Romans and Galatians.
THERE are four of the epistles of Paul which introduce us
by successive steps to the height of Christian position. They are those to the
Romans, Galatians, Colossians, and Ephesians. As our position before God is in
the value of Christs work for Him, we shall necessarily find in these
epistles the exposition fully of the doctrine of atonement. In fact, a
concordance is enough to show that only in Corinthians and Hebrews beside, of
Pauls fourteen epistles, is the blood of Christ spoken of, and only in
Philippians additionally is the cross. Hebrews, indeed, speaks more of the
blood of Christ than any other book of the New Testament. Its doctrine we shall
hope to consider at another time, however.
Of the four epistles I have mentioned, Romans and Galatians are most nearly connected together, and Colossians and Ephesians. The negative side of deliverance by the death of Christ is the topic of the former; the positive side of what we are brought into as identified with Him in life, that of the latter; although Colossians unites the "dead" and "buried with Christ" of Romans to the "quickened" and "raised up with Christ" of Ephesians.
Romans and Galatians differ mainly in this, that while Romans through the ministry of Christs work establishes the soul in peace, and delivers it from the power of sin, Galatians takes up the moral principles of Judaism and Christianity as a warning to those made free by grace, not to entangle themselves again with the yoke of bondage. In pursuance of this end, Galatians takes one important step beyond Romans, although clearly involved in the doctrine of the latter. Romans says we are dead with Christ to sin and the law; Galatians adds that we are crucified to the world, and a new creation.
The doctrinal part of Romans is found in the first eleven chapters: the part with which we have to do here is the first eight, and these divide into two portions at the end of chap. v. ii. Up to this, we have the doctrine of the blood of Christ as justifying us from our sins. Beyond it, we have the doctrine of the death of Christ as meeting the question of our nature.
Yet the blood is the token of death, and as this alone, has meaning. The difference is mainly in this, that the blood is looked at here as what is offered to God; the death, as what applies to us. It is, in fact, the death of our Substitute which is offered to God in the blood of propitiation. We look Godward to see the effect for us as to peace; we look at the sacrifice to realize the power and fullness of what has satisfied Him. The two are bound together in the most indissoluble way. To him for whom the blood of Christ avails, the death of Christ at the same time applies; while the order of apprehension is undoubtedly that in which the epistle treats of these. The first question with the soul is, "Is all settled forever Godward?" The next is, "If this be so, how is the evil in me looked at by God?" Much else connects itself with this, but our theme here is the atonement, and to this I confine myself at this time.
In accordance with what has just been stated, we find in chap. iii. 23 Christ first of all spoken of as a "propitiatory," or "mercy-seat,"* "through faith in His blood." Access to God is the point, with ability to stand before Him. "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" - the glory that abode upon the mercy-seat, but from which all in Israel were shut out. This language of the old types is as simple as it is profound in its significance for us. The ark with its mercy-seat was the throne of Him who dwelt between the cherubim, of whom it was said, "Justice and judgment are the foundation of Thy throne," but at the same time "mercy and truth go before Thy face." (Ps. lxxxix. 14.) How then could the reconciliation of these toward man be accomplished? Only by the precious blood typified by that toward which the faces of the cherubim looked, the value of which the rent vail has witnessed, and through which the "righteousness of God" is now "toward all," the sanctuary of His presence is become the place of refuge for the sinner. By the sentence of His righteousness we are justified according to His grace, a sentence publicly given in the resurrection of Jesus our Lord from the dead, "who was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification."
*egasterion, the regular word for "mercy-seat" in the Septuagint; not egasmos,propitiation," as 1 Jno. ii. 2.
"Much more, then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life." This is of course His life as risen for us, as He says Himself, "Because I live, ye shall live also."
This leads on to the second part of Romans, where our death with Him and our life in Him are dwelt upon. And as the first part has given us the blood of the sin-offering, - blood which alone could enter the sanctuary, - so the second gives us the burning of the victim upon the ground, the passing away in judgment of all that we were as sinners before God. "God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh." Thus we have a new place and standing in Christ wholly, the old relationship to sin and law being done away.
Propitiation and substitution characterize thus these two parts of Romans respectively. The connection shows us clearly what we have before looked at, that it is by substitution that propitiation is effected. The propitiation is indeed marked as for all, though of course effectual only for those who believe. The door is open for all into the shelter provided, but he who enters finds in the substitution of Another in his place the only possible shelter. Upon all this it does not need now to dwell, as this has been done elsewhere, and we may now pass on to look briefly at the epistle to the Galatians.
Galatians, as to the doctrine of atonement, adds but little to Romans. The apostle, opposing the introduction of the law among Christians, insists strongly upon his own authority as one raised up of God, in His grace, out of the midst of Judaism, the incarnation of Jewish zeal against the Church, called to be an apostle of the revelation of Christ which he had independently received. He was an apostle, neither from men nor through man, and had got nothing even from other apostles who were such before him, and who had been constrained to recognize the grace that had been given to him. Peter, moreover, at Antioch, had been openly rebuked by him for giving way to the legal spirit which he was now opposing; and here he repeats the doctrine of Romans which he had then maintained, that not only we are "justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law," but also that "I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God; I am crucified with Christ."
Afterward, he goes on to show more particularly the purpose of the law, and, as illustrating this, the manner in which God had given it, with its character as shown by all this. The promise to Abraham had been made four hundred and thirty years before the law, in which God had declared that the blessing for all nations should be through his Seed, Christ, and on the principle of faith. But law is not faith; its principle is that of works, righteousness through these, but therefore for man only curse for every one who was upon that principle; and that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles God had to remove this curse of the law out of the way, Christ taking it when hanging upon the tree, for the law had said; "Cursed is every one that hangeth upon a tree."
Two things need a brief notice here. First, that (as should be obvious, but to some is not,) the hanging upon the tree is not itself the curse, but only marks the one upon whom the curse falls. The curse itself is no external thing, but a deep reality in the soul of him that bears it. This was the wrath upon sin which Christ bare for us, the forsaking of God, which, had it not been borne, assuredly no blessing could have been for any.
Secondly, therefore, it was not for Jews alone, or those under law, that the curse of the law was borne. The words of the apostle are surely plain here: "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us, . . . that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." Clearly he says that blessing could not have been for Gentiles had Christ not borne the curse of the law, and this is as simple as possible, as soon as we see what essentially the curse is.
It is not the question whether Gentiles were under the law. It is quite true that God never put them there; and the apostle, in the passage before us, distinguishes those redeemed from its curse from the Gentiles of whom he speaks. But the law was only the trial of man as man, and Israels condemnation by it was, "that every mouth might be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God." (Rom. jji. 19.) It is to miss fatally the point of the law not to see in it this universal reference. "As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man." The condemnation of the Jew is the condemnation of all: the laws curse, only the emphasizing of the doom of all. And had not this been met and set aside, the blessed message of grace could have no more reached the Gentile than the Jew himself.
This is the very purpose of the law, for which it was "added" to the promise before given, not as a condition for it to be saddled with, but to bring out the need of the grace which the promise implies. "It was added for the sake of transgression" (v. 19, Gr.); not to hinder but to produce it, ("for where no law is there is no transgression,") to turn sin into the positive breach of law, and thus to bring out its character, and bring men under condemnation for it. But it was added also for a certain time, - "till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made."
But if God were thus testing man, it was by "elements of the world" (chap. iv. 3), necessarily bondage only to the believer, and the cross is that by which we are "crucified to the world" (chap. vi. 14). For "in Christ Jesus, neither is circumcision any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation" (v. is). And Christ "died for our sins, that He might deliver us out of this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father." (chap. i. 4).
It is evident that Galatians takes up and completes the doctrine of Romans by adding that of deliverance out of the world to that from sin and law, as well as our place in new creation, involved already in the truth of the first Adam being the figure of Him that was to come, in whom we are.
Go To Chapter Nineteen
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