What advantage then hath the Jew?
…chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.
I. There is much advantage to those favoured with clearer light and higher privilege, in every respect. They have the advantage--
1. Of feeling that God cares for them. The heathen had, some of them, lost the knowledge of God altogether, and others were only dimly conscious of His goodness.
2. Of a superior temporal condition. They are delivered from the miseries inflicted by cruel superstitions, are able to cheek the progress of debasing immoralities, and to promote freedom, comfort, peace, and brotherhood.
3. Of better opportunity of performing what their better position demands. The man who possessed five talents had the advantage over his fellow. He had a better command of the market, and could stand a greater shock of adverse circumstances. They would help each other to grow; for five united are more than five times as strong as one, and more than two-and-a-half times as strong as two. An Israelite or a Christian may walk uprightly in his noonday light more easily than a heathen may walk at all in his dim twilight.
4. Of attaining, if faithful, an absolutely higher reward. As two statesmen of equal desert, and equally in favour, take higher and lower positions on account of their different capacities, so those who receive equally the King’s commendation, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” shall yet differ, as one star differeth from another, in glory.
II. The greatest advantage is to have the oracles of God.
1. The knowledge they impart is a blessing. As day is more blessed than night; as freedom for thought is better than the fetters of ignorance, so the possession of these oracles is unspeakably better than deprivation of them.
2. It is a blessing to have assured Divine communication. As the spirit of a plebeian is lifted by a word or a look from his king; as the heart of an absent child is gladdened by the outside of his father’s letter, so is man blessed by the fact that God has spoken to him.
3. It is an advantage to be thus taken into peculiar covenant relationship to God. Every precept of these oracles is a condition of some blessedness which God pledges Himself to bestow; and every promise contains God’s oath of faithfulness to all to whom these oracles come. It is a high advantage to know that we are God’s and God is ours, as we grasp in faith and obedience His sacred Word. Over our higher privileges it becomes us to “rejoice with trembling.” With all thy responsibilities, thy greater required service, and thy heavier doom if faithless, still “Happy art thou, O Israel,” “satisfied with favour, and full with the blessing of the Lord.” (W. Griffiths.)
1. Man has unspeakable advantage in the possession of the oracles of God.
2. May lose it through unbelief.
3. Cannot thereby invalidate God’s faithfulness.
4. Must ultimately confess and justify it. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The surplus of privilege
The following supposed cases may serve to explain the force of the question raised, and replied to in the text: If the scholarships at Oxford or Cambridge are given away irrespective of the seminaries from which the candidates come, what relative advantage has a youth educated at one of our public schools over and above another who is sell-taught, and with few helps? Much every way; for he has had the best text books, skilled masters, and the like. Or, again, suppose a philanthropist should undertake the reformation of the waifs and strays of society in his own neighbourhood, and for this purpose were to select certain youths whom he received into an institution where they were fed, clothed, and specially trained. Now if, after a while, the person in question should throw open the doors of this establishment, would not there still be a surplus of privilege belonging to those whom he had first admitted?--would not the care and instruction which they had already enjoyed raise them above their fellows, and fit them for being the most qualified instruments in the carrying out of their benefactors’ liberal-minded and large-hearted designs? (C. Nell, M. A.)
The advantages of Christians over heathens
I. What they are.
1. A guide for faith.
2. A warrant for hope.
3. A rule for conduct.
II. The improvement we should make of them.
3. Diffuse. (C. Simeon, M. A.)
The advantage of possessing the Holy Scriptures
I. The appellation here given to the Holy Scriptures--the oracles of God.
1. There seems to be an allusion to the heathen oracles. These were, indeed, merely pretended communications from gods that had no existence; or, perhaps, in some instances real communications from demons, and the answers which were given were generally expressed in such unintelligible, or equivocal phrases as might easily be wrested to prove the truth of the oracles whatever the truth might be (Acts 16:16).
2. But the apostles, when they term the Scriptures “oracles” (Acts 7:38; Hebrews 5:12; 1 Peter 4:11), signify that they are real revelations from the true God. These were communicated--viva voce, as when God spake to Moses face to face--in visions, as when a prophet in an ecstacy had supernatural revelations (Genesis 15:1; Gen_46:2; Ezekiel 11:24; Daniel 8:2)--in dreams, as those of Jacob (Genesis 28:12) and Joseph (Genesis 37:5-6)--by Urim and Thummim, which was a way of knowing the will of God by the ephod or breastplate of the high priest. After the building of the temple, God’s will was generally made known by prophets Divinely inspired, and who were made acquainted with it in different ways (1 Chronicles 9:20-21).
3. The apostles, giving the Scriptures this appellation, show that they considered them as containing God’s mind and will (2 Timothy 3:16; 1 Peter 1:10-13; 1Pe_1:23; 1Pe_1:25; 2 Peter 1:19-21). And these apostles, being themselves inspired (John 14:17; John 14:26; John 15:26; John 16:13) could not be mistaken. Christ Himself has borne a clear testimony to the truth and importance of the Scriptures of the Old Testament (John 5:39; Joh_10:35; Luke 16:29; Luk_16:31).
4. Other proofs of their inspiration are--the majesty of their style; the evident truth and authority of their doctrines; the harmony of all their parts; their power on the minds of myriads; the accomplishment of their prophecies; the miracles performed by their authors. If these things can be affirmed of the writing of the Old Testament, how much more of the New, which consist of the discourses of God’s Incarnate Truth (Hebrews 1:1), and of His Divinely commissioned servants (Ephesians 4:7-13).
II. The advantages those have above others, who are favoured with them.
1. There are many truths of vast importance which may be known from God’s works (Romans 1:19-20); nevertheless, matter of fact has proved that even as to the most obvious and primary truths, all flesh have corrupted their way. If the existence of a Deity has been generally acknowledged, yet His unity and spirituality has not, but the most civilised nations have multiplied their gods without end (Romans 1:21-24; hence Isaiah 40:19-20; Isaiah 41:6-7; Isaiah 44:12-20). As to the accountableness of man, fatalism on the one hand, and self-sufficiency on the other, prevailed even among the Greeks and Romans; as to the distinction between vice and virtue, we refer to the apostle (Romans 1:26-32). And as to a future state of happiness or misery, they were in general “without hope.”
2. But if these and such like truths could have been discovered by the light of nature, they are taught in Scripture much more clearly and fully; with more authority and certainty; and in a way more adapted to the condition of mankind, who in general have neither capacity nor time for deep and difficult research. Many other truths of equal importance, which are not known at all by the light of nature, are clearly revealed in the Scriptures.
3. The oracles of God may well be called by St. Stephen “lively.” God’s word is a “hammer and fire,” “quick and powerful” (Hebrews 4:12), “spirit and life” (John 6:63). They partake of the spiritual, living, and powerful nature of Him, from whom they proceed. The God who gave them is still at hand to give the right understanding and feeling of them (Luke 24:45; 2 Peter 1:20), and still works by and with them. Hence men, from age to age, have been “pricked,” “cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37; Act_5:33), “begotten” (James 1:18), “born again” (1 Peter 1:23), “set free” (John 8:32), “made clean” (John 15:3), “sanctified” (John 17:17; Ephesians 5:26), built up and made perfect by them (Ephesians 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:15).
4. But here arises a grand objection; the Jews, though favoured with the oracles of God, were as wicked as the Gentiles (chap. 2); professing Christians are as wicked as the heathen. This is by no means the case. A very favourable change in the manners of men in general has been wrought where the Scriptures have been received; and myriads, both Jews and Christians, have thereby been made truly pious persons in all ages; and with respect to the rest, “if some did not believe, shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?” (verse 3).
III. Our obligation to improve this advantage for ourselves and to communicate it to others.
1. The oracles of God can only profit those who believe them (Hebrews 3:11; Heb_4:2). They must also be considered and laid to heart, otherwise they cannot profit an intelligent and free being, for they do not work upon our minds mechanically. We must bring to their consideration a teachable and serious mind; must receive them with reverence, gratitude, and affection; practise the religion they describe; and, in order to all this, pray to Him that gave them, that He may impart to us the Spirit by whose influences alone we can either understand or comply with them.
2. With respect to others--the oracles of God are equally necessary and designed for all men (Psalms 22:27; Isaiah 2:2; Micah 4:1; Isaiah 11:9; Isa_60:8; Isa_06:9; Luke 24:47; Mark 16:15; Romans 1:5; Revelation 14:6-7). All professing Christians are under an obligation to aid their circulation, that their endeavours may be consistent with their prayers, for they pray that His “kingdom may come.” (Joseph Benson.)
The advantages and disadvantages of having the Divine oracles compared: a plea for missions
I. To whom much is given much will be required; the question, then, is whether it is better, that it shall be given or withheld.
1. The Jew, who sinned against the light of his revelation, will have a severer retribution than the Gentile who only sinned against the light of his own conscience; and the nations of Christendom who have rejected the gospel will incur a darker doom than the native of China, whose remoteness, while it shelters him from the light of the New Testament in this world, shelters him from the pain of its fulfilled denunciations in another. And with these considerations a shade of uncertainty appears to pass over the question--whether the Christianisation of a people ought at all to be meddled with.
2. But without an authoritative solution of this question from God, we are really not in circumstances to determine it. We have not all the materials of the question before us. We know not how to state what the addition is which knowledge confers upon the sufferings of disobedience; or how far an accepted gospel exalts the condition of him who was before a stranger to it. It is all a matter of revelation on which side the difference lies; and he who is satisfied to be wise up to that which is written will quietly repose upon the deliverance of Scripture on this subject. “Go and preach the gospel to every creature under heaven,” and “go unto all the world, and teach all nations.” These parting words of our Saviour may not be enough to quell the anxieties of the speculative Christian, but they are quite enough to decide the conduct of the practical Christian.
3. But the verses before us advance one step farther, and enter on the question of profit and loss attendant on the possession of the oracles of God; and to decide, on the part of the former, that the advantage was much every way. And it is not for those individuals alone who reaped the benefit that the apostle makes the calculation. He makes an abatement for the unbelief of all the others; and, balancing the difference, he lands us in a computation of clear gain to the whole people. And it bears importantly on this question; for surely we may well venture to circulate these oracles when told of the most stiff-necked and rebellious people on earth, that, with all their abuse of them, they conferred a positive advantage on their nation. And yet what a fearful deduction from this advantage must have been made by their wickedness. It were hard to tell the amount of aggravation upon all their sin, in that it was sin against the light of the oracles of God; but the apostle tells us that, let the amount be what it may, it was more than countervailed by the positive good done through these oracles.
II. A few remarks both on the speculative and on the practical part of this question.
1. The Bible, when brought into a new country, may be instrumental in saving those who submit to its doctrine; and, in so doing, it saves them from an absolute condition of misery in which they were previously involved. If along with this advantage to those who receive it, it aggravates the condition of those who reject it, it does not change into wretchedness that which before was enjoyment; and the whole amount of the evil that has been rendered is only to be computed by the difference in degree between the suffering that is laid upon sin with, and sin without the knowledge of the Saviour. We do not know how great the difference is, but we gather that it was better for the Jews, in spite of all the deeper responsibility and guilt which their possession of the Old Testament laid upon the disobedient, yet that a net accession of gain was thus rendered to the whole--then may we infer that any enterprise by which the Bible is more extensively circulated, or taught, is of positive benefit to every neighbourhood.
2. Though in Jewish history they were the few to whom the oracles of God were a blessing, and the many to whom they were an additional condemnation--yet, on the whole, the good so predominated over the evil, that it on the whole was for the better and not for the worse that they possessed these oracles. But the argument gathers in strength as we look onward to futurity, as we dwell upon the fact of the universal prevalence of the gospel of Christ. Even in this day of small things, the direct blessing which follows in the train of a circulated Bible and a proclaimed gospel overbalances the incidental evil; and when we think of the latter-day glory which it ushers in, who should shrink from the work of hastening it forward, because of a spectre conjured up from the abyss of human ignorance? Even did the evil now predominate over the good, still is a missionary enterprise like a magnanimous daring for a great moral and spiritual achievement, which will at length reward the perseverance of its devoted labourers. There are collateral evils attendant on the progress of Christianity. At one time it brings a sword instead of peace, and at another it stirs up a variance in families, and at all times does it deepen the guilt of those who resist the overtures which it makes to them. But these are only the perils of a voyage that is richly laden with the moral wealth of many future generations. These are but the hazards of a battle which terminates in the proudest and most productive of all victories--and, if the liberty of a great empire be an adequate return for the loss of the lives of its defenders, then is the glorious liberty of the children of God, which will at length be extended over the face of a still enslaved and alienated world, more than an adequate return for the spiritual loss that is sustained by those who, instead of fighting for the cause, have resisted and reviled it.
III. Conclude with a few practical remarks.
1. It is with argument such as this that we would meet the anti-missionary spirit, Not long ago Christianising enterprise was traduced as a kind of invasion on the safety and innocence of paganism, and it was affirmed that, though idolatry is blind, yet it were better not to awaken its worshippers, than to drag them forth by instruction to the hazards and the exposures of a more fearful responsibility. But why should we be restrained now from the work by a calculation, which did not restrain the missionaries of two thousand years ago?
2. If man is to be kept in ignorance because every addition of light brings along with it an addition of responsibility--then ought the species to be arrested at home as well as abroad in its progress towards a more exalted state of humanity; and such evils as may attend the transition to moral and religious knowledge, should deter us from every attempt to rescue our own countrymen from any given amount of darkness by which they may now be encompassed.
3. However safe it is to commit the oracles of God into the hands of others, yet, considering ourselves in the light of those to whom these oracles are committed, it is a matter of urgent concern whether, to us personally, the gain or the loss will predominate. It resolves itself, with every separate individual, into the question of his secured heaven, or his more aggravated hell--whether he be of the some who turn the message of God into an instrument of conversion; or of the many who, by neglect and unconcern, render it the instrument of their sorer condemnation. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
The oracles of God
I. Their leading characters.
1. Absolute truth and wisdom. The word “oracles” signifies a “Divine speech or answer.” Words professing to be from God ought to have strong evidence; and how mighty and commanding is the evidence--attested by miracle, ratified by the fulfilment of prophecy, continuing when they have for ages reproved the world, giving life and salvation to this hour. If, then, they are from God, the question of their wisdom and truth is settled. And here is the advantage of possessing these oracles. There is not a question relating either to duty or salvation to which there is not here an answer. Are you an inquirer? There is the oracle. Consult it; for “it shall speak, and shall not lie.”
2. Infinite importance. On those questions which are merely curious the oracle is silent, but on no subject which it behoves us to know, e.g., the character of God; the laws by which we are governed; the true state of man; rescue and redemption; the practical application and attainment of this mercy.
3. Life. Hence they are called “lively” or living oracles, or as our Lord says, “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” No other book has this peculiarity. Show me one which all the wicked fear; which cuts deep into the conscience, and rouses salutary fears; which comforts and supports; and whilst its blessed truths quiver on the lips of the dying, disarms death of its sting. Show me a man who, when he discourses, awakens souls from deadly sleep; who to a trembling spirit says, “Believe, and live,” and he actually believes and lives; whose counsel effectually guides, quickens, and comforts; and you show me one who speaks only as the oracles of God. Among all who have been celebrated for oratory, who ever professed to produce effects like these? Nothing explains this but the life which the Spirit imparts. With the oracles of God the Author is present. You cannot avoid this power. It will make the Word either “a savour of life unto life, or a savour of death unto death.”
4. They make all other oracles vocal.
5. Variety. Here we have history, proverbs, poetry, examples, doctrine, prophecy, parable, allegory, and metaphor.
6. Fulness of truth. Great as are the revelations, nothing is exhausted. As in Christ the fulness of the Godhead dwells bodily, to be eternally manifested; so in His Word there is a fulness of truth. And hence the Bible is always new.
II. These oracles are “committed” or entrusted To You.
1. To be read and understood, consequently there is great guilt in treating them with indifference and neglect.
2. To interpret honestly. They are “the oracles of God”; and it is a sin of no ordinary magnitude to pervert their meaning.
3. To make them known to others. It is a great sin to restrain the Scriptures.
III. Their advantage.
3. Salvation. (Richard Watson.)
The oracles of God
I. The oracles of God.
1. The meaning of the term.
2. This title is given to the Scriptures with perfect truth and propriety. They do not, indeed, resemble in all respects the heathen oracles. They were never designed to gratify a vain curiosity; much less to subserve the purposes of ambition or avarice, and this is, probably, one reason why many persons never consult them. But whatever a man’s situation may be, this oracle, if consulted in the manner in which God has prescribed, will satisfactorily answer every question which it is proper for him to ask; for it contains all the information which our Creator sees it best that His human creatures should, at present, possess.
II. Their surpassing value.
1. In possessing the Scriptures we possess every real advantage that would result from the establishment of an oracle among us; and more. For wherever the oracle might be placed, it would unavoidably be at a distance from a large proportion of those who wished for its advice. But in the Scriptures we possess an oracle, which may be brought home to every family and every individual at all times.
2. But in consequence of having been familiar with them from our childhood, we are far from being sensible how deeply we are indebted to them. We must place ourselves in the situation of a serious inquirer after truth, who has pursued his inquiries as far as unassisted intellect can go; and that he now finds himself bewildered in a maze of conflicting theories into which the researches of men unenlightened by revelation inevitably plunge them. To such a man what would the Scripture be worth? He asks, “Who made the universe?” A mild, but majestic voice replies from the oracle, “In the beginning, God created the heavens, and the earth.” Startled, the inquirer eagerly exclaims, “Who is God--what is His nature?” “God,” replies the voice, “is a spirit, wise, almighty, holy, just, merciful and gracious, long suffering,” etc. The inquirer’s mind labours, faints, while vainly attempting to grasp the Being, now, for the first time disclosed. But a new and more powerful motive now stimulates his inquiries, and he asks, “Does any relation subsist between this God and myself?” “He is thy Maker, Father, Preserver, Sovereign, Judge; in Him thou dost live, and move, and exist; and at death thy spirit will return to God who gave it.” “How,” resumes the inquirer, “will He then receive me?” “He will reward thee according to thy works.” “What works?” “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart,” etc. “Every transgression of this law is a sin; and the soul that sinneth shall die.” “Have I sinned?” the inquirer tremblingly asks. “All,” replies the oracle, “have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” A new sensation of conscious guilt now oppresses the inquirer, and with increased anxiety he asks, “Is there any way in which the pardon of sin may be obtained?” “The blood of Jesus Christ,” replies the oracle, “cleanseth from all sin. He that confesseth and forsaketh his sins shall find mercy.” “But to whom shall I confess them? where find the God whom I have offended?” “He is a God at hand,” returns the voice; “I, who speak to thee, am He.” “God be merciful to me a sinner,” exclaims the inquirer, not daring to lift his eyes towards the oracle: “What, Lord, wilt Thou have me to do?” “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” answers the voice, “and thou shalt be saved.” “Lord, who is Jesus Christ? that I may believe on Him? He is My Beloved Son, whom I have set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood; hear thou Him, for there is salvation in no other.” Such are, probably, some of the questions which would be asked by the supposed inquirer; and such are, in substance, the answers which he would receive from the oracles of God. Who can compute the value of these answers.
III. Their inexhaustibleness. But why should those consult them who are already acquainted with the answers which they will return?
1. Has the man who asks this drawn from the Scriptures all the information which they contain? It may reasonably be doubted whether anyone would have discovered that the declaration of Jehovah, “I am the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob,” furnishes a conclusive proof of the after existence of the human soul. And how many times might we have read the declaration, “Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchisedec,” before we should have suspected that it involves all those important consequences deduced from it in the Epistle to the Hebrews? And many other passages remain to reward the researches of future inquirers.
2. Many of the oracles contain an infinity of meaning which no mind can ever exhaust. What finite mind will fully comprehend all that is contained in the titles given to Jehovah and Christ, or in the words, “eternity,” “heaven;” “hell”? Now he who most frequently consults the oracles will penetrate most deeply into their unfathomable abyss of meaning. He may, indeed, receive the same answers to his inquiries; but these answers will convey to his mind clearer and more enlarged conceptions of the truths which they reveal. His views will resemble those of an astronomer, who is, from time to time, furnished with telescopes of greater power; or what at first seemed only an indistinct shadow, will become a vivid picture, and the picture will, at length, stand out in bold relief. The lisping child and the astronomer use the word “sun” to denote the same object. The child, however, means by this word, nothing more than a round, luminous body, of a few inches in diameter. But it would require a volume to contain all the conceptions of which this word stands for the sign in the mind of the astronomer.
IV. Their vitalising power. It may, perhaps, be objected that, as the Scriptures do not speak in an audible voice, their answers can never possess that life which attends the responses of a living oracle, such as was formerly established among the Jews. On the contrary, they are well termed lively or “living oracles”--“alive and powerful.” “The words,” says Christ, “that I speak unto you, are spirit, and they are life.” The living God lives in them, and employs their instrumentality in imparting life. Take away His accompanying influences, and the living oracles become “a dead letter.” But he who consults them aright does not find them a dead letter; he finds that the living, life-giving Spirit, by whom they were and are inspired, carries home their words to him with an energy which no tongue can express.
V. The manner in which they are to be consulted. Thousands, of course, derive no benefit, and receive no satisfactory answers, for they do not consult them, as an oracle of God ever ought to be consulted.
1. They do not consult them with becoming reverence. They peruse them with little more reverence than the works of a human author, as they would consult a dictionary or an almanac.
2. Nor is sincerity less necessary than reverence--a real desire to know our duty, with a full determination to believe and obey the answers we shall receive. If we consult the oracles of God with a view to gratify our sinful inclinations, or to justify our questionable pursuits, practices, or favourite prejudices, the oracle will be dumb. The same remark is applicable to everyone who consults the Scriptures, while he neglects known duties, or disobeys known commands. We may see these remarks exemplified in Saul. He had been guilty of known disobedience; and therefore, when he inquired of the Lord, the Lord answer him not.
3. There are others whose want of success is owing to their unbelief. As no food can nourish those who do not partake of it; as no medicines can prove salutary to those who refuse to make use of them; so no oracles can be serviceable to those by whom they are not believed with a cordial, practical, operative faith. The Scriptures are able to make us wise unto salvation only through faith in Christ Jesus.
4. Many persons derive no benefit from the oracles of God, because they attempt to consult them without prayer. Consulting an oracle is an act which, in its very nature, implies an acknowledgment of ignorance, and a petition for guidance, for instruction. He, then, who reads the Scriptures without prayer, does not really consult them. (E. Payson, D. D.)
The oracles of God: accessible to all
A priest observing to William Tyndale, “We are better without God’s laws than the Pope’s,” “I defy the Pope and all his laws,” he replied; and added, “If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause the boy which driveth the plough to know more of Scripture than you do.” (Quarterly Review.)
The oracles of God: accessible to all
A Roman Catholic priest in Ireland recently discovered a peasant reading the Bible, and reproved him for daring to peruse a book forbidden to the laity. The peasant proceeded to justify himself by a reference to the contents of the book, and the holy doctrines which it taught. The priest replied, that the doctrines could only be understood by the learned, and that ignorant men would wrest them to their own destruction. “But,” said the peasant, “I am authorised, your reverence, to read the Bible; I have a search warrant.” “What do you mean, sir?” said the priest, in anger. “Why,” replied the peasant, “Jesus Christ says, ‘Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they which testify of me.’” The argument was unanswerable.
The oracles of God: how to consult
“How am I to know the Word of God?” By studying it with the help of the Holy Ghost. As an American bishop said, “Not with the blue light of Presbyterianism, nor the red light of Methodism, nor the violet light of Episcopacy, but with the clear light of Calvary.” We must study it on our knees, in a teachable spirit. If we know our Bible Satan will not have much power over us, and we will have the world under our feet. (D. L. Moody.)
The oracles of God: may be consulted with perfect confidence
If a man in the night, by the light of a lamp, is trying to make out his chart, and there is storm in the heavens and storm upon the sea, and someone knocks that lamp out of his hand, what is done? The storm is above and the storm is below, and the chart lies dark, so that he cannot find it out--that is all. If it were daylight he could see the chart well enough; but there being no light, and the lamp on which he depended for light being knocked out of his hand, he cannot avail himself of that which is before him. And the same is true concerning much of the Bible. It is an interpreter. It is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. And those truths which have their exposition in the Bible, and which are a revelation of the structure of the world and of the Divine nature and government, do not depend for their truth upon the Bible itself. They are only interpreted and made plain by it. (H. W. Beecher.)
The oracles of God: never consulted in vain
How marvellous is the adaptation of Scripture for the race for whom it was revealed! In its pages every conceivable condition of human experience is reflected as in a mirror. In its words every struggle of the heart can find appropriate and forceful expression. It is absolutely inexhaustible in its resources for the conveyance of the deepest feelings of the soul. It puts music into the speech of the tuneless one, and rounds the periods of the unlettered into an eloquence which no orator can rival. It has martial odes to brace the warrior’s courage, and gainful proverbs to teach the merchant wisdom; all mental moods can represent themselves in its amplitude of words. It can translate the doubt of the perplexed; it can articulate the cry of the contrite; it fills the tongue of the joyous with carols of thankful gladness; and it gives sorrow words, lest grief, that does not speak, should whisper to the heart, and bid it break. Happy we, who, in all the varieties of our religious life, have this copious manual Divinely provided to our hand. (W. M. Punshon.)
The oracles of God: suppose they should be taken away
I thought I was at home, and that, on taking up my Bible one morning, I found, to my surprise, what seemed to be the old familiar book was a total blank; not a character was inscribed in or upon it. On going into the street I found everyone complaining in similar perplexity of the same loss; and before night it became evident that a great and wonderful miracle had been wrought in the world; the Hand which had written its awful menace on the walls of Belshazzar’s palace had reversed the miracle, and expunged from our Bibles every syllable they contained--thus reclaiming the most precious gift Heaven had bestowed and ungrateful man had abused. I was curious to watch the effects of this calamity on the varied characters of mankind. There was, however, universally an interest in the Bible, now it was lost, such as had never attached to it while it was possessed. Some to whom the sacred book had been a blank for twenty years, and who never would have known of their loss but for the lamentations of their neighbours, were not the less vehement in their expressions of sorrow. The calamity not only stirred the feelings of men, but it immediately stimulated their ingenuity to repair their loss. It was very early suggested that the whole Bible had again and again been quoted piecemeal in one book or another; that it had impressed its image on human literature, and had been reflected on its surface as the stars on a stream. But, alas! on inspection it was found that every text, every phrase which had been quoted, whether in books of theology, poetry, or fiction, had been remorselessly obliterated. It was with trembling hand that some made the attempt to transcribe the erased texts from memory. They feared that the writing would surely fade away; but, to their unspeakable joy, they found the impression durable; and people at length came to the conclusion that God left them at liberty, if they could, to reconstruct the Bible for themselves, out of their collective remembrances of its contents. Some obscure individuals who had studied nothing else but the Bible, but who had well studied that, came to be the objects of reverence among Christians and booksellers; but he who could fill up a chasm by the restoration of words which were only partially remembered was regarded as a public benefactor. At length a great movement was projected amongst the divines of all denominations to collate the results of these partial recoveries of the sacred text. But here it was curious to see the variety of different readings of the same passages insisted on by conflicting theologians. No doubt the worthy men were generally unconscious of the influence of prejudice; yet somehow the memory was seldom so clear in relation to texts which told against as in relation to those which told for their several theories. It was curious, too, to see by what odd associations of contrast, or sometimes of resemblance, obscure texts were recovered. A miser contributed a maxim of prudence which he recollected principally from having systematically abused. All the ethical maxims were soon collected; for though, as usual, no one recollected his own peculiar duties or infirmities, everyone kindly remembered those of his neighbours. As for Solomon’s “times for everything.” few could recall the whole, but everybody remembered some. Undertakers said there was “a time to mourn,” and comedians said there was “a time to laugh”; young ladies innumerable remembered there was “a time to love,” and people of all kinds that there was “a time to hate”; everybody knew that there was “a time to speak,” but a worthy Quaker added that there was also “a time to keep silence.” But the most amusing thing of all was to see the variety of speculations which were entertained concerning the object and design of this strange event. Many gravely questioned whether it could be right to attempt the reconstruction of a book of which God Himself had so manifestly deprived the world; and some, who were secretly glad to be relieved of so troublesome a monitor, were particularly pious on this head, and exclaimed bitterly against this rash attempt to counteract the decrees of Heaven. Some even maintained that the visitation was not in judgment but in mercy; that God in compassion, and not in indignation, had taken away a book which men had regarded with an extravagant admiration and idolatry; and that, if a rebuke at all was intended, it was a rebuke to a rampant Bibliolatry. This last reason, which assigned as the cause of God’s resumption of His own gift an extravagant admiration and reverence of it on the part of mankind--it being so notorious that even the best of those who professed belief in its Divine origin and authority had so grievously neglected it--struck me as so ludicrous that I broke into a fit of laughter, which awoke me. The morning sun was streaming in at the window and shining upon the open Bible which lay on the table; and it was with joy that my eyes rested upon those words, which I read with grateful tears--“The gifts of God are without repentance.” (H. Rogers.)
I. Its possession is an immense “advantage” to any people. What distinguishes it from all other books, and gives it transcendent worth, is that it contains the “oracles of God.”
1. They are infinitely valuable in themselves. They are infallible truth. The “oracles” of the heathen world were gross deceptions, that of Apollo at Delphi was a notorious imposture. They give--
2. They are infinitely valuable in their influence.
II. There are those who lack true faith in it. “What if some did not believe?” Though the Jews, as a people, had the “oracles,” there were multitudes amongst them who were destitute of faith. Their conduct during their pilgrimage, their whole history in Canaan, and the rejection of the true Messiah, all proved they had little or no faith in the “oracles” they possessed. How few, today, who possess the Bible have any true faith in the Divine “oracles.” To such the Bible--
1. Is of no real spiritual “advantage.” It can convey no real benefit to the soul, only so far as its truths are believed and realised. Unless it is believed it has no more power to help the soul, the man, than the genial sunbeam or the fertilising shower to help the tree that is rotten at its roots.
2. It ultimately becomes a curse. It heightens responsibility and augments guilt. “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not known sin.”
III. The lack of faith is it neither affects its reality nor lessens its importance (verse 3). Man’s lack of faith will neither affect nor nullify the faithfulness of God. Facts are independent of denials or affirmations. What if some say there is no God? Their denial does not destroy the fact, He still exists. What if some say there is no hell; hell still burns on. Though all Europe denied that the earth moved, it still pursued its course circling round the sun. But though our states of mind, whether credulous or incredulous, in no way affect those facts, they vitally affect our own character and destiny. What if we do not believe? It matters nothing to the universe or to God, but it matters much, nay everything to us. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The Bible given for guidance
Here is a man going over a mountain. Night falls and he is lost. He sees a light in a cabin window. He hastens up to it. The mountaineer comes out and says, “I will furnish you with a lantern.” The man does not say, “I don’t like the handle, and I don’t like the shape of this lantern; it is octangular; it ought to be round; if you can’t give me a better one, I won’t take any.” Oh, no. He starts on with it. He wants to get home. That lantern shines on the path all the way through the mountain. Now, what is the Bible? Have we any right to say we do not like this or that in it, when God intended it for a lamp for our feet and a lantern for our path to guide us through our wilderness march, and bring us at last to our Father’s house on high? (T. De Witt Talmage.)
The use of the Bible
The Rev. E.T. Taylor, commonly known as Father Taylor, addressing a number of sailors, said, “I say, shipmates, now look me full in the face. What should we say of the man aboard ship who was always talking about his compass, and never using it? What should you think of the man who, when the storm is gathering, night at hand, moon and stars shut, on a lee shore, breakers ahead, then first begins to remember his compass, and says, ‘Oh, what a nice compass I have got on board,’ if before that time he has never looked at it? Where is it that you keep your compass? Do you stow it away in the hold? Do you clap it into the forepeak?” By this time Jack’s face, that unerring index of the soul, showed visibly that the reductio ad absurdum had begun to tell. Then came, by a natural logic, as correct as that of the school, the improvement. “Now, then, brethren, listen to me. Believe not what the scoffer and the infidel say. The Bible, the Bible is the compass of life. Keep it always at hand. Steadily, steadily fix your eye on it. Study your bearing by it. Make yourself acquainted with all its points. It will serve you in calm and in storm, in the brightness of noonday, and amid the blackness of night; it will carry you over every sea, in every clime, and navigate you, at last, into the harbour of eternal rest.”
The Bible a national advantage
Father Hyacinths, an eloquent and fearless priest in Paris, while recently preaching a charity sermon in Lyons, in behalf of the asylum for the poor, having asked his audience, which was composed of the principal Roman Catholic families, if they knew why Prussia triumphed on the field of battle in the war with Austria, said, “It is because the nation is more enlightened, more religious, and because every Prussian soldier has the Bible in his knapsack. I will add, that what produces the power and superiority of Protestant peoples is, that they possess and read the Bible at their own firesides. I have been twice in England, and have learned that the Bible is the strength of that nation.”
For what if some did not believe?
