Righteousness of God – Legal Righteousness?

Haven’t had time to do much on this recently, apart from this…



Someone else read the article and helped me summarise one of the issues:

Does Moses, as a figure of Christ, make up the count of bricks for them? Are [any] bricks that Moses made imputed to them, so as to make up the full legal count? There is no such thought in a single figure of the Old Testament, or a verse in the New. Redemption is not the amelioration or improvement of man as the slave of sin and Satan; but, as in Egypt, it is the bringing man out of the place of slavery altogether into an entirely new place and condition.”

the rest of this is going to have to get us going with minimal editing. What follows is not my prose, but I like it. Where else can you get such a car crash of a first sentence?

The principle in question it is well to state; it is, I fully admit, a most grave and important one. Not that beloved and truly godly souls have not been, as I judge, cloudy upon what was really of great moment to their true and godly liberty in Christ, which is the power of a Christian walk; not that they have not been violent, as men generally are, in sustaining that in which they are wrong. But this does not destroy the importance of being clear.

Still, I freely and fully, yea, joyfully, acknowledge (as choice and devoted servants of Christ, whom I respect, and whose devotedness I look up to) persons who have held on this subject doctrines which I believe to be a mistake. I have thus no animosity as regards this point. The point, however, is important, and what saints have held by infirmity of judgment may become a very great hindrance to the progress of souls, and a weapon in the hands of the enemy: witness the Judaism of the early Church at Jerusalem, and the opposition raised to Paul on the very same ground. The principles, indeed, which were then in question are the same which now partially agitate the Church of God, and largely hinder its blessing and testimony, and obscure its faith.

The question is this: Is the righteousness of God legal righteousness? I may state the question in the words of a sermon, which in its main purport and object I can with my whole heart desire a blessing upon, so that I shall avoid an apparent attack upon others, and any supposition of evil will towards him from whom I quote. The statement, too, has the advantage, not always found, of stating that side of the question with peremptory decision. I read in Mr. M’s sermon (preached [last week on Twitter], at the special services [across the world]), in pp. 17, 18, what follows: “Do you know this, my dear brethren, that no man can enter into the kingdom of heaven unless he is garbed in a perfect robe of righteousness?” So far (save that “the kingdom of heaven” is used for “heaven,” which to the practised mind — practised I mean in divine truth from scripture — betrays the existence of the system to which these statements belong), all is well. Now follows the definition of the general statement: “In plain words, do you know this, that over the gate of heaven is written up, Do this and live? Do you know that if a man is cleansed from his sin in the blood of Christ, and sanctified by the Spirit of God, He cannot then go to heaven? He wants something more still; he must have a perfect obedience. Heaven is suspended on a perfect obedience, not a negative one. God said to Adam, ‘Do this and live.’ He failed. You must present a perfect obedience when you come to God. Have you got it? It is the active righteousness of Christ; it is not His sufferings — that blots out sin; it is not His Spirit — that sanctifies the heart; but it is His perfect righteousness. Listen, ‘By his obedience shall my righteous servant justify many.’ Listen, ‘He brings in everlasting righteousness.’ Again, it is put upon us; it is the wedding garment: ‘Friend, how camest thou in hither not having the wedding garment?’ That is the righteousness of Christ.” The writer continues on the same point, but this may suffice. “Transgressions are pardoned by blood, the person justified (that is the fruit of Christ’s righteousness imputed), the soul sanctified (that is the work of the Holy Ghost dwelling in you).” The reader must not think that the singular mis-quotation of Isaiah 53 is an error of mine. It is a singular fruit of the bias of the author’s mind, the result of his doctrine. It is singular that the only direct passage which he quotes for the point he is seeking to prove, is a misquotation. The two others are the point to be explained, and no proof of the author’s explanation of the doctrine.

Now I believe, and bless God for the truth, that Christ is our righteousness and that by His obedience we are made righteous. It is the settled peace of my soul, as I trust it is of the author’s. The important point here is the contrast between the death and sufferings of Christ, as winning our forgiveness, and His obedience as our justifying righteousness — what is sometimes called His active and passive obedience. This doctrine, however, is not fully seen until another point is noticed — the legal character of this righteousness. Mr M states it in principle as clearly as possible. It is written on the gate of heaven “Do this and live.” That is positively and characteristically, as the apostle teaches us, legal righteousness. “To Adam it was so said.” To enter into heaven legal righteousness is absolutely required. This alone gives a title.

I affirm that the doctrine of scripture is wholly different, and that this doctrine (wholly unintentionally, I admit, so that I do not impute the consequence to those who hold it) denies the extent of sin and the true character of redemption. Law is perfect in its place. The angels accomplish it in its highest character; he who loves does too, as the apostle teaches us. I say this by way of preface, that there may be no mistake. But that a holy nature does with delight what is in the law is a different thing from the way a sinner obtains righteousness and eternal life. Doing with delight, when in possession of life, is a different thing from doing in order to obtain life. Now what I say is, The law was never given that we might obtain righteousness or life by it, nor ever could have been. It was introduced by the by to convince of sin. A sinless being, who had life, did not want a law of righteousness to obtain it; a sinful creature with a law of righteousness could only be condemned. “Do this and live” is not written on the gate of heaven. It was written on Sinai, which is not the gate of heaven. It is the gate of death and condemnation. It was not said to Adam Do this and live. He lost the life he had by disobedience.

The apostle, on the whole matter, contradicts the statement explicitly. “Moses,” he says, “describeth the righteousness which is of the law, that the man which doeth these shall live by them. But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise . . . 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.” The righteousness of faith is contrasted with that of law, which says, Do this and live. It does not accept its principle and find a means of meeting its requirements by another, but brings in righteousness on another principle. It speaks on another wise. The great evil of the whole scheme is, that it is a righteousness demanded of man as born of Adam, though another may furnish it. The thing furnished is man’s righteousness. If Christ has done it for me, still it is what I ought to have done. It is meeting the demand on me — Do this and live. If it is to be a satisfying the demand of righteousness on me, it is the doing what is demanded which makes out the righteousness. If “Do this and live” is written on the gate of heaven, it is doing this that is the righteousness, and doing nothing else and nothing more. It may have been, if such be the truth, very gracious of the Lord to have done it for me, but that was what was to be done. Righteousness, wrought out by meeting the demand of a superior, can only be in doing exactly what is demanded. What is else than this has not the character of righteousness. And if we take the law as the perfect rule of what the creature ought to be, as indeed it was, then there can be nothing more; or else the rule is not a perfect one, and the righteousness not a righteousness according to the law, nor a meeting what I ought to do. It is not the obedience required of me. Besides, the whole principle is a mistake; for the law, when spiritually apprehended, reaches the disposition and condition of the heart. It does not only say, Do, but Be. But then life is there. If I say Love and do not lust (the two aspects of the law), righteousness is taken out of the sphere of doing. Doing becomes evidence of a state and nature. But is the motto of heaven a denial of the spirituality of the law? And so far from “Do this and live” being on the gates of heaven, I know of no scripture which shews that a doer of the law was entitled to heaven, or which promises heaven to a doer of the law, as having thereby such title.

And now mark the effect of the discovery of the spirituality of the law. It becomes not a claim to do, but a criterion of the state of a man. Its very nature and effect is changed: by it is the knowledge of sin. A command for qualities in a man, love and no lusts, ceases to be a command to do, and is condemnation and death, and nothing else. The whole ground and principle of my standing is changed. “I through law am dead to law.” That is not looking to another to fulfil it for me, because I have failed.

What I find in scripture is this, that man, the Adam race, has been as such tried and tested. Failing when innocent, he has been tried without law, and was lawless; under law, and was a law-breaker: I may add, tried by the presentation of divine goodness in Christ, and he hated it. The more we go into detail, the more we shall find that exhibited, as in priesthood in Aaron’s sons, in obedient royalty in David’s, in supreme power in Nebuchadnezzar’s.

The Righteousness of God


Apologies for the poor picture quality, that was done on the 7:56 to London Victoria, and it’s from memory.

The memory is from nearly 20 years ago, lying on the top bunk of another train – the sleeper from Nairobi to Mombasa, and after I did it I went online to see how accurate my memory was. Not bad, the windows were similar but opened down, the beds would have stuck out past the window, and I probably wasn’t wearing trainers come to think of it.

That was the moment when the truth about righteousness in the Bible clicked into clear focus – to an extent where I almost gasped at how God had planned and executed my salvation.  Like the memory of the scene, my memory and grasp of that truth has become flaky and like the sketch I struggle to communicate it, but I know the clarity is still there to be had, it’s undisturbed by all that’s been said since and I want it back.  Something of the feeling I retain is summed up in the hymn:


Oh mind divine! so must it be

That glory all belongs to God

Oh love divine! that did decree

We should be part, through Jesus’ blood


In the picture above I had already been on holiday for a week, wasn’t stressed, had nothing disrupting my train of thought, and was reading a piece with this post’s title by someone whose name I’m not going to tell you until later, in case I am deafened by the sound of the steel roller-shutters of your prejudices heading for the bare toes of my online presence.  If you thought that was a long sentence, it was nothing on this chap’s English prose.  My wife tells me that my communication has suffered from having picked up his (often parenthetical) style.

However, even with all the books that have been published since, some of the sermons I’ve sat through, the controversies that amnesiacs keep recycling, and the draughts of hot air off the internet, I haven’t come across anything better than what this article managed to set out in just 27 pages.  The problem is, it doesn’t look like anyone has read those 27 pages.  I know they seem dry, but for those of my family and friends who know who wrote them, have you read them?  I’ve met plenty of people ready to criticise and even jeer at that author for his views, but have so far only met critics that haven’t read what he said.  I’m pretty safe if you try Googling the title – you won’t find my source, but you might get this:

Google Righteousness

Many very well read people have tried to set out what they think the Bible is saying on the point, but when a friend pointed me to this article outlining a controversy between NT Wright and John Piper and when I saw a YouTube clip of John Piper having a go, and got tweets from respected sources telling me that people’s faith could be undermined, I thought the time had come to try and communicate some Biblical points that have helped me, and might be humbly offered to help others too.  If people aren’t going to read the original, why not outline what it says as positive truth rather than bicker about what others are saying?  If it’s so good, why not try to make it more accessible?

The question is, can I?  For all the people whose full time job it is to teach these things, I’m not hugely impressed with the outcome.  In some places the comparison chart in the article can be ‘ticked’ on both sides, but neither is a very good summary, some points are wrong, they trip up on semantics and even together they may miss the whole picture.  I respect the learning of both – one was a professor at Wycliffe Hall, and the other’s books are read worldwide and they could both teach me much.  There are other greats such as Luther and Calvin to whom we owe a huge amount and whose comments are fiercely defended.  However, one only has to read him to realise that Luther wasn’t quite on the button all the time, and the same can be said for some of Calvin’s conclusions – leaving outlooks that still hang around unjudged to this day.  I am painfully aware I’m only a Surveyor trying to translate for a dead man while on the train to and from work, so my limitations are great.

Great also is my time poverty. I no longer have large chunks of relaxed time like I had on that holiday in Kenya.  I only woke up a short time ago and in a short time I shall be at my desk at work.  That’s swiftly followed by the reverse – I only left work a short time ago, and in a short time I shall be asleep. Just this post took me a couple of days to put together.

I’ll have to work with what I’ve got, and remember the overall picture that I was only born a short time ago, and in a short while (if the Lord doesn’t return before), I shall be asleep.

So get on with it, Bacon.  I’ll leave us with Albert Midlane’s hymn which will do us for now – best sung to ‘Deep Harmony in my opinion.  That link has sound.


1 THE perfect righteousness of God
Is witnessed in the Saviour’s blood;
‘Tis in the cross of Christ we trace
His righteousness, yet wondrous grace.

2 God could not pass the sinner by,
Justice demands that he should die;
But in the cross of Christ we see
How God can save, yet righteous be.

3 The judgment fell on Jesus’ head,
‘Twas in His blood sin’s debt was paid;
Stern Justice can demand no more,
And Mercy can dispense her store.

4 The sinner who believes is free,
Can say, “The Saviour died for me:”
Can point to the atoning blood,
And say, “This made my peace with God.”

More to come.


Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: