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Paul's Discourse of Righteousness; The Method of Salvation. (a. d. 58.)
1 Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. 2 For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. 5 For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them. 6 But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) 7 Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) 8 But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; 9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. 10 For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11 For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.
The scope of the apostle in this part of the chapter is to show the vast difference between the righteousness of the law and the righteousness of faith, and the great pre-eminence of the righteousness of faith above that of the law; that he might induce and persuade the Jews to believe in Christ, aggravate the folly and sin of those that refused, and justify God in the rejection of such refusers.
I. Paul here professes his good affection to the Jews, with the reason of it (v. 1, 2), where he gives them a good wish, and a good witness.
1. A good wish (v. 1), a wish that they might be saved—saved from the temporal ruin and destruction that were coming upon them—saved from the wrath to come, eternal wrath, which was hanging over their heads. It is implied in this wish that they might be convinced and converted; he could not pray in faith that they might be saved in their unbelief. Though Paul preached against them, yet he prayed for them. Herein he was merciful, as God is, who is not willing that any should perish (2 Pet. iii. 9), desires not the death of sinners. It is our duty truly and earnestly to desire the salvation of our own. This, he says, was his heart's desire and prayer, which intimates, (1.) The strength and sincerity of his desire. It was his heart's desire; it was not a formal compliment, as good wishes are with many from the teeth outward, but a real desire. This it was before it was his prayer. The soul of prayer is the heart's desire. Cold desires do but beg denials; we must even breathe out our souls in every prayer. (2.) The offering up of this desire to God. It was not only his heart's desire, but it was his prayer. There may be desires in the heart, and yet no prayer, unless those desires be presented to God. Wishing and woulding, if that be all, are not praying.
2. A good witness, as a reason of his good wish (v. 2): I bear them record that they have a zeal of God. The unbelieving Jews were the most bitter enemies Paul had in the world, and yet Paul gives them as good a character as the truth would bear. We should say the best we can even of our worst enemies; this is blessing those that curse us. Charity teaches us to have the best opinion of persons, and to put the best construction upon words and actions, that they will bear. We should take notice of that which is commendable even in bad people. They have a zeal of God. Their opposition to the gospel is from a principle of respect to the law, which they know to have come from God. There is such a thing as a blind misguided zeal: such was that of the Jews, who, when they hated Christ's people and ministers, and cast them out, said, Let the Lord be glorified (Isa. lxvi. 5); nay, they killed them, and thought they did God good service, John xvi. 2.
II. He here shows the fatal mistake that the unbelieving Jews were guilty of, which was their ruin. Their zeal was not according to knowledge. It is true God gave them that law for which they were so zealous; but they might have known that, by the appearance of the promised Messiah, an end was put to it. He introduced a new religion and way of worship, to which the former must give place. He proved himself the Son of God, gave the most convincing evidence that could be of his being the Messiah; and yet they did not know and would not own him, but shut their eyes against the clear light, so that their zeal for the law was blind. This he shows further, v. 3, where we may observe,
1. The nature of their unbelief. They have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God, that is, they have not yielded to gospel-terms, nor accepted the tender of justification by faith in Christ, which is made in the gospel. Unbelief is a non-submission to the righteousness of God, standing it out against the gospel proclamation of indemnity. Have not submitted. In true faith, there is need of a great deal of submission; therefore the first lesson Christ teaches is to deny ourselves. It is a great piece of condescension for a proud heart to be content to be beholden to free grace; we are loth to sue sub forma pauperis—as paupers.
2. The causes of their unbelief, and these are two:—(1.) Ignorance of God's righteousness. They did not understand, and believe, and consider, the strict justice of God, in hating and punishing sin, and demanding satisfaction, did not consider what need we have of a righteousness wherein to appear before him; if they had, they would never have stood out against the gospel offer, nor expected justification by their own works, as if they could satisfy God's justice. Or, being ignorant of God's way of justification, which he has now appointed and revealed by Jesus Christ. They did not know it, because they would not; they shut their eyes against the discoveries of it, and love darkness rather. (2.) A proud conceit of their own righteousness: Going about to establish their own—a righteousness of their own devising, and of their own working out, by the merit of their works, and by their observance of the ceremonial law. They thought they needed not to be beholden to the merit of Christ, and therefore depended upon their own performances as sufficient to make up a righteousness wherein to appear before God. They could not with Paul disclaim a dependence upon this (Phil. iii. 9), Not having my own righteousness. See an instance of this pride in the Pharisee, Luke xviii. 10, 11. Compare v. 14.
III. He here shows the folly of that mistake, and what an unreasonable thing it was for them to be seeking justification by the works of the law, now that Christ had come, and had brought in an everlasting righteousness; considering,
1. The subserviency of the law to the gospel (v. 4): Christ is the end of the law for righteousness. The design of the law was to lead people to Christ. The moral law was but for the searching of the wound, the ceremonial law for the shadowing forth of the remedy; but Christ is the end of both. See 2 Cor. iii. 7, and compare Gal. iii. 23, 24. The use of the law was to direct people for righteousness to Christ. (1.) Christ is the end of the ceremonial law; he is the period of it, because he is the perfection of it. When the substance comes, the shadow is gone. The sacrifices, and offerings, and purifications appointed under the Old Testament, prefigured Christ, and pointed at him; and their inability to take away sin discovered the necessity of a sacrifice that should, by being once offered, take away sin. (2.) Christ is the end of the moral law in that he did what the law could not do (ch. viii. 3), and secured the great end of it. The end of the law was to bring men to perfect obedience, and so to obtain justification. This is now become impossible, by reason of the power of sin and the corruption of nature; but Christ is the end of the law. The law is not destroyed, nor the intention of the lawgiver frustrated, but, full satisfaction being made by the death of Christ for our breach of the law, the end is attained, and we are put in another way of justification. Christ is thus the end of the law for righteousness, that is, for justification; but it is only to every one that believeth. Upon our believing, that is, our humble consent to the terms of the gospel, we become interested in Christ's satisfaction, and so are justified through the redemption that is in Jesus.
2. The excellency of the gospel above the law. This he proves by showing the different constitution of these two.
(1.) What is the righteousness which is of the law? This he shows, v. 5. The tenour of it is, Do, and live. Though it directs us to a better and more effectual righteousness in Christ, yet in itself, considered as a law abstracted from its respect to Christ and the gospel (for so the unbelieving Jews embraced and retained it), it owneth nothing as a righteousness sufficient to justify a man but that of perfect obedience. For this he quotes that scripture (Lev. xviii. 5), You shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments, which if a man do, he shall live in them. To this he refers likewise, Gal. iii. 12, The man that doeth them, shall live in them. Live, that is, be happy, not only in the land of Canaan, but in heaven, of which Canaan was a type and figure. The doing supposed must be perfect and sinless, without the least breach or violation. The law which was given upon Mount Sinai, though it was not a pure covenant of works (for who then could be saved under that dispensation?) yet, that is might be the more effectual to drive people to Christ and to make the covenant of grace welcome, it had a very great mixture of the strictness and terror of the covenant of works. Now, was it not extreme folly in the Jews to adhere so closely to this way of justification and salvation, which was in itself so hard, and by the corruption of nature now become impossible, when there was a new and a living way opened?
(2.) What is that righteousness which is of faith, v. 6, &c. This he describes in the words of Moses, in Deuteronomy, in the second law (so Deuteronomy signifies), where there was a much clearer revelation of Christ and the gospel than there was in the first giving of the law: he quotes it from Deut. xxx. 11-14, and shows,
[1.] That it is not at all hard or difficult. The way of justification and salvation has in it no such depths or knots as may discourage us, no insuperable difficulties attending it; but, as was foretold, it is a high-way, Isa. xxxv. 8. We are not put to climb for it—it is not in heaven; we are not put to dive for it—it is not in the deep. First, We need not go to heaven, to search the records there, or to enquire into the secrets of the divine counsel. It is true Christ is in heaven; but we may be justified and saved without going thither, to fetch him thence, or sending a special messenger to him. Secondly, We need not go to the deep, to fetch Christ out of the grave, or from the state of the dead: Into the deep, to bring up Christ from the dead. This plainly shows that Christ's descent into the deep, or into hades, was no more than his going into the state of the dead, in allusion to Jonah. It is true that Christ was in the grave, and it is as true that he is now in heaven; but we need not perplex and puzzle ourselves with fancied difficulties, nor must we create to ourselves such gross and carnal ideas of these things as if the method of salvation were impracticable, and the design of the revelation were only to amuse us. No, salvation is not put at so vast a distance from us.
[2.] But it is very plain and easy: The word is nigh thee. When we speak of looking upon Christ, and receiving Christ, and feeding upon Christ, it is not Christ in heaven, nor Christ in the deep, that we mean; but Christ in the promise, Christ exhibited to us, and offered, in the word. Christ is nigh thee, for the word is nigh thee: nigh thee indeed: it is in thy mouth, and in thy heart; there is no difficulty in understanding, believing, and owning it. The work thou hast to do lies within thee: the kingdom of God is within you, Luke xvii. 21. Thence thou must fetch thy evidences, not out of the records of heaven. It is, that is, it is promised that it shall be, in thy mouth (Isa. lix. 21), and in thy heart, Jer. xxxi. 33. All that which is done for us is already done to our hands. Christ is come down from heaven; we need not go to fetch him. He is come up from the deep; we need not perplex ourselves how to bring him up. There is nothing now to be done, but a work in us; this must be our care, to look to our heart and mouth. Those that were under the law were to do all themselves, Do this, and live; but the gospel discovers the greatest part of the work done already, and what remains cut short in righteousness, salvation offered upon very plain and easy terms, brought to our door, as it were, in the word which is nigh us. It is in our mouth—we are reading it daily; it is in our heart—we are, or should be, thinking of it daily. Even the word of faith; the gospel and the promise of it, called the word of faith because it is the object of faith about which it is conversant, the word which we believe;—because it is the precept of faith, commanding it, and making it the great condition of justification;—and because it is the ordinary means by which faith is wrought and conveyed. Now what is this word of faith? We have the tenour of it, v. 9, 10, the sum of the gospel, which is plain and easy enough. Observe,
First, What is promised to us: Thou shalt be saved. It is salvation that the gospel exhibits and tenders—saved from guilt and wrath, with the salvation of the soul, an eternal salvation, which Christ is the author of, a Saviour to the uttermost.
Secondly, Upon what terms.
a. Two things are required as conditions of salvation:—(a.) Confessing the Lord Jesus—openly professing relation to him and dependence on him, as our prince and Saviour, owning Christianity in the face of all the allurements and affrightments of this world, standing by him in all weathers. Our Lord Jesus lays a great stress upon this confessing of him before men; see Matt. x. 32, 33. It is the product of many graces, evinces a great deal of self-denial, love to Christ, contempt of the world, a mighty courage and resolution. It was a very great thing, especially, when the profession of Christ or Christianity hazarded estate, honour, preferment, liberty, life, and all that is dear in this world, which was the case in the primitive times. (b.) Believing in the heart that God raised him from the dead. The profession of faith with the mouth, if there be not the power of it in the heart, is but a mockery; the root of it must be laid in an unfeigned assent to the revelation of the gospel concerning Christ, especially concerning his resurrection, which is the fundamental article of the Christian faith, for thereby he was declared to be the Son of God with power, and full evidence was given that God accepted his satisfaction.
b. This is further illustrated (v. 10), and the order inverted, because there must first be faith in the heart before there can be an acceptable confession with the mouth. (a.) Concerning faith: It is with the heart that man believeth, which implies more than an assent of the understanding, and takes in the consent of the will, an inward, hearty, sincere, and strong consent. It is not believing (not to be reckoned so) if it be not with the heart. This is unto righteousness. There is the righteousness of justification and the righteousness of sanctification. Faith is to both; it is the condition of our justification (ch. v. 1), and it is the root and spring of our sanctification; in it it is begun; by it it is carried on, Acts xv. 9. (b.) Concerning profession: It is with the mouth that confession is made—confession to God in prayer and praise (ch. xv. 6), confession to men by owning the ways of God before others, especially when we are called to it in a day of persecution. It is fit that God should be honoured with the mouth, for he made man's mouth (Exod. iv. 11), and at such a time has promised to give his faithful people a mouth and wisdom, Luke xxi. 15. It is part of the honour of Christ that every tongue shall confess, Phil. ii. 11. And this is said to be unto salvation, because it is the performance of the condition of that promise, Matt. x. 32. Justification by faith lays the foundation of our title to salvation; but by confession we build upon that foundation, and come at last to the full possession of that to which we were entitled. So that we have here a brief summary of the terms of salvation, and they are very reasonable; in short this, that we must devote, dedicate, and give up, to God, our souls and our bodies—our souls in believing with the heart, and our bodies in confessing with the mouth. This do, and thou shalt live. For this (v. 11) he quotes Isa. xxviii. 16, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed; ou kataischynthesetai. That is, [a.] He will not be ashamed to own that Christ in whom he trusts; he that believes in the heart will not be ashamed to confess with the mouth. It is sinful shame that makes people deny Christ, Mark viii. 38. He that believeth will not make haste (so the prophet has it)—will not make haste to run away from the sufferings he meets with in the way of his duty, will not be ashamed of a despised religion. [b.] He shall not be ashamed of his hope in Christ; he shall not be disappointed of his end. It is our duty that we must not, it is our privilege that we shall not, be ashamed of our faith in Christ. He shall never have cause to repent his confidence in reposing such a trust in the Lord Jesus.