Notes on Romans 2-4

Romans 2‑4  •  28 min. read  •  grade level: 7
I take the close of Romans 3 as being the summing up, and application of the apostle’s argument, drawn from the sin of the Jews and Gentiles; then in chapter 4 he passes on to another principle, as brought out in the testimony of Abraham and David. But in this first part of the epistle the apostle opens out man’s need, and the way in which it had been met by redemption, as that on which alone the soul could rest. Having in chapter 1, from verse 18, gone through the horrible evil of the Gentiles and man generally throughout the world, and showing that without any subsequent revelation, through the knowledge of God possessed by Noah, and God’s dealings with men through the creation, God being to be understood by the things that are made in His eternal power and Godhead, they were left (Rom. 1) without excuse, conscience itself telling them what was right and wrong, and that hence, as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, He gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts; for if a man is left alone of God, he always turns to the lust of his own heart. Thus God in judgment brought upon them, that as they had not discerned what became God, they should not be able to discern what became man.
It is God’s way, when the light He gives is rejected, to give men up to blindness, and this giving up by God is an act of judgment on God’s part; as these Gentiles, not liking to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind. It was so with the Jews; rejecting the testimony God had given them, God says by the mouth of the prophets “make the heart of this people fat, and their ears heavy” (Isa. 6:1010Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed. (Isaiah 6:10)); of the Gentiles it is said, “who changed the truth of God into a lie”; so of the professing church, fallen from the light, God says, “I will send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie.” Thus we see, whether Jews, or Gentiles, or nominal Christians, the effect of man being given up of God—what man is when left to himself, and the judgment of God in his neglect or abuse of light. Natural light was given in the beginning in the testimony of creation, and man began with the knowledge of God as thus dealing with him; but men did not like to retain God in their knowledge. There is the pleading, too, of conscience, for every man has a conscience, distinct from grace. But conscience cannot bring us to God. Conscience is the sense of responsibility, united to the knowledge of good and evil, and this last part acquired in the fall. But we must remember, if the conscience becomes awakened, it is not life and peace, and therefore only drives us away from God, like Adam in the garden hiding himself from God.
As the Gentiles did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind. So the Jews, having been disobedient to God’s testimony, sentence is passed upon them by Isaiah seven hundred years before it was accomplished: “Make the heart of this people fat,” etc., for such is the patience of God; as Stephen also says, “Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost, as your fathers did [in the past dispensation], so do ye [in this dispensation].” Both guilty of the same sin, and according to Peter’s testimony of the witness given to Jesus, those very things by which Christ was testified to have come from God, will be the very thing that will lead the Jews to receive the false Christ in the latter day. “Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles, and wonders, and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know” (Acts 2:2222Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: (Acts 2:22)). Compare this with 2 Thessalonians 2:88And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: (2 Thessalonians 2:8), “Then shall that wicked one be revealed...with all power [miracles], and signs, and lying wonders.” Thus as the Jews rejected what God did in their midst by Jesus of Nazareth; so they will receive what Satan will do by that wicked one; and all this, as the apostle goes on to say, because they received not the love of the truth.
As in Romans 1:18-3218For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; 19Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath showed it unto them. 20For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: 21Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, 23And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. 24Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves: 25Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. 26For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: 27And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. 28And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; 29Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, 30Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: 32Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. (Romans 1:18‑32); and Romans 2:1-161Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. 2But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things. 3And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? 4Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? 5But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; 6Who will render to every man according to his deeds: 7To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life: 8But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, 9Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; 10But glory, honor, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: 11For there is no respect of persons with God. 12For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; 13(For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. 14For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: 15Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;) 16In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel. (Romans 2:1‑16), all the Gentiles are brought in guilty, so, in spite of real privileges, the Jew: from Romans 2:1717Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, (Romans 2:17), and then from Romans 3:9-189What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; 10As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: 11There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. 12They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. 13Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: 14Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: 15Their feet are swift to shed blood: 16Destruction and misery are in their ways: 17And the way of peace have they not known: 18There is no fear of God before their eyes. (Romans 3:9‑18), we find all are under sin—the Jew under law, as well as the Gentile without law. Both are alike equally guilty; for if the Gentiles be given over to a reprobate mind, the Jew is proved by his own scriptures, which he boasted belonged to him only, to be just as bad. Thus, there is none righteous, no, not one; there is no understanding; none that seeketh God, the will being gone wrong; blind in mind, and perverse in will, and guilty before God; not only as to the nature being sinful, but as slighting the testimony, rejecting the light which God had from time to time revealed to them. But the God of judgment was there, and now it is proved that by the deeds of the law no flesh can be saved, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. Thus we see how those under the law are brought under condemnation, as well as the heathen they despised; it is useless for a Jew to attempt to get in by his own condition, for the law he boasted in condemns him. If it applied to him, it condemned him it applied to. The Gentiles have no right to put themselves under the law; but we all do so somehow or other; and as a process it may turn to good in the conviction of sin; but as a position, and if we stay in it, see where it brings us! “The Lord looked down upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand and seek after God.” No; they have all gone out of the way; and the Jew learned by the law which he claimed, and with reason, to belong to him only, that on his own ground he was utterly guilty, though the apostle does not here bring against them their hardness of heart in rejecting Christ; and thus both Jew and Gentile are alike thoroughly guilty, and every mouth stopped. Such is the end of man’s righteousness.
But now by grace all is changed. The righteousness of God without law is revealed, and the apostle then develops this truth very fully, as far as its principles go. In point of fact, this joins on to Romans 1:1717For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. (Romans 1:17), the intermediate verses giving the proof of what made God’s righteousness necessary. He states the nature of this righteousness in a direct and absolute manner, and in contrast with man’s. It is altogether on a different principle; it is righteousness, not even mercy, though the fruit of grace, but it is a righteousness without law at all; it is God’s righteousness, and who can give law to Him? Had it been man’s righteousness, law would have been the measure and principle of it; but being God’s righteousness, it is altogether on a different principle from law. As man stood in sin, God’s law only condemned him, and it cannot give life. Put a man under righteous obligation, and it is all over with him, because man is a sinner. Man has a will (I speak practically, not metaphysically), and law brings it out; and man’s will never submits, for it would cease to be a will if it did; it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. God never meant righteousness to be by the law; it would have been cruelly mocking man, who is a sinner, to have proposed it to him. The law was given, that the offense might abound—not that sin might abound, for sin was there before the law was given; but it is not offense, or transgression, until there is a law; and thus it is that the law worketh wrath, for where no law is, there is no transgression.
It is not said there is no sin; but where there is nothing to transgress, there can be no transgression. Thus every mouth is stopped, and all the world becomes guilty before God. And now the righteousness without the law is manifested, not merely it exists, but it is manifested; it existed long before in the counsels of God, none being ever justified otherwise, but it was not manifested till the gospel was brought out and preached; therefore the apostle says, “to declare at this time his righteousness.” No sinner ever stood, or ever could stand, in God’s presence, from Adam downwards, save in God’s righteousness; but it had not been manifested until now. “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets.” Thus the law and the prophets only showed what God was going to bring in, but did it not in themselves; but the gospel of God on the contrary is founded on God’s righteousness, and therefore it is manifested at this time, but witnessed by the law and the prophets; it was witnessed to, before it was manifested.
In Romans 3 we get all brought in guilty, and then it shows how we are to get into the presence of God. Can man that is a sinner approach God? No; nor can he make out a righteousness by law, by which he could; but then God’s righteousness appears in its stead. Christ has been made a sacrifice for us, He has answered for all we have done in the old man, and as man now He is in the presence of God for us, and we are there in Him, in all the favor and acceptance in which Christ Himself is—always there as He is. This is how man gets the righteousness of God; but in Romans 3 only the former part is distinctly stated. The claims of God against the old man have all been met in Christ Jesus, and we are made the righteousness of God in Him. God’s righteousness, though in fact including all, is yet more particularly viewed here as meeting the guilt of the old man. In the end of the chapter we have the answer to God’s perfect demands. The sin, whether of Jew or Gentile, is put away by the blood-shedding of Jesus, and God’s righteousness manifested in forgiving. This righteousness is now the starting-point of faith: we have met God here. But this showed the righteousness of God in His patience with, and forgiveness of, the sins of Old Testament believers. The patience had been shown of old. The work of Christ showed the righteous ground of this patience. We, or they, are all fully justified by Christ’s blood.
In Romans 4 we have another thing, resurrection in principle. Abraham believed God. This is faith in its groundwork. God is believed. Next, in its object, not only did he believe in the resurrection, but in the God that raised. So with, us; we do not merely believe in Jesus, who rose from the dead, but in the God who raised Him: the power that came in to give Christ, as man, a place before God, which was the plain witness to the value of His work, in putting away our sins.
In referring to Abraham, who had nothing to do with law, we find the double character of faith, its nature, and its particular object in the Christian; in the second character of justification, he says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” It is not here said that he believed in God, but he believed God. Such is faith in its subjective elementary character; we set to our seal that God is true; and that is how Abraham got his righteousness. It was not man’s working, but one that worked not. But the word of God reveals God Himself, and God in grace; hence, though there may be much struggling first, when we simply believe God, we believe in Him that justifies the ungodly, and of such David describes the blessedness.
But the character of our faith is carried farther here; the object is God who raised the dead. Our confidence is a righteous one: we believe on One who raised up Him who had been delivered for our offenses—raised for our justification. But there is this difference between Abraham’s faith and ours. He believed in God’s power to fulfill His word. We believe that God has raised up Jesus after He had stood in our place as sinners. We have thus the resurrection of Christ applied to our justification. Yet in all this part of the epistle justification does not go beyond forgiveness, as Romans 4 plainly shows. Righteousness goes farther, but not what we have here. Here we have the active clearing away of all the guilt that attached to the deeds of the old man. This completes the work of grace for us, as responsible beings. The effect is, we have peace, stand in divine favor, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God; we glory in tribulation by the way, for it is for our good, and we have the key to all in the love of God, shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit given to us. Besides, we joy in God Himself, thus revealed in the perfectness of His grace towards us when we were sinners.
Having shown thus the result of grace, in the beginning of Romans 5, in the way in which God justified each individual sinner, passing by sins, the apostle turns to the headship of the two Adams, and shows where the law came in. Our place is not in the first, not under the law, but in the second, according to the efficacy of the work He had wrought. What went before applied to our sins. Now he speaks of our nature and place.
I will summarily review his reasonings founded on this, before entering into detail. The disobedience of one made the many sinners—the obedience of One constitutes the many connected with Him righteous, and thus we are righteous by the work of another. In Romans 6 he goes on to notice that some will say, “Oh, if Christ has done all, it is no matter what I do: if it is righteousness without works, then we may walk as we like.” The answer is, not “That ought not to be,” but “That cannot be,” for we speak of death—I have part in righteousness by death. If the thing be real, I cannot live in what I am dead to, and that makes this become impossible; if I live, being thus dead, it is by being alive to God, in Jesus Christ our Lord. A new and holy life (for it is Christ in the power of resurrection) brings with it, not only hatred of sin, but deliverance; the same principle is applied to law in Romans 7. If I am dead to the law by the body of Christ, I am delivered from that which had power over me while I was alive, that I may walk in newness of life.
We have the application of Christ’s death and resurrection to man, for his justification before God, in the beginning of Romans 5; as dead to sin and consequently leading a holy life, in Romans 6; as dead to the law in Romans 7. The law, as Galatians also teaches us, has killed you, therefore it can do no more; its greatest work was, so to speak, to kill Christ, as in grace taking its curse; but He rose again, and we are in Him beyond the law—in Him who had borne its curse. Thereupon chapter 8 brings out the Christian in perfect liberty, in the last Adam of Romans 5 in virtue of His being risen. There is no condemnation for him who is in Christ. The Christian is necessarily viewed in Christ in chapter 8, but resurrection with Christ is not developed in Romans as a doctrine. The power of a new life in the Spirit is stated in verse 2; the condemnation of flesh on the cross, so as to put an end to that for faith and before God; our affections consequently showing our life in Him. Being thus fully and freely justified and accepted in Christ, we are only waiting for the redemption of our bodies.
It is now not man’s righteousness; if it were, it must be by the law and for those who have it. It is God’s righteousness for all, and is upon all who believe, and no man can come in any other way; if it is God’s righteousness, He cannot accept a Jew in preference to a Gentile, and as it is His “to all,” it is as free for sinners of the Gentiles as the Jews. As regards the standing and peace of the soul, it is deeply important to see that while what we are ever struggling for is to get something in which we can come before God, it is God who comes before us in the gospel with His, as our only righteousness; it is unto all, but upon those who believe. Mark here another thing that is connected with peace of soul: some may say, “I do not deny His divine righteousness, I believe it; but how am I to know that I have a share in it? Is it applied to me? I want it applied to my soul.” Well, God has applied it to you, if you believe, if, in the consciousness of your sinfulness, you have believed the record that God has given of His Son, then you have had it applied to your soul, for it is upon all them that believe; you are righteous. If you go on tampering with sin, or the world, God must work this out of you, that is true; and the same is the case, if there be much of the pride of self-righteousness. But the thing that is believed is what His Son is, and has done; if there is tampering with sin or the world in our souls, it prevents our laying hold of the truth; nor even if we have found divine righteousness, can we have the joy of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, for God must be real to us. But what we have to rest on is Christ’s dying for our sins, and the acceptableness of Christ’s person.
Many a Christian would be glad to rest, and, as they think, to rest there. But in the last thought they deceive themselves; they look for something better in themselves than they found; but that is not submitting to God’s righteousness, not resting in what Christ is. They have not learned the value of the cross, nor its meaning. If they had learned its value, they would not be trembling for fear; for how could they be trembling if they knew that their sins are put away? How could they be looking for good in themselves, if they knew that the cross was the final condemnation of all flesh in itself? You say you have no other confidence than the cross; that may be as to your conviction of the truth, and you may feel your need of it in a certain sense, so as to know you cannot do without it. I suppose you do, or you would not look to it; but you have not yet learned the value of the cross, which purges the conscience by the absolute putting away of sin. And the secret of it is, that you still look for something besides sin in yourself; that is, there is still the looking for, still some hankering after, your own goodness lurking within; you do not think yourself as thoroughly bad as the cross proves you to be, for you are what needed it, you are sin in your nature as in your acts. God has condemned sin in the flesh, as needing that abhorrence on His part, and that is all you are in yourself (Rom. 8:33For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: (Romans 8:3)). You have yet to learn that it is the ungodly whom God justifies; you will have more than that, but you must come to that first. It is “being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus”; it is not mere justification from sins, but actual deliverance—entire redemption. Thus, in the figure of Israel, it was a question between God and Pharaoh: “Let my people go” (Ex. 5:11And afterward Moses and Aaron went in, and told Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness. (Exodus 5:1)). It is real positive redemption, not merely a forgiveness, but Christ has brought us out free from all the title Satan can have against us, or power he can have over us, according to the righteousness of God, and for Him. If I buy a slave, he is mine, and no one can have any right over him, and that is true with regard even to our poor bodies—they are to be free from Satan’s power: God will have us entirely for Himself, by the work of Christ, and that according to His own holy nature and life, and His divine righteousness in judgment. Not even the smallest particle of our dust shall remain in Satan’s kingdom, and this is why redemption is mentioned last in 1 Corinthians 1:3030But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: (1 Corinthians 1:30): as it is brought out, too, in the similitude, as to this, of Israel in Egypt. It was one thing for them to be screened from the destroying angel by the blood on the door-posts in Egypt, and another and very different thing for them to be brought clean out of Egypt by the passage of the Red Sea; thus being entirely delivered from the power of Pharaoh. And more than this: Christ has broken and destroyed all the power of death by which Satan held us, and taken him captive whose captives we were, and made us, who were Satan’s captives, the vessels of God’s power and testimony against Satan.
“Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness” (Rom. 3:2525Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; (Romans 3:25)). Here we have the connection of the blood of Christ with God’s righteousness. It has been declared. It rested only in promise until Christ came in the flesh; it was not manifested till then; so that like Adam, Abel, or Job, they rested on the promises of righteousness, because the blood was yet to be shed. But now it is declared in having been fulfilled, in that Christ sits at the right hand of God, or rather, to confine myself to this epistle, that He is risen. And there is an amazing difference between resting on the promise (though this is most blessed) and on a fulfillment. A man in prison with a promise that his debt shall be paid is no doubt happy; but it is not the same thing as walking at liberty with the knowledge that it has been paid.
It is not forbearance now, but accomplished salvation, God’s own righteousness declared. Can He forbear with that? The time of forbearance was in the time of the Old Testament saints; then God was forbearing, because of what He was going to do, and has proved His righteousness in doing it by the death of Christ. But that is not our condition. We have God’s righteousness at this time, this present time. He is not speaking here of what is past before Christ’s death, but of the fact of righteousness, and our present state of conscience, of the better thing God has provided for us, as regards our standing before Him. For if I sin, I do not want a prophet to come and tell me my sin is just put away, I can say I know the blood has been shed; therefore I know as a present thing that every sin is put away. It is a settled question. We can add much more even; because, though the fact is assumed of our being in Christ, and His resurrection mentioned in Romans 8, the subject of this epistle is Christ’s death and resurrection, as justifying and delivering us, we can speak of being with Him. The Ephesians looks at us as dead in sin, and quickened with Him, and sitting in heavenly places in Him. Colossians takes up both, only it does not go on to our sitting in heavenly places in Him; but sets us as risen and looking up to heaven where He is. It is such a righteousness, that He, who accomplished that through which it was to be revealed and made good, has, in virtue of what He has done, sat down at the right hand of God; and our life is in Him there. Abraham could not say, “I am one with a man at God’s right hand,” for Christ was not there as man then. But the believer in Christ can say so; for as surely as the first Adam was turned out of paradise, so surely has the last Adam entered heaven, and that as man, in the glory He had with the Father before the world was; and I am as sure of my place in Christ, as of my place in Adam.
Well, then, it is such a work as God recognized in righteousness, and such an one as has fully satisfied God—nay, more, has glorified Him, as indeed it must have done, to satisfy Him in divine righteousness. Still, we can say it has glorified Him. See John 13:31-3231Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him. (John 13:31‑32); and John 17:4-54I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. 5And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. (John 17:4‑5). As regards the blood, He is just to forgive. It is His own righteousness which is upon the believer, and He must own it; and here too is the resting-place of faith. This is justice; but the opening of my heart is under the sunshine of grace at the outflowing of love. To see ourselves perfectly cleansed makes us hate sin, as a man who is thoroughly clean will not like to get a spot on his garment; while one who is already defiled will not care about getting a little more so. When the blood was put upon the lintels of the door-posts, it was to keep the judgment out, and God passed over; for had He come in, He must have judged them as they deserved, for they deserved judgment as much as the Egyptians, nay, more, for they knew better. Therefore it was grace keeping God out as a righteous judge, and according to His righteousness; but at the Red Sea they were to stand still, and see the salvation of God. It was God overriding every barrier, coming in and taking them completely out of the place of judgment and bondage, and bringing them to Himself. While the one was keeping God out, the other was bringing God in, or rather bringing them to God.
