer. 23:6). “I will save you from all your uncleannesses,” is the promise through Ezekiel (36:29). To Daniel the angel Gabriel foretells the making of “reconciliation for iniquity” and the bringing in of “everlasting righteousness” (Dan. 9:24). The so-called Minor Prophets take up the same strain, and all point forward to the Coming One through whom salvation will be secured for all who repent—Jehovah’s Fellow, who will become the smitten Shepherd for man’s redemption. “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43).
The righteousness of God is a “by faith” righteousness. It is not “by works.” Faith is taking God at His word. So He has sent a message to man to be believed. It is the offer of an unimpeachable righteousness to all, but is only upon all them who believe. There is a question as to the reading here. Some editors reject “and upon all” (Rom. 3:22). But there can be no question of the underlying truth. God freely offers a righteousness to all. It is the covering of all those who believe and of them only. All need it alike, for all have sinned. There is no difference as to this. No man has come up to the standard. All have come short of the glory of God. But He is not looking for merit in man. He offers His righteousness as a free gift. So we read, “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (v. 24).
To be justified is to be declared righteous. It is the sentence of the judge in favor of the prisoner. It is not a state or condition of soul. We are not justified because we have become righteous in heart and life. God justifies first, then He enables the justified one to walk in practical righteousness. We are justified freely. The word means “without price!” It is the same as in John 15:25, “They hated me without a cause.” There was nothing evil in the ways or life of Jesus, for which men should hate Him. They hated Him freely. So there is no good in man for which God should justify him. He is justified freely, without a cause, when he believes in Jesus.
This is “by grace.” Grace is not only unmerited favor. Grace is favor against merit. It is the goodness of God, not alone to men who have done and can do nothing to deserve it, but it is favor shown to men who have deserved the very opposite. “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Rom. 5:20).
Sovereign grace, o’er sin abounding;
Ransomed souls the tidings swell,
‘Tis a deep that knows no sounding;
Who its length and breadth can tell?
On its glories
Let my soul forever dwell.
In order thus to show grace in righteousness to admittedly guilty sinners, God must have a just and satisfactory basis. Sin cannot be overlooked. It must be atoned for. This has been effectuated “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (3:24). Redemption is a buying back. Man’s life is forfeited because of his iniquitous ways. He is sold under judgment. Christ the Holy One—God and Man in one glorious Person upon whom the violated law had no claim— took the guilty rebel’s place, paid the utmost penalty, thus redeeming the believing sinner from the wrath and curse to which he had sold himself.
He bore on the tree, the sentence for me,
And now both the Surety and sinner are free.
And He who died lives again and is Himself the abiding propitiation—literally, the mercy seat, the place where God can meet with man through Christ’s atoning blood—available to faith. The apostle clearly alludes to the blood-sprinkled mercy seat on the ark of the covenant of old. Within the ark were the tables of the law. Above were the cherubim, “justice and judgment” the habitation of God’s throne. They are ready, as it were, to leap from that throne to execute God’s righteous wrath against the violators of His law. But sprinkled upon the mercy seat is the blood that typifies the sacrifice of the cross. Justice and judgment ask no more. “Mercy rejoiceth against judgment” (James 2:13), for God Himself has found a ransom.
Until the Lord Jesus suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust to bring us to God, the sin question was not really settled. “It [was] not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Heb. 10:4). Old Testament saints therefore were all saved “on credit,” as we say. Now that Christ has died the account is closed, and God declares His righteousness in pretermitting sins down through the past ages when men turned to Him in faith. It is not our past sins He refers to in verse 25. It is the sins of believers in the ages before the cross. And now God declares at this time—since the work is done—His righteousness, for He has shown how He can be just and yet justify ungodly sinners who believe in Jesus. This leaves no room for boasting on man’s part, rather for shame and contrition in view of what our sins cost the Savior, and of joyful praise as we contemplate the grace that wrought so wondrously on our behalf. Human merit is barred out in the very nature of the case. Salvation is through grace by faith. “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law” (Rom. 3:28). This then embraces lawless Gentiles as well as law-breaking Jews. The same evangel is for all. He who is the Creator of all has passed none by. He will justify the circumcised not by ritual but by faith, and the uncircumcised Gentile through faith likewise.
Does this invalidate or ignore the law? Not at all. The law condemned the breaker of it and demanded vengeance. This Christ has borne, so the majesty of the law is upheld, yet sinners are saved.
On Christ Almighty vengeance fell
That would have sunk a world to hell;
He bore it for a chosen race,
And thus became a Hiding-place.
In chapter 4 the apostle proceeds to show, by means of Abraham and David, how all this is witnessed by the law and the prophets. Abraham is taken from the Pentateuch, the books of the law; David from the Psalms, which are linked with the Prophets.
What then do we see in Abraham? Was he justified before God by his works? If so, he had this to boast in, that he had righteously deserved the divine approval. But what does the Scripture say? In Genesis 15:6 we are told that “[Abraham] believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” Romans 4:3 reads, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” This is the very principle the apostle has been pressing and explaining so clearly.
To earn salvation by works would be to put God in man’s debt. He would owe it to the successful worker to save him. This is the very opposite of grace, which is mercy shown “to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5). It is his faith that is counted for righteousness. To this then Abraham bears testimony. And David too is heard singing the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness without works, when he cries in Psalm 32:1-2: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity.” Romans 4:7-8 reads, “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” In the psalm the Hebrew word for “covered” means “atoned for.” This is the gospel. Atonement has been made. Therefore, God does not impute sin to the believer in His Son but imputes righteousness instead.
Luther called the Thirty-second Psalm “a Pauline Psalm.” It teaches in no uncertain way the same glorious doctrine of justification apart from human merit. The non-imputation of sin is equivalent to the imputation of righteousness. Augustine of Hippo had these words painted on a placard and placed at the foot of his bed where his dying eyes could rest upon them. To myriads more they have brought peace and gladness in the knowledge of transgression forgiven and sin atoned for, as the Hebrew word in the Old Testament translated “covered” really means.
This blessedness was not—is not—for a chosen few only, but is freely offered to all. Faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness when he was on Gentile ground before the covenant sign of circumcision was placed upon his flesh. It was really a seal of what was already true, as in the case of Christian baptism. Because he was justified he was commanded to be circumcised. In the centuries since the Jews had come to regard the sign as of more importance than the faith. People ever exalt the visible at the expense of the invisible.
Abraham is called “the father of circumcision” (Rom. 4:12), for through him the ordinance began. But he is father not only to them who are of the circumcision literally, but to all who have no confidence in the flesh, who have judged it as weak and unprofitable, and who, like him, trust in the living God.
The promise that he should be heir of the world was not given to him “through the law” (v. 13), that is, it was not a reward of merit, something he had earned by obedience. It was on the ground of sovereign grace. Hence his righteousness, like ours if we believe, was a “by faith righteousness.” The heirs of the promise are those who accept it in the same faith, otherwise it would be utterly invalidated. It was an unconditional promise.
The law promised blessing upon obedience and denounced judgment on disobedience. None have kept it. Therefore, “the law worketh wrath” (v. 15). It cursed. It could not bless. It intensified sin by giving it the specific character of transgression, making it the willful violation of known law. It could not be the means of earning what was freely given.
