"Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died; yea, rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us." (Romans 8:33,34)
The Word of God gives us to understand very plainly that the Lord has a people whom He calls His own, whom He has saved, and will save down to the end, and bring safely at last into everlasting bliss. God Himself is so holy, so wise, just, and true, that none could dictate to Him that He should save any sinful creature; yet through the Lord Jesus Christ He can show mercy. He can even exercise patience towards the wicked, and bear long with them. He can open His hand, and supply them with mercy upon mercy, keeping them in existence, feeding them every day, and filling their hearts with gladness; though they know not the hand that feeds them. But He has a relationship to His people. He has set forth in His Word what He is to them as One that heareth prayer. Hence true prayer marks the people of God with an evident mark of divine relationship. I do not mean saying prayers, but praying; that is, feeling necessities and expressing them, or feeling necessities that may be unexpressed by words. Where there is necessity, there must be life; and where there is life, there will be a continual desire that that life may be supported. As God, then, has given His people life, He has also promised to provide for it and sustain it.
But He could not accept anything that comes from a fallen creature in any form whatever. Therefore He has made provision for His people that the Holy Spirit should teach them to pray. We think we have many necessities that the Spirit does not teach us are such; and God does not notice them. Real necessity known and felt by us is from the Spirit of God. He is given to us that He may create and inspire prayers, that they may be proper ones. He provides us with words or thoughts, that we may express our desires, and He may listen and accept the petition. He accepts the groan, because the Holy Spirit gives that groan. The hunger is God's; the thirst is God's; the groan is God's; the whole is His workmanship. He says, "Cry," "Then," say some, "it is your duty to cry." But when the Lord expressed His word: "Let there be light," He made the light. So when He says, "Cry," He makes the cry. Whatever God accepts must be His own workmanship. However weak, if it be but a gnat, it is as acceptable to Him as His creature and showing His power as the highest angel is. He accepts the gnat as much as the angel as His workmanship. One may glorify Him more than the other; yet He makes no such distinction as we make, but accepts the meanest because it is His own. Then let me say to you, do not be troubled about the smallness of the thing; it is the thing itself that is accepted if it is the work of God.
In the words I have read there is an evident declaration of God that He has an elect people. They are not elected for anything in themselves. God could not accept anything but His own workmanship. If He has a people He must choose them Himself. He chooses them because He will choose them. He has given no other reason; and if we pry any further, we shall be lost in a labyrinth of confusion.
In the first instance we will consider who are the elect.
Secondly. The question: "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?" If there are charges made, there is an answer to them all: "It is God that justifieth."
Thirdly. A second question and answer follow: "Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died."
Lastly. For the success of their cause it is added that Christ "ever liveth to make intercession for us."
First. We will look at God's elect. I will not dwell upon their being eternally chosen, but look at their existence. "Am I one of the Lord's people? The fact that there is an elect people I receive; but am I one?"
The Lord describes them by the feature I have already noticed, that they are a praying people: "Shall not God avenge His own elect, which cry day and night unto Him?" (Luke 18:7) Here, then, is a mark of His elect--they cry day and night unto Him. How conscious I am that if left to themselves they would not cry day and night? We have sufficient proof of this in our own souls; that our patience, or rather, or impatience, would not allow us to cry continually. We are so soon dissatisfied, so soon despairing, so full of suspicions, that to cry for mercy day and night would wear us out completely, and bring the cry to a dead stand. Yet if you have been crying to God for mercy for forty years, it is as much needed now as then; and you have the same cry now. It was not left off when the Lord helped you and blessed you. Some of you have been crying for a number of years, "Lord, have mercy upon me! I am a poor, weak creature, full of unbelief, full of murmuring, so dissatisfied and liable to wander from Thee with a hard, unbelieving heart. Have mercy upon me!"
Turn for a moment to the professors of the day. They would not utter that cry. They would say, "No; it is too low ground, too miserable a condition for us. We live above that; our ground is praise." Therefore their own language declares them not to be of the company that cry day and night unto God.
But God's people are a praying people; and their prayers are the workmanship of God himself. The Lord forms them in the heart. This He teaches them by sometimes withholding His power; and then they cannot form one real, living prayer in their hearts. If you go upon your knees at such a time, you cannot feel the least necessity for God, so that from your mind you could say, "Lord, help me!" A felt need you do not always possess. It is one part of your sorrow that many times in your prayers you cannot feel that heartiness you would wish; and you have no relish for the things of the Spirit. It is like sitting down to a meal without any appetite. You may go down on your knees, but not heartily: you may utter words, but not from felt necessity. The Lord shows you that you cannot form His prayers; that He only forms them; and then they are prayers that plead like the hungry man begs for bread. These people are God's elect, whatever men may say of them. They are enabled to present themselves before Him time after time, crying to Him for help and blessing; and they are chosen for Himself, and loved with an everlasting love. These, then, He will avenge; that is, He will deliver them from all their adversaries, the world, sin, and Satan, that are troublers of their souls. To them He has given His Holy Spirit in an especial manner. It was to them the Holy Spirit was promised in covenant; and He is so essential to them that apart from Him there cannot be anything in them acceptable to God.
The Holy Spirit, then, dwells in the hearts of His people, so that, wherever they may be, the worship of God is set up. What a blessing to have the Spirit of God within us! I am sure you will readily admit that the best, the sweetest part of your worship is in private, when alone with God himself. You may have had your soul watered freely in public, feeling your heart and affections were given to the Lord. But when in private you may have such a childlike feeling, such sweet simplicity, that you feel swallowed up in the Lord, able to resign yourself to Him, to sweetly fall into His hands for Him to do what seemeth good in His sight. The Holy Spirit is necessary to form any hearty worship in us and to give us the peace of God in our hearts, wherever we may be placed. He is our peace. If He comes, what animation He puts into our souls, what vigor! The body has nothing to do with it. He puts such vigor into us that we feel refreshed, like a giant, ready to run a race. "Draw me, Lord, and I will run after Thee." (Song of Solomon 1:4) This is not a vain boast, but the invigorating power of the Spirit flowing into the heart, with love to God and love to His people. God's elect are such as possess this blessed Spirit. When you feel Him in your heart, you feel at times He gives you power with God in prayer, and power in following Him, strengthening your weak hands, and confirming your feeble knees.
Again. The elect of God are those on whom God has set His affections. He loves them. Now if a person loves you in his heart, there is such a thing as that love begetting love; and with God, His love is always effectual in begetting love. He loves His people, and displays an affection towards them; and it begets a love in them; "We love Him, because He first loved us." (1 John 4:19) Hence it is said: "According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love." (Eph. 1:4) Is there any affection, then, in our hearts towards God? You may say, "That is a thing I could scarcely say myself. I often doubt it. I am so hard and worldly, I scarcely feel I have any affection towards God." That may be; but let us look a little further. When the Lord first convinces His people of sin, though He shows Himself in law a foe to their sin, though He comes in terrible Majesty, and reveals Himself in wrath against them, yet underneath all that, there is an affection in Him towards them; and at the same time, though they might not be able to find it, there is an affection in them towards God. As soon as ever the soul is born of the Spirit, it goes to the Lord with, "Lord, save me." There is an intense desire to be saved. The Lord says, "Knock;" and the sinner knocks in the best way he can. He wants the Lord to be his God; he wants to go to heaven. It is not for the sake of going to heaven that he wants the Lord to be his God; but it is his intense desire to possess God. This intense affection going after the Lord arises from the love of God to him. God is its Parent; and He says: "I love them that love me." So we may trace His love from the lower to the higher. God does not love you because you desire Him; but you have that desire because He loves you. This ardent desire to see His face arises from the blessing He has given you in covenant, that you shall see God.
Thus I have shown you that the elect of God are such as are related to Him, and receive benefit from Him. His Holy Spirit bestows on them a spirit of prayer; and this the Lord acknowledges and accepts. His Spirit forms their prayers, and dwells within them, and will be a Spirit of love to them. He gives them a hearty affection towards God, arising from God's great affection towards them. The very will is provided by Him; and thus they become a loving, willing people.
We will inquire, secondly, "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?"
This question is not to be answered by the frivolous charges that some people make against the Lord's children; as that they may live as they list. God would not answer that charge, because it is a lie. No judge who sat upon a bench would knowingly allow a man to swear to a lying charge. Now God knows that it is a lie for any man to charge His people with desiring to live as they list. That is the farthest from their desires. He has implanted within them a desire to love and serve Him; and they hate the very sin they feel within, and abhor the evils that work in their hearts. They cry day and night unto God to be helped against them, to have the victory given them and to triumph over them. God knows their secret groanings, sorrows, and anxieties to rise above sin and sinning; so that He knows that charge is a lie; and it is not heard.
It must be some charge that has an appearance of truth, if God listens to it. We find that Satan is said to accuse the children of God day and night before Him. (Rev. 12:10) Here, then, is a witness against them that the Lord sometimes hears, though he is the father of lies. He does so to baffle the liar. It is evident Satan retains all his wisdom and created powers, save that love to God which bound him to his Creator. To baffle his wisdom by a foe so weak as man is the highest wisdom of God. None but God could take a poor creature that scarcely knows how to speak, and infuse a power in his soul that will overcome so strong an adversary. This is something that outmatches all the cunning of Satan himself. Therefore the Lord is pleased to allow him to plead against His people, that He may baffle and confuse him.
Thus God permitted him to appear as a witness against Job, and asked him a question: "Hast thou considered my servant Job?" (Job 1:8) Many a time had Satan considered Job, as his own words declare. Job was well known to him both in his goings out and comings in. If you are a praying soul, you are well known to Satan. He is acquainted with the roof under which you dwell, the bed you lie on, the chair you sit upon; and comes direct to the place. He knows all your infirmities; where you are weakest, and the point you have no power of refusing in yourself. He knows where to put a bait to draw you, if grace prevent not. He knows it exactly, being an old practitioner, and is always successful, saying that at times the Lord baffles him in these things. "Hast thou considered my servant Job?" "Yea, says Satan; "thou hast set a hedge about him. I can only tempt him with that hedge between. Take that away, or just let me go inside that circle, and I will make him curse Thee to Thy face, if Thou wilt let me try." "Well," saith the Lord, "thou shalt not take his life." The life was not given, because if it were, Job could neither curse nor bless, nor the power of grace be seen in him. "All the rest thou shalt have; now try." You see here what a workman Satan is, not one to be laughed at. It is only God who can triumph over him. He goes to Job, and ruins everything he possesses. He leaves one person to carry the news of the first destruction; then he has the second messenger of ill tidings ready to come with an overwhelming force; and the third at hand to heap upon the accumulated load. One follows another; and at last his sons and daughters, the nearest and dearest to him of all his possessions, are slain, and not one of them left. Satan is trying his utmost to gain a charge against him; but all he gets is this: "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord." Satan is foiled; you see he is beaten.
Then he will go further. He smites Job from head to foot with grievous sores. God is watching over him, but withdraws from him sensibly, as though He said to Satan, "Thou shalt have every opportunity; but touch not his life." Now Job uttered many hard things against the Lord; but the point Satan aimed at was to make him curse God to His face, that he might charge that upon him. Naturally, in going through an action men may lose hundreds, and gain the victory. So Job, in this onslaught with his adversary, often breaks out in bitter complaints, but never yields the point contested. His ground is maintained, and Satan foiled of bringing his charge at last. God returns to His servant, and gives him good interest for all he has suffered.
But in attacking us, Satan mixes something with your infirmities and mine, and so infuses--what shall I say?--His own spawn, his own sin, his own nature, in those infirmities, that they move and begin to speak. You are astonished, you are staggered at these moving sins within you. You have never seen them so ugly, so black before. They seem as though they would carry all before them, coming in like a flood. They come as if they were your own desires, as if they mingled with your own will, your own passions; they seem to identify themselves with you so that you cannot separate yourself from them. Not from any affection you have for them; but you are so overwhelmed with them that they appear part of yourself. And having wrought these things in the soul, Satan brings a charge against you on their account. If he does not accuse you before God, he will make the charge in your conscience. But here the words of the Apostle draw a clear line: "It is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me." (Rom. 7:17) It was the infusing power of Satan that was the source of the evil. Take that away, and the soul would recover itself in the grace of God, and feel swallowed up in the Lord.
But Satan can find many true charges against us. He can charge us with neglecting prayer, even at times when we have an inclination to pray. Want of time or some other thing comes in the way; and instead of our obeying the impulse of God in the soul, he can charge us with quenching it; as Hart says,
"So gentle sometimes is the flame
That, if we take not heed,
We may unkindly quench the same;
We may, my friends, indeed."
He can charge us with being ungrateful to God, who has fed and clothed us for many years; for we have ungrateful hearts. All this Satan can accuse us of, and much more;--wandering minds; uttering hard speeches and thinking hard thoughts against God; feeling so heartless that if heaven could be ours for going out at the door we should not go after it, so unconcerned are we; refusing to give Him thanks for His daily mercies; leaning to the enemy rather than to God, and turning coward in the day of battle. When you can point to a man after a battle, and say, "That man ran away," you lay a grave charge against him. The children of Israel ran away, and hid themselves in holes and dens. (1 Sam. 13:6) That is what God's people have done, and do still. They run away from their enemies, and hide themselves; therefore they are cowards. To all these charges the Lord's children have to plead guilty. That they have a hard heart is true; that it is full of unbelief is true. Satan aims to draw them into sin, that he may turn against them, and accuse them night and day.
But let us see if we cannot turn the tables a little upon him. Is that witness against us required? Is his testimony of any account? It is just like this. Suppose a man has gone into court, and confessed his whole life before the judge, and it is accepted as true. In comes another, saying, "I will tell you all about that man." Why, it is already done. God's Spirit is always beforehand with Satan. In his condescending work upon the soul, He gives a godly sorrow for sin and a confessing heart before God. Is it not sometimes your employment at a throne of grace, to confess you do not deserve the least of His mercies, and have been rebellious against Him? You have tried to find words to tell Him. Well then, poor sinner, when Satan comes in to lay charges against you, they will not be accepted; they have been confessed before from a broken and contrite heart, which God will not despise. "Who," then, "shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?" Satan cannot do it; his charges are not of any account.
Again. The world lay charges against them. They accuse them of being morose and of not wanting any one to be saved but themselves. But the petitions that have gone up from their hearts, begging God to quicken others and bring them to Zion, will be a witness against that charge. The world may charge them with living a separate life; but a separate life God has commanded. Or they may accuse them of mingling with them; but the Lord's people go before God, and confess their worldly mindedness, and abhor themselves on account of it. Also, sin lays charges against them, that it has dominion over them. This has been confessed, that they have sinned, and done evil before the Lord; and they have cried, "God be merciful to me, a sinner!" Sometimes Satan may blow them up with pride; and they know to their cost that "a haughty spirit goes before a fall." Pride in their hearts precedes the destruction of that feeling; and they are brought to tremble and abhor themselves on account of it, own themselves vile, and confess the long-suffering of God. The flesh, too, comes up as a witness against them; but they will confess that the flesh has drawn them aside; that they have murmured against God; that they are not satisfied with the place or situation God has given them. Still the Lord asks the question: "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?" All these witnesses are of no account.
But there is a creditable witness who must be heard, whose charges are true; and that is Moses. "Do not think I will accuse you to the Father; there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom you trust." (John 5:45) There are two great points in which he accuses them; that they have not loved the Lord with all their hearts, nor their neighbor as themselves. All that is true from beginning to end. The other witnesses the Lord will not regard. He can order them out by His word; they are false witnesses, and come in with an evil intent. But this one comes with righteousness and judgment, and speaks for God as a God of justice and holiness; therefore he must be satisfied. God hears and answers him; and the Apostle brings in His answer when he says, "It is God that justifieth." His Word tells us how it is done: "Being justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." (Rom. 3:24) Here, then, in God's elect we see the case of a murderer, who has been executed for his crime and is risen from the dead. Who can lay anything to his charge now? The law is satisfied. Christ died for him: and he must be set free.
Thirdly. A second question is asked: "Who is he that condemneth?" That is, who is the judge that has passed sentence? It must be someone in authority. Any one may take up another for robbing an orchard, and may try to condemn him; but if he has no authority he cannot execute judgment; he must let him go. Many an act you may condemn; but it is of no avail without authority to execute your sentence. Therefore the question is put: "Who is he that condemneth?"
If we are to be tried and judged, it must be by law, and not merely a law the professing world have made. I cannot receive their doctrine as Christ's doctrine, nor their atonement as Christ's atonement. I reject it, because it is not true nor according to the testimony of God's Spirit. Their judgment is not formed in a proper manner; so it comes to nothing; and there is a greater Judge, who watches over all these breaches of peace and illegal law-suits.
We have a figure of the great Judge Himself at the last day. He separates the goats from the sheep, and puts these on His right hand, saying to them, "Come, ye blessed." By what follows we are shown that these are the very persons who have been condemned by the religious world. "Come," says the Lord; "inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink." Yet His poor people remembered it not. If you have done anything really in love to a person, you will forget it; because love will be burning to do something more; and in pushing on, it leaves the past out of mind. But you that suffered the want or pain know the ease you felt when the relief was given, and cannot forget it. So with the Lord's people. What they have said in love to a child of God they know not, nor how they may have touched his case and relieved his soul; but the Lord knows it, because He felt it was done to Himself. He has received it in His memory, and never forgets it. "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." (Matt. 25:32-40)
But those on His left hand had abundance to plead. If we take the heap of things that are being done in our day for Jesus, we may say indeed, "When did this people not spend their money for the Lord, some beyond their means? When did they not run from house to house to deliver their tracts? When did they not stand at the corners of the streets to preach? When did they not pray, and visit the sick?" Here you see the very things they do to this day the Lord charges them with not doing. They plead their good works; but He says, "Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me." (Matt. 25:45) Christ never felt in His mystical body the soothing of their sympathy and kindness; but He felt the pang of their refusal, when they met with any of His people sick or in distress, and relieved them not. He passes sentence upon the religious world and their works: "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink." (Matt. 25:41,42)
Who is he, then, that condemneth? Where is the bold, presumptuous creature that dares reverse the order of God, and sit in judgment on those for whom Christ died? The Apostle asks this question as if he said, "Take a hint; keep thy mouth shut, and never presume to bring a charge against God's people; for the answer is, 'It is God that justifieth.' 'It is Christ that died.' The highest Jehovah Himself has acquitted them."
Pardon and justification are two things. They cannot be put together in earthly matters. If you pardon a man, you do not justify him; your pardoning him shows he has been wrong. Pardon takes away the fear of punishment, but not the guilt of sin. When God first justifies the sinner, he cannot understand the feeling of justification. A few moments before he was despairing, under the load of his sins; now he feels he is made righteous in the sight of God. He cannot tell what it is that has come to him, or how it can be. But his guilt will never return. Though afterwards he may be in despairing places, he can never fasten the same guilt on his conscience that was once taken away. The sting is not there. If God justifies, he shall go out free, justified in the righteousness of Christ; as it is written: "He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel." (Num. 23:21) He has looked upon him in His Son, as he is chosen in Him by covenant in eternity, and stands in relationship to Him, without spot in His sight. "Who," then, "is he that condemneth?"
Take one who condemns,--the conscience. "If our heart," that is, our conscience, "condemn us, God is greater than our heart." (1 John 3:20) Conscience unpurged is always against you, if you get a little light upon it; it is always gnawing and lashing you, and is lashed itself by the law of God. Those who have stood before God condemned know what the gnawing worm is that dieth not. The conscience may tell you all your prayers are hypocritical; all your talk is to be something and let others think something of you. Conscience tells you of sins against light and love; sins worse since you knew the gospel than ever you felt under the law; sins against a good God you never knew before: sins blacker, against grace, than you could have committed without grace; your wandering thoughts, how base and vile they are; that no child of God is like you. Conscience says so; but conscience does not know all. "God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things." He knows the tears that have trickled down your cheek, because of your sins and poverty. Conscience will not allow they are right ones, perhaps; but God knows they are. He sees there is love to Himself, His people, and His ways, that is always struggling to be uppermost.
"He understands a sigh divine,
And marks a secret groan."
Again. "Who is He that condemneth?" You cannot be condemned to more than to death. Who is there who deserves to die, and feels it? "It is Christ that died." That will answer every charge of sins worthy of death. Have you turned your back to your enemy, and fled in the day of battle? "It is Christ that died." Have you sinned against love and grace? "It is Christ that died." Here is the answer to all. God cannot demand two payments of one debt,
"Once at thy bleeding Surety's hands,
And then again at thine."
Lastly. He adds, "Yea, rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us." That is He pleads, as an Advocate at law, according to right; not begging us off. We cannot tell what is right and lawful; we cannot take it to ourselves. He must be our Counselor and Pleader. He "ever liveth" to show us what is our right; and when He speaks to us by His Spirit, how plainly we see it! His Word says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit,"--that you are poor you may feel; "for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,"--that you cannot take. His Word says, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28) You are weary; but you cannot tell whether the rest is for you. He lives to make you see it is you to whom the Word applies, you to whom He will give rest. He will be a mouth and wisdom to His people from time to time, and will be present with them in every time of need.
The Lord direct your minds to look to Him to answer every charge, according to His word: "It is God that justifieth." "It is Christ that died; yea, rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us."