4: Righteousness of God – the last part


I through law have died to law.  I was dead and have been made alive.  For someone to continue to speak to my old nature as if it’s alive is no favour to me.  I’d rather people preach to me the Biblical truth that it’s absurd to live in Egypt when I’m cut off from it by the Red Sea.  That I have a new life – not just a botched righteousness transplant into a dead body to bring it frankenstein-like over the threshold of heaven under a slogan of ‘do this and thou shalt live’. 

My answer when I get there is not ‘it was done for me’, nor ‘I did it’, but Christ shed his blood for me.

Last section.

While I was starting to wonder whether I was being a bit ranty or over-egging the public misapprehension of the doctrine of the Bible, another tweet came at me, from another much loved and respected source, so much so that I’ve snipped out the logo..


It’s that quantum of righteousness thing again! Waiting as if in a sacramental barrow at the door to supply our legal lack. The first sentence I wholly agree with – what a wonderful truth. The second sentence is not found in 2 Peter 1:1-4, as you can see just by hovering over the link.

To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours: (NIV)

To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: (ESV)

to them that have received like precious faith with us through [the] righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ: (Darby)

In this passage, the receipt is of faith, not righteousness. Christ’s righteousness is vital – of course it is – without it His sacrifice could not have been for us. We are risen and now in Christ, so seen as He is seen by God. But off what intellectual springboard do we make the jump to it being transferable?

We are NOT right with God on that ground, we are right with God, as Romans 5 says, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God though out Lord Jesus Christ.”

Still. I reckon I’m one of around 50 people left in the UK who think this is worth noticing. Almost every theologian who tweets at me on Twitter seems to sign up to the view that we need a legal righteousness, and that I need to be reminded of it on a weekly basis.

JND picBack to JN Darby’s article, found here, courtesy of STEM Publishing. Yes, it is he whom I mention just to see how quickly different people’s steel shutters operate. So I rarely mention him these days – I end up having to make the points from first principles in the Bible, which in itself is not as popular as Christians would like to think, but is an excellent exercise. The wonderful thing is that the reader can judge for him or herself from what’s presented here from the Bible.



Easing gently in through from the last post

What scripture does not speak of is a certain quantum of legal righteousness attributed to us, because being under law we have failed in it; because we are not under law. It is an unholy doctrine, because it is not atoning by the Blessed One’s bearing the curse for breaches of law by those who were under it, but allowing failure under it by another’s accomplishing it. It is one thing to make an atonement for sin, and another to have one’s neglected duty accomplished de facto by another. Besides, if done, it is human legal righteousness, by whomsoever done. Hence the apostle says, “Not having mine own righteousness, which is by the law,” supposing it ever so perfect (for it could be and would be no more than man’s); “but the righteousness which is of God” — another kind and sort of righteousness.

But have I not, or at least has not one under law, neglected duty? Yes, alas! but this has been atoned for (why then, in passing, also to be fulfilled by another? and if fulfilled by another, why to be atoned for? The whole system is false in its nature), and I am put into an entirely new position as wholly dead, the whole being and nature in which I was set aside, since Christ died for me as in it: and thus my whole condition and being as before God in the first Adam is set aside. I AM NOT IN THE FLESH (my first Adam-standing to which the law applied); and I have an entirely new status before God in resurrection, in virtue of this work of Christ. The risen Christ is the pattern and character of my acceptance, as He is the cause of it. As He is, so am I in this world; and this is by a real living possession of His nature, while at the same time by faith in Him: so that my acceptance is inseparable from godliness of life, as in one dead to sin and alive to God, and yet rests for righteousness and peace on the perfectness of what is before God for us. Hence it is called justification of life.

Hence also our responsibility is not now the making good the failures of the old or first Adam: I am wholly out of it, and, as in absolute and perfect acceptance in the second before God, I am called to yield myself to God as one that is alive from the dead. The old thing is gone — atoned for (so that God is glorified in His majesty and righteousness), but done away. To that it was that law applied, and hence was weak through the flesh; but my first husband, law (if I had been under its power, as the Jew was, and many a one practically gets), is gone, not through destruction of its authority, but by Christ’s dying under its curse. That authority is thus, on the contrary, fully established by Christ’s having met it in death; but then, thus, by the body of Christ, I am delivered from it, having died in that in which I was held, so that I should serve, not in the oldness of letter, but in newness of spirit. Instead of satisfying the requirements of my old condition under law, I am passed out of it (Christ having borne the merited curse, so as to establish its authority), and passed into another — Christ’s — before God, as one alive to God through Him, God having been perfectly glorified.

