In Christ Jesus
The Epistle to the Romans
At the very opening of this letter (1:5), we read these words: "By whom [or, through whom] we have received grace" (i.e., through God's Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord); and, in 3:24, "Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." Here then we have the key to the Epistle to the Romans: Grace, justification, redemption, in and through Christ Jesus; or, to put it briefly, Justified in Christ.
This is manifestly the first step, for this conception belongs first in order. We can have, in Christ Jesus, nothing else, unless and until we have first justification -- a new standing before God.
Paul is inspired to begin this epistle by showing that all men, Jews and Gentiles alike, are included under sin and therefore involved in condemnation. No sinner has before him any prospect but divine wrath, until he is first freed from the law, no longer under condemnation. Hence the first unfolding of grace in the epistles is the plain revelation of God's marvelous plan, whereby sinners get the standing of saints. The question, how the condemned may become justified; the lost, saved; the alienated, reconciled; this is the question first and fully answered in this epistle.
If we examine chapter 5:1-11, we shall eight times meet the phrase, through, by, or in Jesus Christ; or its equivalent. And here are represented, as bestowed upon us freely, in or through Him, justification, peace with God, access by faith, a gracious standing, rejoicing in hope of the glory of God; and, even in the experience of tribulation, the love of God shed abroad in the heart, salvation from wrath, reconciliation, safekeeping in His life, perpetual joy in God, etc. Dr. Handley C. G. Moule, of Cambridge, England, in his matchless commentary on Romans, thus translates verses 10 and 11: "Much more being reconciled we shall be kept safe in His life; and, not only so, but we shall be kept always rejoicing in God.
Blessd indeed to meet, as we begin our study of the epistles of the New Testament, this first application of the phrase, in Jesus Christ: Christ is the sphere of our justification, with all that this involves: reconciliation, redemption, eternal life, safekeeping. In Him the sinner at once becomes, in God's sight, a saint, admitted to a new standing, not on the platform of law, but of grace. Outside of Christ, is alienation; inside this sphere, reconciliation; without, death; within, life; without, enmity; within, peace. By faith we are taken into Christ, made at once safe from holy wrath against sin, and kept safe from all perils and penalties. He, our divine Redeemer, becomes to us the new sphere of harmony and unity with God and His law, with His life and His holiness.
Death, burial and resurrection
As already intimated, each epistle has its own definite limits of application for the phrase, in Christ Jesus, and the divine truth which it conveys; and in each the range of thought is limited, in the main, by certain typical and representative events in the history and career of the God-man. In this epistle, it is to the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ that the thoughts of the reader are preeminently directed, because these events belong together as forming the very foundation of our justification. Compare chapter 4:25: "Who was delivered foivered for our offences and raised again for our justification." Here it is made unmistakably plain that the death and resurrection of Christ, together with the burial which lay between, accomplished the work of our justification. Death was the delivering over of our vicarious Substitute and Surety to the penalty of a broken law; burial was His committal to the grave, as dead; and resurrection was the deliverance from both death and hades, as the divine sign and seal of His acceptance as our Substitute and Surety and of His vicarious atonement in our behalf.
We have heard of a Russian officer whose accounts could not be made to balance, and who feared that the merciless despotism of the empire would allow no room for leniency in dealing with him. While hopelessly poring over his balance sheet and in despair of ever making up his deficiency, it is said that he wrote, half inadvertently, on the paper before him: "Who can make good this deficit?" and fell asleep at his table. The czar passed, saw the sleeping officer, glanced curiously at the paper, and taking up the pen, wrote underneath: "I, even I, Alexander." The story may be a fiction, but it illustrates a far higher debt that is forever canceled. Does the hopeless sinner confront his awful bankruptcy and ask in despair, "What can pay this my debt to a broken law?" There is One who died and rose again, who from the cross of Calvary, the tomb in the garden, and the throne in heaven, answers, "I, even I, the Lord Jesus."
Let us then fix in our minds that the special horizon of this epistle is bounded by Christ's justifying work, and includes within its scope these three prominent facts: He died, He was buried, He rose again. All the great lessons here taught center about the cross and the sepulcher. Christ was the second and last Adam; the representative of the race; and so, judicially, He stands for the believer. In His death, the believing sinner is reckoned as having died for sin, and unto sin; in His burial, as having gone down into the grave, the place of death, decay, and corruption, there to leave as crucified, dead and buried, "the old man," the old nature, and the old life of sin, now forever "put off" in Christ, "the time past of our life sufficing to have wrought our own will;" and, in Christ's resurrection, the believer is counted by God as having come forth, having "put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness" (Ephesians 4:24), endowed with a new Spirit of Life, henceforth to "walk in newness of life" (Romans 4:4).
Hence it is that in chapter 5 Christ Jesus is set forth before us as the last Adam. The first Adam was the organic, ancestral, federal head of the race; his acts were representative acts, and, when he fell, the race which he represented fell in him -- a truth which, when removed from the realm of mere polemic, controversial theology, is not difficult of apprehension; for it is plain that Adam could transmit to posterity no better nature or estate than he possessed. We, therefore, inherit his moral corruption and bankruptcy. In order to redeem the fallen race, God gave man a new Adam, another representative, the Lord Jesus Christ, all whose acts in behalf of man are, therefore, representative, not for Himself only, but for us for whom He stands in God's sight. Consequently, so far as we are, by faith in Him and by the new birth from above, identified with Him -- as with Adam by sin and birth from beneath -- Chrlst's acts become our own. This conception of representation threads the entire Bible, and is so important that it belongs among the fundamental truths of redemption. Only in the light of it can redemption be understood; but both condemnation and justification become divinely luminous in the light which it throws upon these two opposite positions of man before God.
We may take an illustration from a lower sphere. Here is a man whose father's bankruptcy bankrupts the whole family, so that he with the others is overwhelmed in the general wreck of the family fortunes. There is, however, another party, it may be an uncle, or a grandparent, who, in this crisis, assumes all the liabilities, pays all debts, and thus redeems the family name and credit. Now, is it not plain, without argument, that, so far as this son is identified with his bankrupt father, he is himself financially ruined; but that, so far as he is identified with the party who pays the debts, he is, in the sight of the law, delivered from bankruptcy and financially justified?
This lesson finds typical illustration in the story of Ruth. So far as this Moabitish woman, as the widow of Mahlon, was identified with her first husband, she was involved in his losses and liabilities; but, when she became the wife of Boaz, the redeemer of her estate and the lord of the harvest, she and her inheritance were redeemed, and she became the sharer of his wealth and social standing. All illustrations fail in divine things; but we may get a glimpse, from some such point of view, of the philosophy of the plan of salvation. In Christ, we, who in Adam were condemned and alienated, are justified and reconciled.
Our vital union with Christ Jesus
The believer's vital union with Christ Jesus is set forth, with great clearness of statement, in chapter 6:4-11, where his identification with the Lord Jesus in His death, burial, and resurrection is so plainly declared, and its practical bearings are shown. Compare II Corinthians 13:4: "For though he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but we shall live with him by the power of God toward you."
In this sixth chapter of Romans seven significant statements are noticeable, and upon them the whole argument hangs and turns:
This teaching is so wonderful that it would be incredible were it not found in the inspired Scripture, and thus sealed with the authority of the divine Teacher. It is manifestly a revelation from God, for it never would have entered into the heart of any mere man, untaught of God, to conceive it.
This reminds one of a most forcible utterance of Sir Monier Williams, professor of Sanskrit in Oxford University, and, perhaps [in 1898], the greatest living authority on all questions affecting the literature and faiths of the Orient. At an anniversary of the Church Missionary Society in London, some ten years ago, t he delivered a most remarkable address, in which he said that, when he began investigating Hinduism and Buddhism, he began to believe in what is called the evolution and growth of religious thought. But he adds, and we give his own memorable words:
I am glad of the opportunity of stating publicly, that I am persuaded I was misled by the attractiveness of such a theory, and that its main idea was erroneous.... And now I crave permission at least to give two good reasons for venturing to contravene the favorite philosophy of the day. Listen to me, ye youthful students of the so-called sacred books of the East: search them through and through, and tell me, do they affirm of Vyasa, of Zor>He, a sinless man, was made sin? Not merely that He is the eradication of sin, but that He, the sinless son of man, was himself made sin. Vyasa and the other founders of Hinduism, enjoined severe penances, endless lustral washings, incessant purifications, infinite repetitions of prayer, painful pilgrimages, arduous ritual, and sacrificial observances, all with the one idea of getting rid of sin. All their books say so. But do they say that the very men who exhausted every invention for the eradication of sin were themselves sinless men made sin?... This proposition put forth in our Bible stands alone, it is wholly unparalleled; it is not to be matched by the shade of a shadow of a similar declaration in any other book claiming to be the exponent of the doctrine of any other religion in the world.
Once again, do these sacred books of the East affirm of Vyasa, of Zoroaster, of Confucius, of Buddha, of Mohammed, what our Bible affirms of the founder of Christianity, that He, a dead and buried man, was made life. Not merely that He is the giver of life, but that He, the dead and buried man, is life... All I contend for is, that such a statement is absolutely unique; and I defy you to produce the shade of a shadow of a similar declaration in any other sacred book of the world. And bear in mind that these two matchless unparalleled declarations are closely, intimately, in dissolubly connected with the great central facts and doctrines of our religion: the incarnation, the crucifixion, the resurrection, the ascension of Christ.
The two unparalleled declarations quoted by me from our Holy Bible make a gulf between it and the so-called sacred books of the East, which severs the one from the others utterly, hopelessly, and forever; not a mere rift which may be easily closed up, but a veritable gulf which cannot be bridged over by any science of religious thought, yes, a bridgeless chasm which no theory of evolution can ever span.
Professor Max Muller, in addressing the British and Foreign Bible Society, declared, in a similar strain, that "the one key-note of all these so-called sacred books is salvation by works. Our own Holy Bible is from the beginning to the end a protest against this doctrine."
What Sir Monier Williams and Professor Muller thus affirm of the Word of God, as to its unique and wholly unparalleled teaching, we may find illustrated especially in this epistle. Here, if anywhere, we have the sinless One made sin for sinners, and the dead One raised from the dead to become life to believers; and here, if anywhere, we have salvation by works.
We cannot leave this thought without at least hinting at its apologetic and evidential value. The question cannot but arise: Where did the writers of this Bible get conceptions so original and unique? The world of mankind was forty centuries old when the New Testament began to be constructed, when the earliest books first appeared in the primitive Church. At least five great world kingdoms had in their way carried civilization to remarkable heights of development: the Egyptian, Assyrian-Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman. Progress had not been along the lines of commerce, martial prowess, material grandeur, and imperial splendor, alone, but philosophy had won some of its proudest triumphs. The race had done much of its subtlest and most original thinking before the Nazarene began his career of teaching. Now, how can it be accounted for that a few humble fishermen of Judea, or even a trained Hebrew scholar who had the advantage of Roman citizenship and Greek culture, should have given to mankind absolutely new ideas, and those, too, on the most vital themes? How came it that such new and marvelous conceptions are found in the Word of God, and nowhere else?
Christ revealed the mind of God
There is but one explanation: The world was visited by the Son of God. He told of heavenly things. He revealed the mind of God on subjects hitherto unveiled. What He had heard in a celestial school -- the University of God -- what no scholar or philosopher of earth had even imagined -- He testified, and some received His testimony and set to their seal, experimentally, that God is true. And so it comes to pass that the Bible -- because it is what it claims to be, God's Word, conveying God's thought -- gives us absolutely new ideas of the way of salvation, of the sinless sin bearer, of the risen Lord of life; and announces the simple terms whereby He becomes to the b eliever, the sphere of a new life -- his Justifier, Reconciler, Saviour.
