Substitution and Righteousness

 •  22 min. read  •  grade level: 7
My dear Brother in Christ,
What you say about the blood of Christ I believe to be in the main correct. However, the expression “Sin attached to His life” is not a scriptural one, and I think not a scriptural thought, although perhaps you mean right. Sins were laid upon Him, He bore our sins, and He was made sin, that is, sacrificially. The justice of God demanded the life of the sinner. The life is in the blood, and when Christ, as the Substitute, shed His blood, the life was given, and the demand met. This is, however, a very small part of what is taught as to the blood and death of Christ.
When you say, “The whole life of Christ, and His laying down His life, were in obedience to God,” you agree with the Word of God. But when you say, “If Christ is our Substitute from His birth to His death,” you depart from Scripture, for Scripture does not say, or teach it. “Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree” (1 Pet. 2:2424Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. (1 Peter 2:24)). He made atonement by His death. God has set Him forth a propitiation (or mercy seat) through faith in His blood. He was made a curse for us that we might be redeemed from the curse of the law. Where? On the tree. Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree. This is substitution. It is taking the sinner’s place under sin and guilt, and drinking up the righteous wrath of God — the unmingled cup of gall filled up of God for Him — in the room and stead of the sinner.
The moment our sins were laid upon Him, the fellowship of God with Him was withdrawn. How could it be otherwise? If there were sin attached to His life from His birth to His death, or if he were made sin in His incarnation, how could a holy God have one moment’s fellowship with Him? It would be impossible.
We find there was a life of unbroken fellowship with God until after He passed through the agony of Gethsemane, and came into those three awful hours of darkness. In the wilderness, angels... ministered unto Him. At the Jordan the heavens open upon Him, and God says, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:1717And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. (Matthew 3:17)). Never could the heavens open for such an announcement before. God had been trying man in every way, but failed to find one in whom He could delight. At last He found one — His beloved Son — the second Man, the last Adam. On Him the heavens opened, and God announced His own delight. In innumerable ways in His life you see the unbroken fellowship between Him and the Father. Finally, you see it in Gethsemane, where His agony is not suffering in atonement, but His going through all the agony of the cross in anticipation, and in communion with His Father who sends an angel to strengthen Him. It was His having gone through it all in spirit with the Father in Gethsemane that prepared Him for the terrible hour of suffering in actual atonement. And when the hour did come all was gone through in perfect calmness. As a lamb led to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth.
After that sin is laid on Him God’s face is withdrawn. The word is then, “Awake, O sword, against My shepherd, and against the man that is My fellow” (Zach. 13:7). Instead of the heavens opening, and proclaiming God’s delight, darkness filled the land, and the vengeance of heaven — the awful, unmitigated wrath and judgment of a holy God against sin — was poured out upon Him in that dark hour of unparalleled sorrow and agony. There was no light there, no opening heavens, no expression of divine delight, no ministering angel — nothing but the awful expression of God’s judgment against sin — all the mighty waves of divine vengeance sweeping over His soul in the midst of that unmitigated darkness that closed over Him when His God forsook Him. “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:4646And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46); Mark 15:3434And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (Mark 15:34)) was His cry.
In the Levitical offerings, the sin was transferred to the lamb when brought to the altar, not before. Then death immediately followed. So with God’s spotless Lamb. When His hour was come, He gave Himself up to be a sacrifice. Sin was laid on Him then, and immediately God’s judgment was expressed against it.
I do not mean to say that God had no delight in His Son while He hung on the cross. Far from it. Surely if ever God was glorified, it was then. If ever His heart was satisfied, it was then. But sin was in question. God delighted in the One who took it on Him, but while it was on Him, there could be no fellowship — nothing but judgment. He took it on Him that it might be put away.
Again, not only did not Christ bear sin till His hour was come, but there was no relationship formed between Him and sinners during His life. “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone.” It was impossible there could be union until guilt was atoned for. Union with Him is in resurrection. “But if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:2424Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. (John 12:24)). The moment He took man’s place there was nothing but death. It was by going down to death that He put Himself in man’s place, for man was dead in trespasses and sins. Having taken that place, He died unto sin once. And now as the risen One, the last Adam, He takes believing sinners into union with Himself on the ground of having put away their sins, and by taking them out of their old position in Adam, and linking them with Himself, the last Adam — a man in the glory of God.
Again, there is no union with Him in His death. That is substitution, and substitution is not union. He takes my place as substitute, and I go free.
But there is representation in His death, as well as substitution. If I look at Him on the cross for me, I see first of all my guilt, my sins, laid on Him. That is substitution. He bears them; I do not. Again I see myself there represented by Him, not as bearing sins, but dying unto sin (for sin and sins are different; sins being my actions as a sinner; sin, a principle in my nature). As a child of Adam, depraved in my whole nature, a mass of sin (without any question of my sins), Christ having been made sin, represents me on the cross. If then I look at Him as my substitute, I say, “He has borne my sins, and God has forgiven me, and set me clean.” But if I look at Him as representing me there in my first Adam state, I say, “Our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.” And again, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me” (Gal 2:2020I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)).
There is a most important distinction here. I see the first case — substitution, resulting in forgiveness of sins, redemption from guilt — in Egypt, as the Israelites sit in the houses sheltered by the blood of the slain lamb. The second case I see at the Red Sea. The slain lamb was death by substitution. The Red Sea was death by representation. The children of Israel pass through the sea, and thus in figure pass through death. And the result is, they get a new standing, outside of Egypt. They stand on the shore of the sea, as it were a new creation, on resurrection ground. They have forever cleared the death-doomed shores of the old creation. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:1717Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)).
Union is only on this ground. It is not in His life before the cross, nor in His death, but with Him in His resurrection life. If He had taken us into union with Himself either in incarnation, or in death, He would have been uniting to Himself only a mass of horrible corruption.
His death opens the way for our union, but it is with Him risen that we are united. And we are united with Him as a new creation, sin condemned and sins forever cleared away by His death on the cross. I look at the cross, and there I see in the judgment of a holy God, every trace of myself as a child of Adam put away from His presence — old things passed away. I am now linked with the One who accomplished the work. I see Him today, the second Man, the last Adam, a man in the glory, and I am linked with Him there — all things have become new. Blessed, wondrous position for the believer! He has thus passed from under his guilt, and out of his position as a child of Adam, through the blood and death of Christ. He has passed beyond guilt, beyond death, beyond condemnation, beyond judgment, quickened, raised up and seated in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus — linked forever with the Man in the glory of God, and accepted according to the full perfection both of His work and His Person.
I turn now to justification. As you say it is “the justification of a sinner by a holy and righteous God.” “It is God that justifieth.” If then God is righteous, the justification of a sinner is a question in which righteousness is involved. Well, we know it cannot be by man’s righteousness, either without law, or under law. The Gentile without law was lawless. The Jew under law was a law-breaker. Every mouth was stopped, the whole world brought in guilty before God. How could God justify either the lawless or the law-breaker? Righteousness was not to be found in man. Where then could righteousness be found for man? Not in any creature surely, for the innocent creature — be it man or angel — has none to spare. All he has is due to God. The only source of righteousness, then, is God Himself. His righteousness is revealed in the gospel, on the principle of faith to faith.
God gave the law to man to test him. By it He demanded righteousness (not from man in innocence, but) from man, a sinner. But how could a sinner meet the righteous demands of a holy law? He could not. The only thing the law could do was to give the knowledge of sin, and condemn the sinner. When a man is brought to this extremity, God comes in in grace. The righteousness of God is revealed — not a righteousness of man for God, but righteousness of God for man. “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested” (Rom. 5:2121That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:21)). It is without the law — not on the principle of law — keeping at all, whether by the sinner, or by Christ. It is apart from law altogether. “Even the righteousness of God... by faith of Jesus Christ.” It is by faith, without the deeds of the law, and that by faith of Jesus Christ, “unto all and upon all them that believe.” Its tendency is unto or toward all men everywhere. Its scope is like that of the gospel — to every creature. But it is upon them that believe. The offer is to all. The believer only receives it. The believer is “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Jesus by His blood redeems from guilt, and justifies every one thus redeemed. It is through redemption in Christ Jesus. Now comes the basis. “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation [mercy seat] through faith in His blood.” God has set forth Christ as a mercy seat, that is, a meeting place for God and the sinner. How does the sinner meet God there? “Through faith in His blood.” You see, in this whole passage (Rom. 3) there is not a word about meeting God on the ground of law-keeping. What we have is the blood alone, and by it the sinner is justified. In virtue of the blood of Christ, the righteousness of God is revealed for the justification of the believer in Jesus and His blood. Here the motive on God’s part for justification is the blood alone. That God has found more in Christ than His blood is blessedly true, as we shall see by-and-by. But what must be insisted on is that we have justification by the blood of Christ alone, in Romans 3, without any question of law-keeping whatever. It is wholly apart from law. There is more than this further on. But it is important to know that the believer in Jesus is not only cleared of every charge of sin, but the righteousness of God is actually upon him by virtue of the blood alone. Such wonderful value does God attach to the blood of His beloved Son. Examine the passage closely and with simplicity, and you will see this is the case.
