Righteousness Without Works: Part 2

 •  16 min. read  •  grade level: 9
But there is more than this. The idea of simple pardon is at the best negative—blessed indeed, even in that view, that iniquity, although committed, is not imputed. Speaking humanly, we have the idea of a free pardon emanating from the grace of the Sovereign; we have the idea also of an amnesty; but we cannot get the idea of justification. It is the idea which God alone can present, because He alone can justify the ungodly; and this is the new and blessed idea here presented. David describeth the blessedness of the man to whom the Lord imputeth righteousness without works, saying, " Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity." Now in these words we have not the actual statement of the imputation of righteousness. It could not be clearly and fully announced (although it was the only principle on which God had acted from the beginning), because the great groundwork, The Cross, was not an accomplished fact. However it may have been anticipated by faith, still there was all the difference as to perception, between a promise made and a promise accomplished. Everything was suspended on the death and resurrection of Christ. " We," says the apostle, speaking to the natural heirs of promise and natural children of the Kingdom, " declare unto you glad tidings., how that the promise which was made to the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same to us their children, in that He hath raised up Jesus" (Acts 13). The proper person of the Lord Jesus Christ, and His death and resurrection, is the key by which we are able to unlock all Scripture. The Holy Ghost, Himself the Inditer of all Scripture, the Spirit which moved the prophets, is especially known to us as " the Spirit of truth," and Glorifier of Jesus.. His great testimony is to the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. And as soon as the death and resurrection of Jesus became a matter of fact, the Holy Ghost brought it to bear on His own precious Scriptures; and in this light we clearly discern, that iniquity not imputed, is righteousness imputed. " God hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor. 5).. There is nothing simply negative in the Gospel. It is not a prohibitory system. It is a gracious system of conferring positive blessing. To forgive sin may be negative; but to give righteousness is a positive and inalienable blessing. This marks the genius of the Gospel. " Whosoever believeth in Him [Jesus] shall not perish;" it stops not here, " but have everlasting life"(John 3) "That they may receive forgiveness of sins,"—but it goes on, " and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in Me" (Acts 26). If we are " delivered from the power. of darkness," it is by translation into the Kingdom of God's dear Son (Col. 1). Alas, our narrow minds and dull hearts deprive the Gospel of its glory. It is "the glorious gospel of the blessed God" (1 Tim. 1.): it represents God in the gracious place of the Giver, and sets man in his only place of possible blessing, that of a simple recipient. Receiving Christ, i. e., " believing on His name," we receive from Him "power (authority) to become the sons of God" (John 1). We receive forgiveness of sins, abundance of grace, and the gift of righteousness. We receive eternal life. Christian action follows on this reception of Christ. The teaching of the Holy Ghost unfolds to us what we have received in having received Christ. It is well to keep this principle constantly before the soul: it is not that which we renounce, any more than that which we do, which makes us Christians, but that which we receive. And this principle runs through the Christian life: it is a life which has its affections, sensibilities, energies and activities. Our Christian life is not a system of negation any more than is our natural life. This marks it so forcibly from the common notion of religion. It is said, " Abhor that which is evil "—it is added, " Cleave to that which is good."
“Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth." " Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace to the hearers (Rom. 12; Eph. 5). Hence arises the danger to Christians from misusing even the good, holy and righteous law of God. It is not for the righteous (1 Tim. 1). Their need is to have the life already received nurtured by the ministry of Christ, the true and living Head; in order that the energies of that life may be called forth in its varied and appropriate activities. We have Christ Himself for our standard, and the righteousness which we have in Him, as our standing before God, presented to us as our highest but certain final attainment. " Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect, but I follow after; if that I may apprehend that for which I am apprehended of Christ Jesus." Hence it is that the one hope of our calling, which is so certain, because according to the purpose of God, becomes so formative of the Christian character. To be conformed to the image of God's Son, as the Firstborn among many brethren, is the blessed destiny of those whom God has already justified. It is upon the certainty of this, that the Holy Ghost acts in our conscience and affections, not making what we shall be to depend on what we practically are, I mean as Christians; but, taking the divine certainty of what we shall be, as the mighty moral lever, now to elevate our affections; and even now beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image from glory to glory even as by the Spirit of the Lord. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is; and every man that bath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure " (1 John 3).
This hope, grounded on Christ, is the great power of present purification. " Desiring to he teachers of the law" (1 Tim. 1), was, in the apostle's judgment, the result of ignorance in those who undoubtedly thought to promote holiness thereby. And so there is even a way of pressing conduct and service, which, instead of strengthening the life of Christ in the saint, turns him back on the question of his own salvation. Such is not the way in which the Spirit leads. He glorifies Christ, and takes great care to establish the soul in Him, when leading it on into practical holiness. Such is the order of instruction for the most part in the Epistles. And I believe the wondrous truth of ''righteousness without works "to be the very groundwork of righteousness and true holiness. It is the positive blessing received, recognized and enjoyed—" God delivered Christ for our sins and raised Him for our justification," which calls the Christian life into activity.
Secondly, "And in whose spirit there is no guile." It is written of Jesus, " He did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth "(1 Peter 2). Of all others the description is but too true—" With their tongues they have used deceit" (Rom. 3). This is indeed a humbling condition of being—to dissemble what we are, to pretend to be what we are not—to use the tongue, or to put on an outward demeanor, to conceal the thoughts of the heart—and at the same time, on every moment of serious reflection, to be conscious that we are not before God what we seem to be, or profess to be before others. This is a condition which makes the thought of God insupportable. It is too much of restraint for man always to be acting a character, and " the idle " off-hand word betrays the condition of the heart, which perhaps more studied speech had concealed. It was by the idle word "This man casteth out devils by Beelzebub, the prince of the devils "—that He, " who knew what was in man," made manifest from His very words what was in their hearts. Whence then the remedy for so evil a condition? Whence the blessedness of having no guile in the spirit? It is alone the result, the first and blessed result, of the great truth of "righteousness without works." This doctrine at once cuts off all effort at concealment, and all pretensions to be what we are not. The very groundwork of the doctrine is that the very God, before whom all things are naked and open, who knows us thoroughly (Heb. 4:12, 1312For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. (Hebrews 4:12‑13); cf. Psa. 139:1-121<<To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David.>> O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. 2Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. 3Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. 4For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether. 5Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me. 6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it. 7Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? 8If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. 9If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; 10Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. 11If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. 12Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee. (Psalm 139:1‑12)), and has taught us to see ourselves in measure as He sees us, is the One who has covered up our sin—yea, He has covered -up all the sin which His omniscience knoweth to be in us; for He has not acted toward us on our estimate of sin, but on His own. None can condemn—since God Himself justifieth (Rom. 8:33, 3433Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. 34Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. (Romans 8:33‑34)). God has not put us in the place of justifying ourselves; He does that Himself. And He takes our part much more effectually than we could take our own. Hence there is no guile in the spirit. So to speak, it is not needed. All anxiety about making out a case for ourselves is removed, since God Himself declares His righteousness in covering our sin, and making us righteous (Rom. 3:24-2624Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25Whom 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; 26To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. (Romans 3:24‑26)). If we search ever so deeply (and it is. well to do so), as to what sin is, God knows it more deeply, and has dealt with it in judgment on the Cross of Christ according to His own estimate of it. There is no guile in the spirit, where there truly is faith; because the truthfulness of our own character, and the truthfulness of the character of God are alike maintained by the marvelous mode of God's dealing with us in and through Christ.
There is no guile in the spirit of him who at one-and the same time takes his place as the chief of sinners, and yet also as perfectly righteous in Christ. There is no guile in the spirit of him whose object is to glorify Christ and not himself. Hence it follows that when self-vindication becomes needful for a saint, which is but rarely, he is placed in the most humiliating position; because he has to speak of himself instead of Christ. The apostle was thus compelled to speak "as a foo " (2 Cor. 11.). But as a general rule confession and not self-vindication is the path of a saint. An over sensitiveness about our own character argues a state of soul little occupied with Christ. If our care be His glory, He will in due time vindicate us. And what is not cleared up now will be in that day (1 Cor. 4). And I do admire the grace of Christ in the apostle, which could make him turn all the aspersions cast on his own character to establish the faithfulness of God (2 Cor. 1.); and thus turn the thoughts of the Corinthians away from himself to a better object.
Thirdly, “When I kept silence, my bones waxed old, through my roaring all the day long; for day andnight Thy hand was heavy upon me,; my moisture is turned into the drought of summer." Where can a guilty conscience find relief? The very effort at concealment only aggravates the burthen. How many broken hearts are there, and how many heavy spirits, who dare not tell their sorrow to another. How many who have found bitter disappointments in everything, and in themselves also, who are ignorant of the real cause, because they are ignorant of their real condition as lost, and think their own case peculiar. They know not that God has thought upon their case and considered it; and provided the remedy. They think not of telling their case to God any more than to their fellows. God, they think, would spurn them for their unworthiness, and man ridicule them for their singularity. 'They keep their case to themselves. They keep silence, although it be only to aggravate the raging fever within, by being thus thrown on themselves. They know not that they are only realizing what the constitution of man as a moral creature is. He is insufficient for his own happiness; and the creature too is insufficient to make him happy. This may not in the ordinary acceptation be felt as though it were sin; yet, it is the deepest principle of sin, because it is in fact “worshipping and serving the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever Amen." How many aching hearts are there, how many sensible of a void which refuses to be filled, where there is no conviction, properly speaking, of sin; nothing which makes manifest the need of an all-sufficientatonement. They think not of the Gospel as the remedy for them. They know not that Jesus, heartsick in a weary world and rejected by it, in the conscious possession of everything man needed either as a creature or a sinner, turned to such and said, " Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." How has the Gospel been degraded in being regarded merely as a remedy for sin, which it assuredly is: but it is far more; it is the manifestation of God Himself in such a way to man as a sinner, as to make him happy in God, whilst God is glorified in thus making him supremely happy. The state above described is that which knows not God as the blessed One; and knows not the blessedness announced by the Oracle of God, " Blessed is he," etc. And herein is the crying evil of the professed Christianity of the world-a mere system of ordinances, nullifying the necessity of the Gospel. These broken-hearted ones are hindered from seeing that there is a remedy of God's own providing for their misery. They want the Gospel in its simplest form; but they hear it not. They attempt to act out Christian duties, or even to assume Christian privileges, without knowing its first principles—free intercourse with God on the ground of the propitiation of Christ.
There is no relief till the soul can tell out its sorrow to God. Even the very hand of God may be felt and acknowledged, and yet God Himself is regarded as inaccessible. The soul goes on bearing its own burden because it dare not cast it upon God. The whole spirit is gone, just as the natural moisture is dried up under a raging fever. In such a case it is sometimes found that the hand of God (acknowledged and felt, because it has touched some idol or other in which the soul was seeking rest or at least diversion from its misery, instead of graciously subduing the soul) produces fretfulness against God. God is regarded as an enemy, as having gone forth against the sufferer, at the very time He may only be removing the obstacles in the way of the desired relief. He "waits that He may be gracious,”—He "will be exalted that He may have mercy" (Isa. 30:1818And therefore will the Lord wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you: for the Lord is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for him. (Isaiah 30:18)). Here is much of the controversy between God and man—whether the remedy for man's misery is to be found in man or in God. The first thing under all circumstances of misery is the acknowledgment of God. Man finds out many ways of accounting for his misery, and applies his various remedies; but until he acknowledges God, he always accounts for it on wrong ground, and never discovers the real remedy for it.
There are certain principles which apply with equal truth to man as a sinner, and to one born of God. And this is one—" When I kept silence," etc. It is a condition of exquisite misery to the sinner, because he is ignorant of the revealed character of God, and knows not the relief it would be to tell everything to God; and to the saint, because knowing God in grace, he does not use the truth aright to deepen himself in self knowledge. He has so far forgotten his standing, as to have guile in his spirit, by not being open with God. The statements of the apostle are generally applicable: " If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us" (1 John 1). When God is really known as the One who imputeth righteousness without works, any concealment from Him must necessarily produce heaviness of spirit. We cannot come near Him by reason of the concealment; and then conies on coldness. And how often in such a state of uneasiness of soul do we find the fault laid anywhere, even on God Himself, rather than on ourselves for keeping silence When we have been restless in spirit, downcast and unhappy, have we not often been unable to solve the difficulty? Frequently it arises from mortified pride. Our self-esteem has been lowered on discovering some unsuspected sin; as if our blessedness consisted in our character, instead of our having righteousness imputed to us without works. God will not allow us to have confidence in our character, or in our faithfulness to Him, but in His own revealed character and His faithfulness to us. This tendency in the saint to self-righteousness, accounts in very great measure for the misery found in Christians; when in any degree entertaining it in ever so subtle a form, they have departed from the real and only ground of their blessedness. But if there be sin unconfessed, or made light of in confession, or only generally, and not specially confessed, it must induce misery; if God has told out to us all His grace in forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, it is that in the knowledge of this, we may have no concealments, or rather attempts at concealment, from Him. He would have us look at ourselves as we really are, and justify Him in so dealing with us as He has done in the Gospel of His Son.
(Continued from page 74.)
(To be continued, D, V.)