Let us tarry at the threshold of our study of this theme, to praise Him who in the Gospel of Christ has brought to light, life and immortality; who has made the cross of Calvary a tree of life, and the sepulcher in the garden a doorway of life, and the faith of a little child the condition of life, to every penitent and believing sinner. Toplady says; "When Christ entered into Jerusalem the people spread garments in the way: when He enters into our hearts, we pull off our own righteousness, and not only lay it under Christ's feet but even trample upon it ourselves."
Let a quotation from another writer, referring to Isaiah 53:5, enforce this same lesson:
Let every poor sinner, and let every preacher to sinners put the great truth where God puts it, in the very center and midst, as the most vital and important of all truths. How simple this verse which expresses it! It states facts, facts to which the prophet looked wonderingly forward, facts on which we look gratefully backward. He, the mighty and the holy One, He was wounded, bruised, chastised! He was treated thus, not because He deserved it, but for our sakes, because we deserved it. His punishment is our peace. His stripes are our healing. His death our life. O greatest of all facts! Well mayest Thou have the central place in prophecy, the central place in our hearts! This is the Gospel. To believe this is to be saved; He has borne the stripes and punishment due to each believer, who will, therefore, have none to bear. To believe this is to be happy, for it is to see a substitute in our place of doom and death, setting us free! To believe this is to be holy, for faith in such facts must make us love the One that suffered in our stead, and hate the sin that brought sore stripes on Him. Brother, canst thou make it singular, and say, "He was wounded for my transgressions; He was bruised for my iniquities, the chastisement of my peace was upon Him, and with His stripes I am healed?"
The 20th of January 1896, marked the centenary of John Howard, the philanthropist, who went on his famous "circumnavigation of charity" to let light into the dungeons of the world's prisons. His was a life of singular self-sacrifice for others. Beginning amid the cottages of Cardington, and undertaking reforms among his own tenantry, his work grew wider until from the jails and prisons of Britain it embraced the cells of the imprisoned everywhere. In Bedford jail, where Bunyan had spent twelve years a century before, Howard found men and women, who were felons, living in a common day room, their night-rooms being two dungeons "down steps." There was only a single courtyard for debtors and criminals, there was no apartment for the jailer, and the sanitary conditions bred fatal jail fever, which proved destructive also outside prison walls. Howard's whole soul was so moved that he "emptied himself" of all that mortals prize, to go on his wide mission of love, and become a servant of servants to the lowest and vilest classes.
The inscription on his monument is eloquently suggestive: Vixit propter alios salvos fecit.
This was, indeed, the victory whereby he overcame. He lived for others, and he gave his life for their uplifting and salvation. He was so indifferent to fame that he forbade a project to build him a memorial. And, as Dean Milman says, "the first statue admitted to St. Paul's was not that of a statesman, warrior, or even of a sovereign; it was that of John Howard, the pilgrim, not to gorgeous shrines of saints and martyrs, not even to holy lands, but to the loathsome depths of darkness of the prisons of what called itself the civilized world."
Let us not forget where Howard learned his life lesson of philanthropy: it was from One of whom it was said, in taunt sublimely true: "He saved others; himself he cannot save" (Mark 15:31).
The Son of God and Son of Man gave Himself a ransom for many. It was by His death, burial, and resurrection that He made possible a sphere of life for you and me. Life for us was purchased by death for Him. And this first of New Testament epistles is the revelation of the first conditions of our salvation. His cross abolished our judgment; His burial abolished for us the fear of death and the grave; and His resurrection became to us alike the hope and the pledge of life, both for soul and body.
It is plain that to be in Christ justified, is far more than pardon or even reconciliation; it includes being counted as just, and put upon the same standing as Christ, before God.
Chapter Two: Corinthians