Secret Service Theologian


Chapter Eight - RIGHTEOUSNESS.

THE sentence upon sin is death. Man has fallen beneath that sentence he is hopelessly, irretrievably doomed. No law-keeping therefore could bring him righteousness if he is ever to be justified, it must be by the penalty being borne. He must be justified by death, "justified by blood."

Moreover, his spiritual condition is just as hopeless. He cannot please God. So then, even if atonement be made for him by another, no blessing can ever reach him unless it come to him in spite of what he is, and not because of any good thing in him. Christ may have died, but the power and value of that death he can never prove, if he must needs raise himself to reach the sphere of its efficacy. He must be justified on some principle as independent of self, as is the blood of the atonement -he must be "justified by grace." - But grace implies that there is no merit in him who is the object of it, no reason whatever in him why he should be blessed. How then, if the blessing be not arbitrarily limited, if it be really unto all, can a difference be made? how can one be justified and another not? It cannot depend on merit; it cannot depend on effecting a change in one's self; it cannot depend on doing. It must be simply that one accepts and another rejects a righteousness which is perfect independently of the sinner. How accepts ? how rejects ? accepts by believing, rejects by disbelieving, the testimony of God. "Unto all and upon all them that believe." "It is of faith that it may be by grace" : any other ground would be inconsistent with grace. A sinner must be "justified by faith." Death then is the judicial ground of righteousness for a sinner. Grace is the principle on which God acts in reckoning him righteous. And it is on the principle of faith, as opposed to works or merit, that he receives the blessing.

The death of Christ has, I trust, received due prominence in these pages, and I have already dealt with the great truth of grace, and discussed at length the character of faith. But yet the question of righteousness is of far too great importance to be disposed of thus incidentally. It claims a fuller consideration by the light of Scripture. And mark, the word is "justified." It is not a question of pardon, merely, but of righteousness. The best of governments might find a reason to pardon the guiltiest inmate of its jails ; but to justify a criminal would be morally to become partaker of his crime. And yet, with God, forgiveness is no mere remission of the penalty of sin ; it reaches on, and embraces the justification of the sinner. Ours is the blessedness of those to whom God imputes righteousness. The believer is pardoned, but that is not all ; he is reckoned righteous. "To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness."

It is not that God compounds with the sinner, and accepts his faith instead of righteousness ; but that He accounts him righteous, and that in virtue of his faith. The question, How can this be? is the thesis of the open in ot the Epistle to the Romans.

"I am not ashamed of the gospel" the apostle boasts, as he stands by anticipation in the midst of Rome, where power, the power of man, was well-nigh worshipped as divine. "I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth, for therein is righteousness which is of God revealed on the principle of faith to faith."

We have thus at the very threshold two important points established: first that the righteousness with which the believer has to do, is not human but divine; and secondly that it is a new revelation. Law and prohpets bore witness to it, doubtless but the burden of their testimony was a demand for righteousness from man, whereas the gospel is a revelation of righteousness which is of God. But this revelation was of necessity postponed until the close of the controversy respecting human righteousness. To faith, God did in fact reveal in the old time that there was a divine remedy for man's unrighteousness. It was "witnessed to by the law and the prophets." But to make a public revelation of divine righteousness for man, while the express character of the dispensation was a demand for human righteousness, would be to put a premium upon unrighteousness. (1) The public revelation was a demand for righteousness from man on earth. The alternative was, to faith, forgiveness through divine forbearance; to unbelief, a warning of judgment to come. But now, in the gospel, human righteousness is set aside for ever, righteousness which is of God is revealed, and the only alternative, and that for all who fail to submit to this righteousness, is wrath of God from heaven.

(1) Such was precisely the charge brought against the gospel by those who judged it without giving up their standing under "the law and the prophets" (see Rom. iii. 8); that is, under the past dispensation, for such is the meaning of the expression. See e.g. Matt. vi. 12, and xxii. 40. To do as we would be done by, is human righteousness, and therefore the Lord says it is "the law and the prophets." So again in the 22nd chapter. This was the special character of the dispensation. See also Luke xvi. i6, which means, not that the Old Testament Scriptures had become obsolete, but that the ministry of John the Baptist inaugurated a change of dispensation.

But is it so clear a case that human righteousness has failed thus signally? for on this depends the opportuneness of the new revelation. To this, therefore, the apostle forthwith addresses himself.

The creature claimed his liberty, and turned prodigal. God allowed him a long probation to prove what that liberty would lead to, and the result was only evil. Tried by every possible test, man has proved himself to be utterly unrighteous. Left to the light of nature, he turned from it, and proved himself lawless. When the commandment came, he turned against it, and proved himself a transgressor. In the first chapter, the condition of the heathen is depicted in colours dark but true. In the sequel, the exceptional advantages of the Jew are shown to have produced no adequate result.

This is the scope of the passage following, i.e., from ver. 19 of chap. 1. to ver. 20 of chap. iii. In it he states the thesis of the doctrinal portion of the Epistle, and returns to it in iii. 21.

To say that man is precisely what God made him to be is sheer blasphemy. "God made man upright." But, it may be urged, God might have made man incapable of sin. That is, He might have created a being destitute of any independent will. Doubtless but then such a creature must needs be of a far lower order than Adam and his race. But God might in fact have prevented Adam's sin. That is, He might have created him capable of an independent will, but practically incapable of exercising it. The fact of man's apostasy is a terrible but most signal testimony to the greatness and dignity of the place from which he fell, and it ill becomes him to answer back his Maker, "Why hast Thou made me thus?" Moreover, God has been vindicated in this respect by the life of Christ on earth; for such an one as Adam was has perfectly obeyed Him, even in the midst of suffering and sin. Nor is God's goodness at fault towards the fallen race. Man has chosen his own will, and turned from God in the pursuit of it. Let him now return to God, and he will find not only pardon, but blessings far beyond those of which sin has robbed him. But if he refuses grace, either through persisting in his wicked courses, or through going about trying to justify himself, to "establish his own righteousness" (Rom. x. 3), what can there be for him but wrath ?

And the history of Israel, remember, is the history of human nature tried in the most favourable circumstances. Abraham was of our own flesh and blood. If he differed from other men, it was only that, as judged by men, he was a splendid specimen of the race. God has recorded a mean and wicked act committed by him, for divine biographies are faithful, but the stress that men lay upon this single fault is no common tribute to the character of the patriarch. Abraham's family, therefore, was the little Eden vineyard reclaimed from nature's wildness, and tended and nourished with the utmost care and wisdom. If then, even here, no fitting fruit was yielded, the entire stock may fairly be condemned. If the Jew is shown to have utterly failed, it is the crowning and conclusive proof that Adam's race is evil.

But dreadful as was the outward condition of the heathen, the inward condition of the Jew was just as bad. The first chapter states what man without law openly showed himself to be; the third chapter records the judgment which God, who reads the heart, has formed of man, even when the restraints of law produced an outward morality. Not that this was any new discovery with God. At the very outset, His judgment of the matter was declared in no doubtful terms. But, in His infinite wisdom, He decreed that the creature should prove it for himself. Now, he has done so. Every mouth, therefore, is stopped, and the whole world has become subject to the judgment of God. The question of human righteousness is no longer open. Man's period of trial with respect to it is at an end.

Now human righteousness is conformity to law. Not the law, for that would limit it to the Jew, and the argument includes both Jew and Gentile; but to law in its wider sense. God alone is supreme; the creature must of necessity be subject to law. The law of Sinai was the promulgation, and that for the most part in a negative or penal form, of the standard of creature perfectness, the law of man's nature, as we say. Murder and theft were as really sinful before the law as after it. They were forbidden, not to make them wrong, but because they were so. The Gentile therefore had, by virtue of his very being, the law which at Sinai was formally tabulated in commahdments. Having not the law he was a law to himself. Love to God and man, worked out in the life, is the fulfilment of the law ; it is, moreover, the attainment of creature perfectness. Indeed, it is the one just because it is the other. Righteousness then would be the realisation of this. To express it in the most popular way, it would be man's being exactly what he ought to be.

But the history of Adam's race is God's answer to every pretension of the kind. As we have already seen, man's probation is at an end. The door is shut upon human righteousness altogether. It is not that by the deeds of the law, they who had the law can no longer be justified; but that by deeds of law, upon that principle in any sense, no flesh living can be justified.

At the cost of repeating myself, I must insist on this, that man is in this sense no longer in a state of probation at all. That era God has finally brought to an end. The Holy Spirit has come, not to reopen the question of sin and righteousness and judgment, but to convince the world that it is closed for ever. If then human righteousness - righteousness on the principle of conformity to law, the principle, namely, of man's being what he ought to be - is irrevocably set aside, there must be a revelation of righteousness which is of God, and therefore, of course, on some principle altogether different. But now, apart from law," the apostle proceeds, "righteousness which is of God is revealed, being borne witness to by the law and the prophets." Hitherto, human righteousness has been demanded; but now, divine righteousness is revealed. We shall see presently what the principle is on which it is based; but here, we have the point settled, that it is not on the principle of law. "By deeds of law no flesh living can be justified" ; righteousness is now on a wholly different ground. The contrast is not between personal and vicarious law-keeping, but between righteousness on the principle of law-keeping, and righteousness which is entirely apart from law; between righteousness of man, worked out on earth, and righteousness of God, revealed from heaven.

But righteousness is a complex word. It expresses either a personal moral quality or a judicial state. If any one be personally righteous, he is, of course, and by virtue of it, judicially righteous also. On the other hand, to declare a person to be judicially righteous who personally is not righteous, is, according to human judgment, unrighteous and immoral. But God has done this very thing, and the great wonder of the gospel is how He could do it. How can God be just, and yet the Justifier of ungodly Sinners? Here is the great problem of our Epistle.

To say that, although man has broken the law, God regards him as having kept it, is no solution of it. It is not an answer to the difficulty; it shelves it altogether. If a man keep the law, or, what comes to the same thing, if God deem him to have kept it, he is justified on that ground, and there is no room and no need for justification through redemption. If righteous living, whether personal or vicarious, can bring righteousness, then righteousness comes by law, and Christ need not have died. But righteousness on that ground is shown to be impossible, and righteousness which is of God is revealed - righteousness on a wholly different principle. If God looks upon the believer as having kept the law there is an end of the whole matter, for to declare a person righteous who is righteous is simply a matter of course. But the great marvel of the gospel, the great triumph of redemption, is that God can declare those to be righteous who personally are not righteous; that He can justify the sinner, not by deeming him a law-keeper, but even while He judges him as a law-breaker. It is not that, being justified by the life of Christ on earth, we are saved by His blood-shedding; but that, "being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him," as now risen from the dead. We are justified without a cause, by God's grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.'

But, as we have already seen, the gospel of this righteousness was a new revelation. In the old time, God demanded righteousness from man, and pronounced a death-sentence upon sin. And yet saint after saint, from Abel downwards, went to heaven, though unrighteous, and in spite of sin.

Instead of death they found forgiveness. How then about the righteousness of God? The law and the prophets bore witness that it would be manifested, but it remained a hidden mystery. The whole question of God's righteousness was in abeyance. But now, the time has come for bringing all things into light. God has not only manifested righteousness for the sinner: He has set forth Christ, to declare and vindicate His own work." Whom God set forth," the chapter proceeds, "to be a propitiation, through faith, by His blood, to show His righteousness, because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime, in the forbearance of God."

It is no mere question here of a judicial standing-ground for the sinner, great though that question be, but the personal character of God Himself. So dear is the case against even the best of Adam's sons in the judgment of all the great intelligences of the universe, so evil and polluted is this wretched race of ours, that God thinks fit to vindicate His character in stooping to take up our cause. All darkness now is past; the day of full revelation has dawned. God loved His people in the old time, for God is love; but that love was manifested when "God sent His only-begotten Son into the world." He spared not His Son, but freely gave Him up.

Nor would a higher wisdom have found an easier redemption, nor sterner righteousness have Rom. iii. 25, R.V. Alford remarks, "Observe, it is not forgiveness, but overlooking, which is the work of forbearance (see Acts xvii. 30); whereas forgiveness is the work of grace (see chapter ii. 4); nor is it the sins of each man which precede his conversion, but those of the whole world before the death of Christ. See the very similar words, Heb. ix. is."required a fuller satisfaction". Now is made known unto principalities and powers in heavenly places, the manifold wisdom of God. Now, before earth and heaven, is declared His righteousness. "To declare, I say," the apostle repeats, to give it fitting emphasis : "to declare, at this time, His righteousness, that He might be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus." Heaven peopled with the lost of earth, might well seem proof of God's weakness in forgiving, were it not that it is "the Lamb as it had been slain," who now fills the throne. The blood-stained mercy-seat above is the sinner's hope, his only right to enter there. The blood-stained mercy-seat is God's eternal witness to His own great attribute of righteousness. That blood is at once the sinner's justification, and the proof that God Himself is just. When God imputed sin to Christ, He became so thoroughly identified with it that the Word declares "He was made sin for us." When God now imputes His righteousness to the believer, we become so thoroughly identified therewith that the Word declares we are "made the righteousness of God in Christ"' But wonderful though this be, it will be asked, is even this enough? Must not the sinner have the personal quality of righteousness, as well as the judicial, to fit him for the presence of God ?'

