"For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith." (Romans 1:17)
I made, last Lord's Day, some attempt to speak a little of the gospel of Christ, and to give some reasons why we should not be ashamed of it. The reasons are affirmed by the Apostle himself in the context: 'For it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.' My friends, does that definition embrace us? Could we, if we examine our own hearts and experience, affirm or have any reason to believe that we have received the gospel by faith and felt it to be in our experience 'the power of God unto salvation?' It is this to every case, every individual case, where the Holy Ghost so applies it effectually and savingly.
Now I read this verse, I believe, last Sunday evening, but did not speak upon it, and purpose if the Lord help me, to endeavor to elucidate it in some way this morning. I would like to say, if I might digress for a moment, that I believe this morning the Lord drew near to my soul and favored me with a solemn, savory view by faith of the perfection, beauty and glory of this righteousness. So attractive was it to me that my soul was, as it were, melted within me. I felt to be covered by it, embraced in it, and saw such perfection in it that I felt that, as united to the Lord Jesus, I was perfect even as He is perfect. O how wonderful it is to get any view, any revealing, any manifestation to our souls of the Lord Jesus in what He is, in His Person, blood and righteousness. Well, it brings one nearer to heaven, makes the things of earth fade away, divine realities attractive, the things of God the one thing needful. They rise above all secondary things and become the chief object and desire of our hearts. It is a great thing to have a living religion, a secret religion, to be favored at any time with some communion with God in Christ, to have our rocky, stony hearts broken. You know there is a reality in religion. Though perhaps we do not feel much about it, and for the most part are very distant from it, yet there is a sweet reality in it which rises above, and in the nature of it is sweeter than even the sweetest things in this life. What an honor God confers upon a poor mortal, does He not, by these remarkable and wonderful emanations and manifestations of His love which He is pleased to reveal and make known to His people. It is, indeed, a glorious gospel, a full gospel, a free grace gospel.
The Apostle, writing here, declares that, 'Therein,' (that is in the gospel) 'is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith.' In the first place then, there is to be considered the righteousness of God, and how and in what way it may be said to be revealed to faith, or from faith to faith. The righteousness of God! Then it is divine; not the righteousness of a creature, not man's righteousness, not something, though perhaps great, that has been accomplished by a creature, but a divine righteousness, the righteousness of God. In the first place we might say that the righteousness of God intends that perfection of His nature, His righteous character, His divine attributes. The righteousness of God is revealed both in the law and in the gospel. It is revealed in the law in the condemnation of sinners, and revealed in the gospel in the salvation of sinners; yet it is one righteousness, the righteousness of God, and as pure and perfect in the gospel as it is in the law. The salvation of sinners in every point and particular harmonizes with the divine attributes, and there is no violation of the divine perfection and justice of God in salvation. The righteousness of God is then first (though not as here intended), those divine perfections which are in God Himself; the character, the righteousness and the justice and glory of God as revealed in His holy law. He is essentially righteous, He is righteousness itself, righteousness underived. Righteousness in God is not a conformity to a law, but the Law is a reflection of that righteousness which is in His very nature. He must be righteous; perfection in God has ever been and must be. The righteousness of God!
Now this is revealed and made known in the law in all the precepts of it, in the claims of it, in the requirements of it, in the justice of it and the spirituality of it. God is just and righteous in all that He requires in the moral law, which is a revelation of His justice and righteousness. This law is spiritual; it penetrates into the very heart of a man, it dissects, separates, brings him under condemnation, sets his sins before him. It is a solemn reality to be brought under condemnation, to have 'the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God' alone. If we have any knowledge of God's righteousness as seen and revealed in His law, it will always bring condemnation when we feel the application of that law and have any view of Christ. God is eternally righteous, perfectly righteous in all His thoughts, words, actions, decrees, works, manifestations and purposes. He must be. He is the Fountain of righteousness, and He has created man, did create man, the first man Adam, under that law, giving him power and a will and ability to keep it, but he was mutable, he was a creature. Before he fell he could not worship God as a sinner saved by grace by the merits of His Son, though he could worship Him purely as his Creator and his God upon the grounds of works; but when that covenant was broken, the image of God was defaced in him. By reason of that terrible fall, there was a separation; the covenant was broken and he became a lost, guilty creature. Now we stand under that law of righteousness. The law of God still stands, and the righteousness of God is in that law as much now as in the day when He created Adam in innocence; and though we have no inherent power to render obedience to it, we are not absolved from its claim because of that inability. God made man upright, and the righteousness and justice of God, as in that law revealed, still claims from us that rectitude, righteousness and perfection in heart and life as from the first man Adam. The righteousness of God, then, may be said to be there.
But the righteousness of God, as here implied and intended in the gospel, is the righteousness of Christ; not that righteousness that is in God absolutely considered; not the righteousness of bare omnipotence but a righteousness which has been procured, wrought out and provided. It is not the righteousness of Christ in that He Himself is a righteous Person in respect of His divine Person and human nature, but the righteousness of God here really implies both the active and passive obedience of Jesus Christ. It is the righteousness of God because Christ is God and a divine Person always, though a human Person in respect to humanity combined with the Godhead, one Person; therefore, it is the righteousness of God, the righteousness of the God-Man, the Mediator who stands between absolute Justice and a guilty creature; the righteousness of the Christ of God. Inasmuch as it is revealed and made known in the gospel, it implies first His active obedience. The active obedience of Christ consists in His doing the will of God. He says in prophecy in the Psalms, 'Lo, I come...to do thy will...Thy law is within My heart.' He came with that word set in His heart, so to speak, with a determination, and He was straitened, we read, until He had been baptized with that baptism. It was the will of God that He should suffer. Now the active obedience of Christ consists in the performance by Him of all that God required Him to do. It embraces the whole estate of His humiliation from the manger to the cross, all His life, His works, His miracles. He was 'made under the law,' and His active obedience consisted in a perfect conformity to it throughout His whole life from His birth to His death upon Calvary. There was never once the slightest deviation from a perfect conformity to the divine law of God; a perfect obedience was rendered by the incarnate Son of God to every precept, not only in outward action but in every thought and in every word. Yea, He 'magnified the law and made it honourable,' (Isa. 42:21) and every part of that work His Father commissioned Him to do, He accomplished. His active obedience really consists, then, in that full and perfect obedience to the law of God as a Substitute, and this is the righteousness of the Christ of God, the righteousness of God. Now, my friends, it is a great thing really to get any perception of this in experience. We sometimes feel our sins and mourn over them, perhaps, a little, when we have grace enough to do it. We may have had some application of the law to us, felt the terrors of it in our conscience, some of us, trembled under its condemning power, felt and feared we should go to hell, and seemed very near to it sometimes. Now it is very great to see that law fulfilled and magnified in the Person of the incarnate Son of God, in His active obedience. He came with a purpose, and that purpose was to magnify the law of God. All the requirements of the divine perfection of Deity were met in the Person of the Son of God, and the law was honored by Him and fulfilled in every word by His perfect and active obedience.
In the second place the righteousness of God, of Christ, is revealed in the gospel not only as the righteousness of His active obedience to the law, but of His passive obedience. It was not enough really that He should conform to it Himself. A conformity to the law in His life was not sufficient, but the will of God concerning Him was this, that He should bear the penalty, endure the curse, suffer the curse in His own soul. Now this is the passive obedience of Jesus Christ. He gave His back to the smiters, submitted Himself without resentment to mocking, scourging, buffeting, spitting and reproach, and was brought even to death. Freely and willingly did He offer Himself as a Sacrifice to wash away the guilt of His Church, and this is His passive obedience, His righteousness, the righteousness that He wrought, procured and provided. Now when we view Him in those agonizing sufferings in Gethsemane's garden, when we look upon Him as dying upon Calvary's cross, we see in Him that passive obedience to the will of His Father. In the garden, when under the intensity of those sufferings, He said in prayer, 'O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt.' Here was the subjection, the willingness, the passiveness, the passive nature of His obedience to the will of His Father. I know, my friends, it is very difficult for us in any way to conceive, even in a faint degree, the intensity of those sufferings. 'What He endured no tongue can tell,' but we have to consider this, that the wrath of God, the just wrath of God against sin, was there poured out upon Him so that His soul sank into deep mire where there was no standing, and we have to view Him as a Man there. Though a divine Person, He suffered as a Man, and He seemed, as it were, left to a severe test, tested to the very utmost of His capacity and power. If He had not been a divine Person, if there had not been a union of the divine Person with human nature, it would seem that He could never have stood that awful test. Yet He was submissive in the trial; there was the Will of God always before Him: 'Not My Will, but Thine be done.' Now we have to consider this, that what you would suffer, what I should suffer in hell, if we were sent there, was endured in that curse that Christ endured when He stood as the sinner's Surety. Now if sometimes your sins are as much as you feel you can bear, what must that intolerable load of sin have been to Him, when the sins of millions of men were imputed to Him and He stood in the place of guilty men? Yet this was His passive obedience: 'He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter: and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth.' (Isa. 53:7) He was passive in those intensified sufferings which He endured as the sinner's Surety; and this is the righteousness of God as revealed in the gospel. What grace! What love! What condescension! What mercy to sinners, guilty people, lawbreakers! A righteousness provided, a complete righteousness.
''Tis Jehovah's own providing,
Wove by everlasting love.'
Watts says, speaking of this righteousness:
'And, lest the shadow of a spot
Should on my soul be found,
He took the robe the Saviour wrought
And cast it all around.'
It is a perfect righteousness, the righteousness of God. It must be perfect; it is God's righteousness, and there can be no imperfection in Him, no flaw anywhere. It is a robe without a seam, no weak spot, sufficient, perfect, glorious; a righteousness that is covered with divine glory; imputed righteousness. Bold shall we stand, then, in the great day.
'Bold shall I stand in that great day,
For who aught to my charge shall I lay,
While through Thy blood absolved I am
From sin's tremendous curse and shame?'
The righteousness of God!
This righteousness is revealed. It is not a righteousness that He has wrought or has in possession in Himself, to be kept there with no emanations of it. No, it is a righteousness revealed, revealed I might say in two places. First in the gospel; the righteousness of God, of Christ, is revealed there. His righteousness, His work, His active, His passive obedience may be said to be the sum, fullness and substance of the gospel. Take Christ out of the gospel and it is no gospel. Why, there is nothing left for a guilty creature. Christ shines in the gospel as naturally as the sun shines in the firmament of heaven, and the glory of God shines in Him with a divine, heavenly luster. The righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel; yes, and the poor creature may sometimes, notwithstanding all his sins, see the righteousness of Christ in the gospel and feel a hope in his soul. May we not say sometimes,
We place our entire hope in the righteousness of Christ. It is all we need for heaven; it provides a fitness, it gives a fitness. It is revealed thus in the gospel. But there is another place where it is revealed, and that is in the heart of a believer. It comes there. How is it revealed there? By the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of God, Who takes of the things of Christ and shows them to poor people, (John 16:14,15) reveals this righteousness in them. It is seen by faith; faith receives it and puts it on. It is a great thing, my friends, to get any discovery of this, any view of this righteousness in our own cases. If we look at our works we are condemned because there is sin in them; though they may be good in themselves as before men, and, flowing from grace, evangelically wrought, they are acceptable before God, yet there is no merit in them. The Apostle Paul was made willing to renounce all that he valued, even his very best, and count it but dung and dross that he might 'win Christ, and be found in Him.' (Phil. 3:8,9) He wanted a better righteousness than that he once valued, not his own righteousness which was of the law, but the righteousness of God which is by faith. We can face death with that righteousness; with that righteousness covering us we can enter the swellings of Jordan, appear before God and meet Him as a Friend. You need no better, we can have no better; a righteousness not of works but of grace, a glorious righteousness, a wedding dress, when we shall be presented before God without 'spot, or wrinkle or any such thing.' (Eph. 5:27) 'The righteousness of God revealed;' therefore it cannot be acquired. It is not something that you can attain to; it is nothing you can manufacture. No, we cannot go up into the heavens to bring it down, or into the depths to bring it up, but it is just that word which is brought into the heart. The righteousness of Christ is that robe which will cover a poor, guilty sinner when he comes to stand before God.
It is said to be 'revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.' It would appear that the better way to take the meaning of this, 'From faith to faith,' is to consider it as meaning varying degrees of faith. Faith is one in respect of the nature of it, but there are degrees of faith in the divine operations of it in the hearts of the Lord's people. There is what we might term a cleaving faith and an appropriating faith. Now according to the degree in which this righteousness is revealed, faith receives it. There may be faith in a believing heart where there is a conviction and a need felt that one must have a righteousness better than his own. There may be some discovery made of the suitableness of Christ's righteousness, of the beauty of it, of the glory of it, some discovery, some opening up of it. Then there is a cleaving to it, which implies some manifestation of it, some revelation of it in a way that shall bring the subject of the revelation to cleave to it. It is received by faith. Now it is 'from faith to faith;' from faith in the desire to faith in possession, from faith in a real sense of need of it felt, to faith in a solid resting upon it as the only hope, to faith in a gracious receiving of it in sweet experience, a sense of being covered in it. It is 'revealed from faith to faith' according to the degree of faith. There may be a weak faith; there may be a strong faith. It seems to imply a growth in grace, growing in a knowledge of this according to the revelation and manifestation of it.
Now apply yourself to your own case. Could you come here and say you have seen a divine beauty in that righteousness? seen a glory in it as wrought by Christ and perfected by Him? As for your own interest in it, that is another matter. Yet you see an attraction, a beauty, a glory in it. Well, it is revealed to faith. There is faith in the heart to see what is needed, to see the sufficiency of it, but it is 'revealed from faith to faith;' that is, according to the measure of teaching. As you travel along and further discoveries of it are given, faith begins to lay hold of it and you begin to trust in it, lose your own natural covering, your rags, till brought perhaps by gracious leading to place your dependence in it and to renounce all besides. 'From faith to faith.' Then perhaps a day may come when you may be brought to feel you stand complete in it and covered by it, so that God may look upon you in Christ as covered by His righteousness, complete, forgiven and justified, and standing before God, as though you had never committed a sin. The righteousness of Christ both pardons and justifies the guilty creature, and makes him fit, and prepares him for heaven. 'From faith to faith;' from faith in some gracious apprehension of it to faith in a sweet appropriation of it.
'As it is written, The just shall live by faith;' not live upon faith. Faith is not to be the food of a believer. No, he is not to live upon his faith, trust in it, rest upon it; no, but to live by faith upon Christ. All spiritual living, then, as before God, is really by faith, and by faith in Christ. A true believer will, as he is exercised, eat the flesh of Christ and drink His blood by faith, and live upon Him. Christ becomes All in All; All in All in desire, and in the Lord's time, in possession. The just is not a person just in himself. There is a right sense of justice as between man and man, and the exercise of justice; but this is in relation to God, where no man can be truly just except by virtue of his union with the Son of God, and by standing in Him in His righteousness. Then he is just, and such a person will live by faith, live upon Christ by faith, live a life of faith upon Him Who loved him and gave Himself to atone for his sins.