Expository Papers on Romans: Part 3

Romans 1-3
In the three first chapters of this epistle we find all the dreadful guilt and condition of man brought out. He has no righteousness of his own; his mouth is stopped, and he has become subject to the judgment of God. But now, in chap. 3: 25, God sets forth Christ Jesus as a propitiation (mercy-seat, same word as in Heb. 9:55And over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercyseat; of which we cannot now speak particularly. (Hebrews 9:5)), the ground upon which He can meet the vilest sinner, and at the same time declare His perfect righteousness in justifying the believer. The word "mercy-seat" here is an evident allusion to "the great day of atonement" in Lev. 16, when Aaron went into the holiest once a year, and sprinkled the blood on the golden mercy-seat. In that chapter we have distinct things; the blood on the mercy-seat in verse 14, and the sins confessed over and borne by the goat in verses 21, 22, showing forth the double aspect of the death of Christ-propitiation, and substitution; or, as we get it in verses S and 15, " the Lord's lot " and " the people's lot." It is most important for the soul to be clear upon this point; and the consequence of not seeing the difference between these two aspects of the death of Christ has been great confusion in the minds of many of the Lord's people; therefore I do not think it would be out of place here to dwell a little upon the distinction between the two. Propitiation is Godward, "the Lord's lot" -all the holy requirements of God's nature perfectly met and satisfied by the work of Christ on the cross; and Lev. 16:1414And he shall take of the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it with his finger upon the mercy seat eastward; and before the mercy seat shall he sprinkle of the blood with his finger seven times. (Leviticus 16:14) is a beautiful type of this.
The mercy-seat was of pure gold (Ex. 25:1717And thou shalt make a mercy seat of pure gold: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof. (Exodus 25:17)) and Aaron on that solemn occasion was to enter the holiest once a year, in a cloud of incense, which typifies the acceptableness and sweet savor of the person of Christ to God, and sprinkle the blood upon the mercy-seat. Gold in Scripture generally typifies divine righteousness; so how beautiful is the figure! the blood and the gold meeting. That is, divine righteousness fully met and satisfied by the blood. How true that was when the Lord Jesus offered Himself "without spot to God," and His precious blood was shed at the cross. There all God's holiness, His righteousness, the holy claims of His throne, were fully satisfied; and on the ground of this work the gospel can be proclaimed to every creature. The blood is shed, God is satisfied, and you may come; nothing could be freer or fuller. But now there is another side-substitution; that is, Christ bearing the sins of those who believe, and answering to God for them. We find this prefigured by the live goat in Lev. 16:20-2220And when he hath made an end of reconciling the holy place, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat: 21And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness: 22And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness. (Leviticus 16:20‑22).* Aaron was to bring the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel and all their transgressions, and all their sins, putting thud (the sins) upon the head of the goat, and the goat was to " bear upon him all their iniquities into a land not inhabited." (v. 22)
(*The direct application would be to Israel here, but the principle would. apply equally to us. It is implied for us in the bullock for the sin-offering for Aaron and his house in verse 11)
Do you believe, dear fellow-believer, that Christ answered to God for all your sins upon the cross 1800 years ago? Do not speak of past, present, or future sins; for when Christ bore them they were all future, and Scripture never speaks in that way. No, if one of your sins was borne, they were all borne; not up to your conversion, as some would say, for in that case what about the sins committed after conversion? Christ would have to die again. "For then must He often have suffered since the foundation of" the world." (Heb. 9:2626For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Hebrews 9:26))
This truth seems to me to be so blessedly brought out in verse 21. We find the word "all" mentioned three times: "all the iniquities," "all their transgressions," "all their sins," putting them (that is, all the sins) upon the head of the live goat. How wonderful! to think that if you are a true believer in Christ, you can say on the authority of Scripture, "God laid all my sins upon Christ 1800 years ago, and Christ bore the judgment of them in His own body on the tree." This truth realized gives it a wonderful power for walk; for could you think of this, and then go and commit sin? God forbid.
Thus we have seen these two sides of the work of Christ-propitiation, and substitution. There might be propitiation, and not a sinner saved, for it is all God-ward; God's holy nature satisfied. This we get in verse 25 of our chapter (Rom. 3); in chapter 4: 25 we get more substitution, which we may look at again, if the Lord will. In verses 25 and 26 we have unfolded in the fullest way this " righteousness of God," which is the subject of this part of the epistle. First, God sets forth Christ Jesus as the mercy-seat; then to declare His righteousness-that is, what God is in Himself, His perfect consistency with Himself. This righteousness is declared in a double way. First, for the remission ("passing over," see margin) of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God. This does not mean past sins of believers, as some have taken it; but that God passed by (or pretermitted) the sins that were committed before Christ had died; for instance, the sins of Abraham, David, Daniel; and the cross of Christ showed that He was righteous in so doing. The sins of Old Testament saints were passed by, on the ground that Christ was going to suffer.
Secondly (v. 26), God's righteousness is declared at this time (i.e. since the cross), not in forbearing with sins, but "that God might be just, and the justifier of Him that believeth in Jesus;" a thing unknown in Old Testament times. What a wonderful truth this is to lay hold of; and yet one not generally understood. It is not said that God might be merciful and loving, and thus save the sinner; that is the human thought. Truly, God is merciful, and He is love; but here it is "that He might be just" (or righteous), and yet justify the one who believes in Jesus. Many a one has the thought, though they may not have expressed it, that God is a merciful God, and hence that since they have prayed earnestly for forgiveness, and rest upon what are called " the promises," such as, " Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you," they may entertain a humble hope that they are forgiven; but at the same time they have a sort of fear that if they do not walk well, God will: again bring their sins to remembrance.
If that is your experience, dear reader, I would ask you to weigh prayerfully the wondrous truth contained in verse 26, that God is now "just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus." God is truly love, and He so loved the world that He gave His Son to die; and on the cross, during those hours of darkness, the cry came to His lips, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Why indeed? What was the meaning of it? A righteous man at. His life, forsaken: of God in His death? Ah He was bearing the wrath and judgment of God against sin, and that to the very uttermost. God was satisfied, yea, glorified, by His atoning death; and now, on the ground of that death, God is just (just to the person and work of Christ), and yet justifies Him that believeth in Jesus.
How full this is. Suppose Christ had not died? God's justice (or righteousness) would have been our utter condemnation; for who could stand and be judged by such a standard as the perfect righteousness of God?. But now that Christ has died, God's justice instead of being against us is in our favor; for God's holy, righteous, claims have been so fully met at the cross, that God can say to the one who believes in Jesus, "I have nothing to lay to your charge, I have nothing against you, you are righteous."
Suppose you owed a large sum of money, and had nothing to pay it with, and a kind friend paid it all for you, would it be just if your creditor was to come to you for the money again? Certainly not. So, if Christ has paid that mighty debt of sin on the cross, and you are a believer in Jesus, will God come and require it at your hand again? Impossible. His justice would be at stake; and what is more; He not only justifies the believer, but He delights to do it. Why it was the love of His own heart that provided the Lamb for the sacrifice, so that there might be a way by which He could justify the believer in Jesus. But there is no glory due to us; for it is all on the ground of the death of Christ; and God does not justify Him who does this or that, or tries to keep the law, but one who comes as a poor, worthless, hell-deserving sinner, having no righteousness of His own, but believing in Jesus.
It is beautiful to see that this is the ground the apostle Paul takes in Phil. 3:8,98Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, 9And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: (Philippians 3:8‑9). After speaking of his counting all things loss, and suffering the loss of all things, he counts them but dung that he may win Christ, and be found in Him. On what ground? Because his was such a good walk? or because he was such a good servant? No. "Not having mine own righteousness, which is by the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith." He takes the ground of Rom. 3, no righteousness of His own, but found in Christ, on the ground of having God's righteousness; the same ground upon which the thief on the cross, the woman of Samaria, and the vilest sinner that ever lived, and you and I, will be in glory. "Where is boasting then? It is excluded." (Rom. 3:2727Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. (Romans 3:27)) Of course it is; for who could boast upon such a ground as this? " By what law (or on what principle)? Of works? Nay: but by the law (i.e. principle) of faith."
In verse 28 we have one of those magnificent conclusions drawn by the apostle (or rather by the Holy Ghost) from what he has before been proving: "There-fore we conclude "-what?-a most important, weighty truth-" that a. man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." How astonishing it is, in the face of such a plain Scripture as this, that there are to be found some who say that the way to be saved is to keep the law. It is equally true of the Gentile as of the Jew, that boa are justified by faith before God. The great distinguishing feature of the Jews was, that they had the law. But this justification was " without the deeds of the law," and it was by faith; therefore it would admit the Gentile as well as the Jew. "Is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also; " for both Jews and Gentiles are justified before Him on one common ground, i.e. on the principle of faith: " Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law." (vv. 30, 31)
It might appear that the principle of justifying by faith would set aside the law and make it void; but, on the contrary, it "established the law:" its claims are fully recognized, and it is upheld in all its holiness, justness, and goodness; for the principle of justification by faith supposes what has been brought out in this epistle; namely, taking the place of being condemned under law, proved guilty, the mouth stopped, and owning the just sentence which the law pronounced on the sinner. Surely that would be establishing the law in all its force, and so much so, that, before we could be freed from its condemnation, the Son of God must die, and this is what faith owns. F. K.