Undoubtedly he must; and the question arises, What is the ground and source of it? But here, remember, we reach beyond the scope of the Scriptures we have been considering. The first four chapters of Romans deal with the great question of forensic righteousness; now we pass from the forensic altogether. It is a question of moral fitness. 'The redeemed sinner must be not merely justified, he must be righteous morally and in fact. In the picture of a parable, or the poetry of prophecy, judicial righteousness may fitly be represented as a "wedding garment," or a "robe"; but here the question is, What lies beneath that robe, that garment? not the wearer's title to be where he is, but his fitness for the place he holds by virtue of that title.
The doctrinal importance attached so generally to the expression "robe of righteousness" in the 6ist of Isaiah, is one of the many strange phenomena of theology. The expression used in the 59th chapter might naturally have been expected to claim far more notice, on account of its being adopted in the New Testament. (Eph. vi 14.) The point of the parable of the Marriage Supper (Matt. xxii.) is not that the man was unbidden, nor that he was personally unfit for the scene; but that, relying on his personal qualifications, he dispensed with the wedding garment. He had such an opinion of himself, that he thought he might attend court in his ordinary dress. It is the sinner, because of his personal righteousness, refusing "to submit so the righteousness of God."

Sin unexpiated must be an insuperable barrier between the sinner and his God. Love and grace there may be, and pity for his ruin; but righteousness forbids their exercise, so long as ever its requirements are unsatisfied. But, by the death of Christ, the believer is released from every claim and penalty pertaining to his former state. He is redeemed, bought back by God, and is, now, absolutely God's. Pity, now, may stoop to save, and love and grace may flow unhindered. God may lavish blessings on the ransomed sinner. And He may raise him to what place He will. He may either repair the ruin of the Adam race, and restore the old creation, marred by sin; or else, dethroning him who is the head of that creation and that race, He may introduce the sinner into a new sphere altogether. And Scripture is not silent here, nor does it speak in doubtful terms.

Justification is in no sense a believer's title to heaven, nor yet his fitness to be there. If British law justify an accused person, he walks forth free; but he does not gain thereby a right to live in Windsor Castle, nor any fitness for such a position. He may already possess the title and the moral qualities befitting it; but these are wholly independent of his acquittal, though upon it might depend his power to profit by them. The same grace which justifies a sinner is itself the source of every blessing the justified enjoys. Gal. vi. That is, it is no longer a question of human perfectness, whether according to the standard of the law of nature, or of the revelation of it made at Sinai; but of passing out from that entire position, and gaining a new standing-ground in Christ.

The pattern to which all the sons of faith are yet to be conformed, is not Adam in Eden innocence, but the risen Christ at the right hand of God. For neither circumcision, nor yet uncircumcision now avails, "but a new creation" and the believer's fitness for the home that is before him, depends upon the perfectness of Christ as Head of that creation, and his own part therein by virtue of his oneness with Him. It is not in His work we are accepted, but in Himself, and yet not in Himself as separated from His work. The Christ who now sits upon the throne is the Christ of Calvary, and the Christ of Calvary is the Jesus of Bethlehem and Bethany. There can be no union with Him save in resurrection, and we can have no part whatever in His life on earth until first we have been made one with Him in that death which justifies. But, once united to Him, we stand accepted in all the perfectness of everything He is, and of everything He has ever proved Himself to be. "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." The Only-begotten Son has not come down to patch up the ruined fabric of the old creation; but, closing its history for ever by His death, to bring the redeemed of earth into a new creation of which He, the Lord from heaven, is the Head. "He is made unto us from God wisdom, and both righteousness and sanctification, even (complete) redemption."' By the light of the full and final revelation of the gospel, I have thus sought to find the answer to the problem left unsolved upon one of the earliest pages of Holy Writ: "How should man be just with God ?" I have shown how the sinner can alone be justified - justified not on the principle of law obeyed, but on the principle of sin condemned; "justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." Having thus described the sure foundation of the believer's blessedness in Christ, I, have gone on to speak of full salvation yet to be realised in glory, when "the new man which after God is created in righteousness and holiness of truth," will be displayed in all the perfectness of Him who is the Head of that new creation.

And now I close the chapter, for my task is done. But I could wish that some worthier pen were here to fill the page with exhortations fitting such a theme. If such be the Christian's past, and such his destiny, what a present should be his? Blameless before his fellow-men, as by grace he has been freed from every charge before his God. Marked by strict, unswerving uprightness in all his ways on earth, for he is destined one day to be conformed to the image of Christ in glory. "For the grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to the intent that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, and righteously, and godly in this present world; looking for the blessed hope, and appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a people for His own possession, zealous of good works."


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