The promise of blessing through the Seed—which is Christ—is of faith that it might be by grace. And so it is “sure” to all the seed, that is, to all who have faith. All such are “of the faith of Abraham” (v. 16). He is thus the father of us all who believe in Jesus. And so the word is fulfilled that said, “I have made thee a father of many nations” (v. 17). This comes in parenthetically. The words, “Before Him whom he believed,” properly follow the words, “the father of us all.” That is to say, Abraham, though not literally our father by natural generation, is the father of all who believe in the sight of God. The same faith characterizes them all.
God is the God of resurrection. He works when nature is powerless. He so wrought in the case of Abraham and Sarah, both beyond the time when they could naturally be the parents of a child. He so wrought when He raised up Christ, the true Seed, first by bringing Him into the world contrary to nature, of a virgin mother; and second by bringing Him up from the dead. Abraham believed in the God of resurrection and staggered not at the divine promise though fulfillment seemed impossible. God delights to do impossibilities! What He promises He performs. Fully persuaded of this, Abraham believed God, and “it was imputed to him for righteousness” (v. 22). In the same way we are called upon to believe on Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead—He who was, in infinite grace, delivered up to death to make atonement for our offenses, and who, upon the completion of His work to God’s satisfaction, was raised again for our justification. His resurrection is the proof that God is satisfied. The divine justice has been appeased. The holiness of God has been vindicated. The law has been established. And so the believing sinner is declared justified from all things. Such is the testimony of chapter 4.
In the first eleven verses of chapter 5 we have a marvelous summing up, concluding this phase of the subject. “Therefore,” that is, in view of all that has been so clearly established, “being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 1). Some would render it, “Let us have peace.” But this is to weaken the force of the entire argument. Peace, as used here, is not a state of mind or heart. It is a prevailing condition between two who were once alienated. Sin had disturbed the relations of Creator and creature. A breach had come in which man could not mend. But peace has been made by the blood of Christ’s cross. There is no longer a barrier. Peace with God is now the abiding state into which every believer enters. The sin question is settled. If two nations be at war, there is no peace. If peace is made, there is no war. “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked” (Isa. 57:21). “But Christ has made peace,” yea, “He is our peace” (Eph. 2:14). We believe it, and we have peace with God.
We might say, “Let us enjoy peace with God.” But, “Let us have peace with God,” is absurd on the face of it. We have the peace. It is a settled thing. He made it, not we.
‘Tis everlasting peace,
Sure as Jehovah’s name;
‘Tis stable as His steadfast throne,
Forevermore the same.
My love is ofttimes low,
My joy still ebbs and flows,
But peace with Him remains the same,
No change Jehovah knows.
I change; He changes not,
My Christ can never die;
This blood-sealed friendship changes not,
His truth, not mine, the tie.
“The peace of God” is another thing, as in Philippians 4:6-7. That is experimental. It is the abiding portion of all who learn to cast every care on Him who is the great Burden-bearer.
To see this distinction and to really grasp it in faith is of prime importance. Until the soul realizes that the peace made by the blood of His cross is eternal and undisturbed, even though one’s experience may be very different owing to personal failure or lack of appropriating faith, there will be no certainty of one’s ultimate salvation.
But knowing this peace to be based, not on my frames or feelings, but on accomplished redemption, I have conscious access by faith into this grace wherein I stand. I stand in grace, not in my own merit. I was saved by grace. I go on in grace. I shall be glorified in grace. Salvation from first to last is altogether of God, and therefore altogether of grace.
Grace is the sweetest sound
That ever reached our ears:
When conscience charged and justice frowned,
‘Twas grace removed our fears.
Grace is a mine of wealth
Laid open to the poor,
Grace is the sov’reign spring of health,
‘Tis life for evermore.
Of grace then, let us sing,
A joyful wondrous theme;
Who grace has brought shall glory bring,
And we shall reign with Him.
This is the golden scepter held out by the King of Glory to all who venture to approach in faith.
Note it is access and standing that are before us in this second verse of the fifth chapter of our epistle. Access is based on standing not on state. The terms are to be carefully distinguished. In Philippians we read much about “your state.” Paul was greatly concerned about that. He never had a fear about the standing of the children of God. That is eternally settled.
Standing refers to the new place in which I am put by grace as justified before the throne of God and in Christ risen, forever beyond the reach of judgment. State is condition of soul. It is experience. Standing never varies. State is fluctuating and depends on the measure in which I walk with God. My standing is always perfect because it is measured by Christ’s acceptance. I am accepted in Him. “As He is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17). But my state will be good or bad as I walk in the Spirit or walk after the flesh.
My standing gives me title to enter consciously as a purged worshiper into the Holiest and to boldly approach the throne of grace in prayer. Of old God sternly said, “Stand afar off and worship.” Access was not known under the legal covenant. God was hidden; the veil was not yet rent. Now all is different, and we are urged to “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22).
And now we draw near to the throne of grace.
For His blood and the Priest are there;
And we joyfully seek God’s holy face
With our censer of praise and prayer.
The burning mount and the mystic veil
With our terrors and guilt are gone;
Our conscience has peace that can never fail,
‘Tis the Lamb on high on the throne.
Thus we do indeed rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. It is hope—not as uncertainty—but hope that is sure and certain, because it is based on the finished work of the Christ of God and a seated Priest on the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens. The glory is assured for all who are justified by faith and so have peace with God.
But before we reach the glory we must tread the sands of the wilderness. This is the place of testing. Here we learn the infinite resources of our wonderful God. So we are enabled to glory in tribulations, contrary though these may be to all that the natural man rejoices in. Tribulation is the divinely appointed flail to separate the wheat from the chaff. In suffering and sorrow we learn our own nothingness and the greatness of the power that has undertaken to carry us through. These are lessons we could never learn in heaven.
The touch that heals the broken heart
Is never felt above;
His angels know His blessedness,
His wayworn saints His love.
Thus “tribulation worketh patience” (Rom. 5:3) if we accept it as from our loving Lord Himself, knowing it is for our blessing. Out of patient endurance springs fragrant Christian experience, as the soul learns how wonderfully Christ can sustain in every circumstance. And experience blossoms into hope, weaning the heart from the things of earth and occupying them with the heavenly scene to which we are hastening.
Thus “hope maketh not ashamed, [for] the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy [Spirit] which is given unto us” (v. 5). This is the first mention of the Spirit’s work in the epistle. We read of the Spirit of Holiness in chapter 1 in connection with Christ’s work and resurrection, but not a syllable about the Spirit’s work in the believer until the soul enters into peace through the apprehension of the finished work of Christ. This is all-important. I am not saved by what goes on within myself. I am saved by what the Lord Jesus did for me. But the Spirit seals me when I believe the gospel, and by His indwelling the love of God is shed abroad within my heart.
Soon as my all I ventured
On the atoning blood,
The Holy Spirit entered,
For I was born of God.
It is a great mistake to rely upon my own recognition of the Spirit’s work within me as the ground of my assurance. Assurance is by the word of the truth of the gospel. But upon believing, I receive the Spirit. Of this the eighth chapter largely treats. This gives corroborative evidence. “We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren” (1 John 3:14).
Verses 6-11 constitute a separate section. In this portion we have the summing up of all that has gone before, before the apostle goes on in the next division to take up the second phase of the gospel—in relation to our sin.
We were helpless, without strength, when God in grace gave His Son, who died for ungodly sinners in whom no merit could be found.
