Writings Vol. One
THE doctrine of justification is developed mainly in the
first part of Romans, but extends, in a certain very important application of
it, into the sixth chapter, while the latter part of the fifth, which we were
last considering, connects it with the doctrine of the two Adams therein given.
It is as in Christ we find it, accompanying the new life by which we are made
of His race as last Adam - "justification of life." For this reason a glance
back will be here in place.
The truth is developed in this epistle in the order of application to the soul's need. And the first part accordingly begins with that which is its first conscious need, the guilt of sins committed. The second part takes up what is a later discovery and distress, the sin inherent in a fallen nature. The first of these is met by the application of the blood of Christ, justification by His blood. The second is met by the application of the death of Christ "our old man is crucified with Christ" "he that is dead is justified from sin" (vi. 6, 7, marg.). These are two different applications of the same work of Christ, which avails in all its fullness for every believer. No one can be justified by the blood of Christ who is not at the same time justified by the death of Christ. The blood is already the sign of death having taken place, and only as that could it avail for us. It is only as that that it could put away our sins, so as to give us effectual peace with God at all.
Justification is the act of divine righteousness. It is for this reason that the righteousness of God is so prominent in the first part of Romans, while it is not found at all in the second part. Righteousness is that quality in God which has of necessity to say no to sin, and on account of which the soul conscious of its guilt trembles to meet Him. No one, whatever be his guilt, is afraid of Gods love but how great soever that love may be, time awakened conscience at once begins to realize that it is righteousness must have to say to sin. The glory of the gospel is this, that it takes up just this character of God to put it on the side of the believer in Jesus, so as to make it his very boast and confideuce. "I am not ashamed of the gospel [the glad tidings]," says the apostle; "for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth." And how this power? "For therein " - in these glad tidings to guilty men, - "the righteousness of God is revealed, by faith, to faith" (chap. i. 16, 17). It is the revelation of divine righteousness in a gospel to the guilty, faith alone being required to receive the gospel, it is this which is the power of God for the deliverance of souls.
In the third chapter it is more fully made known as divine righteousness declared by the cross "in the passing over of the sins done aforetime, in the forbearance of God"(iii. 25), audi at this time, that He might be just and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus" (v. 26). The righteousness of God is that then, which makes Him righteous in pronouncing righteous the believer in Jesus. This righteousness ol God becomes as it were a house of refuge with its door open "unto all," and its protecting roof, impervious to the storm, over all them that believe," - over all that have fled to the cross for refuge (v. 22).
It is the righteousness of God which repels every charge against the believer in Jesus. His justification is an act of righteousness, for the blood that is before God is the token of the death of his Substitute in his behalf. The penalty of his sins has been endured by Another, who, if "delivered for our offences," "was raised again for our justification." This is the public sentence of it which declares on Gods part His acceptance of the work. The ground is the blood; the sentence is the resurrection of our Surety. This sentence is God coming in to manifest Himself for us on account of the work of Christ accomplished. Faith rests in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead.
This might seem all that is needed. Assuredly the work of Christ meets every need, and His resurrection is the token of complete acceptance. What is needed is not in fact something more than this, but the fuller bringing out of what is involved in it; that in our Substitute we have therefore passed away as on the footing of the first man, identified with Adam, and are in Christ on the footing of the Second Man, alive in Him to God. For faith, therefore, I am dead to sin; because He died to it, and cannot live in what I am, - though for faith only, - dead to. This approves the holiness of the doctrine, as the seventh and eighth chapters show its power. It answers the moral question with which the sixth chapter opens. Let us notice the way the doctrine is unfolded. The objection is started, "If then grace abounds over sin, then the more our sin the more His grace. Shall we then continue in sin, that grace may abound?" To which he answers, "We are dead to sin, how can we live in it?" This is conclusive against the abuse of the doctrine, although it is only for faith that we are dead: for then faith in it must tend to holiness, and not unholiness. The truth is ever according to godliness.
But how then are we dead to sin? He bids them think of what was involved in their baptism. Baptized to Christ Jesus, - again the order of words whose significance we have seen before, - we were baptized to His death: to have our part in this, according to the ordained testimony of it upon earth. Burial is just putting a dead man into the place of death: "we are therefore buried with Him by baptism into death." Our place in natural life is ended: upon earth we have but our part in the death of Jesus. But He is risen; the glory of the Father necessitated His resurrection from among the dead, and this is to give its character to the new life in which henceforth we are to walk; "for if we have come to be identified [with Him] in the likeness of His death, we shall be also on the other hand in the likeness of His resurrection." That is, if our baptism - the "likeness of His death " - have real meaning with us, we shall be, in the character of our walk, in the likeness of His resurrection. One thing will be the result of the other; "knowing this, that our old man " - all that we were in that old fleshly life - " is crucified rather, "brought practically to nothing," - " that henceforth we should not serve sin."
The "knowing this" connects with the sentence before, and confirms the meaning of "the likeness of His resurrection" as a present moral result. Our old man received its sentence of shame and condemnation from God, (for this is what the cross means,) where Christ died for us. We know and have accepted its setting aside thus.
But here we must inquire the exact force and meaning of "our old man." Many take it as the expression of the "natural corruption or unholy affections of men," or "the old nature." But Scripture has a different term for the old nature, and for the principle of evil in it. It speaks of the "flesh," and of "sin in the flesh." Between person and nature there is an essential and important difference; and if we are to take the inspired words as a perfect guide, (which we surely are,) "the old man" is person, and not nature. The importance lies in this, that responsibility (because the real activity) belongs to the person, not the nature. It is not nature that acts, although it may give character to the actions; and we as Christians are exhorted not to "walk after the flesh, but after the Spirit:" practically - though with an important difference too, which we may by and by consider, - not after the old nature, but after the new. The responsible person is distinguished as such from both natures, which are together in him.
Moreover, the old man is never said to be in the Christian, but always to have been "put off," as in Ephesians iv. 22, Gr., Colossians iii. 9, or as here, "crucified with Christ" (vi. 6); while the flesh, on the contrary, (though he is not in it,) is always recognized as in him.
The "old man" is not, therefore, "the flesh" - the old nature, but the person identified with the nature. It is myself as I was under the old head, - as a living responsible child of Adam. It is as such the Lord stood for me upon the cross, and dying, ended for me the whole standing and its responsibilities together. He died for me, not for the old man, to restore it, but for me, that as the sinner that I was, I might find, in nature and activities together, my rightful condemnation in the cross, and have my place in Himself before God, and not in Adam. Responsibility as a Christian of course only here begins, but as a child of Adam it is over. My Substitute has died, and death ends the whole condition to which responsibility attaches. Eternal judgment is only for the deeds done in the body; and, my Substitute having died, I have died with Him - have passed out of the whole sphere of accountability in this respect.
We see how well it may be said, "Much more, then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him." Every thought that might raise a question is indeed for the once- justified one completely gone; and, in Christ, we live because He lives.
And what is the consequence of this crucifixion of the old man? It is that "he that is dead is justified from sin." So the Greek, and the Revised Version rightly now. We see how truly it is a question of person and personal standing all through here. Justification is of course that, but it is a justification more complete than in the first part of the epistle. No lust, no sin of thought, no evil passions, belong to a dead man - to a corpse. And this shows in how far we are dead to sin. Nothing of all this can be imputed to one dead with Christ. "Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him." The life now begun is as much involved in and dependent upon His life as the death we have been considering is involved in His death. Changeless, eternal, past the power of death it therefore is:
"knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more: death hath no more dominion over Him; for in that He died, He died unto sin once; but in that He liveth, He liveth unto God." He has died to sin, but what sin? In Him there was none, but on the cross - standing there for us - He had to say to it, and as "made sin for us" died. But thus He has passed away from it forever, to live ever to Him now from whose blessed face, when bearing the burden of it, it had necessarily separated Him. For us He died, and died to sin: this death and this deliverance by death belong to us. But in Him also we live, in the life He lives, a life wholly to God. "Even so reckon yourselves dead indeed unto sin, and alive unto God in Christ Jesus" (v. ii, R. V.). We are to "reckon" this so, not feel, find, or experience. It is not a matter of feeling or experience that Christ has died to sin. By faith we know it, and by faith also that He lives to God beyond the power of death. It is a most certain fact; but faith alone can apprehend it; and faith alone can apprehend our death with or our life in Him.
But here let us pause a little to consider some things that have been in dispute of late, and their application to what is before us. Is it condition, or standing, to be in Christ before God? or is it perhaps both together? The doctrine already considered, if it be clearly according to the Word, will enable us, surely, conclusively to settle this.
What is meant by "standing"? Clearly it is the same as position or place, but in a certain aspect which makes it practically somewhat narrower. The last words are not found in Scripture in the present application, and in the New Testament in any real application to what we call Christian standing, the former possibly three times. Two passages say it is in grace we stand; one speaks of standing "faultless in the presence of His glory." In Romans v. i it is "this grace," referring, not necessarily to what has gone before, but to present known grace - the free and absolute favour of God. Further than this, if we insist on the direct use of the word, Scripture does not carry us.
But the force of the word is simple, and its legitimate application does not seem hard to reach. As I have said, "standing" is position in a certain aspect, namely, in view of its capability of being maintained. Thus it is used often for continuance, as in opposition to falling: "If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand." - " I continue [or stand] unto this day." "Standing" is used, therefore, of position where there might be question of such continuance; and the question before God being as to the claim of His righteousness being met, and the claim of His righteousness being the demand of His throne, I believe "position before the throne" would fitly express what would be meant by "standing."
It does not follow that this will be negative merely, however, - a mere question of guilt. For the throne of God is surely as much that which appraises righteousness as guilt; nay, it is this which involves the other. Our standing before God is much - how much ! - more than as justified from sins or sin; it is "the abundance of the gift of righteousness," - the best robe for the Fathers house. But we do not ordinarily, - and I think, rightly - speak of standing as sons, or as members of the body of Christ. The terms of the throne we do not apply to the family, or to Church-relationship. Standing is what we call a forensic term, and does not convey the whole truth of our position.
Now if we speak of condition, it is simple that this may refer to either a fixed or a variable state. If born again, that is a condition which abides unchangeable, while there are states, as of feeling, etc., which may change in the lapse of a few moments. In the application of this to what we have before us, what does this speak of? standing, or state, or both - "dead to sin, and alive unto God in Christ Jesus"?
Now being "dead" is state - the state of one who has died. I have died with Christ to sin, as real a fact as can be; and though He lives, and death has no more dominion over Him, yet as to sin He remains still separated from it by death, to it still and ever dead: and this is my condition too as dead with Him. Though faith alone can realize it, it is a state in which I am unchangeably. So also, and of course, as to being "alive unto God:" that is unmistakably a condition contrasted with the other.
But what is implied in being "dead to sin"? The apostle answers, "Being justified from it." "Our old man is crucified with Christ." It is I myself as one standing on the old ground, - myself as identified with the old nature and its fruits alike - who have come to an end, and come to an end in deserved judgment: crucified; yes, and crucified with Christ. It is Christ who has stood for me, died for me: the old standing is gone. In this "dead to sin," condition and standing are inseparably united. What then about the other side? If the old condition and standing are removed together, what replaces these? A new condition - "alive unto God; inseparably connected with a new standing - " in Christ Jesus." This, and this alone, is the complete answer. I have before remarked upon the order of the words. "In Christ," in contrast with "in Adam," speak of a new Head of a new race, who is at the same time the Representative of it, as Adam of his. "In Adam" we die: "in Christ we live," - our life bound up with His life: "Because I live, ye shall live also." - " If we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him." This life is already begun: by faith we know, and reckon it so. We are "dead indeed unto sin, and alive unto God in Christ Jesus."
This gives us the new standing, and the positive righteousness which is ours before God. As Head of His race, He stands before God in the perfection of the work He has accomplished, in the value of that matchless obedience, raised from the dead by the glory of the Father. "Of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, who is made unto us wisdom from God, - even righteousness." This is not merely guilt removed; it is the best robe in the Fathers house.
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