Thomas Chalmers

Lectures on Romans
R0MANS, viii, 33, 34.

"Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth ; who 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."

LET your first act be an act of reliance upon Christ for pardon; let this act be so repeated by you, day after day and hour after hour, as to ripen into a habit of reliance - and then shall we confidently look for the marks and evidences of your regeneration. And these marks may at length so multiply upon you they might so brighten and become palpable even to the eye of your own observation, that you shall begin to suspect - nay further to guess - nay further still to be assured, and to read the full assurance, that you are indeed one of the elect of God. That you are among the elect is not a thing to be presumed by you at the first; but a thing gathered by you afterwards, from your subsequent history as a believer. If you are wise, you do not meddle with the doctrine of election at the outset - whatever comfort or establishment of heart you may draw from it, in the ulterior stages of your spiritual progress. When you go forth on the career of Christianity, you look at the free offer of the gospel. You perceive it to be addressed to you, as well as to others. You yield a compliance therewith. You enter into peace with God - in obedience to His own call, whereby He now beseeches you to be reconciled to Him. It were great presumption indeed for you, to start with the assurance that your name is in the book of God's decrees; which He keeps beside Himself in heaven - but no presumption at all, to set out with the assurance that you are spoken to in that book of God’s declarations, which He circulates through the world.

The "look unto me all" and the "come unto me all" and the "whosoever will let him come" - these are sayings in which one and all of the human family have most obvious interest. You presume nothing when you presume upon the honesty of these sayings. And if furthermore you proceed upon them - if now you strike the act of reconciliation; and forthwith enter upon that walk by which they who receive Christ, and receive along with Him power to become the children of God, are sure to separate themselves from the children of the world; and pray for grace, that you may be upheld and carried forward therein; and combine a life of activity with a life of prayer - Then, and after perhaps many months of successful perseverance, you may talk of your election, because now you can read it, not in the book of life that is in heaven, but in the book of your own history upon earth - not that you have drawn out the secret from among the archives of the upper sanctuary; but because now it stands palpably engraven upon a character the light of which shines before the eye of the world, and which is read and known of all men - not that you have access to that tablet which has been inscribed from eternity by the finger of God; but that you have access to the tablet of your own heart, and, by the eye of conscience, can discern thereupon the virtues of the new creature, inscribed by the Spirit of God within the period of your own recollection. Even the apostle went no higher than this, when judging of the state of his own converts. Their election was to him not a thing of presumption, but a thing of inference - drawn, not from what he guessed, but from what he saw - brought, not from those third heavens which he had at one time visited, but lying palpably before him and within the precincts of his own earthly home. When he tells the Thessalonians that he knew their election, he tells them how he knew it, "Knowing brethren beloved your election of God - for our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Ghost and with much assurance, as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake, and ye became followers of us and were ensamples to all." He concluded them to be of the elect, not from any access that he had to a book of mysteries, but simply from the manner of men they were. It was not because of any high communication that he had with Heaven upon the subject; but because of the daily companionship that he had with his disciples, and in virtue of which he saw the very things that others saw also; and observed nothing else or nothing more than those evidences of faith, those graces of holy and new-born creatures, which were known and read of all men.

My anxiety is that you do not embarrass yourselves with this matter of election - for there is positively nothing in the doctrine which ought to encumber, or in any way to darken the plain and practical work of your Christianity. What I fear is that some may founder at the outset of their discipleship, by prematurely and previously meddling with it. I want that if they feel any speculative difficulty about it now, they may not waste their strength on the business of resolving it; but set out on the scholarship of the gospel in a plain way, and leave their election to be gathered afterwards from the progress which they have made in that way - which is neither more nor less than the way of holiness. Then they may perceive a consistency, and feel a most precious comfort, in the doctrine; but now, and I speak to those who are meditating an entrance on that path which leadeth unto heaven, now their concern is to accept of Christ as He is freely offered to them in the gospel, and to take full encouragement from the reasoning of our preceding text, "He that spared not his own Son but gave him up unto the death for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?"

I would have them to close alike with the pledge and the promise; and on the high vantage-ground of Christ being theirs I would have their hearts to be gladdened even now with the assurance of faith, and thence that they should pass forward to the assurance that cometh from experience - giving all dilligence to make their calling and election sure, and assiduously labouririg at those things of which it is said in the New Testament, that if a man do these things he shall never fall.

The point at which God begins in the matter of our salvation, is not the point at which man begins. The apostle assigns the order of God’s procedure when he says, "Whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate, and whom he did predestinate them he also called, and whom he called them he also justified and whom he justified them he also glorified." It is at the call that man’s part commences. Let him listen to the call - let him yield a compliance with tile call - let him take both the comfort and direction of the call - Understanding it to be both a call from wrath unto acceptance, and a call from sin unto righteousness. It were well that he kept by his own share of the process, and encroached not on the part or the prerogative of God. These ambitious speculations about God’s eternal decree and man’s eternal destiny, often argue a creature misconceiving his own place, and making himself like unto his Creator. He in fact comes in at the middle, between the decree that went before and the destiny that comes after; and, alike ignorant of both at the outset of his Christianity, his distinct and only concern is with the matters that are in hand - with tile guilt that can be charged upon his person - with the vengeance that lowrs upon his prospects - with the offered interposition of a Saviour to cleanse away the one and wholly to avert the other - with the honest invitation of that Saviour to cast upon Him the burden of every fear, and to make use of Him as the appointed Mediator whose business it is both to reconcile and to sanctify.

This is the opening at which man is admitted; and be very sure that you misunderstand the gospel, and are entangling yourselves with mysteries that you would be greatly better to abstain from - if you have any other conception of it, than that there is most wide and welcome admittance for you all; and, let your obscurities be what they may about that high transcendental process which connects the first purpose of the Divine Mind with your final place in eternity, there should at least be no obscurity in that process which you have personally and individually to do with, and by which it is that whosoever believeth shall be justified, and whosever is justified shall be sanctified, and whosoever is sanctified shall be glorified.

I would therefore say to all who profess their faith in Christ, that the great business on hand is their sanctification. And it is one of the all things which God gives freely along with His Son to all who believe upon Him. It is this my brethren which constitutes the great peculiarity of their practical habit. They work, not upon the strength which they natively possess, but upon the strength which they have prayed for - given no doubt with freeness, but because asked in faith; and leading to vigorous obedience, but from a vigour that is infused, and not from a vigour which properly or originally belongs to them. This is the secret thing in which the great strength of a Christian lies. He works mightily, because the grace of God works in him mightily; and one of the most beautiful harmonies in the experience of every true Christian, is the accordancy that obtains between the worth of his performances and the fervency of his prayers. It is in this walk of secrecy that the secret of the Lord is at length made known to the believer; and in those multiplied exchanges which take place between prayer and the answer of prayer, he reads the tokens of his coming destination. As the present grace brightens upon his person, the future glory brightens to his hopes. His humility and his holiness keep pace together - till from the increasing splendour of the one, he may without violence done to the other conclude that his election is of God. He ascends from the platform of faith to the higher platform of experience; and though, even on the former, he may join the apostle in that strain of triumph wherewith he brings this magnificent chapter to a close - yet it is from the latter, because the more advanced and loftier elevation, that he has the fullest confidence in saying, ‘Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth, who is he that condemneth?’

‘It is God that justifieth, who is he that condemneth?’ I have already said all that I mean to do at present which bears relation to the first clause of the verse, and shall now proceed to a few observations on this last clause of it. I fear that it is to a very small degree experimentally known, how much the light and love and liberty of a Christian’s mind depend on the sense that he has of his justification; and that he is in his very best and healthiest condition, when, reviewing the grounds of this justification, he feels his security to be rivetted as it were and himself securely resting upon the strength of them. There is one aspect of justification that is peculiarly fitted to impress a comfort, and a clear impression of deliverance, on the heart of a believer - even the aspect set before us in the text, and where it is stated as proceeding directly and of His own personal act from God Himself.

‘It is God that justifieth.’ It is He to whom he was liable, declaring that all was fully paid. It is He who alone was entitled to make the charge against us, declaring how amply and conclusively we stood discharged from all furtler reckoning on account of our iniquities. It is He who before was our offended Lawgiver, Himself undertaking our cause and pronouncing with His own voice upon the goodness of it. It is the God from whom at one time we had nought to apprehend but the emphatic condemnation and the overwhelming Vengeance - it is He filling His mouth with arguments upon our side, and pleading our cause, and protesting how much and how completely He is satisfied. It is our vindication coming from the very quarter whence our vengeance was looked for; and that Being who alone had the right to accuse, not merely acquitting and so withdrawing from us all the dishonour that is due to guilt; but raising us above the midway state of innocence, and regarding us with all the positive favour, and as entitled to all the positive regard, that is due to righteousness. It is He who might have wreaked upon us of His sorest displeasure, now telling how much He is pleased with us, and how rightfully we are privileged to obtain from Him the rewards of a happy and honourable eternity. It is He of whom we might well have dreaded, that when the arm of His justice was lifted up it would be lifted up to destroy - it is Himself saying, that this very justice demanded not only our exoneration from all penalty, but our preferment to the glories that are due to righteousness. They who have felt the terrors of the law - they who have been stung with the arrows of self-reproach; and, alive to the miseries of their spiritual condition, have shrunk from the dreaded eye of a judge and an avenger, as it took cognizance of all their ungodliness - they who have laboured under the agonies of a burdened conscience, and to whose inner man this witness hath rung the alarm of an angry God and of His utter intolerance for evil - They can report how blessed the emancipation is, when, through faith in the tidings of the gospel, they come to see that the whole account between them and the Lawgiver is reversed; and that He who before challenged them because of their offence, now challenges the whole universe to make good one charge or one ground of condemnation against them - when from His own mouth they hear how valid is the plea that now they have got hold of, and how much He has reason to be satisfied - when, in the precious doctrine of our redemption, they are made to perceive that the suretiship was an equivalent for the debt, and the atonement by Christ a full reparation to the dignity of Heaven for all the outrage which sinners had inflicted on it; and so that all is clear with God, who now can at once be a just God and a Saviour - can be just while the justifier of those who believe in Jesus - -justifying them freely by His grace through the redemption that is in His own Son.

I might expatiate further upon how thoroughly the conscience is unburdened of its guilt, by the very Being against whom the guilt has been conducted thus taking the work of our vindication into His own hands; but I now pass on to remark upon that tendency which there is in us, to overlook the direct interest that God the Father has felt, and taken all along, in the matter of our salvation. We are apt to regard Him as having no great will for our deliverance, till that will was wrought upon and prevailed over by the services of the Mediator in our behalf - that with Him lay all the displeasure which wreaks itself upon a work of vengeance, while with His Son lay all the delight which compassion feels in a work of mercy - that to the one there belongeth the jealousy of a vindictive nature, while to the other there belongeth the engaging generosity of a benevolent nature: And thus I fear, that, as the general effect in many instances of the whole contemplation, the government of Heaven is conceived to be in the hands of an inflexible tyrant, who, at the same time, has had his severity often appeased and turned away by a Son of popular and endearing qualities; and under whose administration it is, that the character of the divine jurisprudence is disarmed of all those terrors by which it would else have been encompassed.

We greatly fear, that, along with the general truth of their contemplation, there is a wrong impression of the Godhead; and that, along with the truth and justice arid holiness of the Lawgiver, there are not seen the tenderness that He feels toward His own offspring - the softness and sincerity of His parental longings, after the children who have wandered in the errors. of their disobedience away from Him.

Now, to rectify this impression and restore you to a juster sense of that great Being with whom you have to do, I would have you to gather from Scripture the part He has taken in the whole recovery of our fallen world. The pity of God has in fact been working upon our side from, the very outset of the human apostacy; and you. do Him wrong - you bear in your heart the hardest and most injurious thoughts of Him, if you conceive of Him otherwise, than as one bereaved of his family, and bent on the object of calling them back again It is true - that, for what in reference to the government of His moral and intelligent creation may significantly enough be called Reasons of State - it is true, that, to upheld the dignity of His throne - it is true, that, to vindicate the attributes of His nature, and to save the Universe which He had thrown around Him from the speetacle of a dishonoured law and a degraded Sovereign - There behoved, ere sin could be passed by, there behoved to be a sacrifice. But with whom did this way of reconciliation originate? - with God Himself who found out the ransom - with Him who so loved the world as to send His only-begotten Son into it. At whose expense was the sacrifice made? Had the Father think you to bear none of it, when He spared not the Son of His love but delivered Him up unto the death for us all? Was there no struggle do you imagine in the bosom of the Divinity, when He thus surrendered the object of His dearest affection, and laid upon Him the full weight of the world’s atonement? In the sufferings of Christ will you overlook the palpable expression of regard for our alienated species, manifested by Him who consented to these sufferings? - and, after looking to this transaction in all its relations and its bearings, will you refuse to allow, that, while judgment is the strange though needful work of the Almighty, mercy after all is His darling attribute; and that to strike out an open conveyance by which it may he poured exuberantly over the face of the whole earth, was indeed a grand design in that economy of redemption, which Himself did frame and which Himself hath instituted.
All along He has taken a direct and an interested part in the object of our world’s restoration. He did not wait in passive and unmoved indifference, till another should interfere; or cherish the stern purpose of revenge within His bosom, till another should step forward and satiate the wrath that else was unappeasable. The truth of Heaven, we admit, and the stable interest of Heaven’s high monarchy, did require an expiation; but it was the love of God Himself that prompted the undertaking - it was in love that He prosecuted it through all its obstacles and its hard necessities was in earnest busy and persevering love, that He carried forward the enterprise from one step to another; and no sooner was the atonement rendered, and the great moral difficulty resolved whereby a just God might reinstate the sinner in acceptance who had made open defiance to the authority of His moral government - no sooner were the great sanctions and securities of this government provided for, than He opened the prison-door of the grave, and raised to His throne of Mediatorship the once crucified but now exalted Saviour - no sooner was the plea of His everlasting righteousness brought in, than Himself laid hold of it; and it is now His delight to use it for the purpose of our vindication - So that God Himself asserts for us the merits of His Son’s obedience; and, instead of dissevering Him from the work of our salvation, we have the warrant of apostolical example for saying that God Himself affirms our cause, and that it is God Himself who justifies. That righteousness which Christ brought in, is termed in various places the righteousness of God.

The Jews stumbled and fell because they sought to be justified by their own righteousness, and would not submit to the righteousness of God. But bow great our security, if, instead of being found in our own righteousness, we are found in that which God calls His own. Well may He be said to justify those who believe, when He holds them to be invested with a righteousness which it is His part to vindicate, because to Himself it belongs - dear to Him therefore as His own character, and as ready to be asserted and made good by Him in the eyes of a whole universe as the attributes of His own nature. Over against, and in counterpart to the office of God as our justifier, there is put the question, ‘Who is he that coudemneth?’ - suggesting the idea of another and an opposite party, who felt an interest in our guilt and was intent on making it good - who had charges to prefer, and laboured after the establishment of these charges - who delighted in the work of accusation, and felt a satisfaction and a triumph should he succeed in this his favourite employment. It instantly recalls the title which is given to our great adversary in the book of Revelation, as the accuser of the brethren; and in the history of Job there is given a very forcible exhibition of the characteristic pleasure that he feels in pleading on the side of condemnation. We can fancy an interest in this, because, by every case in which he fails of his object, he is abridged of his monarchy; and each, who, either under his own personal righteousness or under the provided righteousness of the gospel stands justified in the sight of God, is one man more wrested from the thraldom of his power.

But we allude to this, not for the purpose of remarking on the gratification that every instance of made-out and established guilt yields to his ambition, but on the gratification that it yields to his malice. In like manner as I would lure you to virtue, by setting forth the graces of its pure and perfect exemplification in Christ - so I would warn you against all vice, by setting forth the hideousness of its deformity in the picture that is given of him whom Christ came to destroy; and, more especially, I would have you to understand that satisfaction in another’s guilt is diabolical - that in the complacency which is felt by some on the discovery of a neighbour’s weakness or his crime, there is that which savours of the spirit and the morale of pandemonium - that even in the zest which is so currently felt when scandal mixes up of its infusion with the gossip of an assembled party, there are the distinct traces of a contagion from below - that there is a secret exultation of heart on some humiliating exposure of an acquaintance, which is absolutely fiendish - Nor am I aware of any test that so decisively fixes the distinction between a good and an evil spirit in man, as the emotion which arises in his bosom, when there is brought to his ears the delinquency of one to whom, he had been accustomed to yield the homage of unimpeaehed character. The grief of the former and the gladness of the latter, serve to mark two characteristics of the human heart, which stand as opposed as do the elements of light and darkness. It is said of charity that it rejoices not in iniquity. But in the hateful temperament which I am now labouring to expose, there is upon the sight or the report of such iniquity a hellish joy - a gleam of malignant triumph, that is peculiarly hideous; and were I called to fasten on the one trait that forms the most sure and specific indication of a satanic heart, I would say that never is it given forth so unequivocally as by him, who, on the first opening to a brother’s humiliation or disgrace, would eagerly seize upon it, and rejoice in the hold that he had gotten - who would now delight himself with the ignominy of him, on whom he wont to lavish the hypocrisies of his seeming friendship; and, like that, great father of lies to whom he bears a family resemblance so strikingly appropriate, would convert the base advantage into an instrument by which he might tyrannise and entangle and destroy.

It is Christ thiat died, yea rather that is risen again.’ I shall not expatiate further on the death of Christ as the basis of our justification; but only advert to the way in which the argument for our confidence, is made more complete and conclusive still by His resurrection. Instead of looking to His death, let us look rather to His having risen again. In a former verse of this epistle where He is said to have been delivered for our offences, He. is said to have risen again for our justification. And it would greatly tend to augment your security - did you only realise the contemplation of a now alive and risen Saviour, at the Lawgiver’s righthand - were the eye of your faith open to behold Him, sitting and holding converse with His Father there - could you only represent to yourself the present and the actual state of matters in the upper Sanctuary, where He, who by His own death expiated the sinner’s guilt, now interposes with God that the sinner’s trust might not be put to shame - where He who was Himself the surety, can allege the debt to have been fully paid; and. hands up His: people’s prayers to the seat of the Eternal, mingled with the incense of His own merits, accompanied with the remembrance and the plea of His own sacrifice. This is a topic on which I cannot expect the unbeliever to sympathise - for he would need to have a spiritual revelation of the objects, ere he could take on the distinct or the vivid impression of them. But only grant of any human creature, that he saw this to be a reality; and with what a light and unburdened heart, he may rejoice and be in confidence before God. Let him but figure the things which are above as we have now represented them. - let him take a correct view of Heaven’s merey-seat - let him look to the Throne of Grace as, it is now constituted; and, if he just see it as it is, what should restrain him from entering with all boldness thereunto? The God who is upon it waiting to be gracious - the mediator who is beside it beckoning with kindliest welcome the chief of sinners to draw nigh, and undertaking to be the Advocate of all who shall put their cause for eternity into His hands - The Father delighting to honour the Son, and give full effect to His great enterprise - The Son presenting to His Father another and another application for mercy; and with this resistless argument of the law itself being more proudly magnified by an act of pardon sealed with the blood of His own atonement, than it ever would have been by the obedience of the transgressor for whom he pleads - The perfect unity of heart and of counsel between Him who intercedes for mercy, and Him who judgeth in righteousness - And the golden harmony that now awaketh among all the attributes of the Godhead, when, through Him that liveth for ever after the order of Meichisedec, His full and His finished salvation is accorded to the offender.

It is by this wondrous economy of a perpetual and consecrated priesthood, that such music is now heard in Heaven; and that, in sweetest concord with the whole of Heaven’s jurisprudence, love for the sinner mingles and is at one with the now vindicated majesty of holiness and truth. The believer, before the eye of whose enlightened understanding these things stand in open and convincing manifestation, feels all the glory of an elate confidence as he looks to the grounds and the guarantees of his safety; but then does he chiefly rejoice with joy exceeding and full of glory, when he looks to Him who was dead and is alive again. It is true that by His obedience unto death, He has furnished every sinner of the world with the materials of a most substantial and satisfying plea; but by rising again He has Himself become the pleader - And let us not wonder if the apostle himself felt as if ascending upon a higher vantage ground - when, passing from the consideration of the death of Christ, he so exultingly adds that yea rather He is risen again, and is even at the right hand of God, and also maketh intercession for us.

I may just here advert to that historical circumstance which is connected with the resurrection of the Saviour - even that it was achieved by a forthputting of direct and personal agency on the part of the Father. On this subject we have several express testimonies in the Bible. " ‘Whom God hath raised up." "This Jesus hath God raised up." "Being by the right hand of God exalted." "Whom God hath raised from the dead." "Like as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father." "If the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you." "Wherefore also God hath highly exalted him." There are many similar testimonies, and the believer has not overlooked the preciousness of them. To him all Scripture is profitable; and the information of those scriptures which have now been specifically cited, has not been without its use in the establishment of his faith. They prove by a striking historical event that the justice of God has been, satisfied - that He has accepted of the sacrifice as a full and a finished expiation - that in releasing our surety from the imprisonment of the grave, He has now ceased from all further legal demand upon us - that in placing Him by His own side in heaven, He stifles His complete approval of all that has been done for the salvation of the world - In a word, that the great errand has been fulfilled; and that, with the now admitted presence of our forerunner within the veil to plead the accomplishment of it, nothing is wanting to the confidence wherewith we may now leave our cause in His hand and look for the sure mercies of David.

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