This is not like man. Few indeed could be found who would voluntarily die for an upright man, a righteous man, known and acknowledged to be such— much less for a wicked man. Some indeed might be willing to die for a good man, a kindly, benevolent man who has won their hearts by his gracious demeanor. But God has “[commended] his [own] love [see Greek] toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners [neither righteous nor good], Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8), thus becoming the Substitute for guilty rebels. If love gave Him up to the death of the cross while we were so lost and vile, we may know beyond any doubt that since we have been justified by His blood He will never allow us to come into judgment: “We shall be saved from wrath through him” (v. 9).
This has been called the chapter of “the five much mores,” and of these we have the first one in verse 9. “Much more then,” he exclaims, since now, cleared of every charge by the blood of the Son of God, we are forever beyond the reach of the divine vengeance against sin.
The second use of this term is in verse 10: “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” How blind are they who read into this a reference to the earthly life of our blessed Lord. That life—pure and holy as it was—could never have saved one poor sinner. It was by His death He made atonement for our sins. Even the love of God told out so fully in the ways of Jesus only drew out the envenomed hate of the human heart. It is His death that destroys the enmity—when I realize He died for me I am reconciled to God. The hatred was all on my side—there was no need for God to be reconciled to me—but I needed reconciliation, and I have found it in His death. Now, since it is already an accomplished fact, I may know for a certainty I “shall be saved by his life.” He says, “Because I live, ye shall live also” (John 14:19). It is, of course, His resurrection life that is in view. “Wherefore he is able … to save [evermore] them … that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25, margin reading). A living Christ at God’s right hand is my pledge of eternal redemption. He lives to plead our cause, to deliver through all the trials of the way, and to bring us safely home to the Father’s house at last. We are bound up in the same bundle of life as Himself, though this properly is the subject of the last part of the chapter and has to do with the second phase of salvation.
Secure for time and eternity we “joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the [reconciliation]” (Rom. 5:11, see margin). It is not we who received the atonement, but God. We needed to make an atonement for our sins but were unable to do so. Christ has made it for us by offering up Himself without spot unto God. Thus it is God who has accepted the atonement, and we, who once were “enemies” and “alienated … in [our] minds by wicked works” (Col. 1:21), have received the reconciliation. The enmity is gone. We are at peace with God, and we joy in Him who has become our everlasting portion.
This is the glorious end—for the present—to which the Holy Spirit has been leading us. Our salvation is full and complete. Our sins are gone. We are justified freely by His grace. We have peace with God and look forward with joyous certainty to an eternity of bliss with Him who has redeemed us.
The other three “much mores” occur in the next section, where the question of the two Headships is thoroughly gone into. We shall notice them in order when we come to them.
The Gospel In Relation To Indwelling Sin
It will be necessary to take up this third part of the great doctrinal division in two lectures because of the wide scope of Romans 5:12 to the end of chapter 8. We shall look first therefore at that portion which ends with chapter 7. In the last half of chapter 5 we have the two heads—Adam and Christ. In chapter 6 we have two masters, sin personified and God as revealed in Jesus. In chapter 7 there are two Husbands to be considered—the Law and Christ risen.
The awakened sinner is concerned about one thing: how to be delivered from the judgment his sins have righteously deserved. This aspect of salvation has all been gone into and settled in the portion we have recently gone over. It is never raised again. As we go on into this next part of the epistle, the question of guilt does not come up. The moment a sinner believes the gospel his responsibility as a child of Adam under the judgment of God is over forever. But that very moment his responsibility as a child of God begins. He has a new nature that craves what is divine. But he soon discovers that his carnal nature has not been removed nor improved by his conversion to God, and from this fact arises many trying experiences. It often comes as a great shock when he realizes that he has still a nature capable of every kind of vileness. He is rightly horrified, and may be tempted to question the reality of his regeneration and his justification before God. How can a Holy God go on with one who has such a nature as this? If he tries to fight sin in the flesh, he is probably defeated and learns by bitter experience what Philip Melanchthon, Luther’s friend, put so tersely, “Old Adam is too strong for young Philip.”
Happy is the young convert if at this crisis he comes under sound scriptural instruction instead of falling into the hands of spiritual charlatans who will set him to seeking the elimination of the fleshly nature and the death of the carnal mind. If he follows their advice he will be led into a quagmire of uncertainty and dazzled by the delusive will-o’-the-wisp of possible perfection in the flesh, will perhaps flounder for years in the bog of fanaticism and self-torture before reaching the rest that remains for the people of God. I have tried to tell of my own early experiences along this line in a little volume titled, Holiness: The False and the True, which I am thankful to know has been blessed to the deliverance of many thousands of souls. It was the truth we are now to consider that saved me at last from the wretchedness and disappointments of those early years.
In taking up these chapters, I desire to antagonize no one but, simply, to constructively open up the line of truth here set forth for the soul’s blessing.
And first we have to consider the two great families and the two federal heads of Romans 5:12-21.
The moment a man is justified by faith he is also born of God. His justification is, as we have seen, his official clearance before the throne of God. His regeneration involves his introduction into a new family. He becomes a part of the new creation of which the risen Christ is the Head. Adam the first was federal head of the old race. Christ Risen, the Second Man and the Last Adam, is Head of the new race. The old creation fell in Adam, and all his descendants were involved in his ruin. The new creation stands eternally secure in Christ, and all who have received life from Him are sharers in the blessings procured by His cross and secured by His life at God’s right hand.
Joyful now the new creation
Rests in undisturbed repose,
Blest in Jesus’ full salvation,
Sorrow now nor thraldom knows.
It is the apprehension of this that settles the question of the believer’s security and thus gives a scriptural basis for the doctrine of deliverance from the power of sin.
It will be observed that the subject begun in verse 12 is concluded in verses 18-21. The intervening passage (vv. 13-17) is parenthetical, or explanatory. It may be best therefore for us to examine the parenthesis first. Sin was in the world dominating man from Adam’s fall even before the law was given by Moses. But sin did not as yet have the distinct character of transgression until a legal code was given to man, which he consciously violated. Therefore, apart from law, sin was not imputed. Nevertheless, that it was there and to be reckoned with is manifest, for “by sin came death” and death reigned as a despotic monarch over all men from Adam to Moses, save as God interfered in the case of Enoch who was translated that he should not see death. Even where there was no willful sin, as in the case of infants and irresponsible persons, death reigned, thus proving that they were part of a fallen race federally involved in Adam’s sin and actually possessing Adam’s fallen nature. He who was originally created in the image and likeness of God defaced that image by sin and lost the divine likeness. We read that “Adam … begat a son in his own likeness, after his image” (Gen. 5:3). This is characteristic of all the race of which he is the head. “In Adam all die” (1 Cor. 15:22).
Theologians may wrangle about the exact meaning of all this and rationalists may utterly refuse to accept it, but the fact remains, “It is appointed unto men once to die” (Heb. 9:27). Apart from divine interference each one may well say with the poet:
I have a rendezvous with death,
I shall not fail my rendezvous.
You have doubtless heard of the epitaph, often mentioned in this connection, that is engraven on a tombstone marking the resting place of the bodies of four young children in St. Andrew’s churchyard in Scotland:
Bold infidelity, turn pale and die.
Beneath this stone four sleeping infants lie:
Say, are they lost or saved?
If death’s by sin, they sinned, for they are here.
If heaven’s by works, in heaven they can’t appear,
Reason, ah, how depraved!
Turn to the Bible’s sacred page, the knot’s untied:
They died, for Adam sinned; they live, for Jesus died.
There is no other solution to the problem of childhood suffering than that of the fall of the race in Adam.
