Thomas Chalmers

Lectures on Romans
ROMANS, 10:6-9
"but the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart,who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above;) or, who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved."

This passage in the Epistle to the Romans is taken from a similar one in the book of Deuteronomy; and it has been made a question, whether it be strictly a quotation in the sense of its being applied by the two writers to one and the same subject, or if it be used only by Paul in the way of accommodation, and applied differently because related to an essentially different covenant from that which is spoken of by Moses. For the covenants being the same, it is argued that the words of the text as they occur in the Old Testament were not uttered on the occasion of that covenant which was made with the children of Israel at the promulgation of the law from Mount Sinai, but years afterwards, and on the eve of their entrance into the land of Canaan - when the address containing the sentences from which our text is taken was delivered by Moses, and with the following prefatory announcement -"These are the words of the covenant, which the Lord commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moab, beside the covenant which he made with them in Horeb." And certain it is, that in this latter covenant there are evangelical privileges held forth, and evangelical promises, which enter not into the description of that righteousness which is of the law, "That the man which doeth these things shall live by them" For we therein read of forgiveness to the penitent, "When thou shalt return unto the Lord thy God, he will have compassion upon thee" - and of regeneration, "The Lord thy God will circumcise thy heart, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart and with all thy soul" - and not only of forgiveness, but of positive beneficence and favour, "For the Lord will again rejoice over thee for good."

These perhaps may identify this latter of the Old Testament covenants with the covenant of peace and mercy under which we now live, and so identify the application of the words both as uttered by the Jewish legislator and by the Christian apostle to one and the same subject, even the gospel of Jesus Christ - leaving the distinction which there is in the righteousness of the law from the righteousness of faith to be exemplified and upholden by the earlier of these Hebrew covenants, even the covenant of Horeb - under which we have this promise of hopeless fulfilment, that the man who doeth these things shall live by them; and this denunciation of terror and despair, universal because inclusive of the whole human race - " Cursed is every one who continueth not in all the words of the book of this law to do them."

But we must not spend further time in the settlement of this question. Whether the words of our text were employed both by Moses and Paul to characterise the same or two different economies, there is a common property ascribed by each to that one economy of which he is speaking. The condition upon, which its blessings are suspended, and by the fulfilment of which these blessings will be realised, is not a distant and inaccessible secret - either imbedded in the fathomless depths below, or placed far out of sight among the unsealed heights of the firmament above us. " For this commandment," it is said by the founder of the old dispensation, "the commandment which I cornmand thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off." "But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it." And, in counterpart to this, it is said by the chief among the apostles in the new dispensation, "The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth and thy heart: that is, the word of faith which we preach; That if thou believe, thou shalt be saved." But the great peculiarity in the verses of my text, and to which I would at present direct your more special attention, is the precise and particular object of the ascent and the descent respectively which are there spoken of by the apostle. These objects are different from that which is spoken of in the book of Deuteronomy - where to bring the commandment or the word from afar, is the assigned purpose both of the imagined ascent into heaven, and of the imagined descent into the abyss or bottom of the sea. In the New Testament this is stated differently - the assigned purpose of the ascent being ‘to bring Christ down from above,’ and of the descent being ‘to bring up Christ again from the dead’ It is still possible, notwithstanding this difference - that Moses and Paul may after all have been dealing with the same truth, and looking to the same quarter of contemplation - the first, as is customary in the Old Testament, giving utterance to a doctrine, but couched in enigma or shrouded in hazy obscuration; the second, as is customary in the New Testament, giving utterance to the identically same doctrine, but evolved from the dimness in which it lay hidden, and with the light of a clearer and broader manifestation thrown over it. However this may be, let us now hasten to our explanation of the verses here before us; and which we think fitted to throw a new and interesting light, over the gracious economy that has been instituted for the salvation of our world.

In the parallel verses of Deuteronomy there seems no difficulty. The children of Israel are there simply told - that, instead of having to seek afar or among remote and impracticable places for the rule of life, this rule brought from heaven to their door, now stood within reach of one and all of them. The same could have been said of a law anterior to that of Moses, even the law of the heart - that voice within the breast, which is heard in the homestead of every human conscience; and gives forth lessons that serve, in part at least, for the guidance of all men. And the law of Moses, though brought from the heights of the upper sanctuary, might be said, as far at least as viewed in the generalities of its ethical system, to have placed itself in the hearts of those who heard it - responded to in all its great unchangeable principles by the light and the law of every man’s conscience - thus finding a voucher, as it were, for its own truth and authority in every bosom - and in virtue of this its ready introduction to the innermost recesses of our moral nature, of the prompt and familiar recognition which it meets with there, so establishing and so accrediting itself as the rightful inmate of humanity all the world over, as both to warrant and explain the saying, that this word framed though it was in the highest heavens, and thence brought down to the earth we live in, still this word is in thy heart.
And then as to the ritual and the positive of this great religious directory, though it could awake no consenting testimony from within, and could therefore, meet with no internal evidence to welcome or to own it - yet enforced as it was by every demonstration of authority from without, by the smoke and the thunder, nay by the voice and all those signals of a present Deity, which convinced and overawed the thousands of Israel - we may well believe that the book written by Moses, and which recorded all the precepts whether ceremonial or judicial or moral, that were delivered to this great prophet in the converse which he held with God, and which also described all the usages and forms of their earthly service, conformably to the pattern showed him in the mount, by which were represented the ministrations of the upper sanctuary, or things of the tabernancle in the heavens - that this book in all its contents, would be deferred to by the Hebrews of old, as the rightful and authoritative directory both of their solemn worship, and of their every-day conduct: And being read at stated seasons by the priests to the people, as well as read by parents to those children whom they were strictly charged to teach diligently in the statutes of the Lord, it might well be said of this word that it was in their mouth as well as in their heart. They had not to go abroad, as sages of old are said to have done, when they travelled in quest of wisdom. They had neither to search for it as for hid treasure in the depths of the earth, nor to pluck the secret from unseen or mysterious altitudes beyond the sky. It had been brought down from thence to Sinai; and imparted to Moses; and placed by him in a volume of little room within the reach and reading of every man; and so, passing into the hearts and homes of all the people, the word of life was thus made nigh unto them. But the law has not given life - neither that law of the heart which is of universal obligation, its voice having been heard all the world over; nor that law of a written revelation proclaimed in the hearing of a special nation, to whom were committed the oracles of God. Be it the one or the other law, there is not a man who liveth on the face of the earth who has not fallen short of its righteousness. It has proved the ministration of a universal death - and that because of a universal disobedience. It is nt that the law fell short; but that man, the subject of the law, fell short. The rule of righteousness as given to him at the first was perfect. It is because of defects and deviations from that rule, that ruin, a universal ruin, has come upon our species; and another righteousness had to be devised, on the basis of which man might recover the blessings which he had forfeited, and be reinstated in that favour with God from which he had fallen. Such is the design of the gospel, or of that righteousness of faith which the gospel has made known to us; and our enquiry now is into the nature of that common property which has been claimed for this last as well as for a former revelation - insomuch that Paul could reiterate what Moses had substantially said before him - "But the righteousness which is of faith speaking on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above;) or who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart; that is, the word of faith which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved."

For our better understanding of these remarkable verses, and more especially of the two parentheses which are peculiar to this passage, there being no trace of them in the parallel passage of the older scriptures - let me state, in a few words, what may be termed the two great steps or stages of that redeeming process, by which man has been restored to that place of relationship with God which he now occupies. Man by transgression had done dishonour to the law of God; and we may learn or estimate the magnitude of the outrage, from the magnitude of the steps which were taken for repairing it - even that the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, had to descend from heaven; had to put on the shroud of humanity; had, during the whole period of a sinless yet suffering life, to sustain a mysterious conflict with the temptations and infirmities of our nature; and, finally, had to take upon Himself the whole burden of the penal infliction to have been otherwise discharged on a rebellious world, by bowing down His head unto the sacrifice: And. thus, as the fruit or final object of His deseending movement, was He delivered for our offences. But this is not the whole amount of the boon He has achieved for us. There is something a great deal more than the cancelment of our debt, or blotting out of the sentence that was against us in the book of condemnation. He not only suffered, but He served. He not only absorbed for us the penalty of a wretched and undone, but He earned for us the reward of a blissful eternity. He who, to use the language of Daniel, "made an end of sins," also did more, "He brought in an everlasting righteousness." In other words, He not only worked out our legal release from the torments of a hideous and everlasting hell, He made good our rightful inheritance among the triumphs and the felicities of heaven - not only annulling but reversing our condition from that of the outcasts of a hopeless condemnation, the children of a wrath that was to come, to that of the expectants and the heirs of a coming glory. We are not able to discriminate among the various passages of His history, between the endurance by which He bore the chastisement of our peace, and the obedience by which He won for us the prize of immortality. But there is a real and substantive distinction between these two services - a distinction recognised in Scripture - between the pardon by which we cease to be reckoned with as sinners, and the justification by which we are reckoned and dealt with as positively righteous. And as the event of His death is clearly set forth as related to the one, that death being an atonement for sin - so the event of His resurrection, or rather of His readmission into paradise, though not so frequently yet is clearly set forth as related to the other, that exaltation being conferred on Him as the reward of His obedience, by which He opened the door of heaven both for Himself and for His followers. It is thus that He who is said to have reconciled us by His death, is also said by His life to have consummated our salvation. And thus if, as we have already said, the fruit or final object of His descending movement was His being delivered for our offences - so the fruit or final object of His ascending movement is His being raised again for our justification.

There are other passages in Scripture which intimate the same relation that we have now stated - between, on the one hand, the death andresurrection of our Saviour; and, on the other, the two distinct points of that salvation, (removal of the penalty and a right by service to the positive reward) which He hath achieved for us, and by which He hath completed our title-deed to an entry and a purchased possession in the paradise of God. But that I may come at once to the lesson of our text, I would only now bid you think of these two great movements, from heaven to earth and from earth to heaven, and of the illustrious Person who had to make them----ere the high demands of the divine jurisprudence could be fulfilled, or a way of access be again opened for guilty man to the Lawgiver whom he had offended. It was a question in the policy of Heaven which angels desired to look into; and the highest wisdom as well as highest strength of these upper regions had to be put forth for its settlement. For this, the Eternal Son had, from amid the wondering hosts of the celestial, to leave the bosom of His Father; and He, whose forthgoings were of old, even from everlasting, and to veil all His primeval glories in an earthly tabernacle; and, when God manifest in the flesh, did He partake to the full in the infirmities of our assumed and associated nature; and beyond the ken of mortal eye, were their sufferings unknown of which we read a few mysterious outbreakings in the agonies of the garden; and unknown struggles too in still deeper passages of His history, as when He engaged in conflict with the forces of darkness, and spoiled principalities and powers and made a show of them openly. And after ‘a death of deep and dreadful endurance, an equivalent sacrifice for the guilt of a world: and a descent into the lower parts of the earth, the purpose whereof from the imperfect glimpses which reyelation gives of it, is to us an unsolved enigma - did the once crucified, retrace His way to the position and pre-eminence which He at present occupies of the now exalted Saviour - First by the reanimation of His body, then by His resurrection from the grave, then by His sublime ascension above the world, where He slowly withdrew from the gaze of chosen witnesses; and last of all by His entrance into heaven, and the assumption of His Meditorial place at the right hand of the Father - and that, we may well believe, amid the hosannas of an angelic host, who, in numbers without number, welcomed and did Him homage as the Author and the Finisher of a mighty enterprise - Even the enterprise by which He brought in an everlasting righteousness, in the merit and investiture of which, the guiltiest sinners of our fallen, our dishonoured species, may, without disparagement either to the law or to the Lawgiver, stand with acceptance before the throne of God. We ask you to ponder on these things. Slighted, disregarded, scarcely recognised at all in the hazy atmosphere of earth - we ask you to think of the movement and the stir, if I may so express myself, which they made in heaven, and of the lofty estimation in which they are held by the intelligences there. Above all, keep a fast and firm hold of this consideration. To reinstate our fallen, world, the Son of God had first to descend and die for sin; and then to ascend even to the, place which He now occupies - where, as the fruit of the travail of His soul, He completes and effectuates our salvation.