Man’s unbelief and God’s faithfulness
I. Man’s unbelief; its various forms; impenitence; scepticism.
II. God’s faithfulness; His Word remains true; cannot fail of effect; must be glorified. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
God justified though man believes not
We have here--
I. A sorrowful reminder. There always have been some who have not believed.
1. This is stated very mildly. The apostle might have said “many” instead of “some.” Remember that all but two who came out of Egypt fell in the wilderness through unbelief; but the apostle does not wish to unduly press his argument, or to aggravate his hearers. Even in his own day he might have said, “The bulk of the Jewish nation has rejected Christ. Wherever I go, they seek my life, because I preach a dying Saviour’s love.” Yet this is a very appalling thing, even when stated thus mildly. If all here except one were believers, and it was announced that that one would be pointed out to the congregation, we should all feel in a very solemn condition. But there are many more than one here who have not believed. If the unconverted were not so numerous they would be looked upon with horror and pity. As they are so numerous, there is all the greater need for our compassion.
2. The terms of Paul’s question suggest a mitigation of the sorrow. “What if some did not believe?” Then it is implied that some did believe. Glory be to God, there is a numerous “some.”
3. Yet it is true that, at times, the “some” who did not believe meant the majority. Read the story of Israel through and you will be saddened to find how again and again they did not believe, and it may be that, even among hearers of the gospel, the unbelievers preponderate.
4. This unbelief has usually been the case between the great ones of the earth. In our Saviour’s day they said, “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on Him?” The gospel has usually had a free course among the poor, but “not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble,” are called.
5. Some who have not believed have belonged to the religious and to the teaching class. The Scribes and Pharisees rejected Christ, although they were the religious leaders of the people. And now we may be preachers, and yet not preach the gospel of Christ; we may be members of the Church, and yet not savingly know it.
6. The same may be said if we take the whole range of the nations favoured with the gospel.
7. “What, then, if some do not believe?” Then--
II. A horrible inference, viz., that their unbelief had made the faith, or the faithfulness of God, without effect.
1. Some will say, “If So-and-so and So-and-so do not believe the gospel, then religion is a failure.” We have read of a great many things being failures. A little while ago it was a question whether marriage was not a failure. I suppose that, by and by, eating and breathing will be a failure. The gospel is said to be a failure, because certain gentlemen of professed culture and knowledge do not believe it. Well, there have been other things that have not been believed in by very important individuals, and yet they have turned out to be true. Before the trains ran, the old coachmen and farmers would not believe that an engine could be made to go on the rails, and to drag carriages behind it. According to the wise men of the time, everything was to go to the bad, and the engines would blow up the first time they started with a train. But they did not blow up, and everybody now smiles at what those learned gentlemen ventured then to say. Look at those who now tell us that the gospel is a failure. They are in the line of those whose principal object has been to refute all that went before them. If any of you shall live fifty years, you will see that the philosophy of today will be a football of contempt for the philosophy of that period. I have to say, with Paul, “What if some did not believe?” It is no new thing; for there have always been some who rejected the revelation of God. What then? You and I had better go on believing, and testing for ourselves, and proving the faithfulness of God. The gospel is no failure, as many of us know.
2. Has God failed to keep His promise to Israel because some Israelites did not believe? Paul Nays, No. He did bring Israel into the promised land, though all but two that came out of Egypt died through unbelief in the wilderness. A nation came up from their ashes, and God kept His covenant with His ancient people; and today He is keeping it. The “chosen seed of Israel’s race” is “a remnant, weak and small”; but the day is coming when then they shall be gathered in; then shall also be the fulness of the Gentiles when Israel has come to own her Lord.
3. Because some do not believe, will God’s promise therefore fail to be kept to those who do believe? I invite you to come and try. When two of John’s disciples inquired of Jesus where He dwelt, He said to them, “Come and see.” If any here will try Christ, as I tried Him, they will not tolerate a doubt. One said that she believed the Bible because she was acquainted with the Author of it, and you will believe the gospel if you are acquainted with the Saviour who brings it.
4. Will God be unfaithful to His Son if some do not believe? I thank God that I have no fear about that. “He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied.” Suppose that you wickedly say, “We will not have Christ to reign over us.” If you think that you will rob Him of honour by your rejection, you make a great mistake. If you will not have Him, others will. This word shall yet become true, “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ,” etc.
5. If some do not believe, will God change the gospel to suit them? Ought we to change our preaching because of “the spirit of the age”? Never; unless it be to fight “the spirit of the age” more desperately than ever. We ask for no terms between Christ and His enemies except these, unconditional surrender to Him. The gospel cannot be altered to your taste; therefore alter yourself so as to meet its requirements.
III. An indignant reply to this horrible inference.
1. Paul gives a solemn negative: “God forbid!” All the opponents of the gospel cannot move it by a hair’s breadth; they cannot injure a single stone of this Divine building.
2. He utters a vehement protestation: “Yea, let God be true, but every man a liar.” You know that if the majority goes in a particular direction, you are apt to say, “It must be so, for everybody says so.” But what everybody says is not therefore true. If God says one thing, and every man in the world says another, God is true, and all men are false. God speaks the truth, and cannot lie. We are to believe God’s truth if nobody else believes it.
3. He uses a Scriptural argument. He quotes what David had said in the Fifty-first Psalm,” That Thou mightest be justified in Thy sayings, and mightest overcome when Thou art judged.”
1. I want the Lord’s people to be brave about the things of God. There has been too much of yielding, and apologising, and compromising.
2. If you are opposed to God, I beseech you give up your opposition at once. This battle cannot end well for you unless you yield yourself to God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Let God be true, but every man a liar.
The primary meaning of “truth” in Greek is openness: what is not concealed; but in Hebrew, that which sustains, which does not fail or disappoint our expectations. The true therefore is--
I. That which is real as opposed to what is fictitious or imaginary. Jehovah is the true God, because He is really God, while the gods of the heathen are vanity and nothing.
II. That which completely comes up to its idea, or what it purports to be. A true man is a man in whom the idea of manhood is fully realised. The true God is He in whom is found all that Godhead imports.
III. That in which the reality corresponds to the manifestation. God is true because He really is what He declares Himself to be; because He is what He commands us to believe Him to be; and because all His declarations correspond to what really is.
IV. That which can be depended upon, which does not fail, or change, or disappoint. In this sense God is true as He is immutable and faithful. His promise cannot fail. His word never disappoints: it “abideth forever.” (C. Hodge, D. D.)
1. Will survive all human lies.
2. Will be amply justified.
3. Will be triumphantly vindicated. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Standing to what God has said
I admire the spirit of the boy who mentioned something which his mother said. One said, “It is not so,” and he said, “It is so; my mother said it.” “But,” said the other, “it is not so.” Says he, “If mother said it, it is so; and if it is not so, it is so if mother said it.” And I will stand to that with God. If God has said it, it is so, and you shall prove to a demonstration if you like it is not so; but it is so, and there will I stand. “And be a fool,” says one. Yes, a fool; for such hath He chosen to seek to do things that make others who do not believe stand aghast: only believe thou, and stand thou to it, and it shall be impossible for thee, a child of God, to be driven to distrust thy Father. It ought to be so. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The goodness and wisdom of God’s law unimpeachable
It has ever been held the highest wisdom for a man not merely to submit to necessity--necessity will make him submit--but to know and believe well that the stern thing which necessity had ordered was the wisest, the best, the thing wanted there. To cease his frantic pretension of scanning this great God’s-world in his small fraction of a brain; to know that it had verily, though deep beyond his soundings, a just law, that the soul of it was good--that his part in it was to conform to the law of the whole, and in devout silence follow that; not questioning it, obeying it as unquestionable. (T. Carlyle.)
Ideal standards of duty
The apostle had been showing the Jews that they had utterly failed of becoming truly religious by means of the old law. And the question arose, “What! was the law, then, good for nothing?” The law was good, but man was weak; therefore it did not work out that which its interior spiritual tendency would have wrought out if it had been unchecked. But then God attempted to do what He was unable to do! If the law was dishonoured in the conduct of the Jews, how should the Lawgiver retain honour? The tendency of the Jewish objector was to defend himself by bringing down the character and government of God; and the apostle answered, “Let the justice and goodness of God remain untarnished, however it may affect men’s reputation.” And the doctrine which we deduce from this passage is--
I. The tendency of the heart to seek to diminish the intensity of self-condemnation by lowering the standard of duty. All sense of self-condemnation arises from a comparison of one’s deeds, character, life and motives, with certain standards of duty. If there had been no law, there could have been no sense of violating law, and none, therefore, of sin. There is one thing which we bear less willingly than any other--namely, a sharp sense of shame in self-condemnation. There is no other feeling that seems to suffocate a man more than to be worried by his own accusing and condemning conscience. While, then, this feeling is so unbearable, it is scarcely surprising that men attempt to get rid of it. They pad their conduct, as it were, that the yoke may not bear so heavily where they feel sore. Therefore, men tell themselves more lies in this direction than in any other. They deliberately fool themselves--and for the same reason that men take opiates. “It is not good,” said the physician, “that yon should take opiates to remove that sharp pain. You had better remove the cause, and so get rid of the pain.” “But,” you say, “I must pursue my business; and, though it may not be the best thing, give me the opiate.” Men will not, if they can help it, bear the ache of self-condemnation; and by every means in their power they are perpetually trying to get rid of it. The ordinary method is to impair that rule of conduct, or that ideal of light, which condemns them. They attack that which attacks them. Men plead the force of circumstances for breaking the laws which are most painful to them. They attempt to show that they are not to blame. They plead that breaking the law is not very sinful. That is, to save themselves, they destroy the dignity and the importance of the law. Let us trace this tendency.
1. It begins in early life.
2. It runs through industrial forms.
3. It finds its way into social relations. When men defy the public sentiment which expresses the social conscience of the community, and come under its ban, and begin to smart, they attack that sentiment. If it be a course of impurity that they have pursued, they charge sentiment with prudery; if they have been going in ways in which they have left truth far behind, they charge it with fanaticism. And, more than that, they do not believe there is anything in the community better than they are.
4. It pervades the pleas by which criminals seek to defend themselves. As men begin to violate the laws of the community, as they begin to suffer under the loss of reputation, they seek to excuse themselves from blame, and to fix it upon others. Even when the law cannot get its hand upon them; or when, getting it upon them, it cannot hold them; and when they begin to feel that the unwritten law, which no man can escape, the judgment of good men’s thoughts, the wintry blast of good men’s indignation round about them, and they are called “sharpers,” and are treated as such, they complain that it is an indignity heaped upon them; that it is a wrong done to them, and say, “Society is wrongly organised. If it were better organised, business would be conducted differently, and men would act differently. But how can you expect that a man will be right when everything is organised on wrong principles?”
5. It manifests itself in men’s arguments on the subject of vice.
6. It may also be traced in men’s reasonings on the subject of religious truth. Men care very little what theology teaches, provided it does not come home to them, either as a restraint or as a criterion of judgment; but when they begin to be made uncomfortable; when for one or another reason the pulpit is a power, and they find it in the way of their ambition, or gain, or comfort; when theology begins to stir them up, and sit in judgment on them, then there is a strong tendency developed in them to find fault with the truth, and to justify themselves by adopting what they are pleased to call “a more liberal view.” And so men find fault with the fundamental principles of a moral government. And under such circumstances they go from church to church to find a more lenient pulpit.
II. The importance of maintaining our ideal of duty in spite of all human imperfections. The destruction of ideal standards is utterly ruinous to our manhood.
1. What is an ideal? A perception of something higher and better than we have reached, either in single actions, or in our life and character. Do I need to ask you what your ideal is, ye that have sought in a thousand ways to reach that very conception? The musician is charmed with the song that he seems to hear angels sing; but when he attempts to write it down with his hands he curses the blundering rudeness of material things, by which he cannot incarnate so spiritual a thing as his thought. The true orator is a man whose unspoken speech is a thousand times better than his utterance. The true artist is a man who says, “Oh! if you could see what I saw when I first tried to make this, you would think this most homely.” This excelsior of every soul; this sense of something finer, and nobler, and truer, and better--so long as this lasts a man can scarcely go down to the vulgarism. A man who is satisfied with himself because he is better than his fellow men. You never thought as well as you ought to think. You never planned as nobly as you ought to plan. You never executed as well as you ought to execute. Over every production there ought to hover, perpetually, your blessed ideal, telling you, “Your work is poor--it should be better”; so that every day you should lift yourself higher and higher, with an everlasting pursuit of hope which shall only end in perfection when you reach the land beyond.
2. But what if some mephitic gas shall extinguish this candle of God which casts its light down on our path to guide us, and direct our course up? What if the breath of man, for whom it was sent, should blow it out, and he be left in darkness to sink down toward the beast that perishes? Woe be to that man whose ideal has gone out and left him to the vulgar level of common life without upward motive. And yet, that which our text reveals, and revealing condemns, is universal--namely, the attempt of men to find fault with law, or with God, the fountain of law, with the ideal of rectitude, rather than find fault with themselves. Nay, “Let God be true, but every man a liar.” (H. Ward Beecher.)
But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say?
Man’s sin and God’s righteousness
1. Our unrighteousness may possibly commend the righteousness of God.
2. This result is involuntary, not meritorious.
3. Hence to suppose that sin is less punishable because good follows is a grievous error.
4. To persist in sin that good may come, is positively blasphemous and wicked.
5. Therefore God will righteously punish those who do so. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Man’s sin and God’s righteousness
1. Man’s sin has occasioned the displays of God’s righteousness.
2. Does not thereby lose its enormity.
3. Must, if not repented of, be avenged.
4. Otherwise all righteous judgment must cease. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Is God unrighteous that taketh vengeance? (text, and Genesis 18:25).--
God’s attitude towards sin
1. God makes the wickedness and unbelief of men subservient to His glory.
2. Holds them responsible for their sins, notwithstanding the result.
3. Teaches that the morality of an action depends not upon the consequences of it, but upon its agreement or disagreement with His law.
4. Condemns the slanderous importation that the gospel sanctions the principle of doing evil that good may come. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
God’s attitude towards sin
1. Overrules it;
2. Judges it;
3. Utterly condemns it. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The heart’s rest in the righteousness of God
Thousands of years part those two questions, yet in substance they are the same. The first occurs in a tender, sublime intercession; the second in a hard, fiery argumentation. Note--
I. That both refer to the retributive providence of God as declared in particular and decisive acts. Both acts were determined by the moral conditions of men, though their effects operated in different spheres. One was temporal, the other a spiritual judgment.
1. Let us try and get their position. Think of Abraham when God divulged to him tits appalling purpose. Think of Paul writing with the full knowledge that God had placed Israel under a ban. In different ways these two men were bidden look into the treasure house of Divine wrath. They had to stand on the shadowed side of the providence of God. And the hand of Him they knew as love placed them there.
2. Both felt the moral pressure upon their reason and conscience, and were compelled to ask, Is it right for God to do this? One tried to turn judgment aside, so forcibly did the difficulty press itself home. Paul’s perplexities were more intricate, and his endeavour to extricate his reason and conscience is one great wrestling with the Spirit of Truth.
3. Now, looking into these difficulties of Abraham and Paul, do we not recognise our own? Our thoughts and feeling form themselves, almost without our will, into the old interrogation, “Wilt Thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?” Are we not ready to expostulate, “That be far from Thee to do after this manner”? In how many sweeping calamities the righteous are slain with the wicked. Earthquake, storm, flood, fire, make no elections; they take any and all alike. In a commercial crisis often some of the best men are among the wreckage, ignominiously huddled with the rogues. Where is the answer to this? I do not find one in the Old Testament narrative. There is one streak of light. Lot was saved. Yet, in view of the after history, one is ready to ask, Why? And if we take Paul’s questions of sin, responsibility, and punishment, our bafflings are, if anything, increased. The impenetrable facts are with us. The fact of sin: what theologians call original sin, and men of science heredity. Millions are born castaways, come into the world under wrath. What about their responsibility? What about their destiny?
II. The ultimate truth upon which those who put them relied for a solution. God did not leave them without answer; nor has He left us without one. Their answer is ours, for the Bible is for all time. We shall find our answer in the questions themselves; for they contain a truth quite equal to the removal of doubts, though not of difficulties.
1. Abraham and Paul grasped the eternal righteousness of God. That became a formulated conception of God’s character. Reason and conscience built on it, and could not he shaken. It is for us to make that our own. Before we pass judgment, or seek to form a judgment on any section of human history, or any problem of human life and destiny, let us take fast hold of the manifested truth--God is righteous. That is larger than the statement--God does righteously. It means more than He does no wrong things. It means, He cannot do a wrong thing. And then, moreover, His wisdom is such that He cannot commit a blunder.
2. These questions not only express a truth of God’s character, but also the moral requisition of the creature consciousness. Reason and conscience both demand that the Judge of all the earth shall be righteous. And God has not so constituted man that he may mock Him. And notice in connection with this that “The Lord said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do?” Does not that look as if God craved the sympathy and approval of man? He would not have those intuitive demands which He has put into souls violated by deeds of His. The Creator would be justified in the eyes of His creature. God does not rebuke the demand that He shall do right. And when we fully apprehend, as did these men, that God is righteous, every special act of His will be tried by that conclusion. The thorniest questions that can ever arise must have their answers in the righteousness of God.
III. The profound moral acquiescence in the Divine will which the texts reveal. The harassed reason of patriarch and apostle found rest in the eternal righteousness of God.
1. We must always start there, and take it as our lamp to light our feet along winding and perilous paths, and seldom shall we stumble or lose our way. It is not a truth for reflection alone, but for practical guidance, and should command our acquiescence in the Divine will.
2. Not that we are to cease inquiry. Only we should question with faith in our hearts; especially the faith that God is righteous.
3. The acquiescence spoken of does not mean unconcern as to the fate of men. It does not mean indifference to sin and sorrow, and suffering and destiny. Abraham cared. How he pleaded! Clearly we are now amid the overwhelming mysteries of moral government. We see that men may become so bad that nothing is left, even for God, but a determining stroke of wrath. But we must not be content to leave men to their doom. There must be no willingness that they should perish. God’s will is that they should be saved. Paul said, “I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart concerning reprobated Israel.” (W. Hubbard.)
God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?--
God’s righteousness and future judgment
I. Is the basis of the hope of future judgment. Things are not right now if viewed from a strictly temporal standpoint; for the good often get the worst of it, and the bad the best of it. The hope that these inequalities will be adjusted at the Judgment has been the comfort and mainstay of God’s saints under both dispensations.
II. Necessitates this judgment.
1. If the world’s affairs are administered by a Righteous Governor, then the things that are now manifestly wrong must at some period be put right, and the date assigned by the Righteous Governor of the world is the Day of Judgment.
2. Having assigned that date, God’s righteousness pledged Him to keep it. God is, so to speak, committed to it, and He is not “the son of man that He should repent.”
III. Will govern its decisions. Men will be judged equitably. Judicial decisions are now often inequitable--because some legal technicality stands in the way; or because all the facts are not forthcoming, or some of them are not placed in their true light; or because the eloquence of the advocate, or something about the accused, influences the jury. But then the awards will be according to the merits of the case, all the circumstances of which will be naked and open. Conclusion: We may take comfort from this doctrine--
1. Amid all the perplexities of the present. We do not estimate things by their momentary appearance, nor a man by a solitary action. We must therefore estimate God and His procedure comprehensively. He has all eternity to work in, and when we take the larger view we shall acknowledge that the Judge of all the earth will do right.
2. Amid all the perplexities concerning the future. Whatever becomes of the wicked the Judge of all the earth will do right. (J. W. Burn.)
Justice and judgment
The following story is told of Judge Gray, now in the United States Supreme Court:--A man was brought before him who was justly charged with being an offender of the meanest sort. Through some technicality the judge was obliged honourably to discharge him, but as he did so he chose the time to say what he thought of the matter. “I believe you guilty,” he said, “and would wish to condemn you severely, but through a petty technicality I am obliged to discharge you. I know you are guilty, and so do you; and I wish you to remember that you will some day pass before a better and a wiser Judge, when you will be dealt with according to justice, and not according to law.”
The standard of God’s justice
In the reign of King Edward the First there was much abuse in the traffic of all sorts of drapery, much wrong done betwixt man and man by reason of the diversity of their measures, every man measuring his cloth by his own yard, which the king perceiving, being a goodly proper man, took a long stick in his hand, and having taken the length of his own arm, made proclamation through the kingdom, that ever after the length of that stick should be the measure to measure by, and no other. Thus God’s justice is nothing else but a conformity to His being, the pleasure of His wilt; so that the counsel of His will is the standard of His justice, whereunto all men should regulate themselves as well in commutative as distributive justice, and so much the more righteous than his neighbour shall every man appear, by how much he is proximate in this rule, and less righteous as he is the more remote. (J. Spencer.)
And not rather … Let us do evil that good may come.
Doing evil that good may come
I. Almighty God can and often doth overrule evil actions to his own glory and cause bad means to conduce to a good end.
1. This is sufficiently intimated in the beginning of this chapter, which gave occasion to the reflection made in the text. The Jews had been favoured with special advantages for the knowing the Messiah, yet they rejected Him to their ruin. But yet their sin illustrated God’s justice in punishing them for their crime; and by giving occasion to the apostles to turn from them to the Gentiles, it proved a means of advancing God’s glory. The Gentiles, on the other hand, had been grievous sinners; yet upon their hearing the gospel preached many of them embraced it, which likewise gave occasion to the magnifying the grace of God towards them in forgiving and receiving them into His favour. This proved the--
1. Occasion of the Jews imputing to Paul the principle of doing evil that good may come (cf., Romans 6:1)
2. Scripture furnishes many instances of the like kind. The book of Esther seems to have been written to declare the wisdom and goodness of God, in overruling the pride and malice of a wicked man to His own glory, and the good of His Church. The greatest sin that ever was committed, the crucifying the Son of God, was by the Divine wisdom and goodness overruled, to become a means of the greatest good.
3. And the reason of all this is evident. That Being who seeth all things at one view, who discerneth the tendency and consequence of every action, and who hath all power in His hands, can easily outwit and overreach the craftiest of men, and dispose their designs to other purposes. And as His goodness is equal to His power and wisdom, we may safely conclude that He will govern affairs in such wise as to bring good out of evil. So we argue from the perfection of His nature, that He never would have permitted evil to have come into the world unless He could have overruled it to wise and good ends.
II. Notwithstanding all this, it is a detestable principle, that unlawful means may be used in order to the bringing about an end that is good. You see with what abhorrence the apostle in the text disclaims it. It is such an open defiance to God and goodness; such a flat contradiction to truth and reason, as well as to Christianity, that it very well became him thus to express himself.
1. Paul has elsewhere testified his sense of this matter (Acts 26:11; 1 Timothy 1:13). And Christ also (John 16:2). And as the New, so the Old Testament also hath fully born its testimony (Job 13:7-11).
2. But, indeed, we may certainly conclude without the affirmation of an apostle or prophet, that this is a detestable principle. It is absurd and self-contradictory. To design, and to do good, is the proper business of a reasonable being. It is the glory of God Himself, and is what He requires of all, whom He hath made after His own image. Now that is good, either to design or do, which is according to the will of the Creator; so that to do evil, in order to the doing good, is to contradict and thwart His will in order to the performing it; it is to break His commandments in order to the keeping them. In a word, it is to do that which is directly opposite to the end we profess to aim at. For no evil has in its own nature a tendency to good, but to the contrary.
III. It is a slanderous, and therefore an unjust and detestable practice, to charge this principle upon those who not only disown it, but who give no just occasion for such an imputation. This is in truth so lewd a principle that those who do act upon it will probably not own to it. But, however, if they do act upon it, then it is no injustice to say they do. But if, on the contrary, they not only disavow the principle, but give no just ground for such a charge, then it is without all question a slanderous report. So St. Paul affirms in the text, using the same word, which, when applied to God, is rendered “blasphemy”; and when to men, “evil-speaking,” or “calumniating.” And those Jews who raised this slanderous report, when they knew, or at least might easily have known that it was a slander, were justly liable to damnation for so doing; so that God would punish them, not only for rejecting the gospel when preached to them, but also for calumniating the doctrine of Christianity, and slandering its preachers. (Bp. Bradford.)
Doing evil that good may come impossible
He who does evil that good may come, pays a toll to the devil to let him into heaven. (Guesses at Truth.)
We must not do evil that good may come
I. This will appear from the nature of moral good and evil.
1. To denominate an action morally good there must be a concurrence of all conditions requisite thereunto. If the object be lawful, the manner of the performance regular, and it be fitly circumstantiated, yet if it be done for a wicked end, this mars the action and renders it sinful; and for the same reason let the intention be never so good, the end never so excellent, yet, if the thing we do is forbidden by God’s laws, it is a vicious action.
2. Nay, further, such is the contrariety between the good and evil, that what is really evil cannot be chosen as a fit means to produce good, any more than darkness can beget light, or false premises infer a true conclusion, or an evil tree bring forth good fruit. To do evil to obtain good is as if a man should put his hand into the flame to cool it.
II. To do evil that good may come is a great affront to and distrust of the Divine providence and government of the world. So saith Job, “Will ye speak wickedly for God, and talk deceitfully for Him?” (Job 13:7).
1. Doth He stand in need of our sins to help Him out at a dead lift to bring His designs to pass? Cannot He preserve His religion without our venturing on a special occasion to strain a point, and transgress our duty for the sake of it?
2. This is seen in those who, fondly imagining that our Saviour and His apostles had not wrought miracles enough for confirmation of their doctrine, have coined other miracles; which pious frauds are most highly dishonourable to our Saviour, intimating as if His gospel had been imperfect, unless men had interposed their own wit and knavery to complete it.
3. Let us but suppose God to have done wisely and considerately in all that He hath commanded or forbidden, and it must then necessarily follow that we must never go against His will, though it may seem to tend to never so great or good an end.
III. Add to this the examples in Scripture of God’s condemning what hath been done against His command, though with a good intention and for a worthy end. In the Old Testament, not to insist on the case of Uzzah, you find King Saul (1 Samuel 15:1-35) receiving commandment from God to destroy all Amalekites. He very zealously sets about the work, but saves the best and fattest of the cattle to offer them for a sacrifice. This one act of disobedience, notwithstanding the piety of his intention, cost him his kingdom. “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,” etc. In the New Testament we read of Peter, who, out of great love to his Master when apprehended, “drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest’s, and smote off his ear.” It was done in defence of Christ; it was against unjust violence. Yet mark our Saviour’s rebuke (Matthew 26:52).
IV. The ill consequences of such a concession as this, that evil may be done for a good end. This one principle sets us free from all authority either Divine or human, and everyone may do whatever he thinks fit, so his intention and end be but good.
1. What we are to do, or to avoid, if this doctrine be admitted for true, we are not to learn from God’s law. Things are either good or evil according as they seem to us, and our own judgment is the measure of lawful and unlawful, and thus we are wholly our own masters and lawgivers.
2. Nay, this principle plainly overthrows all justice and faith amongst men, all peace and security in societies, and makes all government precarious, since everyone is an arbitrary subject, and may obey or resist the laws as they appear to himself to be for or against the common good; and every man’s life and fortune is at my disposal, if once I think it most for the glory of God and the safety of religion that they should be taken away. You know our Saviour tells His disciples of some that should arise, who would think they did God good service in killing them. According to this doctrine St. Paul was innocent when he was so mad against the Church. (B. Calamy, D. D.)
Right not to be attained by doing wrong
We ought to think much more of walking in the right path, than of reaching our end. We should desire virtue more than success. If by one wrong deed we could accomplish the liberation of millions, and in no other way, we ought to feel that this good, for which perhaps we had prayed with an agony of desire, was denied us by God, was reserved for other times and other hands. (Channing.)
Right should not connive with wrong
Yield to no established rules if they involve a lie. Do not do evil that good may come of it. “Consequences!”--this is the devil’s argument. Leave consequences to God; but do right. If friends fail thee, do the right. If foemen surround thee, do the right. Be genuine, real, sincere, true, upright, godlike. The world’s maxim is trim your sails and yield to circumstances. But if you would do any good in your generation, you must be made of sterner stuff, and help make your times rather than be made by them. You must not yield to customs, but, like the anvil, endure all blows until the hammers break themselves. When misrepresented, use no crooked means to clear yourself. Clouds do not last long. If in the course of duty you are tried by the distrust of friends, gird up your loins, and say in your heart, I was not driven to virtue by the encouragement of friends, nor will I be repelled from it by their coldness. Finally, be just and fear not; “corruption wins not more than honesty”; truth lives and reigns when falsehood dies and rots. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
Are we better than they? No … they are all under sin.
Nominal Christians compared with heathen
1. Have much advantage every way (Romans 3:2).
2. Are no better.
3. Are all alike under sin. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Man under sin,
I. He is under the imputation of sin. And whose sin? Adam’s; for he had been placed by his Maker in the situation of head and representative of all his descendants. And because he rendered himself guilty, therefore we, being in him and identified with him, were made sharers of his guilt. This, of course, is a statement against which the pride of human reason will rebel. But if you will listen to the Word of God, turn to Romans 5:12, etc. And what puts this matter beyond all doubt is the way in which all through that passage Paul represents our sin and condemnation in Adam, as parallel and as correspondent to our righteousness and salvation by Christ. He tells you here, that just as believers are accounted righteous in Christ’s righteousness, so they were held as sinners on account of Adam’s sin. As Christ’s obedience now justifies them, because accounted theirs, so was Adam’s disobedience.
II. His nature is under the degrading and polluting influence of sin. Now this also he inherits from Adam. “Original sin is the fault and corruption of the nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil” (Art. 9; Genesis 6:5; Gen_8:21; Psalms 51:5; Romans 7:18; Rom_8:7). In support of this we may appeal--
1. To the individual conscience.
2. To the page of history.
3. To the witness of travellers.
4. To the reports of newspapers.
III. He is held in bondage by the tyranny of sin. This is more than being depraved and corrupt: it is a positive enslaving of the will. Man cannot of himself turn from evil to God. The condition of man after the fall of Adam is such that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith and calling upon God. Wherefore we have no power to do good works, pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us when we have that good will” (Art. 10; Romans 5:6; Ephesians 2:1; 1 Corinthians 2:14).
1. Well may this thought stir us earnestly to cry to God to send down His Spirit, and give us the strength He only can communicate.
2. Sin, indeed, would whisper, “You can do nothing, and therefore you need not care; the fault is not your own.” Perish the thought! No, rather say, “I can do nothing; therefore, O God, create Thou a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me.”
IV. He is under the condemnation and the curse of sin.
1. AS a partaker of Adam’s guilt, he is included in the sentence of Adam’s punishment.
2. As he is corrupt, he incurs the wrath due to his own iniquity.
3. As one sold under sin, he must, if left to himself, be consigned to a hopeless state of misery (Ephesians 2:3; Romans 7:5; Rom_6:23).
1. Have we felt these truths so as to cry, “What must I do to be saved”? That is the question which constitutes the first step in the way of salvation.
2. The gospel brings us instead of Adam’s guilt, Christ’s righteousness; instead of inherent corruption, the counteracting balm of the Holy Spirit; instead of the bondage of sin, “the glorious liberty of the children of God”; instead of “the wages of sin,” which “is death,” the “gift of God, eternal life.” (J. Harding, M. A.)
Sin as revealed by conscience and Scripture
I. Paul had appealed to the conscience of the Jews, and in chap. 2. affirmed and enlarged upon their guilt. He can scarcely be said to have proved it; he had only charged them with it; and yet through the conscience of those whom we address it is possible that a charge may no sooner be uttered than conviction may come on the back of it. There is often a power in a bare statement which is not at all bettered but rather impaired by reasoning. If what you say of a man agree with his own experience, there is a weight in your simple affirmation which needs no enforcing. It was this which mostly gained acceptance for the apostles. They revealed to men the secrets of their own hearts; and what the inspired teachers said they were, they felt themselves to be. This manifestation of the truth unto the conscience is the grand instrument still. That obstinacy of unbelief, which we vainly attempt to carry by the power of any elaborate demonstration, may give way, both with the untaught and the cultivated, to the bare statement of the preacher, when he simply avers the ungodliness of the human heart.
II. He now refers the Jews to their own Scriptures, and, in so doing, he avails himself of a peculiarly proper instrument. Thus Christ expounded what was written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in almost every interview the apostles had with the Hebrews, you will meet with this as a peculiarity which is absent when Gentiles only are addressed--e.g., Stephen, Peter, Paul at Antioch, Thessalonica, etc. He who was all things to all men was a Jew among the Jews. He reasoned with them on their own principles, and nowhere more frequently than in this Epistle.