But Adam was a figure, an antitype, of Him who was to come—yea, who has come and has Himself taken the responsibility of undoing the effects of the fall for all who, trusting in Him, become recipients of His resurrection life. With this is linked a perfect righteousness that is eternal in duration and divine in origin. There is a difference as to the offense and the gift, however. Adam’s one offense involved his race in the consequences of his fall. Christ, having satisfied divine justice, offers the gift of life by grace to all who will believe and so it abounds unto many. Notice that here in verse 15 we have the third “much more.”
Nor is it merely that as by one that sinned so is the gift—for the one sin brought universal condemnation, putting the whole race under judgment. But the reception of the gift of life and righteousness in faith places the recipient in the position of justification from all things irrespective of the number of offenses. Death reigned because of one offense. But we are told that “much more,” those who receive this abundance of grace and this free gift of righteousness now reign triumphant over death in life by Jesus Christ, the one who has overcome death and says, “Because I live, ye shall live also.”
This is the substance of the parenthesis. Now let us go back—with all this in mind—to verse 12 and link it with verses 18-21. Sin entered into the world by one man and death by sin. So death passed upon all men for all have sinned, inasmuch as all were in the loins of Adam when he fell and all the race is involved in the defection of its head.
Now look at verse 18. “Therefore as by [one] offense” there came universal condemnation, even so by one accomplished act of righteousness on the cross there comes an offer to all—that of justification of life. In other words, a life is offered as a free gift to all who are involved in the consequences of Adam’s sin, which is the eternal life manifested in the Son of God who once lay low in death under the sentence of condemnation but arose in triumph having abolished death. Now as Head of a new race He imparts His own resurrection life—a life with which no charge of sin can ever be linked—to all who believe in Him. They share henceforth in a life to which sin can never be in any sense attached. This is a new creation, of which Paul writes so fully in 2 Corinthians 5 and in 1 Corinthians 15: “If any man be in Christ, [it] is … new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). And it is in new creation that “all is of God”; “Old things [have] passed away; [and] all things [have] become new” (v. 17). So we get the full force of the word, “As in Adam all die, … so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22).
It is not universal salvation nor is it merely that He will raise all the dead, but the two races, the two creations, the two Headships, are in contrast. Christ is the beginning, the origin, the federal Head of the creation of God (Rev. 3:14). As the risen Man at God’s right hand, having passed through death He now is the fountain of life—pure, holy, unpolluted life—to all who believe. So we are now before God in justification of life.
By one man’s disobedience the many were constituted sinners. “Much more,” by one glorious act of obedience unto death on the part of Him who is now our new Head, the many are constituted righteous.
The coming in of the law added to the gravity of the offense. It gave sin the specific character of transgression. “But where sin abounded [had reached its flood-tide, so to speak], grace did much more abound” (Rom. 5:20). That is, grace superabounded, so that as sin reigned like a despotic monarch throughout the long centuries before the cross, unto the death of all his subjects, now grace is on the throne and reigns through accomplished righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord!
What a gospel! What a plan! It is perfect! It is divine—like God Himself. How gloriously do these five “much mores” bring out the marvels of grace!
In the light of all this, is it any wonder that the apostle, recognizing the innate tendency of the human heart to turn the grace of God into lasciviousness, puts into the mouth of the reader the question, “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” (Rom. 6:1). Chapter 6 answers this cavil (for it is really that) in a masterly way.
“Far be the thought!” he exclaims indignantly. “How shall we, [who have died] to sin, live any longer therein?” (v. 2). In what sense did we die to sin? If actually dead to it, we would not be concerned about either the question or its answer. That which perplexes us is the fact that while we hate sin we find within ourselves a tendency to yield to it. But we are said to have died to it. How and where? The next verses give the answer.
The very fact that our link with Adam as federal head was broken by our association with Christ in His death tells us that we have the right to consider ourselves as having died, in that death of His, to the authority of sin as a master. Israel was redeemed from judgment by the blood of the Lamb. This answers to the first aspect of salvation. By the passage through the Red Sea they died to Pharaoh and his taskmasters. This illustrates the aspect we are now considering. Sin is no longer to hold sway over us, we served it in the past. But death has changed all that. Our condition of servitude is over. We are now linked with Christ risen and thus have been brought to God.
Of this the initiatory ordinance of Christianity speaks. “Know ye not, that so many of us [have been] baptized into [or unto] Jesus Christ were baptized into [or unto] his death?” (v. 3). Israel was “baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Cor. 10:2). They passed through death in figure, and Moses was their new leader. Pharaoh’s dominion was ended so far as they were concerned (1 Cor. 10). So we who are saved are now baptized unto, or into, the death of Christ. We have accepted His death as ours, knowing that He died in our place. We are baptized unto Him as the new Leader.
Is this the Spirit’s baptism? I think not. The Spirit does not baptize unto death but into the one new Body. It is establishment into the mystical Christ. Our baptism with water is a baptism unto Christ’s death.
The apostle goes further, “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism [unto] death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). In my baptism I confess that I have died to the old life as a man in Adam under the dominion of sin. I am through with all that. Now let me prove the reality of this by living the life of a resurrected man—a man linked up with Christ on the other side of death—as I walk in newness of life. Thus all thought of living in sin is rejected, all antinomianism refuted. My new life is to answer to the confession made in my baptism.
I am to realize practically my identification with Christ. I have been planted together with Him in the similitude of His death—that is, in baptism—I shall be (one with Him) also in the similitude of His resurrection. I do not live under sin’s domination. I live unto God as He does who is my new Head.
Logically he continues, “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed [or, rendered powerless], that henceforth we should not serve sin, for he that is dead is freed [or, justified] from sin” (vv. 6-7).
My old man is not merely my old nature. It is rather all that I was as a man in the flesh, the “man of old,” the unsaved man with all his habits and desires. That man was crucified with Christ. When Jesus died, I (as a man after the flesh) died too. I was seen by God on that cross with His blessed Son.
How many people were crucified on Calvary? There were the thieves, there was Christ Himself—three! But are these all? Paul says in Galatians 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ.” He was there, too—so that makes four. And each believer can say, “Our old man is crucified with Him.” So untold millions were seen by God as hanging there upon that cross with Christ. And this was not merely that our sins were being dealt with, but that we ourselves as sinners, as children of Adam’s fallen race, might be removed from under the eye of God and our old standing come to an end forever.
But we who were crucified with Him now live with Him. So the apostle continues in Galatians 2:20: “Nevertheless I live; yet, not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh [that is, in this body] I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” And so here. The body of sin is thus annulled, as the body of Pharaoh, all the power of Egypt, was annulled so far as Israel was concerned. Sin is not my master now. In Christ I live unto God. I am no longer to be a slave unto sin. I am righteously free (justified) from sin’s authority.
Now he shows the practical effect of all this precious truth. We have died with Christ. We have faith that we shall also live with Him. Then—in heaven—sin will have no authority over us. Nor should we own its authority here by yielding ourselves to it. We know that the risen Christ will never die again. Death’s authority (and sin brings forth death) is forever abolished. “In that he died, he died unto sin once [for all]” (Rom. 6:10) unto sin as our old master (not His—upon Him never came the yoke; He was ever free from sin), and now in resurrection He lives only unto God. And we are one with Him. Therefore, we, too, are henceforth to live unto God alone. This involves practical deliverance from the power or authority of sin.
It certainly never was the mind of God that His blood-redeemed people should be left under the power of the carnal nature, unable to walk in the liberty of free men in Christ. But practical deliverance is not found by fighting with the old master, sin in the flesh, but by the daily recognition of the truth we have just been considering.