How then is this? If we look at the blood of Christ as that which averts wrath only from the sinner, it would be inexplicable. But there is infinitely more in the blood of Christ than the averting of wrath and judgment. The sinner’s need is not the only thing Christ had in view in offering Himself a sacrifice on the cross. Not only the sinner’s need was in question, but also the glory of God. Through the presence of sin in His creation down here, God’s law, justice, government, throne and righteousness were ignored; His majesty and holiness were slighted; His character was in question. All this was in view when Christ offered Himself. He not only met the sinner’s need, but also glorified God in every particular, making His righteousness and glory to shine forth as the noonday. The blood has not only secured redemption from guilt for the sinner, but it has vindicated God’s character in the presence of sin in the most glorious way. The righteousness and holiness and unsullied glory of the throne have been sealed with blood. The blood is on the throne as its eternal vindication against sin. Thus it is that God finds such a motive in the blood of Christ. His righteousness has become debtor to the blood and sacrifice of Christ, if I may so speak. He has glorified God, and “If God be glorified in Him, God shall also glorify Him in Himself” (John 13:3232If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him. (John 13:32)). For God to glorify Him is righteousness. There was a demand on the righteousness of God by the work of Christ on the cross. And so the righteousness of God was displayed in raising Christ from the dead and setting Him on the throne in glory. But that is not all. The righteousness of God is further displayed in justifying everyone who believes in Jesus. In virtue of the blood, the believing sinner gets complete clearance from his guilt and sins, and also is clothed in the righteousness of God. As a sinner redeemed by blood, I am brought into the presence of God, and there stand, all covered over with the righteousness of God. I am under it as a shelter. The same justice that administers the fatal stroke to my Substitute on the cross is now on my side, and shelters me, a justified sinner, forever in the presence of God. Not only so, but God’s righteousness as a quality or character belonging to Himself is upon me as His gift (Rom. 3:22; 5:1722Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: (Romans 3:22)
17For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) (Romans 5:17)
). Such is the righteousness of God revealed for the sinner, and secured to him by the blood of Christ.
In Romans 4 there is another aspect of righteousness — imputed righteousness. It is not the righteousness of God imputed, nor the righteousness of Christ; but it is the believer imputed, or reckoned, righteous by faith. It is not so much righteousness set over to the sinner’s account, but it is the believing sinner accounted righteous while he is not righteous, but unrighteous, ungodly. “To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” The person is ungodly, but he is reckoned as in a state of righteousness. The basis on which God could do this is the blood of Christ. Because of what God has found in that, He reckons every believer righteous.
In the end of the fourth chapter there is something more than there is in the third chapter. In the third there is only blood shedding, and the display of God’s righteousness on that basis — for the justification of the believing sinner. In the end of the fourth chapter there is not only death but resurrection. “Who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification.” If I look in the third chapter I have there blood shedding for my justification. But in the fourth there is more. I have Him who shed His blood risen again, so that I have not only His blood before God as my full clearance from sins, but I have Himself, risen as the triumphant Conqueror over death, sin and Satan. Thus I have not only clearance from sins, but I am set in the cleared place through His resurrection.
In the fifth chapter there is another aspect of righteousness which is very different. In the Greek there is an entirely different word used, and which can hardly be expressed with exactness by any word in the English. In this chapter we have the two heads with their respective families — Adam and his family, Christ and His family. It is the disobedient one, and the obedient One; the one offense, and the one righteousness.
Adam by one offense—one act of disobedience—involved his whole family in ruin. Christ by one righteousness — one unbroken act of obedience — secured a standing righteousness before God for all His family. By Adam’s one act, his whole family were constituted sinners; by Christ’s one act, His whole family were constituted righteous. This one act of Christ includes His whole work in life and in death. The first Adam was tested, and by one act fell. The last Adam also was tested during a life of over thirty-three years. We know well what an awful test it was — a test which ended in the bearing of sins, and in atonement drinking the awful cup God had filled for Him. But He stood the test from the first to the last. Obedience was not suspended for one moment. Every act, word, and thought from first to last was obedience, so that His whole life and death are looked at as one unbroken act of obedience. And this unbroken obedience is looked at in contrast with Adam’s one offense. Because of Adam’s one offense, he and his whole family fell. Because of Christ’s one unbroken act of obedience for thirty-three years, He stands accepted before God, and all His family stand accepted in Him according to the perfection of that one righteousness. His whole life, but especially His death, went up as a sweet savor to God. As the second Man, the last Adam, He stands accepted according to the perfection, the sweet savor, that God found in all those years of unbroken obedience sealed with His blood under the fire of divine judgment against sin. The believer stands accepted in the same, and according to the same measure. He becomes possessed of this, not by its being imputed to him, not by its being transferred from Christ to him, but by his becoming one with Christ through faith — by his being taken out of Adam, and put in Christ, and thus getting a standing before God as one with Him, a part of Himself, so to speak. It is not righteousness transferred from Christ to a sinner in Adam, but a sinner in Adam transferred by faith from Adam into Christ, and consequently into the righteousness in which Christ stands before God.
I wish to notice two other passages. The first is 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), “But of Him [God] are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness,” etc. In this passage Christ Himself is our righteousness. The Corinthians had been making much of man, were walking according to men (1 Cor. 3:33For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? (1 Corinthians 3:3), margin). It was, “I am of Paul,” etc. The Apostle shows them (chapter 1) how God had brought man to naught in the cross, how He had judged all flesh there, and set it aside forever, “that no flesh should glory in His presence.” If then God made nothing of man, what had these Corinthians — what has any of us — before God? None but Christ. We have Him for wisdom, righteousness, etc. In virtue of being in Him, He is our righteousness before God. It is a higher character of righteousness than that in Romans 5, blessed as that is. In the one case it is His work; in the other, it is Himself.
The other passage is 2 Corinthians 5:2121For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (2 Corinthians 5:21). “For He [God] hath made Him [Christ] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made [become] the righteousness of God in Him.” Here it is not the believer accepted according to Christ’s work, as in Romans 5, nor yet Christ, the righteousness of the believer before God; but it is the believer becoming the righteousness of God in Him. It is what he becomes in Christ. It is in Christ, not apart from Him. Christ is the perfect expression of God’s character. Christ on the throne is the expression of God’s righteousness there. So the Holy Spirit convicts the world of righteousness because He had gone to the Father (John 16). It was righteous in God to set Him on the throne, and He is there as the expression of that righteousness. But the believer through grace is in Him, and looked at as a part of Himself, so that he also becomes the expression of God’s righteousness in Him. “As He is, so are we in this world.” What marvelous grace! Made the righteousness of God in Him! This is of God. God made Christ the expression of what we are. He made Him to be sin on the cross. What are we but a mass of sin? And God made Christ the expression of this, in order that in Christ He might make us the expression of Himself in His character of righteousness. How manifest this will be when we are in the glory! Christ is the pattern of what we will be then. “When He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:22Beloved, 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. (1 John 3:2)). What a glorious position now belongs to the believer in the righteousness of God in virtue of Christ’s work! Surely it calls for praise and adoration from these poor hearts of ours.
Let me sum up what I have said about righteousness:
1. The righteousness of God is revealed for the sinner in virtue of Christ set forth a propitiation through faith in His blood, and it is upon all who believe.
2. The believing sinner is justified, and accounted righteous while really he is ungodly.
3. Not only have we clearance from guilt by the blood of Christ, but by His resurrection we are also put in the cleared place.
4. In virtue of our being in Him, the risen One, the last Adam, we are not only justified from all things, but have also justification of life. This we have through His one righteousness.
5. By His one righteousness — His obedience unto death He stands accepted as the last Adam before God, and we, poor sinners who believe, being linked with Him, are constituted righteous — accepted in the same perfection as Himself — in that sweet savor that ever ascended to God from the obedient Man.
6. God has made Christ our righteousness, and in Him as our righteousness we stand before God. What a robe! Surely it is the best robe!
7. We become the righteousness of God in Him.
Now then, dear brother, is not all this befitting that holy and righteous God who justifies the sinner? In virtue of this stupendous work accomplished through Christ, does not, if I may so speak, a new and everlasting glory accrue to God — a glory displayed in the last Adam, the Son of God, the Man in the glory, with whom are connected all the millions ransomed by His blood, and in whom man — humanity as a part of Himself — is forever and inseparably linked with God? When the hour of public manifestation comes, what a glorious scene the heavens will then display! Truly it will be glory then! These poor, shriveled up hearts of ours will then be enlarged to their utmost capacity. That lovely Man in the glory — slighted so much now — will then be the glorious center that will draw every eye and every heart, and call forth the praise and adoration of every blood-washed sinner. Oh! why should not He be the only center around whom all such gather now? One gaze upon His blessed face by faith ought to be enough to fix the heart upon Him forever.
I have thus written long on the subjects you raise in your letter. I do not know that I have expressed myself so as to be understood. It is because I deem the subject of immense importance I have written so lengthily, and because I believe there is a depth of rest and joy, and a holy liberty for work and service in getting to the bottom of it, not otherwise enjoyed.
My desire and prayer to God is that you may understand all clearly as it is in God’s Word, and that it may have its due effect upon your heart as one of God’s redeemed left down here for a little while to witness for our blessed Lord.
Your affectionate brother in the Lord Jesus,