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The Jews had God’s Oracles—a Great Advantage: their Unfaithfulness Proves, not Hinders, God’s Just Judgment. Verses 1-8.
Sweeping Fourteen-fold Indictment from Old Testament Scriptures: All Men, Jews and Gentiles, Brought in Guilty before God; and so All Mouths Stopped. Verses 9-20.
Grace, However, for the Guilty! God’s Righteousness by Another Way than Law-through Faith in Jesus Christ. Verses 21-31.
1 What advantage then hath the Jew [over the Gentile]? or what has been the profit of circumcision? 2 Much every way: foremost of all, because they were entrusted with the oracles of God. 3 For what if some were faithless to the trust? shall we at all think that their faithlessness annulled God’s faithfulness? 4 Be it not thought of! Yea, let God be true, though every man aliar; as it is written, That Thou mightest be justified in Thy words, And mightest prevail when Thou comest into judgment [by man]. 5 But if our unrighteousness commendeth the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who visiteth with wrath? (I speak after the manner of men). 6 Be it not thought of! for then how shall God judge the world? 7 But if the truth of God through my lie abounded unto His glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner? 8 and why not (as we are slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say). Let us do evil, that good may come?—whose condemnation is just!
OR TO PARAPHRASE this passage: “What preeminence then (if both Jewhood and circumcision are spiritual and inward only) hath the Jew? Or what has the Divine ordinance of circumcision amounted to? Much in every respect! But first and foremost that to that nation the oracles of God were entrusted. For what if some were faithless (to that trust)? Shall their faithlessness render inoperative the faithfulness of God (in carrying out those oracles)? Far be the thought! Yea, let God be found true, and every man, Gentile and Jew (found) false; as it is written (and that by king David, himself, confessing blood-guiltiness):
‘That Thou mightest be justified in Thy words,
And mightest prevail when Thou are judged (by
sinful man as to the justice of Thy ways.’)
“But (it is further objected) if the unrighteousness of us Jews has proved and publicly commended the righteousness of God both as to His holy nature and’ as to His truth—(for He plainly prophesied Israel would sin) can we not say that God would be unrighteous to visit us Jews with wrath? (I am speaking thus,—though with horror—because it is the way men talk). Now away with the thought!5050The Greek expression mē-genoita, translated in both A. V, and R. V. “God forbid,” does not contain the name of God, and should not be so translated. It amounts to “Banish the thought!” Literally, it is, “Be it not so!” or, “Let it not be conceived of!” Paul uses it frequently,—as much as nine or ten times in this Epistle—to denote instant and horrified rejection of a conception. For how then (if it were unrighteous for God to visit a Jew with wrath) could God judge the WORLD? (as He indeed will). But (the Jewish objector continues) if the truth of God through my falsity has abounded unto His glory, why am I still judged as a sinner? and why not (since our Jewish evil-doings have in the past been made by God to bring about good)—why not keep doing evil that good may come? They are even slanderously reporting our teaching this awful doctrine!—because we preach righteousness by grace and faith and not by good works. The condemnation of those who bring such arguments is self-evident, and on the very face of it, is just!”
Now to us, at this end of the dispensation, this insistence of God upon moral reality before Him of all, including the Jews themselves, “seems simplicity itself; but it was not so simple to those whom it seemed to strip of all their special and Divinely bestowed privileges.” Paul assuredly tells us, in this third chapter, that there is “no distinction” before God between Jews and Gentiles as regards sinner-hood, but he will meet those objections which would arise (vv. 1-8) based in the Jew’s mind on (a) the peculiar position of privilege given by God to Israel as Jehovah’s separate people; and on (b) the righteous character of God Himself as conceived of by the Jew in his privileged position. These objections5151 Probably Alford is right in viewing these objecting questions “not as coming from an objector, but as asked by the apostle himself anticipating the thought of his reader.” I would suggest, however, that the questions beginning in this manner in verse 1 proceed to Paul’s thinking Jew-wise in verse 5, and finally, in verse 7, quoting verbally what a Jew (not Paul) would say. This whole passage is generally regarded as one of the most difficult in the whole Epistle. But it will, as we spend work upon it, repay us, Bunyan says: “Hard texts are nuts—I would not call them cheaters: Whose shells do ofttimes keep them from the eaters.” are specious and daring—next to blasphemous: but they must be answered.
The importance of this great passage cannot be overestimated, for if the Jew as that end of the dispensation, or any “religious” person at this end, be allowed to plead special privilege or light as exempting him from judgment, he will spiritually (of course not actually) escape the general sentence of verse 19, where “all the world” is brought under the judgment of God. If a man escapes in spirit from God’s pronouncement of “guilty,” he will never truly rely upon the shed blood of the Guilt-Bearer, Christ!
Now there are three Jewish questions raised in this passage:
Verses 1 to 4: What advantage5252We know that in this dispensation of Grace some Jewish “advantages” become actually a hindrance to one desiring to enter all Divine blessing wholly on grace grounds. This is set forth by Paul in Philippians 3:4-7 ff. There he enumerates seven natural advantages, of which, curiously, circumcision is the first mentioned, zealous persecution of the Church the sixth, and outward legal blamelessness the seventh! These were on the profit side (Greek, literally, “gains” side), of Paul’s ledger, but he transferred them to the “loss” side: “What things were gains to me, these have I counted loss for Christ.” or preeminence has the Jew and circumcision?
Answer: That nation was entrusted with the oracles of God—inestimable, eternal advantage! despite their unfaithfulness. Every writer of the Bible is, we believe from this, an Israelite. Jewish faithlessness could not annul God’s faithfulness in carrying out those oracles (whether of promise, prophecy, or judgment). God must be found true, though every man be false (to whatever God entrusts to him). Paul instances David’s most humble confession and ascription of righteousness to God, after David’s own great sin had shown David himself faithless to the royal covenant Jehovah had committed to him.
Alford well says: “Because they have broken faith on their part, shall God break faith also on His? Rather let us believe all men on earth to have broken their word and troth, than God His. Whatever becomes of men and their truth, His truth must stand fast.”
The “faithlessness” here of the Jew is not his failure to believe God’s oracles. (That subject Paul takes up in Chapters 9 to 11.) What is here before us, is the Jew’s attitude toward the great primary privilege and responsibility of that nation as the depositary of the Divine oracles. In verse 5, Paul makes the Jews call their conduct “our unrighteousness.” It consisted in:
1. National disobedience to God’s oracles from Sinai onward.
2. Such neglect of these oracles, that at times (as in Josiah’s day), a single copy of the Law was a rarity!
3. Pride, however, over their position as the possessors of these
oracles,5353 “As to the expression, “God’s oracles” (Gr.
logia) we quote: Olshausen: “No doubt in the first place the promises (Acts 7:38; I Pet. 4:11,
etc.), and indeed especially those of the Messiah and the kingdom of God, to which
all others were related . . . but the whole Word of God is also indicated by this
expression. The Divine promises were confided to the Jews, since in what follows
it is just this faithlessness (apistia) in the possession of these promises which
is spoken of. The mention is made of Divine faithfulness (pistia) only in connection
with this faithlessness.”
Tholuck; “Oracles (logia) here are primarily, Divine declarations; hence, particularly, promises and prophecies.”
Alford: “Not only the law of Moses, but all the revelation of God hitherto made of Himself directly, all of which had been entrusted to Jews only.”
Meyer: “Paul means the Holy Scriptures and especially the prophecies of the Messiah and the kingdom. These are not destroyed by the Jews’ unbelief.” even to the despising of nations that had them not, instead of ministering them to others (as Psalm 67 shows was Israel’s real business).
4. Appalling ignorance of the spiritual meaning of the Divine oracles, and of the “voices of their prophets,” so they even killed the Righteous One! (Acts 13:27).
Verses 5 and 6: If God makes use of human sin to set forth His glory (as He will) would it not be unrighteous to punish that sin with wrath? Here Paul enters into the Jewish consciousness: “If our unrighteous Jewish history has commended the righteousness of God, what shall we say? God went right on fulfilling what His oracles said, despite the unfaithfulness of us to whom they had been committed, and, in fact, by means of our sinful Jewish history God’s prophecies concerning our disobedience were fulfilled before the whole world, from Moses on.”
Read here Deuteronomy 31:14 to 32:47. For it is about Israel that Deuteronomy 32:35 to 47 is written. The Jew, knowing well his past disobedient history, yet holds fast to his national place of outward favor, resisting Paul’s word of Chapter Two, “He is not a Jew that is one outwardly”; and daring to regard God as “unrighteous” who would “visit with wrath” individuals of His favored nation—for they had only carried out God’s predictions!
Paul, in even bringing up such a question as God’s acting unrighteously in visiting disobedient Israelites with wrath, instantly puts in the reverent parenthesis: “I speak after the manner of men”; as, “putting himself in the place of the generality of men, and using an argument such as they would use.”
Answer: “Far be such a thought! for then (if God should be unrighteous in visiting a Jew with wrath) how shall God judge the world?” The Judge of all the earth will do right, and He will judge the whole world (Acts 17:31) which involves the infliction of wrath upon any and all impenitent, as all Scripture shows.
Note that Paul assumes, and so do even these cavillers, that there will be a day of judgment: “God who visiteth with wrath.” What the apostle is attacking is the false hopes of men to evade that judgment. Christ has been judged and smitten in our stead. But, alas, how a man hates to come to the cross as one “to whom that stroke was due” (Isa. 53:8). But if you manage to escape conviction of sin, and thus miss personal faith in the Crucified One, you will go to hell forever.
Verses 7 and 8: “If God’s truth (as to His warnings and promises) was enhanced through my falsity—if He got glory through my (Jewish) sin, why does He find fault with me as a sinner?” Here the very words of the resisting Jew are, as it were, quoted.
Answer: While such cavilling Paul will not deign to answer (for it answers itself!) Paul does return into the gainsaying Jews’ teeth the constant slander against salvation by grace,—that it led to license: “The condemnation of such trifling is just! For it is evident both to the hearer and to the asker of such a question that doing evil that good may come, does not change the character of the evil, nor take away its guilt from him who commits it.”
“Slander” against the gospel of grace is still going on, and will go on until the Lord comes in righteousness. Moule well says, “The mighty paradox of justification (without works) lent itself easily to the distortions, as well as to the contradictions, of sinners. ‘Let us do evil that good may come’ no doubt represented the report which prejudice and bigotry would regularly carry away and spread after every discourse and every argument about free forgiveness. It is so still: ‘If this is true, we may live as we like’; ‘If this is true, then the vilest sinner makes the best saint.’”5454“Godet says: “God cannot become guilty of any wrong toward any being whatever. Now this is what He seems to do to the sinner, when He at once condemns and makes use of him.”
The Jews, deluded by pride, and falsely basing God’s favor to their nation upon their own deserts, absolved themselves from judgment. Judgment they relegated to the “goyim,” the “ethnē,” the Gentiles. Paul himself shows the Jewish consciousness in his rebuke to Peter in Gal. 2: “We being Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles.” And the Pharisees said even of the common, non-religious sinners of the Jewish nation: “This multitude that knoweth not the Law, are accursed!” (John 7:49).
But if we, professing Christians, consign this whole passage to the Jew, we fall directly into the same terrible trap. Whole multitudes today in Christendom, sheltered in their imagination by the fact that they have “joined” some church, resent the very doctrines that Paul here insists on. Thousands of so-called “church-members” not only have never been brought under real conviction of sin and guilt and personal danger, but rise in anger like the Jews of Paul’s day when one preaches their danger directly to them!
Now if God paid no attention whatever to the claim of the Jew to be exempt from judgment because he was a Jew, neither will He pay any attention to the claim of the “Baptist” or “Presbyterian,” “Episcopalian” or “Methodist,”—as such. For all men are alike guilty, common sinners! What avails before a holy God the special religious names sinners may call themselves? This book of Romans will do you and me no good if we apply it to Jews or Mormons only!
9 What then? are we [Jews] superior? Not at all! For we before laid to the charge both of Jews and Greeks, that they are all under sin; 10 as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one; 11 There is none that understandeth [divine things], There is none that seeketh after God; 12 They all abandoned the way [of God], together they became unprofitable; There is none that practiseth goodness, no, not so much as one: 13 Their throat is an open sepulchre; With their tongues they have used deceit: The venom of asps is under their lips: 14 Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: 15 Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 Destruction and misery are in their ways; 17 And the way of peace they have not known: 18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.
Are we Jews superior (as we generally think ourselves to be to them—that is, to the Gentiles?) Not at all! Paul here speaks as a Jew,—in sympathy with the Jewish nation, indeed, but rejecting wholly their boast of superiority, in view of the great general indictment of the whole human race, that began in this Epistle at Chapter 1.18 and continues to Chapter 3.20. This is what he means by having before laid to the charge both of Jews and Greeks, that they are all under sin. “To be under sin means to be under the power of sin, to be sinners, whether the idea of guilt, just exposure to condemnation, or of pollution, or both, be conveyed by the expression” (Hodge).
Now this expression “under sin” is a remarkable and unusual one. We need to note the same expression and context in Galatians 3:22: “The Scripture shut up all things under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.” “All things under sin” is a larger expression than “guilty of sin,” or, “in bondage to sin.” It is a general state described, as of convicts in a prison, or disease-stricken people “under quarantine.” An even stronger expression concerning human beings, Gentiles or Jews, asserts: “God hath shut up all unto disobedience, that He might have mercy upon all” (11:32); and the words, “The Scripture shut up all things under sin, that the promise . . . might be given,” bear out this fact. Moule says, “Being brought under sin, (as the Greek bids us more exactly render), giving us the thought that the race has fallen from a good estate into an evil.”