With this fully in your mind, we are in a fif condition both for your understanding and for our enforcement of the lessons in the text. And first, as a lesson of rebuke to those of whom we read in the preceding context, who, refusing to take up with this righteousness of God, vainly and presumptuously sought to establish a righteousness of their own. Other foundation, the Bible tells us, than that which is laid already, can no man lay; but they, unchecked and unhumbled by any sense of their own utter impotency, labour with all their might to construct and lay over again a foundation of merit and of dependence for themselves. In other words, they would usurp the office of the Saviour; or, as if that office had been imperfectly fulfilled, and left unfinished, they would lay aside His work and substitute their own work in its place - in the proud imagination that their own strength was commensurate to the mighty enterprise, that enterprise of toil and conflict and suffering and at length of triumph which brought Christ down from heaven, and brought Him up again from the deep and secret places of the earth. In despite of this great achievement, their constant inclination is for another basis of acceptance on which to lean than that which Christ hath so laboriously reared; or, as if to supersede and set at nought the plea of His righteousness - which alone is adequate to the dignity of Heaven’s jurisprudence - would they thrust forward their own puny and polluted righteousness as being good enough for God. You may now understand the principle on which this self-dependence of man becomes so high an offence in the sight of Heaven. It implies the disparagement and the mockery of all that has been already done for the world’s salvation. We read of Christ as the Captain of this salvation - and that He trode the winepress alone - and that of the people there were none with Him. Say not then in thy heart, that thou canst make atonement or amends for thine own disobedience - a work so arduous, as to have brought down Christ from heaven for the achievement of it. And say not in thine heart that thou canst substantiate a right by thine own services to the rewards of immortality - a work of Christ’s also, and for the victorious fulfilment of which He was brought up from the dead, and highly exalted to a place of ‘advocacy and intercession at God’s right hand, where even within the precincts of that august sanctuary of which justice and judgment are the habitation, He, on the single strength of His own righteousness, can make good the claims of all who believe on Him. To turn from such a salvation as this, and labour for the achievement of it with one’s own arm, is indeed to stumble at a stumbling-block. It is affronting to God. It is ruinous to man.

But this is not all. There is in this passage not only a lesson of rebuke to the proud - but the far kindlier and more congenial lesson, and the one we are most anxious to impress, a lesson of highest encouragement to the humble. For it is not always pride that actuates a man, when seeking to establish a ‘right to heaven by his own righteousness. Apart from this, there is the natural legality of the human heart - a most natural imagination, and upheld by a thousand analogies in the transactions of man with man, that obedience is the work and heaven is the wages - the one the purchasemoney, the other the purchase - related to each other like the counterpart terms of any contract or bargain in the numerous exchanges of human society. It is not always in the spirit of pride that the aspirant after salvation falls in with this conception and acts upon it. He simply thinks it the direct way of going to work, that he should try to earn God’s favour by deserving it; and accordingly he labours to be right, and to be even with the law, and to bring up his conduct to the level, or rather to the high standard of its acquirements. But in very proportion to his sincerity, and if his conscience be at all enlightened, the more he labours the more is he oppressed and borne down by a helpless sense of deficiency - heavy-laden under the weight of his past delinquencies, and wearied by efforts alike fruitless and fatiguing to recover his unmeasurable distance from God’s lofty commandment. It is when thus toiling in pursuit of impossibilities, that the true understanding of these verses, as if by the letting in of light into his mind, dissipates every cloud, and at once releases him from his anxieties and fears. Let him only learn that the identical enterprise at which he now labours as in the very fire, the only-begotten, the Son of the everlasting Father, ‘Himself the Mighty God and Prince of Peace, hath already put His hand to; and left not off till, in the triumph of its full consummation, He called out that it was finished. He first had to descend from heaven, that He might become sin for us, and in our nature bear the punishment that we should have borne; and then did ascend into heaven, having by His obedience unto death, completed the titles of entry and inheritance there both for Himself and for all His followers - and so that., in the merit and acceptance of His high service, we might become the righteousness of God. Let the weary and the heavy-laden sinner but submit to this righteousness and be at rest - nor seek to establish for himself, that which cost the incarnation of our crucified, and has been rewarded by the exaltation of our risen Saviour. And thus would we explain these parenthetic clauses. Strength to do the thing implies a strength to wield the alone instrument that was adequate for the doing of it. I can no more make atonement for my own guilt, than I could have ascended into heaven, and there brought down Christ from above who has poured out His soul unto the death for me. I can no more earn or establish my own right to the high rewards of eternity, than I could have descended into the deep, and there brought up Christ again from the dead, who, in virtue of that uverlasting righteousness which Himself alone hath fulfilled, was raised to the Mediatorial throne which He now occupies, and from which He welcomes the approaches of all and casts out none who come unto Him. Let me, say not in my heart then, that there is a strength in me commensurate to the work which called for either the one or the other of these movements; but dismissing the vain imagination, let me forthwith rejoice that it is a work no longer to do, because already done - that it is a work which has already passed through such able hands, even of Him who travailed in the greatness of His strength for the full and finished performance of it - that a ready-made righteousness is now looking down upon me from heaven, made to my hand, and which I am simply invited to lay hold of - that personally and practically, my concern now is not with the doing, but with the report of the doing - not with a work which is far above my reach, but with a word which is nigh unto me, and in which with the felt helplessness and docility of a little child, my only part is to acquiesce - a word now standing at the door, and soliciting admittance from every one of us; and which, when once it finds entrance into the home of a believer’s heart, makes good his interest in the whole of this wondrous salvation.

The question and the remonstrance now held with the men of our fallen race is not, Who of you hath made good the righteousness of the law; but "Who hath believed our report, and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?"

We can at present expatiate no further on this high topic; but will conclude with a brief reply to one question which may have been suggested in the course of these explanations. If salvation, it may be asked, is brought so nigh and made so free to us, might not all exertion on our part cease? If the righteousness of Christ be thus made to supersede the righteousness of man, then under such an economy as this, what place for human virtue is to be found? We answer that all, exertion for the object of establishing a valid and challengeable right, or of making good a judicial claim, or claim in law to the kingdom of heaven, ought to cease; and that because human virtue has no place in the titledeed, or forms no part of the price and purchase-money by which that glorious inheritance has been earned for us. But if to be meet in law is indispensable for our entry into paradise, to be meet in character is alike indispensable; and though for the former, or the legal meetness, human virtue is of no possible avail, for the latter, or the personal meetness, human virtue is all in all.

The truth is, that the doctrine of our justification, our forensic justification by faith, so far from acting as a drag or discouragement on the virtue of man, sets him at large, as if by the removal of an incubus, for the busy cultivation of all its graces, for the diligent performance and discharge of all its services. So long as the endeavour or the task, was to bring up his obedience to the standard of the jurisprudence of heaven, and so as at once to meet all the demands, and clear all the penalties of God’s high and incommutable law, the burden of a felt impossibility weighed him down to inactivity and despair. But when told that the work on which in vain he might have wreaked and wasted all his energies is already done - in other words, when told of the complete atonement and perfect righteousness of Christ - human virtue is not overborne or extinguished thereby; it is only turned away from the fulfilment of an object by itself impracticable, but now achieved in another way, and set forth on that more hopeful career along which it presses forward by successive footsteps from grace to grace, till it appears perfect before God in Zion. Man could not, in the strength of his own energies, either implement the obligations of God’s perfect, or far less sustain so as to liquidate the penalties of God’s violated law. But man can with the aids of the all powerful and regenerating Spirit, advance, and that indefinitely, his own holiness. The righteousness of faith, so far from operating as an extinguisher on the righteousness of works, affords the only opening by which, under the impulse of gratitude, and the inspiration of a heaven-born hope, to enter with alacrity and comfort on the labours of a new obedience. "I am thy servant, I am thy servant, thou hast loosed my bonds, I will offer the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and call on the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows now unto the Lord in the presence of all his people."

Justification is not the landing-place of Christianity. It is but the commencement, or the starting-post - where the emancipated children of love and liberty break forth on all the activities of a willing service. And so in our text, confession with the mouth is joined as the inseparable accompaniment to faith in the heart - such a confession as many of you witnessed yesterday. Only, however, a good confession, if your walk and conversation afterwards be such as becometh the gospel of Christ. " Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" If the main lesson I have tried to expound be understood and acted on, you will "hold fast your confidence and the rejoicing of your hope firm unto the end." In one word, let me follow it up by the lesson of another scripture "Be stedfast and immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord - forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord."
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