Thomas Chalmers

ROMANS, iii, 20—26.

"Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Christ Jesus unto and upon all them that believe ; - for there is no difference; for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God ; - being justificd freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom 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; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness; that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus."

THERE is perhaps no single passage in the book of inspiration, which reveals in a way so formal and authoritative as the one before us, the path of transition by which a sinner passes from a state of wrath to a state of acceptance. There is no passage, to which if we would only bring the docility and the compliance of childhood, that is more fitted to guide and to turn an enquiring sinner into the way of peace. Let the light which makes apparent to the soul, only shine upon these verses; and there is laid before the man who questions what it is that he must do to be saved, the great link of communication on which he may be led along from the ground of fearful exposure that nature occupies, to the ground of a secure and lasting reconciliation. Let him lay aside his own wisdom, and submit himself to the word of the testimony that is here presented to his notice, and, taught in the true wisdom of God, he will indeed become wise unto salvation. It is an overture of God's own making, and directly applicable to the question of dispute, that there is between Him and the men who have offended Him. It is His own setting forth of the way in which He would have the difference to be adjusted - nor can we conceive how defenceless creatures, standing on the brink of an eternity for which they have no provision, and which nevertheless all of them must enter and abide upon for ever, ought to have their attention more arrested and their feelings more engrossed and solemnized, than by the communication of the apostle in this verse, and by the unfoldings of that embassy of peace that is here so simply and so truly set before us.

The apostle has by this time well nigh finished his demonstration of human sinfulness and he makes use of such terms as go to fasten the charge of guilt, not in that way of vague and inapplicable generality, from which it is so easy for each man to escape the sense of his own personal danger, and the remorse of his own individual conscience; but as go to fasten the charge on every single member or descendant of the great human family. There is a method of blunting the edge of conviction, by interpreting, in a kind of corporate and collective way, all that is said by the apostle about the sinfulness of Jews on the one hand and of Gentiles on the other. But let each of us only review his past life, or enter with the light of self-examination into the chambers of his own heart; and he will feel. it himself to be addressed by the phrase of "whosoever thou art, 0 man ;" and he will feel that in the clause of "every mouth being stopped," his own mouth should be stopped also; and he will consent - - that he, a native of our world, has a part in the apostle's asseveration about all the world being guilty before God; and he will readily accord with the Bible in that, whereas he is a partaker of flesh and blood, he offers no exception to the averment, that, in the sight of God and by the deeds of the law, no flesh shall be justified.

It is through want of faith that we are blind to the reality of the gospel; and it is also through want of faith that we are blind to the reality of the law. The generality of readers see not any significancy in the apostle's words, because they feel not any sense of the things that are expressed by it. They are just as dead to the terrors of the law, as they are to the offers and invitations of the gospel. The sense of God pursuing them with the exactions of an authority that He will not let down, is just as much away from their feelings, as the sense of God in Christ beseeching therh to flee for refuge to the hope set before them. The man who is surrounded by an opake partition, which limits his view to the matters that lie within the region of carnality, and hides from him alike the place of condemnation and the place of deliverance that lie beyond it - he may enjoy a peace that is without disturbance, because, though he have no positive hope from the gospel, he has no positive apprehension from the law. He is alike insensible to both; and not till, through an opening in that screen, which hides from nature the dread and important certainties that are lying in reserve for all her children, he is made to perceive that God's truth righteousness are out against him - will he appreciate the revelation of that great mystery, by which it is made known how truth and mercy have met together, and how righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
Let us now proceed to the exposition of this passage.

Mark in the 20th verse how this question is treated as one between God and man. It is not that one man may not be justified in the sight of another - may not have fulfilled all that the other has a right to expect; but the question is about justification in the sight of God. It is a judicial proceeding before God.
Ver. 21. A ‘righteousness without the law', is simply a righteousness which we obtain without having fulfilled that law in our own persons. Paul never loses the advantage of any testimony that is given to the doctrine of Christ out of the Jewish Scriptures; and while he therefore raises against himself the opposition of the great majority of his countrymen, by asserting a righteousness that was arrived at in some other way than through the path of obedience to their law, yet he does not omit the opportunity of trying to disarm this opposition, by avouching that this very righteousness was borne witness to by the law and the prophets. The testimonies of the prophets are various and abundant on this topic. For a view of the testimonies of the law, we refer you to Paul s Epistle to the Hebrews.
Ver. 22. The righteousness which is proposed by the apostle, as that which alone is valid to the object of justification, is called by him the righteousness of God. It is that the acceptance of which does not dishonour Him. It is that which He Himself has provided, and which He bestows as a grant to all who will. We cannot speak too plainly about an alternative, on which there hinges the whole eternity of a sinner. Conceive the sinner to draw nigh, in the imagination of his own merits - God says to him, ‘I cannot receive you upon this footing; but here is a righteousness which I hold out to you, wrought not by yourself but by my Son, and I now ask your consent that you be clothed upon therewith. Come to me, consenting to be so clothed upon, and I take you into fall reconciliation.'
- ' Unto all.' The offer of this righteousness is unto all; and the righteousness itself is upon all who believe. Their belief constitutes their acceptance of the thing offered; and what was formerly theirs in offer, becomes by their faith theirs in possession.

‘No difference'. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, in respect of all having sinned, and there is as little difference in respect of the way in which all may be justified.

Ver. 23. Come short of glorifying God - When they knew God they glorified him not as God; and they are alike short of having wherewith to glory of before God. Even Abraham had nothing to glory of before God; and of consequence no claim or title to be glorified by God.

Ver. 24. You understand that the term justify signifies, not to make a man righteous in personal character, but to hold and declare him righteous in point of law. We have already explained that it is to be understood forensically. We here understand that this justification is not wrought for, but given, and given freely. It is not a purchase, but a present. It is given by grace, which is just saying, that it is given gratis. When we say that it is not a purchase, we mean that it is not purchased by ourselves. Still however it was purchased, but by another. To redeem is to recover what is lost, but by rendering an adequate price for it. We had lost righteousness in the sight of God. Jesus Christ redeemed the righteousness that we had lost. He gave the price for it; and we are freely offered of that thing which is the fruit of His purchase.

Ver. 25. ‘Set forth.' Exhibited. This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Set forth before the eyes. The term propitiation is the same with what in the Old Testament is translated mercy-seat. On the great day of atonement it was sprinkled with the blood of an appointed sacrifice. "And there I will meet thee," says God to Moses, "and will commune with thee from above the mercy seat." It rather, however, signifies the offering itself, than the place in which the blood of the offering was sprinkled. You know what it is to make the Being whom you have offended propitious. The propitiation is the offering by which propitiousness is obtained. Jesus Christ in dying, rendered a propitiation for the sins of the world. And you in particular have the benefit of this propitiation; He becomes your propitiation upon your having faith in His blood. There is a general faith which respects the whole testimony of God, that, if true and not counterfeit, will also respect all the particulars of that testimony. Still however there is a danger in connecting our reconciliation with this general faith; for there may be a delusive vagueness, you will observe, in the matter, and the attention may fail to be exercised on that distinct truth with which reconciliation has most expressly and immediately to do. Let it be well remarked then, that in this verse propitiation is said to be through faith in His blood. There is an appropriateness of this kind kept up in God s dealings with us. Through faith in the blood of Christ, we obtain that redemption which is through this blood, even the forgiveness of sin. It is through faith in God's promise of the Holy Spirit that we shall upon asking Him receive the Holy Spirit. This latter act of faith brings down upon us the benefit of which it is the object, even the Spirit - as the former act of faith brings down upon us the benefit of which it is the object, even the washing away of our guilt in the blood of the Lamb. As is the faith, so is the fulfilment. Our Saviour did not ask the blind men - Believe ye that I am able to do all things? - but Believe ye that I am able to do this thing? And upon their replying - Yes, He touched their eyes and said, According to your faith so be it done unto you - and their eyes were opened. The man who has the faith that he will get the spirit of charity, and prays accordingly - though he should get forgiveness on the back of his prayer, is not getting according to that faith. The man who has the faith that Christ's Spirit can sanctify him, and prays for it - though he should get forgiveness on the back of his prayer, is not getting according to that faith. But the man who has the faith that the blood of Christ can ‘wash away guilt,' and prays that in this blood his guilt may be washed away, and on the back of his prayer is accepted in the Beloved and for His sake - he is getting precisely according to his faith.
And thus it is that there is an accordancy between the benefits of faith, and the particular truths of revelation which faith has respect unto - when it brings down these benefits upon the believer. Faith has been compared by some theologians to the bunch of hyssop, and the blood of Christ is called the blood of sprinkling. For as to the remission of sins that are past. To declare his righteousness, in the having remitted by His forbearance, the sins of the ages that arc past.

Ver. 26. It is at this time that God hath set Him forth. He now shows what was before hidden from the prophets. In the fulness of time Christ is now manifested. It was a mystery in former ages, how a holy God could pardon. This is now declared; and it is now made manifest that God might be just, while He justifies those who believe in Jesus. The following is the paraphrase of this passage.

‘Therefore no individual shall work out a righteousness that justifies him by his doing of the law - for the law makes his sin manifest. But now, in lack of this righteousness of man, there is manifested a righteousness of God - not consisting of our obedience to the law, though both the law and the prophets bear witness to it. This is that righteousness of God, which is received by our faith in Christ Jesus, which is offered unto all, and actually conferred on all without distinction who believe. For all have sinned and come short of rendering glory to God; and none are therefore justified in the way of reward, but receive justification as a gift of kindness, out of that which has been purchased for us by Christ Jesus - whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood; and this to declare the righteousness of God, in His having forborne to punish the sins of those who were forgiven in former ages of the world - to declare this righteousness to us now, and so make it manifest, that it was not merely a kind and a compassionate, but also a just thing in God, to justify him who believeth in Jesus.

The first lesson that we should like to urge upon you from this passage, is the gospel doctrine of our acceptance with God, in all the strict entireness and purity of its terms. There is nothing which so much darkens the mind of an enquirer, and throws such a cloudiness over the simple announcements that God has made to us, as the tendency of a legal spirit, to mix up the doings of the creature with the free grace and mercy of the Creator. Take up with it as an absolute truth, that the law has condemned you. Be very sure that this is the sentence which is in force, against even the most virtuous and upright of the species. Do not try to mitigate the evils of your condition,or to blunt the edge and application of the law, as having pronounced a destroying sentence upon your person - by alleging any extenuation of your offences, or any number of actual conformities. You have broken the law in one point, have you not? So only has the assassin done, in respect to the law of his country. His execution is the legal consequence of his guilt; and thus too it is that your guilt is carried out to its legal consequence. It will be better therefore for you that you regard yourself, as under the law to be wholly undone. If you do not you will keep out from your mind the whole clearness and comfort of the gospel. If you admit any merit, or any innocence of your own, among the ingredients of your security before God - then all is thrown back again upon a questionable and precarious and uncertain foundation. The controversy between God and man is wakened up anew, by such a proceeding. You are again consigned, as before, among the old elements of doubt and distrust; and the question, what degree of comparative innocence is enough to admit your own righteousness into the plea of justification before God, will, by its ambiguous and unresolvable nature, remove you as far from any solid ground of dependence, as if there was no righteousness of another in which you might appear, and as if no propitiation had been made for you. If you want peace to your own minds, and a release to yourself from all its perplexities - better that you discard all the items of your own personal merit from the account of your acceptance with God. Go not to obliterate that clear line of demarcation which the apostle has drawn, between salvation by works and salvation by grace, and which he proposes to us as the, only two terms of an alternative which cannot be compounded together; but of which, if the one be chosen, the other must be entirely rejected. The foundation of your trust before God, must either be your own righteousness out and out, or the righteousness of Jesus Christ out and out. To attempt a composition of them is to lean on a foundation, of which many of the materials may be solid; but many of them also are brittle, and all of them are frailly cemented together with untempered mortar. If you are to lean upon your own merit, lean upon it wholly - If you are to lean upon Christ, lean upon Him wholly. The two will not amalgamate together; and it is the attempt to do so which keeps many a weary and heavy- laden enquirer at a distance from rest, and at a distance from the truth of the gospel. Maintain a clear and a consistent posture. Stand not before God with one foot upon a rock, and the other upon a treacherous quick-sand. And it is not your humility alone which we want to inspire - it is the stable peace of your hearts that we are consulting, when we tell you that the best use you can make of the law is to shut your mouth when it offers to speak in the language of vindication; and to let its requirements on the one hand, and your rebellion on the other, give you the conviction of sin.

In stepping over from the law as a ground of meritorious acceptance, step over from it wholly. Make no reservations. You are aware of the strenuousness with which Paul, in his Epistle to the Galatians, warded off the rite of circumcision from the church. He would admit of no compromise between one basis of acceptance and another. This were inserting a flaw and a false principle into the principle of our justification; and to import the element of falsehood were to import the element of feebleness. We call upon you, not to lean so much as the weight of one grain or scruple of your confidence upon your own doings - to leave this ground entirely, and to come over entirely to the ground of a Redeemer's blood and a Redeemer's righteousness. Then you may stand firm and erect on a foundation strong enough and broad enough to bear you. You will feel that your feet are on a sure place; and we know nothing that serves more effectually to clear and disembarrass the mind of an enquirer from all its perplexities, than when the provinces of the law and the gospel, instead of mingling and mutually encroaching the one upon the other, come to be seen in all the distinctness of their character and offices. The law ministers condemnation and nothing else. The gospel, by its own unaided self, ministers that righteousness which finds acceptance with God. God has simply set forth Christ to be a propitiation. You have to look upon Him as such, and He becomes your propitiation. Make no doubt of its being an honest exhibition, which God makes of His Son. It is not an exhibition by which He intends to deceive you. And great will be your peace, when thus drawn away from yourself, and drawn towards the Saviour. It will be the commencement of a trust, that will establish the heart in comfort; and, though a mystery which cannot be demonstrated to the world, will it be the experience of every true believer, that it is the commencement of an affection which will establish the heart in the love and in the habit of holiness.
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