And so we are told to count as true what God considers to be true that we died with Christ to all the claims of Pharaoh-Sin, and we are now free to walk in newness of life as one with Christ risen. “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (v. 11). This word reckon is one of the keywords of the chapter. It means, literally, “count as true.” God says I died with Christ. I am to count it true. God says I live unto Him. I count it true. As faith reckons on all this I find the claims of sin are annulled. There is no other method of deliverance than that which begins with this reckoning. Reason may argue, “But you do not feel dead!” What have feelings to do with it? It is a judicial fact. Christ’s death is my death. Therefore, I reckon myself to have died unto sin’s dominion.
The next verse follows in logical sequence. “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof” (v. 11). I feel an impulse rising within demanding that I yield to a certain sinful desire. But if on the alert I say at once, “No, I have died to that. It is no longer to dominate my will. I belong to Christ. I am to live unto Him.” As faith lays hold of this the power of lust is broken.
It involves watchfulness and constant recognition of my union with Christ. As in times past I was in the habit of yielding the physical members as instruments of unrighteousness controlled by sin. Now I am to definitely and unreservedly yield myself unto God as one alive from that death into which I went with Christ, and as a natural result all my physical members are His to be used as instruments to work out righteousness for the glory of God whose grace has saved me. The word translated “instruments” is really “weapons,” or “armor,” as in Romans 13:2; 2 Corinthians 6:7; and 10:4. My talents, my physical members, all my powers are now to be used in the conflict as weapons for God. I am His soldier to be unreservedly at His disposal.
Because I am not saved by any legal principle but by free grace alone, sin is no longer to hold sway over my life. Christ risen is the Captain of my salvation whose behests are to control me in all things.
Nature might reason in a contrary way and tell me that inasmuch as I am under grace not law it matters little how I behave, and I am, therefore, free to sin since my works have nothing to do with my salvation. But as a regenerated man I do not want liberty to sin. I want power for holiness. If I habitually yield myself unto sin to obey its behests voluntarily, I show that I am still sin’s servant, and the end of that service is death. But as a renewed man I desire to obey the One whose I now am and whom I serve. So he says, “God be thanked, that ye were the slaves of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered unto you. Being then made free from sin [that is, by God’s judicial act on the cross], ye became the servants of righteousness” (vv. 17-18).
He speaks in a figure, illustrating his theme by personifying sin and righteousness that our weak human minds may understand, and he repeats his exhortation, or rather what had been stated doctrinally he now repeats as a command: “For as ye have yielded your members [slaves] to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity [in the old life before our identification with Christ]; even so now yield your members servants [bondmen] to righteousness unto holiness” (v. 19). When slaves of sin, righteousness was not our recognized master. We can only hang our heads in shame as we think of the fruit of that evil relationship, the end of which would have been death, both physical and eternal.
Therefore, now that we are judicially delivered from sin’s dominion and have become bondmen to God, our lives should be abounding in fruit unto holiness and the end everlasting life. We have everlasting life now as a present possession, but here it is the end that is in view when we are at home in that scene where Christ who is our life has gone.
He concludes this section with the solemn yet precious statement: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (v. 23). Sin is in one respect a faithful master. His pay day is sure. His wages are death. Note, it is not divine judgment that is in view for the moment, but sin’s wages. Death is the wages of sin, but “after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). Penalty has yet to be faced at the judgment bar of God. Through error to see this many have taken up with the error that physical death involves cessation of being and is both wages and penalty. Scripture clearly tells of divine judgment after sin’s wages have been paid.
On the other hand, eternal life is a free gift—the gift of God. None can earn it. It is given to all who trust in Christ as the Savior of sinners. It is ours now, who believe the gospel. We shall enjoy it in all its fullness at the “end.”
The seventh chapter takes up another phase of things that would be particularly hard for the Jewish believer to comprehend. It raises and answers the question, “What is the rule of life for the yielded believer?” The Jew would naturally say, “The law given at Sinai.” The apostle’s answer is “Christ risen!” Alas, how many Gentile believers have missed the point here as well as those who came out of Judaism.
That it is his Jewish-Christian brethren who are primarily before him is clear from the opening verse. “Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?” (Rom. 7:1). Now it is unthinkable that he is using the term “the law” here in any different sense to that which he has had in mind as he has used it over and over again in the former chapters. The law, here, means the law of Moses, and it means nothing else. It means that which was the heart of the law of Moses, the ten words given on Sinai. And his argument here is that the law has dominion over men until death ends its authority or ends their relationship to it. But he has just been showing us in the clearest possible way that we have died with Christ. Therefore, we died not only unto sin, but we have died to the law as a rule of life. Is this then to leave us lawless? Not at all. For we are now, as he shows elsewhere (1 Cor. 9:21), “under law to Christ”, or “en-lawed,” that is, “legitimately subject” to Christ our new Head. He is Husband as well as Head, even as Ephesians 5 so clearly shows.
This truth is illustrated in a very convincing way in verses 2-3, and the application is made in verse 4. A woman married to a husband is legally bound to him in that relationship until death severs the tie. If she marries another while her husband is living she becomes an adulteress. But when the first husband is dead, she is free to marry another with no blame attaching to her for so doing.
Even so, death has ended the relationship of the believer to the law, not the death of the law but our death with Christ, which has brought the old order to an end. We are now free to be married to another, even to the risen Christ in order that we might bring forth fruit unto God.
The somewhat weird and amazing conception has been drawn from the apostle’s illustration that the first husband is not the law at all but “our old man.” This is utterly illogical and untenable, for, as we have seen, the old man is myself as a man in the flesh. I was not married to myself! Such a suggestion is the very height of absurdity. The Jewish believer was once linked with the legal covenant. It was proposed as a means of producing fruit for God. It only stirred up all that was evil in the heart. Death has dissolved the former relationship. The one who once looked to the law for fruit now looks to Christ risen and, as the heart is occupied with Him, that is produced in the life in which God can delight.
He says, “When we were in the flesh [that is, in the natural state, as unsaved men], the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death” (v. 5). This clearly establishes the position taken above. The law was the husband, the active agent through whom we hoped to bring forth fruit unto God. But instead of that, we brought forth fruit unto death. All our travail and suffering in the hope of producing righteousness ended in disappointment—the child was still-born.
“But now we are delivered from the law, [having died to that relationship] wherein we were held [note the marginal reading]; that we might serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter” (v. 6). In the illustration the first husband dies and the woman is free to be married to another. In the application he does not say the law has died, but the point he makes is that death (and for us it is Christ’s death) has ended the relationship in which we stood toward it. So there is after all no real disagreement. In either case, the former condition is ended by death. The law, as we have seen, was addressed to man in the flesh, and this was our former state, but now all is changed. We are no longer in the flesh, but (as the next chapter will show us) in the Spirit, and so in a new state to which the law in no sense applies.
Again the old question comes to the fore: If all this be true, shall we sin then? Are we to be lawless because not under law? By no means. The law must simply be recognized as having a special ministry but not as the rule of the new life. It is a great detector of sin. Paul could say, “I had not known sin, but by the law” (v. 7). That is, he had not detected the evil nature within—so correct was his outward deportment—had not the law said, “Thou shalt not covet” (v. 7). The sin nature rebelled against this and wrought in him all manner of covetousness, or unsatisfied desire. Observe carefully how conclusively this proves that it was the Ten Commandments he has had in view throughout. To say it is the ceremonial law alone to which we have died is absurd in view of this statement. Where is the word found that forbids covetousness? In the Ten Commandments. Therefore “the law” means the divine ordinances engraved on tables of stone.