III. It is this agreement between the Bible and conscience which stamps upon the Book of God one of its most satisfying evidences. It is this perhaps more than anything else which draws the interest and the notice of men towards it. For there is no way of fixing the attention of man so powerfully as by holding up to him a mirror of himself; and no wisdom which he more prizes than that which by its piercing and intelligent glance can open to him the secrecies of his own heart, and force him to recognise a marvellous accordancy between its positions and all the varieties of his own intimate and home-felt experience. The question, then, before us is, Does this passage bear such an accordancy with the real character of man? It abounds in affirmations of sweeping universality, and a test of their truth or of their falsehood is to be found in every heart. The apostle has here made a most adventurous commitment of himself; for the matters here touched upon all lie within the well-known chambers of a man’s own consciousness, and one single case of disagreement would be enough to depose him from all the credit which he has ever held in the estimation of the world. Of course, from the nature of the case, a withdrawment must be conceded in behalf of those who are under the gospel, yet we are prepared to assert that Paul has not overcharged the account that he has given of the depravity of those who are under law--whether it be the law of conscience, or of Moses, or even of the purer morality of Christ--insomuch that all who refuse the mysteries of His grace are universally in the wrong. Be assured, then, that there is a delusion in all the complacency associated with self-righteousness. It is the want of a godly principle which essentially vitiates the whole: and additional to this, with all the generosities and equities which have done so much for your reputation among men, there is a selfishness that lurks in your bosom; or a vanity that swells and inflames it; or a preference of your own object to that of others, which may lead you to acts or words of unfeeling severity; or a regard for some particular gratification, coupled with a regardlessness for every interest which lieth in the way, that may render you, in the estimation of Him who pondereth the heart, as remote a wanderer as he on the path of whose visible history there occurred in other times the atrocities of savage cruelty and savage violence. It were barbarous to tell you so had we no remedy to offer. Life has much to vex and to trouble it; and it were really cruel to add to the pressure of a creature so beset and borne in upon by telling him of his worthlessness, did we not stand before him charged with the tidings of his possible renovation (Romans 2:21-26). (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
Sin: revealed by conscience
A fashionable lady entered church in a strange place, and heard a sermon on human depravity. During the week the preacher called upon her, when she told him she did not believe in the doctrine of his sermon. He asked the lady to test the subject by reviewing her life, alone before God, to see if all her acts had been done from right motives, which she promised to do. The next day the preacher called again, when the lady confessed that she did not find one bright spot of conscious love to God in all her past life. A look within had convinced her of the truth of the doctrine. Feeling now the disease of sin, she went to the Great Physician and found a cure.
Sin: revealed by grace
When the light of God’s grace comes into your heart, it is something like the opening of the windows of an old cellar that has been shut up for many days. Down in that cellar, which has not been opened for many months, are all kinds of loathsome creatures, and a few sickly plants blanched by the darkness. The walls are dark, and damp by the trail of reptiles: it is a horrid, filthy place, which no one would willingly enter. You may walk there in the dark very securely, and, except now and then for the touch of some slimy creature, you would not believe the place was so bad and filthy. Open those shutters, clean a pane of glass, let a little light in, and now see how a thousand noxious things have made this place their habitation! Sure, it was not the light that made this place so horrible; but it was the light that showed how horrible it was before. So let God’s grace just open a window, and let the light into a man’s soul, and he will stand astonished to see at what a distance he is from God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The reign of sin
1. Over all men.
2. Over every faculty of man.
1. To happiness.
2. To peace.
3. To moral power.
4. To hope. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
I remember a gentleman taking exception to an address based upon this text. He said, “Do you mean to say that there is no difference between an honest man and a dishonest one; between a sober man and a temperate man?” “No,” I remarked, “I did not affirm that there was no room for comparison between such cases; but my position is that if two men were standing here, the one intemperate and the other sober, I should say of the one, “This is an intemperate sinner, and the other a sober sinner.” My friend did not know how to meet the difficulty, but answered, “Well, I don’t like such teaching.” Very quietly I replied, “Then I will make some concession, and meet your difficulty. I will admit that there are many ‘superior sinners,’ and that you are a ‘superior sinner.’” I shall not soon forget my friend’s expression of countenance when he had taken stock of the argument. (H. Varley.)
I. Universal. Jew and Gentile. None righteous, wise, faithful.
II. Total. In--
III. Ruinous. All--
3. Without hope. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
I. Wherein it consists (Romans 2:9-18).
II. How it is demonstrated. By the law (Romans 2:20).
III. What is the effect (Romans 2:19)? (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Human depravity: its deceitfulness and the occasion of its manifestation
In a vessel filled with muddy water, the thickness visibly subsided to the bottom, and left the water purer and purer, until at last it seemed perfectly limpid. The slightest motion, however, brought the sediment again to the top; and the water became thick and turbid as before.
“Here,” said Gotthold, when he saw it, “we have an emblem of the human heart. The heart is full of the mud of sinful lusts and carnal desires; and the consequence is, that no pure water--that is, good and holy thoughts--can flow from it. It is, in truth, a miry pit and slough of sin, in which all sorts of ugly reptiles are bred and crawl. Many a one, however, is deceived by it, and never imagines his heart half so wicked as it really is, because sometimes its lusts are at rest, and sink to the bottom. But this lasts only so long as he is without opportunity or incitement to sin. Let that occur, and worldly lusts rise so thick, that his whole thoughts, words, and works show no trace of anything but slime and impurity. One is meek as long as he is not thwarted; cross him, and he is like powder ignited by the smallest spark, and blazing up with a loud report and destructive effect. Another is temperate so long as he has no jovial companions; a third chaste while the eyes of men are upon him.
Human depravity: its outward development from latent germs of evil
A few years ago, a house was built at Newcastle-upon-Tyne; and the earth which was dug out of the foundations was thrown over a piece of ground in front, intended for a garden. The following spring a number of caper plants came up: they were not common in that part of the country, and their appearance excited great surprise. Upon inquiry, it was found that, years before, that ground had been a public garden: it therefore appeared certain that those seeds had remained dormant while buried deep in the earth, and had sprung to life as soon as they were brought within the influence of heat and light. How like to our hearts! What seeds of evil may lie dormant in them! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Haman depravity: its universality
The greatest of unregenerate men are as much in need of new hearts as the meanest of their fellows. There be some men that are born into this world master spirits, who walk about it as giants, wrapped in mantles of light and glory. I refer to the poets, men who rise aloft, like Colossi, mightier than we, seeming to be descended from celestial spheres. There be ethers of acute intellect, who, searching into mysteries of science, discover things that have been hidden from the creation of the world; men of keen research, and mighty erudition; and yet, of each of these--poet, philosopher, metaphysician, and great discoverer-it must be said, “The carnal mind is enmity against God!” Ye may train an unrenewed man, ye may make his intellect almost angelic, ye may strengthen his soul until he shall unravel mysteries in a moment; ye may make him so mighty, that he can read the iron secrets of the eternal hills, tearing the hidden truth from the bowels of ancient marvels; ye may give him an eye so keen that he can penetrate the arcana of rocks and mountains; ye may add a soul so potent, that he may slay the giant Sphinx, that had for ages troubled the mightiest men of learning; yet, when ye have done all, his mind shall be a depraved one, and his carnal heart shall still be in opposition to God, unless the Holy Spirit shall create him anew in Christ Jesus. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The importance of civil government to society
I. The apostle’s conclusion is, that before God all the world is guilty, and if we single out those verses which place man in his simple relationship to God, we shall see the justice of the sentence.
1. “There is none righteous, no, not one.” To be held as having kept the law of our country, we must keep the whole of it. It is not necessary that we accumulate the guilt of treason, forgery, murder. One of these acts is enough to condemn. A hundred deeds of obedience will not efface or expiate one of disobedience; and we have only to plead for the same obedience to a Divine that we render to a human administration, to prove that there is none righteous before God.
2. “There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.” No man who has not submitted himself to the doctrine of justification by faith has any clear knowledge of the ground on which he rests his acceptance with God. He may have some obscure conception of His mercy, but he has never struck the compromise between His mercy and His justice. What becomes of all that which stamps authority upon a law, and exhibits the Majesty of a Lawgiver, is a matter of which he has no understanding, and he does not care to understand it. He is seeking after many things, but not seeking after God. When did your efforts in this way ever go beyond an empty round of observances?
3. “They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable, there is none that doeth good; no, not one.” We do not say that they have gone out of the way of honour, equity, or neighbourliness. But they are all out of the way of godliness. The prophet does not affirm that we have turned everyone to a way either of injustice or cruelty; but he counts it condemnation enough that we have turned everyone to his own way--a way of independence of God, if not of iniquity against our fellows in society. It is this which renders all the works of mere natural men so unprofitable, that is, of no value in the reckoning of eternity. They want the great moral infusion which makes them valuable. There is nothing of God in them.
II. We now pass onward to another set of charges--which may not be so easy to substantiate--of offences against the dearest interests of society. It is true that the apostle here drops the style of universality, and quotes David’s charges, not against the race, but against his enemies. But yet it will be found that though the picture of atrocity may not in our day be so broadly exhibited as in ruder periods, yet that the principles of it are still at work; that though law and civilisation and interest may have stopped the mouth of many a desolating volcano, yet do the fiery materials still exist in the bosom of society. So that our nature, though here personified by the apostle into a monster, with a throat like an open sepulchre, emitting everything offensive; and a tongue practised in the arts of deceitfulness; and lips from which the gall of malignity ever drops in unceasing distillation; and a mouth full of venomous asperity; and feet that run to assassination as a game; and with the pathway on which she runs marked by the ruin and distress that attend upon her progress; and with a disdainful aversion in her heart to peace; and with an aspect of defiance to the God that gave all her parts and all her energies--though this sketch was originally taken by the Psalmist from prowling banditti, yet has the apostle, by admitting it into his argument, stamped a perpetuity upon it, and made it universal--giving us to understand that if such was the character of man, as it stood nakedly out among the hostilities of a barbarous people, such also is the real character of man among the regularities and the monotonous decencies of modern society. To illustrate: Oaths were more frequent at one time than they are now, but while there may be less of profaneness in the mouths, there may be as much as ever in the heart. Murder in the act may be less frequent now, but if he who hateth his brother be a murderer, it may be fully as foul and frequent in the principle. Actual theft may be no longer practised by him who gives vent to an equal degree of dishonesty through the chicaneries of merchandise. And thus may there lurk under the disguises of well-bred citizenship enough to prove that, with the duties of the second table as with the first, man has wandered far from the path of rectitude.
III. All this, while it gives a most humiliating estimate of our species, should serve to enhance to our minds the blessings of regular government. Let our police and magistrates depose to the effect it would have upon society, were civil guardianship dissolved. Were all the restraints of order driven in, conceive the effect, and then compute how little there is of moral, and how much there is of mere animal restraint in the apparent virtues of human society. There is a two-fold benefit in such a contemplation. It will enhance to every Christian mind the cause of loyalty, and lead him to regard the power that is, as the minister of God to him for good. And it will also guide him through many delusions to appreciate justly the character of man; to distinguish aright between the semblance of principle and its reality.
IV. Learn three lessons from all that has been said.
1. As to the theology of this question. We trust you perceive how much and how little it is that can be gathered from the comparative peace and gentleness of modern society; how much is due to the physical restraints that are laid on by this world’s government, and how little is due to the moral restraints that are laid on by the unseen government of Heaven: proving that human nature is more like the tractableness of an animal led about by a chain, than of an animal inwardly softened into docility. On this point observation and orthodoxy are at one; and one of the most convincing illustrations which the apostle can derive to his own doctrine may be taken from the testimony of legal functionaries. Let them simply aver what the result would be if all the earthly safeguards of law and of government were driven away; and they are just preaching orthodoxy to our ears.
2. The very same train of argument which goes to enlighten the theology of this subject, serves also to deepen and establish the principles of loyalty. That view of the human character, upon which it is contended, by the divine, that unless it is regenerated there can be no meetness for heaven, is the very same with that view of it upon which it is contended, by the politician, that unless it is restrained there will be no safety from crime and violence along the course of the pilgrimage which leads to it. An enlightened Christian recognises the hand of God in all the shelter that is thrown over him from the fury of the natural elements; and he equally recognises it in all the shelter that is thrown over him from the fury of the moral elements by which he is surrounded. Had he a more favourable view of our nature he might not look on government as so indispensable; but, with the view that he actually has, he cannot miss the conclusion of its being the ordinance of Heaven for the Church’s good upon earth; and he rejoices in the authority of human laws as an instrument in the hand of God for the peace of His sabbaths, and the peace of His sacraments.
3. Let our legislators recognise the value of true religion. When Solomon says that it is righteousness which exalteth a nation, he means something of a deeper and more sacred character than the mere righteousness of society. Cut away the substratum of godliness, and how, we ask, will the secondary and the earth-born righteousness be found to thrive on the remaining soil which nature supplies for rearing it? But with many, and these too the holders of a great and ascendant influence in our land, godliness is puritanism; and thus is it a possible thing that in their hands the alone aliment of public virtue may be withheld, or turned into poison. The patent way to disarm Nature of her ferocities is to Christianise her. For note--
There is none righteous, no, not one.
Had there been one righteous, God would have found him out. (T. Robinson, D. D.)
There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.--
Human ignorance and perversity
I. There is none that understandeth.
1. What? Ignorance is not affirmed of many things of more or less importance. A man may be an accomplished scientist, a profound scholar, widely read in general literature, and yet not understand--
2. Why? Because--
II. There is none that seeketh after God. There are many who “seek after” matters infinitely less important--temporal profit, pleasure, etc.
1. The folly of this.
2. The necessity and blessedness of reversing this.
They are all gone out of the way.--
I. Its source.
II. Its manifestations.
III. Its predominance.
IV. Its effects. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Progress in sin inevitable
Every sin we commit is like taking a step further back from God: and return is rendered impossible without Divine assistance, as Satan cuts the bridges behind man in his retreating downward path; and also as every false step necessitates another--rather indeed many--as the author of Waverley Novels knew to his cost, and left it on record: “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive!” Or again, as Schiller more philosophically puts it: “This is the very curse of evil deed, that of new evil it becomes the seed.”
The sin and folly of ignoring God
Why did you not think of God? One would deem that the thought of Him must, to a serious mind, come second to almost every other thought. The thought of virtue would suggest the thought of both a lawgiver and a rewarder; the thought of crime, of an avenger; the thought of sorrow, of a consoler; the thought of an inscrutable mystery, of an intelligence that understands it; the thought of that ever-moving activity that prevails in the system of the universe, of a supreme agent; the thought of the human family, of a great father; the thought of all-being, of a creator; the thought of life, of a preserver; and the thought of death, of an incontrollable disposer. By what dexterity of irreligious caution did you avoid precisely every track where the idea of Him would have met you, or elude that idea if it came? And what must sound reason pronounce of a mind which, in the train of millions of thoughts, has wandered to all things under the sun, to all the permanent objects or vanishing appearances in the creation, but never fixed its thought on the supreme reality; never approached, like Moses, “to see this great sight.” (J. Foster.)
Their throat is an open sepulchre.--
The throat of an ungodly man compared to an opened sepulchre
I. I have to mention some particulars in which the throat of man is “an open sepulchre” in regard to that which it receives: I mean, in regard to the air we breathe, and the food and beverage we eat and drink.
1. This is true universally of every unregenerate man. Every breath of air that is breathed by a man who is not born of God, and every morsel of food that he eats, is but like the carrying a putrid corpse into a vault. He is supporting his body for the dishonour of God. It is not in the service of his heavenly Father, but in the service of his Father’s enemies, that he uses all his strength and health, and all his bodily powers; he is guilty of abusing God’s gracious gifts; he is steadily going forward into increased corruption.
2. But if in this way it holds good of all who are not restored to God, even the most abstemious, that “their throat is no better than an opened sepulchre,” how much more does it give us a striking view of the wretched state of the intemperate: the gluttonous and the drunkard? Well does the wisdom of God compare the throats of all such wretched sinners to an opened sepulchre, corrupt in themselves, infectious to others, and offensive to God. Can such a man expect to dwell with God in holiness and glory? Would you yourselves consent to have an “opened sepulchre,” with all its abominations, in your house? Would you tolerate anything so offensive? Much less can you suppose that God will suffer a drunkard to be anywhere but in the depths of hell.
II. I now proceed to enumerate a few particulars in which the throat of every unregenerate man is also like “an open sepulchre” in that which proceeds out of it.
1. But let me first say a word generally to those who are Christians in name only. As in regard to what goes in, so in regard to what comes forth from your throat, it is still but an “open sepulchre.”
2. In descending to particulars, I must be content to mention only one of the multitude of sins that make the “throat of sinners an open sepulchre”; and that is, the sin of blasphemy, and swearing, and profaneness. And if an opened sepulchre is odious because it sends forth the smell of death, well may we say that the mouth of the profane is like it, for it breathes the breath of spiritual and eternal death. (John Tucker, B. D.)
Dignity of human nature shown from its ruins
1. A most dark and dismal picture of humanity, and yet it has two aspects. In one view it is the picture of weakness, wretchedness, and shame; in the other it presents a being fearfully great; great in his evil will, his demoniacal passions, his contempt of fear, the splendour of his degradation, and the magnificence of his woe.
2. It has been the way of many to magnify humanity by tracing its capabilities and its affinity with God and truth; and by such kind of evidences they repel what they call the insulting doctrine of total depravity. And not without some show of reason, when the doctrine is asserted so as to exclude the admission of high aspirations and amiable properties; for some teachers have formulated a doctrine of human depravity in which there is no proper humanity left.
3. Now one of these extremes makes the gospel unnecessary, because there is no depravation to restore; the other makes it impossible, because there is nothing left to which any holy appeal can be made; but I undertake, in partial disregard of both, to show the essential greatness of man from the ruin itself which he becomes; confident of this, that in no other point of view will he prove the spiritual sublimity of his nature so convincingly.
I. We form our conceptions of many things by their ruins.
1. Of ancient dynasties. Falling on patches of paved road leading out from ancient Rome, here for Britain, here for Germany, here for Ephesus, etc.; imagining the couriers flying back and forth, bearing the mandates of the central authority, followed by the military legions to execute them; we receive an impression of the empire which no words could give us. So, to form some opinion of the dynasty of the Pharaohs, of whom history gives us but the obscurest traditions, we have only to look on the monumental mountains, and these dumb historians in stone will show us more of that vast and populous empire than history and geography together.
2. Of ancient cities. Though described by historians, we form no sufficient conception of their grandeur till we look upon their ruins. Even the eloquence of Homer yields only a faint, unimpressive conception of Thebes; but to pass through the ruins of Karnac and Luxor, a vast desolation of temples and pillared avenues that dwarf all the present structures of the world. This reveals a fit conception of the grandest city of the world as no words could describe it. So Jonah endeavours to raise some adequate opinion of Nineveh, and Nahum follows, magnifying its splendour in terms of high description; but no one had any proper conception of it till a traveller opens to view, at points many miles asunder, collects the tokens of art and splendour, and says, “This is the ‘exceeding great city.’” And so it is with Babylon, Ephesus, Tadmor of the Desert, Baalbec, and the nameless cities and pyramids of the extinct American race.
II. So it is with man. Our most veritable, though saddest impression of his greatness, we shall derive from the magnificent ruin he displays.
1. And this is the Scripture representation of man, as apostate from duty and God. How sublime a creature must that be who is able to confront the Almighty and tear himself away from His throne! And, as if to forbid our taking his deep misery and shame as tokens of contempt, the first men are shown as living out a thousand years of lustful energy, and braving the Almighty in strong defiance to the last. We look upon a race of Titans who fill the earth--even up to the sky--with demoniacal tumult, till God can suffer them no longer. So of the picture in chap. 1, and the picture in the text corresponds.
2. But we come to the ruin as it is, and we look--
III. But we must look more directly into the contents of human nature and the internal ruin by which they are displayed. And notice--
1. The sublime vehemence of the passions.
2. The wild mixtures of thought displayed both in the waking life and the dreams of mankind. How grand! how mean! It is as if the soul were a thinking ruin. The angel and the demon life appear to be contending in it. And yet a ruin which a Nineveh or a Thebes can parallel only in the faintest degree; comprehending all that is purest, brightest, most Divine; all that is worst, meanest, most deformed.
3. The significance of remorse. How great a creature must that be that, looking down upon itself from some high summit in itself, withers in relentless condemnation of itself, gnaws and chastises itself in the sense of what it is!
4. The dissonance and obstinacy of his evil will. It is dissonant as being out of harmony with God and the world, and all beside in the soul itself--viz., the reason, the conscience, the wants, the hopes, and even the remembrances of the soul. How great a creature is it that, knowing God, can set itself off from God and resist Him! “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” In one view there is fear enough, the soul is all its life long haunted by this fear, but there is a desperation of will that makes it as though it were not.
5. The religious aspirations and capacities of religious attraction that are garnered up, and still live in the ruins of humanity.
IV. The practical issues of our subject.
1. It is a great hope of our time that society is going to slide into something better--by education, public reforms, and philanthropy. We have a new gospel that corresponds, which preaches faith in human nature, that proposes development, not regeneration. Alas, that we are taken with so great folly. As if man, or society, crazed and maddened by the demoniacal frenzy of sin, were going to reconstruct the shattered harmony of nature. As soon will the desolations of Karnac gather up their fragments. Nothing meets our case but to be born of God. He alone can rebuild the ruin.
2. The great difficulty with Christianity in our time is that it is too great for belief. After all our supposed discoveries of dignity in human nature, we have commonly none but the meanest opinion of man. How could we imagine that any such history as that of Jesus Christ is a fact, or that the infinite God has transacted any such wonder for man? God manifest in the flesh! It is extravagant, out of proportion, who can believe it? Anyone who has not lost the magnitude of man. To restore this tragic fall required a tragic salvation. Nor did ever any sinner, who had felt the bondage of his sin, think for one moment that Christ was too great a Saviour. Oh, it was an almighty Saviour that he wanted! none but such was sufficient! Him he could believe in, just because He was great--equal to the measures of his want, able to burst the bondage of his sin.
3. The magnitude and real importance of the soul are discovered in the subject as nowhere else. The soul appears under sin, all selfish as it is, to shrink and grow small in its own sight. Perhaps this is due, in part, to the consciousness we have, in sin, of moral littleness and meanness. Whereas, in another sense, sin is mighty, God-defying. Just here is it that you will get your most veritable impressions of your immortality; even as you get your best impression of armies, not by the count of numbers, but by the thunder shock of battle, and the carnage of the field when it is over. In the tragic desolations of intelligence and genius, of passion, pride, and sorrow, behold the import of his eternity. And yet, despite all this, you are trying and contriving still to be happy--a happy ruin! The eternal destiny is in you, and you cannot break loose from it. With your farthing bribes you try to hush your stupendous wants. Oh, this great and mighty soul, were it something less, you might find what to do with it. Anything would please it and bring it content. But it is the godlike soul, capable of rest in nothing but God; able to be filled and satisfied with nothing but His fulness. (H. Bushnell, D. D.)
Wickedness in word and deed
I. In speech. These verses refer to the different organs of speech, and show them all exercising their power to hurt, under the dominion of sin.
1. The throat (larynx) is compared to a sepulchre; this refers to the language of the gross and brutal man, of whom it is said in common parlance--it seems as if he would like to eat you. The next characteristic is a contrast--the sugared tongue, which charms you like a melodious instrument. Doth of these are taken from the description of David’s enemies in Psalms 5:9.
3. The next is taken from Psalms 140:3 --the calumny and falsehood which malignant lips give forth, as a serpent infuses its poison.
II. In deed (verses 15-18). Of the four propositions the first three are borrowed from Isaiah 59:7-8.
1. The feet as the emblem of walking symbolises the whole conduct.
2. Man acts without regard to his neighbour, without fear of compromising his welfare or even his life (Proverbs 1:16). He oppresses his brother, and fills his life with misery, so that the way marked out by such a course is watered with the tears of others.
3. No peace can exist either in the heart of such men, or in their neighbourhood.
4. And this overflow of depravity and suffering arises from a void; the absence of that feeling which should have filled the heart--“the fear of God.” This term is the normal expression for piety in the Old Testament; it is that disposition which has God always present in the heart, will and judgment. 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 (Psalms 36:1). (Prof. Godet.)
The poison of asps is under their lips.--
Poison concealed in a bag under a loose tooth or fang: the fang pressing the bag, the poison is emitted with the bite. Honey on the lips, poison under them. Poison conveyed--
1. In ordinary conversation.
2. In wanton and licentious songs.
3. In profane and blasphemous expressions.
4. In infidel and unscriptural teaching.
5. In corrupting works of fiction.
6. In the language of the drama. (T. Robinson, D. D.)
The poison of the tongue
Suppose I open a bag of serpents, and let them out where children are playing, or in a camp where there are soldiers, and I say of myself, “Madman I fool!” and go to hunt my snakes? I cannot find them. It was mine to let them out, but it is not mine to catch them and put them in the bag again. Now there never was a bag of snakes in this world like a man’s mouth. To open it is in your power, but to shut it again upon all that you have emitted from it is not in your power. I am not referring to cases in which a man himself suffers directly from the evil that he has done; but to those worse cases in which others suffer from the evil that we have done. For, as a man grows spiritual, as a man goes toward God he comes to feel that the mischiefs done on another are unspeakably worse than those done on himself; and that no unrepentable transgressions are as bad as those by which he has struck the welfare of another. Parallel with these, although differing from them, are those things by which men wound the hearts of those whom they should shield. Your anger may sting venomously. Your jealousy may do a mischief in one short hour that your whole life cannot repair. Your cruel pride may do a whole age’s work in a day. You cannot take back the injuries that you have done to those whose hearts lie throbbing next to yours. All! when winter has frozen my heliotropes, it makes no difference that the next morning thaws them out. There lie the heliotropes--a black, noisome heap; and it is possible for you to chill a tender nature so that no thawing can restore it. You may relent, but frost has been there, and you cannot bring back freshness and fragrance to the blossom. You cannot sweeten the embittered heart to which your words have been like scorpions. It is a terrible thing for a man to have the power of poisoning the hearts of others, and yet carry that power carelessly. (H. W. Beecher.)
Immoral authors and their poisonous effects
It is a remarkable fact that the poison of the rattlesnake is even secreted after death. Dr. Bell, in his dissections of the rattlesnakes which have been dead many hours, has found that the poison continued to be secreted so fast as to require to be dried up occasionally with sponge or rag. The immoral author, like these rattlesnakes, not only poisons during his lifetime, but after death: because his books possess the subtle power of secreting the venom to a horrible degree. A moral sponge is constantly called into requisition to obliterate his poison for many years after he himself has been dead. (Louis Figuier.)
Their is no fear of God before their eyes.--
Impenitent men destitute of holiness
The text gives us man’s native character. Such he is till the Spirit of God has sanctified him.
I. Many have mistaken the native character of man, from having seen him capable of affections and deeds that are praiseworthy. We do not deny that there has been seen in men not sanctified.
II. Men have been led to controvert this doctrine because they are not conscious of the wrong motives by which they are actuated. What the prophet says of the idol maker is more or less true of all unregenerate men in all ages, “A deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?” They do not consider it important to know what their designs are, and have not that familiarity with their hearts that would render it easy to discover.
III. The doctrine of the text is often controverted to support schemes with which this sentiment would not compare. The sinner’s entire depravity is a fundamental doctrine on which there can be built only one, and that the gospel system. Make this doctrine true, and it sweeps away, as with the besom of destruction, every creed but one from the face of the world. It settles the question that God may righteously execute His law upon all unregenerate men; that “by deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified”; that the doings of unregenerate men are unholy; that an atonement, such as God has provided, is the only medium through which we can purge our consciences from dead works to serve the living God.
IV. This doctrine has been controverted through the pride of the human heart. Depravity is a most degrading doctrine, and entire depravity intolerable, till the heart has been humbled by the grace of God. There is in apostate men great pride of character. With the promptness with which we fly the touch of fire does pride resist imputation. Hence inquires the unregenerate man, Would you deny me the credit of loving my Creator, Preserver, and Benefactor? Do I never obey His law, or do a deed from motives that please Him? And is there, among my noblest actions of kindness to men, nothing that amounts to love?
V. I proceed to offer some reasons for esteeming it a very important doctrine.
1. The fact that it is plainly revealed testifies to its importance. God would not have cumbered His Word with a doctrine of no value.
2. The doctrine of the text is esteemed important, as it is one of the first truths used by the Spirit of God in awakening and sanctifying sinners.
3. The doctrine of the text is esteemed important, as it lies at the foundation of the whole gospel scheme. (D. A. Clark.)
Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law.
I. Its claims--are universal.
II. Its teachings--distinct and authoritative.
III. Its effects--condemnation, complete and without exception. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Law and the law
For the most part the word “law” refers to the general principle “Do this and live”; the words “the law,” to the historical and literary form in which this principle took shape in the ears, eyes, and thoughts of the Jews. (Prof. J. A. Beet.)
The convincing Tower of the law
1. “The things which the law saith”--its holy precepts, solemn sanctions, awful sentences--constitute the instrument of its power. They are the hand which grasps, the arm which conquers the transgressor.
2. The extent of their operation is to “all those who are under the law.” Are they obedient? Then it is a means of life and peace. Are they disobedient? Then it is the instrument of their condemnation and death.
3. Its convincing power is displayed either in the day of grace to bring to Christ, or in the day of judgment to banish from Him.
4. It is the agency of the Holy Spirit. In His hands it is living and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword, but in itself it is a dead letter.
I. The things of which the law is made to convince the sinner. “It saith”--
1. “Do this, and thou shalt live”; but “whosoever offendeth in one point is guilty of all.” The law claims an entire, perpetual, and spotless obedience, and in the exercise of its convincing power it compares the sinner’s life with the strictness of its demands. It thus brings to view his obliquity by laying down its perfect and unbending rule upon the crookedness of all his conduct. It accuses him of--
2. “Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” By this it convinceth the sinner of his exposure to the wrath of God. The condemnation of the ungodly is not future but present. The transgressor is “dead already,” and though, like a convict in his cell, he has a respite before execution, his case is to be regarded as altogether disposed of. He may be ignorant of his condition, and may deny it; but this is one of the things that the law saith, and its work is to make the sinner believe it, and behold his danger. But though under this operation he groans in anguish, he is no more in condemnation than before. He was asleep, but is now awakened. The lightning which makes a benighted traveller see the precipice in front of him does not make the danger, it only reveals it.
3. “Moses describeth the righteousness which is by the law, that the man which doeth these things shall live by them.” “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” By these “things” the law convinces of the impossibility of self-justification.
(a) He can never obtain acceptance by his obedience--for there is imperfection and defilement in every duty.
(b) He cannot be justified by making satisfaction for disobedience, for no satisfaction can be received short of the entire penalty--everlasting death.
II. The persons to which it must be applied. “To them that are under the law”--the Jew, of course, but all mankind are born under the obligations of the law, and the things it saith, it saith to the whole family of man. And if there be not an individual who is released from the obligation of loving God with all his heart, there is not one who is not justly accused of transgression, and therefore condemned. “All have sinned,” etc. The proper operation of the law as a convincing power is, therefore, upon every human being.
III. The result to which it leads.
1. “That every mouth may be stopped.” Unconvinced sinners complain of the unreasonable strictness and severity of the Divine commandments, and invent a thousand excuses for sin and pleas of exemption from punishment. But when the law discharges its convincing office, the justice of God became so apparent, guilt so clear, that they are incapable of complaint or excuse.
2. “And all the world become guilty before God”--consciously and penitently. (S. H. Tyng, D. D.)
Appeal to the law
The new Collector of the Port of New York is not harassed by disputes as his predecessors were. He has had all the books regulating the customs service placed within his reach, and when appealed to for his decision his clear grey eyes brighten as he replies: “The law says so and so about that question, does it not?” He is generally answered in the affirmative, and without more ado he dismisses his visitor, saying: “The law on the subject was made for me to follow, and follow it I shall.” (Christian Herald.)
The authority of the Scriptures
I feel profoundly that that word “authority” is a vital word in all considerations about the Scriptures. There are controversies about inspiration and its mode, controversies which are legion, but they may circle, like waves around a rock, round the question of authority. That which separates the Bible from all other books, however elevating, is, after all, not so much that it contains such treasures of historic information, of poetic beauty, of moral analysis, as that it contains the authority of God and the certainty of His Word. Yes, it is this, after all. There are other books, for which God be thanked, written in other ages, which have had their influence on the elevation of man, but the difference between them and this Book is, that no conceivable amount of information or influence from them, as such, is binding on the conscience; but we claim for this Book that when we have once ascertained the meaning of it, it binds us. It is not merely attractive and elevating--it is all this--but it is binding upon us; it says in the name of a greater than itself, “Believe this, because I say it; do this, because I command it.” (H. G. C. Moule, M. A.)
Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified.--
Justification by works impossible
I. The assertion of the text is, that our whole race is incapable of ever being justified on the ground of having kept the requirements of the moral law of God.
1. This may be easily illustrated by a reference to Scripture.
II. But here the question arises, since we cannot be justified on the ground of innocence, may we not by some works of our own? This question, from the beginning, has deeply agitated the human soul.
1. The first expedient, which seems universally to have suggested itself, was the offering of expiatory victims. But such an expedient as this inevitably loses its efficacy as soon as man listens to the voice of his own consciousness. He then feels that guilt is a personal thing, and that he himself is a sinner. It is he, in his own person, that must answer at the bar of offended justice. Guilt cannot be transferred to a brute, nor can it at will be laid upon the conscience of another. Hence the worshipper returned from the sacrifice unsatisfied and unblessed. The Jew confessed that it was not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sin. The pagan retired from the flowing libation and the smoking hecatomb bearing about within him a conscience still burdened with the guilt of unpardoned sin.
2. Another expedient has been to offer reparation to the violated law by repentance and reformation. But if this doctrine be true--
III. The gospel is an offer of universal pardon through the mediation of Christ.
1. To reveal this great and astonishing truth is the great design of revealed religion. Natural religion intimated to us our sin, and dimly foreshadowed our doom. But from natural religion itself no news of reconciliation could proceed. It is the gospel alone that brings life and immortality to light.
