"For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God." (Romans 10:3)
In commencing this chapter, the Apostle saith, "Brethren my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved." It is a great thing to be saved from sin, death, and hell, by the finished work of the Son of God--a wonderfully great mercy to be saved; and it is a terrible business to be lost. Once lost, for ever lost. What a horrible description the Scriptures give of hell, of the sufferings of hell! And, I say, to be saved from the wrath to come, and saved to enjoy eternal fellowship with the Trinity in Unity in heaven, is a mercy unspeakable. "My heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved." How many times I have been, in my poor mind, looking round on my fellow-creatures, and especially those near and dear to me in the ties of nature. Why, one can hardly look straight at it, and we are almost in a hurry to turn away, lest such thoughts should create wicked ones against the God of heaven. But, oh, what it cost the dear Redeemer to save! And to be lost--what a horrible thing! "Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." (Matt. 25:41)
"For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge." How many to the present hour are in the same condition, and will remain so, and perish so, except God in mercy interpose on their behalf! "A zeal of God, but not according to knowledge." "That the soul be without knowledge [saving, right knowledge] it is not good." Man, know thyself. All true knowledge consists in knowing something of our state, and something of salvation by Jesus Christ.
In our text are words fitted and packed by the Holy Ghost--a vast deal summed up in a few words. Here are described the right and the wrong religion, from Adam to the end of time, showing what will save and what will destroy. All religion but the religion of Jesus Christ is on a sandy bottom--"do and live." But--
"Christ is th' Eternal Rock
On which His Church is built,
The Shepherd of His little flock,
The Lamb that took our guilt."
When He appealed to poor Simon, he said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven." (Matt. 16:17)
"For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness." Now this is the solemn condition of all dead professors. And as for the poor worldling, Gallio-like, he "cares for none of these things." Such serve "divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another," and, if grace prevent not, will perish in their own deceivings.
"Being ignorant of God's righteousness." Nothing will do to appear in before God but God's righteousness. Did you not hear it read this morning, that, "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 5:20) Nothing will meet with God's approval but God's righteousness. We must all die, and we know not how soon. It is a solemn fact that if we die and appear before God, not in Christ's righteousness, we shall be frowned into hell, let our notions, whims, and fancies be what they may. Nothing will stand us in any stead, in death and judgment, but being found in God's righteousness. Our sin is against God; and He that makes atonement for that sin must be God. The law we have broken is God's law, and He that heals that breach must be God. We have to do with God. "And be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith, that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death." (Phil. 3:9,10)
Now, among men, and professing men, you never hardly hear a word about God's righteousness; and yet we must be found in Him, or damned. Hart was a wonderfully wise man. He says--
"Whence is imputed righteousness
A point so little known?
Because men think they all possess
Some righteousness their own."
How true! It is the state of the bulk of mankind: they don't heed the righteousness of God, or think about it; it is not their concern. What an awful thing to be deceived by the father of lies! And how many times I have told you, if not convinced of sin by the Holy Ghost, you will be deceived by the father of lies in matters of eternity.
Now, who is the sinner farthest from self-deception? The soul most deeply taught by the Holy Ghost his undone condition. This is the way God has taken with me, to cause me to value an interest in God's righteousness. How many years have I been kept sensible that I am the chief of sinners! I never could get away from it.
"That we're unholy needs no proof;
We sorely feel the fall."
Sinner, hath the Holy Ghost deeply convinced thee of thy fallen condition, to sweep out everything for Christ? Oh, how He has brought me to feel that "in me, that is in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing!" (Rom. 7:18) How sensible he hath made me feel, and kept that feeling on my heart, that nothing can touch my case but an interest in Christ's righteousness--the atoning blood and active obedience of God in my nature, Immanuel, God with us.