This is the doctrine of Romans 5, 6 and 7, founded on chapter 4, and the results fully developed in chapter 8. It will be found that the whole groundwork is laid in the death, not in the life, of Christ on earth. See chapter 5:6-11. All is attributed in the fullest way to death. Death and blood-shedding is the theme; only it is thence concluded in the blessed reasoning of the Holy Ghost (who always reasons, not from what we are to what God must be, but from what God is and has done to what must be for us, as One that reveals in grace must do), that, a fortiori, we shall be saved by His life as now risen — life, not before death, but in resurrection, saved from coming wrath. With all this, at the close of the chapter, law is contrasted, when righteousness is treated of. To this I will recur specifically in a moment.

I pursue the evidence of the truth of our new position in the chapters quoted: chapter 5 has applied resurrection to justification, founded, as we have seen, on death. Chapter 6 applies it to life. If it be the obedience of one that justifies, we can do as we please, says the opposer of grace. Nay, says the apostle, you are justified because you are dead, and have now to walk in newness of life. How can a man dead to sin (and that is the way you have justification and life) live in it? If he do, he is not dead, he is in the first Adam, he has not part in Christ at all; for we are baptized unto His death, and it is in resurrection we have life. In chapter 7 this death is applied to our state under law. Law has dominion over a man as long as he lives; but we are not alive, we are dead. In a word, Christ is alive for me before God, and I am justified, but as having died; and thus it is I have a place in this blessing. Hence I am dead to sin; and, further, I am no longer alive in the nature to which law applied. Therefore, he says, in Romans 7, “When we were in the flesh.” I am married to another, I cannot have two husbands at a time — Christ and law. But it is not by weakening the first: nothing glorified it like Christ’s death under its curse. But, if under it, I have died under it in the body of Christ, and thus I am free. Through law, I am dead to law.

I do not enter into the blessed and beautiful unfolding of this true liberty before God and from sin, and the heavenly security which accompanies it (God, as with Noah, shutting us in); not because it would not be delight to follow it out, but because I must confine myself to my subject. The character of the deliverance may be seen in Romans 8:1-11. There the Spirit is life. Thence, to verse 28, He is the Spirit of God personally considered, the spring of joy, the Comforter in the sorrows that spring from that joy itself in such a world as this. It is God in us. From verse 28 to the end, it is the security and sure glorious results afforded by God’s being for us: hence sanctifying or life is not spoken of here — that is wrought in us.

What is, then, the righteousness of God, and how is it shewn? How do we have part in it? How is righteousness reckoned to us? We are said to be the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Cor. 5). The apostle speaks of having the righteousness which is of God (Phil. 3). But it is not said, God’s righteousness is imputed to us. Nor is Christ’s righteousness a scriptural expression, though no Christian doubts He was perfectly righteous. Still, the Spirit of God is perfect in wisdom, and it would be wonderful if that which was the necessary ground of our acceptance should not be clearly spoken of in scripture. One passage seems to say so (Rom. 5:18). But the reader may see in the margin of a Bible which has references, that there it is “one righteousness.” There cannot be the least doubt that this is the true rendering. When the apostle would say “by the offence of one,” he uses a different and correct form, a different one from that which he uses for “one offence.” Theology may make it “the righteousness of one,” but not Greek. But the expression “the righteousness of God” is used so very often that it is not necessary to quote the passages. Now, it is not in vain that the Holy Ghost on so important a subject never uses one expression (that is, the righteousness of Christ), and constantly the other (that is, God’s righteousness). We learn the current of the mind of the Spirit thus. Theology uses always that which the Holy Ghost never does; and cannot tell what to make of that which the Holy Ghost always uses. Surely there must be error in the whole way of thinking of theology here.

I am satisfied that the source of it all is their notions about law. Law is for the first Adam, for the unrighteous. The apostle tells us so expressly. Righteousness is in the Second man. Christ was born under law here below, that He might redeem those who were under it out of that condition, bearing the curse they had incurred. We are told that law is the transcript of the divine mind: I deny it wholly and entirely. It is the transcript of what the creature ought to be. Can God, speaking with all reverence, love God with all His heart, or His neighbour as Himself? It is simple nonsense. These teachers of the law know neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm. The law is not made for the righteous, but for the unrighteous; and never made anybody in the world righteous. It is righteous, but it was given to sinners when in their sins, and never as a law to anybody else — not speaking here of Christ’s coming under it in grace. It entered, pareiselthe, or came in by the by, between promise and its accomplishment in Christ, that the offence might abound. Christ is the image of the invisible God — the transcript of the divine mind, if you please. The law is an imposed rule. “Thou shalt love”: is that a transcript of the divine mind? It does love sovereignly. Christ was made under law, and of course was perfect under it; but in that character was and abode alone. But He was God manifest in flesh, and thus was the image of the invisible God. He that had seen Him had seen the Father. He was love, and was perfect in holiness — holy enough in His being to love sinners as above sin, and further — what law does not and cannot and ought not to do, knows nothing of in its nature — gave Himself up for sinners, which law knows nothing of (for it will have no sinners at all unless to curse them). Hence, when Christian practice is spoken of, we are to be “imitators of God as dear children” — “to lay down our lives for the brethren.” What has law to do with this? It knows nothing of it. The whole doctrine of Paul, and of the righteousness of God, these law teachers are striving against.

Where, then, and what is the righteousness of God? God’s righteousness is His perfect consistency with His own perfect and blessed nature; and that (hence it is said, “if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God”), as it concerns us now, in His dealings with others. “The righteous Lord loveth righteousness; his eyes behold the upright.” God beholds the upright. God is a righteous judge, and God is provoked every day. “For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness; evil shall not dwell with thee. Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness.” The first Psalm opens with this great truth. So when He comes He will judge the world in righteousness, and the people with equity. So Psalms 97, 98, 99, and indeed a multitude of others.

It will be said, The righteousness here spoken of, however essential the principle to the being of God, yet is applied to the law. I admit it, and hence the instruction contained in it ends in the government of this world; and until order be brought about by power there, the state of things perplexed those who looked for it, when they saw the prosperity of the wicked. We are called to another position — a heavenly one, and even as Christ did, to “do well, suffer for it, and take it patiently.” This is acceptable with God. But the keeping of the law is never said to be a title to heaven, still less to sit at the right hand of God: Morally — not personally, of course, I need not say, but — as to the quality of our righteousness we have a title to be there. So, on the other hand, we say as to sin, we “have come short of the glory of God,” and “we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” And Christ declares, “The glory which thou hast given me I have given them, that the world may know that thou hast loved them as thou hast loved me.” Righteousness is shewn in the punishment of the wicked, and in the world’s seeing Christ no more. This is the solemn answer to that vain conceit of love which denies righteousness, and makes of love indifference to sin.

But I do not now dwell on this solemn application of righteousness, namely, that vengeance belongeth to God, as not being our proper subject. How as regards us, in the Christian revelation of it, is righteousness set forth? In the resurrection, no doubt, of Christ. But there is yet more. He shall demonstrate righteousness to the world “because I go to my Father.” God has shewn His righteousness in setting Christ as man at His right hand. There, more fully than shall be in His direct government, though of course it is perfect there, the righteousness of God is shewn. Christ had a title to be there, and He is there. Righteousness is in heaven, it is a divine title to glory, and in man. That is what we want — what is ours. But why is Christ’s being there righteousness? He has title as Son. He was there before the world was. But that is not our point here.

Let us see how He speaks of it. First, He says in John 17, “Father, glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee.” This I leave, because it is His personal title, though a just and blessed claim, and characterizing His position, and thus most interesting to us. But He adds a second ground, “I have glorified thee on the earth; I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do; and now glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.”

And when was this done? John 13:31 tells us, when Judas went out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of man glorified and God is glorified in him. If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him.” He shall not wait till the public government of the world; and His appearing from heaven will glorify Him, according to Psalm 8; but straightway, when He says, “Sit at my right hand till I make thy foes thy footstool” — where He is crowned with glory and honour, when all things are not yet put under Him. But why was it righteousness to do this? Because the Lord had a title to it, to be glorified as Son of man (though He had been in it as Son before the world was); because God Himself in His nature and moral being had been glorified in Him, and He was therefore entitled to be glorified in God. We have seen when this was: “Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him.” Heavenly glory with God was the righteous consequence. As He says, “If God be glorified in him, God shall glorify him in himself.”

But how was this? Surely it was a glorious thing for a Son of man to maintain — not merely maintain, but make good — the glory of God. Doubtless, He must have been much more to have enabled him to do it. Still, as He tells us Himself, it was as such He did it. Blessed and infinite grace for us that it is so! The more we weigh what the cross was, the more shall we see how God was righteous in raising and setting Christ at His right hand. Sin was come in, disorder in the universe, the government of God unintelligible, angels occupied in conflict in God’s creation, witnesses of the success of evil. Had God judged in righteousness, and destroyed all the wicked, there was no love. Did He spare them, there was no righteousness. It would have been merely undoing the evil if all were restored, or sanctioning it if they had been glorified. Where was His truth which had pronounced death on the offender? where His majesty which had been trodden under foot? The whole character of God was in question by sin. The Lord offers Himself for His Father’s glory, according to the counsels of God. His truth is made good. The wages of sin is death. The cross is an absolute proof of it. It was the paid wages of sin by the Son of God Himself. None escaped but by His dying for them, and He the Son of God.

The majesty of God was vindicated as nothing else would have done it. Christ spends Himself, and submits to wrath to make it good. God’s righteousness was glorified in the full judgment of sin. Yet His love to the sinner was displayed as nought else could have displayed it. What a scene for the moral universe! Nothing next or like it is there in all created history. Things that are have been created, and may be destroyed; but this abides, making good what God is for all eternity. Such was the cross. There the Son of man was glorified, and God was glorified in it. Hence He glorified Christ in Himself — placed Him at His right hand. This was righteousness. No glory amongst men would have been an adequate recompense for glorifying Himself. The true reward for glorifying God was God’s glory. Into that the Lord entered, where He was before the world was made.

This is what displays divine righteousness — the setting the Son of man at God’s right hand. As I have said, it was God’s own righteousness; but as this must meet a title to what is given to make it righteousness, it was such because Christ had done what gave Him the title to be there. But this was done for us, for all that have the faith of Christ — this glorifying God about sin. It was about our sin He did it. Therefore the value of the work is reckoned to us. God righteously receives us into His glory as He has received Christ: for He has received Him in virtue of the work done for us — us therefore in Him. We are made the righteousness of God in Him, for in blessing us in this heavenly and glorious way, in justifying us, He only gives its due effect to Christ’s claims upon Him. Towards us it is pure grace, but it is equally the righteousness of God. Thus it appears that all the value of Christ’s work is reckoned to us, and reckoned for righteousness. He has been made sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.

Has His living obedience to God nothing to do with this? I do not say this. First of all, “he knew no sin” was absolutely necessary to His being made sin; but the truth is, His obedience is looked at as one whole moral condition or perfection in which He was agreeable to God. He was the obedient one, as Adam was the disobedient. And though His obedience in life was not for sin, it was part of the sweet savour which went up to God, and in which we are accepted. It was finally tried at the cross, and found perfect. This was the perfect man, and in circumstances alone in this nature but perfectly agreeable to God. Once He had undertaken obedience; it was His own duty; but that He accomplished, and glorified God in it, at all cost; but He was alone, and stood alone, that He might take man’s sinful condition on Himself, and therein glorify God. He did not, as towards God, make good God’s character in it, but a divine perfect man’s. He did display God’s character when alive — He was it. But that was addressed to man, not a satisfaction to God for man. He took up man’s cause as born of a woman. He took up the remnant of Israel’s, as born under the law. He was made sin to reconcile the one, and bore the curse of the law to redeem the other from it, and will never bring the lawless under it. As a living man, sinners had no part in or with Him — He abode alone. As a dying man He met their case. There they could come by faith. “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me.” That was when He said, “The hour is come that the Son of man must be glorified: except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”

It is an entire setting aside the old man, his whole condition and existence before God, by which we get our place before God: not a keeping the law for the old man. Then you must keep him alive. God forbid! I live by the second Adam only, with whom I have been crucified: nevertheless live not I, but Christ in me. But then, in the new man I am not under law, so there is no question of fulfilling it for me, because I am already accepted and have life. There can be no Do this and live. I am, as even Luther expresses it, Christ before God. If righteousness come by law, then Christ is dead in vain. But if Christ has fulfilled the law for me, it does come by law, and Christ is dead in vain. Law applies to flesh, is weak through it, sets up, if it could, the righteousness of the first man. But I am not in the flesh at all — I am in Christ.

But Romans 5 requires some of its details to be referred to. The subject the apostle takes up is, as we have seen, death, in order to have a wholly new place and standing in resurrection. But this goes beyond the limits of law; for man sinned and died when he had none. Death reigned from Adam to Moses over them who had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the image who is to come. Theologians have puzzled themselves with this, ignorant that it is simply a quotation from Hosea 6:7. They (Israel), like Adam (men), have transgressed the covenant. Adam was under a law, not indeed to do this and live, as Mr. Molyneux so unhappily says, but to do this and die when alive; Israel was under law of Do this and live, when he was dead; as indeed the words rightly weighed implied. But between Adam and Moses there was no law — none of either kind, but they sinned and died.

Hence we must go up to the great heads of the two systems — the first and second Adam: not to mend the first by the second, but through death substitute one for the other. I do not speak of the persons to whom it is applied, but the abstract nature of the act. Adam sins, is disobedient, cast out of an earthly paradise, and is the head of a lost, condemned, sinful race. The second Adam obeys, glorifies God in righteousness, is received into heaven, and is the head of a new justified race. In either case, the act causative of the whole condition was accomplished, before the consequences were entailed on those that came under it. It is not a course of action on the ground of the first man, which, accomplished by the second, forms our righteousness as belonging to the first. We pronounce whole and entire condemnation on ourselves, as belonging to the first — children of wrath, Jew or Gentile. Death closes on that in Christ; and, after redemption, we begin before God in Christ, and are accepted in Christ, and Christ in us is our life. We do not go back to seek a legal righteousness in flesh, the other Adam-side of redemption; we may know ourselves only as lost, dead in sin there. It is too late to get a righteousness for our first Adam state: I have fled to Christ because I was already lost by it. By the disobedience of one many were made sinners, by the obedience of One — looked at as one moral whole, perfect in death, His character contrasted with that of Adam’s without any thought of law — many are made righteous In death He bore the curse of the law for those under it; but this was not keeping it in life. He was obedient all His life, learnt what it was by suffering. He was obedient in death, in bowing to suffering, when it was His Father’s will, where law had no place, though He bore the curse of that too. What law commanded to endure God’s wrath when a person was sinless? He learned obedience by the things that He suffered.