That the Jews and Greeks alike, that is, the whole world, are “under sin,” is next abundantly shown by Paul from seven Old Testament Scriptures. It will not do to say, as do some, that since the Scriptures were given only to the Jews, therefore the Jews only are in view here, in verses 10 to 18. For we read in Psalm 14, the very first Scripture here quoted:
“Jehovah looked down from heaven upon the children of men,
To see if there were any that did understand.”
“Children of men” is a wider term than Jews. Furthermore, Romans 3:9, which begins this great arraignment, includes both Jews and Greeks as being “all under sin.” This, therefore, is a world-wide indictment.
FOURTEEN HORRIBLE THINGS ABOUT ALL MEN
We shall find God speaking, in these fourteen counts,5555 This awful list of fourteen facts about the human race, quoted
from the Old Testament Scriptures, describes, of course, humanity as it is by nature.
Therefore if we have believed the gospel, and are thus righteous before God in Christ,
we have double reason to study these truths: first, that we may by understanding
the facts, as God sees them, about ourselves, have a correct estimate of humanity,
which, of course, unenlightened men never gain; and, second, that we may be constantly
moved to give praise to God for His measureless grace that reached even such as
Meyer’s outline of verses 10 to 18 is: “(1) A state of sin generally (verses 10-12); (2) practices of sin in words (verses 13-14); in deeds (verses 15-17); and (3) the sinful source of the whole (verse 18).”
Haldane thus sums them up: “The first of them, verse 10, prefers the general charge of unrighteousness; the second, verses 11 to 12, marks the internal character, or disorders of the heart; third, verses 13 to 14, those of the words; the fourth, verses 15 to 17, those of the actions; the last, verse 18, declares the cause “of the whole.” first, as a Judge: verses 10 to 12; next, as a Physician: verses 13 to 15; and third, as a Divine Historian: verses 16 to 18.
First, then, as a Judge God describes man’s condition:
Verse 10: To begin with, There is none righteous [before God], no, not one (Ps. 14:1; 53:1; Job 9:2; Eccl. 7:20). No human being has in himself ever been righteous. Even Adam was not righteous: he was innocent—not knowing good and evil. Let us put far from our minds the fond falsehoods of philosophy, science, and human “religions,” that there have been men of our race who have attained to a standing before God in righteousness.
Verse 11: Next, There is none that understandeth [Divine things]. We have added the words “Divine things” even in the Scripture text, because this verb (suniēmi) translated “understandeth” is one of those words which God reserves in Scripture unto a peculiar meaning. (See footnote on 1:31.) Note its use in Matthew 13:13,14,15,19,23,51, as, for instance, verse 19: “When anyone heareth the word of the kingdom and understandeth It not.” It is used twenty-six times in the New Testament, the last time in Ephesians 5:17: “Understand what the will of the Lord is.” Now humanity, by nature, “understands” nothing of God. Men think they do, and write vast books on the subject; but God’s sentence remains: “There is none that understandeth.” “In the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God.” Believe just that: it is true.
The third of these solemn counts is, There is none that: seeketh after God. You say, How can this be possible in view of pagan lands filled with temples, and worshipers thronging them? God’s answer is: “The things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God” (I Cor. 10:20).
Adam, sinning, turned his back and fled from a holy God. God had to take the place of the seeker: “Adam, where art thou?” So it has ever been. No human being has ever sought the holy God. Conscious of his creature weakness, and also of responsibility and guilt, and filled with terrors of conscience, or terrors directly demon-wrought; or perhaps under the delusion that some “god” (really, demon) might grant him this or that favor, man has built his temples and conducts his worship. Banish from your mind the idea that any human being has ever had a holy thought, or love for a holy God, in his natural heart! Grace “praeveniens et efficax” (grace “prevenient and efficacious”) is the old phrase expressing the truth that God Himself takes the place of the seeker, convicter, persuader, giver, and final perfecter of all man’s salvation. His sovereign grace goes ahead of, and brings into being, all human response to God.
The fourth solemn count is that of universal human apostasy: They all abandoned the way [of God]. The same Greek word is used only twice elsewhere in the New Testament: “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them that are causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine which ye learned: and turn away from them” says Paul (Chapter 16:17). The separation was to be absolute, and of choice. And in I Peter 3:11, the saints are told (quoting Psalm 34): “Turn away from evil, and do good,”—again a direct choice. In Psalm 14:3 it is: “They are all gone aside”; and in Psalm 53:3: “Every one of them is gone back.” To Israel it was said: “Ye shall observe to do therefore as Jehovah your God hath commanded you” (Deut. 5:32). But Isaiah speaks of them (and we know the application becomes universal): “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way” (Isa. 53:6); while Malachi in the closing sad message of the Old Testament bewails: “Ye are turned aside out of the way” (2:8).
To understand Romans 3:12, we must conceive of a race of creatures turned out of God’s way, as really as are Satan’s angels, or the demons. The whole race of man is by nature in that awful case!
As a result you have the fifth count: They are together become unprofitable.5656It is striking how God uses the aorist tense here and in the previous count. The race is looked at from Adam down, and as partaking of his guilt, and wilfully in his path. Note also hemarton of verse 23: “all sinned, and are [as a result] falling short,” We shall note this word further, in Chapter 5:12. The human race is useless, and worse than useless, to God. This word translated “unprofitable” was used by the Greeks concerning rotten fruit, or whatever was utterly, irrevocably bad, and therefore useless. Ask any housewife what can be done with rotten fruit! In Psalms 14:3 and 53:1, from which this is quoted, it is translated “become filthy.” Unless we hold firmly in mind these statements of truth concerning humanity, we shall fail to see what man is, and so what God’s grace sets before him.
The sixth count is, There is none that practiseth goodness, no, not so much as one. Corruption rather than holiness, selfishness rather than goodness, cruelty rather than kindness, is the way of apostate mankind everywhere. Thus declares the Judge who looks upon men as they are.
Verse 13: Next, God speaks as the all-wise, holy Physician, in diagnosis: Their throat is an open sepulchre. Doctors always insist first on looking down our throats: and we all know that the throat and tongue denote the state of health. There could be nothing more horrible than what we have here: death, decay, moral stench, and that not hidden, but open! Unhidden, unashamed putridity:—thus a holy God describes the throat of every one of us by nature! As Bishop Howe says: “Emitting the noisome exhalations of a putrid heart.” We must remember we are here seeing man through God’s all-holy eyes.
With their tongues they have been using deceit [since man’s fall]. The verb is in the imperfect tense, which denotes the habitual practice of the human race. This includes your tongue and mine, reader. But the case is still worse; for the Physician continues:
The venom of asps is under their lips: The fangs of a deadly serpent lie, ordinarily, folded back in its upper jaw, but when it throws up its head to strike, those hollow fangs drop down, and when the serpent bites, the fangs press a sack of deadly poison hidden “under its lips,” at the root, thus injecting the venom into the wound. You and I were born with moral poison-sacks like this. And how people do claim the right to strike others with their venom-words! to use their snake-fangs!
Verse 14: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness (Ps. 10:7) : To prove this, you need only take your stand upon any street, and strike upon the mouth a passerby. As well strike a hornets’ nest! How men do curse others! Bitterness is ever ready! What fearful folly for a race speaking thus to imagine that by “being baptized,” and “joining the church” they are ready to “go to heaven,” and be in the holy company on high, with the meek and lowly Son of God and the holy angels,—and all this without a thought of being forgiven, washed, born again!
Verse 15: Their feet are swift to shed blood (Isa. 59:7): I saw a child under two years raise its puny fist against another, crying, “I’ll kill ’oo!” Murder is so common, now, that new hideous expressions are invented: “I’ll get him”; “Bump him off”; “Put him on the spot”; “Take him for a ride”; or, as the awful Communistic phrase puts it, “Liquidate him.” When the restraining grace of God is withdrawn, it will be given to the Red Horse Sitter “to take peace from the earth, and that they should slay one another” (Rev. 6:4). Men’s feet, like tigers’, are ready and swift for blood-shedding: “For further details, read your daily papers!”
Third, God speaks as the All-seeing Historian of fallen man:
Verse 16: Destruction and misery are in their ways (Isa. 59:7). What an epitome of human history. It is said that the ancient Troy of which Homer sang was built upon the ruins of an earlier Troy,—and that seven other Troys, each constructed upon the ruins of a former, have been found! As Meyer vividly renders: “Where they go is desolations (fragments) and misery (which they produce).” Those who so loudly proclaim that the human race is “improving,” “progressing,” are blind deceivers,—blind to history, blind to present day facts, blind to the rising tide of human violence. “As it was in the days of Noah,” our Lord said, “so shall be the coming of the Son of Man.” In those days of Noah the earth became “full of violence” (Gen. 6:11).
Verse 17: And the way of peace they have not known. (Isa. 59:8). It is a terrible thing God here reveals, that not one of the human race knows, or is by nature pursuing, the path of peace. It does not seem to me that the Spirit of God speaks here of that peace with God on the ground of accepted sacrifice which Chapter 5:1 describes (and which is always a direct revelation of God to the soul), but rather in consistence with the context and with the passage in Isa. 59:8 from which it is drawn: “The way of peace they know not;5757This ignorance, of course, is itself a matter of guilt, as is abundantly shown in Leviticus 4:2, 13, 22, 27: “If any of the people of the land sin unwittingly in doing anything . . . and be guilty.” and there is no justice in their goings: they have made them crooked paths; whosoever goeth therein doth not know peace.” The unregenerate man does not know, follow, or really desire to know the way of wisdom, all whose paths are peace (Prov. 3:17). Thomas Scott well says: “They know not the ways in which godly men walk, at peace with God and their neighbors; and so they go on in those paths which lead to misery and ruin both to themselves and to each other.”
Verse 18: There is no fear of God before their eyes (Ps. 36:1). This last is the most awful count of all, and explains all the others. “To fear God consists in having such a due sense of the majesty and holiness and justice and goodness of God, as shall make us thoroughly fearful to offend Him. For each of these attributes of God is proper to raise a suitable fear in every Christian mind.”
A friend once pointed out to me a champion prize-fighter of America, and I heard another man remark, “How I’d hate to be hit by him!” He could fear a fellow-man. But in a few moments the same man’s mouth was using the name of God, and even of Jesus Christ, in profanity! There was “no fear of God before his eyes.” It meant nothing to him that God had said, “The Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.” But what will it mean when that man steps out of this life into the realities of eternity! Bengel aptly notes, “The seat of reverence is in the eyes.” Godet says: “The words ‘before their eyes’ show that it belongs to man freely to evoke or suppress this inward view of God on which his moral conduct depends.” Haldane comments: “They have not that reverential fear of Him which is the beginning of wisdom, and which is connected with departing from evil. It is astonishing that men, while they acknowledge that there is a God, should act without any fear of His displeasure. They fear a worm of the dust like themselves, but disregard the Most High!” And Calvin says: “Out of the contempt of God cometh all wickedness. Seeing that the fear of God is the fountain of wisdom, when we are once departed from it, there abideth nothing right or sincere. If it be wanting, we are loosed unto all kind of licentious wickedness.”
This great passage then, (verses 9 to 18) needs to be pondered, prayed over, thoroughly believed, and preached continually, in these last days, when God-consciousness is dying out. It is no kindness, but a terrible wrong, to hide from a criminal the sentence that must surely overtake him unless pardoned; for a physician to conceal from a patient a cancer that will destroy him unless quickly removed; for one acquainted with the hidden pitfalls of a path he beholds someone taking, not to warn him of his danger!
Verses 19 and 20 concern particularly that nation to whom the Law was given, for Paul plainly in verse 9 applies the passage through verse 18 to “both Jews and Greeks” as “all under sin.” But now he turns directly to those who had the Law:
19 Now we know that whatsoever the Law says it is speaking to them that are under the Law [i.e., to the Jews]; in order that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world [Gentile and Jew”] may come under the judgment of God; 20 because out of works of law no flesh shall be declared righteous before Him; for through law comes knowledge of sin [not righteousness].
In verse 19, we repeat, and not till then, does Paul turn again to the Jews as those who were under law5858Many insist that the words “the Law” of verse 19 include only all the quotations from Scripture from verse 9 to verse 18; and they would apply it only to the Jews, as alone possessing that Law, But God in verse 9 applies to both Jews and Greeks what is “written” in the following Scriptures (of verses 10-18). We would regard “the Law” in verse 19, then, in a stricter and more confined sense,—as when our Lord said to the Jews, “Did not Moses give you The Law?” Our Lord’s general division was “The Law and The Prophets” (Luke 16:16); and in Luke 24:44 He speaks of “the things that are written in the Law of Moses, and the Prophets, and the Psalms concerning Me.” In John 10:34 He uses the term “Your Law,” covering even the Psalms. And yet, as we said above, the quotation from Psalm 14, includes the whole human race. And if it be argued that this psalm uses God’s name Jehovah, His special name for Israel, we reply that in the parallel psalm, the Fifty-third, the name used is God, Elohim, the Creator of the whole earth. to shut off their possible escape from that general arraignment by Scripture of “both Jews and Greeks” beginning at the ninth verse. Thus every mouth was “stopped.” Men’s mouths keep talking of their own goodness or of someone else’s badness, or of both,—as, for example, the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14. But the moral history of mankind delineated in Chapter One; and the stern principles of God’s judgment which considered neither man’s high notions of himself, nor his religious professions, as shown in Chapter Two; and now, in Chapter Three, the fourteen sweeping statements of Scripture concerning the whole guilty human race, with the double conviction of the Jews as not only sinners, but also transgressors of the very Law they gloried in,—all this stops men’s vain mouths! For they are all brought into the presence of their Judge, and the sentence of guilty is upon them all. Not that they are brought in to have their just penalty executed upon them; but that they may be silent while God their Judge announces—astonishing thing!—that He has himself already dealt with the world’s sin upon a sin-offering, Jesus, His Son; whom, we shall soon see, He set forth at the cross as a righteous meeting-ground between Himself in all His holiness and righteousness; and the sinner, whether Jew or Gentile, in all his guilt,—through simple faith in the shed blood of this Redeemer!
Verse 20: Now Paul declares what the law cannot do, and what it can do. First, no one shall be declared righteous [justified] in God’s sight by works of law [“doing right”]; and second, the business of God’s Law is rather to make known to men their sin, and therefore, their need of a salvation which the Law cannot supply.
In this verse we meet by far the most difficult Divine utterance for the human heart to yield to, that we have met in the entire Epistle. Even those “without law,”—“Gentiles that have not the Law” (of Moses—2:14), we find throughout history so committed to their own ideas of what is “right,” and what will propitiate the demons that they worship, that they will desperately fight for their convictions. (See Paul at Lystra, and at Ephesus, in the Acts.) And how much more difficult the task becomes in dealing with those who, as the Jews, know that they have had a direct revelation from God,—“Thou shalt” and “Thou shalt not,” and, “He that doeth these things shall live by them.” When Paul told the Athenians that he acknowledged them to be “very religious” (their city indeed being filled with idols), but that they were ignorant of God, the Creator, who had raised up from the dead One who would be Judge in righteousness: “Some mocked: others said, We will hear thee concerning this yet again.” Now, we say, if men are brought off only with great difficulty from the follies of idolatry, how much greater the task to persuade men to abandon their trust in a holy Law they know to have been given by the true God, from heaven, and on the fulfillment of which all their hopes for eternity have been dependent!5959Someone says, “It is not the good works men have done so much as the good works they persuade themselves they some time will do, in which they hope.” For almost all know themselves to have failed; yet they promise themselves that they will be “better”; and the thought of being declared righteous by a work altogether outside of themselves, never once occurs to them! In just the same way Christendom has become fixed in its defense of its “religious” convictions. Scripture names, doctrines and ordinances—falsely explained—have seized hold upon the convictions of men, so that it is more difficult to dislodge them from their position than the heathen themselves. We know from Scripture, for example, that “days, seasons, months and years,” do not belong to the Christian position in the least degree, but are Jewish or pagan in origin. Christmas, Lent, Easter, the whole “church calendar,” forms, ritualism, the confessional, the mass, clergy,—where are these found in the Epistles of the New Testament? They are not found! Yet try once to dislodge them from those in whose hearts they have been planted! For their heart-hopes are bound up with these false traditions.
None but those taught of God, and they with extreme difficulty and constant watchfulness, escape legal hope. For the question ever before the conscience is, If keeping God’s Law avails me nothing for righteousness in His sight, why did He give it? WHY DID HE GIVE IT?
And this difficulty becomes all the greater, the more the excellency of the Law is discovered! For our judgment sees these things of the Law to be “holy, and righteous, and good.” And we know (if we are honest) that “God spake all these words”—of the Law.
Therefore, the heart’s only relief is to hear God’s own Word concerning seven questions; to all of which the coming chapters of Romans will give answer: (1) To what nation did He give the Law; (2) Why He gave the Law; (3) What the Law’s ministry was; (4) How it was set aside, or “annulled,” for another principle entirely; (5) What is meant by the words “under grace”; (6) How the walk “in the Spirit” takes the place of walking by external enactments; and, (7) How that only in those not under law is “the righteous state” (dikaioma) of the Law fulfilled!
Now it is apparent that to bring men off from their false hopes in their law-obedience, three things must become evident to them:
(a) That law, having been broken, can only condemn.
(b) That even were men enabled now to begin keeping perfectly any law of God, that could not make up for past disobedience, or remove present guilt.
(c) That keeping law is NOT God’s way of salvation, or of blessing.
In connection with verse 20, we will emphasize only the third
of these points, for that is what is insisted upon in this verse. We quote in the
footnote below verse 20, and then a number of plain statements of Scripture to the
same effect, that we may compare Scripture with Scripture:6060 By works of law shall no flesh be Justified in his sight; for
through law cometh the recognition of sin (3:20).
A man is justified by faith, apart from works of law (3:28).
To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness (4:5).
Not through the Law was the promise made to Abraham . . . but through the righteousness of faith (4:13).
For if they that are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void, and the promise is made of none effect (4:14).
Through the obedience of the One shall the many be constituted righteous. And law came in alongside, that the trespass might abound (5:19, 20).
Ye are not under law, but under grace (6:14).
Ye were made dead to the Law through the body of Christ (7:4). We have been discharged from the Law (7:6).
Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to every one that believeth (10:4).
Until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remaineth, it not being revealed to them that it is done away in Christ (II Cor. 3:14).
A man is not justified by works of law but through faith in Jesus Christ (Gal. 2:16)
If ye are led by the Spirit, ye are not under law (Gal. 5:18). Law is not made for a righteous man (I Tim. 1:9).
For there is a disannulling of a foregoing commandment [by Him who gave it] because of its weakness and unprofitableness (for the Law made nothing perfect), and a bringing in thereupon of a better hope, [Christ’s work] through which we draw nigh unto God (Heb. 7:18, 19).
The knowledge (or recognition) of sin comes through law,—by (1) its revealing what God approved in man, and what God disapproved and forbade; (2) causing man to undertake obedience; and (3) condemning him for failure to obey.
To all seven of the questions above, the coming chapters of Romans, compared with other Scriptures, will, as we have said, fully give the answers. But it will be wise, perhaps, to look a moment more, in this place, at questions 2, 3 and 4:
As to Question Two, Why God gave the Law, we call attention now, as elsewhere, to the fact that in His dealing with Abraham, and, in fact, in all His ways with the patriarchs, there was not the Law, but simply and only the promise. We plainly see in Rom. 5:14 that they were not under law. They walked by simple faith, which is, of course, the only principle according to which God has saving relations with man since he became a sinner. But (and this is important) God must show man his sinnerhood and this could not be done but by His revealing His holiness and righteousness, and asking man to conform his life and ways to that holy and righteous rule. God knew he would not and could not do this; but man did not know it, and must discover it through failure. Therefore and thereunto did God give the Law. “By the Law is the knowledge of sin.”
We have now partly answered Question Three, as to what was the appointed ministry of the Law. But the matter needs to be further emphasized. God names the Law a “ministration of condemnation and death” and not of righteousness. As Paul says in Chapter Seven, “Sin, that it might be shown to be sin, wrought death to me through that which was good” (the Law).
As to Question Four, the Law was set aside or “disannulled.” We have God’s oft-repeated and most emphatic assertion, that this has been done: “There is a disannulling of a foregoing commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness (for the Law made nothing perfect), and a bringing in thereupon of a better hope, [Christ’s death, burial and resurrection], through which we draw nigh unto God” (Heb. 7:18, 19). We repeat this over and over, because that is the way God does—He asserts and re-asserts this great fact: knowing man’s self-righteousness will hardly suffer the Law to be taken away.
Now it was not that God changed His plan, though to the thoughtless mind He might seem to have done so: (1) by beginning with man on the faith principle—from Abel onward; then (2) conditioning Israel’s relationship and blessing upon their legal obedience; and then (3) “changing back” again, since the cross, to the way of simple faith apart from law. No, there has been no “change” in God. God’s way with man has always been that of faith. Neither was the Law a thing additional to faith to secure God’s favor; nor was God’s “disannulling the foregoing commandment” an evidence that He had been seeking and expecting righteousness in man by the Law; and that now since the Law had failed He resorted to grace, apart from works of the Law. Not at all! The Law came in simply that the trespass might abound,—that is, that by breaking it man might discover his guilt and sinfulness; and his helplessness to relieve himself. Moses had prophesied in Leviticus and Deuteronomy that Israel would utterly fail, and that they would be provoked to jealousy by God’s bringing in the Gentiles, “a foolish nation”; and that the remnant of Israel finally, its whole legal hope cut off, would be restored by God in sovereign mercy (Rom. 11:31, 32).
We know we are saying these things over and over. An old German educator said: “The first principle of teaching is repetition; and the second principle of teaching is repetition; and the third principle is repetition.”
So we come to the next great section of the Epistle, Chapter Three, verses 21 to 31. This will describe God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ.
JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH IN CHRIST
21 But now apart from law, God’s righteousness hath been manifested,—borne witness to by the Law and the Prophets: 22 God’s righteousness, moreover, through faith concerning Jesus Christ unto all them that believe; for there is no distinction [between Jew and Gentile]; 23 for all sinned, and are falling short of the glory of God; 24 being reckoned righteous gift-wise by His grace through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ: 25 whom God set forth a propitiation [mercy-seat] through faith in His blood, unto showing forth His [God’s] righteousness in respect of the passing over of the foregoing sins in the forbearance of God: 26 for the showing forth of His righteousness in the present time,—unto the being Himself righteous, and the One declaring righteous-the person having faith in Jesus. 27 Where then is the [Jewish] boasting? It is excluded. By what manner of law? of works? Nay: but by a law of faith. 28 For we reckon that a man is accounted righteous by faith apart from law-works. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? [who had the Law]. Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yea, of Gentiles also: 30 if so be that God is one! And He shall declare righteous the circumcision on the principle of faith [instead of law], and the uncircumcision through their [simple] faith. 31 Do we then annul law through faith? Far be the thought! on the contrary, we establish law!
We now come to the unfolding of that word which Paul in Chapter One declares to be the very heart of the gospel,—the reason it is “the power of God unto salvation”: namely, “therein is God’s righteousness on the faith-principle revealed to any having faith” (1:17).
The first work of the apostle, as we have seen in studying Chapter 1:18 to Chapter 3:20, was to bring the whole world under the judgment of God, guilty, helpless. His second task (and it is a blessed one!) is to reveal God’s coming out in rightousness at the cross unto us. Let us most diligently read, ponder, yea, and commit to memory verses 21 to 26; for it is God’s great statement of justification by faith. Its first announcement is:
Verse 21: But now apart from law God’s righteousness hath been manifested,—borne witness to by the Law and the Prophets—The first words, “But now,” should be hailed by us joyfully, as beginning an account of something heavenly different from our guilt and helplessness, detailed in the preceding part of the Epistle (1:18-3:20).
The next phrase is: “apart from law”6161The absence of the definite article, the, before the word law, in 3:21, 28, 31; 4:13, etc., shows that it is the abstract principle of law that is before us rather than the specific, concrete, thing—the Law of Moses, the ten commandments. It will become evident to us that God is dealing with men now upon a different principle altogether than that of law: for grace confers the blessing, and lets the fruit flow from “faith working through love” by the power of the Spirit. Law demands fulfilment of conditions before blessing: grace announces that Christ has fulfilled all conditions.—lay it to heart! Unfortunately, the King James Version misses the emphasis here. For the Greek puts to the very front this great phrase “apart from law” (chōris nomou), and thus sets forth most strongly the altogether separateness of this Divine righteousness from any law-performance, any works of man, whatsoever. Luther’s rendering was, “without accessory aid of law.” In this revelation of God’s righteousness, law was left out of account. Righteousness is on another principle than our right-doing!
Now the great and most common error in setting forth God’s righteousness here, is, to allow law at least some place. Men cannot, it seems, get over reasoning thus: that since God once promulgated the dispensation of law, which called for human righteousness. He must thereafter be bound by it forever. And this despite Divine assurance, over and over and over, that the present dispensation proceeds on an altogether different principle; that there has been a “disannulling of a foregoing commandment” (Heb. 7:18); for He who had the right to command had also the right to disannul. It was “because of its weakness and unprofitableness—for the Law made nothing perfect,”—that the “foregoing commandment” was set aside. It had served its purpose—to make the trespass “abound” (5:20).6262“The Law has no such office in the present state of human nature manifested in history and in Scripture as to render righteous: its office is altogether different, viz., to detect and bring to light the sinfulness af man” (Alford).
It is not that God has not the right to demand legal righteousness from us: but that He does not do it. “Righteousness which is of God” speaks in a way diametrically opposite to man’s law—obedience, of any sort whatsoever.
Men who do not see or believe that the whole history of those in Christ ended at the cross (for they died there, with Christ) must hold that God is still demanding righteousness: for “the law hath dominion over a man so long as he liveth!”
The “teachers of the Law” (I Tim. 1:7) say: “Behind God, as He talks with you in ‘grace’ is His eternal Law. And He must carry out what He has expressed in that Law. But, because you are not able to perform it, He has ‘graciously’ given Christ, to perform all its requirements for you. And the positive, or ‘active’ requirements are, the observance of all the commands of the Law to the letter,—which (these teachers say) Christ has by His perfect life of obedience to the Law on earth, furnished for you. And the negative, or ‘passive’ obedience, as they call it—that is, the penalty of death for your sins which the Law (say they) demanded, Christ has paid on the cross. So that, now your debts cancelled by Christ’s death, you have Christ’s legal ‘merits’ as your actual righteousness before God: for God must demand (they say) perfect righteousness from you, as measured by His holy Law,”—etc., etc.
This seemingly beautiful talk is both unscriptural and anti-scriptural.
God says that the believer is not under law, that he is dead to law,—to that whole principle, being in the Risen Christ; and Christ is certainly not under law in Heaven! Believers are “in Him”; they are “not in the flesh” (Rom. 8:9). They were formerly in the flesh (in the old natural life of Adam); but are now “new creatures” in Christ Risen!
If you put believers under law, you must put their federal Head, Christ, back under law; for “as He is, even so are we in this world.” To do this you must reverse Calvary, and have Christ back again on earth “under law.” For law, we repeat, was not given to a heavenly company, but to an earthly nation. Scripture says it was to redeem that earthly people (Israel) who were under law, that Christ was “born under the Law” (Gal. 4:4). You must thus, if you are “under law,” be joined to a Christ belonging to Israel, a flesh and blood Christ; and must consent to be an Israelite—to which nation He was sent. But alas! You find that such a Christ is not here! That He said He must “abide alone,”—like the grain of wheat unless it “fall into the ground and die.” To an earthly, Jewish Christ, you therefore cannot be united. And so your vain hope of having Moses and Christ is wholly gone. Therefore you must be united with a Risen Christ, or with none at all! But if to a Risen Christ, it is unto One who died unto sin (6:10); and those (Jewish) believers who were under the Law died with Him unto it (7:4). And you, if you are Christ’s, are now wholly, as Christ is, on resurrection ground. This truth will be brought out fully in chapters Six and Seven; we can but note it here.6363Your body—you are waiting for the redemption of that. But your body is only the “tabernacle” in which you dwell,—it is not yourself. “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). “He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit” (I Cor. 6:17).
The words hath been manifested (of verse 21) Conybeare lucidly paraphrases, “not by law but by another way, God’s righteousness is brought to light.” God had always dealt righteously, although His way was not as yet plain. He pardoned many, and He did not seem wholly to judge sin even in the unsaved world. But at the cross “He spared not His own Son.” Here was revealed, indeed, righteousness to the uttermost!
Borne witness to by the Law and the Prophets—by the Law, in its sacrificial offerings; by the Prophets, in direct statements: “This is His name whereby He shall be called: Jehovah our righteousness” (Jer. 23:6); and again, “Thy righteousness”—21 times in the Psalms! as, “I will make mention of Thy righteousness, even of Thine only” (71:2, 15, 16, 19, 24); and Isaiah: “By the knowledge of Himself shall my righteous Servant make many righteous” (53:11).6464Peter indeed declares that “God had foreshawed by the mouth of all the prophets that His Christ should suffer” and “to Him bear all the prophets witness, that through His name every one that believeth on Him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 3:18; 10:43. It is well to remember that Paul reminds his hearers in Pisidian Antioch that it is possible to hear the prophets read and really not undrstand “the voice of the prophets” nor Him of whom they spake (Acts 13:27. Yet it was not brought to light how this should be, until “the fulness of the time” came, and God sent His Son to “suffer for sins, the just for the unjust,” to “put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself,” that God’s righteousness might be “manifested,” both in His dealing with sin, and in glorifying His Son in heaven, who had glorified His Father on earth.
It would have been righteous for God to smite Adam and Eve as He did the angels that sinned. He could have revealed Himself in righteousness of judgment in accord with His holiness and justice. He was not obliged to save any man. But it was God’s will to reveal Himself: for He is Love.
Therefore He now comes forth at the cross in love,—albeit He must there come forth also in righteousness,—for He Himself must righteously and fully judge sin upon the person of His own provided Lamb. The sword “awakened against His Shepherd, the Man who was His Fellow,”—the “fellow” of Jehovah of hosts! The Shepherd was smitten: “He was bruised for our iniquity, the chastisement of our peace [that would procure peace for us] was upon Him.” God spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up, and the penalty for our sin was visited upon Him, Jesus, God’s provided Sacrifice (Zech. 13:7; Isa. 53:5, 6).
God is able to come forth to us now in absolute GRACE, sending out His messengers “preaching peace by Jesus Christ”;—nay, preaching much more than peace. In effect, God says, “Utter and infinite oceans of grace shall roll over the place where judgment and condemnation were!” Forgiving us all our trespasses, He goes further: having raised up Christ from the dead. He says, I will now place you in my Son. I will give you a standing fully and only in Him risen from the dead! Not only did He bear your sins, putting away your guilt, but in His death I released you from your standing and responsibility in Adam the first. You who have believed are now new creatures in Christ: for I have created you in Him.’
And because this is so, it is announced further: “Him who knew
no sin, God made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness
of God in Him.” These astonishing words state the present fact as to all believers,—of
all those in Christ: they are the righteousness of God in Him!6565 “The resurrection of Christ was not only Divine power in life; there was another
truth in it. Divine righteousness was shown in it. His Father’s glory, all
that the Son was to Him, was concerned in His resurrection; Christ having perfectly
glorified God in dying, and having finished His Father’s work, Divine righteousness
was involved in His resurrection. And He was raised, and righteousness
identified with a new state into which man, in Him, was brought; and more than
that, indeed, for more was justly due to Him—He was set in glory as man at
the right hand of God. Not only did the blessed Lord meet for us who believe all
our sin as children of Adam, by His death, so as to clear us according to the
glory of God from it all in His sight; but He perfectly glorified God Himself in
so doing. Man, in the person of Christ, then entered into the glory of God. ‘Now
is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him, . . . and shall
straightaway glorify Him.’ But all Christ’s work was wrought in us; our sin was
put away by it. Christ, as having thus glorified all God is, is our righteousness.
We are thus ‘the righteousness of God in Him.’
“Either Christ, in His own present perfectness, risen from the dead, is my righteousness, His place my place, and I myself absolutely dead and gone as regards the old man; or I am making Christ a completer of my standing, as alive in the old man. Scripture teaches me that I am not alive as a child of Adam in this world. ‘If ye died with Christ . . . why as though alive in the world? says Paul.
“And now I am in Christ, risen and ascended; and have no righteousness to make out, but to glorify God as His child, being the righteousness of God in Christ already. My defects have nothing to do with my righteousness. They have with respect to my living to God and enjoying communion with Him” (Darby).
In the book of Romans, Paul is describing God’s action toward a believing sinner in view of the shed blood of Christ. It is as if God were holding court with the infinite value and benefit of the propitiatory sacrifice and resurrection of Christ only and ever before Him. No other apostle will be called upon to set this forth fully as does Paul. Of course it could not be stated by the Old Testament writers in its fulness and clearness; for our Lord had not then offered Himself, and all the Law and Prophets could do was to declare sin temporarily “covered” (Heb., kaphar) from God’s sight; and so the Old Testament believer was one who rested on what God would do, in view of these types and shadows and promises.
John the Baptist, however, pointing to Christ, said, “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world,” something that had never before been! Therefore, after the cross, it is written, “Once in the consummation of the ages, hath He [Christ] been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself”
In the Old Testament, we repeat, sin is covered,—which is the meaning of the word kaphar, “atonement,”—used only in the Old Testament, and there constantly (some 13 times in one chapter—Leviticus 16), to express the covering from God’s sight of sin: though the sin remained untaken away until Christ died. In the New Testament, therefore, sin is said to be put away by Christ’s sacrifice.6666We call attention to the error in the King James Version at the end of Romans 5:11 where those translators render “atonement” when it should be “reconciliation” (katallangē). Therefore, properly speaking, the idea of covering up sin (“atonement,” kaphar, of the Old Testament) is entirely absent in any mention in the New Testament of the effect of Christ’s sacrifice, which does not cover up but puts away sin from God’s sight forever.
God can, therefore, not only forgive the sinner, but also proceed to declare the believing sinner righteous, not at all meaning that he has any righteousness of his own, or that “the ‘merits’ of Christ are imputed to him” (a fiction of theology); but that God, acting in righteousness, reckons righteous the ungodly man who trusts Him: because He places him in the full value of the infinite work of Christ on the cross, and transfers him into Christ Risen, who becomes his righteousness.
We may look at the term God’s righteousness from God’s own side; then from that of Christ; and, finally, from that of the justified sinner.
1. From. God’s side, the expression “God’s righteousness,” must be regarded as an absolute one. It is His attribute of righteousness. It can be nothing else. He must, and ever will, act in righteousness, whether it be toward Christ, toward those in Christ, or toward those finally impenitent, whether angels, demons, or men.
2. From Christ’s side, it is His being received by God into glory according to God’s estimation of His mediatorial work. Our Lord had said that when the Spirit would come, He would “convince the world . . . of righteousness, because I go unto the Father, and ye see me no more” (John 16); and He had said, “I glorified Thee on the earth, having accomplished the work Thou gavest me to do. And now, Father, glorify Thou me with Thine own self, with the glory I had with Thee before the world was” (John 17). In answer to this prayer Christ was “raised from the dead through the glory of the Father” (Rom. 6:4), and was “received up in glory” (I Tim. 3:16). Now our Lord was man, as well as God. And when the Father glorified Him “with His own self,” with that glory Christ “had with Him before the world was,” it was as man that God thus glorified Him. So that, at God’s right hand, Christ set forth publicly the righteousness of God; for (a) as the slain Lamb He shows the holiness of God and God’s righteousness fully satisfied,—since God had “spared not His own Son” when sin had been laid upon Him. The truth of God as to the wages of sin had been shown in Christ’s death; thus the majesty of the insulted throne of God had been publicly vindicated, so that Christ’s being raised and “received up in glory” set forth the righteousness of God; for it were unrighteous that Christ should not be glorified! And (b) Christ not only thus set forth the righteousness of God, but being God the Son, as well as man, He was that righteousness! Christ dead, risen, glorified, is the very righteousness of God!
3. From the believer’s side, the justified sinner’s side, what do we see? The amazing declaration of God concerning us is, “Him who knew no sin God made to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (II Cor. 5:21). The saints are said to be the righteousness of God, in Christ. Of course self-righteousness simply shrivels before a verse like this! All is in Christ: we are in Christ—one with Him!
The expression “God’s righteousness” then signifies:
1. God Himself acting in righteousness (a) toward Christ in raising Him from the dead and seating Him as a man in the place of absolute honor and glory; (b) in giving those who believe on Christ the same acceptance before God as Christ now has, inasmuch as He actually bare their sins, putting them away by His blood, and also became identified with the sinner—was “made to be sin for us” and, our old man was thus “crucified with Him.” Just as it would have been unrighteousness in God not to raise His Son after His Son had completely glorified Him in His death; so it would also be unrighteous in God not to declare righteous in Christ those who, deserting all trust in themselves, have transferred their faith and hope to Christ alone.
2. Thus Christ, now risen and glorified, is Himself the righteousness of believers. It is not that He acted righteously while on earth, and that that is reckoned to us. This is, we repeat, the heresy of “vicarious law-keeping.” He was indeed the spotless Lamb of God; but He had no connection with sinners until His death. He was “separate from sinners.” “Except a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it abideth by itself alone.” It is the Risen Christ who is our righteousness. “Christianity begins at the resurrection.” The work of the cross of course made Christianity possible; but true Christianity is all on the resurrection side of the cross. “He is not here, but is risen,” the angel said.
3. Thus Christians find themselves spoken of as the righteousness of God in Christ. Not as “righteous before God,” for that would be to think of a personal standing given to us, on account of Christ’s death, rather than a federal standing, as in Him, united to Him,—which we are! John Wesley said a wise thing indeed: “Never think of yourself apart from Christ!”
Now to be or become “righteous before God”; to have or obtain a standing that will “bear God’s scrutiny,” is the fond dream of very many earnest Christians. But however stated, and by whomsoever stated, that idea of our obtaining a “standing before God” falls short, and that vitally, of Paul’s gospel of our being made the righteousness of God in Christ. It denies that we died with Christ; and that we have been made dead to the whole legal principle in Christ’s death (7:4). Thus it leaves us under the necessity of “obtaining a standing” before God; whereas believers federally shared the death of Christ, and Christ Risen is Himself now our standing!
Positively, Christ was “raised for our justification” (4:25): that we might receive a new place, a place in a Risen Christ,—and be thus the righteousness of God in Him, as one with Him who is that righteousness.
God declares that He reckons righteous the ungodly man who ceases from all works, and believes on Him (God), as the God who, on the ground of Christ’s shed blood, “justifies the ungodly” (4:5). He declares such an one righteous: reckoning to him all the absolute value of Christ’s work,—of His expiating death, and of His resurrection, and placing him in Christ: where he is the righteousness of God: for Christ is that!
Does Christ need something yet, that He may stand in acceptance with God? Then do I need something,—for I am in Christ, and He alone is my righteousness. If He stands in full, eternal acceptance, then do I also: for I am now in Him alone,—having died with Him to my old place in Adam.
Earnest and godly men, wonderfully used of God, have brought out, as did the Reformers, that we are justified by faith, not works: without, however, going on to show, as does Paul, our complete deliverance, in Christ, from our former place in Adam, and from the whole principle of law.
The Reformation statements were as follows:
Luther: “The righteousness of God is that righteousness which avails before God.” This means a “substantive righteousness,”—a quality bestowed which “avails.” But I am not in these words seen as dead, and now in Christ only.
Calvin: “By the righteousness of God I understand that righteousness which is approved before the tribunal seat of. God.” Here again is a quality, not Christ Himself, who is made righteousness unto me, and I myself “of God,” in Him (I Cor. 1:30). And according to Calvin I must stand before God’s “tribunal”! But Christ at the cross met all the claims of God’s “tribunal,”—and that forever; and I am now in Christ Risen!
Again, Calvin, writing on II Cor. 5:21, concerning our being made or becoming “the righteousness of God in Christ,” says: “In this place nothing else is to be understood than that we stand supported by the expiation of Christ’s death before the tribunal of God.” Here is still the thought of a future (or present) “tribunal.” Only the negative side—expiation of guilt, is brought out. But this text in II Corinthians is positive: we are God’s righteousness in Christ! Believers are not seen by Calvin as having died with Christ, and having no connection at all with Adam’s responsibility to furnish a righteousness and holiness before God’s “tribunal.” Believers, says Paul, are not now “in the flesh” in their standing,—they are seen by God in Christ only! (Rom. 8:9). Calvin) and all the Reformers, and the Puritans after them, placed believers under the Law of Moses as a “rule of life”; because they did riot see that a believer’s history in Adam ended at the cross. But Paul, in Gal. 6:15, 16, says that those in Christ are to walk as “new creatures”: they are a new creation! “And as many as shall walk by this rule, peace be upon them!” This is God’s prescription for your walk, whatever men may teach!