"And going about to establish their own righteousness." Poor deluded mortals! I was thinking one day, "What can they soberly think will be the end who go on in a formal, ignorant, unconcerned manner?" And these words dropped into my mind, "Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself" but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes. Now, consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver." (Ps. 50:21,22) The way of man is right in his own eyes "till his iniquity be found to be hateful." (Ps. 36:2) He is so blinded by the god of this world; he thinks, if he comes to a hitch, let him bring in Christ; but Christ will be all or nothing in the salvation of the soul. Oh, what a solemn thought, to be ignorant of God's righteousness, willingly ignorant of Him who was "made sin for us,...that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him!" You see, the righteousness is not personally ours, but Christ's; sin is not personally Christ's, but ours. But, by imputation, "He was made sin for us who knew no sin, that," by His imputed righteousness, "we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." "And this is His name whereby He shall be called, The Lord our Righteousness." (Jer. 23:6)
And "their righteousness is of Me, saith the Lord." "Going about to establish their own righteousness."
"Rounds of dead service, forms, and ways
Which some so much esteem,
Compared with this stupendous grace,
What trivial trash they seem."
And yet millions are bound up in this trivial trash; and many will never have their eyes opened to their state till they are opened in hell, never to be shut again. Oh--to be willingly ignorant of Christ's righteousness! And this is why my soul has been so assailed touching the Deity of Christ, because nothing can reach me, or save me from hell, but being found in Christ's righteousness. So the devil throws his darts--strikes at the very root of my hope. Out of Christ, I must despair. The Christian's hope centers in the Deity of Christ; take that away, the Christian's hope gives up the ghost. The soul is sensible it never can appear before God acceptably, shoot the gulf of hell, and get to heaven, but by being found in the righteousness of God. What a deplorable state of things, for mortals to live and die ignorant of the righteousness of God!
"Robes of imputed righteousness
Will gain us God's esteem."
"Rich garments must be worn to grace
The marriage of the Lamb;
Not nasty rags to stink the place,
Nor nakedness to shame."
Well, now, sinner, let us see what is God's righteousness. When God in our nature shed His precious blood to open a fountain for sin, He lay down His people, appeased the anger of God, reconciled God and sinners. He is "the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth." And if you are heartily willing to receive Him as a whole Saviour, a complete salvation, what is that but faith in Him? Who would venture to trust a man with ten pounds without confidence, and who would be willing to trust Christ without faith in Him? And faith, of the operation of His Spirit, He never will forsake; and in time thou shalt say, "I am my Beloved's, and my Beloved is mine!" (Songs 6:3)
I shall never forget when something said to me solemnly, "What saved you?" And the answer rose up, "The extension of the atonement." Not that the atonement ever extended beyond the elect of God, but I felt in my peaceful soul that that atoning sacrifice was extended to me, and bound my soul up in the bowels and blessings of it, for eternity. "And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement"--the appeasing of God's anger. (Rom. 5:11) Oh, to have an interest in the atoning blood of God's dear Son! What have I to set over against my numberless sins? Why, nothing but the atoning blood of Christ. "The blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are; and when I see the blood"--God looks to His Son's blood, and the faith of God's elect looks to it too--"when I see the blood, I will pass over you." (Exo. 12:13) "My Son has made atonement for your sins, and I will favour you with a good hope through grace;" and the blood once sprinkled is a peaceful sign. "I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you." It shall harass--"When I smite the land of Egypt." And where did He smite? Where there was no blood. Oh, what a solemn thought! "Set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof." (Ezek. 9:4) And follow after, and "slay utterly old and young, both maids and little children, and women; but come not near any man upon whom is the mark;" (Ezek. 9:6) and what is the mark but the blood of sprinkling, "which speaketh better things than that of Abel." (Heb. 12:24)
Well, then, secondly, not only is there an appeasing of God's anger ("truth and mercy have met together"), (Ps. 85:10) but there is the active obedience of Christ, His holy, spotless life, the doings of a God--righteousness brought in adequate to the law's requirements. Oh, to have an interest in what Immanuel did! What He suffered, He suffered for us; what He did, He did in our nature, in union with us; and we shall be in union with Him above. "In Thy righteousness shall they be exalted." (Ps. 89:16)
"Being ignorant of God's righteousness." Now there are multitudes of professors that pass through life, and never give themselves one anxious thought about the righteousness of God, and if you were to speak to them about it they would stare, and not know what you meant. When I was first concerned about my soul, a man said to me, "Salvation is entirely of grace," and I did not know what he meant. I know now. Some people never had five minutes' thought about the righteousness of Christ. They do their duty--hardly that--and do their best.
It is a great mistake to think people cannot feel to be the "chief of sinners" without wallowing in sin--quite a mistake. Paul's life shone like a torch when he said, "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief." (1 Tim. 1:15) Oh, it is a great mercy to be kept, grace reigning "through righteousness unto eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Rom. 5:21) And where grace reigns, sin will strive to reign.
"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven." But this is not our righteousness. Our righteousness is the merits of Immanuel.
"For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God." It will be a sorry thing for self-sufficient Pharisees to die under God's woe, and appear before God destitute of an interest in the righteousness of Christ. And what will become of loose-living Antinomians, with a seared conscience? As Bunyan says, "You had better have to do with a Turk than such." I say, loose-living Antinomians "profess that they know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate." And think of the deceitful parsons who "serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple." (Rom. 16:18)
Now, I like to meet with cases where as soon as I touch the cord there is a response; such as are in a position to need Christ's righteousness, and that the Holy Ghost should apply it to their souls. "When He [the Spirit of truth] is come, He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment." (John 16:8) It is the work of the Holy Ghost, by self-knowledge, to convince thee of thy lost estate, and then to supply thy need, "according to His riches in glory, by Christ Jesus." (Phil. 4:19) Faith puts on this righteousness. Our sins, by imputation, became Christ's and His righteousness ours. Oh, to be found in that righteousness, so as to be able to face death, and not turn pale--under this influence to face a righteous God, and not turn pale. I have a felt "clean every whit," and yet I found this morning that God's Word cut me up, root and rind, in the court of conscience. Perhaps the text was brought to cut my comb. I was getting a little fierce; by-and-by that text came, "Make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof." (Rom. 13:14) Oh, sinner, sinner, how that text cut me up, took away my sharp-edged tool! How sin has thrown you and me down! How our secret sins have rolled us in the gutter! And yet what a mercy of mercies that God has found out a way by which He can "be just, and yet the Justifier of him that believeth in Jesus." (Rom. 3:26) Many a time I have found the truth of God like a scythe cutting down a thistle. "Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin." "The Word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow; and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." (Heb. 4:12) And when God brings us to His bar, and brings His holy Word and applies it, how can we stand on any ground but the righteousness of God?
"Going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God." This is what mortals are after (Church and dissent), with their observances, services, almseeds. I wish there were more kindness among men; but it is a poor business to build upon it. Mortals go about doing this, that, and the other; never knew themselves, never had the law applied. "The law entered," the Apostle said, "that the offence might abound." (Rom. 5:20) But they, being ignorant of the law, are willingly ignorant of the Gospel. The soul that is whole slights the good Physician, and is too proud to submit to the righteousness of God, to shine in the robes of another. What a strange thing it seems to my soul, that any can hate free grace! It does seem to me out-of-the-way. Why, if salvation was not free as the air, how could I be saved? If God did not accept me in His Son, what could He do but turn me into hell? But mortals go about doing, as they say, "many wonderful works." But God says, "I never knew you; depart from Me, ye that work iniquity." "Ignorant of God's righteousness," and too proud and self-sufficient to submit, to venture upon, trust to, and cast their souls for eternity upon, the righteousness of God. "God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie; that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." (2 Thess. 2:11) And you will find the bulk of mankind, from Adam to the end of time, ignorant of God's righteousness, spending their time (the professing part of them) doing "many wonderful works;" "going about to establish their own righteousness," and too proud to cast their never-dying souls upon the righteousness of God. And what do they meet with at death? A holy God frowns them to hell--graceless, Christless souls. They hope to go to heaven by something in their own power, independent of the power of God--something not at all concerning the righteousness of God. So they spend their lives and die, if grace prevent not.
"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." (They think too well of their state to shine in another's robes). What a solemn description is this here given! It is as true as can be. You look at the spirit of mortals; it is exactly true what the Apostle here says, and has been so from generation to generation. "The wise shall inherit glory; but shame shall be the promotion of fools." (Prov. 3:35) "He that humbleth himself shall be exalted." (Matt. 23:12) The man that humbles himself is he that is truly humbled by the bruising teaching of the Eternal Spirit; and such an one needs the righteousness of God's dear Son. You think over these words when I have done talking. They describe all true and false religion--what God will frown upon, and what He will smile upon--what will save, and what will damn. Think of it--you will be found either with the righteous or wicked: with Pharisees and Antinomians, in the pit; or, with God's humbled, bruised saints, gathered into the garner; while He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. Oh, what an anxiety among men what they shall eat, what they shall drink, or wherewithal they shall be clothed! But you ask them whether they are interested in God's righteousness, and they don't know what you mean.
Three out of four parts of the world don't know whether Christ is God, and don't care. Yet the devil tempts me, because Christ is the whole of my salvation. If he can strike away Christ, he strikes away my only hope. If Christ be God, I am right for ever; if not, I must go to the pit. We read of the fearful, who shall have their part in the lake. Who are they? They that are afraid to venture their everlasting all upon God's righteousness. Poor sensible sinners have nothing else to roll their guilty souls upon. Hath God's righteousness been applied to you, speaking peace and assurance for ever? Are you brought to know you can do nothing toward your salvation--to complete your salvation? Now, turn it round. As to being ignorant of God's righteousness, I should like you to point me to anything I could for one moment expect to stand in the presence of a righteous God in, except as interested in the blood and obedience of God's dear Son, the way of His own casting up? If I cannot stand before Him in any other way, how can you? What do you know about Christ? What do you need of Him? When did you seek and desire Christ? When did you get a glimpse of His Person? And when did you feel the better for the dawning of His favor? Oh, sinner, it is out of the question, to have the least hope out of Christ! It cannot be that my soul can appear before God in peace for a single instant but in the way of His finding--in the righteousness of His Son.
"Other refuge have I none,
Hangs my helpless [guilty, lost] soul on Thee."
Oh, these truths are burnt in my soul!
"All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him;
This He gives you--
'Tis His Spirit's rising beam."
And, if He does not supply your needs, He leaves His work half done; and that is not like Him. I cannot find words to express what I feel of my utter ruin, and my state as a sinner. Mine is a poor case. I know that "out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications," and all uncleanness, and that "these are the things which defile a man." (Matt. 15:19,20) Then how can we be just with God unless interested in the blood of His Son? I know my heart is desperately wicked, that it is quite out of the question to look for anything but to be banished to hell when I die, if not found interested in the righteousness of the Son of God. Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ, for hope of interest in Jesus Christ!
Then we are not ignorant of His righteousness. There is a people that are, and a people that are not. Those that are not don't go about to establish their own righteousness. I want to live and walk among men as becometh the Gospel of Christ. I desire to be as honest, as truthful, as upright before men, as if my salvation depended on it; and yet I loathe the thought of resting a finger upon anything but the righteousness of God. Believers in Christ are not ignorant of God's righteousness; they prize it, they value it; it is all their salvation, and all their desire. They don't want to add to the perfect work of Christ. After they have done all, nothing but the reigning grace of Christ keeps them from the gallows of hell. They don't go about to establish their own righteousness. I cannot tell how heartily willing, how determined my soul is to venture upon nothing, receive nothing, trust in nothing, mention nothing by way of free salvation, but the blood and obedience of God's dear Son. What a character I am! But God can save poor sinners to the uttermost. I am unworthy the bread that perisheth; and then to be delivered by the atoning blood of Immanuel, and brought to glory at last! What can we do but--
"Bring forth the royal diadem,
And crown Him Lord of all?"
"Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory, for Thy mercy and Thy truth's sake." Oh, no! We don't want to establish our own righteousness, or add our rags to His perfect robe--God forbid! As to being willing to venture on Christ--the lying devil may say He is not God. Devil, I have no hope but in Him, then. The saints are heartily willing in life, in death, to venture their everlasting all upon the blood and obedience of God's dear Son. "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth." Sinner, here is a law-fulfiller who abolished death, made an end of sin, and brought in everlasting righteousness. Lord, increase our faith--that faith which works by love, that will lean upon no staff but Christ, that will know no righteousness but His, and that will never rob Him of His crown! "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth."