Sin and Sins

Romans 1‑9  •  13 min. read  •  grade level: 8
I send you a brief outline of the order followed by the Epistle to the Romans in treating the principal subject it presents. This exposition of the order of the epistle necessarily implies a development of its doctrine on the subject of our justification and of our standing before God. This outline, while pointing out the form of the epistle and the distribution of the subjects it treats, will, I think, be profitable to your readers, as regards the doctrine itself. At least, I can say, that I have myself found this point of view both profitable and interesting. What I have to say will be very simple, while, at the same time, it connects itself in part, with the experiences—often so intricate—of Christians; but it explains them also.
The seven first verses of chapter 1 contain the address of the epistle: only, while presenting the claim the apostle had to the attention of the saints at Rome, they give the contents of the gospel which forms the subject of his apostleship, the fulfillment of the promises made with regard to the Son of David, and the testimony given by resurrection that the same blessed One is also Son of God according to the Spirit of holiness. Then, to the end of verse 17, follow a few explanations, as to what had hindered him from seeing them before: and these explanations close with the declaration, that it was not that he was ashamed of the gospel; for in that gospel the righteousness of God Himself was revealed, on the principle of faith, to faith.
This naturally introduces his subject. But he first of all declares the need there was for that gospel on account of the condition in which man was. The wrath of God was upon men, a wrath which the condition of sin in which man was had kindled. But it was no longer merely a wrath which was kindled on account of the repeated rebellion of a people, which He had taken unto Himself on earth from among the nations that had spread over its surface—a wrath which manifested itself and was appeased through punishments, which, as to their sphere, did not go beyond the world where the visible government of God was exercised and manifested; but it was the wrath of God, which was revealed from heaven upon all impiety, and upon the unrighteousness of men who hold the truth while walking in unrighteousness (that is to say, upon all the world, both Gentiles and Jews). He develops his thesis from verse 19 to the end of the chapter. The awful condition of the Gentile world is presented. (Vers. 19, 20.) They are guilty, on account of the testimony of the creation (ver. 21 and following); they abandoned the knowledge of God when they possessed it.
Chapter 2. The apostle condemns the philosophers, who moralized and were not better than the mass, and who were thus treasuring up wrath for the day of wrath. For God demanded realities. The form of the law would be of no avail. All shall be judged according to their works, whether Jew or Gentile; and the Gentile who, pressed by his natural conscience, fulfilled what the law required, would be in a better case than the Jew who possessed that law and who broke it. As many as had sinned without law should perish without law, and those who had sinned under law should be judged by law, in the day when God should judge the secrets of the hearts of men (not the conduct of the nation by earthly judgments) according to the gospel committed to the apostle.
Such is the general exposition of the ways of God in judgment upon every soul of man, judgment founded on the testimony of the creation, the knowledge which man (in Noah) had got of God, the testimony of the natural conscience, the positive testimony of the law, adding that one despised the goodness of God which was leading man to repentance. But the Jews, who pretended to special privileges, needed a few words beyond this. The apostle, by the law itself, brings them out guilty. The Jew, towards the Gentile, boasted in the law, in the light he had, in the divine teaching he had, and afterward he did the very contrary of that which that light and that law required from him. Again, I say, God demands that which is real and true, and the Gentile, who, having no law, did what the law required, should be in a better place than the Jew, who had the law and broke it. Had not the Jew then any superiority above the Gentile? He had, without any doubt, and every way. Specially he possessed the oracles of God. Now, says the apostle, let us see what they say. The Jew was saying, They are for us alone; the Gentiles have nothing to do with them. I agree to it, says the apostle. Whatever the things the law says, it speaks to them who are under the law. It will show you therefore what you are. Here you are: not one righteous, not one who seeks after God, not one who understands. According to your assertions, that is what it says of yourselves. The Gentiles have nothing to do with it: outside all righteousness and slaves of sin, it is no question of them here. Such then is the picture that God gives of your condition, and every mouth is stopped, and all the world become under judgment to God.
I come now to what led me to send you these lines—the remedy which God Himself has prepared, and which He presents to us, for the condition of wretchedness into which sin has plunged us.
From chapter 3:21 to the end of chapter 5:11, the apostle takes up the question of sins; and from verse 12 of this last chapter to the end of chapter 8, the question of sin. In both cases he shows the blessing which is the result of God's intervention in grace. At the end of chapter 3, the blood of Jesus is presented to us as the means of our justification. God Himself has presented Jesus to us, as a mercy-seat, through faith in His blood. The righteousness of God in the passing by the sins of the Old Testament believers is manifested, righteousness which becomes the foundation of our hopes in the present time, that is to say, since the accomplishment of the work of Christ. In chapter 4, he speaks of the effect of the resurrection of Christ on this question. He has been delivered for our offenses, and has been raised for our justification. The efficacy of the death of Christ has been clearly shown by the resurrection, as well as the power of a new life for us—the life of Jesus risen—which has its place, when all our sins have been atoned for by Christ. But all this refers to sins—to what has been committed: He has been delivered for our offenses, and has been raised for our justification. The first eleven verses of chapter v. show us the blessings which flow from this, peace and, grace now, glory in hope, and the knowledge of the love of God by the Holy Ghost which is given to us; so that we also boast in tribulations, being made capable, through that love, to interpret them; then we make our boast in God Himself. This chapter goes even farther than the eighth in this, that the fifth presents to us more God Himself in His sovereign grace, and our joy in Himself; whereas the eighth chapter shows more our position before Him and what He is for us. Nevertheless, in the latter, there is deeper experience.