We do quote Luther, that great man of God, in connection with Chapter Seven, in the expressions of his wonderful personal faith, as saying: “These words, ‘am dead to the Law’ (Gal. 2:19) are very effectual. For he saith simply, ‘I am dead to the Law’; that is, I have nothing to do with the Law . . . Let him that would live to God come out of the grave with Christ.” (Luther on Galatians; in which book is often shown a vigor and boldness of faith hardly to be matched since Paul!)
Dr. Scofield in his note on Romans 3:21, says that the righteousness of the believer “is Christ Himself, who fully met in our stead and behalf every demand of the Law.” Yet Scripture says that the Law was given to Israel; and that Gentiles are “without law,” as contrasted “with Israel,” who were “under the Law.” Paul’s words to us in Rom. 6:14: “Ye are not under law, but under grace,” do not mean that we were once under law (as were the Jews) and have now been delivered; but rather mean that we, having died with Christ (our old man crucified with Him, and our history in Adam closed forever before God), are not placed at all under law! It is unfortunate that Dr. Scofield goes on to quote beloved Bunyan: “The believer in Christ is now, by grace, shrouded under so complete and blessed a righteousness that the Law from Mt. Sinai can find neither fault nor diminution therein. This is that which is called the righteousness of God by faith.”
Now it is at once evident that such a statement as Bunyan’s leaves “the Law from Mt. Sinai” master of the field, lord over us. According to this the Law remains Inspector General of those in Christ! We are not “discharged” from it. We are still on earth, under legal trial, men “in the flesh.” The gospel, however, is that we are, in Christ, not under the law-principle at all! “Ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit.” Those who believe are not now under law, but under grace, being “in Christ.” We are now in a Risen Christ, who as such “lives unto God”; and it is unthinkable that He is under law! The Word of God says that Christ was “born of a woman,”—thus reaching the whole race; and “born under the Law, that He might redeem them that were under the Law,”—that is, Israel. But to maintain that the Risen Christ is “under law” in Heaven, is both to deny Scripture (Rom. 6:4) and also to close our eyes to the manner of His risen life (6:10). Christ in Heaven lives under no legal conditions, but freely, in love unto God. And God has sent forth “the Spirit of His Son”—mark that!—into our hearts. This means not only the witness that we are adult sons (huioi) of God, but that the very same emotions of relationship and nearness to the Father belonging to Christ, God’s Son, are ours—witnessed in our hearts by the Spirit of His Son!
We find hardly any writers except indeed certain devoted saints among the “Friends of God” of the fourteenth century; and later, certain among the mystics like Tauler, Ter Steegen, Suso and the “prince of German hymnists,” Paul Gerhardt; together with many early Methodists; and in the nineteenth century, certain of those remarkable men whose followers were later called “Plymouth Brethren,” who have seen or dared believe our complete deliverance before God from Adam the First: that is, from our former place “in the flesh,” “under law.” The last, the Brethren, indeed speak with more Pauline accuracy. But these earlier saints, though much persecuted, exhibit marvelously in their lives and testimony that heavenly freedom of those taught of God their place in Christ! Hear one of them singing:
“Thou who givest of Thy gladness
Till the cup runs o’er—
Cup whereof the pilgrim weary
Drinks to thirst no more—
Not a-nigh me, but within me
Is Thy joy divine;
Thou, O Lord, hast made Thy dwelling
In this heart of mine.
“Need I that a law should bind me
Captive unto Thee?
Captive is my heart, rejoicing
Never to be free.
Ever with me, glorious, awful,
Tender, passing sweet,
One upon whose heart I rest me,
Worship at His Feet.”
—Gerhard Ter Steegen.
The Law was given to man in the flesh; not to those on resurrection ground. Our relationship now to God is that of standing in the same acceptance as Christ; and we have the same Spirit of sonship as Christ!
Now, Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, and the life that He now liveth, He liveth unto God. And He lives unto God as man. He is God; but He is also a Risen Man.
It is into this Risen Christ, thus glorified, that God has brought us.6767The “righteousness of God” is the justification of the sinner, is His own attribute of righteousness; that is, His acting in accordance with His own holy nature; manifested, however, not in demanding righteousness from the sinner, but in setting the believing sinner in His own presence, because of the righteous judgment of his sins already visited by God upon his Subtitute, Christ. And God is not only Himself righteous, in remitting the penalty of sin; but He sets the sinner in the very standing in which Christ is, with Him!
We do not need therefore a personal “standing” before God at all. This is the perpetual struggle of legalistic theology,—to state how we can have a “standing” before God. But to maintain this is still to think of us as separate from Christ (instead of dead and risen with Him), and needing such a “standing.” But if we are in Christ in such an absolute way that Christ Himself has been made unto us righteousness, we are immediately relieved from the need of having any “standing.” Christ is our standing, Christ Himself! And Christ being the righteousness of God, we, being thus utterly and vitally in Christ before God, have no other place but in Him. We are “the righteousness of God in Christ.”
Not to the cherubim, not to the seraphim, not to the elect angels, has been given such a place as this! They may be sinless,—they are. They may be holy,—they are. They may be glorious,—they are. But they are not “the righteousness of God”; for they are not in Christ. They were never cut off, as we have been, by a death that ended completely their former history and standing, and then placed in Christ!
And so we come to a verse the very reading of which has been used to save and bring into the light thousands:
Verse 22: God’s righteousness, moreover, through faith concerning Jesus Christ unto all them that believe—If it were man’s righteousness, it would be through something man accomplished. But it is God’s righteousness; it is apart from out right-doing—that is, law-keeping altogether; for keeping law would be the only way man could get a righteousness of his own.
But the moment we mention righteousness here, people can hardly be restrained from the notion that they are to have a new quality bestowed upon them. Since they have themselves lost this quality of righteousness, they are anxious to get it back,—the consciousness of it. But this is really self-righteousness,—and that at its worst.
For we read here the words, “through faith in [or concerning] Jesus Christ.” And people rush to talking of Christ’s “merits” becoming theirs, being “imputed,” or reckoned to them: so that they are, thereby, in a righteous state!
But we shall see in Rom. 4:5 that God accounts righteous the believing ungodly as such; not those who are first to be in any wise “changed,” and then reckoned righteous; not those to whom certain “merits” of Christ are to be given, so that they are thereby righteous—not at all. But the believing ungodly are to be reckoned righteous—while they are still ungodly: it is that fact that makes the gospel!
Justification is God’s reckoning a man righteous who has no righteousness,—because God is operating wholly upon another basis, even the work of Christ. If Christ fully bore sin for man, and has been raised up by God, a believing man has reckoned to him by God all that infinite work of Christ!
Thus, no change in the ungodly man is necessary for justification.6868Of course, God will—does—give him life: it is “justification of life,” in Christ. But he is justified, accounted righteous, while ungodly; and only by the blood of Christ. God will also finally, indeed, present him faultless. But he declares him righteous upon believing—while he is ungodly! If God changed him first, he would not be “ungodly.” He believes, certainly. But faith is not a “meritorious” work. It is simply giving God the credit of speaking the truth in the gospel about Christ. It is Christ’s shed blood, and that alone, which is the procuring cause of God’s declaring an ungodly man righteous: while God’s grace is the reason for it. Our faith is simply the instrumental condition. God counts our faith for righteousness, because by it we give God and Christ the full glory of our salvation. Faith in God also brings the heart into His light; for, when “with the heart man believeth unto righteousness,” the heart, in thus believing, is turned to God directly, in the simplicity of a little child. When Adam sinned, he fled from God; when a sinner believes, he comes back!
Now concerning this chiefest revelation of Romans, we must go to Scripture only. It will never do to accept men’s writings as “authorities’” or as “standards,”—as men call them. For to do this is not to interpret the Scriptures, but to proceed along Romish lines. Nor will it do to rely on men’s devotedness to God, however real, as proof of their reliability in statements of Divine truth.
Take the Reformers: God brought them back, in principle, to the Scriptures as their only guide. (Would that there were the same devotedness and zeal today!) But, after mounting up to Heaven as it were, in personal grasp and use of the truth of justification by faith apart from all works, yet the Reformers put Christians back under Moses as a “rule of life,” under law I “What is required? and what is forbidden?” in this Mosaic commandment, or that, is the burden of Christian living, according to this theology.
Godly and earnest men have thus held; but the only question is,
what are the words of Scripture? We must “prove all things” men write, in the light
of Scripture: for God says we are not under law: and that the “rule of life” is,
that we are a new creation (Gal. 6:15, 16). Is the Pauline revelation
that we died with Christ from all earthly “religious principles” (Col
2:20), (such as God declares the Mosaic system now to be: Gal.
4:9)—is this glorious fact once set forth in all the reformed “standards”?
By no means! Believers were not seen by the Reformers as having had their history
ended at the cross, and being now wholly in a new creation. Neither did the Puritans
enter into this truth. This Pauline doctrine was not fully recovered until God wrought,—again
in a reviving, almost a Reformation power, through godly and devoted servants of
His, 300 years after Luther and Calvin. Truth is truth: and those seeking God’s
truth welcome it wherever they find it! Revealed Truth belongs to the whole Church,
to every believer. Those attached to, and entrenched in tradition, will always be
found fighting for that.6969 We are glad to note, in Sanday and Headlam’s Romans, this word
regarding William Kelly’s Notes on Romans: “His Notes are written from a detached
and peculiar standpoint; but they are the fruit of sound scholarship, and of prolonged
and devout study, and they deserve more attention than they have received.” This
is a fair and honest admission. For its irrefutable setting forth of truth, its
Christian fairness and love, and its brevity, make Kelly’s Notes invaluable.
Men prefer “belonging” to a system: (1) Because where faith is not vigorous it comforts the flesh to find oneself among a party.(2) Where direct personal knowledge of Scripture is lacking it is a comfort to the heart to be told “authoritatively” what to believe—what the party to which one belongs, holds, (3) It is abhorrent to the flesh to walk by the Spirit. It is infinitely easier to be occupied with the “Christian duties” practiced or prescribed by your sect. (4) The flesh cannot bear to be little, despised, but desires to be of those that have the regard of “the Christian world” (an awful phrase!). (5) Even among the most earnest Christians the temptation and the tendency have always been to seize upon those truths emphasized by the leaders of the sect they follow and claim those truths and principles as their own! But this in effect denies the unity of the Body of Christ, and that all truth belongs to the whole Church of God.
Now all this is of the very essence of Sectarianism. If your Christian consciousness is of anyone but Christ as Head over all things to the Church, and of any body but the Body of Christ, of which all true believers are members, and you members of them—then you are on forbidden, sectarian, “carnal” ground: “For when one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not men . . . are ye not carnal, and do ye not walk after the manner of men?”
Simple faith, then, receives “God’s testimony concerning His Son,” and rests there. They used to say of Marshall Field in Chicago, “His word is as good as his bond.” It was no credit to the merchants that trusted Mr. Field, but it was a great credit to him! It gave him the public honor of his integrity.
God’s righteousness, moreover, through faith concerning Jesus Christ—Here we must study carefully. The King James Version reads, “by faith of Jesus Christ.” “Through faith” is more accurate, as the preposition is, dia, “through,’” as the Revised Versions, both English and American, read. Concerning the form, “of Jesus Christ,” see Mark 11:22, Acts 3:16, Gal. 2:16, Jas. 2:1 where the same Greek construction appears.
The expression “faith concerning Jesus Christ,” literally, “faith of Jesus Christ” must be regarded either as:
1. Faith in the gospel of God concerning Jesus Christ, as set forth at the beginning of the Epistle, involving of course appropriation of Christ with all His benefits for oneself; or,
2. Trust in Christ. But Christ has already died for sin, for the world; and trust, here, would mean relying on Christ to do something for the soul; either to put forth power to deliver; or, as they say, to become one’s “personal Saviour”; or, “to see one through to the end,” or the like. This is in accordance with man’s gospel: “Jesus Christ will save you if,”—rather than in accordance with Paul’s gospel of believing God’s Word concerning Christ as having accomplished for us a work that was finished once for all on the cross.
3. The rendering received by many today in certain circles which would make “the faith of Jesus Christ” mean Christ’s own believing on our behalf! which, they explain, is “exercising His own mighty faith,” instead of calling upon the strengthless hearts of men to believe. But this avoids our responsibility to believe God. They quote here Mark 11:22: “Have faith in God,” as, “Have the faith of God”; a grotesque, unbiblical, impossible meaning! Our Lord said, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.” He did not say, “I will believe for you.” Again He did say, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him Whom He [the Father] hath sent” (John 6:29).
4. Finally, some have thought to render, “the faith of Jesus Christ” as His faithfulness to us; which is not the meaning of the Greek, is out of place, and is contrary to the apostle’s usage.
We believe that the first meaning we have indicated—that is, faith in the gospel of God concerning Jesus Christ as set forth at the beginning of the Epistle, is the true one here; for it accords perfectly with this first great expansion in Chapter Three, of the announcement of Chapter 1:1-3, “the gospel of God concerning His Son”: the power of which is that “therein is revealed God’s righteousness on the principle of faith.”’
Faith is not trust, and must be carefully distinguished therefrom, if we would have a clear conception of the gospel. Faith is simply the acceptance for ourselves of the testimony of God as true. Such faith, indeed, brings one into a life of trust. But faith is not “trusting,” or “expecting God to do something,” but relying on His testimony concerning the person of Christ as His Son, and the work of Christ for us on the cross. So faith is “the giving substance to things hoped for.” After saving faith, the life of trust begins. In a sense that will be readily perceived by the spiritual mind, trust is always looking forward to what God will do; but faith sees that what God says has been done, and believes God’s Word, having the conviction that it is true, and true for ourselves.
In saving faith, then, you do not trust God to do something for you: He has sent His Son, who has borne sin for you. You do not look to Christ to do something to save you: He has done it at the cross. You simply receive God’s testimony as true, setting your seal thereto.7070I often quote I Tim. 1:15 to inquiring sinners: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” In response to my question, they confess that “came” is in the past tense. Then I say, “How sad that you and I were not there, so that He might have saved us, for He has now gone back to heaven!” This shuts them up to contemplate the work Christ finished when He was here; upon which work, and God’s Word concerning it, sinners must rest: that is faith. You rest in God’s Word regarding Christ and His work for you. You rest in Christ’s shed blood.
It is GOD that justifieth (8:33), as it is God against whom we sinned. And it is God whom we find in Chapter 3:25 setting forth Christ on the cross as a righteous meeting-place (between the sinner and God) through faith in His blood. And again: “To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him [God] that justifieth the ungodly” (on the ground, of course, of the blood of Christ). “Righteousness shall be reckoned unto us who believe on Him that raised Jesus our Lord from the dead” (4:5 and 24). This, it seems, is what the Lord meant in His last public message to the Jews, John 12:44: “Jesus cried and said, He that believeth on Me, believeth not on Me, but on Him that sent Me.” Faith, indeed, lays claim to Christ and possesses Him, but it is through believing the testimony of God the Father concerning His Son.
And this seems to me the meaning of the words in Chapter 3:22, “through faith concerning Jesus Christ.” Peter also says not only that we have “the answer of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (I Pet. 3:21), but: “through Him [Christ] ye are believers in God, that raised Him from the dead, and gave Him glory; so that your faith and hope might be in God” (I Pet. 1:21). Thus also, he says, “Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God” (I Pet. 3:18).
We must remember that it is the “gospel of God” (Rom. 1:1) in its general aspect, which we are now studying; and that it is “concerning His Son.” Christ says also in John 5:24, “He that heareth My word, and believeth Him that sent Me hath everlasting life and cometh not into judgment.”
Now we believe concerning Jesus Christ: (a) that He is the Son of God, (b) that He has put away sin by His blood (as Paul will soon show); and (c) that He is and has become through simple believing our very own, so that what He has done was really done for us.
You may say, this is simply “believing on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Yes; but it is believing God concerning Christ. In Chapter Four we find that Abraham believed God, and righteousness was reckoned unto him. We also “believe on Him that raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up for our trespasses, and was raised for our justification.” Here the faith is in God, and is made possible by His raising Christ, upon whom He had placed our sins. Sanday says: “‘By faith of Jesus Christ’: that is, by faith which has Christ for its object.” In the gospel of God concerning Christ, God announces not only Christ’s person as Son of David, and Son of God; but also His finished work, that He has been set forth by God as a propitiation, a righteous meeting-place between the sinner and God. It is therefore God whom the sinner believes; and in believing God he appropriates Christ, and His saving work.
There is another question in this 22nd verse which must be answered. The King James Version adds, after “The righteousness of God by faith of Jesus Christ unto all,” the words “and upon all them that believe.” The Revised Version omits “and upon all.” This, we believe, is the correct reading. The righteousness of God is not put “upon” any one. That is a Romish idea,—still held, alas, among Protestants who cannot escape the conception of righteousness as a something bestowed upon us, rather than a Divine reckoning about us. But the best authorities omit these words “and upon all,” as do the oldest manuscripts, and both the English and American Revised Versions. The words, “God’s righteousness through faith concerning Jesus Christ unto all them that believe,” describe it all, and fully.
I know people argue that “unto all” describes the “direction of
the blessing”; and “upon all” those who (as they put it) have the blessing actually
“conferred upon them.” But please notice the present passage is setting forth the
fact of a new, present revelation—God’s righteousness by faith in Christ, as over
against man’s legal righteousness. Since we find this righteousness is God’s accounting
or holding righteous a man who believes, rather than a conferment of a quality upon
a man, we must read the passage thus. It sets forth this present by-faith righteousness.
It is God accounting a man (even as he is, “ungodly”—4:5)
righteous in His sight. Do not destroy the gospel by adding to Romans 3:22 words
which evidently have been supplied by some one ignorant of the truth. It is simply
“God’s righteousness through faith about Jesus Christ.”7171 I have found Mr. Darby’s explanations of “God’s righteousness”
more clear and illuminating than those of any other. It is therefore unfortunate,
as it seems to me, that he adds to verse 22 the confusing phrase, “and upon all.”
I ask, what is “upon all”? If, as Mr. Darby holds, the act of justification is a
forensic one, a declaration about a sinner who believes, accounting him righteous
(although he is not intrinsically so), then why add that this righteousness is “upon”
him? For the human mind is unable to conceive of a meaning for such a phrase other
than something that a man does not possess being placed upon his person. But this
is the exact meaning that Mr. Darby so constantly and justly wars against!
The very thing Mr. Darby so assiduously avoids, that is, the bestowal on a person of a quality, (or of, as he says, “a quantum of righteousness”), he opens the way to, in retaining the phrase “and upon all.” Bishop Moule, for example, remarks: “As to ‘unto all and upon all,’ the Greek phrases respectively indicate destination and bestowal. The sacred pardon was prepared for all believers, and is actually laid upon them as a ‘robe of righteousness.’” We would expect such a comment as this from a churchman, or any one of the Reformation theologians, but it is the very thing that Paul does not say; and it darkens all counsel concerning justification.
The expressions “the righteousness of Christ,” “the merits of Christ,” though not in Scripture, are continually in the mouths even of earnest men, who do not see that our history in Adam ended at the cross, that we died with Christ, and now share His risen life; and that we therefore do not need to have anything whatever ‘put upon” us, nor any qualities or “merits” of Christ made the basis of God’s blessing us. We were in Adam: we are now in Christ, standing in the full, the infinitely complete acceptance of Christ’s own Person!
We gravely fear that some brethren, in their resentment against the Revised Version (which we well know is not perfect, though incomparably more accurate than the King James), have kept this phrase “and upon all,” in spite of the fact that the earliest manuscripts do not have it. Bishop Gore well remarks, “It is not an exaggeration to say that, in this and very many places of the epistles, the Revised Version for the first time renders the thought of the apostles again intelligible to the English reader. And if the Revised Version is not popular, this is, I fear, only a sign that the majority of English Christians do not really care to understand the meaning of the message with which, as a matter of words, they are familiar.”
Mr. Darby himself says that neither the Reformers nor any other human teachers, are an authority for him, so we, agreeing, say that Mr. Darby is in no sense an authority for any Christian. “Prove all things,” said the Apostle.
F. W. Grant admits that the earliest manuscripts omit “and upon all.” He then says, “The earliest of all is corrected.” But why was the earliest manuscript “corrected”? Some hand of legal unbelief “corrected” that manuscript, we certainly believe.
Sanday frankly says: “These words, ‘and upon all,’ are wanting in the best manuscripts, and should be omitted.” As also agrees an excellent Plymouth Brother: “The best Uncial mss. omit ‘and upon all.’ The context confirms the correctness of this, for the Apostle is writing of those who are justified (verse 24)” (C. E. Stuart).
Righteousness is a court word. Righteousness is reckoned by God to them that believe. The faith of the ungodly man who believes is “counted for righteousness” (4:5).
The words that close verse 22, “for there is no distinction,” should be joined with verse 23: “for all sinned, and are falling short of the glory of God.” Pridham well says, “The all-important point to be regarded here is the complete setting aside of the creature-title.” That there is no difference as to the fact of sin, between Jews and Gentiles, is, of course, primarily before us in the words “no distinction.” Exactly the same expression is found as to the availability of salvation in Chapter 10:12: “no distinction between Jew and Greek.” We may well apply it to everybody, as does Pridham in his “no creature title.” There is no distinction between sinners—between great offenders and small, with respect to this matter of sinnership. Not the degree of sin, but the fact of sin is looked at here. If you should visit a penitentiary, you would find some imprisoned for terrible crimes, and others for lesser offences, but you would find, in the eyes of the law, no innocent men!
Verse 23: for all sinned, and are falling short of the glory of God—Note the difference in the tenses: “all sinned” is in the past tense, while “falling short” of God’s glory is stated in the present tense. When Adam had once sinned, in Eden, he continually fell short, outside of Eden, as did all his race, by him and after him.
While it is true, as both the old Version and the Revised translate,
that “all have sinned”; yet I am more and more persuaded that inasmuch as the Spirit
of God uses in verse 23 the same Greek word and tense as in Chapter 5:12,
hēmarton: that is, “all sinned” (aorist, not perfect, tense), God is looking back
even here at Adam’s federal headship involving us all. He looks at the race as fallen
and lost and gone, in their federal head; and then as individually continuing in
sins.7272 Godet remarks, “The aorist hēmarton, ‘sinned,’ transports us
to the point of time when the result of human life appears as a completed fact,
the hour of judgment.” With this Burton agrees, calling it a “collective aorist.”
This word is a verb, second aorist tense, meaning, in Paul’s epistles to miss the mark; then, to err, to wander from the path of righteousness; then, to do or go wrong; then, to violate God’s law,—to sin. As we all know, the aorist is a statement of past fact, not of present condition or fact; neither does it have the force of the perfect,—that is, of the finishing of prolonged action.
The King James version translates the same verb-form in 5:12 also: “all have sinned,” It is our contention that this too is an incorrect translation, beclouding the meaning of Scripture.
It is remarkable in 3:23 that a past tense should be used for the verb sin, and a present tense for the universal consequent result! As we find throughout Scripture, the sin of Adam is evermore in the Divine view. “Thy first father sinned,” is God’s continual testimony. The consequent translation of this aorist hēmarton in 5:12 is, “all sinned”—that is, in Adam’s act; and also in 3:23; “all sinned [in Adam] and [consequently] are falling short of the glory of God”: the history of the whole race since.
Of course it will be objected that individual sins and transgressions are treated in the first three chapters of Romans, and federal sin not until the second part of Chapter Five, where the two federal men, Adam and Christ, are set forth, and the effects of their representative acts contrasted. This is true, but why the same aorist form in both 3.23 and 5.12?
Even if Paul used hēmarton in 3.23 as summing up in one word the actions of both Gentiles and Jews as detailed in 1:18 to 3:18, we must still note that it is the aorist and not the perfect tense that he uses. It would then resemble the use of the same aorist, hēmarton, in 2:12: “as many as sinned without law,”—the aorist here expressing the life-choice, looked at in the day of judgment as a past act (as see Godet above). This would make 3:23 say: all made the life-choice of sin,—which we know is not true of those whom God saves and delivers. So that it seems best to read “all sinned,”—as God’s view of men looked at as being sinners, indeed; but their sin a past fact—soon to be connected definitely with Adam’ (5.12, ff.)
As a natural consequence, all that race “are falling short” of His glory. This “falling short” may mean (1) to fail to earn God’s holy approbation (compare John 12:43); or (2) to come short, because of the loss of all spiritual strength through sin (Rom. 5:6), of that estate God prescribed for and must demand of man; or (3) guilty inability to stand before Him or in His glorious holy presence. Probably all these and more are included in the thought. We know that those now justified by faith in Christ “rejoice in hope of the glory of God,”—meaning that state of being glorified together with Christ, which is the high, heavenly hope of the Christian. It is in and through Christ alone that sinners ruined in Adam, and daily falling short of the glory of God, find redemption from sin’s guilt and deliverance from its power.
How sad and awful, then, man’s condition! Suppose I should say, for example, to a New York audience, “Let us all go down to the Battery and jump across to England.” Some vigorous young man might jump over twenty feet, ‘but he would “fall short” of England. And some little old lady might not jump one foot. But all would “fall short” of the coast of England. And, for that matter, the one who leaped the farthest would be in the deepest water! Paul, the chief of sinners, leaped to the farthest distance of self-righteousness, only to cry, “Wretched man that I am” and to find he must put his faith only in Christ!
We now come to the greatest single verse in the entire Bible on the manner of justification by faith: We entreat you, study this verse. We have seen many a soul, upon understanding it, come into peace.
Verse 24: Being declared righteous giftwise by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus—God having brought the whole world into His courtroom and pronounced them guilty (vs. 19),—“under sin,” now exhibits Himself in absolute sovereign grace towards the guilty!
Being declared [or accounted] righteous—Justification, or accounting righteous, is God’s reckoning to one who believes the whole work and effect before Him of the perfect redemption of Christ. The word never means to make one righteous, or holy; but to account one righteous. Justification is not a change wrought by God in us, but a change of our relation to God.
Declared righteous giftwise—The Greek word dorean means, for nothing, gratuitously, giftwise, as a free gift. Paul, for example, uses the same word in reminding the Corinthians of his labors to make the gospel “without charge.” “Freely [dorean] ye received, freely give,” said the Lord to the twelve (Matt. 10:8). “I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely” (dorean),—for nothing (Rev. 21:6); and it occurs in almost the very last verse of the Bible:
“Let him take of the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17). Perhaps the most striking use of this word, dorean, is by our Lord: “They hated me without-a-cause” (dorean) (John 15:25). The cause of the hatred was in them, not in Christ. Turning this about: the cause of our justification is in God, not in us. We are justified dorean—freely, gratis, gratuitously, giftwise, without a cause in us! This great fact should deliver just now some reader who has been looking within, to his spiritual state, or feelings, or prayers, as a ground of peace.
By His grace—We get our word “charity”—from the Greek word translated “grace” here (charis). True, our word “charity” has been narrowed down in our poor thought and speech to handing out a dole to the needy. But as used by God, this word grace (charis), means the going forth in boundless oceans, according to Himself, of His mighty love. who “so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” The grace of God is infinite love operating by an infinite means,—the sacrifice of Christ; and in infinite freedom, unhindered, now, by the temporary restrictions of the Law.
