Warning: This is a long post, but this subject isn’t talked about nearly enough…..Well worth reading!
The Righteousness Of God.
“But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets.”- Rom_3:21.
It is of sin and righteousness that the apostle speaks so fully and so minutely throughout this whole epistle. Up to the verse from which our text is taken, he has been settling this point, that man is a sinner, and needs a righteousness, else he cannot stand before God. Circumcision cannot give a righteousness; it merely tells us that a righteousness is needed, no more. The law cannot give a righteousness; it is merely a declaration of what righteousness is, and that the unrighteous shall not stand before God. It condemns, it cannot justify. By the law is the knowledge of sin, and thus every mouth is stopped, and the whole world brought in guilty before God. But, notwithstanding this, there is a righteousness; a righteousness which meets the case of the unrighteous in every part; a righteousness which can reverse even the verdict of the law against the unrighteous; a righteousness on the footing of which we can stand with boldness in the presence of the holy God without either shame or fear. It is of this righteousness that he proceeds to speak in the words of our text. Let us hear what he affirms regarding it.
I. First, it is the righteousness of God. It is a divine, not a human righteousness. That righteousness which we had lost in Adam was, after all, but a human thing, finite hike him who lost it; but that which we gain is a divine righteousness, and by being divine, forms an infinite compensation for that which Adam lost for us; and we, in receiving it, are made partakers of a most glorious exchange. It is called the righteousness of God, because it is a righteousness provided by Him; a righteousness which was conceived by Him, set on foot, and carried out in every part by Him, entirely and by Him alone; a righteousness, in the providing of which we had nothing to do, even in thought or in desire, far less in execution; a righteousness, the origin and accomplishment of which are wholly and purely God’s, not man’s at all. Again, it is called the righteousness of God, because it is a righteousness founded on the sufferings of the Son of God. It behoved Him, who is the only-begotten of the Father to take flesh and suffer, ere the very first step towards the providing of that righteousness could be taken. And He has suffered, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God; and thus the foundation of a divine righteousness has been laid. Again, it is called the righteousness of God, because it is a righteousness made up of time doings of the Son of God. It is not merely with His sufferings that this righteousness has to do, but it is with His doings as well. These two things enter into its composition, so that, without both of them, it would be imperfect. What He did on earth in magnifying the law and making it honourable; what He did on earth in obeying the Father’s will in every jot and tittle, makes up this righteousness. These doings of His were infinitely pleasing to the Father, infinitely glorifying to the Father’s holiness, and infinitely honouring to that law which our unrighteousness had violated and dishonoured.
Further, it is called the righteousness of God, because it provides such a compensation for human unrighteousness, that it not only takes it all away, but brings in a new and far higher and surer footing for the sinner to rest on. It introduces a new standing of acceptance, so that the man who becomes a partaker of this provided righteousness becomes divinely accepted, divinely righteous, divinely blessed. It is not a mere simple righteousness that God sets forth; it is a super abounding one, an infinite one, one which can leave no room for doubt on our part at all, one that is most amply sufficient to meet our case were we the very guiltiest on whom the sun has ever shone.
II. Secondly, it is a righteousness without the law. He does not mean that it is in any sense an unlawful righteousness,-a righteousness not based on law,-a righteousness, in providing which, law has been set aside in any sense; but it means a righteousness which, in so far as we are concerned, has nothing to do with law at all. It is not a righteousness which asks any doing, or working, or obeying, on our part, in order to complete it, in order to make it what it is-“the righteousness of God”; for did it require anything of this kind on our part, it would cease to be what it is here represented to be, “the righteousness of God,” and would become, to a large extent at least, “the righteousness of man.” This righteousness does not send us to the law in order to be justified; it does not throw us upon our own works, either in whole or in part; it proceeds from first to last upon such principles as these, announced elsewhere in this epistle, and in the Epistle to the Galatians: “By time deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified.” And again, as it is written “To him that worketh not, but believeth in Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” In no sense, and at no time, does it say to us, “Do this, and thou shalt live; do this, and thou shalt be saved.” In no sense does it give us the idea of a thing far off, but of a thing nigh, at our very side; not of a thing to be toiled for, a thing to be waited for on our part. In no such sense has this righteousness anything to do with law, or with our doing of the law. For what is the whole of the Epistle to the Galatians but a protest against the idea that this righteousness of God has anything to do with the law, in so far as the sinner is concerned? In so far as God is concerned, in so far as the Son of God is concerned, it had everything to do with law; but in so far as we are concerned, it has nothing to do with it; it is a righteousness without the law. Let us, brethren, hold fast then this truth of the gospel, this foundation truth; righteousness without law, righteousness founded in no sense upon our keeping of the law; but wholly and absolutely upon this fact, that another has kept the law for us, and that other no less than the Son of God Himself.
III. Thirdly, This righteousness has been “manifested” acceptance. “Now,” he says, “the righteousness of God is manifested;” it has been clearly brought to light, so that there can be no mistake concerning it, and no mystery in it. It is not a thing hidden, wrapped up, reserved, held back, veiled from our view. It is a thing clearly brought out today, and shone upon by God’s own light, so that the difficulty seems to be, not how to see it, but how to miss seeing it, how to keep ourselves from apprehending it. It has been clearly manifested. God has been at infinite pains to bring it forward to view, both on our own account, and on account of Him whose righteousness it is. In every way He has sought to guard it against the possibility of being mistaken by man. In every way has He taken precautions against this being hidden from view, or darkened by the words of man’s wisdom. He has set this righteousness as a star in the firmament above us, that every eye may see it, that no mountains of earth may come between us and the heavenly vision; He has made it peculiarly bright, that every eye may be attracted to it. He has removed other stars from around it, that it may not be mistaken, but stand alone in its brilliance. It is to this star we point the eye of each sinner here; the Star of Bethlehem, the brightest in God’s firmament, the bright and morning star, the star which God has set there as His light to the world. He presents it to each one of you, that on recognizing it you may not walk in darkness, but have the light of life, and that, knowing it as it has been manifested, you may no longer stand in doubt as to your relationship with God, as to your personal acceptance. He so puts this righteousness at your disposal that you may come to Him in confidence, using it as if it were entirely your own.
IV. Fourthly, This righteousness is a righteousness “to which the law and the prophets bear witness.” By this expression, we understand the whole of the Old Testament. It is not something (he means to tell us) now come to light for the first time, not understood in the ages gone by; it is something which has been proclaimed from the beginning hitherto. To these oracles the eye of every saint, from Abel downward, has been directed; on this righteousness the feet of every saint from the beginning have stood; of this righteousness every prophet has spoken; to this righteousness every type has borne witness; and this righteousness every sacrifice has set forth. It is this Star which shone down upon the pilgrimage of Old Testament worthies, and in the light of which they walked. It is this Star which sheds light on every page of their history; it was to this Star that they, with one consent, age after age, pointed the eye of all around. They knew none but this; they cared for none but this; to them, as to those who believe now, Christ was “all and in all” On this righteousness they rested, in it they rejoiced. It is no new righteousness which we preach. It is no new foundation of which we tell. It is the old one, the well-proved one. It has been abundantly sufficient in past ages, and it has lost none of its efficiency now in these last days. It was enough for the saints in former ages, it is enough for us now. They who found salvation, ages and generations ago, found it here; and he who finds salvation now finds it also here.
V. Fifthly, This righteousness is a righteousness which is by the faith of Jesus Christ: “Even the righteousness of God, which is by the faith of Jesus Christ, unto all, and upon all them that believe; for there is no difference.” He means to say by this expression, that it is a righteousness which comes to us by believing in Jesus Christ. It is not our faith that is our righteousness; it is not our act of believing that justifies. If your faith were your righteousness, then faith would be just reduced to the level of all other works, and would be itself a work. If it were our faith, our act of faith, that justified, then should we be justified by our own acts, by our own deeds. The expression, then “the righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ,” means simply that it is a righteousness which passes over to us, and becomes available for us, by believing in Him whose righteousness it is; that is, by believing the Father’s testimony concerning Jesus Christ. It is by believing that we are identified with Him, so that His doing becomes our doing in the eye of God, and in the eye of the law; His suffering becomes our suffering; His fulfilling of the law becomes our fulfilling of the law; His obedience to the Father’s will is our obedience to the Father’s will. Such is the position into which we are brought by being made, in believing, one with Him. Thus “the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ,” is presented to us, that in believing on Him, He may become ours. Righteousness is here laid down at our feet. It is there, whether we receive it or not. It is there, whether we believe it or not; whether we reject it or receive it. Your receiving it does not create it; your receiving it does not complete it; it is all created, it is all completed, it is all free, it is all at our feet, whether we take it or thrust it away; and our condemnation hereafter, if we be lost, will be not that there was no righteousness, not that we refused to complete a righteousness which had been begun, but that we rejected the righteousness which was completed, and which was so presented to us by God himself. It is in believing, or, as the apostle expresses it, by faith in Jesus Christ, that this righteousness, with all its privileges, and with all its results, passes over to us. For in believing, what are we saying but just this: “I have no works to bring to God; I am a sinner, but I take this work of the Son of God, and I ask to be dealt with by God according to its value, and just as if I had done the work, and not He.” Or, it is just as if we were saying, “I have no righteousness, seeing I am wholly a sinner; but I take this righteousness of the Son of God, and I draw near, expecting to be treated by God, just as if I and not He were the righteous person. I cannot present any suffering to Him in payment of penalty; bat I take this suffering of the Son of God, and I claim to have it reckoned to me as payment of my penalty.” Thus it is, “Christ is the end of the law, for righteousness to every one that believeth.”
VI. Sixthly, This righteousness is a righteousness for the unrighteous. It “is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all, and upon all them that believe; for there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” It is righteousness for the unrighteous. It is not righteousness for the good, but for the evil. It is not righteousness for the worthy, but for the unworthy. It is our unrighteousness that fits us for this righteousness. It is the evil that is in us that fits us for the excellency that is found in it. How foolish, then, to say as men, when convinced of sin, or when going back into former iniquity, are sometimes found saying, “I am too great a sinner to be for given.” Why, if you were not such a sinner, you would not need such a righteousness. It is the extent of your unrighteousness that fits you for a righteousness so infinite, so divine. If the righteousness were not the righteousness of God, if it were a human and not a divine righteousness, if finite and not infinite, your fear would be natural; but seeing it is divine not human, infinite, not finite, can anything be more foolish, more presumptuous, more profane, than to say, “My unrighteousness is too great for the righteousness of the Son of God”? This righteousness for the unrighteous is said by the apostle to be “unto all.” It is a righteousness which is like the sun in the heavens. It is one sun; yet it is enough for every one, it is free to every one. God works out a righteousness, and then sets it down on this fallen earth, that every one may avail himself of it. We are, therefore, not to say, Is this righteousness provided for this one or for that one, for many or for few? but there it is, there is the righteousness, go and take it. That is the gospel. Looking at the natural sun, do you ever think of asking, Is it for me, for this man or for that, the many or the few? You open your eye and enjoy its beams without asking any questions. Your making such inquiries would indicate a very unhealthy state of body; and so your asking such questions regarding God’s intention as proposed in this righteousness, indicates an unhealthy state of mind. To every sinner here, we preach the good news of this righteousness; a righteousness not only suitable and sufficient, but glorious and free; righteousness for the unrighteous; righteousness for the most unrighteous of the children of men.
Again, it is a righteousness which is “upon all them that believe”: It is “unto all”; but it is only “upon” them that believe. The moment that we believe through grace, we are accepted in the Beloved, redeemed from condemnation and from wrath. Till then the wrath of God abideth upon us. It is in believing that this righteousness is put upon us; and in believing what? In believing what God has testified concerning this righteousness, and concerning Him whose righteousness it is.
Again, the apostle affirms regarding this righteousness for the unrighteous, that “there is no difference, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” There is no difference as to its fitness for the sinner, whatever his sin may be; and there is no difference as to the fitness of the sinner for the righteousness. There is this twofold fitness: the fitness of the righteousness for the sinner, and the fitness of the sinner for the righteousness. “There is no difference”; there is no man more fit than another; all are equally fit or equally unfit, equally qualified or equally unqualified, for “all have sinned”; and it is this that brings down all to the same level, and down to this level it is that the righteousness comes. For it is not a righteousness which has only come down to a certain level,- which has lighted upon earth, but only upon some of its highest peaks; it is a righteousness which has come down to the very lowest valleys, a righteousness which may be found out without climbing, and even beside our very dwellings. No one, then, can say, “I deserve it, therefore it is for me”; and no one, on the other hand, can say, “I do not deserve it, therefore it is not for me.” There is no difference, for “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Thus it suits the case of all; so that no one can put it away, and say, “It does not suit my case, but it may suit others.” Nay, friend, if you are not an unrighteous man it will not suit you, I grant; but if you are an unrighteous man it must suit you. There is no question as to the kind of your unrighteousness, the length of time, the amount or degree; there is no question about that, the simple question is, Are you an unrighteous man? Then it suits your case. And it is a righteousness near to each one of you; it is not afar off: it is not in heaven above, so that you have to climb to the seat of God to obtain it; and it is not down so low that you must dig to earth’s center to find it: it is near, it is at your very side; and if you reject it, it cannot be because of its distance. God has brought it near. He ells you it is near. “I bring near my righteousness.” God says that; and who are you that you should say, It is far off? Nay, more, it is free,-“Without money and without price.” There is no payment asked; no payment can be taken. The very idea of payment is insulting to the righteousness, and insulting to Him whose righteousness it is. Yet many seek to buy it,-not perhaps by their gold and silver, but by other things equally worthless. Some would buy it by their penances and fastings, some by their confessions; some would buy it by their repentance, some by their prayers, some by their self-mortification and privations, some by their fair lives and excellent deeds.
It is righteousness for the unrighteous that we proclaim, the righteousness of God, a righteousness which has come down from heaven to earth on very purpose that it may be presented to you. It is God’s wish that you should take it. Do you refuse it? He hinders not. Where then lies the hindrance? In you, not in Him. The refusal will not be on His part; it must be on yours; and if you perish, you perish, not because He would not be reconciled to you, but because you would not be reconciled to Him; not because there was not a provided righteousness, but because you rejected it; not because there was not sufficient love in God to give you that righteousness, but because you willfully put away from you both the righteousness and the love.