As an ungodly man I am justified by the blood; but as a Christian I am accepted in Him. But many, many Christians keep outside; looking at the cross only as an object of hope, they have not entered into God’s presence by it. Has the cross then left me outside? No; it has saved me from judgment, and I have entered into God’s presence by it, and therefore value it. How many do we see as sinners trembling at the foot of the cross, feeling their need of it, but getting no farther!
We are not under law as innocent beings, for man is a sinner, and the law cannot allow of even a lust; then where is the use of giving the law to man that is a sinner? What is the use of my giving a righteous measure to a man who is unrighteous? What the use of my giving a true measure to one who uses fraud in selling his goods, but to teach him where he is wrong? So God never gave the law to man to make him righteous, but to convict him and show him where his sin is. Man may abuse the grace, to continue in sin; but that does not alter the nature of God’s righteousness. If a law is given to man already a sinner, it can only be to make him know himself a sinner.
“Is he the God of the Jews only?” He will justify the circumcision by faith, and the uncircumcision through faith; that is, the Jews who sought righteousness, obtained it only on the principle of faith; and the Gentiles, inasmuch as it was on that principle, possessed it through the faith that they had. Do we then make void the law, or more properly, law? No; we establish law, not Moses’ law, but the principle of law. If a thief is hanging on a tree, is that making void the law? No; so far from making it void, hanging establishes it. But if after the punishment he rose, the law would have inflicted its penalty, and he would be beyond its reach. So then Christ died, and He established the law, and faith comes in and says, So far from making void the law, when Christ died for my sins, He established the law. But that does not put me under it: if under it I am lost, not merely as a sinner, but by the law itself. Nothing establishes the law like the death of Christ.
The Gentiles having been proved lawless, Romans 3, gives the Jew under law, condemned out of the law. Christ was under the law; He kept it, and died under its curse. And is He under it now? No; He is dead to the law, and risen from the dead. I am the sinner He died for; He has borne the curse, and it is all gone, and it has lost all power to touch me, for I am one with Christ, I stand in Him, in the presence and favor of God, as dead and risen again in Christ. He gave all His sanction to the law—suffered it, if you will.
In Romans 4, in referring to Abraham and David as believing God, he then goes on to show the ground on which Abraham gets the promises. The blessing belongs to me in uncircumcision, as righteousness was reckoned to him in uncircumcision, and that on the principle of faith, thus stopping the Jew’s mouth, and hence to the Gentiles. Then in David we have the same thing, “Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord will not impute sin.” The law on the contrary worketh wrath. Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace, not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of the faithful, before Him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead.
The difference between us and Abraham is this: He believed God was able to perform; we believe He has raised up Christ from the dead. The deliverance has been effected, the power shown, as well as our sins been put away. He was delivered for our offenses. Was it effectual? He is raised again for our justification. All is complete and accepted, and Christ as man has left the dead—is out of and past all the consequences of sin; for judgment itself He has borne for us.
Beloved, in a day like this, what a thought it is for us that we are set in God’s righteousness before Him! His righteousness has set aside all man’s reasonings, as the rising sun not only dispels the darkness, but causes even the stars to vanish because of its brightness. When Christ is first revealed to the soul it is always humbling, because it displays what it really is before God, and brings the conscience into play, while the heart mourns its having despised and rejected such a One. I do not say that the affections may not be found towards Christ without this; but there must be sooner or later such a revelation of what Christ is, as to show us what we are; and it is that which breaks down what is inside, foolish and vain desires, self-will, sinful thoughts and feelings, and everything that is the opposite of Christ, thus showing us not only that we have committed sins, but that we are sin. Then He reveals to us the unclouded favor of God into which we are brought, according to the love which sought us, and gave His Son for us, and brought us there in righteousness.