Apart from the law sin was dead, that is, inert and unrecognized. Sins there were even before the law was given, but sin—the nature—was not recognized until the law provoked it.
He says, “I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, … which was ordained [or proposed] to life, I found it to be unto death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me” (vv. 9-11). In other words it is as though he said, “I was blissfully unconscious of my true moral condition before God as a sinner until the force of the commandment forbidding covetousness came home to me. I had not realized that evil desire was in itself sinful, providing the desire was not carried out. But the law made this manifest. I struggled to keep down all unlawful desire, but sin—an evil principle within—was too strong for repression. It circumvented me, deceived me, and so by violation of the commandment brought me consciously under sentence of death.” This is exactly what the law was intended to do, as he shows in the epistle to the Galatians as well as here. “The law … was added because of [or, with a view to] transgressions” (Gal. 3:19). That is, the law served to give to sin the specific character of transgression, thus deepening the sense of guilt and unworthiness.
Therefore, he concludes, “The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Rom. 7:12). The fault is not in the law but in me.
Well, then, he asks, was this holy law made death to me? Not at all, but it detected that in him which could only result in death—namely, sin, which in order that it might be made manifest in all its hideousness was brought fully to light by the law, thus “working death” in him by that which he owns to be in itself good. And so sin, by means of the legal enactment, is made exceedingly sinful.
Verses 14-25 have been taken by many as the legitimate experience of a Christian throughout all his life. Others have thought that it could not be the conflict of a real Christian at all, but that Paul was describing the conflict between the higher and lower desires of the natural man, particularly of an unconverted Jew under law. But both views are clearly contrary to the argument of this part of the epistle.
As to the latter interpretation, it should be remembered that in this entire section of the epistle the question is the deliverance of a believer from the power of sin and not of an unbeliever from his sins. Moreover, no unsaved man can honestly say, “I delight in the law of God after the inward man” (v. 22). It is only those who possess the new nature who can so speak. And as to this being the normal experience of one already saved, I shall attempt to show as we go on with the study of chapters 7 and 8 that there is an orderly progression from the bewilderment of chapter 7 to the intelligence and walk in the Spirit of chapter 8. All Christians doubtless know something of the state depicted in verses 14-25 of chapter 7, but once out of it no one need ever go through it again. It is not merely the conflict between the two natures. If it were, one might indeed be back in the same unhappy experience again and again. It gives us the exercises of a quickened soul under law who has not yet learned the way of deliverance. This once learned, one is free from the law forever. I have said earlier in the address that primarily here we have a believing Jew struggling to obtain holiness by using the law as a rule of life and resolutely attempting to compel his old nature to be subject to it. In Christendom now the average Gentile believer goes through the same experience, for legality is commonly taught almost everywhere.
Therefore, when one is converted it is but natural to reason that now one has been born of God it is only a matter of determination and persistent endeavor to subject oneself to the law, and one will achieve a life of holiness. And God Himself permits the test to be made in order that His people may learn experimentally that the flesh in the believer is no better than the flesh in an unbeliever. When he ceases from self-effort he finds deliverance through the Spirit by occupation with the risen Christ.
Paul writes in the first person singular, not necessarily as depicting a lengthy experience of his own (though he may have gone through it), but in order that each reader may enter into it sympathetically and understandingly for himself.
The law is spiritual, that is, it is of God, it is holy and supernatural. But I am carnal, even though a believer. I am more or less dominated by the flesh. In 1 Corinthians 2—3 we have distinguished for us the natural man—that is, the unsaved man, the carnal man—who is a child of God undelivered, and the spiritual man, the Christian who lives and walks in the Spirit.
Here the carnal man is sold under sin, that is he is subject to the power of the evil nature to which he has died in Christ, a blessed truth indeed, but one which has not yet been apprehended in faith. Consequently, he continually finds himself going contrary to the deepest desires of his divinely-implanted new nature. He practices things he does not want to do. He fails to carry out his determinations for good. The sins he commits he hates. The good he loves he has not the strength to perform. But this proves to him that there is a something within him which is to be distinguished from his real self as a child of God. He has the fleshly nature still, though born of God. He knows the law is good. He wants to keep it, and slowly the consciousness dawns upon him that it is not really himself as united to Christ who fails. It is sin, dwelling in him, which is exercising control (vv. 14-17).
So he learns the weakness and unprofitableness of the flesh. “I know,” he says, “that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing” (v. 18). He wants to do good, but he lacks the power to perform aright. Still he gives up slowly the effort to force the flesh to behave itself and to be subject to the law.
But the good he would do, he does not, and the evil he would not do, he does. This but establishes him in the conclusion already come to, that, “It is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me” (v. 20). A law, or principle of action, then, has been discovered. He goes with the good and does the evil. According to the inward man he delights in the law of God, but this does not produce the holiness he expected. He must learn to delight in Christ risen to reach the goal of his desires! This he reaches later, but in meantime he is occupied with the discovery of the two natures with their different desires and activities. He detects “another law,” a principle, in his members (that is, the members of the body through which the carnal mind works) that wars against the law of his renewed mind taking him captive to the sin principle that is inseparable from his physical members so long as he is in this life. This principle he calls “the law of sin and death” (8:2). Were it not for this principle or controlling power, there would be no danger of perverting or misusing any human desire or propensity.
Almost convinced that the struggle must go on during the entire course of his earthly existence, he cries in anguish, “Oh, wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of death?” (7:24). He is like a living man chained to a polluted, because corrupt, corpse and unable to snap the chains. He cannot make the corpse clean and subject, no matter how he tries. It is the cry of hopelessness so far as self-effort is concerned. He is brought to the end of human resources. In a moment he gets a vision by faith of the risen Christ. He alone is the Deliverer from Sin’s power, as well as the Savior from the penalty of guilt. “I thank God,” he cries, “through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (v. 25). He has found the way out. Not the law but Christ in glory is the rule of life for the Christian.
But the actual entering into this is reserved for the next section. Meantime, he confesses, “So then with the mind [that is, the renewed mind] I myself [the real man as God sees him] serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin” (v. 25). Such an experience cannot be the Christian ideal. The next chapter which we take up separately shows the way out of this perplexing and unsatisfactory state.
If I am addressing any believer who is even now in the agonizing throes of this terrific struggle, endeavoring to subject the flesh to the holy law of God, let me urge you to accept God’s own verdict on the flesh and acknowledge the impossibility of ever making it behave itself. Do not fight with it. It will overthrow you every time. Turn away from it; cease from it altogether. Look away from self and law to Christ risen.
Israel of old wanted to find a short cut through Edom, type of the flesh, but the children of Esau came out armed to contest their way. The command of God was to turn away and “compass the land of Edom” (Num. 21:4). And so with us. It is as we turn altogether from self-occupation we find deliverance and victory in Christ by the Holy Spirit.
The Triumph Of Grace
It has always seemed to me a great pity that in editing our Bibles and dividing the text into chapters and verses the break was permitted to come where it does between chapters seven and eight. I am persuaded that many souls have failed to see the connection just because of this. We get in the habit of reading by chapters, instead of by subjects. Properly, the first four verses of chapter 8 should be joined right on to chapter 7, thus linking with the expression of hope, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (7:25).
These opening verses form a summing up of all the truth previously unfolded in this part of the epistle beginning with Romans 5:12. It is, of course, hardly necessary for me to point out and emphasize what is now familiar to every careful student of the original text: that the last part of verse 1 is an interpolation (which properly belongs to verse 4), obscuring the sense of the great truth enunciated in the opening words: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” This magnificent statement requires no qualifying clause. It does not depend on our walk. It is true of all who are in Christ and to be in Him means to be of the new creation. A glance at the RV or any critical translation will show that what I am pointing out is sustained by all the editors. It was man’s innate aversion to sovereign grace, I am certain, that brought these qualifying words into the text of the common version. It seemed too much to believe that freedom from condemnation depended on being in Christ Jesus and not upon our walking after the Spirit. So it was easy to lift the words from verse 4 into verse 1. But in verse 4 they have their proper place for there the question of state is to the fore. In verse 1 it is the question of standing that is under consideration.
What unspeakable relief it is to the bewildered, troubled soul, oppressed with a sense of his own unworthiness, and distressed because of frequent failures to live up to his own highest resolves, when he learns that God sees him in Christ Jesus, and as thus seen he is free from all condemnation. He may exclaim, “But I feel so condemned.” This, however, is not the question. It is not how I feel but it is what God says. He sees me in Christ risen, forever beyond the reach of condemnation.
A prisoner before the bar, hard of hearing and dull of sight, might imagine his doom was being pronounced at the very moment that the judge was giving a verdict of full acquittal. Neither blindness nor deafness would alter this fact. And though we are often slow to hear, and our spiritual vision is most defective, the blessed fact remains that God has pronounced the believer free from condemnation whether he fully rises to the glorious fact or not.
Oh, doubting one, look away then altogether from self and state, look away from frames and feelings to Christ risen, now forever beyond the cross where your sins once put Him, and see yourself in Him, exalted there at God’s right hand. He would not be there if the sin question was not settled to the divine satisfaction. The fact that He is there and that you are seen by God in Him is the fullest possible testimony to your freedom from all condemnation.
Oh, the peace forever flowing
From God’s thoughts of His own Son,
Oh, the peace of simply knowing
On the cross that was all done.
Peace with God is Christ in glory,
God is light and God is love,
Jesus died to tell the story,
Foes to bring to God above.
We are brought to God “in Christ Jesus,” and so all question of judgment is forever settled. It can never be raised again.
This leaves the soul at liberty to be occupied with pleasing God not as a means of escaping the divine displeasure but out of love to Him who has brought us to Himself in peace. What the law, with all its stern and solemn warnings and threatenings could not accomplish (that is, produce a life of holiness, because of the weakness and unreliability of the flesh), is now realized in the power of the new life by the Spirit. A clearer reading of verse two would probably be, “The Spirit’s law (which is life in Christ Jesus) hath delivered me from the law of sin and death.” That is, the Spirit’s law of life in Christ Jesus received at new birth is put in contrast to the Law of sin and death against which the believer struggles in vain, as long as he wrestles in his own strength. Victory comes through turning from self to Christ risen. The Spirit’s law brings blessing because it gives power to him who had it not before. It is an altogether new principle: life (not in or of ourselves, but) in Christ Jesus. This new life is imparted to the believer, and in the power of this new life he is called to walk. “It is God [who] worketh in [us both the willing and the doing] of his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). The law demanded righteousness from a man whose nature was utterly corrupt and perverted, and which could only bring forth corrupt fruit. The Holy Spirit has produced a new nature in the man in Christ, and linked with this new life are new affections and desires so that he gladly responds to the will of the Lord as revealed in His Word. Thus the righteousness of the law, the good in practice that the law required, is actually produced in the man who walks not after the flesh, not as under the power of the old nature, but after the Spirit, or in subjection to the Spirit, who has come to take possession of us for Christ.
In verses 5-27 he proceeds to unfold a wide and soul-uplifting range of truth in connection with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who is the only true Vicar of Christ on earth. And first we are reminded that there are two exactly opposite principles to be considered, or two utterly opposed standards of life. They who are after the flesh, that is, the unsaved, are dominated by the fleshly nature— “they… mind the things of the flesh” (Rom. 8:5). In these terse words the entire life of the natural man is summed up. In blessed contrast to this they who are after the Spirit, that is those who are born of the Word and the Spirit of God, saved men and women, characteristically mind the things of the Spirit. Parenthetically he explains “[the minding of the flesh] is death” (v. 6), that is its only legitimate result. But “[the minding of the Spirit] is life and peace” (v. 6). He who is thus Spirit-controlled is lifted onto a new plain where death has no place and conflict is not known.
It is not that the flesh is, or ever will be, in any sense improved. The flesh in the oldest and godliest Christian is as incorrigibly evil as the flesh in the vilest sinner. “The carnal mind [or, mind of the flesh] is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (v. 7). All efforts to reform or purify it are in vain. The law only demonstrates its incurable wickedness. And this explains why the natural man is so utterly unprofitable. “They that are in the flesh cannot please God” (v. 8). It is not, of course, that man, as such, does not know right from wrong or, knowing it, is powerless to do right. To say so would be to declare that man is not a responsible creature but is simply the victim of a hard cruel fatalism. But knowing the evil and approving the good the natural man inclines toward the wrong and fails to do the right, because he is dominated by sin in the flesh, to which he yields his members as instruments of unrighteousness as we have seen in chapter 6. As he is powerless to change his nature, he therefore cannot really please God.
But it is otherwise with the believer. He is no longer in the flesh since born of God. He is now in the Spirit, and the Spirit of God dwells in him. “If so be” (v. 9) does not imply that there are Christians who are not indwelt by the Spirit but has the force of “since,” that is, since the Spirit of God dwells in you, you are no longer in the flesh. That is, characteristically, as being of the family of the first man and under the dominion of the old nature. If anyone whether professing to be a believer or not is devoid of the Spirit of Christ, “he is none of his” (v. 9), or “not of Him.” It is not merely the disposition of Christ that is in view, but the Spirit of Christ is the Holy Spirit whom Christ has sent into the world and who indwells all His redeemed ones in this dispensation of grace. But this, of course,” produces a Christlike disposition in the one so indwelt.
But if Christ (by the Spirit) be thus in us, He alone is the source of our power for holiness. We shall get no help from the body. “The body is dead because of sin” (v. 10). It is to be considered as though lifeless and inert so far as ability to produce fruit for God is concerned. All must be of the Spirit. “The Spirit is life because of righteousness” (v. 10).
This is not to ignore or undervalue the body. It, too, has been purchased by the blood of Christ, and we have the promise that “if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you” (v. 11). It is idle to say, as some have done, that this is a present quickening, when the previous verse has told us the very opposite. “The body is dead because of sin”—not actually, of course, but judicially. Therefore we are not to expect anything of it. A strong body does not necessarily mean a strong saint, nor a feeble body a feeble believer. Natural strength may even seem to be a hindrance to spiritual progress if the truth we have been considering be unknown, while feebleness of nature’s power may seem to make holiness easier in practice. So monks and ascetics of various kinds have sought to grow in grace by punishing and starving the body. But we are told in Colossians 2 that all this is vain and futile so far as checking fleshly indulgence is concerned.