2. For the announcement of this great central truth, the whole previous history of our world was one magnificent preparation.
3. Although, then, by the deeds of the law no flesh can be justified, yet we may not despair, “for our help is laid upon One that is mighty,” One who is able to save to the uttermost everyone that believeth. (F. Wayland, D. D.)
Legal justification impossible because
I. Man is flesh.
1. Depraved by original corruption.
2. Obnoxious by actual transgression.
II. The best obedience to the law that he can perform is imperfect.
III. All that he does or can do is a due debt he owes to the law.
1. He owes all possible obedience to the law as a creature.
2. But by performing all his debts as a creature he can never pay his debts as a transgressor.
3. Christ alone is able to justify him. (W. Burkitt, M. A.)
Works cannot justify
No matter how much he (Luther) studied and prayed, no matter how severely he castigated himself with fasting and watching, he found no peace to his soul. Even when he imagined that he had satisfied the law, he often despaired of getting rid of his sins and of securing the grace of God.
A moralist condemned
Dr. Rogers, of Albany, gives an account of the conversion of a moralist by a dream. The man thought he died, and, coming to the door of heaven, saw over it, “None can enter here but those who have led a strictly moral life.” He felt perfectly able on that condition, but was stopped by one and another whom in some way he had wronged. He was in despair, till the words over the door gradually faded away, and in their place came, “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin.” He awoke, and realised that without forgiveness through an atonement there was no hope for man. (Seeds and Sheaves.)
In His sight.
Man in the Divine judgment
In the judgment of God--an addition of solemn import! The all-searching Eye will try our inward as well as outward acts. None can stand out of Christ the Divine scrutiny. The world may canonise and immortalise, extol and deify her heroes; but God will perceive in a moment their defects, like the artist who, when a piece of marble had been selected as perfectly suitable for his sculpturing, in an instant detected a slight flaw that had escaped all notice, rendering, in his eyes, the block useless; and he refused to employ his time and his tools, his pains and his genius, upon it. (C. Neil, M. A.)
For by the law is the knowledge of sin.--
The knowledge of sin by the law
I. The nature of the law.
1. Sin has no existence but in relation to the law; for “where there is no law, there is no transgression.” The law may be compared to a straight rule. Sin is the deviation from this rule, and the enormity of the sin may be measured by the degree of obliquity in any act.
2. Laws are of different kinds, according to the nature of their subjects. The universe is under taw, for the Creator is a God of order. But our inquiry relates to the law given to man, as an accountable moral agent. This law was originally written on the human heart, but, as through the prevalence of ignorance and error, this law has been greatly defaced; it pleased God to make a full revelation of it, under two great commandments, enjoining love to God and our neighbour. But as the spiritual and perfect nature of the law was misapprehended by the Jews, and many of the precepts were set aside by false glosses, our Lord gave its true interpretation.
3. Many entertain very inadequate ideas of the nature and obligations of the law.
4. That the law of God requires perfect obedience is self-evident. To suppose that any law could be satisfied by an imperfect obedience involves the absurdity that the law requires something which it does not require. If it should be alleged that uniform perfection of obedience ought not to be insisted on, since man is a fallible, erring creature, I would reply, that if any indulgence to sin be allowed, there can be no limit fixed to which it should be extended. Such a principle would destroy the obligation of the moral law. Again, these frailties belong not to our nature, as it came perfect from the hand of the Creator, but belong to our sinful nature, to which a holy law can show no indulgence. The ground of difficulty is in our depraved nature, which has lost all relish for the service of God. To a soul rightly constituted, the most intense exercise of holy affection is so far from being felt as a burden or task, that it affords the sweetest pleasure of which we ever partake. To be perfectly obedient to the commandments of God is to be completely happy. Surely no one ought to complain of being required to pursue his own greatest happiness.
II. “By the law is the knowledge of sin.”
1. If our actions had always been conformable to the precepts of God, the closest application of that law would produce no conviction of sin. And that such perfection of obedience is possible to human nature is manifest by the example of Christ.
2. Human nature may be compared to a complicated machine, which has within it powerful springs to keep it in operation. But such a machine requires a balance or regulator, which may preserve all the parts in their proper places, and give due energy and direction to every part. If the balance wheel be taken away, the machine loses none of its power, but its action becomes irregular, and no longer subserves the purpose for which it was put in motion. It moves, it may be, more rapidly than before, but to its own ruin. So it is with man. He is an agent, possessing powers, appetites, affections, and passions which require to be regulated and properly directed; otherwise, their most powerful action will be of a ruinous character. Two things are necessary to give harmony and a right direction to the complex faculties and affections of man. The first is, light; the second, love--an enlightened conscience, and uniform and constant love to God. But when sin was introduced, the mind was blinded, conscience misdirected, and the love of God in the soul was extinct.
3. Although the mind of man has fallen into an awful state of blindness and disorder, yet conscience is not obliterated: as far as it has light, it still remonstrates against sin. Happily some actions are intuitively seen to be morally wrong; but in regard to a large part of sinful acts, or omissions, most men remain ignorant of them, because they know not the extent and spirituality of the law. Mere theoretical knowledge of the law is not sufficient: it requires the convincing light of the Holy Spirit to shine in upon the conscience, and to cause the mind to view itself, as it were, in the mirror of God’s holy law. This conviction by the law is the common preparatory work before mercy is bestowed.
1. Let us endeavour to get clear views of the extent, spirituality, and purity of the moral law, in order that we may know something of the multitude and malignity of our sins. And, as all true spiritual knowledge is from the Holy Ghost, we should incessantly pray for this inestimable blessing.
2. As the law convicts every man of sin, justification by it is impossible; for even one sin would render it impossible for the transgressor to receive a sentence of acquittal; how much more impossible is it when our sins are literally innumerable!
3. If the law discovers sin of every kind to be a base and odious thing, we should be solicitous to be cleansed from its defilement; and, in order to this, should come often to the fountain for sin and uncleanness, opened by the death of Christ.
4. A spiritual knowledge of the law is the true source of evangelical repentance.
5. The knowledge of sin, produced by the law, will have a tendency to make the true penitent desirous of the perfect holiness of heaven.
6. The most important benefit of the knowledge of sin, by the law, is, that it shows us our absolute need of a better righteousness than our own, and impels us to look for salvation to the Cross of Christ. (A. Alexander, D. D.)
The knowledge of sin by the law
“Sin,” in the New Testament, means, literally, “missing that which is aimed at.” A sin done for the sake of happiness never brings happiness; and if man’s true aim is the glory of God, certainly no sin ever reaches that mark. “Sin is the transgression of the law,” for if there were no “law,” there would be no “transgression.” “Transgression” is a stepping over a certain line, and the only line is “the law.”
I. There are many “laws.”
1. The natural “law” of conscience. By this the heathen are governed--for they, “having not the law, are a law unto themselves,” etc. The transgressors of this law will be “beaten with few stripes.”
2. The Old Testament “law,” which is chiefly negative. “Do not.” This law is higher than the law of nature, more clear, minute, stringent.
3. But above both there is the “law” of love--the law of the gospel. God loves you, love Him back, and show your love by obedience.
II. As these laws rise in their character, so do they also in their obligation upon us; and the sins committed against them grow in the same proportion. By the higher standard we shall be judged! Now I do not speak of the grosser sins forbidden by the Ten Commandments, but of such as appear, to some, almost to be no sins at all, but which, measured by the law of the gospel, are perhaps most grievous to God. As is the light, so is the shadow; and the comparatively small sin of a son grieves a father more than the greatest sin of a stranger.
From this point of view, then--
1. It must be a sin in a Christian not to be happy. For this must be because you do not trust the Father, who has said that your sins were “blotted out.”
2. Or, if believing that you love and are loved by God, you are anxious, you not only disobey a command, but question a Father’s care and promise.
3. Or, if your religion is only a religion of fear, obedience without affection, it is in God’s sight worth nothing, for “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” Therefore it is sin.
4. Or, if you love the world as much as you love God, how can the great God who says, “Give Me thy heart”--not a part of it--be satisfied? And if He is not satisfied that is a sin.
III. If you would measure sin, calculate it in Eden, or on Mount Calvary. In Eden, one bit of forbidden fruit ruined the world! On Calvary, it needed the death of the Son of God to repair the wreck. Remember this the next time you are tempted to sin. Think--“If I do that sin, it will cost the blood of the Son of God to wash it out.” That is the law of heaven; and by that law we know sin. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The office of the law
The wife of a drunkard once found her husband in a filthy condition, with torn clothes, matted hair, bruised face, asleep in the kitchen, having come home from a drunken revel. She sent for a photographer, and had a portrait of him taken in all his wretched appearance, and placed it on the mantel beside another portrait taken at the time of his marriage, which showed him handsome and well dressed, as he had been in other days. When he became sober he saw the two pictures, and awakened to a consciousness of his condition, from which he arose to a better life. Now, the office of the law is not to save men, but to show them their true state as compared with the Divine standard. It is like a glass, in which one seeth “what manner of man he is.” (D. L. Moody.)
The knowledge of sin by the law
When we are told what we ought to do, we learn that we are not doing as we ought.
1. The faintest spark of natural conscience in a savage bosom serves this end at least, that the barbarian’s grosser acts of treachery or cruelty seem evil even to himself. The educated conscience of an old Greek or Roman imposed on him a severer standard and made him ashamed of less flagrant crimes. Moses’ nobler code, given by Jehovah Himself, trained the Hebrew people by degrees to regard as sinful practices which neighbouring nations called innocent, and exalted every instinctive vice of the blood into the express transgression of a recorded statute. The New Testament morality has made the modern conscience quicker than ever to detect, and louder than ever in condemning what is false, dishonourable, impure, and ungenerous. Thus each addition to revealed law widens men’s knowledge of what is sinful, and pushes forward the frontier of the forbidden a little nearer to that ideal line which God’s nature prescribes.
2. Again, when a law has succeeded in educating one’s conscience to recognise that what is forbidden is in itself evil, that what is commanded is right, there follows a certain desire to keep that law--an effort even after keeping it. We cannot approve what is good and not wish to pursue it. The moral pressure thus put upon a man’s natural likings serves, in many an instance, to reveal to himself his moral impotence. The good he fain would do in his better moods he fails to do in the moment of temptation; and when the recoil comes, and desire has burnt itself down to white cold ash, and the law awakes afresh within the conscience to judge the man for that weak and wicked yielding to an improper desire, then comes a new and very bitter knowledge of sin. It is the knowledge of sin as a strong thing, stronger than I am--a hateful, hostile power, an alien despot, that has entrenched itself within my nature, and lords it there over everything that is wholesome in me.
3. Suppose, further, that a man is become so far a creature of the law that through long education he has been trained to walk contentedly within its close fences--he has got used to curb his temper and choke down his passions, and always to wear a smooth decorous face; suppose he is thus all that the law can make him, irreproachable in the presence of society, fair spoken, scrupulous, “as touching the law blameless”--why then he is only on the road to a still more profound knowledge of Sin. For such a man, if he is honest and thorough, will admit to himself, that deep down beneath this blameless exterior the old passions will not be quenched, nor the old self-will slain. He will admit that in doing violence to his tastes he has not changed them. He has merely drilled himself into outward prosperity, but at the root remains ungodly. Is it unfair to say that such righteousness is little better than a mask, useful in society, but sure to be detected by the judgment of Heaven? that the heart of such men resembles a volcano over which the lava has in the meantime cooled? What a terrific knowledge of sin is here! What a discovery of the incurableness of the heart’s evil! What a revelation of the impotence of law and the unattainableness of genuine righteousness under any system of legal repression! Surely by the law, do as you will, there is no path to a satisfying righteousness in the sight of God, but only to a deeper and ever deeper knowledge of sin! (J. Oswald Dykes, D. D.)
The law the standard
When Chicago was a small town it was incorporated and made a city. There was one clause in the new law that no man should be a policeman who was not a certain height--five feet six inches, let us say. When the Commissioners got into power, they advertised for men as candidates, and in the advertisement they stated that no man need apply who could not bring good credentials to recommend him. I remember going past the office one day, and there was a crowd of them waiting to get in. They quite blocked up the side of the street; and they were comparing notes as to their chances of success. One says to another, “I have got a good letter of recommendation from the mayor, and one from the supreme judge.” Another says, “And I have got a good letter from Senator So-and-so. I’m sure to get in.” The two men come on together, and lay their letters down on the Commissioners’ desk. “Well,” says the officials, “you have certainly a good many letters, but we won’t read them till we measure you.” Ah! they forgot all about that. So the first man is measured, and he is only five feet. “No chance for you, sir; the law says the men must be five feet six inches, and you don’t come up to the standard.” The other says, “Well, my chance is a good deal better than his. I am a good bit taller than he is.” He begins to measure himself by the other man. That is what people are always doing, measuring themselves by others. Measure yourself by the law of God, and if you will do that you will find that you have come short. He goes up to the officers and they measure him. He is five feet five inches and nine-tenths. “No good,” they tell him; “you’re not up to the standard.” “But I’m only one-tenth of an inch short,” he remonstrates. “It’s no matter,” say they, “there’s no difference.” He goes with the man who was five feet. One comes short six inches, and the other only one tenth of an inch, but the law cannot be changed. And the law of God is, that no man shall go into the kingdom of heaven with one sin on him. He that has broken the least law is guilty of all. (D. L. Moody.)
The knowledge of sin only by the law
All that the law does is to show us how sinful we are. Paul has been quoting from the sacred Scriptures; and truly they shed a lurid light upon the condition of human nature. This light can show us our sin; but it cannot take it away. The law of the Lord is like a looking glass. Now, a looking glass is a capital thing for finding out where the spots are on your face; but you cannot wash in a looking glass, you cannot get rid of the spots by looking in the glass. The law is intended to show a man how much he needs cleansing; but the law cannot cleanse him. The law proves that we are condemned, but it does not bring us our pardon. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested.
The righteousness of God is
I. Prepared by God. Devised; approved; conferred by Him.
II. Attested by the law and the prophets.
III. Secured by Christ. Free grace; redemption; propitiation.
IV. Designed for all. All need it; all are creatures of God.
V. Received by faith. Without merit; without works.
VI. Does not make void, but establish the law. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The righteousness of God
The apostle shows--
I. That it is a divine righteousness, not a human. That righteousness which we had lost in Adam was but a human thing, finite like him who lost it; but that which we gain is Divine and forms an infinite compensation. It is called the righteousness of God, because it is--
1. Provided by Him.
2. Founded on the doings and sufferings of the Son of God.
3. Provides such a compensation for human unrighteousness, that it not only takes it all away, but brings in a new and far higher and surer footing for the sinner to rest on.
II. That it is a righteousness without the law. Not an unlawful righteousness--one not based on law, or one in providing which law has been set aside, but one which, in so far as we are concerned, has nothing to do with law at all. It is not a righteousness which asks any doing or obeying on our part to complete it, for then it would cease to be “the righteousness of God,” and would become “the righteousness of man.” In so far as God and Christ are concerned, it has everything to do with law, but in so far as we are concerned it has nothing to do with it.
III. That it has been “manifested.” It is not a thing hidden from view. God has been at infinite pains to bring it forward both on our account and on His.
IV. That it is a righteousness witnessed by the law and the prophets. It is not something now come to light for the first time; it is something which has been proclaimed from the beginning. To this the eye of every saint, from Abel downward, has been directed--on this the feet of every saint have stood, this every type and prophecy and sacrifice has set forth.
V. That it is a righteousness which is by the faith of Jesus Christ. It is not our faith that is our righteousness. If it were so, then faith would be a work, and then should we be justified by our own acts. It is by believing that we are identified with Christ, so that His doing becomes ours; His suffering ours; His fulfilling of the law and obedience ours.
VI. That it is a righteousness for the unrighteous. “For there is no difference: for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” It is our unrighteousness that fits us for this. How foolish, then, to say, “I am too great a sinner to be forgiven.” It is like the sun. It is one sun, yet it is enough for and free to everyone. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
The righteousness of God
In various places this phrase signifies either that holiness and rectitude of character which is the attribute of God, or that distributive justice by which He maintains the authority of His law; but where it refers to man’s salvation it signifies, as in Romans 3:21, that fulfilment of the law or perfect conformity to it in all its demands, which, consistently with His justice, God has appointed and provided for the salvation of sinners. This implies that the infinite justice of His character requires what is provided, and also that it is approved and accepted; for if it be God’s righteousness it must be required and accepted by the justice of God. The righteousness of God, which is received by faith, denotes something that becomes the property of the believer. It cannot, then, be here the Divine attribute of justice, but the Divine work which God has wrought through His Son. This is, indeed, the righteousness of God, for it has been provided by God, and from first to last has been effected by His Son Jesus Christ, who is the mighty God and the Father of eternity. To that righteousness is the eye of the believer ever to be directed; on that righteousness must he rest; on that righteousness must he live; on that righteousness must he die; in that righteousness must he appear before the judgment seat; in that righteousness must he stand forever in the presence of a righteous God (Isaiah 61:10). This righteousness differs essentially from all other righteousness--
I. In its author, for it is the righteousness not of creatures, but of the Creator (Isaiah 45:8).
1. It is the righteousness of God in the sense in which the world is the work of God. The Father created it by the Son in the same way as by the Son He created the world; and if the Father effected this righteousness because His Son effected it, then His Son must be one with Himself (2 Peter 1:1).
2. It was during His incarnation that the Son of God wrought out this righteousness. Before He acted as the Creator and Sovereign of the world--but afterwards as a servant. Before that period He was perfectly holy, but that holiness could not be called obedience, for it was exercised in making the law, and by it governing the world. But in His latter condition He became subject to the law, and in our nature conferred more honour on the law than the obedience of all intelligent creatures, and more honour than it had received of dishonour from all its transgressors (Isaiah 42:21).
3. The obedience of Jesus Christ magnified the law because it was rendered by Divine appointment (Zechariah 2:10-11). It is impossible therefore to entertain too exalted an idea of the regard which God has for the character of His holy law.
II. In its nature this righteousness is two fold, fulfilling both the precept and its penalty. This, by any creature the most exalted, is impossible. The fulfilment of the precepts is all that could be required of creatures in their sinless condition. But the state of the Second Man was essentially different. Christ was made under the law, but it was a broken law; and, consequently, He was made under its curse (Galatians 3:13). Justice, therefore, required that He should fulfil also the penalty. A mere creature may obey the precept of the law, or suffer the penalty it denounces, but he cannot do both. But Jesus was capable at the same moment of suffering at the hand of God, and of obeying the precept to love God. This was made manifest during the whole period of His incarnation as well as at His death. By the sufferings of Christ the execution of the law was complete; while no punishment which creatures could suffer can be thus designated. It is He only who could put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. By enduring the threatened punishment He fully satisfied justice. In token of having received a full discharge He came forth from the grave; and when He shall appear the second time it shall be without sin--the sin which He had taken upon Him and all its effects being forever done away. But if nothing beyond the suffering of the penalty had taken place men would only have been released from the punishment due to sin: It they were to obtain the reward of obedience its precepts must also be obeyed; and this was accomplished to the utmost by Jesus Christ.
III. In its extent. Every creature is bound for himself to all that obedience to his Creator of which he is capable. He is under the obligation to love God with all his heart, etc., and beyond this he cannot advance. It is evident, therefore, that he can have no superabounding righteousness to be placed in the way of merit to the account of another. And, besides this, if he has sinned, he is bound to suffer for himself the whole penalty. But the obedience of Jesus Christ, who is Himself infinite, as well as the punishment He suffered, being in themselves of infinite value, are capable of being transferred in their effects without any diminution in their respective values.
IV. In its duration. The righteousness of Adam or of angels could only be available while it continued to be performed. The moment, therefore, in which they transgressed, the advantages derived from all their previous obedience ceased. But the righteousness of God, brought in by His Son, is an “everlasting righteousness” (Daniel 9:24). It was performed within a limited period of time, but in its effects it can never terminate (Isaiah 51:6; Isa_51:8; Psalms 119:142; Hebrews 10:14; Heb_9:12).
V. In its influence. It is the sole ground of reconciliation of sinners with God, and of their justification, and also of their intercession (1 John 2:1). It is the price paid for those new heavens and that new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness. Man was made lower than the angels, but this righteousness exalts him above them. The redeemed people of God stand nearest to the throne, while the angels stand “round about” them. They enter heaven clothed with a righteousness infinitely better than that which angels possess, or in which Adam was created. (J. Haldane.)
God’s righteousness man’s fear and man’s hope
A poor man who had spent a life of ignorance and sin was found by a London clergyman apparently dying in a miserable garret. He was in great anxiety of mind from an apparently accidental cause. A stray leaf torn from a Testament met his eye. It was part of this chapter. He had read the vivid description of a sinner and had applied it to his own ease. But where was the remedy? where the gospel? Alas! the paper ended, “But now the righteousness of God without the law is”… “Is what?” said the anxious man. “Do the next words give any hope for such a sinner as I am?” The remainder of the chapter was read and explained to him, and the good news was as cold water to his thirsty soul. (W. Baxendale.)
God’s method of righteousness
There is not a more interesting episode in English history than the story of the siege of Calais by Edward III. The king had beleaguered the town for a year, when the garrison surrendered, and the incensed monarch demanded that six of the principal citizens should be sent to him with the keys of the town, having halters about their necks. Six brave men volunteered to go on this cruel embassy, and were instantly ordered to execution. Queen Philippa, however, strenuously interceded for them, obtained their release, entertained them, and dismissed them in safety. Now compare this much vaunted instance of human clemency with that of God and then you will confess how unlike His ways are to our ways, and His thoughts to our thoughts. Those burgesses deserved not to suffer, and the king only granted them their lives in sullen submission to the importunity of his queen. And she did not make them her friends, but only dismissed them in a manner honourable to herself. With how much greater love has our offended God dealt with us! We appeared before Him as culprits condemned, and if He had ordered our instant execution we could not have impugned His justice. Not waiting to be moved, He was the first to ask us to be reconciled; and then forgiving us our sins He receives us as children. Note--
I. The relation which subsists between God and man.
1. God is a great King; and we all are His natural subjects. This is quite independent of our choice or suffrages. A person born in England finds himself hedged about with laws which were neither of his devising nor of his adopting, yet to which he is bound under penalty to conform. By a like anterior necessity he is born under a system of physical laws. From that which is human and political we can escape; but from that which is Divine and natural there is no escape. Now just as you are of necessity born into the midst of these two systems of laws, so are you also born under subjection to a third, possessing a higher and more awful character. You are amenable to God’s moral laws, which are more searching in their application, more stringent in their requisitions, more tremendous in their sanctions, more enduring in their operation than the other two. You may get away from the coils of national law by journeying to another country; and you will be released from physical laws when death shall transfer you to another world; but you will not even then escape from the control of God’s moral law.
2. The whole world is proven guilty in God’s sight.
II. Such being the case, let us ask, “How can a man be just with God?” The answer constitutes the very marrow and pith of the gospel. And what we learn is--
1. That God can save us from our sins and recover us to His favour.
2. That He can do this by freely and generously forgiving us all our sins, and absolutely remitting their penalty.
3. That this forgiveness of man’s sins is not a wanton and arbitrary act of the Divine clemency which might outrage His own holiness and dishonour His law.
4. Nor is it the reward, merited or unmerited, of works of righteousness and legal obedience, which we can render in the future as a counterbalance and set-off against our transgressions in the past.
5. But it is rendered possible by the sacrificial sufferings and death of His Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave Himself as a ransom for our souls.
6. That this benefit accrues to us simply and solely on the condition of faith or trust in the blood of Christ, assuming only that we have a true knowledge of sin which leads us heartily to repent of it, and to seek deliverance from the curse of a broken law.
7. That thin is a mode of making us righteous in God’s sight in complete harmony with His own perfect righteousness of character and law.
8. That this method of justification appertains alike to all mankind, for as there is no essential difference in their sinfulness, so there is none in the way of their recovery to holiness and life.
9. That this plan of mercy leaves no ground of boasting to man, but ensures all the glory to God.
10. That it is the same which has existed from the beginning, being spoken of, however dimly, by both Moses and the prophets. The inference is plain that none need despair; that all may he saved; that the blame of any man’s being lost, to whom the word of this salvation is sent, must rest with himself and not with God; and that it is the duty of those who are entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation to proclaim a free and full and present salvation to everyone that believeth. (T. G. Horton.)
How to attain righteousness
This passage contains the pith and kernel of the whole Epistle. All that precedes just clears the ground for it. All that follows is related to it as explanation, illustration, confirmation, or application.
I. Righteousness is the great end of the gospel. This is taken for granted throughout the Epistle.
1. With inspired insight Paul surveyed the condition of mankind, and put his finger at once on its great root evil. This was not poverty, pain, death, but moral corruption. He saw that that was the greatest gospel which could lift men out of the mire of wickedness and set their feet on the rock of righteousness.
2. Their righteousness is real righteousness--not the covering of the leper with a fair robe, but the curing of the leprosy. The righteousness of the gospel is indwelling goodness out of which all virtues flow. Nothing short of this will satisfy--
3. Paul sometimes uses “righteousness” in the “forensic” sense, i.e., to treat as righteous rather than to make righteous (Romans 4:1-3; Rom_5:1). But he knew that “to justify” meant both to make righteous and to forgive; and so he passes from one to the other with little apparent discrimination, because he sees that they are only two faces of the same fact. On the one hand, the act of forgiveness is the most powerful inducement to a change of character. They who are forgiven most love most. Thus justification produces righteousness. On the other hand, since God is aware of this influence of forgiveness He must confer the pardon with a reference to it. He must see that in forgiving the sinner He is taking the best step towards destroying the sin.
II. Righteousness is a gift of God. St. Paul has demonstrated the impossibility of man’s acquiring righteousness by himself. Night cannot produce day. Water will not rise above its level. Marah will never sweeten itself. We cannot grow righteous by natural development, since you can only evolve what has been previously involved, and we have all lost the goodness of original innocence. History has proved that the best of laws could not secure this end. Law is good for detecting wickedness. It is the standard by which we are measured, but it has no power for lifting us up to that standard. Now we can see the value of the great promise of the new dispensation, of a righteousness of God--made by God, given by God. This is the essential idea of the religion of grace. Therefore the great requisite is to be in such relations with God that we may receive the gift. If we are far from or at enmity with Him, we are shut out from it. We therefore need to be reconciled to God. Consequently--
III. Righteousness is received through faith in Christ. This faith is not the mere belief in a doctrine, but active trust in Christ, practical reliance on His grace, obedient loyalty to His will (John 15:10).
1. By faith in Christ as the sacrifice for sin we are reconciled with God. Christ having offered Himself to God on our behalf we are called to look to Him as “the Way” to the Father. If through pride or unbelief we think that we can dispense with a Saviour, we must not be surprised if God rejects our overtures towards reconciliation (Acts 13:38-39). The offering of Christ not only secures forgiveness, but through this cleanses our conscience from dead works to serve the living God (Hebrews 9:14).
2. By faith in Christ as the revelation of God we grow into the Divine image. Christ is the pattern man because He is the Son of God. To be righteous is to be like God, like Christ. When we trust to Him faithfully, we shall walk in His footsteps in the irresistible desire to be near Him, and thus we shall unconsciously grow up into the likeness of Him and share His righteousness.
3. By faith in Christ as our Lord and Master we are led into obedient loyalty to His will. He who trusts Christ must trust Him in all His relations. Thus the faith which is reliance on a Saviour becomes loyalty when it turns to a King. Then the righteousness which refused to come at the cold, stern bidding of law springs forth as a very passion of devotion. (W. J. Adeney, M. A.)
The announcement of righteousness by faith
I. That none can be justified in the sight of the Lawgiver by the law is evident; for--
1. No man has done the deeds of the law.
2. The law, when brought into contact with the deeds of men, always discovers sin and pronounces condemnation.
3. The law is law only; a rule of life merely, and in no sense or manner a means of restoration to a blameless state.
II. The righteousness or freedom from condemnation which the gospel dispensation reveals, is a righteousness which--
1. God designs; the plan is of His devising.
2. God provides; the preparation of it is of His working.
3. God confers; the bestowal is of His grace and sovereignty.
4. God approves; He accepts it as complete in His sight, and will accept it in the last day. It is a blamelessness, righteously--
III. This righteousness is “without the law”; entirely distinct from it and its purposes, belonging to another province altogether.
1. It is not provided for by the law.
2. It derives no aid, direction, efficiency of any kind from the law.
3. It has no reference to, or connection with the law, except as the law shows the necessity which is to be met.
III. It is witnessed or testified to as a Divine provision, both by the law which reveals the sin, and by the prophecy which denounces it.
1. As being needed. The law, in the book or in the heart, gives silent assent to its necessity, by being dumb with regard to any other means of justification.
2. As being possible. In all the voice of the law, as God has spoken it, there is mingled an intimation of a possible pardon, not from the law, but from the mercy of God.
3. As being provided. In all the written law and prophecy of the Old Testament free pardon, as righteousness of God, is formally announced. The “righteousness” of the gospel pardon--
(a) Is no new thing. Obtained by Abel, Enoch, Abraham, without the law.
(b) Is manifested now in the means of its provision, the fulness of love that provides it, the signs and seals of its Divine approval, and the completeness of its restoration to favour and privilege.
(c) Is in perfect harmony with the law, though belonging to another sphere; since it recognises, respects, and meets the claims of the law, and provides for its maintenance as a righteous rule of life; so the law readily witnesses it.
IV. This “righteousness” has always been obtained by faith (see chap. 4). Now by faith which rests not only in God as the pardoner, but also in Christ as the procurer of pardon. Faith--
1. Assents to the necessity and sufficiency of this righteousness.
2. Consents to its bestowal.
3. Relies on the work of Christ and the word of promise.
4. Claims, seeks, grasps, and holds this righteousness.
V. It is brought unto all in the gospel manifestation, and conferred upon all that believe, without distinction.
1. The need is universal; so the remedy.
2. No distinction in the condemnation (see Romans 2:6-11); none in the justifying.
3. Faith a condition of which all are capable; and the only thing of which any are capable (verse 23).
Of all the subjects there is none so important as--How can man be just with God? and yet there is none as to which men are so easily deluded. Conscience tells the man that he has sinned, and yet, when asked, How do you expect to obtain future happiness?--he either evades the question, or shelters himself in some refuge of lies. And the reason is that the man is utterly blind to his true condition, he knows not the malignity of the disease, and cannot, therefore, apprehend the remedy. Ere a sinner can even understand the gospel, he must see and realise his own true position under the government of God. His position is plainly this: he has transgressed the law, and lies under sentence of death. How, then, can he be restored to the favour of God? How can the government of God remain unchangeable whilst this creature is saved? To this question you have the answer, that the sinner is justified and saved by means of a righteousness. This appears from the text, and from the nature of the case. It was righteousness that God required of man at first, it was failing to yield it that he lost his title to life; and as the character of God is unchangeable, it is only when he can plead a righteousness ample as the demands of the law that he can be restored to favour.
I. This righteousness is not the sinner’s own, but that of another (see also Romans 1:17-18; Rom_3:20). And yet, in the face of this, multitudes seek to enter heaven by a door which their own sins have closed against them. Ask that man of the world what is the foundation of his hope for eternity, and his answer is, that he has never yet been guilty of open, flagrant transgression. Ask that sensualist, and his answer is that he trusts his charitable deeds will atone for these infirmities. The professor of religion answers that he does his best, that he is sincere, and that he trusts God will take the will for the deed. But ye who would be justified by your obedience to the law, have ye really considered what the law requires? It demands perfect obedience, and condemns the least transgression. Have you such a righteousness as this? Is it not, therefore, clear, that if ever the law relaxes its hold of you, the reason must be not your righteousness, but the righteousness of another?
II. This righteousness can only be known by revelation. Being a righteousness provided by God, none but God can discover it. It was revealed at first in Eden as the ground of the sinner’s hope--the Jewish ritual was a continued revelation of it--the prophets bore testimony to it, speaking of Him who should magnify the law, and make it honourable, and the whole New Testament is a bright revelation that God has provided a righteousness, through which He can be just when He justifies the ungodly. An awakened conscience tells the sinner that he has no resources of his own wherewith to meet the demands of a violated law; and, if he looks around and puts the question to all creation, How can God be righteous, and I be saved? Creation remains silent, and is covered with darkness. But a voice comes from the Bible which saves him from despair (Romans 10:6-9).
III. This righteousness was wrought out in human nature. The circumstances rendered this necessary. It was on earth that God was dishonoured, and on earth therefore must He be glorified. “The children were partakers of flesh and blood,” and their Redeemer therefore “must take part of the same.” The first revelation of this righteousness, accordingly, was made in the promise, that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head; and, in due time, this promise was fulfilled in the Second Adam, standing in the room of His people as their representative and head (Romans 5:19). He who was thus born of a woman, was “made under the law”; that is to say, He met the law as His people’s surety, and fulfilled to the uttermost all its demands against them.