At chapter 5:12 begins the teaching of the apostle with respect to sin. The difference is evident. If it be a question of sins, you, my reader, you have yours, and I, I have mine. If it be a question of our nature, of our flesh, we are but one, one sole nature, one sole mass. Hence the apostle turns to the heads or sources of our nature, whether as to good or as to evil: Adam and Christ.
Now, to the end of chapter 8, it is a question of sin, and not of sins. Sin shall have no dominion over you—sin taking occasion by the law. Here Christ died to sin, not for our sins. I learn, not what I have done, but what I am. I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, good does not dwell. Thus the experience is deeper; often, also, gone through after having understood the forgiveness of our sins, and, consequently, casting the soul into perplexity and uncertainty. But peace, also, is much deeper when once it is founded on the truth which is taught here; but it is learned in an experimental way. My faith here does not rest upon the fact that Christ died for my sins, but on the truth that, He being dead, I am dead with Him. Hence, mark it well, there is no question of forgiveness here. I forgive my child his faults; I do not forgive the evil disposition which produced them—I try to correct it. The correction of sin in the flesh is death. Now, we are dead in Christ. The apostle begins this teaching, by showing that, by the obedience of Christ alone, those who are linked with Him in the sight of God, are constituted righteous; that, as Adam's disobedience placed in the position of sinners before God all those who were connected with Adam by descent, so the obedience of Christ placed all those who would be found connected with Him by grace in the position of righteous persons, and this in contrast with the law that killed each guilty sinner for his own faults. No doubt we, each one of us, have committed our own sins, completing the evil each one to his own account. But it is none the less true, that, if by the disobedience of Adam we are constituted sinners, the obedience of Christ has constituted us righteous—us, I say, who believe in Jesus.
The objection made to the doctrine of justification by the obedience of Christ first presents itself to the apostle: the value of the work of Christ does not stop in Him who accomplished it, but it extends to others; it matters little, therefore, if they continue to live in sin. Here is the answer: How live, if we have died? It is a very simple thing. We are baptized unto His death, identified with Him in the likeness of His death. Our portion—in that He died to sin once for all, and that He lives to (or, for) God—is to reckon ourselves dead, and alive to (or, for) God in Christ Jesus. We thus obey, according to the new life of which we are made partakers. This same truth as to death applies (chap. 7) to the law, for it rules over a man as long as he lives. But we have died; nature, the old man to which the law applied, no longer exists. We were in the flesh: we are not in it (that is, not in Adam), but in Christ. The end of chapter 7 is the experience gone through, of the effects of the law on the soul of a renewed man still under law, known now as being spiritual.
In these experiences the soul learns, by the teaching of God, that sin is not the true I (which, in effect, detests sin), but is the sin that dwells in me; then, that sin has dominion over the I, although the latter wills that which is good. The soul learns that in it (in the old I, that is to say, in the flesh) good does not dwell. Such is the lesson which is so needful, but so humbling. One has come to the end of what man is viewed as he is, a child of Adam, enmity against God; but he who, though not willing it, had been a slave, is delivered through redemption. He is in Christ dead to sin, and alive to' God by Him. He gives thanks to God; he is not in the flesh at all. It is not, as we have said, Christ dead viewed as bearing our sins in His body on the tree, that the believer owns as his Deliverer, however precious and needful this truth may be; but Christ dead to sin, and the believer dead with Him. Our resurrection with Him is less in evidence here; but we must reckon ourselves dead, and alive to (or, for) God by Him.
Thus this second part of the teaching of the epistle shows us as dead, as to the old man, as regards the flesh, for faith (that is, as to our position as children of Adam), and alive to (or, for) God by Christ. The effect of the desires of the new man, when we are under law, is to render us unhappy; but we learn, through this moral discipline, to have done with the flesh for faith, by distinguishing between self and the flesh, and having learned that the flesh is too strong for me. But then redemption comes in; and we are in Christ risen, and not in the flesh; we belong to the second husband, Christ risen, and not to the first. But we learn that the flesh has been—not forgiven, but—condemned. When? When Christ was made (a sacrifice) for sin. The flesh is dead and condemned already, when I belong to Him who is risen; but I am not in the flesh, I am in Christ. In this second part of the doctrine, we find therefore our place in Christ, before God; as we saw in the first, that God has blotted out our sins, as responsible beings in the flesh, by the death of Christ.
I do not develop the happy consequences which the apostle draws from this in chapter 8. We are children; the Holy Ghost dwells in us, shows us our inheritance, helps us in our weaknesses; while everything is secure, seeing that God is for us, as He who gives and He who justifies, and that His love in Christ (who has, in grace, gone through all our sorrows, and is now at the right hand of God) keeps us when we realize the experience of it.
Chapters 9, 10, 11 conciliate there being no difference between Jew and Gentile, with the special privileges of the Jews; they form a supplement, added to the main doctrine of the epistle. But I have attained my object, if I have presented clearly to the Christian the difference of the work of Christ for our sins (chap. 3:21 to 5:11), and of Christ dead to sin, and ourselves dead with Him, so that, for faith, we have done with sin (chap. 5:12 to the end of chapter 8), sin having been condemned when Christ died on the cross, and ourselves as having part in His death, dead with Him to that which was condemned, belonging also to the second husband—Christ risen.
We have peace through forgiveness; deliverance, by the Spirit of life, in that we are in Him, and alive by Him, in consequence of accomplished redemption.
Christ died for sins; Christ dead to sin, and we in Him, in consequence of redemption: such is the doctrine of the Epistle to the Romans, which distinguishes clearly its two parts.
Dublin, 1865.