But the body is for the Lord, and the same Holy Spirit who raised up Jesus from the dead will eventually raise us up by giving resurrection life to these mortal bodies. He is speaking of the body of the living believer who has the new life now in a body subject to death. It shall put on immortality at the Lord’s return. Since God has claimed us for this, we owe nothing to the flesh. We are not its debtors to do its service. To do so would only mean to die (it is the great fact to which he calls attention that “sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” [James 1:15]). But, if through the power of the indwelling Spirit we put to death the deeds of the body, we shall truly live. The body is viewed as the vehicle through which the flesh acts. It incites the natural appetite to lawless indulgence. The Spirit-led man must be on his guard against this. He has to put to death these unlawful desires. In Colossians 3:5 we read, “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5). Having been crucified with Christ we are now in faith to mortify by self-judgment the deeds of the body. “We which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:11).
To walk in the flesh is to do contrary to the whole principle of Christianity, for “as many as are led [controlled] by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Rom. 8:14). It is by this life in the Spirit’s power we mortify the deeds of the body and manifest our new life and relationship. This is not a Spirit of bondage, of legality, filling us with fear and dread, but the Spirit of adoption, of son-acknowledgment, whereby we instinctively lift our hearts to God in the cry of the conscious child, “Abba, Father” (v. 15). Adoption is to be distinguished from new birth. We are children by birth but sons by adoption. In the full sense we have not yet received the adoption. It will all be consummated, as verse 23 shows, at the Lord’s return. When a Roman father publicly acknowledged his child as his son and heir, legally in the forum, this ceremony was called “the adoption!” All born in his family were children. Only those adopted were recognized as sons. So we have been born again by the Word of God and thus are children, as were all believers from Abel down. But as indwelt by the Spirit we are adopted sons, and this will be fully manifested in the most public way when we are changed into our Savior’s image at His coming again.
The child cry, “Abba, Father,” is most suggestive. The one term is Hebrew in the text, the other Greek. For those who are in Christ, the middle wall is broken down. All are one in Him. Together we cry, “Abba, Father.” Our Lord Himself used the double term in Gethsemane (see Mark 14:36). Someone has aptly suggested that “Abba” is a word for baby lips, whereas the Greek pateer, or the English equivalent, Father, is a word for the more mature. But young and old join together in approaching the Father by the Spirit.
He Himself bears testimony with our human spirit that we are God’s children. We received His witness to us as given in His Word (Heb. 10:15). Thus, we have the witness in us, the Word hidden in our hearts (1 John 5:10), and now the Spirit Himself takes up His abode within and leads us into the enjoyment of heavenly things. In the text it is “the Spirit itself.” The Greek demands this because the word Spirit is a neuter noun. But according to English idiom it is correct to use the personal pronoun. He communes with our spirits; He illumines, instructs, and guides through the Word.
Whoso hath felt the Spirit of the Highest,
Cannot confound, nor doubt Him, nor deny;
Nay, with one voice, O World, though thou deniest,
Stand then on that side, for on this am I.
“The fellowship of the Spirit” (Phil 2:1) is a wonderfully real thing, known and enjoyed by those who live and walk in Him.
If children of God, it naturally follows that we are his heirs, and thus we are joint-heirs with Christ. We share in all His acquired glories, and so we shall eventually be “glorified together” (Rom. 8:17).
In verses 18-27 the apostle contrasts our present state with the coming glory. Even though thus indwelt by the Spirit we are called to a path of suffering and sorrow as we follow the steps of Him who was, on earth, the Man of Sorrows. But all we can possibly suffer here is as nothing compared to the glory soon to be manifested.
All creation is expectantly waiting for the full revelation of the true estate of the sons of God, when it too shall share in that glorious liberty. It was made subject to vanity, not of its own will but through the failure of its federal head, yet subjected not forever, but in hope of final restoration, and in that day it shall be delivered from the “bondage of corruption” and made to share in “the liberty of the glory of the sons of God” (v. 21, author’s translation). Creation does not share in the liberty of grace. It shall have its part in the liberty of glory, the kingdom age of millennial blessing. Until then the minor note is heard in all creation’s sounds—groaning and travailing in birth pangs through all the present age, waiting for the regeneration. We ourselves, though we have received the salvation of our souls and have the first-fruits of the Spirit (enjoying a foretaste now of what shall soon be ours in all its fullness), we groan in unison with the groaning creation as we wait expectantly for our acknowledged adoption when we shall receive the redemption of our bodies and be fully like Himself.
In this hope we have been saved and in its power we live. We walk by faith, not by sight. If already seen, hope would fade away, but in this hope we patiently wait for the Lord.
Meantime, often tried to the utmost, we do not know even what we should pray for as we ought. But the indwelling Spirit, knowing the mind of God fully, makes intercession within us according to the will of God, though not in audible words but with unutterable groanings. “Once we groaned in bondage, now we groan in grace,” as another has well said, and this very groaning is in itself a testimony to the changed conditions brought about by our union with Christ. The Spirit’s groanings are in harmony with our own sighs and tears, and the great Heart-Searcher hears and answers in wisdom infinite and love unchanging.
And so we go on in peace amid tribulation, assured in our hearts that, “All things work together for good to them [who] love God, … who are the called according to his purpose” (v. 28). This introduces the closing part of the chapter and of this great doctrinal division of our epistle, which is a summing up of all we have gone over, and a masterly conclusion to the opening up of “the righteousness of God as revealed in the gospel.” It breaks into two subsections.
In verses 28-34 we have “God for us.” In verses 35-39, “No separation.”
We have a glorious chain of five links in verses 29-30, reaching from eternity in the past to eternity in the future—foreknown, predestinated, called, justified, glorified! Every link was forged in heaven and not one can ever be broken. This blessed portion is not for theologians to wrangle over but for saints to rejoice in. Foreknown before we ever trod this globe, we have been predestinated to become fully like our blessed Lord—“conformed to the image of [God’s] Son,” that He, who was from all eternity the only Begotten, might be “the firstborn among many brethren” (v. 29). So we have been called by grace divine, justified by faith on the basis of accomplished redemption, and our glorification is as certain as the foreknowledge of God.
What shall we say to all of this? If God is thus so manifestly for us—not against us as once our troubled hearts and guilty consciences made us believe—what power can be against us? Who can successfully combat the divine will?
In giving Christ, God showed us that (as a brother beloved has said), “He loved us better than we loved our sins.” If He did not spare “his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (v. 32).
The next two verses, 33-34, should probably all be thrown into question form, as in several critical translations: “Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? Shall God, who justifieth? Who shall condemn? Shall Christ who died, yea, rather, who is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us?”
There is no answer possible. Every voice is silenced. Every accusation is hushed. Our standing in Christ is complete, and our justification unchangeable.
And so in the closing verses, 35-39, the apostle triumphantly challenges any possible circumstance, or personal being in this life or the next, to attempt to separate the believer “from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus.” (v. 39). No experience however hard or difficult can do it. Even though exposed as sheep to the slaughter, yet death but ushers us into the presence of the Lord. In all circumstances we more than conquer, we triumph in Christ.
And so, as he began with this portion with “no condemnation,” he ends with “no separation.”
I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come [and what is there that is neither present nor to come?], nor height, nor depth, nor any other [created thing], shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord! (vv. 38-39)
Blessed, wondrous consummation of the most marvelous theme it was ever given to man to make known to his fellows! May our souls enter ever more deeply into it, and find increasing joy and spiritual strength as we contemplate it.
No condemnation; blessed is the word!
No separation; forever with the Lord,
By His blood He bought us, cleansed our every stain;
With rapture now we’ll praise Him.
The Lamb for sinners slain.
—J. Denham Smith