IV. This righteousness is the righteousness of God. True, the Redeemer was a man; but under that veil of humanity, faith beholds Jehovah. Without this were the case, the salvation of His people was impossible. He had to make atonement for their sin, but the righteousness of a mere creature would have been utterly insufficient, for a creature owes to God already all the obedience he can yield. The righteousness, therefore, through which the sinner is justified is the righteousness of a Divine person. You accordingly read that this is the name wherewith He shall be called, Jehovah our Righteousness. It is the righteousness of the Mediator, of God manifest in the flesh, of Him who is God and man in two distinct natures and one person; and as such it answers, yea, more than answers, all the demands of a violated law. For what higher honour can the law receive than that God Himself became its servant, and obeyed all its commands?
V. This righteousness “is unto all.” It is so completely put within the sinner’s reach, that if he once hears of it he cannot perish, without putting it from him and rejecting it. The brazen serpent was God’s free gift to all--all were commanded to look to it; and just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so has the Son of Man been lifted up, etc. The cities of refuge were open to every manslayer. And so it is with the righteousness of Christ; every sinner who hears of it is invited and commanded to flee for refuge.
VI. This righteousness is upon all that believe. The believer is clothed and covered with it. Being one with Christ by faith, Christ’s righteousness is his own; he is dealt with as one who obeyed when Christ obeyed, as one who suffered when Christ suffered, as one who is, therefore, as righteous as Christ is. (A. M. McGillivray.)
The righteousness of God which is by the faith of Christ unto all and upon all them that believe.
This righteousness is
I. Divine in its nature.
II. Free in its dispensation--unto and upon all them that believe.
III. Unlimited in its offer--there is no difference. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
God’s grace abundant
God’s grace resembles a flood of water, which not only reaches to believers, but comes upon them like the waves of the sea, to cover all their unrighteousness and drown all their guilt. Their sins sink into its depths like stones in the midst of the ocean, to be remembered against them no more forever. (T. G. Horton.)
For there is no difference.
All involved in the same peril
When the ship is wrecked what difference does it make that some should be drowned far out at sea, and others come nearer land, and there be lost? or even that one is within arm’s length of the shore when he sinks forever out of sight? What does it avail? They are all lost. This world is a wrecked world; the strongest soul cannot reach the haven of a perfect state of being in his own strength. We are all helpless against the storm of lightning and wind and waves. “There is no difference, for all have sinned.” (H. Elvet Lewis.)
The right platform
1. The truth laid down here and in Romans 3:23 is of immense moment. You must take your right position if you wish to journey in a right direction. At a great railway junction the main thing is to get on to the right platform for the station you want to reach. So with all who wish to reach heaven. But what is that platform? That of self-condemnation. It is the laying aside of every self-righteous, self-excusing plea, and taking the place of a sinner in God’s sight.
2. The Old Version, “There is no difference,” scarcely puts the truth so clearly as the New. There is a wide difference between one and another as to the measure of responsibility and the amount of guilt. Great is the difference between an Englishman and an Arab; between a youth yielding for the first time to some subtle temptation and the hoary-headed sinner who has been the means of stumbling to multitudes.
3. But in spite of these differences “there is no distinction.” There is not one who has kept the law. “All have fallen short of the glory of God.” At a match in archery many try their skill and some come nearer than others; but the only matter of importance is whether anyone actually hits the eye. If otherwise all alike fail. In the matter before us perfect holiness is the end of God’s law. But who has reached it? No doubt some may come nearer than others, but where is one who has never failed?
4. Own this before God. Do not put in any claim for arrest of judgment. Do not try to lull conscience to sleep by imagining yourself no worse than others. One sin is enough to prove you guilty, how much more thousands?
5. Therefore learn the lesson. Stoop and take the lowest place--willing to be saved on the same footing as a criminal. “God be merciful to me a sinner” must be your only plea. Then you are in the right direction. Keep on that line and you will reach your journey’s end. (G. Everard, M. A.)
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.
Sin as a fact
I. The necessity of a clear sense of sin.
1. The gospel is a glorious remedy for a universal and otherwise incurable disease; and the first step must ever be to make us sensible of that disease. For one of its most dangerous symptoms is, that it makes men insensible of it. And, seeing that the remedy is not one which can be simply taken once for all, but requires long application, a man must be very thoroughly persuaded that he has the disease before he will take the necessary trouble to be cured of it. Let us try and see what “all having sinned” means.
2. When any of us looks cut upon mankind, or within himself, one thing can hardly fail to strike him. It is the presence of evil. From the first, man’s history has been a history of going wrong and doing wrong. From the first, our own personal history has been a history of interrupted good and interfering bad.
3. Some have said, “Don’t tell people about it; forget that there is evil in yourself; and you and they will become good. It may be true that there is such a dark spot in nature; but gazing upon it is painful and useless; look at the bright side.” But do you suppose that evil in our nature can be thus got rid of? Try it for a day--for an hour; then take strict unsparing account. And if more time is wanted, try it for a year; then retire and trace your path during the time. Does not every man see that it would be simply the tale of the silly ostrich over again, which imagines itself safe from the hunter by hiding him from its sight? No; a man who wants to get rid of evil must open his eyes to it, stand face to face with it, and conquer it.
II. Sin is distinguished from every other evil.
1. There are bodily pain, discomfort, misery, common to us and to all. Now, if we can manage to flee away from them, we thereby get rid of them. We need not study their nature. But the man who wishes to avoid evil in this world must be awake and alive to the forms and accesses of evil. His very safety consists in it. Therefore evil is a matter of a totally different kind from bodily pain, misery, or death.
2. Evil is not by any means our only inward source of annoyance and hindrance. Everyone has defects and infirmities. But none of these do we look upon as we look upon evil. Let it be shown that we are dull, or feeble, or inferior to some others, we put up with it, we excuse it, we make ourselves as comfortable as we may under it; but let it be once shown that we have wished, said, done, that which is evil, and we know at once that there is no excuse for it. We may try to show that we did it inadvertently, or by force of circumstances, or in some way to lessen our own share in it, but the very labour to construct an excuse shows that we hold the evil itself, as evil, to be inexcusable. So far, then, this evil is something which our nature itself teaches us to revolt from and abhor. No son of man ever said or could say, from his inmost heart, “Evil, be thou my good.” It requires more than man ever to say this.
III. Sin is the transgression of law.
1. What we have said shows that there is a law implanted in our nature by which evil is avoided and good desired. All our laws, public opinion, even our ways of thinking and speaking, are founded on this.
2. Now, when man says or acts evil, what sort of a thing does he do? Is it a necessary condition of our lives that we must enter into compact with evil? Certainly not. Every protest against, resistance to, victory over it, proves that evil is not necessary to our being. But true as this is, the freedom from and victory over evil is not that after which all men are striving. One man seeks sensual gratification; another wealth; a third power; a fourth reputation, etc., etc.; and so, not man’s highest aim to be good, but an aim very far below this is followed by even the best of mankind sometimes. Now every one of these lower objects, if followed as an object, does necessarily bring a man into contact and compromise with evil. Greed, intemperance, injustice, unkindness, overweening opinion of self, and a hundred other evil things beset everyone in such courses of life.
3. When a man lives such a course he is disobeying that great first law of our being by which we choose the good and abhor the evil. Now, whenever we do this we sin. “All sin is transgression of law.”
4. Now, sin is committed against a person. And this law of good and evil of which we have been speaking, springs from that Holy and Just One who hath made us and to whom we are accountable. All sin is against Him.
IV. All have sinned. And in dwelling on this, the fact that all men have inherited the disposition to sin, necessarily comes first. And, inheriting this disposition, but with it inheriting also the great inward law of conscience warning us against evil, we have again and again followed, not the good law, but the evil propensity. In wayward childhood this has been so; in passionate youth; in calm, deliberate manhood. Now, then, this being so, can sin be safe? Can a sinner be happy? Sin is and must be the ruin of man, body and soul, here and hereafter. (Dean Alford.)
The charge of sin universal
I. The charge here brought is that of having sinned, and a most solemn and awful charge it is. “Fools,” indeed, “make a mock at sin”; and that they do so, is a proof of their folly. God is love; and consequently His law requires love. To love God with all the heart, and their fellow beings as themselves, is the essence of that law. To break this law is sin; and sin produces only misery and ruin. To charge a person with having sinned is to charge him with having acted contrary to the purpose for which he was made; with having failed to love and obey the best and greatest of beings; with being guilty of the same conduct with that which cast the angels out of heaven, and man out of Paradise. Surely this is a solemn charge. Do we want other examples of the evil of having sinned? Why the Flood? why the fire upon the people of Sodom and Gomorrah? etc. Because they had sinned. Or, to give a more awful and decisive example, why did the Son of God die on the Cross? Because He had taken upon Himself the nature and the cause of sinners.
II. The persons against whom it is brought. “There is no difference; for all have sinned,” in their progenitor and representative, and in their own persons also. But this is a truth unpalatable to the pride of man. And under the influence of this principle he will be disposed yet further to ask, “What! is there no difference? no difference between righteous Abel and wicked Cain? between impenitent Saul and contrite David? Are they all equally guilty before God?” In one sense all these persons are not alike. They have not all sinned in the same manner, in the same measure, to the same degree. Here there is a wide difference between them. But in the sense spoken of in the text they are all alike. They have all sinned; and here there is no difference. Though they may not be equally guilty, yet they are all guilty before God.
III. The extent of the charge here brought. “All have sinned, and,” by so doing, “have come short of the glory of God.” This expression signifies--
1. To fall short of rendering to God that glory to which He is entitled. He requires that all His creatures shall glorify Him. He has created them for His glory; and when they fulfil the purpose for which He created them, then they do glorify Him. Thus “the heavens declare the glory of God.” What, then, was the end and purpose for which man was made? To love, obey, and serve his Maker. By opposition to His will he comes “short of the glory of God.” Man, a living, rational being, is placed, not like the other works of creation, under a law of necessity which he cannot break, but under a moral restraint, by which he ought to be kept in the path of duty. But he is not so kept by it. He dishonours God in his very gifts, and endeavours, according to his power, to introduce confusion into His works, and to defeat His great and gracious designs.
2. The failing to obtain that glory which God originally designed for man. God originally designed man for a glorious immortality. But by sin he fell short of that glory; he forfeited and lost it. This, indeed, was the consequence of not rendering to God the glory due to Him. Having been unwilling to glorify God, he could no longer expect to be glorified with God. Conclusion: Perhaps you say, “Why, this doctrine takes away all hope. Would you drive us to despair?” No, not to a despair of salvation, but to a despair of justifying yourselves before God. But in Christ there is a full and gracious pardon for all your sins; there is glory offered to you again. (E. Cooper.)
The test of a sinner
A young man once said to me, “I do not think I am a sinner.” I asked him if he would be willing his mother or sister should know all he had done or said or thought--all his motives and desires. After a moment he said, “No, indeed, not for all the world.” “Then can you dare to say, in the presence of a holy God, who knows every thought of your heart, ‘I do not commit sin’?” (J. B. Gough.)
Man’s sinfulness and inability
I. It is universally admitted that there is something wrong in man’s nature.
1. In every one of us there is a something good which perceives a something bad; also something which whispers of an ideal state--a kind of reminiscence of a lost condition.
2. To account for this it suffices if we think of our nature as having had, originally controlling it, a supreme love which has been largely but by no means entirely lost. That in us which accuses us when we do wrong and commends us when we do right cannot be sinful, but must be holy. And so there is in us all a viceroy asserting kingship in the name of the true Sovereign of our souls. As a matter of fact we look upon one another as beings not entirely trustworthy. If man be not a depraved creature, why this universal suspicion? And yet we are not so depraved as not to know that we are depraved.
3. It is often argued that we are here in a state of probation. But man as man has had his probation and has fallen. Adam’s “tree of knowledge of good and evil” tested his obedience. Our Tree of Life--Jesus Christ--tests our obedience. Only with a difference. The first man, knowing only good, wanted to know what evil was. We, having in ourselves the knowledge of good and evil, are put upon trial, whether we will adhere persistently to that which is good--good personalised in Christ.
II. What does this condition mean?
1. There is suggested the explanation of incompleteness. Our nature, say some, is moving on gradually towards perfection. Give it time and it will come out according to the highest idea that the best and most intelligent man has of it. Unhappily, except under certain conditions, and in a certain environment, man as he grows older does not grow better. And this idea does not account for our sense of guilt. It leaves out too much. There are too many facts which lie outside of it. It only covers a part of the ground.
2. It needs along with it the idea of depravation. The sense of not being right, of being wrong, is in us all. And it is an internal trouble which men would get away from if they could. But no man can get away from himself. No external condition can eradicate it. Men try all sorts of devices to rid themselves of it. Sometimes they change their opinions, but that does not alter the inward condition. The bad consciousness is there all the time, and there is no other word but sinfulness which will express its nature. For it is certain that there are in man not only defects which mean weakness, but also a parent defect which means guilt.
III. This degeneration is total. It affects the whole nature. Our nature is so connected, part with part, that degeneration in one region means degeneration in every region. If a man be unjust in his feelings he will be unjust in his thinking and action. It is the merest rubbish to talk of a man being good at heart and bad everywhere else. Whatever affects the centre of our nature affects also every part of it to the outermost extremities. If there be impure blood in the heart there will be impure blood in every vein. And there is no kindness in any teaching which leads men to assume that sinfulness is only an eruption on the skin and not a disease of the heart. Only “fools make a mock at sin.”
IV. The view we take of this fact of sinfulness will influence our estimate of every other vital truth. If sinfulness be only ignorance we need only a Teacher; if only disease, a Physician; if only error, an Example. But if it be something more, we need in Him who is to deliver us from it a power other than that possessed by the Teacher, etc. Sinfulness means ignorance, error, disease; but it means a great deal more. In many a case it means that state of heart in which the idea of God is more hateful than the idea of the devil. I have known fallen men and women who never ceased praying “God be merciful to me a sinner,” and I cannot forget Christ’s words--“The publicans and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you.” There are sins of the flesh which destroy reputation, which bring misery, social degradation, and much else. There are sins of the spirit which bring none of these, and yet which put men and women at even a farther distance from God. Of what condition of heart is he who is amiable and placid until someone speaks to him such a truth as “God is Love,” “God is Light,” “God so loved the world”? etc. To err is human, but to contemn and reject the claims of Deity, that is not human, but fiendish. No one has ever taken a true measure of what sinfulness is until he has considered it in this, its most terrible form. I want you to feel “the exceeding sinfulness of sin,” for only then will you be able to appreciate the exceeding goodness of God who “willeth not the death of a sinner, but that all should come to repentance.” “Where sin abounded grace did superabound.” No man who looks away from his sin to his Saviour need despair, but then he must look to Him as Saviour. If a man can grow out of this condition of sinfulness by natural development; if every old man be nearer to the ideal of manhood than when he was young, then a Teacher, etc., is needed; but if man is helpless to deliver himself from sinfulness, then he who is to meet the necessities of the case must be human to understand him, but more than human to deliver him from an enemy stronger than man himself. (Reuben Thomas, D. D.)
Coming short of God’s glory
Different persons, according to the difference of their habits of thought, or their education, or their moral attainments, take a very different standard of what sin is. But here we have God’s definition--whatever “comes short of the glory of God,” that is “sin.”
I. God measures sin by the degree in which the act, or the word, or the thought, injures or grieves him. This must be so. The only true rule for the estimate of any sin must be taken from the mind of Him whose mind is law, and whom to offend against constitutes sinfulness. Do not say, “Are not we forbidden to seek our own glory? How, then, can God seek His own glory?” For the reason why no creature is to seek his own glory is because all glory belongs to the Creator. What does it mean to “come short of the glory of God”? It may mean to come short of heaven, or to be unworthy of any praise from God, or to come short of that which is indeed God’s glory--His perfect image and likeness; to fail to reach, in its purity, the only motive which God approves--a desire for His own glory. It appears to me that though all the other senses are included in the words, yet that their great primary intention is the last.
II. This brings me to the motive of human action.
1. You who can read only what speaks to the outward senses, think most of words and actions. And, as naturally, God will look at the sources more than at the streams of every man’s moral being. So it will be at the last great account. All the deeds and sayings of a man will then stand forth to give evidence to a certain inward state of the man, according to which everyone will receive his sentence.
2. And yet even we judge of things by their motives. Why do we value the most trivial gift, the act of a moment, a smile, a glance of the eye, more than all the treasures of substance?
3. Note some of the legitimate motives which may actuate us.
4. To all these principles of action, except the last, there attaches a shadow. The wish to be happy, even where the things we desire are spiritual, may degenerate into religious selfishness. The longing to be holy will often turn into morbid self-examination and a restless disquietude. The ambition to be useful easily becomes vitiated with--I will not say the love of human applause--but a desire to be liked. But the motive to do anything for God’s glory has no shadow, and is that which makes all the other motives right. It is right to endeavour to be happy, mainly because our happiness gives glory to God as the result of the finished work of Christ. It is right to study to be holy, because where God sees holiness He sees His own reflection, and He is satisfied. It is right to set ourselves to be useful, because it extends the kingdom of God. Here, then, lies the wrongness of everything that is done on any inferior principle--it “comes short of the glory of God.” (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Missing the mark
The word “sin” alike in the Hebrew and the Greek means “missed the mark,” as an archer might. When one is interested in rifle shooting the picture is easily realised and not easily forgotten.
I. The mark, the centre, the bull’s eye, that man is to make his aim through life, is “the glory of God.”
1. And what is that? The outshining of God’s attributes; Christ is the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person. We can, at best, be but broken images, interrupted rays of His light. But still that is what we are to aim at--becoming ourselves, and reflecting to the world around us some images of the holiness, goodness, and love of God.
2. In this shooting we are a spectacle to men. See us they will, and judge from us the character and the worth of the religion we profess. The various professions or trades we may follow are but the courses which our bullets take amidst the various influences to the right or to the left, to be allowed for by the shooter. Our bullets must pass through them without erring, and in all alike the aim is to be one--to manifest the character of the God we serve. Those occupations are not in themselves the true centre to be aimed at--they are but the means of reaching the glory of God.
II. Missing this mark is sin. St. Paul lays it to the charge of all alike.
1. The standard is a high one--to aim directly and always at God’s glory. But, then, man occupies a high position, made above all creation, blessed with faculties above all creatures for being the glory of God; placed with opportunities of being so now, and the promise of being more so hereafter.
2. Shall we complain that we are so high in the creation, or complacently stoop down from it and forfeit the crown held out for us to take, like Bunyan’s man with the muck rake? Was not he missing the mark of life? He took up, as many do, a handful of dirt--he lost the crown of gold. We speak of men having made a good hit when they have succeeded in a telling speech, or a successful speculation, or a fortunate match, but what have they hit if they have not sought to honour God? Certainly not the glory of God, nor have they advanced the true purposes of life.
3. Now a rifle is made to shoot straight; if it will not do so, however perfect the polish of its barrel, or the finish of its lock or stock, it is useless, and you throw it on one side or break it up. The more complete it seems the more vexed you are with it for its utter failure in the one work for which you had it made. God has made us for the one object of glorifying Him, and if we fail in that, then whatsoever else we have which decorates us--intellect, politeness, science, art, position, wealth--all tend not to diminish but to increase our condemnation.
4. What our condemnation may be I do not pretend to fathom; but if the words mean no more than that having been made for the highest purpose, and then having utterly failed, we are henceforth cast on one side as useless, our powers broken up, and our opportunities taken from us, they will mean enough to stir us to redeem the time. We should not like to meet the exposure of such a shame. Pindar describes the return of a combatant from the great National Games. He speaks of him as hiding himself along the byways, not venturing to enter by the gates into his city, or to be seen in any public place. Why? Because he had missed the mark. He went out in the name of his city, equipped by his fellow citizens, to win honour for their name, and to give them glory. But he has failed, and he dare not meet them. We have failed, and we must “all appear before the judgment seat, that everyone may receive the things done in his body.”
III. To what does this lead us?
1. We must realise more and more our condition as sinners. Let any man solemnly ask himself, How much of God has the world seen in me? How much of His glory have I reflected?
2. We must go back to the same butts and shoot again for a truer aim. Go to your seat in Parliament, or your books, or your shop, and there aim afresh at rising to the glory of God, “forgetting those things which are behind,” etc. True, it will not be so easy now that one’s hand is unsteadied by neglecting to aim aright; true, it will not be so simple now that many Ere looking on and wondering what in the world you are changing for, to shoot straight under their critical eye; but such sense of sin, such turning from it to God in Christ again, such trusting hope that with His aid we may succeed, will bring with it His forgiveness for the past and His guidance for the future; and we may yet, with His encouragement, hit the mark and glorify Him. (Canon Morse.)
Being Justified freely by His grace.
I. Its mode--“freely.” It is not a matter of wages, it is a free gift.
II. Its origin--“His grace.” God’s free good will inclining Him to sinful man to bestow on him a favour. There is no blind necessity here. We are face to face with a generous inspiration of Divine love.
III. The means. The deliverance wrought in Jesus Christ. (Prof. Godet.)
I. The benefit spoken of--Justification. In this there is--
1. The forgiveness of sins. “The remission of sins.”
2. A restoration to God’s favour.
3. A treatment of the pardoned and accepted person as righteous.
II. Its original spring, or first moving cause, and the free grace of God (Romans 11:6).
1. By God’s grace, which excludes all merit.
2. Freely, which excludes all conceit.
III. Its meritorious or procuring cause. “The redemption that is in Jesus Christ.”
IV. The ordination of God about it. He hath “set Christ forth to be a propitiation.” The word “set forth” signifies that--
1. God hath purposed in Himself that Christ should be a propitiation for sin (Ephesians 1:9; 1 Peter 1:18-20).
2. God has exhibited and proposed Christ to us to be a propitiation.
3. God has preferred Christ as a propitiation to all things else. The sacrifices under the law could not possibly take away sin. God did not take any pleasure in them for that purpose; but in Christ His soul is well pleased, and His offering is of a sweet-smelling savour to God (Ephesians 5:2).
V. The way in which we are made partakers of this benefit--“through faith in His blood.” Conclusion:
1. This gives us a lively view of the great evil of sin and the exceeding riches of God’s grace.
2. Here is no room for any to encourage themselves with hopes of pardon and acceptance with God while they go on in sin.
3. Here is a blessed ground of relief for poor convinced sinners who are discouraged with fears, as if there could be no pardon for their sins.
4. Here are the richest consolations and the highest obligations to those who have obtained this blessing. (J. Guyse, D. D.)
I. What it is to justify a sinner. Justification is a law term taken from courts of judicature, wherein a person is accused, tried, and, after trial, absolved. Thus it is opposed to accusation and condemnation (chap. 8:33, 34; Deuteronomy 25:1). And so it is declared to be a sin to justify the wicked (Proverbs 17:15), not to make them righteous but to pronounce them righteous. Hence it follows that justification--
1. Is not a real but a relative change of the sinner’s state.
2. Is an act done and passed in an instant in the court of heaven, as soon as the sinner believes in Christ, and not a work carried on by degrees.
II. The parts of justification.
1. That we may the more clearly take up this matter, we must view the process of a sinner’s justification.
(a) He only is the Lawgiver, and He only has power to save or to destroy, and therefore the judgment must be left to Him (James 4:12).
(b) Against Him the crime is committed, and He only can pardon it.
(a) It is utterly false (Romans 3:10; Ecclesiastes 7:20; James 3:2).
(b) Falsehood can never bear out before God’s judgment seat. There is no want of evidence. Conscience is as a thousand witnesses, and the Judge is omniscient. The sinner then must needs plead guilty.
2. This great benefit consists of--
(a) What pardon is. It is not the taking away the nature of sin; God justifies the stoner, but will never justify his sin. Nor is it the removing of the intrinsic demerit of sin; it still deserves condemnation. Nor is it a simple delay of the punishment; a reprieve is no pardon. There are four things in sin:--Its power, which is broken in regeneration (Romans 6:14); its blot and stain, which is taken away in sanctification (1 Corinthians 6:11); its indwelling, which is removed in glorification (Hebrews 12:23); its guilt. Now pardon is the taking away of guilt, the dreadful obligation to punishment. Pardon cuts the knot whereby guilt ties sin and wrath together, cancels the bond obliging the sinner to pay his debt, and puts him out of the law’s reach.
(b) Its properties--full (Micah 7:19; Colossians 2:13); free; irrevocable (Romans 11:29).
(c) Its names discovering its nature. It is a blotting out of sin (Isaiah 43:25), an allusion to a creditor who, when he discharges a debt, scores it out of his count book; a not imputing of sin (Psalms 32:2), a metaphor from merchants, who, when a rich friend undertakes for one of their poor debtors, charge their accounts no more upon him; a taking of the burden of sin from off the sinner (Psalms 32:1; Hosea 14:2); a washing of him (1 Corinthians 6:11; Psalms 51:2; Isaiah 1:18; 1 John 1:7); a dismissing or remission of sin (Matthew 6:12; Romans 3:25), as the scapegoat bore away the iniquities of the people; the dispelling of a thick cloud (Isaiah 44:22), which pardon, like the shining sun, breaks through and dissolves, or, like a mighty wind, scatters; a casting of sin behind the Lord’s back.(Isaiah 38:17); a casting it into the depth of the sea (Micah 7:19); a covering of sin (Psalms 32:1); a not remembering of sin (Jeremiah 31:34).
(a) The bar in the way of abounding mercy is taken away, so that the rivers of compassion may flow towards him (Romans 5:1, etc.; Job 33:24, etc.)
(b) He is adjudged to eternal life (2 Thessalonians 1:6-7; Acts 26:18).
(c) The accusations of Satan and the clamours of evil conscience are hereby to be stilled (Romans 8:33-34). (T. Boston, D. D.)
Justification: a change of state accompanied by a change of character
There may amongst men be a change of state without any change of character. A prisoner may be dismissed from the bar, acquitted of the charge; or he may be convicted, but pardoned; but he may go with all the principles of wickedness as strong as ever within him. His condition is changed, but not his character. But it is never so in God’s dealings with men. In every case in which there is justification, sanctification accompanies it. Wherever there is the change of state there is the change of character. (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)
Justification by grace
I. The redemption that is in or by Christ Jesus. When a prisoner has been made a slave by some barbarous power, a ransom price must be paid. Now, we being, by the fall of Adam, virtually guilty, Justice claimed us as his bond slaves forever unless we could pay a ransom. But we were “bankrupt debtors”; an execution was put into our house; all we had was sold, and we could by no means find a ransom; it was just then that Christ paid the ransom price that we might be delivered from the curse of the law and go free. Note--
1. The multitude He has redeemed, “a multitude that no man can number.”
2. This ransom was all paid, and all paid at once. The sacrifice of Calvary was not a part payment. The whole of the demands of the law were paid down there and then. So priceless was the ransom one might have thought that Christ should pay it by installments. Kings’ ransoms have sometimes run through years. But our Saviour once for all gave Himself a sacrifice, leaving nothing for Him or us to do.
3. When Christ paid all this ransom He did it all Himself! Simon, the Cyrenian, might bear the cross, but not be nailed to it. Two thieves were with Him there; not righteous men, lest any should have said that their death helped the Saviour. He trod the wine press alone.
4. It was accepted. There have been prices offered which never were accepted, and therefore the slave did not go free. But this was accepted, and the proof of that is--
II. The effect of the ransom “being justified freely by His grace.”
1. What is the meaning of justification? There is no such thing on earth for mortal man, except in one way--i.e., he must be found not guilty. If you find him guilty, you cannot justify him. The Queen may pardon him, but she cannot justify him. It remained for the ransom of Christ to effect that which is an impossibility to earthly tribunals. Now see the way whereby God justifies a sinner. A prisoner has been tried and condemned to death. But suppose that some second party could be introduced who could become that man, he, the righteous man, putting the rebel in his place, and making the rebel a righteous man. We cannot do that in our courts. If I should be committed for a year’s imprisonment instead of some wretch who was condemned yesterday, I might take his punishment, but not his guilt. Now, what flesh and blood cannot do, that Jesus by His redemption did. The way whereby God saves a sinner is not by passing over the penalty, but the putting of another person in the rebel’s place. The rebel must die. Christ says, “I will be his substitute.” God consents to it. No earthly monarch could have power to consent to such a change. But the God of heaven had a right to do as He pleased.
2. Some of the characteristics of this justification.
III. The manner of giving this justification.
1. “Freely,” because there is no price to be paid for it; “By His grace,” because it is not of our deservings. If you bring in any of your deservings, or anything to pay for it, He will not give it. Rowland Hill at a fair noticed the chapmen selling their wares by auction; so he said, “I am going to hold an auction too, to sell wine and milk, without money and without price. My friends over there find a great difficulty to get you up to their price; my difficulty is to bring you down to mine.” So it is with men. If I could preach justification to be bought, or to be had by walking a hundred miles, or by some torture, who would not seek it? But when it is offered freely men turn away. But may I not say, “Lord, justify me because I am not so bad as others”; or “because I go to church twice a day”; or “because I mean to be better”? No; it is “by His grace.” You insult God by bringing your counterfeit coin to pay for His treasures. What poor ideas men have of the value of Christ’s gospel if they think they can buy it! A rich man, when he was dying, thought he could buy a place in heaven by building a row of almshouses. A good man said, “How much are you going to leave?” “Twenty thousand pounds.” Said he, “That would not buy enough for your foot to stand on in heaven; for the streets are made of gold there, and therefore of what value can your gold be, it would be accounted nothing of, when the very streets are paved with it?”
2. But how is it to be got? By faith. There is a story told of a captain of a man-of-war whose little boy ran up the mast till at last he got on to the main truck. Then the difficulty was that he was not tall enough to get down from this main truck, reach the mast, and so descend. He was clinging to the main truck with all his might, but in a little time he would fall down on the deck a mangled corpse. The captain shouted, “Boy, the next time the ship lurches, throw yourself into the sea.” The poor boy looked down on the sea; it was a long way; he could not bear the idea of throwing himself in. So he clung to the main truck, though there was no doubt that he must soon let go and perish. The father, pointing a gun at him, said, “If you don’t throw yourself into the sea, I’ll shoot you!” Over went the boy splash into the sea, and out went brawny arms after him, and brought him on deck. Now we, like the boy, are in a position of extraordinary danger. Unfortunately, we have some good works like that main truck, and we cling to them. Christ knows that unless we give them up, we shall be dashed to pieces. He therefore says, “Sinner, let go thine own trust, and drop into the sea of My love.” We look down, and say, “Can I be saved by trusting in God? He looks as if He were angry with me, and I could not trust Him.” Ah, will not mercy’s tender cry persuade you?--“He that believeth shall be saved.” Must the weapon of destruction be pointed directly at you? Must you hear the dreadful threat--“He that believeth not shall be damned”? You must let go or perish! That is faith when the sinner lets go his hold, drops down, and so is saved; and the very thing which looks as if it would destroy him is the means of his being saved. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The mode and means of pardon
1. Negatively is not declaring just--
2. Positively. It is a declaring just, while pardoning, by proof that the necessities arising in the case, for the maintenance of law and exhibition of justice, are satisfactorily met by other means than the culprit’s punishment. Pardon is not slovenly and careless mercy, and it does not come through the hushing up or cloaking under of the sinner’s sin.
II. Is a freely gracious act and gift.
1. It is not purchased by the offender.
2. It is not procured by any means that recompense the Pardoner.
3. It is not constrained in Him by any interested motive; He has no peril from the guilty or gain from the pardoned.
4. It is not begrudged, delayed, sold, or bartered.
III. Comes through Christ’s redemption, or paying of a price.
1. Not to conciliate Satan or sin.
2. Not to conciliate God in His manner of feeling towards us.
3. Not to give to the Pardoner an equivalent in value for the pardon.
4. But paying down His own life, as that which the Kingly Judge required, ere as a Kingly Father He could permit His willing mercy to flow--a payment which has all the effect, and something of the nature, of a ransom price paid for a lawful captive.
IV. The redemption is effected by the setting forth of Christ a propitiation (Romans 3:25). Christ is set forth--
1. In His Divinity, as all in all, and all-sufficient.
2. In His humanity, as one with us in nature, sympathy, and devotion to us.
3. In His spotless purity and innocence, as owing nothing to justice, and having a precious life to give.
4. In His propitiatory work, as being sacrificed, as accepted of God, as exalted where the redemption in Him affects all the Divine counsels and administrations. His propitiation does not appease any ill-will or thirst for vengeance in God, for none existed; it meets those requirements that justice dictated. Thus God is not made propitious in His feelings; but being already propitious in Himself, He can now be propitious in His Kingly actions.
V. This propitiation is effectual towards and upon us, through faith in Christ’s blood.
1. That blood is the central thing in the propitiatory work; for the blood is the life, and in it that life was poured forth which was accepted in the place of our forfeited life.
2. That shed blood is the basis of the promise of pardon.
3. Faith that it has been shed, shed for me, and that it does acceptably propitiate, brings to me the pardon for which it provides.
VI. The express purpose of the propitiation is the declaration of God’s righteousness.
1. To show while He pardons that He was in earnest in His condemnation of sin and sentence of death, and that He has unexceptionable grounds for pardoning sin.
2. To make such exhibition of His justice that sin may not seem to be encouraged or winked at.
3. To justify His seeming leniency in the long suffering and pardon shown towards sinners in the past, before Christ. To declare in all time present and to come, that while He justifies He is just. (W. Griffiths.)
