Thomas Chalmers

Lectures on Romans
ROMANS. X, 3 - 5. "For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doth those things shall live by them"

There should be no difficulty in fixing whether the term righteousness in this passage must be understood according to its personal or its legal sense - whether that righteousness which designates a character that is marked by its virtues and its graces or that which is pronounced by a judge, or him who is entitled thereby to its honours and rewards. In this place, as in others, the context clears up the text. For example in Matthew, v, 20 - the righteousness which is there spoken of cannot be mistaken for any other than the personal - that being made obvious by the illustrations which follow, and whence it appears that its superiority over the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees lies in the higher style of certain virtues which are there specified. And again in Galatians, iii, 21, there can be as little mistake, when we affix the legal or judicial meaning to the righteousness there spoken of - it being such a righteousness as could have given life, and which is viewed therefore not in the moral graces of which it is made up, but in the rewards, even those of a blissful eternity, which are judicially conferred upon it - just as the ministration of death in 2 Cor. iii, 7, is clearly juridical, it being termed in ver. 9, the ministration of condemnation, for death is the penalty of sin: And so the ministration of righteousness contrasted therewith must be juridical also, it being the ministration of life, even that life which is the reward of righteousness. In like manner when one looks to the verse before us iu conjunction with the verses which immediately succeed, there should be no difficulty in settling the judicial import of the term righteousness throughout this whole passage of the apostle’s argument - as being, not the righteousness which has its place in the character or person of a disciple, but the righteousness which can be plea’d or stated by him at the bar of jurisprudence when he stands there as a claimant for the rewards and honours of eternity. In short it is the righteousness which gives a right to eternal life or which challenges eternal life as its due - that righteousness which the Jews fell short of, because they sought to establish it by the merit of their own doings, while they refused to make use of the plea which God offered to put into their hands as a righteousness that He would accept - this being a righteousness of which they were ignorant, or would not acknowledge, or would not submit themselves thereto. "For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness," or of that righteousness on the ground of which or consideratlon of which He would take man into acceptance; "and going about to establish a righteousness of their own," seeking to make good their title to heaven, as rightful claimants to its inheritance on the strength or merit of their own proper services - "they would not submit themselves unto the righteousness of God," but sought to be justified in their own way which was by their own works, rather than by His method of justification.

My only additional remark, on this verse is, that, in the ignorance there spoken of, there is something more than the mere passive blindness of those who cannot help themselves because of the total darkness by which they are encompassed. It was very much the ignorance of those who would not open their eyes. There was an activity, a will in it, as much as there was in the other things ascribed to them in these words - in the ‘going about’ to establish a different righteousness from that which they would not acknowledge, or would not submit to - resisting it, in fact, because of their not liking it. This forms the true principle on which the condemnation of unbelief rests. "They love the darkness rather than the light;" and so the ignorance or unbelief is criminal - just as far as there were affection and choice in it. Even as the Gentiles "liked not to retain God in their knowledge " - even so the Jews liked not in this instance to admit God into their knowledge, or give entertainment in their minds to that way of salvation which He had devised for the recovery of a guilty world-even the transference of man’s sins to the person of Christ, and the transference of Christ’s righteousness to the persons of all who believe in Him. It is the part which the will has in it that makes ignoranee the proper object of a vindictive retribution; and so when Christ corneth, He will take vengeance on those who know not God, and obey not the gospel of Jesus Christ. The will has to do with the want of obedience; and so far as the want of knowledge is punishable, the will has to do with that want also. There is a wilful resistance to the light - though a resistance this it must be admitted which the light itself may overcome by the greater force of its evidence, by the greater brightness and intensity of its own manifestation - just as Paul’s ignorance and unbelief were overpowered by the light that shone upon him near Damascus; and as the faith of converts in the present day is carried, when God is pleased to reveal Christ in them, by cornmandmg the light to shine out of darkness, or by calling them out of darkness into the marvellous light of the gospel.

Ver. 4. ‘For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.’ There is one obvious sense in which Christ is the end of the law; and that is when the law viewed as a schoolmaster brings us to the conclusion, as to its last lesson, that Christ is our only refuge our only righteousness - thereby shutting us up unto the faith. But this is not the sort of end which is meant here. We should have a more precise understanding of the verse by taking the word end as equivalent to purpose - and that a purpose too which the law was fitted to serve not merely after it was broken; but at the time of its original institution, and when it was first set up for the moral government of men. Now that the law has been violated, and we are the outcasts of its rightful condemnation, it is good to be schooled by it into the lesson that Christ is our only hiding-place, in whom there is no condemnation; and thus to make Christ the end or the final landing-place of that educational process through which we are conducted, when studying the high precepts and authority of the law, and our own immeasurable distance and deficiency therefrom. It is not thus however that this verse is to be understood; and for the right determination of what it signifies, we should go back to one of the purposes for which the law was given at the time of its first ordination - a purpose to be gained, not after the breaking of it, but which would have been gained by the keeping of it. One of these purposes was to secure the moral rightness of man’s character and conduct. But another of these purposes was to secure for him a legal right to eternal life. The one was the end of the law for his personal holiness. The other was the end of the law for his judicial righteousness; and this is what we hold to be precisely the ‘end of the law for righteousness’ in our text. Its direct and primary object was that man should be justified by his obedience thereto; but man falling short of this object or end by falling short of perfect obedience, can only now obtain it in Christ, in whom alone we have righteousness, even a part and an interest in that everlasting righteousness which He hath brought in, by His obedience - which righteousness, with all its associated privileges and rewards, is unto all and upon all who believe. It is the merit of His obedience imputed unto us and made ours by faith, which forms our right or titledeed of entry into the kingdom of heaven. He is the Lord our righteousness; and in receiving Him we receive that righteousness which it was the end of the law to have secured for us had it been by us fulfilled; but which we in vain seek by the law, now that it has been broken.

Ver. 5. ‘For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doth those things shall live by them.’ One expedient by which men have attempted to dilute or do away the substance of the gospel, is to represent the insufficiency of the law for salvation as attaching only to the ceremonial law of Moses. In the passage now before us however, the righteousness which is of the law is said to be superseded by the righteousness which is of faith; and the former righteousness, or that which is laid aside, attaches to the law whereof Moses said that the man which doeth those things shall live by them. This surely must include the moral as well as the ceremonial. The great lawgiver of the Jews nowhere represents the doing of the things of the ceremonial law as enough for life. "Cursed is every one," he saith, "who continueth not in all the words of the book to do them." And so far is any sufficiency of this sort from being awarded to the ceremonial alone - there is many a prophetic remonstrance founded on the insignificance of the ceremonial, when compared with the worth and lasting obligation of the moral. "To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me Put away the evil of your doings and learn to do well." It is not, if a man do the things of the ceremonial - it is if he do the things of the whole law, that he shall live. It is our sufficiency for the righteousness of the whole law which is here brought to the trial; and if found wanting, which eventually it will be in every instance, we must infer that man can no more attain to everlasting life by his most strenuous observation of moral righteousness, than by his most faithful and laborious discharge of the Mosaic ritual.
It is on the ground of the moral law and of it alone, that this trial for eternity now rests. We of the present day stand delivered from the obligations of the Jewish ritual, and of its burdensome services. Should we decline the gospel, we shall be dealt with purely and exclusively as the objects of the moral law; and still it holds true that the man who doeth these things shall reach everlasting life without a gospel and without a Saviour. If the law, the moral law, be sufficient to any man for this object - then to him the gospel is uncalled for. It is thus that the economy of grace may be brought to the trial of its worth and its importance; and to this very law the man who yields a perfect moral obedience may challenge for himself the right of neglecting its offers - the claim to an inheritance inheaven without the need of a passport from him who is represented to us as the Author of a great salvation.

The two ways to eternal life here brought into comparison are clearly and distinctly contrasted. The one is by doing - the other is by believing - The one by doing a full and finished righteousness for ourselves - the other by believing that Christ has done a full and sufficient righteousness for us; and makes each and all of us as welcome to its rewards as if they had been earned in our own person, by the merit of our own services. It is either in the one or other of these ways that heaven is at all accessible - so that should we both fall short of the first, and refuse to enter upon the second, we are hopelessly and helplessly barred from the paradise of God.

There are two places, as it were, at which these respective ways may be compared with each other - either at the entrance of them before we set out; or anywhere, after that we have set out, along the pathway of each - whether cheered on by the encouragements, or struggling with the difficulties peculiar to the one or the other of them.

I. Let us first take a view of the state of matters at the entrance of the two ways - when man, under the first effectual visitation of earnestness, resolves to go forth in busy search and prosecution after the good of his eternity. And here a consideration meets us at the very outset of the way of doing; and that is whether the condition of eternal life in that way be not already fallen from, and so the eternal life itself already forfeited. It is he who doeth all things that shall live. Have we hitherto done all things? Are we in circumstances now, for making a clear outset on this enterprise for heaven? It is not enough that there be the purpose of universal, of unreserved, obedience in all time coming. There must have been the performance of an obedience alike universal, alike unreserved, throughout all the stages of the history that is past. Can the memory and the conscience of any man living depone to this? Can he lay his hand upon his heart, and say without misgiving - that throughout all the successive days of his past existence in the world, there has ascended to heavent he continuous incense of a pure and sinless offering? Has he altogether loved God as he ought? Has he altogether lived among his fellows as he ought? Has his hand done all that it might in the services of benevolence? Has his heart been filled as it should have been - if not with the sensibilities, at least with the purposes and the aspirations of piety? Has the will of the Creator, in no one instance, made place for his own waywardness? Has that law, every jot and tittle of which must be fulfilled, had this unfailing this unswerving this unexcepted fulfilment rendered to it by him? Can he appeal to every hour of his by-gone history; and confidently speak of each, having, without one flaw or scruple of deviation, been pervaded by that loyalty of principle, by that grateful recollection, by those duteous conformities of a heart ever glowing with affection and of a hand ever glowing with activity, which the creature owes to the Creator who gave him birth? These are questions which must be settled, ere he can advance one hopeful footstep on his way to heaven by the deeds of the law. Should there be one single deed either of sin or of deficiency to soil the retrospect of his past experience, it nullifies the enterprise. By a single act of disobedience the power of making good our eternity in this way is gone, and gone irretrievably. Heaven may still become ours by a deed of mercy. But that it should be ours by a judicial award of law, and of law sitting in cognizance over our deserts and our doings, is a thing impossible.

If the conscience be at all enlightened, this will be felt as a difficulty which overhangs the entrance of the proposed journey to heaven in the way of obedience. The sense of a debt which no effort of ours can possibly lesson, and far less extinguish - the sense of a guilt that by ourselves is wholly inexpiable - the sense of an impassable gulf between us and God, seeing that when viewed as our Lawgiver and ere reparation for the injury of His outraged law shall have been made, His attributes of truth and justice and holiness unite to lay an interdict on any terms or treaty of reconciliation - them are what paralyse the movements of a conscious sinner; and just because they paralyse his hopes. The likest thing to it in human experience is, when a decreet of bankruptcy without a discharge has come forth on the man who has long struggled with his difficulties, and is now irrecoverably sunk under, the weight of them. There is an effectual drag laid upon this man’s activity. The hand of diligence is forthwith slackened when all the fruits of diligence are thus liable to be seized upon - and that by a rightful claim of such magnitude as no possible strenuousness can meet or satisfy. The processes of business come to a stand or are suspended - when others are standing by ready to devour the proceeds of business so soon as they are realised, or at least to divert them from the use of the unhappy man and the good of his family. The spirit of industry dies within him when he finds that he can neither make aught for himself, nor, from the enormous mass of his obligations, make any sensible advances towards his liberation. In these circumstances he loses all heart and all hope for exertion of any sort; and either breaks forth into recklessness or is chilled into inactivity by despair. And it is precisely so in the case of a sinner towards God. If he feel as he ought, he feels as if the mountain of his iniquities had separated him from his Maker. There is the barrier of an unsettled controversy between them, which, do his uttermost, he cannot move away; and the strong though secret feeling of this is a chief ingredient in the lethargy of nature. There is a haunting jealousy of God which keeps us at a distance from Him. There is the same willing forgetfulness of Him, that there is of any other painful or disquieting object of contemplation. God, when viewed singly as the Lawgiver, is also viewed as the Judge who must condemn - as the rightful creditor whose payments or whose penalties are alike overwhelming. We are glad to make our escape from all this dread and discouragement into the sweet oblivion of Nature. The world becomes our hiding-place from the Deity - and in despair of making good our eternity by our works, we work but for the interests of time; and, because denizens of earth, we, estranged from the hopes of heaven, never once set forth in good earnest upon its preparations.

These are the impossibilities, which, at the very commencement, beset this way of making good your eternity by your doings; and from which there is no release to the spiritual bankrupt, till the gospel puts its discharge into his hands. By this gospel there is a deed of amnesty made known, to which all are welcome. There is revealed to us a surety who hath taken the whole of our debt upon Himself - having fulfilled the ample acquittance of all our obligations, and so made us clear with God. Even to the worst and most worthless of sinners the offer of this great deliverance is made. It is our faith in the reality of this offer which constitutes our acceptance of it; and whereas in the way of doing, the very entrance was impracticably closed against us - this initial obstruction is entirely moved aside from the way of believing. In the language of the Psalmist, the bond is loosed; and restored to hope, we are restored to alacrity in the bidden services and preparations of eternity. With the conscience lightened, through the peace-speaking blood of Jesus, of its guilts and of its fears - we are made to walk with the feeling, with the hopeful inspiration of men at liberty. The debt is cancelled; and we can start anew in that enterprise for heaven, on which but for the ransom of the New Testament, there lies a burden of utter impotency and despair. Like the emancipated debtor to whom the fruits of all his future toil and diligence are now fully assured to him, a weight is taken off from the activities of nature. Our labour is no longer in vain - because now it is labour in the Lord; and every effort becomes a step in advance towards heaven, when thus the old obedience of the law is exchanged for the new obedience of the gospel.

II. But we might imagine the conscience of man not to be enlightened at the outset of his religious earnestness; and that therefore, instead of the stillness of his despair under a sense of nature’s insufficiency for the righteousness of the law, he actually sets forth in the pursuit of this righteousness, and makes the weary struggle it may be of months or of years in order to attain it. It is oftenest in this way that the first movements are made under the first powerful visitation of seriousness. The law in its unsullied purity - the law in its uncompromising rigour - the law in its unexcepted right of sovereignty over every.desire of the heart and every deed of the history - These may not be adverted to at the time of the soul’s incipient concern about these things; and so the attempt might fairly be made, to compass such an obedience as might found a claim or title to the rewards of eternity. In the prosecution of this object there may be the forth-putting of great strenuousness - the anxious feeling of great scrupulosity - the new habit, at least of toiling at the servihities, if not the new heart which had a taste for the sanctities of religion. At all events, many laborious drudgeries might be gone through. The regularities both of private and family prayer might be instituted. There might be alloted hours for the exercises of sacredness; and these in full tale and measure may be observed most rigidly. In short, a thousand punctuahities may be rendered - and all with the view to establish a merit in the eye of heaven’s Lawgiver, which never can be effectually done without a full and faultless adherence to Heaven’s law. Now, we say, that if conscience feel as it ought, there will throughout this whole process be a festering, an inappeasable disquietude - a self-jealousy, and a self-dissatisfaction which no doings or deserts of our own can terminate - a feeling of unworthiness which in spite of every effort will adhere to our best services, and turn all into hopelessness and vexation - For, let it be observed, that, reach what elevation of virtue we may, there will in proportion as we advance and we ascend, be further heights and distances in moral excellence beyond us and above us. The higher we proceed in this career, we shall command a farther view of the spaces which still lie before us; or, in other words, we shall be more filled with a sense of the magnitude of our own short comings.

The conscience, in fact, grows in sensibility, just as the conduct is more the object of our strict and scrupulous regulation; and so, with every advance we make towards the perfection of the law, does the law appear to rise upon us with her exactions - and we feel as if more helplessly behind than at the outset of our enterprise. The presumptuous imagination of our sufficiency comes down when we thus bring it to the trial; and that impotency of which we were not aware at the outset, we are made to know and to feel experimentally. Meanwhile that is a sore drudgery in which we are implicated; and all the more fatiguing that it is so utterly fruitless - that the peace which we seek to realize by our obedience recedes at every step to a greater distance, because new heights of obedience are ever rising on the view, and baffling every effort to substantiate a valid plea for the rewards of immortality. This is that law-work, of whose aspirations and toils and frantic unavailing struggles, like those of a captive to break loose from his prison-hold or to scale the precipice which hems him, we read in the affecting history of so many a convert - whose awakened conscience only spoke to him in louder terms of reproach the more he did to appease its endless upbraidings, and whose every attempt to flee from the coming wrath made it glow the more fiercely upon his imagination. Not ten thousand punctualities of the outer conduct can purify a heart that is every day obtaining some fresh revelation of its own worthlessness, and which when brought to the touchstone of a spiritual law finds itself destitute of all right affection or affinity towards God. This is the grand failure. His hand can labour; but his heart cannot love - And after wasting and wearying himself in vain with the operose drudgeries of a manifold observation, he still finds that he is a helpless defaulter from the first and the greatest commandment.

Now, it is when thus harassed and beset among the impracticable obstructions which lie in the way of doing, that he finds the very outlet he stands in need of when the way of believing is opened to him. The righteousness, which he has so ineffectually tried to make out in his own person, has been already made out for him by another; and now lies for his acceptance, as a simple and unconditional offer which he is invited to lay hold of. The sin, which hitherto has so hardened him with despondency and remorse, is now washed away by the blood of a satisfying expiation; and God in the gospel of Jesus Christ calls upon him to draw nigh, with the erect, the joyful confidence of one who never had offended. TheSaviour has completely done for him, what with so much of strenuousness but with so little of success he has been trying to do for himself; and he is warranted to step immediately into the hopes and the happiness of one, not merely reconciled to God, but vested with the same right to His favour, as if he had earned it by the worth of his own services, by the merit of his own full and faultless obedience. What a mighty enlargement when the title-deed to heaven, for which he had been stretching forward with many long and laborious efforts, till he at last sunk down into exhaustion and despair, is put into his hand; and the gifted creature, now set loose from bondage and terror, exchanges the services of constraint for the willing services of a grateful and affectionate loyalty! It is thus that the guiltiest of sinners, simply on believing the testimony which God hath given of His Son, is instated, and that immediately, in all the titles and privileges of a pure and perfect righteousness before the Lawgiver whom he has offended. He passes from death unto life. Individually he is freed from the penalties of sin, and judicially he is vested with an absolute right to the rewards of a full and finished obedience. The righteousness of Christ is reckoned to him, and he is dealt with accordingly. No wonder that the tidings of a salvation so marvellous should be so generally met by the incredulity of nature, opposed as it is to all the expectations and all the tendencies of nature, which, when awake to the concerns of another world at all, is ever prompting man to make good his own way to a blissful eternity, and that by a righteousness of his own. It is when delivered from the burden of this felt impossibility, that man breaks forth on a scene of enlargement; when in the secure possession of a right to heaven in the righteousness of his accepted surety, with all the alacrity of an emancipated creature whose bonds have been loosed, he proceeds to offer the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and to call on the name of the Lord. And let us not be afraid lest this judicial salvation, if it may be thus termed - so full, so free, so competent. to every sinner, however vile, if he but place his confident and unembarrassed reliance on it, so ready, nay so importunate for the acceptance of all, and that without the least distrust or delay on their part - let us not be afraid, lest this judicial salvation should not bring a moral salvation in its train, as if exemption from the penal consequences of sin were not to be followed up by exemption from the power wherewith, anterior to our reception of the gospel, it lorded over us. The great author of that economy under which we live will not leave any of its parts or any of its provisions unfulfilled upon us. He will sanctify as well as justify; and if we but trust in Christ, we shall be sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who will superadd the personal to the judicial righteousness, and make us meet in character as well as meet in law for that heaven, the door whereof Christ hath opened to us - for the service of that glorious inheritance which He hath purchased by His obedience, and is the fruit of the everlasting righteousness which Himself hath brought in.
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