Through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus—Remember that everything connected with God’s salvation is glad in bestowment, infinite in extent, and unchangeable in character. Christ’s atoning work was the procuring cause of all eternal benefit to us. Concerning the Greek word translated “redemption” here (apolutrōsis) Thayer says: “Everywhere in the New Testament this word is used to denote deliverance effected through the death of Christ from the retributive wrath of a holy God and the merited penalty of sin.”
The effect of redemption is shown in Ephesians 1:7: “In whom we have our redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses.” Otherwise we were unpardoned and exposed to Divine wrath for ever. Compare Colossians 1:14: “In whom we have our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins”; as also Hebrews 9:15: “A death having taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant.” Here Thayer’s interpretation of this word “redemption” is again excellent: “Deliverance from the penalty of transgressions effective through their expiation.”
Before you leave verse 24, apply it to yourself, if you are a believer. Say of yourself: “God has declared me righteous without any cause in me, by His grace, through the redemption from sin’s penalty that is in Christ Jesus.” It is the bold believing use for ourselves of the Scripture we learn, that God desires; and not merely the knowledge of Scripture.
Verse 25: Whom God set forth a propitiation through faith in His blood, unto showing forth His [God’s] righteousness in respect of the passing over of the foregoing sins in the forbearance of God—This verse looks back to the whole history of human sin before it was judged at the cross,— the vast scandal (so to speak) of the universe!—a holy God letting sin pass for four thousand years, from Adam to Christ. God had been righteous in thus passing over7373“Passing by or over”; Xenophon uses this word thus: “A trainer of horses should not let such faults pass by unpunished”—Hipparchus 7.10. human sin, both in pardoning without judgment, the sins of the Abels, Enochs, Noahs, and the patriarchs,—even all whom He knew as believing Him; and not only so, He was righteous in forbearing with the impenitent. His enemies: for He purposed both sending Christ to become the propitiation for the whole world; and He would also deal in due time in righteous judgment with those rejecting all His goodness.
But now, in the gospel, His righteousness in all this is publicly shown forth; and the ground of it all seen—even the Lamb “foreordained, indeed, from the foundation of the world, but now manifested,” and sacrificed. At the cross was sin seen at its height; and also the righteousness of God in dealing in judgment7474There are, respecting human sin, three judgment-days: (1) of the human race, in Eden; (2) of human sin, at the cross; and (3) of human rebels, at the Great White Throne of Revelation 20. with it. It was not until the gospel that all this was manifested. Although God had been dealing righteously in the past ages, it was first seen clearly when He judged human sin openly in the Great Sacrifice: where His own Son was not spared!
Whom God set forth a propitiation—Let us consider now this word “propitiation,” concerning the meaning of which there is much uncertainty in many hearts.
Inasmuch as Christ died for our sins “according to the Scriptures” (I Cor. 15:3), we must go to those Scriptures (Old Testament, of course) to find what is there set forth concerning His death.
Now the two goats, on the Great Day of Atonement, represent two great effects of Christ’s sacrifice. To quote: “Aaron shall take the two goats, and set them before Jehovah at the door of the tent of meeting. And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats: one lot for Jehovah, and the other lot for Azazel” (“removal”—the goat of removal of sins)7575Azazel, the Hebrew word, means goat of dismissal, or departure, figuring most vividly the effect for Israel of the blood shed by the first goat: for the two goats are one in representing Christ’s work in its double effect. First, as answering all the claims of the being and throne of a holy, righteous God; and, second, in removing the transgressions from the people “as far as the east is from the west.” (Lev 16:7, 8).
On the great Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16)
the high priest presented before Jehovah these two goats: one was slain, and its
blood brought by the high priest into the tabernacle, through the holy place, and
past the second veil into the holy of holies. There the high priest sprinkled the
blood upon “the mercy-seat” (the covering of the ark of the covenant, where the
Shekinah glory of God’s presence was above the cherubim), and also before the mercy-seat,
seven times. This was the blood of the goat upon which the lot fell “for Jehovah”;
therefore we have here first the holy and righteous claims of the throne of God
as to sin completely met. The golden covering of the ark was called the “mercy-seat”
(Hebrew, kapporeth). In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament,
this golden covering of the ark is always called by the same Greek word, hilastērion,7676 The meaning of the Greek word hilastērion, translated “propitiation”
in Romans 3:25 plainly is, propitiatory sacrifice. How else could it be for “the
showing of God’s righteousness”? If we translate it only “mercy-seat,” we forget
that it was the propitiatory sacrifice, in its death, which made a mercy-seat possible.
It was the slain goat, on the Day of Atonement, (in Lev. 16:15),
the blood of which was brought in to be sprinkled upon and before the mercy-seat.
The righteousness of Jehovah was proclaimed in the offering’s death, and in the
meeting, on the ground of this shed blood, of Jehovah and man, at the mercy-seat.
Therefore righteousness is set forth in the death of the victim; mercy in its effect
at the “mercy-seat.”
It will he noticed that all explanations (of hilastērion) rest on the thought that “Christ’s death was sacrificial and expiatory; a real atonement, required by something in the character of God, and not merely designed to effect moral results in man. We may not know all that this propitiation involves, but since God Himself was willing to instruct His ancient people, by types, of this reality, we ought to know something positive respecting it. The atoning death of Christ is the ground of the ‘reconciliation,’ since it satisfies the demands of Divine justice on the one hand, and on the other draws men to God. Independently of the former, the latter could not be more than a groundless human feeling” (Schaff and Riddle).
“All that God was in His nature, He was, necessarily, against sin. For, though He was love, love has no place in wrath against sin, and the withdrawal of the sense of it—consciousness in the soul of the privation of God, is the most dreadful of all sufferings, the most terrible horror to him who knows it: but Christ knew it infinitely. But God’s Divine majesty, His holiness, His righteousness. His truth, all in their very nature bore against Christ as made sin for us. All that God was, was against sin, and Christ was made sin. No comfort of love enfeebled wrath there. Never was the obedient Christ so precious; but His soul was to be made an offering for sin, and to bear it judicially before God” (Darby). which we find translated “propitiation” here in verse 25; and “mercy-seat” in the only other New Testament occurrence of the word, Hebrews 9:5.
Does “propitiation” (hilastērion), here in Romans 3.25, then mean that the death of Christ made expiation for human sin? Or does it mean also that Christ, having thus died, therefore becomes to the soul the “mercy-seat” where God in all His holiness, and the sinner in all his guilt, may meet?
The latter may be included; for the type is thus carried out; inasmuch as the blood was sprinkled upon the mercy-seat (Lev. 16:14), the covering of the ark of the covenant, which was called the mercy-seat; the “mercy-seat” thus calling attention to the effect of the sacrifice as affording a righteous meeting ground between the sinner and God. But in Chapter 3.25 it was to show forth God’s righteousness that Christ was “set forth,”—the fact that God, though forbearing 4000 years, had not forgotten or abated His wrath against sin: so that it is Christ’?, actual death as an expiation of human sin that is seen here as showing God’s righteousness. We may well read, “God set forth Christ propitiatory”: thus showing Himself righteous, and also a gracious Justifier of sinners.
The other question connects itself with what we have just said: Should we regard our faith as making the propitiation actual? Of course, the expiatory death of Christ becomes effectual only for those who believe, who rest upon it. But the expiation was made to God for human sin and the propitiation effected, apart from any man’s faith therein! This is a plain fact of revelation. Christ “tasted death for every man.” “He gave Himself a ransom for all”—whether any avail themselves of it or not. Faith does not have any part in the propitiation, though it avails itself of it. Propitiation is by blood alone.
It is forgotten that our God is a consuming fire. Many there are who, in the blindness of unbelief of the last days, proudly say, “We reject the Jehovah of the Old Testament.” It is “the Jesus that loved little children,” and “went about doing good,” who “taught us to call God, Father”:—this is the one in whom people say they believe. But will you remember that this same Jesus is called in the Old Testament Jehovah’s Servant, and that under Jehovah’s smiting hand of wrath He poured out His blood on Calvary and was laid in a tomb, dead, and that it is this Jesus, the Son of God, dead and risen, upon whom you are called to believe?
Now, why did He thus die? or, if you wish, Why must He die, at all? Death is the wages of sin, and He had none! Why should He die?
The answer to this question, false teachers crowd to give you. But we must find the answer in what Scripture says, or risk our eternity! For Jesus Christ is the only Savior, and His death is His one saving act. Concerning His person, therefore, and His death, you must learn what God says from His own Word, and believe it. I find thousands of people ready to say, “Christ died for us, to save us”; thousands, I say, who speak thus, but who are able to give no account whatever of salvation; who exhibit, upon being questioned, the most awful ignorance of the character and attributes of God, and of where lay the necessity for Christ’s death, and what it really accomplished.
The shed blood on the Day of Atonement witnessed that a death had taken place. The person for whom the blood was shed could not approach or stand for a moment in the presence of the infinitely holy God. When the high priest came in before Jehovah on the Great Day of atonement, carrying the basin containing the poured out life blood of the slain goat, he swung the censer, and the cloud of incense filled the holy of holies, covering from all human sight or approach, the mercy-seat where dwelt, upon the cherubim, the Shekinah Presence of God. He approaches and sprinkles the blood upon the mercy-seat, and before the mercy-seat seven times, and retires.
Now, what does this witness? Not an angry, vengeful God,7777 The doctrine of atonement produces in us its proper effect
when it leads us to see and feel that God is just; that He is infinitely gracious;
that we are deprived of all ground of boasting; that the way of salvation, which
is open for us, is open for all men; and that the motives to all duty, instead of
being weakened, are enforced and multiplied.
“In the gospel all is harmonious: Justice and mercy, as it regards God; freedom from the Law, and the strongest obligations to obedience, as it regards men” (Hodge). but infinitely the opposite—One who would send the Son of His bosom as the spotless Lamb to pour out His blood for us sinners, and then ascend to His God and Father,—and, unspeakable grace, now our God and Father also!
But, this laid-down-life witnesses that all approach to God on our personal part is impossible forever! To be made nigh unto God in the blood of Christ means that we come as those whose Substitute has been smitten unto death,—and that under forsaking and wrath by God Himself. There is peace through this blood, but a peace that leaves for us in our own right, no place whatever. Herein is the “offense” of the cross. Shall Christ be smitten for my sin? Then I deserve such smiting. Shall Christ be forsaken? Then I should have been forsaken. Shall Christ give up the ghost? Then all my hopes in myself have perished forever; for He who stood in my place has been smitten, forsaken; has died.
All this men hate and will not hear.
The essence of the truth concerning what men call “atonement,” is that God’s wrath fell upon Christ bearing our sins. Man’s unbelief has sought in every way to avoid or mitigate this awful truth. But if Divine wrath fell not upon Christ, it must fall upon us; for God can not let sin pass. The preacher must study the Scriptures until he sees for himself from God’s Word this most solemn of all Divine revelations: in the coats of skins—obtained by death as a covering for Adam and Eve in God’s presence; in Abel’s accepted sacrifice; in all the offerings of the patriarchs; and afterwards in those prescribed to Israel in Leviticus,—where neither remission of the penalty of sin to the offender nor the bringing of man into God’s presence was possible except through blood-shedding; and alike strikingly in the Psalms of Christ’s sufferings,—as 16, 22, 40, 69, 88, 102, 109; and in the prophets: “It pleased Jehovah to bruise Him,” “The chastisement of our peace was upon Him”; “Awake, O sword against My Shepherd, against the Man Who is My Fellow, saith Jehovah of Hosts”; and in the gospels—“The Son of Man must be lifted up”; “The cup [of what but wrath?] that my father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?” “My God, My God Why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Throughout the New Testament, as in the Old, this is taught, that God’s wrath for sin fell upon Christ upon the cross.
It has ever been the first step to heresy—the denial that Divine wrath for sin fell on Christ. It was, indeed, certainly not anger at Christ’s Person—He was obediently drinking a cup His Father had given Him. Nor was it anger at the sinner: “God so loved that He gave.” But it was wrath against sin,—the going forth of the infinitely holy nature of God against sin. Alas, how little we feel its awfulness! How poor our knowledge of it; how weak our hatred of it! But wrath against it fell full on Christ. We beseech you, hold this fast. “God spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all.”
God is holy in His being: He is righteous in His character. Righteousness appears in His dealings with others. The term righteousness is a relative one; it assumes the existence of others. It is a word of relationship: whether in attitude or in government, God will ever be righteous. But holiness is not a word of relationship, but of nature, of being. God is holy: if there were no creatures He would yet be holy, the Holy One, “Whose Name is Holy.”
It is in this holiness of God that we must look for the necessity of propitiation. That there must be propitiation does not indicate, primarily, that God is offended and must be appeased; but that God is holy and cannot by sinful creatures be approached. Only holy beings (like the seraphim, the cherubim of glory, and the elect angels) can possibly abide in His presence. Sin cannot come nigh Him. It is not that He hates sinners (He gave His Son to ransom them!) but it is that He is holy and cannot look upon sin. And if there be sin, there must ‘be wrath against it: not merely the vindication of God’s offended government, but the infinite abhorrence of His holy nature! He “dwelleth in light unapproachable.” It is death to draw nigh: not because God is vindictive,—He is love: but because He is holy, and we are sinful, unclean, unholy.
True, we are also guilty: the penalty of sin is upon us. And that means judgment, and the infliction of wrath. But behind this, and deeper than even our guilt, is the abhorrence of a holy God of our sin itself. It is the abominable thing His holy being hates. We must be banished under wrath from His sight! Let all those who think to stand in the day of judgment before God think on this. The atonement arises out of a necessity in the nature of God Himself.
Now in the type of the great Day of Atonement of Leviticus 16, we have the two goats setting forth two great facts, which we must not confuse: First (and most important) the blood of the slain goat brought into God’s presence in the holy of holies: the sprinkled blood being the witness that there has been death, a life laid down:7878“The great idea in all these offerings (of Leviticus) was that the life of the victim was accepted for the life of the offerer” Angus-Green. and no effort to come otherwise into God’s presence,—no Cain-way, which does not recognize sin, or that holiness of God which was wrath and death toward sin. The blood of the goat sprinkled on the mercy-seat was the witness that all the claims of God, His holiness, His truth, His righteousness, and the majesty of His throne, had been admitted and met by a substitute which had laid its life down.
Then, second, there was the transferring in type of the actual sins,—all of them, to the head of the scape-goat (the “goat of dismissal”), which was then led to the wilderness, never to be found again: thus setting forth the result of the death of the first goat,—for the two are really one, in that the two set forth the effect of Christ’s death: (1) toward God; and (2) toward sinners.
It is this latter phase of Christ’s work,—His taking away our sins forever, that we so constantly find in our hymns (and rightly). But it is the first phase that the Word of God calls “the lot for Jehovah” (Lev. 16:8, 9, 15). It is of first importance that God should be glorified where sin had so dishonored Him! Sin outraged His holiness, insulted His Majesty, defied His righteous government. And the cross made good all this, and publicly, before the universe. This was first. And second, God could now let ‘sinners, in all their guilt, turn to Him! And we should learn to look at the cross as first of all glorifying God; and not solely from the viewpoint of the blessed and eternal benefits accruing to us thereby!
It is the character of God and the character of sin that are before us in Leviticus 16, in the Great Day of Atonement. “That I die not” (verse 13) was upon the mind of the high priest as he swung the censer when entering the presence of Jehovah, the Holy One, to sprinkle the blood, “to make atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleannesses of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, even all their sins.” Note here that it is “uncleannesses” that are mentioned, even before “transgressions” or “sins”! Read carefully Leviticus 16,—especially verses 15 and 16.
Taking the blood in before God, in the holy of holies, was not a gift to God! Nor was it that God “delighted in bloodshed”—the monstrous claim of God’s enemies. Christ’s blood witnesses that a life has been laid down (though that of a Substitute, a Lamb, God Himself in love has provided). So that a sinner, unable to be in God’s presence at all, and guilty, might, in the Name and Person of that Substitute, be in God’s presence, pardoned and justified. So that the blood witnesses at once the infinite holiness and righteousness of God, and also His fathomless love! The words “made nigh in Christ’s blood” should be in the constant consciousness of every Christian!
Now in order that these things may be impressed on our hearts,
we quote a few of the ever recurring references in Scripture to the holiness of
God: its effect in godly fear upon the saints, and also its effect upon the wicked.
We have placed these passages in a footnote. We beg you to stop and humbly read
them; for the God of the Old Testament is the God of the New. Indeed, that great
passage in the Sixth of Isaiah in which the seraphim veil their faces, crying, “Holy,
holy, holy, is Jehovah of hosts,” is directly declared in the Twelfth of John to
have been spoken of the Lord Jesus Christ: “These things said Isaiah, because he
saw His glory [Christ’s] and he spake of Him” (John 12:39-41).
The fact that the Son of God has come, sent by a God of love, and has borne sin
for us, so that we who believe shall not come into judgment, but draw near to God
by Christ’s blood, does not at all change the character of the holy God; but, on
the contrary, reveals His holiness as nowhere else!7979 Ex. 3:5: Put off thy shoes from off thy
feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.
19:22: And let the priests also. that come near to Jehovah, sanctify themselves, lest Jehovah break forth upon them.
24:1, 2: Worship ye afar off, and Moses alone shall come near unto Jehovah; but they shall not come near; neither shall the people go up with him.
Ex 24:17: And the appearance of the glory of Jehovah was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel.
Lev. 9:7: And Moses said unto Aaron, Draw near unto the altar, and offer thy sin-offering, and thy burnt-offering, and make atonement.
10:1-3: Nadab and Abiliu offered strange fire before Jehovah . . . And there came forth fire from before Jehovah, and devoured them, and they died before Jehovah. Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that Jehovah spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace.
Deut. 4:24: For Jehovah thy God is a devouring fire, a Jealous God.
5:4, 5: Jehovah spake with you face to face in the mount out of the midst of the fire . . . ye were afraid because of the fire, and went not up into the mount.
Isa. 33:14: The sinners in Zion are afraid: trembling hath seized the godless ones: Who among us can dwell with the devouring fire? who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings?
Heb. 12:29: For our God is a consuming fire.
Therefore we see m the word translated “propitiation” a propitiatory sacrifice that has expiated guilt; and therefore the “mercy-seat” where God is in all His holiness, and the effect of Christ’s expiatory sacrifice, in the bringing into God’s holy presence sinners, the defiled and guilty,—whose Substitute has borne their defilement and guilt, His blood becoming the witness thereto before God.
We know that we read in Hebrews 9:8 concerning the sacrifices in that first tabernacle: “The Holy Spirit this signifying, that the way into the holy place hath not yet been made manifest, while the first tabernacle is yet standing.” Besides, we also read in Hebrews: “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by the way which he dedicated for us, a new and living way . . . let us draw near with a true heart, in fulness of faith” (Heb. 10:19, 22). God’s being and character do not change. The cross is the deepest witness of all to that fact!
In every great revival in church history, as in the Old Testament, there has been a coming back into the consciousness of being guilty, lost sinners, dependent on the shed blood of a Redeemer. If the world has gotten past being recalled to that blessed sinner-consciousness in the presence of a God of mercy at the cross—there is nothing left but judgment!
Verse 26: For the showing forth of His righteousness at this present season: that He might be Himself righteous, while declaring righteous the person having faith in Jesus.
Both in verse 25 and verse 26 it is the effect of Christ’s sacrifice, as displaying the Divine righteousness, that is before us. From Adam to Christ God had “passed over,” not judged and put away, sin. The word translated “passed over” (paresis) in Chapter 3:25, is not the word for “remission,” of Matthew 26:28, which is used fifteen times for the active pardon of sins; whereas the present word (paresis) is used in Romans 3:25 only. This word carries, in a sense, almost the same thought as the word “overlooked,” in Acts 17:30. Of course there had to be, before the cross, such displays of Divine government as the Flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the plagues in Egypt, and the dispersion of rebellious Israel. Nevertheless, God did not take up man’s sin for judgment according to His own being, until the cross. There He held the public Judgment Day of human sin, displaying His absolute righteousness in not sparing His own Son. Before the cross, as Bengel says, “the righteousness of God was not so apparent, for He seemed not to be so exacting with sin as He is, but to leave the sinner to himself, to regard not.” But in the atoning death of Christ, God’s righteousness was fully exhibited in His wrath against sin as it was in His holy sight. He was shown righteous, at the very moment He was, in love, working out the deliverance of the sinner from the wrath due. He was the Justifier, and yet just!
In the words, “at this present season,” God directs our gaze back to the cross, where Christ was publicly set forth and judged for our sin; and also He covers this whole “season” of mercy the present dispensation. Old Testament believers looked forward: they were forgiven on credit. But “this present season,” is better. It is characterized by a righteousness already displayed in God’s judging our sin at the cross; and therefore by God as the righteous Justifier of all who believe.
Now our faith is that one act of our hearts that appropriates the work of Christ; and we stand, by virtue of that work alone in the immediate presence of the infinitely holy God. The words “most holy” occur about forty times in describing the sanctuary matters of the Old Testament; but faith in the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ who fulfills all those shadows, takes the place of all this: therefore, in the New Testament, our faith is called “our most holy faith”! (Jude 20).
Verse 27: Where then is the [Jewish] boasting? It is excluded. By what manner of law? of works? Nay: but by a law of faith.
Where then is the [Jewish] boasting? It is plain all through this discussion that Paul has the religious position and opposition of the Jews in mind. Boasting “was excluded at the moment when the law of faith, that is, the gospel, was brought in.”8080As one has quaintly said, “The Feast of Mercy was on, and the damsel Grace was at the door, admitting everyone who came on the ground of mercy alone. Old Mr. Boasting, in a high hat and fine suit, presented himself. ‘Oh,’ said Grace, as she quickly shut the door in his face, ‘There is no room for you here! The people here are feasting on the free gifts of God.’ So Mr. Boasting was shut out!”
In view of this new gospel-revelation of the finished work of Christ, who did the whole work for us on Calvary, and that by God’s appointment, everything is seen to be of God, and not at all of man. Therefore, even the Jews, to whom the Law had been given, had their mouths completely stopped, “because there was no work done,” and no ground for boasting!
By what manner of law? of works? Not at all! but by a law of faith. “Law” in this instance is rule, or plan. This “law,” or principle, of faith, applies not only to our justification, but to every aspect of the believer’s life thereafter,—“building up yourselves on your most holy faith.” “That life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son of God.”
Verse 28: For we reckon that a man is declared righteous by faith, apart from Works of law—This verse is not a conclusion arrived at, but a reason given why boasting is excluded.
Verses 29 and 30: Or is God [the God] of Jews only? [who alone had the Law]. Is He not [the God] of Gentiles also? Yea, of Gentiles also: since it is one God who shall declare righteous the circumcision on the principle of faith, and the uncircumcision through faith. To paraphrase: “Or is God the God of the Jews only? (as He must be, if justification is by the Law: for only to the Jews did God give the Law). Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yea, of Gentiles also: since God is One (in His being, and alike to all nations). And He shall justify the circumcision (Jewish believers) out of simple faith (and not by their keeping Moses’ Law though they had it from God), and the uncircumcision (Gentiles, who had nothing) through their faith (apart from His giving them the Law).”
Verse 31: Do we then annul law through faith? Banish the thought! on the contrary, we establish law.
It is the constant cry of those who oppose grace, and most especially that declaration of grace that our justification is apart from law—apart from works of law—apart from ordinances, that it overthrows the Divine authority. But in this verse Paul says, “We establish law” through this doctrine of simple faith.
To illustrate: In the wilderness a man was found gathering up sticks to make a fire on the Sabbath day. Now, the Law had said, “Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations on the Sabbath day.” How, then, was this Law to be “established”? By letting the law-breaker off? No. By securing his promise to keep the Law in the future? No! By finding someone who had kept this commandment always, perfectly, and letting his obedience be reckoned to the law-breaker? No, in no wise!
How then, was the Law established? You know very well. All Israel were commanded by Jehovah to stone the man to death. We read:
“And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation. And they put him in ward, because it had not been declared what should be done to him. And Jehovah said unto Moses The man shall surely be put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp. And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him to death with stones; as Jehovah commanded Moses” (Numbers 15:33, ff).
Thus and thus only was the commandment of Jehovah established—by the execution of the penalty.
Paul preached Christ crucified: that Christ died for our sins, that “He tasted death for every man.” And that Israel, who were under the Law, He redeemed from the curse of that Law by being made a curse for them. Thus the cross established law; for the full penalty of all that was against the Divine majesty, against God’s holiness. His righteousness, His truth, was forever met, and that not according to man’s conception of what sin and its penalty should be, but according to God’s judgment, according to the measure of the sanctuary, of high heaven itself!
The Jew, prating about his own righteousness, went about to kill Paul, crying that he spake against the Law; whereas it was that very Jew who would lower the Law to his own ability to keep it, instead of allowing it its proper office; namely, to reveal his guilt, curse him, and condemn him to death, and thus drive him to the mercy of God in Christ, whose expiatory death established law by having its penalty executed!8181As to the “modernist,” being more shallow by far than even the Sadducees of our Lord’s day, he is not even exercised in his conscience concerning the Law, or the difference between law and grace as a means of righteousness,—of righteous standing with God. For, forsooth, the “modernist” has already a “character,” an “innate nobility,” though where the poor fellow gets these things, alas, who can discern? We know from Scripture that his first father was Adam; and that this “modernist,” was, like David, “shapen in iniquity and conceived in sin.” We have immeasurably more respect for a Jew, who is at least endeavoring by his imagined law-keeping to attain righteousness,—which presupposes that he knows he has it not! Even the Seventh Day Adventists, with their unscriptural bondage to law, are worried in conscience: the “modernist” is smugly secure, for what means Thus saith the Lord to him? But wait—till he faces the Great White Throne!
RIGHTEOUSNESS WITHOUT WORKS
If God announces the gift of righteousness apart from works, why do you keep mourning over your bad works, your failures? DO you not see that it is because you still have hopes in these works of yours that you are depressed and discouraged by their failure? If you truly saw and believed that God is reckoning righteous the ungodly who believe on Him, you would fairly hate your struggles to be “better”; for you would see that your dreams of good works have not at all commended you to God, and that your bad works do not at all hinder you from believing on Him,—that justifieth the ungodly!
Therefore, on seeing your failures, you should say, I am nothing but a failure; but God is dealing with me on another principle altogether than my works, good or bad,—a principle not involving my works, but based only on the work of Christ for me. I am anxious, indeed, to be pleasing to God and to be filled with His Spirit; but I am not at all justified, or accounted righteous, by these things. God, in justifying me, acted wholly and only on Christ’s blood-shedding on my behalf.
Therefore I have this double attitude: first, I know that Christ is in Heaven before God for me, and that I stand in the value before God of His finished work; that God sees me nowhere else but in this dead, buried, and Risen Christ, and that His favor is toward me in Christ, and is limitless and eternal.
Then, second, toward the work of the Holy Spirit in me, my attitude is, a desire to be guided into the truth, to be obedient thereto, and to be chastened by God my Father if disobedient; to learn to pray in the Spirit, to walk by the Spirit, and to be filled with a love for the Scriptures and for the saints and for all men.
Yet none of these things justifies me! I had justification from God as a sinner, not as a saint! My saintliness does not increase it, nor, praise God, do my failures decrease it!
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