Through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
By an image, forceful, because true, Holy Scripture speaks of us “as slaves of sin,” “sold under it,” “slaves of corruption.” We were not under its power only, but under its curse. From that guilt and power of sin we were redeemed, ransomed, purchased; and the ransom which was paid was “the Precious Blood of Christ.” It has been said, “Scripture is silent, to whom the ransom was paid, and for what.” Scripture says “for what,” the forgiveness of sins. “In whom,” i.e., in Jesus, “we have redemption through His Blood, the remission of our sins, according to the riches of His grace.” It says, “from what.” For it says, “Christ purchased us out of the curse of the law.” It says to whom when it says, “ye were redeemed by the precious blood of Christ as of a Lamb without blemish and without spot.” For sacrifice was offered to God alone. (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
Redemption: setting free
On payment, or by payment of a price. It combines the ideas of liberation and price.
1. In some cases the context suggests the liberation of captives on payment of a ransom. But hero the next verse reminds us that the word was frequently used for those on whom the Mosaic law had a claim, but whom it released for a price or a substitute. E.g., God claimed the firstborn, but waved His claim on payment of five shekels apiece (Exodus 13:13; Numbers 18:15). The word may also be studied in Leviticus 27:27-33; Numbers 3:46-51. Like most words which denote a combination of ideas, it is sometimes used where only one of the ideas is present, viz., liberation (Exodus 6:6; Exo_15:13, etc.) But in the case of those whom the Mosaic law claimed, liberation was effected only by payment of a price. We therefore inquire whether it is so in this case. The words which follow, and the teaching of Paul and of the entire New Testament, give a decisive answer. We are constantly taught that salvation is by purchase; and that the blood and life of Christ are our ransom (1 Corinthians 6:20; Galatians 3:13; 1 Timothy 2:6; Matthew 20:28; Revelation 5:9).
2. Again, the idea of a price is that of exchange. The price takes the place of what is bought. Therefore, that Christ’s life is our ransom is explained and confirmed by the passages which teach that He died in our stead (2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13). Paul’s words therefore imply that in Christ there is a setting free brought about by someone or something taking our place. By this means believers are justified. (Prof. J. A. Beet.)
The cost of redemption
Yonder ermine, hung so carelessly over the proud beauty’s shoulder, cost terrible battles with polar ice and hurricane. All choicest things are reckoned the dearest. So is it, too, in heaven’s inventories. The universe of God has never witnessed aught to be reckoned in comparison with the redemption of a guilty world. That mighty ransom no such contemptible things as silver and gold could procure. Only by one price could the Church of God be redeemed from hell, and that the precious blood of the Lamb--the Lamb without blemish or spot--the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. (T. L. Cuyler.)
Redemption: glory of
I can conceive that to the mind of God, looking upon a single soul, and unrolling it as it shall be disclosed through the cycles of eternity, there may come, in the far perspective, such a thought of the magnitude of a single soul, as that in the view of God that soul shall outweigh in importance the sum total of the governments and populations of the globe at any particular period of time. I can understand that God may sound a soul to a depth greater than earth ever had a measure to penetrate, and find reasons enough of sympathy to over-measure all the temporal and earthly interests of mankind. And I can conceive that God should assume to Himself the right to execute His government of love by suffering for a single soul in such a way as quite to set aside the ordinary courses of the secular and human idea of justice. This is to my mind the redemptive idea. I do not believe it is a play between an abstract system of law and a right of mercy. I think that nowhere in the world is there so much law as in redemption, or so much justice as in love. (H. W. Beecher.)
Redemption: gratitude for
Is there anything that is comparable with the love and gratitude of the soul that feels himself redeemed from death and destruction? With almost an agony of love, such an one clings to his deliverer. There be those that cling to the minister of Christ who, as an instrument and representative of the Master, has been the means of opening their eyes, and bringing them out of darkness into light. And there is nothing more natural or more noble than this instinctive desire of one that has been saved from ruin to be ever present with his benefactor. And when a soul is brought back from destruction, how natural it is that it should wish, and that it should pray, that it might be with Him by whom it has been rescued! (H. W. Beecher.)
Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation:
Speak of Christ as a propitiation, or show what His being said to be a propitiation for sin may imply in it--
1. That He was appointed by God the Father to make an atonement for the sins of men.
2. That He was substituted in the room of sinners, and in suffering and making satisfaction to Divine justice for their sins, represented their persons, and was considered as one with them in the eye of the law.
3. That He condescended to take upon Him all the guilt of His people.
4. That He suffered the punishment which His people deserved on account of their sins.
5. That all who have an interest in His death, and the sacrifice which He offered, are freed from the guilt of sin, and are no more liable to the punishment of it.
6. That by suffering the death threatened in the law for the transgression of it, and satisfying the demands of justice in the room of sinners, He laid the foundation of a throne of grace, to which the most destitute, yea, the most guilty belonging to the fallen race of Adam have free access, and from which God dispenses to them all blessings, without eclipsing the glory of His justice, holiness, and other glorious perfections.
II. Christ’s being set forth as a propitiation, for the benefit of sinners guilty before God, and condemned to everlasting death by His law.
1. Christ may be said to have been set forth to be a propitiation in the purpose and decree of God from eternity.
2. Christ was exhibited as a propitiation in the first gospel promise (Genesis 3:15).
3. Christ was set forth as a propitiation in all the types and ceremonies belonging to the Old Testament economy, particularly in the legal sacrifices, all which were typical of that great sacrifice which the Son of God, the promised Messiah, was to offer in the human nature for expiating the guilt of sin.
4. Christ was exhibited as a propitiation in the several prophecies and promises respecting Him that were delivered to the Church under the Old Testament dispensation.
5. Christ was set forth as a propitiation in His incarnation and assumption of the human nature.
6. The Lord Jesus is exhibited, or set forth, as a propitiation in the dispensation of the everlasting gospel: The very design of the gospel is to exhibit a crucified Redeemer to guilty sinners. Hence the preaching of the gospel is called the preaching of the Cross, and the preaching of Christ crucified.
7. Christ is set forth as a propitiation in the sacraments of the New Testament, particularly in the Lord’s Supper.
III. Confirm the doctrine, or show that as Jesus Christ is by the authority and appointment of the great Jehovah set forth to guilty sinners as a propitiation, all to whom the gospel comes, may warrantably claim the benefit of that propitiation in a way of believing. This is abundantly evident from the words of the text; for the gospel is preached by Divine appointment to every creature, and in it Christ is set forth as a propitiation to every sinner that hears it. It is further evident
1. From the types that prefigured Him under the Old Testament economy. The manna which was rained from heaven for nourishing the Israelites in the wilderness (Exodus 14:13-16) was a remarkable type of Christ, who is the Bread of Life; is such as a propitiation, for He is said to have given His flesh, namely by offering it as a sacrifice to expiate the guilt of sin, for the life of the world (John 6:51); and it was what everyone belonging to the camp of Israel might warrantably gather and apply to his own use (Exodus 16:15). The brazen serpent was also a type of Christ, and that was lifted up on a pole for the benefit of all belonging to the congregation of Israel, so that every one of them that had been wounded by the fiery serpents was authorised to look to it in order to his being healed (Numbers 21:8-9; John 3:14-15). The scapegoat was also a remarkable type of Christ, and designed to prefigure the efficacy of His death for procuring the remission of sins to all who believe in Him.
2. That all who hear the gospel may warrantably claim the benefit of the New Testament propitiation spoken of in the text, or trust in the Lord Jesus for the remission of sins, is evident from the similitudes under which Christ and His grace are set forth to us in Scripture (Zechariah 13:1; Revelation 22:2; Isaiah 25:6; Proverbs 9:1-5; Matthew 22:4).
3. The truth of the doctrine is further evident from the very nature of the gospel, which is not a system of precepts requiring of men obedience to the law of God, to any law whatsoever, as the condition of life, but consists wholly of gracious promises exhibiting life, salvation, and all spiritual blessings freely, as the gift of God to perishing sinners.
4. The same thing is evident from the declared end and design of the gospel, which is that sinners may believe in Christ revealed and exhibited in it (John 20:31).
5. That all who hear the gospel have a sufficient warrant to claim the benefit of the propitiation spoken of in the text, or to apply Christ and the benefits of redemption to their own souls, appears from the many gracious calls and invitations addressed to sinners in the gospel.
6. The peremptory command of God binding it upon all the hearers of the gospel, as their indispensable duty, to believe on the name of His Son, puts the matter beyond all debate (1 John 3:23).
IV. Practical improvement of the doctrine.
1. The great error of Socinians who deny that Christ died to make an atonement for sin, and satisfy the justice of God in the room of sinners, by suffering the punishment which their sins deserved; or that the sacrifice which He offered was a proper sacrifice.
2. Hence we may learn, that men by nature are in a most wretched and deplorable condition. They are under guilt and wrath, otherwise there would have been no need to offer a propitiatory sacrifice for them.
3. Hence let us take occasion to admire the love of God toward sinners of mankind, manifested in providing such a sacrifice.
4. Hence we may see what was the great end of the Redeemer’s incarnation, and of His taking our nature into a personal union with Himself.
5. Hence we may learn what was the nature, end, and use of all the sacrifices that were offered by Divine appointment under the Old Testament dispensation. They had no merit or efficacy for satisfying the justice of God and appeasing His wrath. They were only typical of that sacrifice which the Messiah was to offer in the fulness of time for these ends.
6. From what has been said we may see that the dispensation of the gospel in purity is a great privilege, an inestimable blessing. (D. Wilson.)
Propitiation through faith in Christ’s blood
I. Christ, a propitiation. Sin draws on the sinner the holy anger of God, although it cannot quench the love of God. And that it could not quench His love is shown by His providing and setting forth as a propitiation His own Son, through whom He can look on us with anger no more, but with complacency. This He has done. It often costs us much, we have often got much to get over in order to let the affection that there is in our heart towards some human being have its way, to help and succour him on account of some waywardness in him. What would not the father or mother of a profligate child give to be able to lavish on the degraded being tokens of affection as freely as they did when they folded him in their arms a happy innocent child, if they felt they could do so without their goodness being abused by him to his own hurt and to their shame, or being regarded by him as a proof that they did not look on his vices with any great detestation or sorrow? What the sacrifice of God’s only-begotten and well-beloved Son involved to Him, we vainly attempt to conceive. “He spared not His own Son, but gave Him up to the death for us all.” Mark that it is not said here that the Saviour has made propitiation, but that He is a propitiation. So speaks also the Apostle John: “He is the propitiation for our sins.” In the Saviour Himself, in the living person of the God-man, is found the ground of pardon and acceptance. The virtue of His obedience and death is centred in His person, and radiates from it.
II. The way in which propitiation is effected. Christ is a propitiation “through faith in His blood.” By His blood and by faith--not faith in His blood--but by His blood, by which He expiated sin, He is a propitiation by faith as the subjective means of appropriation of this propitiation. You must look, on the one hand, to Christ’s sacrificial death, and on the other to faith in Christ, in order to account for the sinner being received into the favour of God and being reconciled to Him.
1. It was by the giving of His holy life in sacrifice that Jesus propitiated God on our behalf, or appeased the wrath, and delivered us from the curse of God due for sin.
2. Christ is only actually and effectually a propitiation to you and to me, if we believe in Him. He is a propitiation only through faith. In this the righteousness of God is also seen. It were unrighteous to justify any but him who believed in Jesus, or for God to be propitiated through Christ on behalf of anyone who did not believe on Christ. For through faith we come into a life-union with the Son of God.
III. Christ, as our propitiation, is set forth by God. That type of Christ of old, which furnishes the name and explains the aspect under which Christ is set forth here, the propitiation, propitiatory, or mercy seat, was hid in the innermost shrine of the dwelling place of God. It was seen by no mortal eye but that of the high priest, and that only when, once a year, he entered with awed spirit behind the veil. But Jesus Christ, the great reality, of which that golden throne of grace was the sign and shadow, is not hidden, but is openly set forth. In word and ordinance He is exhibited.
1. There is the Bible, about which such daring opinions nowadays are ventured, and of which, in their secret hearts, many have doubts and sentiments which they would not dare to utter; which many, who read so much that is deleterious, never or rarely open; which many read so carelessly and to so little purpose! My friend, hast thou ever thought that in that Book God has set forth His Son as a propitiation? This is the great end for which it is written.
2. There is the everlasting gospel, which is of small account with many, a weariness, a superfluity, which even in their view might be banished from the sanctuary; or, if it cannot be banished, may be thrust as far as possible into a corner, and its place supplied very pleasantly by something that will soothe and regale the senses and the taste. But oh! see that you are not blind to what is set forth in the garb of His words and thoughts--Jesus Christ the propitiation through faith in His blood. See above all that you do not forget that, though with man’s voice, and in man’s language, and often with much weakness, yet God is really setting forth Christ as a propitiation.
3. In the sacraments God so sets forth His Son. (W. Wilson, M. A.)
Christ the propitiation
I. As set forth by God.
1. The words “set forth” signify “foreordained”; and also “places in public view”; as goods are exposed for sale, or as rewards of victory were exhibited in the Grecian Games. So has God made conspicuous Jesus as the propitiation of sin.
2. What it is that God has so manifestly set forth. The Greek word may mean--
3. God has set forth Christ before every one of you, in the preaching of the Word, and in the Inspired Book, as dying, that your sins might die; buried, that your iniquities might be buried; risen, that you might rise to newness of life; ascended, that you might ascend to God; received in triumph, that you might be received in triumph too; made to reign, that you might reign in Him; forever loved, forever crowned, that you in Him may be forever loved and forever crowned too.
II. As looked upon by the believer.
1. We may mistake the proper object of faith. We may look on--
2. God has set forth Christ to be the propitiation through faith in His blood, and we ought to accept that as being--
III. As set forth by us and looked upon by God.
1. If in this pulpit Christ be set forth, God will look down upon that Christ set forth, and honour and bless the word. I might preach clear doctrine, but God might never look down upon doctrine, nor upon moral essays, nor upon philosophy. God will not look down on any man’s ministry unless that man sets forth what God sets forth. Then His Word shall not return unto Him void; it shall prosper in the thing whereto He hath sent it.
2. As in the case of the ministry, so you in your pleadings for souls must set forth Christ. Abel’s blood demanded vengeance; Christ’s blood demands pardons and must have it.
3. As in pleading for the souls of others, so in pleading for our own we must set forth the propitiation. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Christ the propitiation
In the only other place where the word occurs in the New Testament (Hebrews 9:5) it is rendered “mercy seat.”
I. To the institution of the “mercy seat,” therefore, we must look, that we may rightly understand the allusion (Exodus 25:17). It is from this description that the appellation is given to Jehovah of the God that “dwelleth between the cherubim,” an appellation, therefore, equivalent in import to “the God of mercy,” “the God of all grace,” “the God of peace”: and the position of “the mercy seat” or propitiatory, upon “the ark of the testimony,” seems to indicate that His appearing, in this benign character, to commune with guilty creatures, was in full consistency with the claims and sanctions of His perfect law; so that when Jehovah thus manifested Himself. “Mercy and truth met together, righteousness and peace embraced each other.” All this cannot fail to remind us of Him who received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to Him from the excellent glory, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” It is in Him, as the subject either of promise, of prophecy, of type, or of direct testimony, that God has from the beginning made Himself known to men in the character of “the God of peace.” It is “in Him” that He “reconciles sinners to Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.”
II. Had nothing more been said of the “mercy seat,” we might have been led to conclude that Jehovah appeared there in the exercise of mere mercy, apart from any satisfaction for sin. We must, therefore, connect this description of the mercy seat with the account given of the manner in which it was to be approached by the worshipper (Leviticus 16:2; Lev_16:11-12). It was to be approached with the blood of “atonement” (verses 6, 30, 34), which was sprinkled on and before “the mercy seat”; and while the sacrificial blood was thus presented, the burning incense was to diffuse its grateful odour, in emblematic testimony of the Divine satisfaction; which is, accordingly, elsewhere expressed in connection with the sacrifice of Christ, and the offerings by which it was typified, by Jehovah’s “smelling a sweet savour” (cf. Genesis 8:21 with Ephesians 5:2; Revelation 8:3; and see also Psalms 141:2)
. The “mercy seat,” then, in order to Jehovah’s appearing there, consistently with the glory of His name, as the God of grace, must be stained with “the blood of sprinkling,” the blood “that maketh atonement for the soul”; and in this is set before us the necessity of the shedding of the blood of Christ, in order to God’s being “in Him well-pleased.” And, agreeably to this, the Divine declaration “from the excellent glory,” of satisfaction in His well-beloved Son, was made in connection with the subject of conference on the holy mount--“the decease which Jesus was to accomplish at Jerusalem.”
III. The proper idea of “propitiation” is, rendering the Divine Being favourable.
1. We must, beware, however, of understanding by this anything like the production of a change in the Divine character; as if God required an inducement to be merciful. We ought to conceive of Jehovah as eternally compassionate and merciful. But while God is infinitely and immutably good, He is at the same time infinitely and immutably holy and just and true. Never ought we to speak of Him as acting at one time according to mercy, and at another according to justice. His attributes, though we may speak of them distinctly, are inseparable in their exercise.
2. What, then, is the light in which the idea of atonement places the Divine Being? As a righteous Governor Jehovah is displeased with His guilty creatures; while, at the same time, from the infinite benignity of His nature, He is inclined to forgiveness. But if His government is righteous, its claims, in their full extent, must of necessity be maintained inviolate. The great question, then, on this momentous subject comes to be: In what manner may forgiveness be extended to the guilty, so as to satisfy the claims of justice? The rendering of the Divine Being propitious, in this view, refers, it is obvious, not to the production of love in His character, but simply to the mode of its expression. The inquiry is, How may God express love so as to express at the same time abhorrence of sin; and thus, in “making known the riches of His mercy,” to display the inflexibility of justice and the unsullied perfection of holiness? When we say that God is displeased with any of His creatures, we speak of them not as creatures, but as sinners. He hath “no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” but He hates sin; and the punishment of it is required both by the glory of His righteousness and by a regard to the general happiness of the intelligent creation, which sin tends directly to destroy. It is in this view that the blessed God is said to be “angry with the wicked every day,” to “hate all the workers of iniquity”; to have “revealed from heaven His wrath against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men”: and when He forgives iniquity He is, in consistency with such expressions, described as having “His anger turned away.” This is propitiation; and it is in Christ Jesus, in virtue of His atoning sacrifice, that God is thus propitious to sinners. The animal sacrifices of the Old Testament, of which the blood (because it was the life) was declared to be “the atonement for the soul,” were all intended to prefigure the true “propitiation for sin.” (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)
The history of God’s relations with human sin
I. Antecedently to the death of Christ, the sins of men were passed over in the forbearance of God, i.e., God suffered them to go by unavenged. He “winked at the times of ignorance.” So far was this strange toleration carried, that the very justice of the Divine Judge came in some danger, and were there no judgment to come, men really could not affirm that the world was ruled on principles of perfect righteousness. In the providence of the world vengeance limps but tardily in the footsteps of crime; while, not to speak of the impenitent who go unpunished, what shall we say of pre-Christian penitents who asked pardon for their sins, yet found no expiation for them? The blood of bulls and goats could never take away sin. The Divine policy was to leg sin pass, neither avenged nor atoned for, leaving still an open reckoning.
II. At last God cleared His clouded administration and vindicated His righteousness (verse 25). He held forth to public gaze an expiation of sin which did satisfy justice and demonstrate the severe impartial rectitude of the Divine judgments. The death of Jesus Christ is “set forth” as a public act done by God Himself for the illustration of His own justice. The word “propitiation” (or propitiatory) may either mean a victim offered in sacrifice for the recovery of Divine favour, or it may refer to the golden lid of the ark in the holy of holies, where God sat enthroned and propitious because on it was yearly sprinkled the blood of an atoning sacrifice. The death of Christ is in either case the one Sacrifice through which the sins of the world have been expiated and God has been enabled to extend favour to His guilty creatures. And this solemn and unparalleled act is at the same time the most impressive exhibition of the Divine vengeance against sin. Rather than that sins passed over so long should go altogether unavenged, God offered His Son for their expiation. By this He has cut off from men the temptation to misconstrue His earlier toleration of sins, or His unwillingness to forgive them. He did pretermit sin in His forbearance; but it was only because He had purposed in His heart one day to offer for it a satisfaction such as this. For this He could hold His peace through long centuries under injurious suspicion, because He knew that one day the awful Cross of His own Son would silence every cavil and give to the universe emphatic demonstration that He is a just God, who will by no means clear the guilty.
III. Let us look at the bearing of Christ’s death on “this present season.” The same public satisfaction for sin is adequate to justify God in forgiving sin now (verse 26). Before His attitude to sin was one of forbearance. More than that it could not be, because no proper satisfaction for sin had as yet been offered. But now, since Christ has died, God has no need to “wink at” sin, and pass it by. He no longer holds out to penitents as He used to do a hope that it will one day become possible for Him to blot their sins. For He is now able to deal finally and effectually with sin. Justice has received all the satisfaction it needs or can ask for. No shade of suspicion, whether of feebleness or of injustice, can rest upon the Divine character, in acquitting at once any man for whose guilt Christ has made complete atonement. Now, therefore, God is in a position, not to pretermit sins only, but to remit them; not to promise forgiveness merely, but to confer it. This new attitude it is worth while to trace out in detail.
1. This propitiation having been amply adequate to vindicate Divine justice, Christ’s death becomes obviously our redemption; i.e., it serves as a ransom, an offering in consideration of which we who were held in custody as sentenced prisoners of justice may now go free. The Son of Man has given His life as a ransom price in the stead of many; and that atoning ransom being adequate, we have “redemption through His blood--even the forgiveness of sins.” So that it is so far from being unjust in God to acquit those for whom Christ’s death is pleaded, that it would be plainly unjust to do anything else. The Deliverer has paid the price of blood for forfeited lives of guilty men; and Justice herself will now fling wide open her prison gates, tear across her handwriting of condemnation, and proclaim the ransomed to be justified from sin. This St. Paul terms “the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (verse 24).
2. On the ground of this redemption, such a justifying must be entirely gratuitous (verse 24). It must be so, because it is obviously independent of any action of men’s own. It manifested the judicial impartiality and uprightness of the Lawgiver; but it was done at the bidding of love for the condemned, and its issue is free, unstinted grace to the undeserving. God must be just; but He chose this way of manifesting His justice, that through it He might also manifest mercy; and mercy rejoiceth over judgment.
3. A way of being justified which is so entirely gratuitous must be impartial and catholic. It is offered on such easy terms, because on no harder terms could helpless and condemned men receive it. Heathen or Jew, there is no distinction between men (verse 22) such as could limit a gratuitous righteousness to one set of them rather than to another. All of them alike sinned; therefore they must be justified on a ground which cuts away every distinction of better or worse among them, of more deserving or less deserving. A righteousness which is given away gratuitously must be meant for all.
4. Yes, to all who will trust in it (verse 26). For our justification is limited to faith, and that just because it is limited to the work of Christ. Our faith is the natural counterpart to Christ’s atonement; it is our response to His sacrifice; it is our acceptance of God’s terms. God offers to justify us, but He does so only because Christ has propitiated for our sins. If we accept His offer, we consent to be justified on that same ground of Christ’s propitiation, for nothing else is offered. The very terms on which God historically vindicated His justice and wrought redemption tie us down and limit us to such faith as rests on Christ as the instrument of our justification. (J. Oswald Dykes, D. D.)
Through faith In His blood.--
The blood of Christ
Listen, apart from all argument, to what Christ says of it, and think, Is it possible that all this can mean no more than what men say who do not believe in its atoning power, as shed for us? They will sink deeper in your minds, if studied in God’s Word. But look at this barest outline of them. They will be the meditation and praise and thanksgiving of eternity; and in all eternity we shall long to thank more and more for them, when our whole being will be thanksgiving and love. “We were far off [from God], but were made nigh [to Him] by the Blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13); “we were justified by His blood” (Romans 5:9); “He suffered, that He might sanctify us by His blood” (Hebrews 13:12); “we have,” as a continual possession, “redemption through His blood, the remission of sins” (Ephesians 1:7); “the blood of Christ who, through the Eternal Spirit, offered Himself without spot to God, purifieth our consciences from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14); “the blood of Christ cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7); “we have been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18-19); “He has purchased the Church with His own blood” (Acts 20:28); “God made peace through the blood of His Cross, through Him, as to the things on earth, and the things in heaven” (Colossians 1:20): “Christ, by His own blood, entered once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12). “We,” too, ever since “have boldness to enter the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He hath consecrated for us through His flesh” (Hebrews 10:19-20). We are “elect, according to the foreknowledge of God, in sanctification of the spirit, unto obedience and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:2). “We are come to Jesus, the Mediator of the new Covenant, and the blood of sprinkling which speaketh better things than that of Abel” (Hebrews 12:22-24). And when the beloved disciple saw heaven opened, he saw “the Faithful and True, the Word of God, clothed with a vesture dyed with blood” (Revelation 19:13), and he heard the new song of those who sang, “Thou wast slain and didst purchase us to God by Thy blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9); and he heard that they had “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14), and had “overcome the accuser by the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 12:11). And St. John’s doxology is, “To Him who loveth us and hath washed us from our sins in His own blood, to Him be glory and might forever and ever. Amen” (Revelation 1:5). (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
To declare, I say, at this time His righteousness.
The Cross a manifestation of the Divine righteousness
I. How. In two ways so closely united that either of them separated would lose its value.
1. By the very fact of Christ’s sacrifice and bloody death. If Paul does not see in this punishment a quantitative equivalent of the treatment which every sinner had incurred, this is what clearly appears from such sayings as 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13. Now herein precisely consists the manifestation of the righteousness wrought out by the Cross. God is here revealed as one against whom no sinner can revolt without meriting death; and the sinner is here put in his place in the dust as a malefactor worthy of death. Such is the objective manifestation of righteousness.
2. This demonstration, however, would be incomplete without the subjective or moral manifestation which accompanies it. Every sinner might be called to die on the Cross; but no sinner was in a condition to undergo this punishment as Jesus did, accepting it as undeserved. This is what He alone could do in virtue of His holiness (John 17:25), The calm and mute resignation with which He allowed Himself to be led to the slaughter, manifested the idea which He Himself formed of the Majesty of God and the judgment He was passing on the sin of the world; from His Cross there rose the most perfect homage rendered to the righteousness of God. In this death the sin of mankind was therefore doubly judged, and the righteousness of God doubly manifested,--by the external fact of this painful and ignominious punishment, and by the inward act of Christ’s conscience, which ratified this dealing of which sin was the object in His Person.
II. But what rendered such a demonstration necessary--because of the tolerance of sins past. For four thousand years the spectacle presented by mankind to the whole moral universe (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:9)
was, so to speak, a continual scandal. With the exception of some great examples of judgments, Divine righteousness seemed asleep; men sinned and yet they lived. They sinned on, and yet reached in safety a hoary old age. Where were the wages of sin? It was this relative impunity which rendered a solemn manifestation of righteousness necessary. God judged it essential, on account of the impunity so long enjoyed by these myriads of sinners who succeeded one another on the earth, at length to manifest His righteousness by a striking act; and He did so by realising in the death of Jesus the punishment which each of these sinners would have deserved to undergo. But if it be asked why Paul refers only to sins of the past and not to those of the future, the answer is easy: the righteousness of God once revealed in the sacrifice of the Cross this demonstration remains. Whatever happens, nothing can again efface it from the history of the world, nor from the conscience of mankind. Henceforth all sin must be pardoned or judged. (Prof. Godet.)
That He might be Just, and the Justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
(text, and 1 John 1:9).
I. How has justice been so satisfied that it no longer stands in the way of God’s justifying the sinner? The one answer to that is, through the substitution of Christ. When man sinned the law demanded his punishment. The first offence was committed by Adam, the representative of the race. When God would punish sin, He thought of the blessed expedient, not of punishing His people, but their representative, the second Adam. He died--“the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.” Let us show how fully the law is satisfied. Note--
1. The dignity of the victim. The eternal Son of God condescended to become man; lived a life of suffering, and at last died a death of agony. If you will but think of the wondrous person whom Jesus was, you will see that in His sufferings the law received a greater vindication than it could have done even in the sufferings of the whole race. There is such dignity in the Godhead that all it does is infinite in its merit; and when He stooped to suffer, the law received greater honour than if a whole universe had become a sacrifice.
2. The relationship which Jesus Christ had towards the Great Judge. Brutus was the most inflexible of judges, and knew no distinction of persons. But when he sentenced his own son, we see that he loved his country better than his son, and justice better than either. Now, we say, Brutus is just indeed. Now, if God had condemned each of us one by one, or the whole race in a mass, justice would have been vindicated. But lo! His own Son takes upon Him the sins of the world, and “it pleased the Lord to bruise Him.” Surely, when God smites His Son, only begotten and well-beloved, then justice has all that it could ask; and this Christ freely gave,
3. The agonies of Christ, which He endured in the place of sinners. All I ought to have suffered has been suffered by my substitute. It cannot be that God can smite me now. Justice itself prevents, for when justice once is satisfied it were injustice if it should ask for more. God can be just, and yet the justifier.
II. It is an act of justice on God’s part to forgive on confession of sin. Not that the sinner deserves forgiveness. Sin can never merit anything but punishment. Not that God is bound from any necessity of His nature to forgive everyone that repents, because repentance has not in itself sufficient to merit forgiveness. Yet it is true that, because God is just, He must forgive every sinner who confesses his sin. Because--
1. He has promised to do so; and a God who could break His promise were unjust. Every word which God utters shall be fulfilled. Go, then, to God with--“Lord, Thou hast said, ‘He that confesseth his sin, and forsaketh it, shall find mercy.’ I confess my sin, and I forsake it; Lord, give me mercy!” Don’t doubt but that God will give it you. You have His own pledge in your hand.
2. Man has been induced to act upon it; and therefore, this becomes a double bond upon the justice of God. God has said, “If we confess our sins and trust in Christ, we shall have mercy.” You have done it on the faith of the promise. Do you imagine when God has brought you through much pain of mind to repent and rely on Christ He will afterwards tell you He did not mean what He said? It cannot be. Suppose you said to a man, “Give up your situation and take a house near me, and I will employ you.” Suppose he does it, and you then say, “I am glad for your own sake that you have left your master, still I will not take you.” He would reply, “I gave up my situation on the faith of your promise, and now you break it.” Ah! but this never can be said of God.
3. Christ died on purpose to secure pardon for every seeking soul. And do you suppose that the Father will rob Him of that which He has bought so dearly?
III. The duties taught in the two texts.
1. Confession. Expect not that God will forgive you until you confess. You are not to confess to a man, unless you have offended against him. If you have, leave thy gift upon the altar, and go and make peace with him, and then come and make peace with God. You are to make confession of your sin to God. You cannot mention every offence, but do not hide one.
2. Faith. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Justice and redemption
What was the main purpose of Christ’s sufferings?
I. The question is answered in very various ways.
1. There are those who say that they had no purpose, but were brought about by the operation of blind forces, which act sometimes through the working of inanimate nature, sometimes through the malignity of human wills. We need not look beyond them to account for the spectacle of the best of human lives ending as though it had been the worst; for that anomaly, that while Tiberius was enthroned in Rome, Jesus should have been crucified in Jerusalem. To discuss this would be to open the question whether there is any Divine government at all. Suffice it to say, that if there is a Being who is almighty, and has a moral character, then the world is governed by Him. If a great deal is permitted to go on in it which is a contradiction to the moral nature of such a ruler, this only shows that, from certain reasons, He has allowed sin to enter into and to mar His work, and in its train, pain, and death. The sufferings of Christ are thus only an extreme illustration of what we see everywhere around us on a smaller scale, but they afford no ground for the opinion that human lives drift helplessly before forces which are as entirely without moral purpose as the wave or the hurricane is void of intelligence or of sympathy.
2. A more satisfactory account of the sufferings of our Lord is that they were the crowning feature of the testimony He bore to the sacredness of truth. This, it may be truly urged, is His own account of the matter. “To this end was I born … that I might bear witness unto the truth.” But the question is whether this was the only or the most important object. If it was, then He does not differ from sages, prophets, and martyrs, who have all done this service to truth. There is a more important purpose in the death of our Lord which distinguishes it from every other.
II. The true answer is that Christ’s death was intended to set forth in action an Attribute of God.
1. This attribute is not, as we might expect, God’s love or mercy, although we know that if God gave His only begotten Son to die, it was because “He so loved the world”; but the attribute of which St. Paul is thinking is God’s righteousness or justice.
2. When we speak of righteousness we presuppose the existence of a law of right, a law which justice upholds. This law has its witness partly in the structure of society, partly in the conscience of man. If human society is largely unfaithful to this law, it cannot altogether neglect it without going to pieces, sooner or later. And the conscience of every man attests the existence of right, as opposed to wrong. Without doing violence to the mind which God has given us, we cannot conceive of a time when right was not right, and when justice was not a virtue; and if so then right and justice are eternal; and since nothing distinct from God can be conceived of as eternal--for in that case there would be two eternals--it follows that right and justice belong to God’s essential nature. To think of God as unrighteous is only a mode of thinking of Him as not existing at all.