Not only so, but this obedience is expressly contrasted with law, in order to meet the sin of those also who are not under law. This is the great point argued in the chapter. Personal headship is insisted on in Adam and Christ, and on this ground we stand, the law having come in between, occasionally, though to meet important ends. Adam died by disobedience, and Christ as obedience. The law came in by the by, says the apostle (pareiselthe), that the offence might abound. That is, he states the obedience as an absolute perfect quality of the Christ, available for sons of Adam, while the law had merely a special place, which did not come into this question of obedience. It brought out sin in the way of multiplying transgressions, but where (not transgressions, the apostle takes care not to say that; for so the grace would not have applied to those not under law, the very point he was insisting on being that it did apply to them; but where) sin abounded, there did grace much more abound. There was one offence, paraptoma, towards all for condemnation; one dikaioma, act of accomplished righteousness, towards all to justification of life. It is abstract as possible, but, as the following verse shews, to the exclusion of law — that is brought in with nomos pareiselthe, an accessory which had a peculiar effect, and which did not come under his general argument, yea, to exclude which was the effect of his reasoning, in order to let in the Gentiles.

If the one offence swept wide beyond Jews, the one act of righteousness must do so too. The law came in by the by, to do its own work, to produce transgressions (not sin); but where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. The purport of the reasoning of the apostle is to get out of the scene of law as to disobedience, obedience, and righteousness — not to bring it in. If it comes in, it is with a special object, by the by, which does not concern the Gentiles, and for the Jew served for increased guilt; but of which Christ has borne the curse for those who believe. I am not under the law but under grace, if I am a believer. I am not in the flesh if I am in Christ: when I was, I was under law, or lawless. In Christ I have entered, be I Jew or Gentile, on a new ground, where I am alike dead to sin and law, and alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord, made the righteousness of God in Him.

It is a very striking fact that Luther should have excluded from the New Testament that on which the apostle everywhere insists as the foundation of his doctrine, the revelation of Christianity (that is, the righteousness of God). Nor does Calvin get a step farther: “I understand,” he says, “by the righteousness of God, that which can be approved before the tribunal of God; as, on the contrary, men are accustomed to the righteousness of men, what is held and esteemed righteousness in the opinion of men” (Rom. 1; so 2 Cor. 5). But his whole statement is very poor. To come short of the glory of God means, he says, in the same way, what we can glory of before God. In Romans 10 he makes the righteousness of God that which God gives, and their own that which is sought from man.

I hope that provides a bit of food for thought – it certainly did for me.  I find that it has encouraged me to trust the full power of God’s word, and I find it amazing that God’s plan  brings glory to himself, and is entirely consistent with his character, his love and his righteousness.  

Thou gav’st us Father in thy love, to Christ to bring us home to thee.  Suited to thine own thoughts above, as Sons like Him, with Him to be.

3: Righteousness of God – another kind entirely?


I really like Tim Keller, and enjoy his books, even to the extent of buying them in hardback, so he gets maximum revenue!  It’s very difficult in a Twitter snippet to caveat what you say, and even if he meant what I think he meant by the second phrase above, I wouldn’t impute anything particularly awful to him without a long fireside chat, and there’s not a chance of that.  I am NOT trying to score points off Mr Keller – it’s just that I was at a loss for the illustration for the next part of this series, and this has fallen into my lap.

Also, I keep hearing that ‘imputed obedience’ expression, and I keep wishing the module covering the point at theological colleges had a wider bibliography, or restricted it to Bibliography. 

What do we mean by imputed?  Is it that we receive a top-up of obedience to make up the shortfall in our legal standing before God?  No.  Is our standing before God dependent on Christ’s obedience?  Yes, in a way, but that doesn’t mean that obedience is transferable like some sort of quantity, and why do we keep grasping for ownership of something that in its transfer would cease to be grace?  Christ is our life – our old man is not justified and patched up but has died and we are raised.

“What scripture does not speak of is a certain quantum of legal righteousness attributed to us, because being under law we have failed in it; because we are not under law.”

This is a difficult bit, and all I’ve been able to do so far is embolden parts of the prose like that above which might help (in the manner of Reader’s Digest) to keep up with the flow.  We start with the last paragraph from the last post…

“The righteousness which is valid before God” (which is the sense put by Luther and Calvin on the expression) is utterly astray, because legal righteousness, where it existed, would be valid before God. If accomplished, it would be accepted. Man would live in doing it; but then it would be not God’s righteousness, but man’s: whereas the whole point on which the apostle insists in this expression is, that it is God’s, and not man’s.

I would also state here, that it is not inherent righteousness — an expression of very questionable character as to any consistent meaning. Indeed, on this subject, it is rather a contradiction in terms. “Righteousness” is indeed used for the quality which is disposed to judge and act righteously; or at least “righteous” is (as we say, a righteous man). But, in general, certainly righteousness is a relative term: that is, it refers to conduct towards another. Hence, inherent righteousness is a very loose expression, as inherent conduct towards another is evidently very little exact. However, to take it as it is meant, as the quality by which man is disposed to be righteous, although this cannot be separated from the righteousness here spoken of (because if Christ is our righteousness, He is our life also; it is a justification of life), yet here we have nothing to do with inherent righteousness. The question of Job, “How can man be just with God?” is that to which the Epistle to the Romans gives an answer. When it is said the Jews were going about to establish their own righteousness, and did not submit to the righteousness of God, it is clear that it is not submitting to inherent righteousness. So when it is said, “Now the righteousness of God is manifest” — “to declare, I say, at this time, his righteousness”: these words cannot apply to inherent righteousness. It is righteousness before God which the epistle treats of.

But, further, this is viewed, on the other hand, and for the very reason that righteousness before God is treated of, as applied to or judged of in the person who is to be accounted righteous. The man is accounted righteous; righteousness is accounted to him or reckoned to him. Thus, when it is said, Faith was imputed to him for righteousness, it is not the distinct substantive value of his faith which was reckoned as righteousness in itself, and then imputed to him, but that he was accounted righteous, held for righteous before God, because of his faith. The why or how remains. A believer in Christ is justified-through faith; he is reckoned righteous; yet it is not the value or strength of his faith which is accounted as itself equivalent to righteousness, and then imputed; yet it is said for us also, to whom it shall be imputed if we believe (who believe); but that he was accounted, and we are accounted, righteousness on the ground of believing. That is, the meaning of imputed righteousness is not a substantive righteousness, apart from the person, and afterwards reckoned to him, but the condition of the person in God’s sight. God views him as righteous, though he be not such as would entitle him to it by reason of anything inherent. It is righteousness reckoned to him, but not thought of apart from him, but his standing before God. They are in righteousness in God’s reckoning, though they are not intrinsically so. Hence it is imputed or reckoned. The whole difference lies in this.

The meaning of imputed righteousness is, not a quantity of righteousness apart from the person, and afterwards reckoned to him in the present sense of the word, as I impute anything to a person; but the state or condition before God in which He sees the person. I beg the reader to remark that I am examining the force of the scriptural expression “imputed righteousness” — not the scripture doctrine. From all I have said, there may or may not be a quantity of righteousness outside a person put to his account. But the meaning of imputed righteousness is the character or quality in which the person appears in God’s sight, not the cause of his so appearing. It proves it is not inherent, for then there could be no more reckoning of it. Why he is reckoned righteous remains to be proved. The not seeing this has produced insurmountable difficulties where such passages as “his faith was imputed to him for righteousness” had to be considered; for then, if a certain thing in its own value was put to the person’s account and reckoned to him, faith was the valuable thing for the worth of which he was so accounted, and in truth it was inherent.

So, blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputeth righteousness without works, saying, Blessed is the man whose iniquities are forgiven, whose sin is covered: Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute sin. It is not merely that He does not impute the sin done, but he does not view him as in sin, but as in righteousness; for innocence there is no question of. Hence it is not dikaioma when imputed righteousness is spoken of, but dikaiosune — not an act or sum of things done, but a state. He is reckoned to be in the state of dikaiosune: dikaiosune isimputed to him. As the Thirty-nine Articles express it, “We are accounted righteous before God”; so in Romans 4: 3, “It was counted to him for righteousness.” Here, as we have remarked, it cannot be the value of something reckoned to Abraham, but the state in which he was reckoned or accounted to be: so we read (v. 11), “Righteousness might be imputed to them also.” Here nothing is spoken of as that which is there to be imputed, and the passage as clearly as possible shews that the meaning of the phrase, “Righteousness imputed to them,” means they were accounted to be righteous. Of verses 21-23 I have spoken. Faith is still here the thing imputed (Gal. 3: 6). It is again faith which is imputed for righteousness.

There are eleven passages in scripture which speak of imputing righteousness or for righteousness; in nine of them faith is imputed for righteousness; so that here it does not mean the value of the thing done which is imputed, or our faith would be the merit. They are Romans 4: 3, 5, 9, 10, 22-24; Galatians 3: 6; and James 2:23. The others, where it is said righteousness is imputed, are Romans 4:6-11. In Romans 4:6, it is, God imputes righteousness without works, saying, Blessed is the man whose iniquity is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Here, clearly no positive external thing is imputed or put to another’s account, but a man is reckoned to have dikaiosune. Verse 11 leads us to exactly the same result. The Gentile believers were to be reckoned righteous, because faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness when he was uncircumcised.

These are all the passages. An analogous passage (Rom. 2:26) gives the same sense — the uncircumcision is counted for circumcision. That is, the man is accounted circumcised when he is not. Thus, though a person is reckoned to be in a state which he is not de facto in, a quantum of righteousness, ready outside himself, reckoned to him, is not the meaning of imputed righteousness. It means the state in God’s sight of the person so accounted righteous. Righteousness imputed to a man is the same as the man’s being accounted righteous.

Next comes the question, How and why is the man accounted righteous? It is God’s righteousness, by faith in Jesus Christ, towards all, Jew or Gentile, and upon all them that believe. We are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth [to be] a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness.” Here we have a very plain principle: God is righteous in remitting the sins of Old Testament believers, as to which He who foreknew all had exercised forbearance, because of the blood of Jesus. He had forborne and forgiven, and how was this righteous? It was now proved and made manifest by the death of Christ. He declares at this time His righteousness. There is this difference in our’s and the patriarchs’ position — not in the substance of the matter, but in our status before God — that we stand in a known revealed righteousness, not in hope of forbearance, great as the mercy may be which grants it to us. He is just and the justifier. Who is just? God. Here there is an all-important principle: the righteousness of God means, first of all, His own righteousness — that He is just. It is not man’s, or even yet some other’s positive righteousness, made up of a quantity of legal merit, put upon him. The righteousness spoken of is God’s being righteous (“just” is the same word), and yet so declared that He can justify the most dreadful sinners.

But it will be said that there must be a ground for this, which makes it righteous to forgive and justify. Right. Righteousness has a double meaning. I am righteous, say, in rewarding or forgiving; but this supposes an adequate claim which makes it righteous that I should do so — merit of some kind. If I have promised anything, or anything be morally due to righteousness, I am righteous in giving it. Thus, that God should be righteous in forgiving and justifying, there must be an adequate moral motive for His doing so. In the sinner, clearly, there was not; in the blood of Christ there was. And God having set Him forth as a mercy-seat, faith in His blood became the way of justifying. This shewed God’s righteousness in forgiving. Thus accepted I stand before God on the footing of His righteousness.

Here we have most important principles — the righteousness of God means, what the words express, God’s righteousness. It is not dikaioma here, some act or complete sum of righteousness by an act or thing done, but dikaiosune, the quality or habit. God is just or righteous in this. Next, this righteousness of God is declared or manifested in virtue of the blood of Christ. God is thus righteous in forgiving and justifying; proved so as regards the former saints forborne with before the blood was shed; abidingly and known so now by faith once for all, when all is accomplished, and the perfect ground of the justifying is declared. Further, by this forgiveness (inasmuch as it is through blood, so that God is just in it), the man is justified, accounted righteous. It is redemption, and God’s righteousness is upon all them that believe. So afterwards (Rom. 5), it is said, “We are justified by his blood.” Man is a sinner, without law and under law — and now, entirely apart from law (choris nomou), God’s righteousness is displayed in justifying the believer through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, by reason of His propitiating blood and through faith in it. God is righteous and justifies men that believe in Jesus. We have gained an immense point in understanding that God’s righteousness is the quality or character that is in God Himself, nor an unimportant one that we are justified by His grace through redemption, and that righteousness is declared in remission.

Such is the direct testimony of Romans 3. (Compare Rom 4: 6-7.) But is this justification by blood all? It is not. A very important part indeed of the epistle remains behind — the doctrine of resurrection. It is thus introduced. Gentiles, and Jews under law, had been disposed of and set aside as sinners, but Abraham had not. God accepted him, called out from Gentiles, and not under law surely. But how? He, too, was justified by faith. But faith in what? This is the second great point in the epistle. But the apostle will not give up the truth, that in justifying the ungodly forgiveness has the full value of reckoning righteous without works; nor that death, redemption by blood, is the ground of this. He will give us David’s testimony to this great truth — “To him who worketh not, but believeth on him who justifieth the ungodly” — mark that: not, who substitutes another legal righteousness instead of the wanting legal righteousness in the sinner, but justifies one who has none — “his faith is counted to him for righteousness.” The point is, that it is no debt because of any works that deserved it, but of grace to him who works not. Now, clearly, here the force of the argument is destroyed if it be works which do merit it in another. And what is our David’s declaration? He declares the blessedness of the man to whom the Lord imputes or reckons righteousness without works, choris ergon. It has nought to do with works of righteousness which are done or imputed. And what is this declaration? — “Blessed is the man whose iniquity is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” And who is believed in here? God,

But I have said this is not all, and that Abraham is introduced to bring in an additional principle of truth, but not to weaken this (for indeed it is founded on it): no more than this sets aside the additional one. So far from it, if we do not seize what this epistle now goes on to teach, our knowledge of our position before God will be exceedingly imperfect. But before I pursue this second point, let me remind my reader that the ground of forgiveness or justifying which we have been already considering is no light thing, or acquired for us at little cost on the part of Christ. Perfectly agreeable as all He was, thought, and did, was to the Father, yet His death, of which we are now speaking as justifying us, was of all the rest that which had the deepest character and the highest value. He gave Himself for His Father’s glory as for us. “Therefore,” He could say, “doth my Father love me because I lay down my life that I might take it again.” No living act of obedience under law, perfect as all was, rose to the excellency of a dying surrender of Himself, and that drinking the cup His Father had given Him to drink. Still there was another point connected with this cardinal fact of everlasting history to be brought out. He was raised again for our justification, as He was delivered for our offences. This was, with obscurer light, Abraham’s faith too. It is not union with an exalted Christ in heaven. That is Ephesian doctrine, where nothing is said of Abraham. But Abraham believed that God was able to perform what He had promised. We believe that He has raised up our Lord Jesus from the dead, and therefore to us as to him faith is reckoned for righteousness. Thus, as the blood of Christ was that which was presented to us as sinners, as that by which, through faith in Christ, we were forgiven and justified, and the righteousness of God declared, so now resurrection is laid as the ground, and the following chapters are based upon this truth, which yet, of course and evidently, supposes the dying and blood-shedding. This carries us farther than the thought of blood-shedding. That lays the ground on which we are cleared. This puts us in the cleared place and standing before God, which is an entirely new one.

I believe on Him who raised up Jesus; that is, that God, perfectly satisfied in righteousness and glorified by the sacrifice of Christ, has raised Him up in witness of it and given Him a place as alive to Him in resurrection, sin being put away, our offences for which He was delivered buried in His grave, and we alive again here below by the power of His life in an entirely new condition in the favour of God (the present grace wherein we stand), and rejoicing in hope of the glory of God who has been perfectly glorified by Christ. I say, or rather the apostle says, “we stand,” because it is not now simply, as before, the being cleared from sin, but the new place in which we stand as cleared. Having been (for that is the force of the word) justified by faith, we have* peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand. We walk thus in newness of life. We are not seen here risen with Christ. He is risen, so that we are justified,~ have a sure ground of confidence, and are alive unto God through Him.

{*Some would read “let us have.” It would only strengthen the truth if it be so.}

It is doubted if the doctrine of imputed righteousness be not shaken, looked at (as I do look at it) as contrasted with inherent living righteousness in us. In no wise. True it is that Christ is our life, and that we have received a nature which in itself is sinless, and that, looked at as born of God, we cannot sin because we are born of God. It is a life holy in itself, as born of Him. But, besides that, we have the flesh, though we are not in it; and the practical result in respect of our responsibility as to the deeds done in the body does not, even if we have this new life, meet the just demands of God, if we should pretend to present them as doing so. That is, righteousness is not made out by our being born again. We need, and have, a perfect righteousness apart from our life, though in Him who is our life. Christ is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption. No soul can or ought to have solid settled peace in any other way. The whole perfection of Christ is that in which, without any diminution of its value, we are accepted. The delight of God in His obedience is that in which we are received. What we have done as children of Adam, He took on the cross in grace, and entirely put away. And what He did is our acceptance with God. It is needed for us, for otherwise we have no righteousness. It is a joy to us, because we enter, as immediate objects of it, into the delight which God has in His own Son.

What scripture does not speak of is a certain quantum of legal righteousness attributed to us, because being under law we have failed in it; because we are not under law. It is an unholy doctrine, because it is not atoning by the Blessed One’s bearing the curse for breaches of law by those who were under it, but allowing failure under it by another’s accomplishing it. It is one thing to make an atonement for sin, and another to have one’s neglected duty accomplished de facto by another. Besides, if done, it is human legal righteousness, by whomsoever done. Hence the apostle says, “Not having mine own righteousness, which is by the law,” supposing it ever so perfect (for it could be and would be no more than man’s); “but the righteousness which is of God” — another kind and sort of righteousness.


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