3. This great truth it was a main purpose of the Jewish revelation to teach. From generation to generation its voice is, “Righteous art Thou, O Lord, and true is Thy judgment.” Its law was a proclamation of righteousness applied to human life; its prophets were preachers of righteousness; its penalties were the sanctions of righteousness; its sacrifices were a perpetual reminder of the Divine righteousness; its promises pointed to One who would make clearer than ever to man the beauty and the power of Divine righteousness. And so when He came He was named the “Just One” and “Jesus Christ the Righteous,” and it was but in accordance with these titles that both in His life and in His death He revealed to man the righteousness of God as it had never been revealed before.
III. But how was the death of Christ a declaration of God’s righteousness?
1. Here we must consider that righteousness is an active attribute. There is no such thing as a working distinction between a theoretical and a practical justice. And if this is true in man, much more true is it in God. To conceive of God as just in Himself, but as indifferent to the strict requirements of justice, would, one might think, be impossible for any clear and reverent mind. And yet many a man has said, “If I were God, I would forgive the sinner, just as a good-natured man forgives a personal offence, without expecting an equivalent.” Here is a confusion between an offence against man and one against God. An offence against us does not necessarily involve an infraction of the eternal law of right. But with the Master of the moral universe it is otherwise. That violations of right must be followed by punishment is as much part of the absolute law of right as is the existence of right itself. If the maxim holds in human law, that the acquittal of the guilty is the condemnation of the judge, it holds true in a higher sense of Him whose passionless rectitude is as incapable of being distorted by a false benevolence as by a prejudiced animosity.
2. The death of our Lord was a proclamation of God’s righteousness in exacting the penalty which is due to sin. If we would take the measure of moral evil, let us not merely track it to the workhouse, the prison, the gallows, not even to the eternal condition of the lost; let us stand in spirit on Mount Calvary, and there look how Christ is “made to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”
3. But here it will be asked whether God’s justice is not compromised in the very act of its assertion, whether the penalty paid by the sinless Sufferer is not inconsistent with the rule of justice that the real sinner should be punished for his sins. But consider--
4. But how could the penalty paid by one man be accepted as a penalty sufficient to atone for the sins of millions, the sins of the centuries that may be to come as well as of the ages that are past? Had the life which was offered been only a human life, it could not have made any such atonement. He who died on Calvary was more than man, and it is His higher and Divine nature which imparts to all that Christ did and suffered an infinite value. If we contemplate the infinitude of God, our wonder will be not that the death of Christ should have effected so much, but rather so far as we know it should have effected so little. I say so far as we know, for it may have had relations to other worlds of which we know nothing, although it may have had no effect beyond the redemption won for and offered to man. To achieve that redemption it was plainly more than equal. How large a number of blossoms drop off without bearing fruit; how few seeds fall where they can germinate, and of those which do take root how small a proportion do anything more; how out of all proportion to the lives which actually survive, are the preparations for life in the animal world! These things have led people to ask whether it would not have been better to create only so much life as was wanted. This is the reasoning of a finite creature surveying from his petty point of view the boundless resources and the magnificent profusion of the great Creator. And if, as we may think, He does more than He need do in order to save us without tampering with His own eternal law of right, it is because His resources, and His ungrudging generosity, are alike without limit. At any rate, if the death of our Lord offered more than a satisfaction, there can be no question that the satisfaction which it offered was fully adequate, that the blood of Him, the Son of God, cleanses from all sin. (Canon Liddon.)
The necessity of the atonement
I. The atonement was necessary entirely on God’s account. It is easy to see that it could not be necessary on the account of sinners. When Adam sinned, God might have destroyed him and the race, or He might have saved them in a sovereign manner, without doing injustice to them or any other created beings. But the apostle assures us that an atonement was necessary on God’s account, that He might be just, and the justifier.
II. Why the atonement was necessary on God’s account.
1. If we can only discover why Adam, after he had sinned and incurred the penalty, despaired of pardon, we shall see this. Adam knew that God was good, but he knew, too, that God was just; that it was morally impossible that He should exercise His goodness inconsistently with His justice; and that His perfect justice implied an inflexible disposition to punish the guilty. It is not probable that Adam thought of an atonement; and if he did, he could not see how an atonement could be made. Now as God could not have been just to Himself in forgiving Adam, so He cannot be in forgiving any of His guilty posterity without an atonement. And as God did determine to show mercy to sinners, so it was absolutely necessary that Christ should make an atonement for their sins, and its necessity originated entirely in His immutable justice. There was nothing in men that required an atonement, and there was nothing in God that required an atonement, but His justice.
2. Now there never was any difficulty in God’s doing good to the innocent, nor in His punishing the guilty; but there was a difficulty in forgiving the wicked.
III. What follows? If the atonement of Christ was necessary entirely on God’s account, that He might be just in exercising pardoning mercy, then--
1. It was universal, and sufficient for the pardon of all. What can be more unjust than to punish sinners for not accepting a salvation which was never provided for them? And it never was provided for them, if Christ did not, by His sufferings and death, make atonement for them.
2. It did not satisfy justice towards sinners themselves. Nothing which Christ did or suffered altered their characters, obligations, or deserts. His obedience did not free them from their obligation to obey the Divine law, nor did His sufferings free them from their desert of suffering the penalty.
3. Christ did not merit anything at the hand of God for Himself, or for mankind. There is no phrase more misunderstood than “the merits of Christ.” Though Christ suffered the just for the unjust, yet He did not lay God under the least obligation, in point of justice, to pardon. God is above being bound by any; and He cannot bind Himself otherwise than by a free, gratuitous promise. God’s promise to pardon is an act of grace, and not an act of justice. Accordingly, the apostle says that believers are “justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” And as Christ did not merit pardon for believers by His sufferings, so He did not merit a reward for them by His obedience. It is true, God has promised to reward Him for His obedience unto death, but His promise is a promise of grace, and not of justice. So He has promised to reward every man for the least good he does, even for giving a cup of cold water in sincerity. But His promise is a promise of grace, not of justice, and without the least regard to Christ’s obedience as the ground of it. By obeying and suffering in the room of sinners, He only rendered it consistent for God to pardon or to reward.
4. God exercises the same free grace in pardoning sinners through the atonement, as if no atonement had been made.
5. It is absurd to suppose that the atonement was merely expedient. There was no other possible way of saving sinners. There is no reason to think that God would have subjected the Son of His love to the Cross if He could have forgiven it without such an infinitely costly atonement.
6. We may safely conclude that the atonement consisted in Christ’s sufferings, and not in His obedience. His obedience was necessary on His account, to qualify Him for making atonement for the disobedient; but His sufferings were necessary on God’s account, to display His justice.
7. God can consistently pardon any penitent, believing sinners on account of Christ’s atonement. He can now be just, and be the justifier of everyone that believeth. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
Where is boasting then?
It is excluded.
Boastfulness--Jewish and Christian
I. Boastfulness was a Jewish national characteristic of a peculiar species, for it took the form of religious conceit.
1. They could not boast of being rich or strong; but when their fortunes were at the lowest they had one source of national pride left to them to buoy up their self-importance. In being the selected favourites of heaven, they found a consolation so flattering, that they looked down upon their conquerors as outcast aliens from God. Now, there was just sufficient foundation for this pride to make it very excusable in them, although in the case of many it took a shape which proved fatal to religious life.
2. Having reached the natural termination of his own argument, namely, that God, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, is able to justify all who trust in Him, Paul suddenly halts, as though he were looking for something that had vanished, and abruptly asks, “Where, then, is the boasting of the Jews?” Answer--There is no more room left for it. But what shuts it out? Not the law of works, which is understood to prescribe obedience as a means of reward; for if a man earned reward, then, of course, he has some ground for boasting. No; boasting is really excluded only under the new and better way of being just before God. That new principle of acceptance with God cuts self-righteousness down to the roots as nothing else does. That leaves him a debtor to sovereign grace alone.
II. This vicious boastfulness is not a thing essentially Jewish. At bottom, it is the child of human pride. No man likes to own that he has literally not an inch of ground to stand on before the judgment seat of God, nor a scruple’s weight of merit to plead there. There is nothing a man dislikes more than that. However ragged our righteousness may be, or however filthy, we cannot let it go to stand in utter shame, unscreened to the light, or defenceless before the judgment that we have deserved. Can we not? Then there is no salvation for us. Salvation is for men who trust in God’s way of finding mercy, and that principle shuts boasting out. Alone, naked, excuseless, condemned, a sinner simply you must feel and confess yourself to be.
III. This self-justifying boastfulness feeds upon every point of advantage which is supposed to lift one sinner a little above his fellow sinner. It lives by making invidious comparisons. There are diversities among men in the degree of their moral depravity, and God’s providence gives to some an immense advantage over others in respect of religious privilege. But when God singles out one race from other races, or one class in society before another class, or one individual from among others, for exceptional religious advantages, He certainly does not mean to puff up the favoured one with spiritual conceit. It is nothing but the abnormal working of man’s own evil nature that perverts what God thus meant for a blessing. Therefore we can afford to throw no stones at ancient Israel. Do we Christians never boast of being far above the benighted Jew or heathen? Your Israelite long ago conceived himself safe for eternity, because he had been duly circumcised and observed the festivals. Does your Christian never build any hope of heaven upon his good churchmanship or his unchallenged Christian profession? The Jews toiled hard to deserve paradise by a great zeal for orthodoxy, and by leading a scrupulous life. Does no one ever hear of any Christian doing the like? For you, as well as the Jew, it is fatally easy to miss the humble road that leads to life through a lowly trust in Christ. For you, too, it is perilously easy to build your religious confidence upon a righteousness of your own.
IV. Against this assumption see what mighty engines Paul brings to bear.
1. The argument is one to this effect.
“If I am wrong in saying that every man is to be justified apart from the law--and if you are right in thinking that the observance of Mosaic rites is the ground of your acceptance, then in that case God is only the God of the Jews, since it is only to Jews that He has given this Mosaic law. But is not this dead against the very prime point of your confession as against polytheism, that there is one living true God of all men alike? The foundation of this reasoning lies in monotheism, the doctrine of the unity of God, and His Common relation to all. The cleft which cuts the human race into Jews and Gentiles cuts far down; but it cannot cut so far as the fundamental question of the sinner’s acceptance with his Maker. How shall man have peace with God? is a problem which can only have one answer--not two. The same one God, just and merciful to all His children, must justly justify every sinner in the same way.
2. But the levelling argument of the apostle is good for more than Jews. Just look at our own position in the light of this argument. We are privileged men--as Christians, as Englishmen, as the children of devout parents who saw to our being early baptized in the faith and nurture of the saints. Shall we then rest with boastful confidence in this, and deem that the gate of life is less straight for us than for idolaters or outcasts? Is not that to repeat the blunder of the Jew, to postulate, as it were, a two-faced God?--one God who apportions to ignorant and wicked people their own share of grace, as a thing that they have no claim on, out of pure regard to the work of Jesus Christ, but who receives respectable Christian people on another and easier footing altogether. I have no fear that any of you will say such things. But what I fear is that some of you may gradually harbour a self-righteous confidence in your position and character, which would substantially mean the same thing. Against such a self-confident temper, therefore, I fight with the weapon of St. Paul. God has not two ways of saving men. (J. Oswald Dykes, D. D.)
1. The term “law” may mean more than an authoritative rule; it may signify the method of succession by which one event follows another; and it is thus that we speak of a law of nature, or of mind. Both the law of works and the law of faith may be understood here in this latter sense. The one is that by which a man’s justification follows upon his having performed the works; the other is that by which a man’s justification follows upon his faith--just as the law of gravitation is that upon which everybody above the surface of the earth, when its support is taken away, will fall toward its centre.
2. Now the aim of the apostle is to prove that by the law of works none is justified, and I want you to notice how those who dislike the utter excluding of works endeavour to evade this.
I. They hold that the affirmation of Paul is of the ceremonial and not of the moral law. They are willing enough to discard obedience to the former, but not to the latter. All rites, be they Jewish or Christian, have a greatly inferior place in their estimation to the virtues of social life, or to the affections of an inward and enlightened piety in a man, even though a stranger to the puritanical rigours of the Sabbath and of the sacrament.
1. We are far from disputing the justness of their preference; but we would direct them to the use that they should make of it when applying to it the statement that from justification all boasting is excluded. Does not the statement point the more to that of which men are inclined to boast the more? To set aside the law of works is not to exclude boasting, if only those works are set aside which beget no reverence when done by others, and no complacency when done by themselves. The exclusion of boasting might appear to an old Pharisee as that which swept away the whole ceremonial in which he gloried. But for the same reason should it appear to the tasteful admirer of virtue to sweep away the moral accomplishments in which he glories. In a word, this verse has the same force now that it had then. It then reduced the boastful Jew to the same ground of nothingness before God with the Gentile whom he despised. And it now reduces the boastful moralist to the same ground with the slave of rites, whom he so thoroughly despises.
2. But that Paul means the moral law is plain, because in the theft and adultery and sacrilege of chap. 2, and in the impiety and deceit and slander and cruelty of chap. 3, we see that it was the offence of a guilty world against it which the apostle chiefly had in his eye; and when he says that by the law is the knowledge of sin, how could he mean the ceremonial law, when they were moral sins that he had all along been specifying?
3. This distinction between the moral and ceremonial is, in fact, a mere device for warding off a doctrine by which alienated nature feels herself to be humbled. It is an opiate by which she would fain regale the lingering sense that she so fondly retains of her own sufficiency. It is laying hold of a twig by which she may bear herself up, in her own favourite attitude of independence of God. But this is a propensity to which the apostle grants no quarter whenever it appears; and never will your mind and his be at one till reduced to a sense of your own nothingness, and leaning your whole weight on the sufficiency of another, you receive justification as wholly of grace, and feel on this ground that every plea of boasting is overthrown.
II. They at times allow justification to be of faith wholly, but make a virtue of faith. All the glorifying to the law associated with obedience they would now transfer to acquiescence in the gospel. The docility, attention, love of truth, and preference of light to darkness confer a merit upon believing; and here would they make a last and a desperate stand for the credit of a share in their own salvation.
1. Now if this verse be true, there must be an error in this also. It eaves the sinner nothing to boast of at all; and should he continue to associate any glorying with his faith, then is he turning this faith to a purpose directly the reverse of that which the apostle intends by it. There is no glory, you will allow, in seeing the sun with your eyes open, whatever glory may accrue to Him who arrayed this luminary in his brightness and endowed you with that wondrous mechanism which conveys the perception of it. And be assured that in every way there is just as little to boast of on the part of him who sees the truth of the gospel, or who relies on its promises after he perceives them to be true. His faith, which has been aptly termed the hand of the mind, may apprehend the offered gift and may appropriate it; but there is just as little of moral praise to be rendered on that account, as to the beggar for laying hold of the offered alms.
2. And to cut away all pretensions to glorying, the faith itself is a gift. The gospel is like an offer made to one who has a withered hand; and power must go forth with the offer ere the hand can be extended to take hold of it. It is not enough for God to present an object, He must also awaken the eye to the perception of it. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
Grace exalted--boasting excluded
Pride is most obnoxious to God. As a sin, His holiness hates it; as a treason, His sovereignty detests it, and the whole of His attributes stand leagued to put it down. The first transgression had in its essence pride. The ambitious heart of Eve desired to be as God, and Adam followed; and we know the rest. Remember Babel, Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Sennacherib, and Herod. God loves His servants, but pride even in them He abhors. Think of David and Hezekiah. And God has uttered the most solemn words as well as issued the most awful judgment against pride. But to put an everlasting stigma upon it He has ordained that the only way in which He will save men shall be a way by which man’s pride shall be humbled in the dust. Note here--
I. The rejected plan. There are two ways by which a man might have been forever blessed. The one was by works--“This do and thou shalt live; be obedient and receive the reward”; the other plan was--“Receive grace and blessedness as the free gift of God.”
1. Now God has not chosen the system of works, because it is impossible for us.
2. Now I suppose that very few indulge a hope of being saved by the law in itself; but there is a delusion abroad that perhaps God will modify the law.
II. Boasting is excluded--God has accepted the second plan, namely, the way of salvation by faith through grace. The first man that entered heaven entered by faith. “By faith Abel,” etc. Over the tombs of all the godly who were accepted of God you may read the epitaph--“These all died by faith.” By faith they received the promise; and among all yonder bright and shining throng, there is not one who does not confess, “We have washed our robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” As Calvin says, “Not a particle of boasting can be admitted, because not a particle of work is admitted into the covenant of grace”; it is not of man nor by man, not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy, and, therefore, boasting is excluded by the law of faith.
III. Have no merits of their own. The very gate which shuts out boasting shuts in hope for the worst of sinners. You say, “I never attend the house of God, and up to this time I have been a thief and a drunkard.” Well, you stand today on the same level as the most moral sinner and the most honest unbeliever in the matter of salvation. They are lost, since they believe not, and so are you. When we come to God the best can bring nothing, and the worst can bring no less. I know some will say, “Then what is the good of morality?” I will tell you. Two men are overboard there; one man has a dirty face, and the other a clean one. There is a rope thrown over from the stern of the vessel, and only that rope will save the sinking men, whether their faces be fair or foul. Do I therefore underrate cleanliness. Certainly not; but it will not save a drowning man, nor will morality save a dying man. Or take this case. Here we have two persons, each with a deadly cancer. One of them is rich and clothed in purple, the other is poor and wrapped about with a few rags; and I say to them, “You are both on a par now, here comes the physician, his touch can heal you both; there is no difference between you whatever.” Do I therefore say that the one man’s robes are not better than the other’s rags? Of course they are better in some respects, but they have nothing to do with the matter of curing disease. So morality is a neat cover for foul venom, but it does not alter the fact that the heart is vile and the man himself under condemnation. Suppose I were an army surgeon. There is one man there--he is a captain, and a brave man--and he is bleeding out his life from a terrible gash. By his side there lies a private, and a great coward too, wounded in the same way. I say to them, “You are both in the same condition, and I can heal you both.” But if the captain should say, “I do not want you; I am a captain, go and see to that poor dog yonder.” Would his courage and rank save his life? No; they are good things, but not saving things. So it is with good works.
IV. The same plan which shuts out boasting leads us to a gracious gratitude to Christ. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
By what law?…the law of faith.
Boasting excluded by the law of faith
I. Faith a law.
1. As God’s appointed way of acceptance.
2. As an economy according to which God deals with men.
3. As a binding rule to which we owe subjection.
4. As having justification connected with it as a sure result.
II. This law excludes boasting.
1. From the nature of faith. Faith simply trusts, accepts a proffered gift. There can be no boasting in believing that God speaks the truth; nor in a helpless sinner leaning on omnipotence; nor in a beggar receiving alms. Faith looks entirely away from itself to another, viz., Christ. Eyes only Christ’s righteousness, not its own; comes empty-handed and receives out of Christ’s fulness (John 1:16); is the window through which the light passes, not the light; glories in Christ’s obedience, but not in its own. Therefore faith is a humble, depending, self-renouncing grace.
2. From God’s procedure in justifying by it. All are regarded on the same footing as guilty sinners, for men are justified as ungodly (Romans 4:5), the greatest sinner as freely and fully as the least (1 Timothy 1:15). Crimson, double-dyed sins are no hindrance to acceptance (Isaiah 1:18; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11); nor nature’s highest attainments a furtherance of it (Mark 10:17-22). All equally need salvation and all are welcome to it. The one ground of acceptance for all is Christ’s righteousness, for the wedding garment was for the poorest as well as for the richest (Matthew 22:11-12).
3. From the origin of faith itself. Faith to receive is Christ’s gift (Hebrews 12:2; Ephesians 2:8; Philippians 1:20). The withered hand restored to accept the proffered bounty. (J. Robinson, D. D.)
Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
I. The terms of this conclusion.
1. “Justification” signifies, literally, acquittal. In a court of law such acquittal may be made on the ground of--
2. “Deeds of the law.” “Law” is the will of a superior properly sanctioned; and Paul employs the term to denote generally the will of God.
3. “Faith” is a repose upon Jesus Christ as given for us and offered to us--an appropriating confidence on the fact that He died for us, for me.
II. The mode by which the apostle arrives at this conclusion. The apostle has shown--
1. That mankind are all sinners.
2. That we are justified solely by Christ, and, consequently, by faith. The slightest attention to the perfections of God must convince us that He can never dispense mercy except in connection with His justice and truth. God, having given us a law, and that law having been broken, was bound in His righteousness to punish the sinner, unless someone were to be punished for him, and He, in His infinite wisdom and love, was pleased to set forth Jesus Christ to be a propitiation. Now it follows that if we are to be saved alone through our Lord Jesus Christ, we can only be righteous through trusting in Him.
III. The improvement which the apostle makes of this doctrine.
1. He vindicates the subject from the charge of novelty. Anything perfectly new in religion must be false. Paul shows that the doctrine was as old as Abraham, and that it entered into the whole Jewish system. He then cites the case of David (Psalms 32:1-11) , and shows that, as it was the experience of David, it was the doctrine of the Jewish Church generally.
2. He guards the subject against licentious abuse. What has an immoral tendency in religion must be assumed to be fallacious. It was a very natural conclusion for some people to arrive at: “Why, if we are not justified by the deeds of law there is no use for law.”
3. He uses the subject to excite confidence. “Is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not of the Gentiles also?” (A. E. Farrar.)
Our position in the sight of God, and our relation to His government, are of supreme importance to us.
1. We are just what God sees us to be. We are not necessarily what we think ourselves to be, because our judgment may be erroneous. We may be ignorant of what constitutes a true Christian. Or, knowing what a true Christian is, we may look too favourably upon certain false signs of religious life, and may thus, in either case, decide that we are Christians when we are not. In like manner our fellow men may be mistaken about us. But God makes no errors.
2. And we shall be just what God’s dealings with us tend to make us. Our future will be the fruit and the effect of God’s dealings with us here. And yet we often think more of being justified by man than by God. The reason of this is that we are unduly influenced by the present. The insignificant face of a man within a few feet of you will hide the face of the infinite and eternal God. But as we read the Scriptures, and as we open our hearts to the Spirit of God, our attention is called away from men to God, and from man’s judgment to God the Judge of all.
3. The words before us are a conclusion derived from two propositions.
I. At the means of justification here rejected. “The deeds of the law.”
1. The deeds of the law are the natural means of justification. Angels are justified by them, and so was Adam. Righteous means too are these and necessary. Why do men in their attempts to magnify the gospel denounce the law? Is not the Lawgiver the redeeming God, and the redeeming God the Lawgiver? And if the gospel be the glorious gospel, the commandment is holy and just and good.
2. But we are in such a position that we cannot use these means for justification. And why not? Because by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, and because individually we have followed our first father.
II. The means acknowledged and exhibited. What would be our position if we had simply a revelation telling us that we cannot be justified by the deeds of the law? By imagination place yourselves in this position. It is sometimes necessary for the rich to put themselves by thought in the position of the poor in order to awaken thankfulness for their mercies, Now do this with regard to the grace of God. Just think of yourselves as before Sinai; think as though you had never seen Calvary, and then you will be better able to appreciate all the blessedness involved in the words, “A man is justified by faith,” etc.
1. By faith in what? Not faith in anything. You may have faith in God and in many of God’s words, and yet not be justified. The faith to which Paul directs your attention here is faith in the manifestation of the righteousness of God without the law.
2. Faith in what sense and to what extent? Not the belief that such a manifestation has been made, but such a belief as leads to the use of it. “Faith without works is dead.” The faith to which Paul here points is faith that does work, that is work. It is the sort of faith which a starving man will have in the supply of food that you bring him.
Conclusion: Now, supposing this to be the doctrine of the text, what do we learn?
1. Guilt does not of itself prevent justification. Your sins will not ruin you, but your unbelief.
2. No circumstances of any kind in the case of those who hear the gospel constitute an exception to the mode of justification. Say that you are the children of godly parents, that you have always been remarkable for morality, you must still be justified by faith without the deeds of the law. But justification is within reach of all who can believe. It is present privilege. (S. Martin.)
Justification by faith
St. Paul is emphatically the apostle of the Reformation, of the vigorous, intellectual, Western races, and of the advancing civilisation of the world. Few understood him in his own day. The Church soon dropped a veil over his teaching, and developed the idea of sacramental grace, whose fundamental principles his very soul abhorred. For fifteen hundred years the dust of time settled on his doctrine; then Luther with one bold movement scattered it, and translated man once more out of a world of lifeless formalities into a world of vivid, spiritual life. The Churches, Jewish and Roman, had dead works; Christianity has lively faith. And as dead works breed nothing but corruption, while living faith is fruitful of all excellent graces, you may estimate how much they are severally worth to the world.
I. To understand the argument we must first grasp the vital distinction between works and fruits. Suppose you are crippled, and need constant attention. A servant for good pay may afford it; but there will be a certain hardness in it, and his work will be the basis of a claim. But if you have a wife or child, whose one desire is to be the minister of your needs, her joy in any alleviation she is able to afford rises into quite another region. The only return such service craves is that which it creates, increase of love. Now man’s world is full of works; God’s is full of fruits. How much of man’s work is under hard compulsion--work for hire, which gold repays! But in God’s great world we come into another region. The fields groaning with harvests, the trees bending with fruit, the birds caroling matins at heaven’s gate, the insects humming eve’s lullaby, do glad service to their Maker; and their reward is the mantle of beauty which His smile flings over all the worlds. And in this we have the key to the two theologies. Religion in Jewish and Roman schools is a working; in Paul’s school, in Christ’s, it is a life.
II. And now let us apply this to the matter in hand. The works of the Pharisaic school are sketched by an unerring hand (Matthew 23:23-27). Their works were abundant, their fruit nowhere. All within them that could bear fruit was dead. The evil in the Church began probably from a misreading of St. James. What St. James calls “faith and works,” Paul calls faith--that is, faith which is alive, and can prove its vitality by its fruitfulness. But the Church soon began to lay the chief stress on the works. They are the part of the matter with which a priesthood can most profitably concern itself. Follow the track of Tetzel, and see what the Pharisaic doctrine of work inevitably grows to in time. And the fruit of it is two fold. To the earnest, life becomes a weary, hopeless drudgery--a “yoke” which neither we nor our fathers were able to bear; with which compare Luther’s description of his agony of mind while a Roman monk; while with the sensual it develops a reckless profligacy which, by a little clever arrangement with the Chancery of heaven, can all be set right at last.
III. “Wherefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law,” and we step out at once into a new and heavenly world (Galatians 3:10-14; Gal_3:21-29). Paul’s position and Luther’s is that a soul in anguish on account of transgression must sweep clean out all anxieties as to what it can do to please the Father, beyond the filial act of looking to Him through Him who came to reveal Him. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”
1. Well but, said the Judaising theologians to St. Paul, and the Romanising theologians to Luther, this is to do away with the very foundations of morality. But this depends wholly on what we mean by faith. If it be simply a mental consent to Scriptural statements then the Judaisers and the Romanists are right. But if we believe with Paul and Luther, that the act of faith is a vital act whereby the sinner becomes “dead to sin, but alive to God through Jesus Christ his Lord,” then you have a guarantee for the fruits of faith, which may be regarded as the nobler works of the law, transfigured, glorified by life. It is a great mystery; so is the life of nature. It is the gift of God; so is the life of nature. As God has ordained the law by which the life of nature is quickened in the embryo, so has He ordained that in the spiritual sphere the “just by faith shall live.”
2. And Paul’s conception of the meaning of justification was very large and grand. Justified by faith the law has no claim against you, the devil no accusation. God beholds you as you are in Christ, whose image, forming within, shines through all the follies and weaknesses that defile your frail humanity, and obliterates them to heavenly sight. Your title to the name of son, and the son’s inheritance, is absolute. You have not to win it. One thing alone vitiates it--unbelief. Let faith fail, the life fails. Fix the eye of faith again on Christ, cry to Him, “Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief,” and the life rises again in the springs. Good works will flow from you as summer fruits from the sunny earth, music from a harp full strung, or light from the fountain of day. And they are beautiful to Him, for He creates them; what glory is in them, the newborn lay as tribute at His feet. (J. Baldwin Brown, B. A.)
Justification by faith
I. What is meant by justification. The justification here meant--
1. Is not--
2. But that which the true people of God possess on earth (1 Corinthians 6:11; Titus 3:7); which is--
II. In what sense we are to be “justified by faith.” When the apostle says we are “justified by faith”--
1. He does not speak of--
2. But of the instrumental cause on our part, which is faith--in Christ, as the Son of God, the Messiah, the Saviour, able and willing to save (John 3:16-18; Galatians 2:16); this implies--
III. How this is “without the deeds of the law.” (J. Benson.)
Justification by faith
I. The doctrine of justification.
1. On this subject great misconception prevails. There are two extremes into which men are betrayed.
2. That we may attach distinct ideas to the justification, it is necessary for us to consider it in reference to the attributes and revealed will of the Divine Lawgiver. “It is God that justifieth”; and the principles accordingly by which His decisions are conducted are those of unerring wisdom and unchangeable excellence. Now, the revealed ground of justification, when man was in a state of innocency, was a perfect conformity to the will of his heavenly Father. And will the unchangeable God now be satisfied with a less pure devotion to His will? Impossible! But, in Adam’s case, the righteousness was his own; now it is that of our Surety. Still, the principle of justification is one and the same, at once satisfying the claims of justice and vindicating the equity of the law. The patriarchal and Mosaic dispensations were at one with the Christian in the revealed ground of acceptance. The victim presented at the altar was a confession that the life of the offerer had been forfeited by sin, and that the law of righteousness was obligatory. True believers worshipped the holy Lord God as also merciful and gracious. To them, as to us, justification was granted as an act of forgiving love.
3. Justification includes pardon of sin and acceptance with God. Both are due to the voluntary substitution of the Son of God in our nature, who by active obedience fulfilled the law to the uttermost, and by penal suffering redeemed us from its curse.
4. From this scheme human works are completely excluded. The origin, the progress, the revelation, the execution of it are all alike Divine. It was devised in the counsels of unsearchable Wisdom, flows from the unmerited riches of sovereign compassion, and glorifies the Divine government in the estimation of all orders of intelligent beings.
II. The nature of that faith by which we are justified.
1. Note the relation which faith bears to the justifying act of God as an instrumental but not efficient cause. A mariner falls from the vessel’s side and is in imminent danger of sinking; a rope is thrown out to him; he believes that this presents a way for his escape, and his faith may be said to save him from a watery grave. Unless he had confided in the rope, death would have been inevitable. Now, it is in a sense analogous to this that we are “justified by faith.” It is not our faith that imparts a right to the blessings of redemption. Faith simply connects the needy but unworthy recipient with the munificent Giver. It is the opening of the mouth for the bread of life; the stretching forth of the withered hand towards the Divine Physician; the putting on the protecting robe against the inclemency of the storm.
2. Note its properties.
The doctrine of justification by faith
I. The justification of sinners before God entirely excludes their own works.
1. When he says a man is justified by faith without works, he does not mean that there are different means of justification for different sinners, but that every individual sinner of the human family who is justified obtains this privilege by faith.
2. The moral law could not justify sinners; for by it, says the apostle, is the knowledge of sin. It points out the evil of sin as opposite to itself and to the Divine nature; it criminates sinners for their offences, and threatens deserved punishment; things as opposite to justification as anything can be.
3. Sinners cannot be justified by the works of the moral law, because, in their natural condition, they cannot obey any of its precepts. Their nature is corrupted, and all their actions polluted with sin. But actions from an impure source cannot justify, but must render men liable to condemnation. Besides, all men in their natural condition are under the curse of the law.
4. If it be pleaded that sincere though imperfect obedience will justify sinners, let me ask, Hath Jehovah anywhere in His Word required sincere obedience, or any degrees of it, as the ground of acceptance? Or can it be proved from the sacred oracles that one individual sinner of the human race ever yielded sincere obedience to the Divine law, till once he was renewed by the grace of God, and accepted through the merit of Christ? It cannot.
5. It is worthy of observation on this subject, that all the good works performed by believers in Christ Jesus are as much excluded from being the ground of justification as the works of sinners previous to conversion. All works really and instrumentally good are performed in a state of justification, are the proper and natural effects of it, and therefore cannot be the cause of it. They are proper and requisite to evidence the reality of justification to the consciences of believers and to the world, but were never designed by God to be the foundation of this important privilege.
II. The evangelical doctrine of justification by faith.
1. The righteousness which is the alone ground of the sinner’s acceptance consists in the spotless and perfect righteousness of the Redeemer’s nature and life, and in the complete satisfaction which He yielded to Divine justice. It glorifies the moral administration of Deity, and renders it amiably and awfully venerable.
2. Let us next inquire into the influence of faith on justification, and how it justifies.
III. The peculiar excellencies of this gospel method of justification.
1. It is an amazing device of infinite wisdom, by which the perfections and the government of God are eminently glorified.
2. It excludes boasting in believers, hides pride from their eyes, and leads them to a humble dependence on redeeming merit, which is a temper highly becoming sinful creatures, and suitable to their condition.
3. It places all the children of God upon the same level, so that they are all one in Christ Jesus, and none of them have any superiority over the rest. There are many other differences between them, but here there is none, as they all stand on the same immovable foundation. What a powerful motive arises from this to brotherly love, and to every office of the most endearing friendship! What a noble incentive to gratitude to God, and the Saviour, and to the cultivation of holiness in the heart and in life!
4. This Divine method of acceptance establishes the faith and hope of Christians upon an immovable and everlasting foundation. Had their own graces, frames, or duties, been the ground of pardon and acceptance, they must have been left in the greatest uncertainty about their interest in the favour of God, and had their hearts filled with perplexing doubts and fears. But the mediation and merit of Jesus removes all ground of uncertainty and perturbation. Believers neither need to turn inward to their graces and frames, nor outward to their duties, to find the matter of their justification. This is abundantly provided for them by the grace of God in the merit of Jesus Christ, whose spotless obedience and unequalled sufferings are, by the wise and benign appointment of Jehovah, the alone ground of pardon and life to guilty men.
5. This Divine plan of acceptance affords support, comfort, and tranquillity, to true Christians under the pressures of life, the revolutions of the world, and the challenges of conscience.
6. The doctrine of justification by faith in the merit of Christ affords the most powerful methods to love, gratitude, and obedience. Does not love naturally beget love? and shall not a display of the love of God in justifying the ungodly through the mediation of His Son beget love in the justified sinner? and if he love God, will not love constrain him to keep His commandments? (P. Hutchinson.)
Salvation by faith without the works of the law
The ark of Christ’s gospel need carry no lifeboat of human making on board. (Canon Miller.)
Salvation by faith without the works of the law
Some years ago two men, a bargeman and a collier, were in a boat near the Niagara Falls, and found themselves unable to manage it, it being carried so swiftly down the current that they must both inevitably be borne down and dashed to pieces. At last, however, one man was saved by floating a rope to him, which he grasped, The same instant a log floated by the other man. The thoughtless and confused bargeman, instead of seizing the rope, laid hold on the log. It was a fatal mistake, for clinging to the loose floating log he was borne irresistibly along and never heard of afterwards, while the other was saved because he had a connection with the people on the land. Faith has a saving connection with Christ. Christ is on the shore, so to speak, holding the rope, and as we lay hold of it with the hand of our confidence, He pulls us to shore; but our good works, having no connection with Christ, are drifted alone down to the gulf of fell despair. Grapple our virtues as tightly as we may, they cannot avail us in the least degree; they are the disconnected log which has no holdfast on the heavenly shore. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Marriage of faith and works
The second chapter of the Epistle by James seems, to my mind, to describe a spiritual wedding. We are “bidden to a marriage”; and, as at the older marriage in Cana of Galilee, the holy Master is present, and consummates the nuptials. The parties to be united are but symbolic personages, and yet are real and lifelike too. The bride is young and beautiful--ever young, and ever clothed upon with light as with a garment. Her face is clear as the day; her look is firm, and yet trustful. She is not of the earth, but heaven born, and wears her celestial parentage in every lineament of her radiant countenance. Her name is “Faith.” She is the daughter of God. And beside her stands one whose lusty form was made for deeds of daring and endurance. He is sinewy and athletic. There is valour in his eye, and “cunning in his ten fingers,” and strength in his right arm. He was created to act, to do, to suffer. He was formed for strife and struggle. His name is “Action.” With solemn rites the two are joined in wedlock. They are both to love, and both to obey. They are always to live and move and suffer and conquer together. They are to be the fruitful parents of everything good on earth. On them, while united, Jehovah pronounces a “blessing” richer than that which gladdened the nuptials of Isaac and Rebekah, or of Jacob and Leah. While united, they are to live and grow and conquer; when separated, they are to droop and perish. For each other, and in each other, and with each other, their days of struggle and victory are to be passed, until time shall be no longer. And so “faith” and “works” were coupled by infinite Wisdom; and in the presence of the world it was solemnly announced, “What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” (T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)
Creed and conduct
(text, and James 2:14):--
1. The Bible does certainly teach that a certain kind of faith, which even James would commend, is essential to salvation.
2. It has been thought by some that James disparages faith, and places himself in antagonism to Paul. But note--
I. That there may be a certain kind of work in connection with religion where there is no genuine faith. Those which spring--
1. From the feeling of merit. Such were the works of the old Pharisees. What a deal of work there is done in connection with religion from this feeling now!
2. From a sympathy with the feelings and doings of others. It is customary in the circle to which the man belongs to attend places of worship, and to contribute to religious institutions; and he of course must do the same. Certain religious doings are fashionable; and the love of fashion and the fear of singularity will prompt them.
3. From official position. A man takes some office in connection with Christianity--Sabbath school teacher, deacon, etc.
and he may do the duties of his office without any genuine faith.
4. From the love of a sect. The partisan feeling in religion is ever wondrously active.
II. There may be a certain kind of faith in connection with religion where there is no genuine faith. There is a kind of faith something like that sentimental charity that will talk fluently and tenderly about the sufferings of the poor, but will do nothing to relieve their sufferings.
1. A traditional faith. Such as people get from their parents, their sect, which is adopted without any honest searching in the light of common sense and the Bible before God. People whose faith is of this description, had they been born in Turkey, would have been Mohammedans; in India, Hindoos. This faith is a serious evil: it warps the intellect, shuts out new truth, and obstructs free thought, piety, and progress. It is everlastingly quarrelling--anathematising heretics.
2. A speculative faith. Persons of this faith believe in God, Christ, heaven, and hell as propositions, but do not realise their bearing on themselves.
3. A sentimental faith. Persons of this class are carried about with every wind of doctrine; they are taken up with this preacher today, and that tomorrow. They are Arminians one Sunday, and Antinomians the next. These are mental children--clouds without water; the creatures of clap-trap and novelty.
III. That neither the works unconnected with genuine faith, nor the faith unconnected with genuine works, are of any moral, service.
1. The works unconnected with genuine faith are of no moral service. Because--
2. The faith unconnected with good works is of no moral service. What is a seed worth if it has not the germinating principle? What is the salt worth without its savour? What we want now is to have the creed of Churches worked out. This will do more against infidelity than all your libraries. “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord,” etc.
IV. That the faith of the gospel will necessarily lead to good works, and the works of the gospel necessarily spring from gospel faith. And thus Paul and James agree.
1. The nature of the ease shows this. Faith in the gospel is faith in the infinite love of God for sinners. Can a man really believe in this without love rising in his heart to God? What is the first question of love? How shall I please? etc.
2. The biographies of believers show this. “When it pleased God,” says Paul, “to reveal His Son in me, immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood,” etc. James preached against the mere creedist, and Paul against the mere work monger; and such preachers every age requires. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Is He the God of the Jews only?
The Divine unities
I. One God.
II. One law.
III. One faith.
IV. One ultimate purpose. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Is He not also of the Gentiles?--
The universal Father
The writings of Paul have met with a singular fate. They were intended to reveal the Father’s universal and impartial love; they have been used to represent Him as an exclusive and arbitrary Sovereign. They were designed to open the kingdom of God to all men; and they have been so distorted as to shut it on the many and confine it to the few. The great design of Paul was to vindicate the spiritual right of the race against the exclusive bigotry of the Jews; to manifest God as the Father of all men, and Christ as the Saviour, not of one narrow nation, but the whole world. Note, then, from the text--
I. The doctrine that God is “the God of the Gentiles.” To understand the fall import of this, we must consider that to the Jew the Gentiles were odious. He thought it pollution to eat with them. He called them dogs. He claimed God as exclusively his God. Could we fully comprehend this, we should be filled with admiration for the moral grandeur manifested in the text. Paul, in writing them, not only offered violence to all his earliest and deepest impressions, but put his life in peril.
1. God is “the God of the Gentiles,” and do we not respond to this truth? The heathen had indeed wandered far from God; and to the Jews He seemed to have forsaken them utterly. But how could the universal Father forsake the millions of His creatures? Judaea was but a speck on the globe. Was the Infinite One to be confined to this? Could His love be stinted to the few to whom He had specially revealed His will? In the very darkest ages God was “the God of the Gentiles.” They had their revelation. Light from heaven descended into their souls. They had the Divine law “written in their hearts.” God keep us from the horrible thought that the myriads who are buried in heathen darkness are outcasts from His level Their spiritual wants should indeed move our compassion; and the higher light is given us that we may send it to these brethren.
2. That God is “the God of the Gentiles,” we learn from the wonderful progress which human nature made in heathen ages. Remember Greece. God’s gift of genius--one form of inspiration--was showered down on that small territory as on no other region under heaven. To Greece was given the revelation of beauty, which has made her literature and art, next to the Holy Scriptures, the most precious legacy of past ages. In that wonderful country amidst degrading vices were manifested sublimest virtues. Undoubtedly Grecian philosophy was an imperfect intellectual guide, and impotent as a moral teacher. But was not God the God of the Gentiles when He awakened in the Greeks such noble faculties of reason, and by their patriotic heroism carried so far forward the education of the human race?
3. God is “the God of the Gentiles”; and He was so just when He separated from them His chosen people. For why was the Jew set apart? That “all families of the earth might be blessed.” Judaism was a normal school to train up teachers for the whole world. The Hebrew prophet was inspired to announce an age when the knowledge of God was to cover the earth as waters cover the sea. Nothing in the history of the Jews shows them to us as God’s personal favourites, for their history is a record of Divine rebukes, threatenings, and punishments. Their very privileges brought upon them peculiar woes. In ages of universal idolatry they were called to hold forth the light of pure Theism. They betrayed their trust, and when the time came for the “partition wall” to be prostrated, and for the Jews to receive the Gentile world into brotherhood, they shrank from their glorious task; and rejecting mankind, they became themselves the rejected of God. Meanwhile, faith in the one true God has been spread throughout the Gentile world. Thus we see that, in the very act of selecting the Jew, the universal Father was proving Himself to be the God of the heathen, even when He seemed to reject them.
4. This doctrine is one which we Christians still need to learn. For we are too apt, like the Jew, to exalt ourselves above our less favoured brethren. It is the doctrine of the mass of Christians even now that the heathen are the objects of God’s wrath. But how can a sane man credit for an instant that the vastly greater portion of the human race is abandoned by God? But Christianity nowhere teaches this horrible faith. And, still more, no man in his heart does or can believe such an appalling doctrine.
II. The universal principle contained in this doctrine. The language of the text contains an immutable truth for all ages, viz., that God loves equally all human beings; that the Father has no favourites; that in His very being He is impartial and universal Love.
1. This grand truth is taught in nature. God’s works are of the same authority with His Word. The universe teaches that God is the God of all, and not of the few. God governs by general laws, which bear alike on all beings, and are plainly instituted for the good of all. We are placed under one equitable system, which is administered with inflexible impartiality. This sun, does he not send as glad a ray into the hovel as into the palace? Does the rain fall upon a few favoured fields? or does the sap refuse to circulate except through the flowers and trees of a certain tribe? Nature is impartial in her smiles. She is impartial also in her frowns. Who can escape her tempests, earthquakes, raging waves? Young and old, the good and evil, are wrapped in the same destroying flame, or plunged in the same overwhelming sea. Providence has no favourites. Pain, disease, and death break through the barriers of the strong and rich, as well as of the humble and the poor.
2. In religion the universal Father is revealed as working in the human soul, and as imparting to man His own Spirit. God’s Spirit knows no bounds. There is no soul to which He does not speak, no human abode into which He does not enter with His best gifts. From the huts of the poor, from the very haunts of vice, from the stir of very active business, as well as from the stillness of retired life, have come forth the men who, replenished with spiritual gifts, have been the guides, comforters, lights, regenerators of the world.
III. This principle as applied to ourselves.
1. Is God the Father of the rich only? Is He not also the Father of the poor? The prosperous are prone to feel as if they are a different race from the destitute. But to the Possessor of heaven and earth, how petty must be the highest magnificence and affluence! Does the Infinite Spirit select as His special abode the palace and fly from the hut? On the contrary, if God has a chosen spot on earth, is it not the humble dwelling of patient, unrepining, trustful, virtuous poverty? From the dwellings of the downcast, from the stern discipline of narrow circumstances, how many of earth’s noblest spirits have grown up! May we not still learn a lesson of Divine wisdom from the manger at Bethlehem?
2. Is God the God of the good only, or, is He not also the God of the wicked? God indeed looks, we may believe, with peculiar approval on the good. But He does not desire spiritual perfection and eternal happiness for them more than He does for the most depraved. The Scriptures even seem to represent God as peculiarly interested in the evil. “There is joy in heaven over,” etc. The good do not and ought not to absorb God’s love. We in our conceited purity may withdraw from them, may think it pollution to touch them, may say, “Stand off.” But God says to His outcast child, “Come near.” Do I speak to those who have escaped gross vice? Bless God for your happiness, but set up no insuperable barrier between yourself and the fallen. In conclusion, let us ask ourselves, What was the guilt of the Jews against which the apostle protested? What was it that scattered their nation like chaff throughout the earth? Their proud separation of themselves from their race. And will not the same spirit bring the same ruin upon us? Separation of ourselves from our race is spiritual death. It is like cutting off a member from the body; the severed limb must perish. This spirit of universal humanity is the very soul of our religion. As yet its heavenly power is scarcely felt. Therefore it is that so few of the blessings of Christianity appear in Christendom. We hold this truth in words. Who feels its vitalising power? When brought home as a reality in social life it will transform the world. All other reforms of society are superficial. But a better day is coming. Cannot we become the heralds of this better day? Let our hearts bid it welcome! Let our lives reveal its beauty and its power! (W. E. Channing, D. D.)
The gospel for all mankind
It happened one evening, soon after I began my journey up the country, that I found my way to the homestead of a Dutch Boer, of whom I begged a night’s lodging. It was nightfall and the family must soon go to rest. But first, would the stranger address some words of Christian counsel to them? Gladly I assented and the big barn was resorted to. Looking round on my congregation, I saw my host and hostess with their family. There were crowds of black forms hovering near at hand, but never a one was there in the barn. I waited, hoping they might be coming. But no; no one came. Still I waited as expecting something. “What ails you?” said the farmer. “Why don’t you begin?” “May not your servants come too?” I replied. “Servants!” shouted the master; “do you mean the Hottentots, man? Are you mad to think of preaching to Hottentots? Go to the mountains and preach to the baboons; or, if you like, I’ll fetch my dogs, and you may preach to them!” This was too much for my feelings, and tears began to trickle down my cheeks. I opened my New Testament, and read out for my text the words, “Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” A second time the words were read, and then my host, vanquished by the arrow from God’s own quiver, cried out, “Stop! you must have your own way. I’ll get you all the Hottentots, and they shall hear you.” The barn soon filled with rows of dark forms, whose eager looks gazed at the stranger. I then preached my first sermon to the heathen. I shall never forget that night. (Dr. Moffat.)
God’s favours not to be limited to a single people
But, clearly, such a gospel as this was not meant for one or two men, or for a company of men, or for a favourite nation, or for a race. “Is He the God of the Jews only?” was St. Paul’s indignant question, addressed to those who would have limited His favours down to a single people. Like the natural sun in the heavens, the Incarnate Son of Righteousness is the property--we may dare to use the word--He is the property of all the members of the human family. All have a right to the light and to the warmth which radiate from His sacred person and from His redeeming Cross; and this explains St. Paul’s sense of the justice of proclaiming the good news of the reconciliation of earth and heaven by faith in Christ to all members of the human family. Every man, as such, has a right to his share in the gospel, just as every man has a right to air, and to water, and to freedom, and at least to sufficient food to preserve bodily life; and not to preach the gospel, and treat it as if it were the luxury of a small clique like any one of the old philosophies, like a rare book in a library, like a family portrait, was to offend against the sense of natural justice. (Canon Liddon.)
Do we then make void the law through faith?--
Law and faith, the two great moral forces in human history
“The law” means that which is written in every man’s soul, and republished on Sinai. “Faith” means the gospel, “the glad tidings” of sovereign love to a ruined world. These two great moral forces of the world may be looked upon in three aspects.
I. As agreeing in some respects.
1. In authorship. Both are Divine.
2. In spirit. Love is the moral essence, the inspiration of both.
3. In purpose. The well-being of humanity is the grand aim of both.
II. As differing in some features.
1. One is older in human history than the other. The law is as old as the human soul. The gospel began with man after the Fall (Genesis 3:15).
2. One addresses man as a creature, the other as a sinner. Law comes to man as a rational and responsible existent, and demands his homage; the gospel comes to him as a ruined sinner, and offers him assistance and restoration.
3. The one speaks imperatively, the other with compassion. “Thou shalt,” “Thou shalt not,” is the voice of law. The gospel invites, “Let the wicked forsake his way”; “Come unto Me”; “Ho, everyone that thirsteth.”
4. The “law” demands, the “gospel” delivers. The law says, Do this and that, or Desist from this or that, and will hear no excuse. The gospel comes and offers deliverance from the morally feeble and condemned state into which man has fallen.
III. As cooperating to one result. The law prepares for the gospel by carrying the conviction of sin and ruin. The gospel exalts and enthrones the law. This is the point of the text, “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid.” How does the gospel establish the law?
1. It presents it to man in the most commanding aspects.
2. It enthrones it in the soul.
3. It glorifies it in the life. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
How the law may be made void or established through faith
I. How it may be made void.
1. By not preaching it at all.
2. By teaching that faith supersedes the necessity of holiness.
3. By continuing in sin.
II. How it may be established.
1. By insisting on the whole doctrine of godliness.
2. By urging faith in Christ as a means to holiness.
3. By establishing it in our hearts and lives. (J. Wesley, M. A.)
The law made void and established
I. The law is made void--
1. By imagining that the covenant in Christ is unconditional.
2. That justification is eternal.
3. Consequently that a believer is not under the law at all.
II. The law is established--
1. In the heart.
2. As a part of the covenant.
3. By the obedience of faith. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The law established by faith
God cannot deny or contradict Himself. He cannot recall His own words or disannul His own law (Malachi 3:6). Yet it might seem, at first sight, as if grace were opposed to law, so that whichever be established, the other must fall. St. Paul anticipates and meets this difficulty. Consider--
I. The ground or object of faith.
1. In the preceding verses we find two important points.
2. Here two questions occur.
3. Thus are the high ends of justice secured by the death of Christ: and thus is the law established in its broadest moral commands, and satisfied in its deepest moral requirements. From this it will be easy to see how also in a lower sense the law is established by faith.
II. The conditions and operations of faith. Here the same principle holds good.
1. In the act of faith the penitent trusts in the atoning death of Jesus Christ as the ground of his acceptance. Now this act of faith--
2. The preliminary condition of faith is repentance. It is not the hardened unhumbled sinner who is told to believe in Christ, but those who acknowledge that the law is holy, and tremble and weep to think how they have broken it.
3. So with the fruit of faith. When we are forgiven it is that we may serve sin no more (Titus 2:11-15).
1. The greatest sinner may be forgiven (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
2. The least sinner must be saved by grace through faith.
3. See the guilt of refusing to be justified by faith.
4. The duty of the forgiven man to run in the way of God’s commandments (1 Peter 1:13-16). (T. G. Horton.)
The law established through faith
I. The objection stated. Faith supersedes--
1. The authority of the law by releasing the sinner from its curse.
2. The righteousness of the law as a basis of justification.
II. The objection obviated. Faith establishes the law by restoring--
1. Its power of command.
2. Its power of condemnation.
III. The objection retorted. The objector who blends faith and works undermines.
1. Its power of condemnation.
2. Its power of command. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The law established through faith
I. Faith establishes the law.
1. In its character as holy.
2. In its claims as just.
3. In its threatenings as sure.
II. Obedience to the law is promoted by the gospel.
1. In the motives it supplies.
2. In the strength it supplies. (T. Robinson, D. D.)
The law established through faith
1. The apostle here means that the Divine law must be regarded by us as immutable, and that any interpretation of the gospel at variance with that fact must be a false interpretation. The distinctions between right and wrong are everlasting, and that law of which the apostle speaks helps us to make the distinction.
2. You stand related to--
3. I need not remind you that such is the character of God, and that such are the relations in which we stand to Him.
4. Now there are those who look on the gospel as at variance with the law. This cannot be.
5. Now, I do not mean to say that there is not a right state and tendency of mind in the experience of the man who believes in Christ: it must be a state of mind right in itself--right from God’s command, right from the nature of the thing; then like will produce like. But though there is a rightness--or righteousness--in faith and flowing from faith which are good as far as they go, what man wants to meet the claims of the Divine law is not a rightness good as far as it goes, but a rightness good altogether. The law is made void, put aside, comes to nothing, when you get rid of the necessity of the perfect obedience which it demands. Any attempt to build upon your own personal sanctity as a ground of acceptance with God must be a mistake. If we trust in the righteousness of Christ at all we cannot presume to think that it needs to be eked out and to be made perfect by ours. (R. Vaughan, D. D.)
The law established by faith
I. The doctrine of faith is the doctrine of salvation through the blood and righteousness of the Son of God. No good disposition or qualification whatever, nothing, in short, that distinguishes one man from another, can be joined with the righteousness of Christ as the ground of our confidence towards God. Here there is no room for boasting. We must be saved either completely by grace, or completely by our own works.
II. Two ways in which the law may be said to be destroyed, or made void.
1. In principle; when any doctrine is taught which, in its just consequences, has a tendency to relax our obligations to obey the law of God.
2. In practice; when persons take encouragement from mistaken views of gospel truths to continue in sin, or to be less punctual in discharging the duties which they owe to God or their fellow creatures.
III. The law of God is not made void, but established through faith.
1. The sacred authority and perpetual obligation of the law of God are vindicated in the strongest manner by the doctrine of faith.
2. There are new obligations superadded by the gospel to enforce obedience.
3. The law is established through faith, because obedience is one of the principal ends for which we are called to believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
4. The law is established through faith, because the doctrine of faith furnishes the believer with the most powerful encouragements, in his endeavours to attain holiness.
The law established through faith
1. Better explains it.
2. Better enforces it.
3. Better secures the ends it proposes. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The moral law established by faith in Christ
The ceremonial law was a mere law of expediency, and served to answer the Divine purposes in the times of Jewish ignorance, until the bringing in of a better covenant to which the types pointed; and when they were swept aside as a handwriting of ordinances, there was no infringement made on the moral law, which, as an unchangeable code of moral requirements, was to stand in full force to the end of time.
I. This moral law is--
1. Transcendently exalted in its source. It is a transcript of the Divine nature. And as, from His infinite perfections, God can only will what is right, so all created intelligences are bound to obey His commandments.
2. Reasonable in its requirements. All laws ought to be for the welfare of the subjects, and the dignity of the throne, so that self-interest might prompt to obedience, and a love to the monarch lead to all due respect for the administration. Jehovah’s laws will be found admirably adapted to accomplish these ends, for they only enjoin what contributes to our happiness, and prohibit what would tend to our misery. “Blessed are they that keep His commandments.”
3. Universal in its application. It requires no more than man should perform; viz., to love the Lord his God, etc.
4. Unchangeable in its nature. For being holy, just, and good, Jehovah could as soon change the perfections of His nature as to change the purity of the moral law, or to substitute an opposite one in its stead.
5. Indispensable in its demands. It must be obeyed; its violation must be pardoned, or its penalty must be endured.
II. Faith establishes the law.
1. As a rule of moral action throughout our whole probation.
2. As a medium of happiness (Psalms 1:1-3). In every circumstance of life the law of God will beam a light on our path that cannot be dimmed by the trials and sorrows through which we may pass. And while we are walking according to this rule, “all things will work together for good to them that love God.” Obedience brings an evidence of God’s love, a peace of conscience, a joy in the Holy Ghost, and a clear prospect of heaven.
3. As an infallible standard in the day of judgment, by which we shall be tried, approved, or condemned. This strict procedure of that day calls for a proper standard by which good and evil shall be discriminated and judged.
4. As a correct and eternal standard of the proper amount of rewards and punishments. (W. Barns.)
The doctrine of justification by faith only vindicated from the charge of encouraging licentiousness
I. The objection, that faith makes void the law.
1. The moral law is that rule to which from our relation to God we are obliged to conform. This obligation is founded on the nature of things, which nothing ever can dissolve. Should a doctrine, then, tend to warrant the inference that it might be relaxed, this would constitute sufficient ground for rejecting it. But such is not the tendency of our doctrine. On the contrary, it presupposes this obligation. There would have been no occasion for such a method of deliverance from the penal effects of offences committed against the law, but on the supposition of the antecedent obligation to obey the law. And is the sinner less bound to render obedience when he is pardoned, than when he was in a state of guilt?
2. In respect to the measure of the required obedience the objection falls to the ground. This law requires universal, unsinning obedience, and accounts every deviation to be sin. Should any interpretation, then, of Scripture be advanced, which shall reduce this measure of obedience, it would be justly rejected, as being dishonourable to God, contradictory to the Scriptures, and to the interests of morality. But the tendency of our doctrine is the exact opposite. It teaches us that we must be justified by faith, because the unsinning obedience required by the law renders it impossible that we can ever be justified by works. Were the law less holy, less rigorous in its demands, there would then be no necessity for this method of justification. But since righteousness cannot be attained by the law, the righteousness of faith is manifested in the gospel. Does faith, then, make void the law? No. It implies in the strongest manner the extensive nature of that obedience which the law requires.
3. But may not the doctrine supersede the necessity of any obedience at all? No; for--
II. The assertion that faith establishes the law. Far from producing effects unfavourable to the cause of morality, it tends to strengthen and promote it by motives of the most exalted nature, and of the most constraining obligation.
1. What is the state of the justified sinner? Under a conviction of the danger and misery of sin, looking unto Jesus, he has found peace and joy in believing. The ground of all his present peace and future prospects is a comfortable hope of his acceptance in the beloved. Let this hope be once destroyed, his peace is broken, his prospects are clouded. Still he is under condemnation. To keep alive, then, this hope is one leading object which the justified sinner has constantly in view. But how is the object to be accomplished? Doubtless the Holy Ghost is the author of this blessed experience, “who beareth witness with our spirits that we are the children of God.” But He usually evidences to us our adoption by reflecting light on His own work of grace in the heart, and thus by enabling us to trace out the existence of the cause by the effects evidently produced. Sanctification, as it is the earnest of future glory, so it is an evidence, because a consequence, of our present reconciliation with God. Deliverance from the power of sin is a blessing annexed by promise to a state of justification (chap. 6:14). Observe what a constraining motive is thus provided to the attainment of universal holiness. The peace, the hope, the joy of a sinner are inseparably connected with the evidence of his interest in Christ.
2. But the faith which leads a sinner to Christ for justification includes a conviction, not only of the danger, but also of the demerit of sin. In what light does he view himself? As a brand plucked out of the fire; as a pardoned criminal, as a rebel graciously invested with all the privileges of a loyal subject. What sentiments of love, gratitude, obedience, does this view inspire!
3. These sentiments are still greatly augmented by a consideration of the means which have been employed in this work of mercy (Galatians 3:13). Redeemed with such a ransom, shall sinners refuse to give their lives to Christ? (1 Corinthians 6:20; Titus 2:14). (E. Cooper.)
The gospel salvation confirms obedience,
I. New views of truth. The believer receives new views of--
1. The perfection of the law in itself. His natural heart rebelled against it, and longed for some standard which should grant indulgence to his sinful infirmities. Even the letter of the law was too strict, and from the breadth of its spiritual application he recoiled. He hated the commandments for their purity. In a renewed heart this spirit is entirely subdued, and that the law is holy and just and good is thankfully acknowledged. There are, therefore, now new and strong inducements to follow after the holiness which it exhibits, and thus the gospel has not destroyed but confirmed the law.
2. His own character and life. His proud and self-confident spirit is broken down under the consciousness of guilt, which quickens the desire for holiness, and increases the abhorrence of transgression. Hence to lower the standard of obedience would bring no gratification. He longs to do the perfect will of God, and is contented only as he can put off the old man and put on the new, which is renewed in holiness.
3. Christ and His Cross. In this there is no countenance given to sin.
II. New motives of conduct.
1. Sincere gratitude and love to Christ who has redeemed him from the bondage of the law. He looks upon himself as a captive, bought with a price, and love for his Redeemer constrains him to serve and please Him. By this he is led to “perfect holiness in the fear of God.”
2. Consciousness of exalted privilege, he is a pardoned man, and all his fear of the consequences of his past guilt are replaced by the hope of heaven. He is adopted into God’s family, and therefore has all the rights attaching to Divine Sonship, etc. What an assemblage of motives to holiness! How can a man make void the law who has such privileges?
3. The perfect purity of heaven. The justified man looks forward to this as the perfection of character, and consequently longs for the personal purity which alone can meeten him for it. How, then, can faith make void the law when obedience to it is the only preparation for the inheritance which faith expects?
III. New means of attaining this obedience. The work of the Holy Spirit is peculiar to the gospel, and whatever holiness any man attains is given by Him. In his own nature man has no strength to obey the law; but the whole influence of the heavenly Agent is directed to the ultimate point of man’s entire obedience to God. To attain this He maintains an unceasing warfare within the renewed soul, and having brought him to the glorious privilege of being a child of God, He enables him to walk worthy of his high vocation. (S. H. Tyng, D. D.)
Religion and morality
1. There are many who cannot see the difference between criticising a weak argument and attacking the thing it purposes to prove. St. Paul had here been saying severe things of that spurious morality which consists simply of obedience to outward rules; and there were foolish auditors who concluded that he was assailing the moral law, the thing expressed in these rules. His answer is, that he was attacking not law, but legalism. St. Paul maintains that, by trying to substitute the principle of faith for that of blind obedience to an external rule, so far from making void the law he was really establishing the law.
2. The question here discussed, from a modern point of view, is one as to the relation between religion and morality. Can a man be virtuous who is not pious, or, if he can, does his virtue lack a quality which only piety can infuse into him? There are few who would maintain that the Christian religion has had a bad influence on virtue; they only contend that virtue is independent of religion. And I think there are many plausible considerations which lend, at least, a colourable pretext to this contention.
3. Are we Christians, then, driven to the admission that there is no connection between our Christian faith and our goodness of life? Or, at least, are we driven to the confession that morality gains nothing from religion? No. All the apparent incongruities notwithstanding, I maintain that religion and morality are inseparably united; that that morality is at the best a poor, shallow thing which is not fed from the fount of a genuine Christian faith. Whenever, in its power and reality, the faith of Christ takes possession of a soul, we find that it transfigures into new beauty and nobleness all the higher elements of our nature, expanding the horizon of intelligence, kindling the spiritual imagination by a vision of a fairer than earthly beauty, infusing a new and keener sensitiveness into the conscience, a new tenderness into the affections, arming the will with a new commanding power over the passions, breathing, amidst all our struggles and efforts in this passing life, a sweeter, serener peace into the heart, and shedding over all the dim, dark future the light of a diviner, heavenlier hope.
4. There are many ways in which the influence of Christian faith on the moral life may be shown, as, e.g., by pointing out the influence of the sense of God’s redeeming love in Christ Jesus, and of the hope of immortality on the moral life; but passing by these I fix attention on the fact that--
I. The faith of Christ reveals to us a new and infinite ideal or standard of goodness.
1. Eighteen hundred years ago there broke upon the world a vision of human perfection, a revelation of the hidden possibilities of our nature, transcending far all that the race had ever witnessed or conceived; and if we ask today what is the secret of the wondrous power over the hearts and lives of men the Christ-life has had, shall we answer that Christ set us simply a perfect example of human virtue? Had it been nothing more, I believe that there are dim aspirations in these breasts of ours which had never started into life; that there are secret anticipations of an immortal destiny which would never have awakened within us. But I believe that the secret of the transforming power of the life of the Son of God lies simply in this, that it calls us to be sons of God.
2. I can well conceive that to many this conception of the religious life may have an air of extravagance. When one thinks of the multitudes who are sunk in ignorance and vice, and of the dull routine of commonplace respectability, which is the best that most of us can boast of, it may seem the excess of fanaticism to talk of such a nature that its proper destiny is nothing less than sharing in God’s life. And yet think for a moment. Outside of the sphere of religion there are in souls indications of infinitude--a sense of a nature that is one with God.
II. The religion of Christ not only reveals to us an infinite ideal of goodness, but it assures us of the power to realise it. It says to you not merely, “This is what you ought to be,” but, “This is what you may and can be.” Apart from this, the gospel would be no good news. As you know that the first ray of light your eye catches, gilding the eastern horizon in the morning, is to you the sure pledge and prophecy of the coming perfect day; or, as you know, that the future plant is potentially contained in the little seed or germ, so the first movement in a human breast of true spiritual life, the first throb of genuine self-devotion to Christ is fraught with the newborn perfection and beauty of the life that is hid with Christ in God. The religious life indeed, like other life, is progressive, and here, as elsewhere, effort, struggle, conflict are the inevitable conditions of progress. Here lies the power over evil, the conquering impulse of the Christian life, that if only we be true to God and ourselves the final victory is sure. The sun and rain and dew, all the genial influences of nature, will not make a stone grow, but the tiniest germ, the fragile plant, just peeping above the soil, has in it a secret principle which can transmute air, earth, sunlight, moisture into means of its development, and so the heaven born life has in it the vitalising, the assimilating forces that will make “all things” in this our earthly existence, “all things” in the moral atmosphere, “work together for its good,” and bear it onward to perfection. If the Spirit of Christ dwell in your heart today and mould your life, nothing in heaven or earth or hell can ever, ever baulk you of your Christian hope. (Principal Caird.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Romans 3". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany