< 450801 > ROMANS 8:1-39 THIS chapter presents a glorious display of the power of Divine grace, and of the provision which God has made for the consolation of His people.
While the Apostle had proved, in the sixth, that his previous doctrine gave no license to believers to continue in sin, he had still kept in view his main purpose of establishing their free justification. In the seventh he had prosecuted the same object, declaring that by their marriage with Christ they were delivered from the law as a covenant of life or death, while he vindicated its character, use, and authority. In this chapter, he continues the subject of justification, and resumes that of the believer’s assurance of his salvation, of which he had spoken in the fifth, establishing it on new grounds; and from the whole train of his argument from the commencement of the Epistle, he now draws the general conclusion, that to them who are in Christ Jesus there is no condemnation. While this could not have been accomplished by the law, he shows that it had been effected by the incarnation of the Son of God, by whom the law has been fulfilled for all who are one with Him as members of His body. Paul next points out the difference of character between those who, being in their natural state under the law and under sin, are carnally-minded; and those who, being renewed by grace, in whom the law has been fulfilled, are spiritually-minded. The condition of the former is death, that of the latter life and peace. Of these last he proceeds, through the remainder of the chapter, to assert the high privileges and absolute security.
Those who are spiritually-minded have the Spirit of Christ, and possess spiritual life. Although their bodies must return to the dust, they shall be raised up again. They are led by the Spirit; they are the sons of God, and in His service are delivered from a spirit of bondage. They look to Him as their Father; are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ. To encourage believers to sustain the sufferings to which, while in this world, they are exposed, the most varied and abundant consolations are exhibited.
Their salvation is declared to have taken its rise in the eternal counsels of God, by whom, through all its steps, it is carried into effect. Their condemnation, then, is impossible; for who shall condemn those whom God justifieth, — for whom Christ died, and rose, and intercedes? The Apostle concludes by defying the whole universe to separate believers from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. In this manner he follows out, in this chapter, what had been his grand object through all the preceding part of the Epistle.
Ver. 1. — There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jews who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
Therefore. — This is an inference from the general strain of the doctrine which the Apostle had been teaching in the preceding part of the Epistle; especially it follows from what he had asserted, in the sixth and seventh chapters, with respect to believers dying with Christ, and consequently being dead to sin and to the law. Now no condemnation. — This implies that there would have been condemnation to those to whom he wrote, had they remained under the law; but now, since they have died with Christ, and thereby given complete satisfaction to the law, both in its penalty and precept, it is not possible that by it they can be condemned. And, to mark the completeness of this exemption, he says, there is now no condemnation to them; the reason of which he fully explains in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th verses. This now, then, distinguishes two conditions of a man, namely, his condition under the law, and his condition under grace, — that is, his natural and his supernatural conditions. For by nature we are children of wrath, but now God has rendered us accepted in the Beloved. Being now in Christ, we are not under the curse of the law, because He has borne it for us In the moment in which we believed in Him, we were redeemed from its curse; we entered into another covenant, in which there is nothing but grace and pardon. That there is now no condemnation to them that are in Him is according to our Lord’s declaration, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and ‘shall not come into condemnation.’ It is often remarked that the Apostle does not say that there is in them which are in Christ Jesus neither matter of accusation nor cause of condemnation; and yet this is all included in what he does say. In themselves there is much indeed for both, but here they are viewed exclusively in Jesus Christ. Afterwards, in express terms, he denies that they can be either accused or condemned — which they might be, were there any ground for either. All that was commendable in them, which was sin, has been condemned in their Surety, as is shown in the 3rd verse. To them. — The Apostle, discoursing in the preceding chapter of the remainder of sin in believers, speaks of himself in his own person, in order to show that the highest advances in grace do not exempt from the internal warfare which he there describes. But in this verse he changes the number, and does not say, there is no condemnation to me, but to them, who are in Christ Jesus. This was proper, lest believers, who are often disposed to deprive themselves of those consolations which the Scriptures present, and prone either to despair or to presume on account of their own righteousness, should say that such a declaration was right and suitable in an Apostle, who enjoyed peculiar privileges, but it did not follow that they could say of themselves, ‘There is for us no condemnation.’ Paul therefore here changes the expression, and speaks in general terms, to show that he ascribes nothing peculiar to himself, but that he refers to the general condition of believers, in order that each of them might apply to himself the fruit of this consideration. In the seventh chapter he had spoken of himself to prove that the holiest among men have reason to humble themselves before God, and to acknowledge that, if God should view them in themselves, they would be found to be a body of death, — that is to say, guilty of eternal death. But here he does not speak in his own person, in order that we may not doubt that he refers to the condition of believers in general. Again, in the 4th verse, he speaks of the righteousness of the law being fulfilled in us; thus showing that the unspeakable blessing of deliverance from condemnation equally belongs to all the people of God. In the 2nd verse, for an obvious and important reason, as we shall presently see, he reverts again to the singular number, and says, ‘hath made me free.’ This manner of expressing himself ought to be particularly noted; for we are certain that, in the word of God, nothing of this kind occurs without a purpose. Which are in Christ Jesus. — To be in Christ Jesus is to be one with Him, as united to Him by faith. Those and those only who are the one with Him are the persons to whom there is no condemnation. All who are not in Christ Jesus are under the law and its curse. It is not here said that Christ is with His people, or at their right hand, but that they are in Him, in order that they may know that, being in Him, they have nothing to fear; for what evil can reach those who are one with the Son of God? This union is represented in Scripture by various terms and by many similitudes; its efficacy and power are shown, when it is said, ‘He that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit.’ It is in virtue of this union that the sufferings and obedience of Christ are imputed to His people, they being one with Him who fulfilled the law, and satisfied the justice of God. Their union with Him is the source of that spiritual life by which they are quickened together with Christ, and from which they derive their justification, their sanctification, and consolation. ‘It is impossible,’ Luther remarks, ‘for a man to be a Christian without having Christ, and if he has Christ, he has at the same time all that is in Christ. What gives peace to the conscience is, that by faith our sins are no more ours, but Christ’s, upon whom God hath laid them all; and that, on the other hand, all Christ’s righteousness is ours, to whom God hath given it. Christ lays His hand upon us, and we are healed. He casts His mantle upon us, and we are clothed; for He is the glorious Savior, blessed for ever.’ This union was typified under the law in the person of the high priest, who carried on his breast the twelve stones, on which were engraved the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel; so that, when he appeared before God, all the people appeared in him, thus showing that all believers are before God in Jesus Christ, their great High Priest. They are all delivered from condemnation, as being one body with Christ. As the debts of a wife must be discharged by her husband, and as, by her marriage, all her previous obligations are at once transferred to him, so the believer, being married to Christ, is no longer exposed to the curse of the law. All its demands have been met and satisfied by His covenant Head, with whom, as the wife is one with the husband, so he is one.
It is by the human nature of Jesus Christ that we enjoy union with His Divine nature, and that He is Emmanuel, God with us. His humanity is the medium by which His divinity communicates itself with all its graces.
Under the former dispensation, God communicated with His people through the ark of the covenant, which was a type of the human nature of Jesus Christ, in order to show us that by it we have union with the whole of His person. And by union with the person of Jesus Christ we obtain communion with the Father. ‘At that day ye shall know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.’
It is not by nature that we enjoy this union, since by nature we are ‘children of wrath’ and ‘without Christ.’ The means by which we are united to Christ are on His part by His Spirit, and on our part by faith. He communicates His Spirit to us, which is as the soul that unites all the members of the body with the head, so that ‘he who is joined unto the Lord is one Spirit.’ On our part we receive Jesus Christ by faith produced in us by His Spirit, in order that we may reciprocally receive Him in our hearts. He dwells in our hearts by faith; and thus we learn what is meant when it is said we are justified by faith, not as being a work, or anything meritorious, but as the medium through which His righteousness, and all the graces and blessings that are in Jesus Christ, are communicated to our souls. ‘Faith,’ says Luther, ‘unites the soul with Christ as a spouse with her husband. Everything which Christ has, becomes the property of the believing soul: everything which the soul has, becomes the property of Christ. Christ possesses all blessings and eternal life: they are thenceforward the property of the soul. The soul has all its iniquities and sins: they become thenceforward the property of Christ. It is then that a blessed exchange commences: Christ who is both God and man, Christ who has never sinned, and whose holiness is perfect, Christ the Almighty and Eternal, taking to Himself, by His nuptial ring of faith, all the sins of the believer, those sins are lost and abolished in Him; for no sins dwell before His infinite righteousness. Thus, by faith, the believer’s soul is delivered from sins, and clothed with the eternal righteousness of her bridegroom Christ. O happy union! The rich, the noble, the holy Bridegroom takes in marriage his poor, guilty, and despised spouse, delivers her from every evil, and enriches her with the most precious blessings. Christ, a King and a Priest, shares this honor and glory with all Christians. The Christian is a king, and consequently possesses all things; he is a priest, and consequently possesses God; and it is faith, not works, which brings him all this honor. A Christian is free from all things, above all things, faith giving him richly all things.’
On account of this union, all believers bear the name of Christ, being that of their Head. ‘For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body being many, are one body; so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body,’ 1 Corinthians 12:13. ‘We are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones,’ Ephesians 5:30. And in this Epistle to the Ephesians, the Apostle denominates the Church not only the body of Jesus Christ, but even His fullness. God ‘gave Him to be the Head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all,’ Ephesians 1:22. He thus shows that this union with Jesus Christ is such that He who filleth all things would consider Himself without His people to be imperfect and incomplete. Who walk not after (according to) the flesh, but after (according to) the Spirit. — These words not being found in all the manuscripts, are considered by some as spurious. But they connect perfectly well with the preceding clause of the verse, as characterizing those who are in Christ Jesus. In no respect, however, do they assign the cause of exemption from condemnation to them who are in Christ. The Apostle does not say, because they do not walk, but who walk, not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. There is an essential difference between asserting the character of those who are freed from condemnation, and declaring the cause of their being delivered from it. These words refer to the proof of our justification, which proceeds from the efficacy of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, who applies the merit of the blood of Jesus, and imparts a new and eternal life, opposed to sin and corruption, which the Scriptures call death in sin, for the minding of the flesh is death, but the minding of the Spirit is life. In this way, then, we may be assured that we are in Christ Jesus, and that there is no condemnation to us, if we experience the effects of His Spirit in our hearts causing us to walk in holiness. For the life which Jesus Christ has merited for us on the cross, consists not only in the remission of sins, which is a removal of what is evil, but also in the communication of what is good, namely, in our bearing the image of God. The same words as in the clause before us occur again in verse 4th, in which their genuineness is not disputed, where their full import shall be considered.
Ver. 2. — For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.
This verse, as is evident by the particle for , is connected with the preceding. It connects, however, with the first part of that verse, where the great truth of which it is explanatory is announced, assigning the reason why there is no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus; which is continued to the middle of the 4th verse, in the latter part of which the last clause of the first is repeated. On the supposition of that clause being genuine, the Apostle follows here the same method as in the second chapter of this Epistle, where the 14th verse connects with the first part of the 12th. Many, by the phrase ‘law of the Spirit of life,’ understand the commanding influence of the Holy Spirit in the sanctification of the believers to be intended, and by ‘the law of sin and death,’ the corrupt principle, or power of sin in them, as in chapter 7:23 and 25. But these explanations do not suit the context. The main proposition contained in the preceding verse is, that to them who are in Christ Jesus there is no condemnation. But why is there no condemnation?
Is it because they are sanctified? No; but because by their union with Christ they have been freed from the law and its curse, as the Apostle had shown in the preceding chapter, verse 4. Besides, it is not true that believers are delivered from the law of sin that is in them as respects their sanctification, which would contradict what Paul had just before said of the Christian’s internal warfare with sin, as exhibited in his own experience, to which deliverance he looked forward, but which he had not yet obtained. It is further to be observed, that the above explanations do not accord with the two following verses, which point out the ground of that freedom from condemnation which is here asserted, being explanatory of the verse before us, declaring that sin has been punished in Christ, and that the righteousness which the law demands has been fulfilled by Him in those who belong to Him. Law of the Spirit. — Various significations belong to the term law, according to the connection in which it stands, and to which it is applied.
In the conclusion of the preceding chapter, and in the verse before us, where it occurs twice, it is employed in three different senses. In the first of these it is denominated the ‘law of sin,’ namely, the strength of corruption acting with the force of a law. In the end of the verse before us, where the term ‘death’ is added to that of sin, it imports the moral law, the transgression of which is sin, and the consequence death, and is employed in the same sense in the two following verses. To the law of the spirit of life belongs a different meaning, signifying the power of the Holy Spirit, by which He unites the soul to Christ, in whose righteousness as being thus one with Him, it therefore partakes, and is consequently justified.
This law is the Gospel, whereof the Holy Ghost is the author, being the authoritative rule and the instrument by which He acts in the plan of salvation. It is the medium through which He promulgates Divine testimony, and His commands to receive that testimony, and exerts His power to produce this effect; by which, also, He quickens and enlightens those in whom He dwells, convinces them of their sin and of the righteousness of Christ, and testifies of the almighty Savior, whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood. The Gospel may thus be properly denominated the law , or power of the Holy Spirit, because, as a law has authority and binds to obedience, so the Gospel bears the stamp of Divine authority to which, in all that it reveals, we are bound to ‘submit,’ ch. 10:3. It requires the obedience of faith, and for this end is to be made known to all nations, ch. 1:5, 16:26; and when men refuse this submission, it is said that they have not ‘obeyed the Gospel,’ ch. 10:16. Although, therefore, the Gospel is proclaimed as a grace, it is a grace accompanied with authority, which God commands to be received. Accordingly it is expressly called a ‘law,’ Isaiah 2:3; Micah 4:2. ‘Out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.’ In the Book of Psalm it is again and again called ‘ the law;’ and in <19B002> Psalm 110:2, referring to the power exerted by its means, it is said, ‘The Lord shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion,’ that is, the Gospel. ‘Rule Thou in the midst of Thine enemies,’ namely, by Thine almighty power. The Gospel, then, is the law of the Spirit by which He rules, and the rod of His strength, or His power, by which He effects our salvation, just as, in chapter 1:16, it is denominated ‘the power of God unto salvation.’ The Gospel is itself called ‘the Spirit,’ as being ministered by the Holy Spirit, 2 Corinthians 3:8.
The Gospel is the law of the Spirit of life, the ministration of which, being committed to the Apostles, ‘giveth life,’ in opposition to the ‘letter,’ or old covenant that killeth, 2 Corinthians 3:6. ‘It is the Spirit that quickeneth,’ John 6:63, as it is said, ‘I shall put My Spirit in you, and ye shall live,’ Ezekiel 37:14. In the First Epistle to the Corinthians 15:45, the Apostle speaks of two sources of life. He says, ‘The first man Adam was made a living soul, the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.’ By the living soul is meant the principle of natural life which we derive from Adam by natural generation. The quickening spirit refers to the heavenly and supernatural life communicated by the Holy Spirit from Jesus Christ. The reason of the comparison is, that as Adam, receiving a living soul, his body was made alive; in like manner, believers, receiving in their souls the Spirit of Christ, receive a new life. It is not meant that the Spirit of Christ is not also the author of natural life, Job 33:4. Jesus Christ is the life itself, and the source of life to all creatures. But here the life referred to is that life which we receive through the Gospel, as the law or power of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, which the Apostle calls ‘the life of God,’ Ephesians 4:18.
The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus . — Jesus Christ is set before us in two aspects, namely, as God, and as Mediator. As God, the Spirit of life resides essentially in Him; but as Mediator, and having in that character satisfied the justice of God by His death, the Spirit of life has been given to Him to be communicated to all who are one with Him. On this account the Spirit was not given in His fullness, John 7:39, till Jesus Christ as Mediator had entered into heaven, to appear in the heavenly sanctuary with His blood, when the Father, solemnly receiving His satisfaction, gave this testimony of His acceptance, in pouring out the abundance of the Spirit on His people. Jesus Christ accordingly says, ‘It is expedient for you that I go away, for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you,’ John 16:7. And the Apostle declares that ‘God hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ,’ Ephesians 1:3. He says, ‘spiritual blessings,’ because he speaks of the graces of the Holy Spirit. He says, ‘in Christ,’ because it is through the Mediator, and in His communion, that our spiritual life and those graces are bestowed on us. He adds, ‘in heavenly places,’ because, as anciently the high priest entered the sanctuary with the blood of the sacrifice, in order that God, in accepting that blood, might bestow His blessing on the people; in like manner, Jesus Christ, our great High Priest, has entered the heavenly sanctuary, that, being accepted, He should, as Mediator, and so receiving the Holy Spirit, be the source of life, even of that spiritual and eternal life to which He rose from the dead, and of all grace, to communicate it to His Church. This is what His forerunner John teaches when he says that ‘God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto Him,’ and is the reason why it is said that He was ‘full of grace and truth,’ and that ‘of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace.’ The Apostle John, too, speaks of the anointing which believers have received from Jesus Christ; for as the oil was poured on the head of the high priest, and ran down to the skirts of his garments, in like manner Jesus Christ has been anointed with the Holy Spirit, as He says, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He hath anointed Me;’ and this anointing was to be poured out on all His body, which is the Church.
That the Spirit of life, then, is in Jesus Christ, not only as God, but also as Mediator, is a ground of the most unspeakable consolation. It might be in Him as God, without being communicated to men; but, as the Head of His people, it must be diffused through them as His members, who are thus complete in Him. Dost thou feel in thyself the sentence of death? — listen, then, to the testimony of the Scriptures concerning Him. ‘This is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life; and this life is in His Son.’ ‘I am come that they might have life.’ He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me, shall never die.’ ‘Because I live, ye shall live also.’ ‘I am that bread of life; he that eateth of this bread shall never die.’ ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’ ‘This life, then, is in Jesus Christ, and is communicated to believers by the Holy Spirit, by whom they are united to Christ, and from whom it is derived to all who through the law of the Spirit of life are in Him. It is on this account that, in the passage above quoted, Corinthians 15:45, Jesus Christ, as Mediator, is said to be made a quickening spirit. In obtaining this life, the believer receives his justification, the opposite of condemnation, which without this life cannot subsist, and from which it cannot be separated. Law of sin and death. — In the preceding chapter, verses 23 and 25, ‘the law of sin,’ which the Apostle says he served with the flesh, signifies, as has been observed, the powerful corrupt principle in the heart, operating with the force of a law. But in the former part of the same chapter, the word ‘law’ is employed to denote the moral law. It is there spoken of as the law of God, which, though holy, and just, and good, is to fallen man the occasion both of sin and death; and, accordingly, in the point of view in which the Apostle is here regarding it, it is called ‘the law of sin and death.’ It may be called the law of sin, since without it sin could not exist; for ‘sin is the transgression of the law,’ 1 John 3:4; but ‘where no law is, there is no transgression,’ and ‘sin is not imputed when there is no law,’ Romans 5:13. ‘The motions of sin are by the law,’ Romans 7:5; and ‘the strength of sin is the law,’ 1 Corinthians 15:56. ‘By the commandment sin becomes exceeding sinful,’ Romans 7:13. ‘The law entered that the offense might abound,’ Romans 5:20. As, therefore, sin could have no existence but by the law, and as the law is the strength of sin, and makes it to abound, the law may, as here, be properly denominated ‘the law of sin.’
The holy law may also be called the law of death. It threatens with death in case of disobedience, and on account of transgression adjudges to death. ‘The commandment,’ says the Apostle, ‘which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.’ It brings the sinner under the penalty of death. ‘In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.’ The law ‘killeth;’ and the ministration of the law, written and engraved on stones, was death, 2 Corinthians 3:6,7. By the law ‘death reigned from Adam to Moses,’ Romans 5:14; and the wages of sin, which is the transgression of the law, is death. Since, then, the law of God, which, though it commands holiness, gives the knowledge of sin, and the breach of it is death, and since, without the law, there could neither be sin nor death, it may, without arguing the smallest disrespect or disparagement to the holy law, be called the law of sin and death. That it is so denominated in the verse before us, appears from the repetition of the term law in the beginning of the following verse, evidently in connection with that in the end of this verse, where the reference is clearly to the moral law, namely, the law which had been spoken of from the 4th to the 13th verse of the foregoing chapter, which the Apostle had there shown, as he asserts in verse 3 of this chapter, could not set free from sin and death. Besides, that by the law of sin and death is here meant the moral law, appears unquestionable, when it is considered that if the same meaning be attached to it as belongs to the phrase ‘the law of sin’ in the conclusion of the preceding chapter, the Apostle must be held to have contradicted himself. For in that case he bitterly laments his being under the power of the law of sin, and speaks only of his hope of future deliverance; and here, in the same breath, he unqualifiedly asserts his freedom from it. Notwithstanding, then, the similarity of these two expressions, and their juxtaposition, it is impossible, without charging a contradiction on the Apostle, to assert that he attached the same meaning in both places to the word law, which in different connections is capable of significations quite distinct. Hath made me free. — The reason why there is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus is, that being in Him they have been made free from the law of sin and death, all its requirements having been fulfilled by Him in them, as is affirmed in verse 4. This freedom is likewise declared in 2 Corinthians 3:17, in which passage it is said, ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.’ ‘If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.’ Me free. — Here it is to be observed that the Apostle, instead of speaking generally of believers, as he does in the first and fourth verses, saying ‘them’ and ‘us,’ changes, as has been above remarked, the mode of expression, and refers to himself personally — ’hath made me free.’ A very striking contrast is thus pointed out between his declaration in the 24th verse of the preceding chapter, and that contained in the verse before us. There, he is speaking of the power of sin, which operates in believers as long as they are in this world. Here, in reference to condemnation, he is speaking of the guilt of sin, from which they are perfectly freed the moment they are united to the Savior. In the former case, therefore, where he speaks respecting sanctification, he refers in verse 24th to his deliverance as future, and exclaims, ‘Who shall deliver me?’ In reference to the latter, in which he is treating of justification, he speaks of his deliverance as already obtained, and affirms, He ‘hath made me free.’
The following explanation of the verse before us is given in the Westminster Confession of Faith. ‘Albeit the Apostle himself (brought in here for example’s cause), and all other true believers in Christ, be by nature under the law of sin and death, or under the covenant of works (called the law of sin and death, because it bindeth sin and death upon us, till Christ set us free); yet the law of the Spirit of Christ Jesus, or the covenant of grace (so called because it doth enable and quicken a man to a spiritual life through Christ), doth set the Apostle, and all true believers, free from the covenant of works, or the law of sin and death; so that every man may say with him, ‘The law of the Spirit of life,’ or the covenant of grace, hath made me free from the law of sin and death, or covenant of works,’ ed. 1773, p. 434.
Every believer should take to himself all the consolation which this verse contains, and with Paul he may with confidence say, ‘The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.’
Many, however, will say, We should be happy indeed if we could, with Paul, adopt this language; but what assurance can we have of being free from condemnation, and of being in Christ Jesus, since the flesh is so strong in us and the spirit so weak, — since we are still prone to so many sins, and subject to so many defects? Assuredly if a man is satisfied in sinning and following carnal desires, and is not desirous to turn from these ways, he has no ground to conclude that he is freed from condemnation, for such is not the state of any believer. But if, on the other hand, he groans on account of his sins, crying out with the Apostle, ‘O wretched man that I am;’ if they displease him, if he have a godly sadness on account of having committed them, and earnestly prays to God to be delivered from them, he may be assured of his salvation. For the Christian is not one who is without sin and evil inclinations, as is abundantly shown in the preceding chapters; but one who resists and combats against them, and returns to God by repentance. His groans on account of his sins, and his meditating on the word of God, — his earnest endeavors to be holy and to grow in grace, although not with all the success he desires, — are proofs of his regeneration. For if he were dead in his sins, he would not be affected on account of them, nor would he resist them. And whoever resists the flesh by the Spirit of God, will in the end obtain the victory, for the Holy Spirit in us is greater in goodness and power than all that is against us, — Satan, and the world, and the flesh. All this should inspire the believer with courage to fight the good fight of faith, and to follow the movements of the blessed Spirit, and the Lord will say to his soul, ‘I am thy salvation,’ Psalm 35:3; ‘My grace is sufficient for thee, for My strength is made perfect in weakness,’ 2 Corinthians 12:9; and he, on the other hand, may say with confidence, ‘O my soul, thou hast said unto the Lord, Thou art my Lord,’ Psalm 16:2.
Ver. 3. — For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, and sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin condemned sin in the flesh: This verse confirms the interpretation that has been given of the preceding, with which it stands connected. It is introduced to explain what is said in the two preceding verses. Both this and the following verse are illustrations of that great truth, that to the believer in Christ there is no condemnation There are here three principal considerations: namely, the misery of our natural condition; the mercy of God in the incarnation of His Son; and the effect of sending Him into the world, which is our redemption. Under these three heads, the Apostle removes the difficulties that might present themselves from the supposition that, on account of some imperfection in the law, it could not justify. In answer to this, it is here shown that the imperfection is not in the law, but in us. The law could justify those who fulfilled it, as it is said, ‘The man that doeth them shall live in them; ‘but the corruption of human nature renders this impossible. And as it might be objected that the law, which subjects every transgressor to death, is violated by the freedom from it which we obtain by the death of Jesus Christ, the Apostle shows that the punishment it demands was inflicted upon Him. Hence the first proposition, that there is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, is established; and in the following verse it is added, that the law, which we were required to fulfill, has by Him been fulfilled in us. In this view, the justice of God, which naturally terrifies man, inspires us with confidence. For if God is just, will He exact double payment and satisfaction? Will He condemn those for whom the Surety has borne the condemnation? No; ‘He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins,’ for ‘the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.’ For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the Flesh. — The law here meant is the same as that spoken of in the end of the preceding verse, namely, the moral law, under which our first parents in the state of innocence were placed, and which was afterwards promulgated by the ministry of Moses. This law was ordained to life, ch. 7:10, — that is, to justify man, if he had remained in innocence; but by his sinning it condemns him, as the Apostle adds, ‘I found it to be unto death;’ so that the law, the breach of which constitutes sin, and which on account of this awards death, is now unable to justify, but powerful to condemn.
This verse proves that the method which God takes to justify the sinner is entirely consistent with law and justice. Firsts the Apostle shows the necessity of this method. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh. — What is it that the law could not do? It could not justify. Mr. Frazer, however, says that the reason of this alleged weakness of the law forbids this interpretation. ‘That,’ says he, is not the reason why the law cannot justify.’ But surely it is the very reason why the law cannot justify. Were it not for the weakness of the flesh, or the corruption and sinfulness of man, the law could justify. ‘But,’ he continues, ‘to turn the disability of the law to justify the sinner upon the corruption of his nature, as the text would do, according to the interpretation I am considering, would imply something by no means consistent with the Apostle’s clear doctrine, viz., that after a person had transgressed he might be justified, even by the law, for returning to his duty, and for his subsequent righteousness, if the weakness and poverty of his nature, called the flesh, did not disable him from doing his duty; which how contrary to Scripture doctrine I need not stay to prove, the thing is so clear.’ But did this acute and worthy author overlook what our Lord says to the rich young man, ‘If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments’? In fact, however, the commandments could not be kept unless every commandment that respects man is obeyed; therefore the commandment in the garden of Eden is included; because, being guilty of breaking it, no man can be said to have obeyed God as he ought. The weakness of the flesh includes everything that befell us by the fall. Every man is as truly accountable for that first sin of Adam as he is for his own personal sins; and therefore, as long as he is under condemnation for that sin, he cannot be said to keep the commandments. ‘By the law is the knowledge of sin.’ It is the test of men being sinners. If it were kept, this would prove that we were not sinners. It entered, that the offense might abound; and the Lord applied this test for the young man’s conviction. Yet what he said was truth: if the young man had kept the commandments, he would, as a holy creature, have enjoyed life; he would not have been a sinner. But he was so ignorant as to say he had kept them all. The Lord replied, ‘One thing thou lackest,’ and said, ‘Follow Me.’ If he had really kept the commandments, he would have had no need of a Savior; but he was a sinner, and Christ informed him of the only way of salvation. The law could not give life to one by whom it was forfeited.
The weakness of the law through the flesh Mr. Stuart explains thus: ‘Because, through the strength of our carnal inclinations and desires, it was unable to regulate our lives, so that we should be perfect or actually free from sin.’ But as Christ is said to do what the law through this weakness could not do, this interpretation supposes that Christ has enabled us to regulate our lives so as to be entirely free from sin. Nothing can be more obvious than that the weakness of the law through the flesh is its inability to justify, as it would have done, had not sin entered. The weakness of the law for justification is no disparagement to it. It was never designed to save a sinner. How could it be supposed that a creature who had apostatized, and was a rebel against God, could re-establish himself in the Divine favor? Yet such re-establishment, in order to the enjoyment of the favor of God, was necessary. A creature in such circumstances could only be re-established by God Himself, and that by an act of free and sovereign mercy, compatible with His Justice and truth, as well as with the essential glory of His character. It is also impossible that mercy could be extended in any other way than that which the Gospel reveals. How could the justice of God be satisfied but by an atonement of infinite value, to meet the infinite evil of sin? And how could such an atonement be made for man but by one who was at the same time both God and man — the infinite God manifest in human nature? This was the remedy which God provided; therefore it was the best remedy. It was the highest possible remedy; therefore there could be no other. It would be inconsistent with infinite wisdom to employ means greater than are necessary in order to accomplish an end. The law was strong to perform its own office, — that is, to justify all by whom it was perfectly obeyed. Its weakness was through the flesh, — that is, the guilt and corruption of our nature. The weakness is not in the law; it is in man. God sending His own Son. — God sent His Son to do that which the law could not do. He sent Him in consequence of His great love to His people, 1 John 4:9; and as the accomplishment of His Divine purpose, Acts 4:28. The object, then, of Christ’s mission was not merely that of a messenger or witness; it was to effect the salvation of guilty sinners in the way of righteousness. He did what the law could not do. The law could justify those only by whom it was observed; but it could not justify or save those who should violate even the least of its commands. But Christ Jesus both justifies and saves the ungodly. His own son — Christ was God’s own Son in the literal sense. It is on this supposition only that the sending of Him is a manifestation of infinite love to men. There is no more appearance of any figurative meaning in the use of this appellation, when ascribed to Jesus Christ, than there is when Isaac is called the son of Abraham. He is here emphatically called not only the Son of God, but the Son of Himself, or His own Son — His very Son.
Whether Christ’s sonship is a relation in Godhead, or a figurative sonship, has been much disputed. Many who hold the Godhead of Christ explain the passages that assert His sonship as referring to His incarnation. That the phrase Son of God imports the Divine nature of Jesus Christ, there can be no doubt, John 5:18 (see pp. 21-25); and that it relates not merely to His incarnation, but to His eternal relation to the Father, appears the obvious testimony of Scripture. No reasoning from the import of the relation among men can form a valid objection to this view.
Adam is called the son of God because he was created by the immediate exercise of Divine power. The angels are called the sons of God on account of their creation, and the greatness of their condition; believers, by the right of their adoption and regeneration; but none except the Messiah is called the Only-begotten of the Father. These words, ‘I have begotten Thee,’ are indeed applied to Jesus Christ, Acts 13:33, not with respect to His eternal generation, but to His resurrection and establishment in the priesthood; and import that He was thus made known to be the Son of God, as it is said, Romans 1:4, that He was declared to be the Son of God with power, by His resurrection from the dead. The exaltation of Jesus Christ, whether in His office of Mediator or in sovereign glory, is the authoritative declaration of the Father that He was His Son, His only-begotten Son; and this is signified in the second Psalm. There, the elevation of Jesus Christ to the sovereign dominion of the world is spoken of. ‘I have set My King upon My holy hill of Zion.’ It is as to the act of His elevation that this declaration is made. ‘I will declare the decree: The Lord hath said unto Me, Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee.’ Thus, according to the usual style of Scripture, things are said to be done when they are declared or publicly manifested. When it is said, ‘This day have I begotten Thee, the eternal dignity of the Savior, which had been before concealed, was brought to light and fully discovered. In the likeness of sinful flesh. — Jesus Christ was sent, not in the likeness of flesh, but in the flesh. He was sent, however, not in sinful flesh, but in the likeness of sinful flesh. Nothing can more clearly prove that the Lord Jesus Christ, though He assumed our nature, took it without taint of sin or corruption. To His perfect holiness the Scriptures bear the fullest testimony. ‘He knew no sin.’ ‘The prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in Me.’ He was ‘holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners.’
His absolute freedom from sin was indispensable. As God becoming manifest in the flesh, He could not unite Himself to a nature tainted with the smallest impurity. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, and did not spring from Adam by ordinary generation; and, not belonging to his covenant, had no part in his sin. His freedom from sin, original and actual, was necessary, in order that He should be offered as ‘a Lamb without blemish and without spot,’ so that He might be the truth of His types, the legal sacrifices, which it was expressly provided should be free from all blemish; thus distinctly indicating this transcendent characteristic of Him who was to be the one great sacrifice.
If the flesh of Jesus Christ was the likeness of sinful flesh, there must be a difference between the appearance of sinful flesh and our nature, or flesh in its original state when Adam was created. Christ, then, was not made in the likeness of the flesh of man before sin entered the world, but in the likeness of his fallen flesh. Though He had no corruption in His nature, yet He had all the sinless infirmities of our flesh. The person of man, in his present state, may be greatly different from what it was when Adam came from the hand of his Creator. Our bodies, as they are at present, are called ‘the bodies of our humiliation,’ Philippians 3:21. Jesus Christ was made in man’s present likeness. Tradition speaks of the beauty of His person when on earth; but this is the wisdom of man. The Scriptures nowhere represent Christ in His -manhood as distinguished by personal beauty. No observation of this kind, proceeding either from His friends or enemies, is recorded in the Gospels. And for sin. — The reason of the mission of our Lord Jesus Christ into the world — of His incarnation and humiliation — was the abolition of sin, its destruction, both as to its guilt and power. The same expression occurs, 1 Peter 3:18, ‘Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.’ It is sin that is the cause of separation from God; and by its removal reconciliation is made, and peace restored. Condemned sin in the flesh. — Here, by the flesh is meant, not the body of Jesus Christ only, but His human nature. In this sense the word flesh is used where it is said, ‘the Word was made flesh,’ — that is to say, was made man, and took our nature, composed of body and soul. The nature and the person who suffered must also be distinguished. Respecting the person, it is Jesus Christ, God and man; as to the nature in which He suffered, it is in the flesh. Of the person we can say that it is God, as the Apostle says that God hath purchased the Church with His own blood, and consequently that His suffering was of infinite value, since it is that of an infinite person; and this is the more evident, since Jesus Christ is Mediator in both His natures, and not in His human nature only. For if this were so, His suffering would be finite, since His human nature, in which alone He could suffer, by which He offered His sacrifice, was in itself only finite; and if He had been Mediator only as to His human nature — which, however, could not be, as He represents both God and man — He could not have been the Mediator of the Old Testament, when He had not taken the human nature. And as it is necessary that, in regard to His person, we should consider Jesus Christ suffering, it is also necessary that we consider that it was in the flesh that He suffered, — that is to say, in our nature, which He took and joined personally to the Divine nature. In this we may admire the wisdom of God, who caused sin to be punished and destroyed in the human nature, in which it had been committed. Condemned sin. — Condemnation is here taken for the punishment of sin.
God punished sin in Christ’s human nature. This is the method that God took to justify sinners. It was God who, by His determinate counsel and foreknowledge, Acts 2:23, punished sin by inflicting those sufferings on Christ of which men were only the instruments. Sin had corrupted the flesh of man, and in that very flesh it was condemned. The guilt and punishment of sin are eminently seen in the death of Christ. Nowhere else is sin so completely judged and condemned. Not even in hell are its guilt and demerits so fully manifested. What must be its demerit, if it could be atoned for by nothing but the death of the Son of God? and what can afford clearer evidence of God’s determination to punish sin to the utmost extent of its demerit, than that He thus punished it even when laid on the head of His only-begotten Son.
In all this we see the Father assuming the place of judge against His Son, in order to become the Father of those who were His enemies. The Father condemns the Son of His love, that He may absolve the children of wrath.
If we inquire into the cause that moved God to save us by such means, what can we say, but that it proceeded from His incomprehensible wisdom, His ineffable goodness, and the unfathomable depth of His mercies? For what was there in man that could induce the Creator to act in this manner, since He saw nothing in him, after his rebellion by sin, but what was hateful and offensive? And what was it but His love that passeth knowledge which induced the only-begotten Son of God to take the form of a servant, to humble Himself even to the death of the cross, and to submit to be despised and rejected of men? These are the things into which the angels desire to look.
But besides the love of God, we see the wonderful display of His justice in condemning sin in His Son, rather than allowing it to go unpunished. In this assuredly the work of redemption surpasses that of creation. In creation God had made nothing that was not good, and nothing especially on which He could exercise the rigor of His justice; but here He punishes our sins to the utmost in Jesus Christ. It may be inquired if, when God condemned sin in His Son, we are to understand this of God the Father, so as to exclude the Son; or if we can say that God the Son also condemned sin in Himself. This can undoubtedly be affirmed; for in the Father and the Son there is only one will and one regard for justice; so that, as it was the will of the Father to require satisfaction for sin from the Son, it was also the will of the Son to humble Himself, and to condemn sin in Himself. We must, however, distinguish between Jesus Christ considered as God, and as our Surety and Mediator. As God, He condemns and punishes sin; as Mediator, He is Himself condemned and punished for sin.
When sin was condemned or punished in the Son of God, to suppose that He felt nothing more than bodily pain, would be to conclude that He had less confidence in God than many martyrs who have gone to death cheerfully, and without fear. The extremity of the pain He suffered when He said in the garden, ‘My soul is sorrowful even unto death,’ was the sentiment of the wrath of God against sin, from which martyrs felt themselves delivered. For the curse of the law is principally spiritual, namely, privation of communion with God in the sense of His wrath.
Jesus Christ, therefore, was made a curse for us, as the Apostle says, Galatians 3:13, proving it by the declaration, ‘Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.’ For this punishment of the cross was the figure and symbol of the spiritual curse of God. As in His body, then, He suffered this most accursed punishment, so likewise in His soul He suffered those pains that are most insupportable, such as are suffered by those finally condemned. But that was only for a short time, the infinity of His person rendering that suffering equivalent to that of an infinity of time. Such, then, was the grief which He experienced when on the cross He cried, ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’ What forsaking was this, unless that for a time God left Him to feel the weight of His indignation against sin? This feeling is the sovereign evil of the soul, in which consists the griefs of eternal death; as, on the other hand, the sovereign good of the soul, and that in which the happiness of eternal life consists, is to enjoy gracious communion with God.
In this verse we see the ground of the Apostle’s declaration, that there is now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, because their sin was punished in Him. This is according to numerous other passages in Scripture, as, Isaiah 53:4-6; Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24; Revelation 5:9; and, as it is said in 1 Timothy 2:6, ‘who gave Himself a ransom for all.’ For our sins are debts of which the payment and the satisfaction for them is their punishment — a payment without which we were held captives under the wrath and by the justice of God. All this shows that sin was really punished in Jesus Christ; and it is evident that, according to the justice and truth of God, such a punishment was necessary in order to our redemption.
Ver. 4. — That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us. — God not only sent His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, that He might punish sin in that nature in which it had been committed, but that all which the law demands might by Him be fulfilled in those who are united to Him; for which purpose He obeyed its precepts as well as fulfilled its penalty. The original word here translated righteousness is the same as is rendered judgment or sentence, Romans 1:32, where, and also in the verse before us, it is in some of the French versions, and in the Dutch annotations, rendered ‘right.’ It is properly here the right of the law. The right of the law is twofold, being that which belongs to it at all times, or what only belongs to it in the event of sin. The first is obedience to its precepts; the second, subjection to its penalty. The first, or what may be called the proper right of the law, corresponds with its prosper end, according to which it was ordained unto life to all who obey it. What it demands beyond its proper or first end, is the fulfillment of its penalty, as cursing all who disobey it. For it is not the first end of the law to curse men, but only what it demands since the entrance of sin. Such is the right of the law.
The Gospel does not take away this right; for it does not make void the law, Romans 3:31, but establishes it. In those, therefore, who are saved by the Gospel, they being all sinners, both the one and the other of the rights of the law are fulfilled in Christ, who is the end or fulfilling of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth, Romans 10:4. His people having sinned, He fulfills its right as to them, in suffering the punishment of sin, — namely, the curse of the law, to save them from punishment. And to introduce them into life. He accomplishes its proper or original right, according to which, as it is said, ‘the man that doeth them shall live in them.’ For if the Gospel establishes the law, it must do so as to its first end, and it must also do so as to its end since the entrance of sin, otherwise the law would, as to those who are saved, rather be abolished than fulfilled by the Gospel. In this way Christ has fully satisfied the law, having fulfilled its righteousness, — all that conformity to it which is its right in every respect, and under every aspect, and as to every state of those who are its subjects. And as His people are in Him, so the law is thus, in all its extent, fulfilled in them, which is the very circumstance in which their justification consists. For if they are one body, or one with Him, as the Apostle had been showing, His fulfillment of the law is their fulfillment of it. Such being their communion with Him, that they sit with Him in heavenly places, Ephesians 2:6; and by the same communion His righteousness is their righteousness, 2 Corinthians 5:21.
The end, then, of Christ’s mission was, that the right of the law might be fulfilled in His people. Here we see the ground on which believers are saved. It is in a way consistent with the law, a way in which all that it has a right to demand is fulfilled in them. The mercy, then, which saves sinners does not interfere with justice. They who are saved by mercy have that very righteousness which the law demands. In Christ they have paid the penalty of their disobedience, and in Christ they have yielded obedience to every precept of the law. This fulfillment of the law cannot signify, as some commentators erroneously explain it, that obedience which believers are enabled to yield by the Holy Spirit in their regenerate state; for it is obvious that this is not the righteousness of the law. The very best of all their actions and thoughts come short of the perfection which the law demands; besides, its penalty would in this way be unfulfilled. They are indeed sanctified, but their sanctification is far from being commensurate with the claims of the holy law, either as to its penalty or its precept.
Here, then, is solid consolation for the believer in Jesus. For, divested as he is of righteousness in himself, he enjoys the blessedness of having the righteousness of God — the righteousness of his Lord and Savior — imputed to Him, so that the law which had been broken is fulfilled in him in all its precepts, and in its full penalty.
Hitherto, from the beginning of the 2nd verse, the Apostle had been illustrating the truth contained in the first clause of the first verse, namely, that there is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus. He now repeats the last clause of that verse which he goes on to illustrate to the end of the 8th verse. Who walk not after (according to) the flesh, but after ( according to) the Spirit. — These words characterize those in whom the righteousness of the law is fulfilled and serve the double purpose of showing that they who are walking according to the principles of the renewed spiritual nature, and according to that covenant of which the Lord Jesus is the spirit, are one with Him, and that none are united to Him who are living after the principles of their corrupt nature, and seeking justification and acceptance with God, by cleaving to the covenant of works. The expression, to ‘walk,’ is frequently employed in Scripture regarding any particular line of conduct, as when it is said, Acts 21:21, ‘that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs; ‘or it denotes the course of life in which we are proceeding as in Ephesians 2:2, ‘Ye walked according to the course of this world.’ In this way, comparing our life to a journey, in the usual style of Scripture, the Apostle comprehends all our actions under the figure of walking. To walk, then, according to the flesh, is to act agreeably to the principles of corrupt nature. To walk according to the Spirit, means to regulate the conduct according to the influence and dictates of the Holy Spirit, who has given us a new nature, serving God in newness of spirit.
The terms flesh and spirit have various significations, and are employed in different senses in this chapter. The word flesh is used in a sense either bad or indifferent. Sometimes it means simply human nature, and sometimes corrupt human nature, or man in his natural state without the Holy Spirit, and frequently wicked works. At other times it denotes outward services in adherence to the law for justification, Philippians 3:4. To the word spirit various meanings are likewise attached. It imports either the angelic nature, or the soul of man, or the Holy Spirit, or the renewed image of the Son of God in the soul. In both of these last senses it is employed by our Lord, when, declaring the necessity of regeneration, He says, ‘That which is born of the Spirit is spirit.’ Sometimes, when opposed to flesh or to letter, it is used as equivalent to the new covenant, — ’who also hath made us able ministers of the New Testament, not of the letter, but of the spirit.’ The expression, walking not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit, in the verse before us, is generally interpreted as referring exclusively to the practice of good or of wicked works. It is supposed that the Apostle is here guarding his doctrine of gratuitous justification from abuse, by excluding all claim to union with Christ, and to exemption from condemnation, where there is not purity of conduct, under the influence of the Holy Spirit. This is undoubtedly a highly important truth, which is to be constantly affirmed and insisted on. Holiness of life and conversation is an inseparable concomitant of union with Christ; for to whom He is made righteousness He is also made sanctification, and they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. Of this the Apostle never loses sight, not indeed in any point of view as the cause of that union, but as its never-failing consequence and concomitant, as he has abundantly proved in the sixth chapter. There are, however, many different paths in the broad way; that is, many ways of walking after the flesh, all of which lead to destruction. Among these, that of seeking acceptance with God by works of righteousness, either moral or ceremonial, is equally incompatible with union to Christ and freedom from condemnation, as living in the grosser indulgence of wicked works; and this way of going about to establish their own righteousness, by those who profess to have received the Gospel, and who have even a zeal of God, ch. 10:2, is probably that by which the greater number of them are deceived. There is the greatest danger lest the fleshly wisdom, under the notion of a zeal for God and of regard for the interests of virtue, should set men on the painful endeavor of working out their salvation, in part at least, by keeping the law as a covenant, thus attending to its requirements for justification, serving in the oldness of the letter, and not in the newness of spirit. In this ways multitudes who profess to have received the Gospel, are walking after the flesh, seeking to satisfy their conscience, and saying peace when there is no peace.
While, therefore, the other ways of walking according to the flesh may all be comprehended under the term as here employed by the Apostle, for they are all involved in each other, it would appear (especially as in the 5th verse, minding the things of the flesh, which certainly denotes immoral conduct, is distinguished from walking after the flesh) that it is to the above import of the word, rather than to immoral conduct, that he is referring in this place. In this way Paul himself walked before his conversion, when he thought that he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth; and it was this same way of walking according to the flesh which he so strenuously opposes in his Epistle to the churches of Galatia. We see, too, how suitable to his purpose it would be in confirming the doctrine he had been teaching, particularly to direct to this point the attention of those to whom he was writing. Paul, then, appears to be here prosecuting his main design, which is to prove that believers are to be justified, not by works of righteousness which they have done, of whatever description, but solely by faith in Jesus Christ, in whom their reconciliation with God is complete. It is this grand truth which, from the beginning of the Epistle, he had been exhibiting, for the conviction and establishment in the faith of those whom he addressed. It is indeed a truth in which Christians need to be fully instructed, which they are all apt to let slip out of their minds, but by which they are saved, if they keep it in memory. There is nothing which so much retards them in their course as their proneness to walk according to the flesh, in seeking to establish their own righteousness; and nothing more powerfully tends, when giving way to it in any degree, to bring them into bondage, to lead them to serve in the oldness of the letter, and not in newness of spirit, and to mar their joy and peace in believing. In the sense here ascribed to it, the word flesh is employed in the beginning of the fourth chapter of this Epistle. Flesh, in that place, cannot, it is evident, signify immoral conduct; for that Abraham was justified by wicked works could never be supposed.
It must there signify works, moral or ceremonial, as is proved by the rest of that chapter.
In the Epistle to the Galatians, the terms flesh and spirit are likewise used in this acceptation. ‘Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?’ Galatians 3:3. ‘Having begun your Christian course by receiving the doctrine of the new covenant, namely, justification by the righteousness of Christ, are ye seeking to be made perfect by legal observances, or works of any kind?’ In this passage the word flesh cannot be taken for wicked works, any more than in the fourth chapter of the Romans, just quoted. It must be understood in the sense of working for life, or self-justification, in opposition to the way of salvation according to the Gospel. The Apostle’s main object, in the whole of that Epistle, is to reclaim the Galatian churches from the error of mixing ceremonial observances, or any works of law, with the faith of Christ, and thus walking according to the flesh, and not according to the Spirit. ‘Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from (the doctrine of) grace. For we, through the Spirit, wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.’ This reasoning applies to all works of law, of whatever description, as clearly appears by the third chapter of that Epistle.
In the same manner, the terms flesh and Spirit are employed, Philippians 3:3, ‘For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.’
Here the word flesh, opposed to Spirit, just as in the passage before us, cannot signify immoral conduct, in which it would be absurd to suppose that the Apostle placed confidence. In the sequel, Paul furnishes a practical commentary on these words, by referring to his own conduct, as having formerly walked according to the flesh, resting in external privileges, and observances, and his obedience to the law; but afterwards as renouncing them all, and relying solely on ‘the righteousness which is of God by faith.’
According, then, to the above signification of the word flesh, as employed in the fourth chapter of this Epistle, and of the word Spirit; denoting the new covenant, 2 Corinthians 3:6, this clause, ‘who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit,’ indicates the course of those who are not walking according to the old covenant, in seeking justification by the works of law, but who attain it by faith in Him who is the Lord the Spirit, 2 Corinthians 3:17. The same idea appears to be expressed here as in the preceding chapter, where the Apostle reminds believers that they are delivered from the law under which, while in the flesh, they were held, that they should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. This is consistent with the whole of the previous train of the Apostle’s reasoning, in which, as was already noticed, he has been asserting the freedom of believers from the law, and their justification by the righteousness of Christ through faith, in opposition to all self-justifying efforts or obedience of their own. They, then, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit, are no longer seeking justification by works of law, but are brought to act on Gospel and spiritual principles. They live in the Spirit, and they also walk in the Spirit.
All men who profess to worship God in any form, walk by nature according to the flesh. As man was originally placed under the law to live by his obedience to it, so, ever since it has been broken, he naturally seeks acceptance with God, and justification by the works of law. This is fully verified at all times, and in all nations, by those who are not in Christ. All men, without exception, have the work of the law written in their hearts, and if ignorant of the only Savior of sinners, they attempt to satisfy their conscience by means of some religious observances or moral works, — the idolater, by his sacrifices; the Mohammedan, by his lustrations; the Brahmin, by his austerities; the Roman Catholic, by his masses and penances; the Socinian, by his vaunted philanthropy; the nominal Christian, by his assiduous attendance at the Lord’s Supper and other religious services: and all, in some way or other, by the merit of their works, moral or ceremonial, seek to obtain their acquittal from sin before God, and a favorable sentence at His tribunal. All of them are going about to establish their own righteousness, being ignorant of the righteousness of God. In this way Saul of Tarsus, as has been noticed, describes himself as having walked, when he had ‘confidence in the flesh.’ To wait, through the Spirit, for the hope of righteousness by faith, Galatians 5:5, is peculiar to those to whom, being in Christ Jesus, there is no condemnation, and in whom the righteousness of the law is by Him fulfilled.
The verse before us, and the three preceding, contain a summary of the whole that Paul had advanced in the foregoing part of the Epistle, both respecting the justification and the sanctification of believers, and open the way for illustrating the difference between those who are carnal — remaining in their natural state — and those who are spiritual, as renewed by grace. This afterwards leads to a particular and most interesting description, through the remainder of the chapter, of the various trials of believers, as also of their unspeakably glorious privileges, and of the gracious operations and influences of the Holy Spirit in the great work of their sanctification, and to the Apostle’s concluding the whole by the most sublime view of the eternal source and absolute security of the state of dignity and blessedness to which, through Divine favor, they have been elevated.
Ver. 6. — For they that are after the, flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.
This appears to confirm the explanation that has been given of the last clause of the first verse and of that of the fourth; for the Apostle here distinguishes between walking after the flesh, and mining the things of the flesh, and between walking after the Spirit, and minding the things of the Spirit. As he had proved that union with Christ was necessary to justification, he here shows that its certain consequence is also sanctification; while they who do not enjoy this union are still under the dominion of sin. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh. — This verse connects with the preceding, and contrasts the opposite effects that follow from walking according to the flesh, or according to the Spirit. The word here translated ‘mind,’ includes both the understanding and the affections, and signifies the strong bent of the mind regarding the object desired. The minding of the flesh comprehends all the faculties of man in his unregenerate state, there being no power of the mind exempt from sin.
If, then, a man walks according to the flesh, seeking acceptance with God by his own works, moral or ceremonial, however earnest or sincere he may be in his endeavors, he will remain under the prevalence and dominion of sinful appetites. Such persons have their minds intent on the things that gratify their corrupt nature. They have no relish for spiritual things; whatever they may be induced to do from dread of punishment, or hope of reward in a future world, their desires are, in reality, centered in the things of this world. Whatever may be their profession of religion, their hearts are supremely engrossed with earthly things; and for these, if they could obtain their wish through eternity, they would gladly barter all the glories of heaven. In one word, they mind the things of the flesh, they love the world, and all that is in the world. ‘If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.’ But they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. — They who act according to the principles of the renewed spiritual nature, and seek acceptance with God by faith in Him who is ‘the Lord the Spirit,’ Corinthians 3:17, mind spiritual things. Jesus Christ is the source of every blessing, and they who are in Him are not only justified, and consequently freed from condemnation, but also walk in newness of life. They employ their thoughts and efforts about the things of God. To these they attend, and on these their affections are fixed. None will seek the things which are above, but those who serve God in newness of spirit. All others will ‘mind earthly things,’ Philippians 3:19.
On the verse before us Mr. Adam of Wintringham remarks, ‘For they that are after the flesh, that is, according to the common interpretation, not led and governed by the Spirit in practice, “still under the direction of the flesh and its sinful appetites,” says Mr. Lock, do mind the things of the flesh: very true; but then this is only affirming a thing of itself, or saying it twice over. And therefore, to clear St. Paul of this absurdity, we suppose that by “they that are after the flesh,” he means those who are destitute of faith, or not in Christ: and of them he affirms that, let them pretend to do what they will, they are still under the prevalence of flesh and its appetites, and cannot act from a higher principle, or a nature which they have not. And it must be observed that he is now advancing a step farther in the doctrine of faith, and, besides the necessity of it in order to justification, showing its happy effects as a principle of holiness: but they that are after the Spirit — in the Spirits dispensation of grace, through faith — and say that. Jesus is the Lord by the Holy Ghost, by whom only they can say it, mind the things of the Spirit, now possessing and ruling them.’
Ver. 6. — For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.
In the preceding verse the Apostle contrasts the dispositions and practices of believers and unbelievers; here he contrasts their opposite states and conditions. These two states of carnal and spiritual mindedness include and divide the whole world. All men belong either to the one or the other.
They are either in the flesh or in the Spirit; in a state of nature or in a state of grace. For to be carnally minded is death. — This is the awful state of the carnal mind — the mind of the flesh without faith in Christ, and renovation of the Spirit of God. It is death spiritual and eternal. All the works of those who are in this state are ‘dead works,’ Hebrews 9:14. ‘The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord,’ although the Lord commanded to offer sacrifices, which therefore was in itself a good work. ‘She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth.’ All by nature being in this carnal state, are ‘dead in trespasses and sins.’ Let those whose minds are set on the things of the world consider this fearful saying, that to be carnally minded is death, and let them look to Jesus the Savior of the guilty, through whom alone they can escape condemnation. But to be spiritually minded is life and peace. — These are the effects of being enlightened and guided by the Spirit of God, and so having the mind turned from earthly things to the things of the Spirit. To be spiritually minded is life, even eternal life. This life is already enjoyed by the believer. ‘Whoso eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life;’ and with his Redeemer he has risen from the death of sin to walk in this new life. It is also peace, both here and hereafter. This peace is the harmony of all the faculties of the soul with God, and with His will, and is altogether the opposite of that enmity against God, which in the following verse is affirmed concerning the carnal mind. While there is nothing so miserable for man as war with his Creator, there is nothing so blessed as peace and communion with God. It is peace in the conscience, in opposition to doubt, for which the Church of Rome contends, as if the effect of being spiritually minded, instead of peace and confidence in God, was servile fear and harassing distrust. That church maintains that the man who is regenerated should doubt of his salvation, and be uncertain of God’s love to him. What, then, becomes of this peace that flows from being spiritually minded — which passeth all understanding, keeping the heart and mind through Christ Jesus — this peace, which is one of the fruits of the Spirit, and a characteristic of the kingdom of God? Romans 14:17.
The peace here spoken of is opposed to the terrors of conscience which the unregenerate experience, and to the opposition in their hearts to God, as well as to every species of false peace by which they may be deluded. ‘There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.’ And again it is said, ‘Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee.’
Ver. 7. — Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to law of God neither indeed can be Because the carnal mind is enmity against God. — The word rendered carnal mind — or, as it may be rendered, minding of the flesh — comprehends the acts both of the understanding and of the will. Some render it the prudence, or wisdom, of the flesh — or the wise thoughts.
The carnal mind in its wisest thoughts is rooted enmity against God. This is the reason why the carnal mind is punished with death. The mind of the flesh, or of man in his unconverted state, walking according to the flesh, in its best as well as in its worst character — however moral in conduct — .whether seeking acceptance with God by its own services, or following altogether the course of this world in its sinful practices — is not merely an enemy, but enmity itself against God in the understanding, will, and affections. Every man whose heart is set on this world hates God, John 2:15. ‘If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him;’ and the heart of every one who has not been renewed in his mind by the Spirit of God is set on this world. Such men hate the holiness of God, His justice, His sovereignty, and even His mercy in the way in which it is exercised. Men of this character, however, have no notion that they hate God. Nay, many of them profess to love Him. But God’s testimony is, that they are His enemies; and His testimony is to be taken against the testimony of all men. This, however, does not suppose that men may not imagine that they love God. But is it not the true God whom they are regarding, but a God of their own imagination — a God all mercy, and therefore a God unjust; while they abhor the just God, and the Savior, who is the God of the Scriptures. ‘He that cometh to God must believe that He is,’ Hebrews 11:6. He must believe that He is what He is. For it is not subject to the law of God. — The carnal mind is not under subjection to the law of God. Whatever it may do to obtain salvation or avoid wrath, it does it not from subjection to the law. It has a rooted aversion to the spiritual law of God, and admits not its claim to perfect and unceasing obedience. All its performances in the way of religion spring from selfish motives, and a hope that, on account of these doings, it will be accepted; whereas the holy law of God utterly rejects all such service. So far from giving the law all its demands, the carnal mind gives it nothing.
Nothing which it does constitutes obedience to the law. The law does not in any degree, or in any instance, recognize the works of the carnal mind as obedience to its requirements. Neither indeed can be. — Not only is it a matter of fact that the carnal mind is not subject to the law of God, but such subjection is impossible.
Sin cannot be in subjection to the law. This would be a contradiction in terms. For, so far as it would be subject to the law of God, it would be holy. If, then, sin is essentially, and in direct terms, contrary to holiness, the sinful nature can never yield subjection to the holy law. Men may speculate about metaphysical possibilities; but whatever explanation may be given of the matter, the decision of the inspired Apostle determines that the thing is impossible.
That an unconverted man cannot be subject to the law of God, appears to many a hard saying; but it is the uniform doctrine of the word of God. All men in their natural state, though they boast that they are free, are the slaves of sin. Then Jesus, addressing the Jews who professed to believe in Him, but who understood not His doctrine, said to them, ‘Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free,’ they answered, ‘We were never in bondage to any man; how sayest Thou, Ye shall be made free?’ In the same manner the unconverted boast of their freedom. They affirm that their will is free; and that, as they can choose the evil, so they can choose the good. If, by this freedom, they intend that they can choose without any external force constraining or preventing them, it is true that, in this sense, they are free. But a moral agent chooses according to his inclinations or dispositions. It should always be recollected that the will is the will of the mind, and the judgment the judgment of the mind. It is the mind that judges and that wills. A fool judges foolishly; a wicked man judges wickedly; a good man wills that which is good. In Scripture, it is said that God cannot deny Himself; that He cannot lie. His nature being perfectly holy, it is impossible that He can do what is wrong. On the other hand, the wicked and condemned spirits cannot choose what is holy. When the devil ‘speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own; for he is a liar, and the father of it.’ Man, therefore, in his carnal state, chooses what is evil; but he cannot choose what is good, not indeed because of any external obstruction, for in that case he would not be criminal, but by reason of the opposition of his perverse dispositions. He is inclined to do evil, and evil he will do. ‘Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.’ His language is, ‘I have loved strangers, and after them will I go.’ ‘As for the word that thou hast spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not hearken unto thee.’ ‘My people would not hearken to My voice, and Israel would have none of Me.’ They say ‘unto God, Depart from us.’ ‘Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of Thy ways.’ ‘We will not have this man to reign over us.’ ‘Let us break their bands asunder, and cast their cords from us.’
It is thus that ‘wickedness proceedeth from the wicked.’ ‘Neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.’ ‘Wept a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ ‘Except a man be born of water, and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.’ ‘How can ye believe, which receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that cometh from God only?’ ‘No man can come to Me except the Father which hath sent Me, draw him.’ ‘Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto Me except it were given unto him of My Father.’ ‘The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.’ ‘Their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken.’ ‘How can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.’ ‘The Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive.’ ‘Why do ye not understand My speech? even because ye cannot hear My word.’ ‘No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.’
According, then, to Scripture, the natural man is entirely incapable of choosing what is good, although it is his duty, and therefore fit that it should be enjoined on him. He is ‘ungodly,’ a ‘sinner,’ an ‘enemy to God,’ and ‘without strength,’ Romans 5:6,10. Men in this state are represented as walking according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience; as being under ‘the power of Satan,’ and ‘taken captive by him at his will.’ They are his lawful captives, because they are so voluntarily. From this slavery they cannot be freed but by means of the word of God, the sword of the Spirit, which the Lord employs; granting to those to whom it seemeth good to Him the blessing of regeneration; ‘distributing His gifts, and dividing to every man severally as He will.’ It is God ‘who hath delivered us,’ says the Apostle, ‘from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son.’ ‘Who worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.’ ‘If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.’
When God purposes to do good to men, He fulfills to them this gracious promise, ‘I will give them a heart to know Me.’ It was this preparation of heart that David prayed to God to grant to his son Solomon. At the same time, he acknowledged with gratitude that his own willingness to offer to God, of which he was Conscious, and that of his people, were from Him.
After celebrating the praises of Jehovah, David says, ‘But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly after this sort? For all things come of Thee, and of Thine own have we given Thee.
O Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, our fathers, keep this for ever in the imagination of the thoughts of the heart of Thy people, and prepare their hearts unto Thee,’ 1 Chronicles 29:10-18.
There is nothing to prevent men from obeying the will of God but their own depraved dispositions, and aversion to the things of God. The natural faculties of men would be sufficient to enable them to do what He commands, if they employ them properly. If they employ them otherwise, the fault rests exclusively with themselves. And as the corruption of our nature does not deprive a man of any of his natural faculties, or of perfect liberty to act conformably to the decision of his own mind, the obligation under which he lies to do right continues in full force. From this we see, first, how justly God punishes men for their crimes, who, unless inclined and enabled by His grace, cannot liberate themselves from the slavery of sin; and further, that the inability of men to obey God, not being natural but moral inability, cannot deprive God of the right to command obedience, under the pain of His most awful displeasure.
On this subject, the distinction between natural and moral inability should always be kept in view. Natural inability consists in a defect in the mind or body, which deprives a man of the power of knowing or doing anything, however desirous he may be of knowing or doing it. Natural inability, then, can never render a man criminal. Moral inability consists in an aversion to anything, so great that the mind, even when acting freely — that is, without any external impulse or constraint — cannot overcome it.
When this aversion exists as to what is good, it is inseparable from blame; and the greater this aversion is, the greater is the criminality. All men are daily accustomed to make these distinctions, and according to this rule they constantly form their opinion of the conduct of others.
In the nature of things, it is impossible that the justice of God can ever demand of reasonable creatures less than perfect obedience. To say that the moral inability of man to obey the law of God destroys or weakens, in the smallest degree, his obligation to obey that law, is to add insult to rebellion. For what is that moral inability? It is, as has been observed, no other than aversion to God, the depraved inclination of the carnal mind, which not only entertains and cherishes enmity against God, but is itself that enmity. And let it not be said that the view the Scriptures give of the natural depravity of men, and of the sovereign and efficacious grace of God, reduces them to the condition of machines. Between men and machines there is this essential difference, and it is enough for us to know that man is a voluntary agent both in the state of nature and of grace. He wills and acts according to his own dispositions, while machines have neither thought nor will. As long, then, as a man’s will is depraved and opposed to God, his conduct will be bad, — he will fulfill the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and, on the other hand, when God gives the sinner a new disposition, and a new spirit, his conduct will undergo a corresponding change. ‘The liberty of a moral agent consists in the power of acting conformably to his choice. Every action performed without external constraint, and in pursuance of the determination of the soul itself, is a free action. The soul is determined by motives; but we constantly see the same motives acting diversely on different minds. Many do not act conformably to the motives of which they yet acknowledge all the force.
This failure of the motive proceeds from obstacles opposed by the corruption of the heart and understanding. But God, in giving a new heart and a new spirit, takes away these obstacles; and, in removing them, far from depriving a man of liberty, He removes that which hindered him from acting freely, and from following the light of his conscience, and thus, as the Scriptures express it, makes him free. The will of man, without Divine grace, is not free but enslaved, and willing to be so.’
Is it objected, that if a man be so entirely corrupt that he cannot do what is right, he should not be blamed for doing evil? To this it is sufficient to reply, that if there be any force in the objection, the more a voluntary agent is diabolically wicked, the more innocent he should be considered. A creature is not subject to blame if he is not a voluntary agent; but if he be so, and if his dispositions and his will were absolutely wicked, he would certainly be incapable of doing good, and, according to the above argument, he could not be blamed for doing evil. On this ground the devil must be excused, nay, held perfectly innocent, in his desperate and irreconcilable enmity against God. A consequence so monstrous totally destroys the force of the objection whence it is deduced. But if the objection be still pressed — if any one shall proudly demand, who hath resisted His will?
Why hath He made me thus? — the only proper answer is that of the Apostle, ‘Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?’
Some, indeed, taking a different and the most common view of this matter, deny the innate depravity of their nature, and, in spite of all that the Scriptures declare on this subject, persist in maintaining that they have not an inclination to evil, and are under no moral incapacity to do what is right.
To such persons the same reply should be made as that of our Lord to the ignorant young man who asked Him what he should do to inherit eternal life. ‘If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.’ You cannot refuse to admit that this is your duty. You ought to love God with all your heart, and soul, and strength, and in all things constantly to obey Him.
Have you done so? No! Then, on your own principles, you are justly condemned, for you say that you can do what is right, and yet you have not done it. If, then, you will not submit unconditionally, and without reserve, to be saved in the way which the Gospel points out, in which you learn at once your malady and the remedy of which you stand in need, your blood will be upon your own head. ‘Now, you say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth.’ The whole, then, resolves itself into this, that all is according to the good pleasure of God. ‘Either make the tree good and his fruit good, or else make the tree corrupt and his fruit corrupt; for the tree is known by his fruit. Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Ye shall know them by their fruits.’ Every man, then, being by nature bad, must be made good before he can do good. In this and the two preceding verses we observe the strong, and expressive, and accumulated terms in which the Apostle describes the alienation of the natural man from God. 1st , He declares that they who walk after the flesh, mind the things of the flesh; 2nd , That the minding of the flesh is death; 3rd , That the carnal mind is enmity against God; 4th , That it is not subject to the law of God; 5th , That so great is the corruption of the carnal mind, that this is impossible.
From the passage before us, we learn how miserable the state of man is by nature, since even his wisdom and intelligence, in his unconverted state, is enmity against God, so that he cannot submit himself to His law. We learn, too, that the ability both to will and to do anything good must be from God. We should adore His compassion and mercy to us, if our natural enmity against Him has been subdued, and we have been reconciled to God by the death of His Son. In proportion to the greatness of this compassion, we should place our entire confidence in Him as our covenant God. For if, when we were enmity against Him, He loved us, how much more now that we are reconciled and His children? Romans 5:10. And, since there are still remains of the flesh and enmity against God and His holy law in our minds, we ought to deny ourselves daily, and flee to Him who can and will entirely deliver us from the body of this death.
This is the result of what has been said. A man must be born of the Spirit before he can even begin to serve God. How unscriptural and pernicious, then, is that system which teaches men to seek to please God by commencing a religious life, that God may be induced to co-operate with them in their further exertions. If the man who is not born again cannot please God, every act of the sinner before faith must be displeasing to God. An action may be materially good in itself, but unless it proceeds from a right motive — the love of God — and be directed to a right end — his glory — it cannot be acknowledged by God. Before a man’s services can be acceptable, his person must be accepted, as it is said, ‘The Lord had respect unto Abel, and to his offering. ’ ‘Without faith it is impossible to please God.’ It is by faith we are united to Christ, and so reconciled to God; and till this union and reconciliation take place, there can be no communion with Him. If, then, no man who is in the flesh — that is, in his natural or unconverted state — can please God, how dreadful is the situation of those who do not even profess to be renewed in the spirit of their mind! How many are there who discard the idea of regeneration!
However specious may be the works of such persons in the eyes of men, they cannot please God; and not pleasing God, they must abide the condemnation that awaits all His enemies.
Ver. 9. — But we are not in the flesh, but in the spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God and dwell in you. Now, if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.
In the preceding verses the Apostle had given a description of carnal and spiritual mindedness. Here he applies what he had said to those whom he was addressing. Ye are not in the flesh, but in the spirit. — As the flesh is here taken for the nature of man corrupted by sin, so to be in the flesh signifies to be in a state of natural corruption. On the other hand, to be in the spirit signifies to be in a state of grace or regeneration, John 3:6.
Flesh is a principle that attaches to the earth, and the things of the earth; but the spirit of regeneration is as a light, which, coming from heaven, elevates the mind to those things that are celestial. As to the understanding, the man in the flesh, or the carnal man, receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness Unto him; but he who is in the spirit, or spiritual, knows and approves the will of God, having ‘the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God,’ ‘the eyes of his understanding being enlightened.’ The will of the carnal man is such that the imagination of his thoughts are only evil continually; but he who is spiritual his conscience purged from dead works to serve the living God.
The affections of him who is carnal are enmity against God, and in rebellion against His law; but the spiritual man delights in the law of God, and loves His commandments. The former considers the things of the world as his sovereign good; the latter seeks the things that are above at the right hand of God.
Not being in the flesh, but in the spirit, was the state of all in the church at Rome. All belonging to it were, as far as man could judge, ‘saints,’ ch. 1:7, the regenerated children of God. The Apostle was persuaded that they were all ‘his brethren’ in Christ, ‘full of goodness,’ ch. 15:14. It was meet for him to think this of them all, Philippians 1:7. They were not then in the corrupt state of nature, but in the Spirit, walking in the Spirit, renewed by the Spirit of God. How different at that period was the church at Rome from that apostate body which now usurps its name! Nor only are natural or carnal men recognized as its members, but, like the temples of heathenish, it is filled with abominations and filthiness. If so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. — The Apostle, in order to confirm those to whom he wrote in the assurance of their happy condition, now calls their attention to the evidence of being in a converted state, namely, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. ‘Hereby we know that we dwell in Him, and He in us, because He hath given us of His Spirit,’ John 4:13. This indwelling of the Spirit is a sure evidence of a renewed state; and believers should be careful not to grieve the Spirit, and should labor to enjoy a constant sense of His presence in their hearts.
In this verse the word spirit in the first occurrence imports the gift and grace of regeneration. In the 2nd and 3rd it denotes the Author of that gift, namely, the Holy Spirit, who is Jehovah, a person in the self existent Godhead; equal with the Father and the Son in every attribute. He is called the Spirit, as being the breather or inspirer of spiritual life. Everything done by Him in this character tends to holiness, and therefore He is so often called the Holy Spirit. It is His Divine office to apply the salvation of Jesus, and to make it effectual. He does all in the heirs of promise. The Father gave them to the Son, the Son redeemed them, but they are in the common mass of corruption, dead in trespasses and sins, till the Spirit of life opens their hearts to receive Him, enters into them, unites them by faith to the Savior, and makes them the subjects of a new birth. Of the Holy Spirit it is said, 1 Corinthians 3:16, ‘Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?’ If it be asked how the Holy Spirit, who is co-essential with the Father and the Son, and consequently infinite, can dwell in believers, the answer is, that though everywhere present, He is said nevertheless to dwell in them on account of His operation and the grace of regeneration, which He produces. It is the Holy Spirit who unites them to Christ the Lord. It is He who quickens and regenerates them, on account of which regeneration is called he ‘renewing of the Holy Ghost.’ He it is who leads, rules, and governs them, as it is said in the 14th verse, that as many as are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God. What this expression, ‘dwell in you,’ imports is, that being united to Jesus Christ and regenerated, the Holy Spirit dwells in His people not as inactive, but operates in them continually, and leads and governs them. In the indwelling, then, of the Holy Spirit, is included His gracious and continuing presence, and His operations in the soul. The effects of these are illumination, sanctification, supplication, and consolation. Of the Holy Spirit, one of the early Christian writers says, ‘He is the author of regeneration, the pledge of the promised inheritance, and, as it were, the handwriting of eternal salvation; who makes us the temple of God and His house, who intercedes for us with groanings which cannot be uttered, acting as our advocate and defender, dwelling in our bodies, and sanctifying them for immortality. He it is who fights against the flesh, hence the flesh fights against the Spirit.’
It is Jesus Christ who gives to His people the Holy Spirit. ‘It is expedient for you,’ He says, ‘that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you.’ At the ancient Pentecost, God gave the law to the people of Israel fifty days after the institution of the Passover. Jesus Christ, as being the body and truth of the typical ordinances, having chosen to suffer at the feast of the Passover, was pleased also to send forth the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, who by His power accomplishes in the hearts of believers what the law outwardly required; for the law was a letter written in stone, and therefore in itself without efficacy; but the Holy Spirit is that internal power which He puts within them and writes on their hearts. As, then, in the ancient Pentecost, God had given the law inscribed in tables of stone, so on the Christian Pentecost, Jesus Christ, by the power of His Spirit, writes it in their hearts. ‘Ye’ says the Apostle, ‘are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not in tables of stone, but in fleshly tables of the heart.’ And why do we so often read in the New Testament of the contrast between the spirit and the letter, but to teach us that we have in the Christian Pentecost, by the Spirit of Christ, the truth and effect which the law in vain required from sinners. Now, or rather, But, if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His. — Here is a necessary reservation. If the Spirit of God did not really dwell in any of those whom the Apostle addressed, they were still in the flesh, notwithstanding all their profession, and all their present appearances, and his persuasion respecting them. And no doubt some will be found to have escaped for a time the pollutions of the world, who may afterwards show that they were never renewed in heart. Many ridicule the pretensions of those who speak of the Holy Spirit as dwelling in believers; yet if the Spirit of God dwell not in any, they are still in the flesh; that is, they are enemies to God.
The same Spirit that is called the Spirit of God in the preceding part of the sentence, is in this latter part called the Spirit of Christ, because Christ having, by virtue of His sacrifice, obtained the Spirit for His people, sends Him into their hearts, John 16:7. Christ, then, who sends the Holy Spirit, must be God. Every Christian has the Spirit of Christ dwelling in him. When Christ takes possession of any man as His, He puts His Holy Spirit within him. Without the presence of His Spirit, we can have no interest in Christ.
Ver. 10. — And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
The Apostle having affirmed in the 2nd verse that the law of the Spirit of life had made him free from the law of sin and death, and having declared in the 3rd and 4th verses in what manner we are freed from the law as the law of sin, it remained for him to show how we are freed from it as the law of death. This he accordingly does here, and in the following verse. In the 7th and 8th verses, he had confirmed his declaration in the 6th, that to be carnally minded is death. He now illustrates the opposite declaration, that to be spiritually minded is life. He admits, however, that notwithstanding the believer’s communion with Christ, the body is dead; but to this he opposes the double consolation of the eternal life of our souls on account of the righteousness of Christ, and, in the next verse, the resurrection of our bodies through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
There is in this verse a triple opposition: first, of the body to the soul; second, of a state of death to a state of life; third, of sin to righteousness.
It was necessary to remove the objection replied to in this verse, especially as the Apostle had said that to those who are in Christ Jesus there is no condemnation. Whence, then, it might be asked, does it happen that we who are in Him are still subject to death like other men? He answers, If Jesus Christ be in you, the body indeed is dead because of sin, but the spirit is life because of righteousness. In what follows, he abundantly shows that the temporary sufferings of believers, among which is the death of the body, are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in them; and that in the meantime all things that happen to them are working for their good. The term body is, in this verse, to be taken, as is evident from the following verse, in its literal signification; and by the spirit, as opposed to it, is meant the soul, as in the 16th verse, where our spirit is distinguished from the Holy Spirit.
And, or rather, But, if Christ be in you. — The Apostle had just affirmed that if any man have not the, Spirit of Christ, he is none of His; but if He be in us, then the consequences here stated follow. Jesus Christ, in regard to His Divine nature, is everywhere present; but He is in a special manner in believers, as it is said, Ephesians 3:17, ‘That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.’ This indwelling of Christ signifies two things, namely, the close and intimate union we have with Him, and His operation in us. As the Scriptures declare that Jesus Christ is in us, so they also assure us that we are in Him, ch. <450801> 8:1; 1 Corinthians 1:30; Corinthians 5:17; Colossians 1:27. And thus we dwell in Him and He in us, John 6:56. This union with Jesus Christ is necessary, in order that He should work in us. For He works only in His members; so that, for this purpose, we must be first incorporated in Him, John 15:4. By this union we participate in His grace; because, as we are in Him and He in us, we have all things with Him in common. Our sins are reputed His sins, and His righteousness ours. He that persecutes His people persecutes Him; he that touches them touches the apple of His eye. And as in this life they partake of His grace, so in the life to come they shall participate in His glory. The body is dead — Notwithstanding our union with Jesus Christ, our bodies are dead. The Scriptures speak of three kinds of death: one is in this life, the other at the end of this life, and the third after this life. The first is spiritual death, Ephesians 2:1; Colossians 2:13. Natural death takes place at the separation of the soul from the body; and after this life is the second, or eternal death, which consists in everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord. It is only of the second or natural death that the Apostle here speaks, for believers are delivered from the first and the third. He says the body is dead, to show that it is the lowest part of man that for a time is affected by death, as it is said, ‘Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was,’ Ecclesiastes 12:7. Because of sin. — Men die for the sin of Adam. ‘By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin’ and God said, ‘In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.’ But why do believers die, since death is the punishment of sin, and as to them God hath remitted this punishment? for the Apostle shows, chapter 4, that their sins are not imputed to them; in chapter 6, that they are dead to sin; and in the beginning of the chapter before us, that there is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus. Jesus Christ, too, has made complete satisfaction for the punishment of their sins, sin having been condemned in His flesh. The Apostle also says, ‘Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us;’ but death is among the curses of the law. We must then distinguish between death considered in itself, and in its nature, and as having changed its nature in Jesus Christ our Lord. In itself, death is the punishment of sin and the curse of the law, and it is such to the wicked and unbelievers. But, by the work of Christ, it is to His people no more a punishment of sin, but the destruction of sin. It is no more the curse of the law, but is changed into a blessing, and has become the passage to eternal life, and the entrance into the heavenly paradise.
The death of believers does not, then, in the least degree derogate from the complete satisfaction of Jesus Christ, and the perfect redemption from the curse of the law, since their death is not a punishment of sin in vindictive justice, as all the afflictions of this life as well as death are to the enemies of God. But by Jesus Christ, in respect to those whom the Father hath given to Him, and who are united to Him, God acts in mercy, and afflictions and death are only chastisements from His fatherly hand — trials of their faith, and salutary discipline, as the Apostle in this chapter declares that all things work together for good; and in the First Epistle, to the Corinthians 3:22, that all things are theirs, whether life or death, God has established another covenant, which is that of grace, according to which those who partake in the death of Christ, by which that sentence was, as to them, carried into full execution, must indeed die; but death to them is swallowed up in victory; and instead of the day of their death being a day of punishment of sin, it is a day of triumph over death. The death of the body is as to them the preparation for its immortality and in corruption, as the seed deposited in the earth passes in such a way through death as to overcome it, and revives and fructifies, so that when in the earth it is not lost. In like manner the bodies of believers do not perish by death, but derive from the grave what is contrary to its natural character. They are sown in corruption, but they are to rise in corruption.
They are sown in weakness, but they are to rise in power. They are sown in dishonor, but they are to rise in glory. They are sown natural bodies, but they are to rise spiritual bodies. And as to the soul, death indeed separates it from the body, but transmits it to God. It is evident, then, that such a death is not a punishment of sin, or a curse of the law. Its end and use to the regenerate, as to their bodies, is to extirpate and destroy the sin that remains in them: they must die in order to be purified. The infusion of that moral poison has so corrupted our bodies, that, like the leprous house, they must be taken down and renewed, to be purified from sin. As the grain is not quickened except it die, in the same way our bodies die and molder in the dust, to be revived and reconstructed in holiness.
If it be said that God, without dooming His people to die, could have changed them in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, as He will do with respect to those who shall survive to the day of His coming, it should be considered that the wisdom of God hath judged it proper that the believer should be subjected to the death of the body. This tends to lead him to hold sin in abhorrence whence death proceeds. He also sees in death the goodness and the severity of God, and by it and his other afflictions he may judge what will be the end of those whom God punishes in His anger.
He may observe in it the goodness of God to him in depriving it of its sting, and ordering it so that he may more fully taste the sweetness of a lasting and immortal life. Such discipline, too, tends to humble the believer, by which also his graces, given to him by God, are increased, and the power of the Lord made manifest in his weakness. Finally, believers die, that in their death they may be conformed to Jesus Christ; for it He died, shall they, who are His members, be exempt from this lot? and if He must in that way enter into His glory, shall they, who are His members, enter by any other way? And this assuredly is a great consolation, that in dying we follow Jesus Christ, our Head, who hath gone before us.
The eye of nature, which loves its preservation, regards death with fear, in which it sees its destruction. The eye of the flesh, which is enmity against God, regards it with still greater dread, perceiving in it the summons to stand before the tribunal of God. But the believer, by the eye of faith, discovers in death what dissipates the fears of nature, and repels the despair of the flesh. To nature, which apprehends its destruction, faith opposes the weakness of death, which cannot prevent the resurrection; and to the condemnation which the flesh apprehends, opposes that life which it discovers under the mask of death. It sees that, though its appearance be terrific, yet in Christ it has lost its sting. It is like the phantom walking on the sea which approached to the terrified disciples, but it was Jesus Christ their Lord and Savior. If unknown evils that may happen in death be apprehended, the believer remembers that the very hairs of his head are all numbered. Jesus, who is with him he knows will not abandon him. He will not permit him to be tempted above what he is able to bear, for ‘precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.’
The nature, then, of death, is changed to believers by Jesus Christ, so that ‘the day of their death is better than the day of their birth.’ Death to them is no more a curse, but a blessing, which puts an end to their sins and troubles, causing them to pass to perfect holiness and happiness, and from being absent from the Lord to carry them into His presence in paradise.
From being strangers on the earth, it introduces them into their heavenly inheritance. From their wanderings and agitations here below, it brings them into the haven of everlasting rest. If the children of Israel, when they arrived at the river Jordan, were dismayed at the over flowings of its waters, had they not reason to rejoice when they beheld on the other side that fertile land which God had promised them, and into which they were about to enter to enjoy its fruits? But, above all, had they not cause of encouragement when they saw that the ark of the covenant was in the midst of Jordan? Death is the passage of Jordan by which believers enter the heavenly Canaan. In order that its waves may not overwhelm them in passing, Jesus Christ arrests them, since He is in His people, and consequently with them. This was David’s support, ‘Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me.’ When the devouring lion roars around His people, ready to destroy them, Jesus Himself is still nearer to defend them; and He commands His angels to encamp about them, who have in charge to bear their spirits to the paradise of God. But the spirit is life. — To the fact that the body is dead, the Apostle here opposes, as a ground of comfort, the consideration that our souls are life.
The life here spoken of is the life of God in the soul; it is the new and eternal life which His Spirit communicates in regeneration. The souls of believers are possessed of this spiritual life, of which the Scriptures inform us when they say that God hath ‘quickened us together with Christ.’ ‘Whoso eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood hath eternal life.’ It is life, and eternal life, already possessed, and the commencement of that glorious life which shall be enjoyed in heaven. It is the blessing which the Lord commands, ‘even Life for evermore.’ This life, which, being borne down by so many encumbrances here, is still feeble, and but imperfectly enjoyed, shall, in the world to come, flourish in full vigor, and without any abatement. It is the life of our Lord and Savior, subsisting in Him, and derived from Him. In Him, His people shall rise and live, and live for ever.
He Himself hath said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth, and believeth in Me, shall never die.’
In the verse before us we have a remarkable example of the accuracy with which the Scriptures are written. The Apostle does not say that the body is dead, and the spirit alive or living; or that the body is death, and the spirit life. Either of these would have formed the natural contrast; but neither would have conveyed the important sense of this passage, but, on the contrary, a false one. He says the body is dead, and the spirit is life.
The body is not death, that is, in a state of everlasting death; it is only dead, and shall live again. On the other hand, the spirit is not merely said to be alive, which it might be although under sentence of death, afterwards to be inflicted; but it is life in the sense of that declaration of our Lord, ‘He that hath the Son hath life.’ The body is dead on account of Sin; that is, the body is not only mortal, but may, in some sense, be said to be already dead, being under sentence of death, and in constant progress towards dissolution. It remains with its infirmities unaltered. There is no difference between the body of the wicked man and the body of the believer. Every one may perceive a difference in their minds. The believer’s body is dead because of sin, according to the original sentence, ‘Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.’ But the spirit is life — possessed of life eternal, in virtue of its union with Him who is ‘the life.’ Became of righteousness. — Here a great difficulty is removed; for it may be said, If our bodies are dead because of sin, how is it that our souls are life, since they are stained with sin, and that it is on account of their sinfulness that our bodies are infected with the same malady? The Apostle, in answer, brings into view the righteousness of Him who is in us, and shows that it is on account of His righteousness that our souls are life. And this necessarily follows; for if we have such union with our Lord and Savior, that we are flesh of His flesh and bone of His bones, that we are His members, and if He and we are one; His righteousness must be ours; for where there is one body, there is one righteousness. On the other hand, through the same union our sins have been transferred to Him, as is said by the Prophet Isaiah, ‘The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquities of us all.’ And the Apostle Peter says that He ‘bore our sins in His own body on the tree;’ He bore their punishment. ‘He was made sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.’ An exchange, then, of sin and righteousness has taken place. By imputation He has been made sin, and by imputation we also are made righteousness.
Jesus Christ, as being the surety of the new covenant, has appeared before God for us, and consequently His righteousness is ours.
In the verse before us we have an undeniable proof of the imputation to us of righteousness, for otherwise it would be a manifest contradiction to say that we die on account of our sins, and that we have life on account of our righteousness; for what is sin but the opposite of righteousness? Whoever, then, dies on account of the sin that is in him, cannot obtain life by his own righteousness. Now, if all men die on account of sin, as the Apostle here teaches, then no man can have life be his own righteousness.
Ver. 11. — But if the spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwelleth in you.
The Apostle here obviates a difficulty which might present itself from what he had said in the preceding verse, of the bodies of believers being dead though their souls have life. He now assures them that, if the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in them, God will also raise up their bodies, though at present mortal. Thus he sets before them, first, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and next their own resurrection, as being His members; for he deduces their resurrection from His resurrection. Their Head has conquered death and the grave, and with Him they shall overcome. Their freedom, then, from death he rests on the same foundation on which he had already shown that their freedom from sin was secured — on Jesus Christ, the surety of God’s gracious covenant.
The Apostle elsewhere proves the resurrection of the bodies of believers, by comparing Jesus Christ with Adam, saying, ‘As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive,’ 1 Corinthians 15:22; showing that if we do not rise by virtue of Jesus Christ our Lord, Christ would be inferior to Adam. For could the sin and death of Adam have more power to subject those who were in Him to death, than the righteousness and resurrection of Jesus Christ to deliver those who are in Him from death? The Apostle also declares that Jesus Christ, having risen from the dead, has become the first fruits of them that slept, and adds, ‘Every man in his own order; Christ the first fruits, afterwards the that are Christ’s at His corning.’ This he does for the purpose of showing that, as the first fruits of the ground precede the harvest, so the first fruits of the resurrection of Christ will be followed by that great harvest, in which the bodies of believers sown in the earth, after having died like grain cast into it, shall be revived and raised up. The life which has been communicated to our souls will, at the glorious resurrection, be also communicated to our bodies. All men will then arise, but not in glory, as all will not arise in virtue of the resurrection of our Lord. The wicked shall arise by the power of their Judge, to receive in their body the punishment of their sins, and to suffer ‘the second death;’ but believers, in virtue of the resurrection, and by the Spirit of Jesus Christ as their Head. For that Spirit which has been communicated to them from Jesus Christ, as from the head to the members, and who hath made their bodies His temples on earth, will raise them from the dust, and will perfect His work in them. Believers, then, may defy the grave, and glory over death, being assured of this resurrection. From the guilt of sin they have been delivered, it being ‘condemned’ in Christ — punished in His death; from the power of death they are released by His resurrection. On Jesus Christ, then, the sure foundation, is the whole of our salvation built.
In Him God is well pleased; through Him the Holy Spirit is vouchsafed.
Christ is the Alpha and the Omega; He is the ‘All in All.’ Quicken your mortal bodies. — From this it appears that, as to their substance, the bodies of believers will in their resurrection be the same as those that died. ‘Though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God,’ Job 19:26. ‘Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead,’ Isaiah 26:19. The soul of each man will be reunited to his own body in which he has done good or evil. For as the body is the organ of the soul in this world, so it must participate in the felicity or punishment that shall follow, whether the whole man has remained under the law, or has been received into the covenant of grace. But as to the qualities of the bodies of believers, these will be different from what they were here, as the Apostle teaches, 1 Corinthians 15:50. For as in this world they have borne the image of the first man, who was of the earth earthy; so, in the resurrection, when this corruptible shall put on in corruption, they shalt bear the image of the second man, who is heavenly; the bodies of their humiliation being fashioned like unto the glorious body of the Son of God, Philippians 3:21, not only in having a perfect beauty, exempt from all maladies, but as being spiritual, adapted to their spiritual and heavenly state. And as, when Jesus was transfigured, His face did shine as the sun, and His raiment was white as light, so the righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. From all this we may judge what will be the condition of the soul, and what its glory conformable to so glorious a body. We see also what is the death of believers, which is only a sleep, since it is to be followed by such a resurrection. Inasmuch as this mystery of the resurrection exceeds our reason, so is it clearly represented to us in Scripture. f40 By the Spirit that dwelleth in you. — The indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who communicates life to those who are habitations of God through Him, is here set before believers as a pledge that their bodies shall not remain under the power of death. This indwelling, which renders their resurrection certain, imports His love, His government, the operation of His grace, and His care to adorn and to beautify the temple in which He resides; and the end of it is to confer everlasting life, everlasting purity, and everlasting communion with Himself. It would be derogatory to the majesty and glory of the blessed Spirit to allow those bodies, in which He dwelt as His temple, to lie for ever in ruins in the dust. And God, who raised up Jesus Christ from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, will raise up the bodies of His people in virtue of that blood, which purchased not only the redemption of their souls, but also of their bodies, verse 23. The power and efficacy of the three glorious persons of the Godhead are thus brought into view as securing the complete re-establishment of the bodies of believers, which, though at present mortal, shall hereafter partake in all the glories and blessedness of eternal life.
This concurrence of the power of the Godhead in the plan of redemption, in which the Father provides for our salvation, the Son merits it, and the Holy Spirit applies it, is established in a multitude of passages of the Holy Scriptures. In this economy the Father occupies the place of the founder of the Church, the sovereign of the world, the protector and avenger of His laws, and the first director of the work of our salvation. The Son has become the Mediator between God and man, to do everything necessary for our redemption, while the Holy Spirit has assumed the office of the comforter and sanctifier of the Church. The first preparation for our salvation is found in what the Father has done, namely, in the plan which He has formed, in the election of His people, and His giving them to His Son; in the appointment of the sacrifice, in the transfer of our sins to Him who has suffered, and in respect to the satisfaction He has received. The second step is seen in what the Son has merited and effected in coming into the world, by His obedience, His death, and resurrection. The third discovers the Holy Spirit making actual application of the whole, uniting us to the Savior, producing in us faith and sanctification, diffusing in our hearts the sentiment of our peace with God in our justification, causing us to persevere to the end, and raising us up again, as He will do, at the last day. In this Divine economy the Son has received His mission from the Father to come into the world. On this account He so often refers His first advent to His being sent by the Father to take on Himself the office of the Prophet, the Priest, and the King of His Church. To this inequality of office such passages as the following ought to be referred: ‘— my Father is greater than I,’ John 14:28; and that in 1 Corinthians 15:28, where it is said, ‘Then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him;’ thus terminating His mediatorial office in delivering up the kingdom by an act of humiliation, in the same way as He had entered upon it. For in neither of these texts is any personal inequality spoken of between the Father and Son, but an inequality of office according to which the Father is greater than the Son, and the Son inferior to the Father.
The resurrection of Christ, in the passage before us, is ascribed to the Father and the Holy Spirit; but in other places this is also ascribed to the Son Himself. The Father, and the Holy Spirit, and the Son, then, must be one God. It is only those in whom the Spirit of God that raised Jesus from the dead dwells, who shall have their mortal bodies thus quickened, so as to rise again in glory. Christ, indeed, will also raise His enemies, but His own people will be made alive — which is never said of the wicked — to live with Him in glory for ever.
This is a consequence drawn from what the Apostle had said with reference to the state of enmity against God, and of the death of those who are in the flesh; and likewise from what He had been showing to be the great privilege of believers, as being not in the flesh but in the Spirit; as having the Spirit of God dwelling in them; and not only giving life to their souls, but securing the future quickening and raising of their bodies. From all this he infers their obligation to live a holy life, in walking according to the Spirit in the character which he had shown belonged to them. They were not then debtors to the flesh — the state in which they had been by nature, which is a state of corruption, guilt, and weakness — to live after the flesh, either to expect life from its best efforts, or to obey it in its lusts. The ways of the flesh promise happiness, but misery is their reward. On the contrary, it is implied that they were debtors to God, to whom they were under so great obligations as being redeemed from the law of sin and death, to serve and obey Him, in walking according to the Spirit, in that new and Divine nature which He has graciously imparted to them.
Ver. 13. — For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.
For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die. — The reason in the former verse why those to whom the Apostle wrote were not debtors to live after the flesh — under any obligation to obey its dictates — was taken from their obligations to God in respect of their privileges; here it is taken from the doom of those who thus live. If ye live agreeably to your carnal nature, without Christ and faith in Him, and according to the corrupt principles that belong to man in the state in which he is born, ye shall die. Ye shall suffer all the misery that throughout eternity shall be the portion of the wicked, which is called death, as death is the greatest evil in this world.
Thus the wrath of God is denounced against all who do not live to God, in obedience to His commands, but serve the lusts of the flesh, and do not seek salvation in the way He has appointed, however harmless and even useful they may be in society. At the same time, this proves that nothing done by the natural man, in his best efforts and highest attainments, will lead to God and to life. The Apostle thus repeats what he had affirmed in the sixth verse, that to be carnally minded is death. But if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of this body. — The deeds of the body are the works which corrupt nature produces. The believer neither indulges nor walks according to them, but mortifies and puts them to death. Those to whom the Apostle wrote had mortified the deeds of the body, yet they are here called to a further mortification of them, which imports that this is both a gradual work, and to be continued and persevered in while we are in the world. This shows that the sanctification of the believer is progressive.
Some have objected to the doctrine of progressive sanctification, and have conceived that to assert it is a great error. They hold that there is no more progress in sanctification than there is in justification, and that both are complete at once on believing the truth. There is just so much truth in this as serves to make the error plausible. It is true that there is a sense in which believers are perfectly sanctified from the moment they believe.
That sanctification, however, is not in themselves; it is in Christ, as much as their justification. The moment they believe, they are justified in Christ and perfectly righteous; and the moment they believe, they are sanctified in Him, and in Him are perfectly holy. Viewed in Christ, they are ‘complete.’ But there is a personal sanctification, which commences with the new birth on believing the truth, and which is not perfected till death.
Many passages of Scripture import this doctrine. The following prayer of the Apostle is explicit and decisive: — ’And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly,’ 1 Thessalonians 5:23. The Apostle Peter enjoins on believers to desire the pure milk of the word, that they may grow thereby, and begins his second Epistle by praying that grace might be multiplied to those to whom he wrote, and concludes it by enjoining on them to grow in grace. ‘The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.’
Believers obtain sanctification by the Spirit through the truth. Their sanctification, then, must be in proportion as the truth is understood and believed. It is through faith in Christ, Acts 26:18; if so, according to the degree of faith will be the degree of sanctification. But all Christians are not equal in faith, neither, then, are they equal in sanctification; and as a Christian advances in faith, he advances in sanctification. If he may say, ‘Lord, increase my faith,’ he may likewise say, ‘Lord, increase my sanctification.’ He receives the Holy Spirit only in a measure. He may and ought, therefore, to pray for a larger measure of influence and grace from Him who gives grace in that measure which pleases Him. We should pray that God would grant unto us according to the riches of His glory, that we may be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man. They who have already put on Christ as their sanctifier, are still exhorted to put Him on, ch. 13:14 — that is, more and more. There are babes in Christ, <460301> Corinthians 3:1; there are little children, and young men, and fathers, John 2:12. Through the Spirit. — It is through the power of the Holy Spirit, who testifies of Christ and His salvation, and according to the new nature which He communicates, that the believer mortifies his sinful propensities.
It is not then of himself, of his own power or will, that he is able to do this. ‘Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.’ No man overcomes the corruptions of his heart but by the influence of the Spirit of God. Though it is the Spirit of God who enables us to mortify the deeds of the body, yet it is also said to be our own act. We do this through the Spirit. The Holy Spirit works in men according to the constitution that God has given them. The same work is, in one point of view, the work of God, and in another the work of man. Ye shall live. — Here eternal life is promised to all who, through the Spirit, mortify the deeds of the body. The promise of life by the Gospel is not made to the work, but to the worker; and to the worker, not for or on account of his work, but according to his work, for the sake of Christ’s work. The promise, then, of life is not made to the work of mortification, but to him that mortifies his flesh; and that not for his mortification, but because he is in Christ, of which this mortification is the effect and the evidence. That they who mortify the flesh shall live, is quite consistent with the truth that the gift of God is eternal life, Romans 6:23; and in this gift there is no respect to the merit of the receiver. This describes the character of all who shall receive eternal life; and it is of great importance.
It takes away every ground of hope from those who profess to know God, and in works deny Him; for they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.
In all this we are reminded that, while we cannot in this life attain to the fulfilling of the law in our own persons, we must seek to be conformed to that law, and so mortify the old man in our members, otherwise it is a proof that we have no part in the righteousness of Christ. For can it be supposed that by Him we are absolved from sin in order to obtain a license to continue in sin ourselves? On the contrary, our justification and our sanctification, as is shown in the sixth chapter, are inseparable. Jesus Christ came by water and blood; not by water only, but by water and blood, — signifying by the blood the expiation of the guilt of our sins by His death, and by water the virtue of His Spirit for our sanctification in washing our souls from the pollution of sin. In like manner, under the law, there were not only sacrifices of animals whose blood was shed, but various washings, to teach us that these two benefits are inseparable in the Gospel. Accordingly, when David describes the blessedness of the man whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered, unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, he immediately adds, in whose spirits there is no guile. For ought we to wish to receive the remission of sin, and to continue to walk in guile? Ought we thus to seek to divide Christ, receiving only the efficacy of His blood and not that of His Spirit; desiring that He should be made to us righteousness and not also sanctification? We are to seek in Him the cause of our justification, and observe in ourselves its proofs and effects. We should see that, as we are pilgrims in this world, we have for our guide the Spirit of sanctification.
Here is a proof of what had just been said, namely, that if, through the Spirit, those whom the Apostle addressed mortified the deeds of the body, they should live; for all who do so are led by the Spirit. In spiritual things we are as little children, who, on account of their weakness, have need to be led by the hand that they may not fall. It is necessary, then, that believers be led by the Spirit of God. The manner in which the Spirit leads them is not by violence against their inclination, but by bending and changing their will, in a manner consistent with its nature. When Jesus Christ says, ‘No man can come to Me except the Father which hath sent Me, draw Him,’ it is not meant that God forces against their will those whom He draws, but it shows us that we are naturally so indisposed to go to Jesus Christ, that it is necessary that God, by His Spirit, draw us to Him, and that by His secret but powerful influence He changes our resistance into consent. This is what is meant by the Church in the Song of Solomon, when she says, ‘Draw me, we will run after Thee;’ for this shows that she is drawn in such a way that she runs, that is, that her will being changed, and her perversity removed, she with alacrity follows the Lord. God gives His people to will and to do of His good pleasure, making them willing in the day of His power, and by His Spirit changes their hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. This leading of the Spirit consists, too, in enlightening our understandings, as Jesus Christ says, ‘When He the Spirit of truth is come, He will guide you into all truth.’ It consists also in the sanctification of our will and afflictions; so that he who is led by the Spirit is transformed by the renewing of his mind, proving what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God. He has the eyes of his understanding enlightened to know what is the hope of the calling of God, and the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints. The Apostle shows what the Spirit leads to, when he says that the fruit of the Spirit is ‘love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.’ It must, however, be remarked that this leading of the Spirit is not such in this world as to exclude all imperfection. For notwithstanding that we are thus led, ‘in many things we all offend,’ James 3:2. We have still within us a principle opposing the Spirit, as it is said, ‘The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh and these are contrary the one to the other; so that ye cannot do the things that ye would,’ Galatians 5:17. But he is led by the Spirit, who, though enticed by the flesh to walk in a contrary direction, yet resists and contends against it, and mortifies the deeds of the body.
The Holy Spirit thus leads those in whom He dwells to the mortification of sin. He takes of the glory of the person of Jesus, as God manifest in the flesh, and of His office, as the one Mediator between God and man, and discovers it to His people. Convincing them of their sinful condition, and of Christ’s righteousness, He leads them to renounce everything of their own, in the hope of acceptance with God. He teaches them as the Spirit of truth shining upon His own word, striving with ‘them by it externally, and internally by His grace conducting, guiding, and bringing them onwards in the way of duty, and, as the promised Comforter, filling them with Divine consolation. Thus He leads them to Christ, to prayer as the spirit of grace and of supplication, to holiness, and to happiness. This shows us the cause why the children of God, notwithstanding their remaining ignorance and depravity, and the many temptations with which they are assailed, hold on in the way of the Lord. ‘Lead me in Thy truth, and teach me, for Thou art the God of my salvation; on Thee do I wait all the day.’ ‘Thy Spirit is good, lead me into the land of uprightness.’ This leading is enjoyed by none but Christians; for ‘as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.’ The sons of God. — The Scriptures give this character of sons of God differently, according as it is ascribed either by nature or by peace. By nature it belongs to Jesus Christ alone, and that in respect to His Divine nature, so that He is called the only-begotten Son of God. By grace there are others who are called the sons of God. The grace of the conception by the Holy Spirit, and of the personal union of the Divine nature which belongs to Jesus Christ as man, is a particular grace, He having been conceived by the Holy Ghost, and His human nature has been joined to His Divine nature, forming one person; and it is of this grace that the angel speaks in announcing His birth, Luke 1:35. There is also a grace more general, which is that of creation, by which the angels are called the sons of God, and from this grace those of them who sinned have fallen. Finally, there is the grace of redemption, according to which men are called, as in this place, the sons of God.
As among men there are two ways of becoming children, the one by birth, the other by adoption, so God hath also appointed that in these two ways His people should become His children. Adoption supplied among men the want of children by birth, and no one could be a son except by one of these titles; but God has been pleased that we should be His sons by both of them together. Here and in the following verses the Apostle exhibits four proofs of our being the sons of God. The first is our being led by the Spirit of God; the second is the Spirit of adoption which we receive, crying, ‘Abba, Father,’ verse 15; the third is the witness of the Spirit with our spirits, verse 16; the fourth is our sufferings in the communion of Jesus Christ; to which is joined the fruit of our sonship, the Apostle saying that if children we are heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together.
By this title of the sons of God, the doubts and servile fears of the Church of Rome are condemned, which teaches that believers should be uncertain respecting their salvation and the love of God. But ought they to doubt of the love of their Heavenly Father? The Scriptures teach them to call God their Father, but, according to that apostate church, they ought to be uncertain whether they are the children of God or the children of the devil.
This error the Apostle combats in the followings verse. The title, then, of sons of God is full of consolation; for we thus approach to God as our father, and have access with boldness to His throne of grace. Even in our afflictions we lift up our eyes to Him, not as a severe master, but a gracious Father; and we know that our afflictions are only chastisements and trials from His paternal love, which He employs for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.
Ver. 15. — For ye have not received, the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba Father.
It is of the greatest importance to believers to be assured that they are indeed the sons of God. Without a measure of this assurance they cannot serve Him with love in newness of spirit. The Apostle therefore enlarges here on his preceding declaration, that as many as are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God. In confirmation of this, he reminds those whom he addresses that they had not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but the Spirit of adoption, leading them to call on God as their Father.
The word spirit occurs twice in this verse. In this chapter, as has already been remarked, it is used in various senses. Sometimes it is taken in Scripture in a bad sense, as when it is said, Isaiah 19:14, ‘The Lord hath, mingled a perverse spirit in the midst thereof;’ and again, Isaiah 29:10, ‘For the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep.’ In the verse before us it is taken both in a bad sense, signifying a sinful affection of the mind, namely, the spirit of bondage, and in a good sense, signifying by the Spirit of adoption the Holy Spirit, as in the parallel passage, Galatians 4:6, ‘And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.’ The spirit of bondage. — All who are not dead to the law, and know of no way to escape Divine wrath but by obeying it, must be under the spirit of bondage; serving in the oldness of the letter, and not in newness of spirit.
For so far from fulfilling the demands of the law, they fail in satisfying themselves. A spirit of bondage, then, must belong to all who are not acquainted with God’s method of salvation.
The spirit of bondage is the effect of the law, which, manifesting his sinfulness to man, and the fearful wrath of God, makes him tremble under the apprehension of its curse. The Apostle, comparing the two covenants, namely the law from Mount Sinai, and the Gospel from Mount Zion, says that the one from Mount Sinai gendereth to bondage, which is Hagar, but Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of all believers; because, like Isaac, they are the children of the promise. Now this promise is the promise of grace. For as man has sinned, the law, which demands perfect obedience, and pronounces a curse against him who continues not in all things which it commands, must condemn and reduce him to the condition of a slave, who, after he transgresses, expects nothing but punishment. On this account, when God promulgated His law amidst thunderings and lightnings, the mountain trembled, and the people feared and stood afar off. This showed that man could only tremble under the law, as he could not be justified by it; but that he must have recourse to another covenant, namely, the covenant of grace, in which God manifests His mercy and His love, in which He presents to sinners the remission of their sins, and the righteousness of His well beloved Son; for in this covenant He justifies the ungodly, Romans 4:5, and imputes to them righteousness without works. He adopts as His own children those who were formerly children of wrath, and gives the Spirit of adoption to them who had before a spirit of bondage and servile fear. Again to fear. — Paul uses the word again to indicate a double opposition, — the one of the state of a man before and after his regeneration, the other of the New Testament and the Old. Before regeneration, a man, sensible that he is a sinner, must be apprehensive of punishment, not having embraced the only remedy provided for the remission of his sins by Jesus Christ. Not that it should be supposed that this is the case with all unregenerate men, or at all times, but only when their consciences are awakened, summoning them before the judgment-seat of God. For the greater part of them live in profane security, with hardened consciences, and without any apprehension of their ruined state. God, however, often impresses that fear on those whom He purposes to lead to the knowledge of His salvation. But when they are born of the Spirit, this servile fear gives place to a filial fear which proceeds from love, as the proper effect of the Spirit of adoption. ‘Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world.
There is no fear in love: but perfect love casteth out fear; because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.’
The other opposition which the Apostle marks in saying again, is between the Churches of the Old and of the New Testament. Not that the believers under the Old Testament had not the Spirit of adoption; for they were sanctified by the Spirit of God, and had fellowship with Jesus Christ the promised Messiah, being justified by faith, as is declared in the eleventh chapter of the Hebrews, and called God their Father, Isaiah 63:16. But the Church under the Old Testament, being still in its infancy, did not enjoy the Spirit of adoption in that abundance, nor had it so clear a revelation of grace, as that of the New. Believers only saw Christ at a distance under shadows and figures, while the law and its curses were strongly exhibited. Thus, in comparison of the New Testament and its freedom, they were, in a measure, held under bondage, Galatians 4:1-3.
The believers at Rome, then, whether originally Jews or Gentiles, had not received the spirit of bondage again to fear. They were not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, or to the law, the work of which is written in the hearts of all men, which speaks nothing of mercy; but they were come to Mount Zion. It was the design of Christ’s advent that believers in Him might serve God ‘without fear,’ Luke 1:74.
Jesus Christ came that through death He might destroy death, and him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, and to deliver them who, through fear of death, were all their lifetime subject to bondage, Hebrews 2:14.
All the movements excited by the spirit of bondage are only those of a slave, — selfish and mercenary motives of desire, hope of what will give them happiness, and fear of evil, but no movement of love either of God or holiness, or of hatred of sin.
The passage before us, and many others, as that of 2 Timothy 1:7, — ’God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind,’ — teaches us that servile fear ought to be banished from the minds of believers. This fear is a fear of distrust, and not that fear to which we are enjoined in various parts of Scripture, namely, a reverential fear of God impressed by a sense of His majesty, which is the beginning of wisdom, and which His children should at all times cherish. This fear is connected with the consolations of the Holy Ghost. ‘Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea, and Galilee, and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.’ There is also a salutary fear which ought always to be maintained in the hearts of Christians; for the assurance of his salvation, which a believer ought to cherish, is not a profane assurance which prompts him to disregard the authority of God, but leads to a diligent carefulness to conform to His word, and make use of the means for edification of His appointment. This is what the Apostle intends when he says, ‘Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;’ for God designs to banish from our hearts a carnal security, as appears when it is added, ‘for it is God which worketh in you, both to will and to do of His good pleasure,’ showing that it is God who produces in His people both the will and the performance. This fear is required from the consideration of our weakness, our propensity to evil, and the many spiritual enemies with whom we are surrounded; and for the purpose of making us careful that we do not fall; while we ought not to doubt of the love of our Heavenly Father, but, considering the infallible promises of our God, and the intercession of our Lord Jesus Christ, we should hold fast the assurance of our salvation. The Apostle Peter enjoins on those whom he addressed as elect unto obedience, through the foreknowledge of God, as loving Jesus Christ, and as rejoicing in Him with joy unspeakable and full of glory, to pass the time of their sojourning here in fear, because they had been redeemed with the precious blood of Christ. This consideration shows how horrible and dangerous is the nature of sin which works in our members. This fear implanted in the hearts of the children of God tends to their preservation in the midst of dangers, as that instinctive fear which exists in all men operates to the preservation of natural life, and is entirely consistent with the fullest confidence in God, with love, and the joyful hope of eternal glory. If, however, the fear of man, or of any evil from the world, deter believers from doing their duty to God, it arises from the remains of carnal and unmortified fear. But nothing is more unworthy of the Gospel, or more contrary to its spirit, which, in proportion as it is believed, begets love, and communicates joy, peace, and consolation, in every situation in which we are placed. But ye have received the Spirit of adoption. — The Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of adoption, either as the cause by which God makes us His children, or as the earnest and seal of our adoption. Contrary to the spirit of bondage, the Spirit of adoption produces in the heart a sense of reconciliation with God, love to Him, a regard to holiness, hatred of sin, and peace of conscience through the knowledge of the love of God in Jesus Christ. It begets a desire to glorify God here on earth, and to enjoy the glory of heaven hereafter. Formerly, in their unregenerate state, those to whom Paul wrote had the spirit of slaves, now they had the spirit of sons. Adoption is not a work of grace in us, but an act of God’s grace without us.
According to the original word, it signifies putting among children. It is taking those who were by nature children of wrath from the family of Satan, to which they originally belonged, into the family of God. By union with Jesus Christ, being joined with Him, we are one body, and we enter into the communion of His righteousness, and of His title as the Son of God, so that, as we are righteous in Him, we are also in Him, as His members, the sons of God, who, in the moment that the Holy Spirit unites us to Jesus Christ, receives us as His children. All this shows us how great is the benefit which we obtain when we receive the Spirit of adoption and communion with the Son of God. We are thus made children of God, the sons of the Father of lights — a title permanent, and a nature immortal and Divine.
Our adoption reminds us of our original state as children of wrath and rebellion, and strangers to the covenant of God. It discovers to us the honor to which God has called us, in becoming our Father and making us His children, — including so many advantages, rights, and privileges, and at the same time imposing on us so many duties. These may be comprised under four heads. The first regards the privilege and glory of having God for our Father, and being His children. The second includes the rights which this adoption confers, as of free access to God, the knowledge of His ways, and the assurance of His protection. The third implies God’s love for us, His jealousy for our interest, and His care to defend us. The fourth, all the duties which the title or relation of children engages us to perform towards our Father and our God.
The term adoption is borrowed from the ancient custom, especially prevalent among the Romans, of a man who had no children of his own adopting into his family the child of another. The father and the adopted child appeared before the praetor, when the adopting father said to the child, Wilt thou be my son ? and the child answered, I will. The allusion to this custom reminds believers that they are not the children of God otherwise than by His free and voluntary election, and that thus they are under far more powerful obligations to serve Him than are their own children to obey them, since it is entirely by His love and free good pleasure that they have been elevated to this dignity. We should also remark the difference between the adoption of man and the adoption of God. In choosing a son by adoption, the adopting party has regard to certain real or supposed qualities which appear meritorious or agreeable; but God, in adopting His people, Himself produces the qualities in those whom He thus chooses. Man can impart his goods and give his name to those whom he adopts, but he cannot change their descent, nor transfer them into his own image; but God renders those whom He adopts not only partakers of His name and of His blessings, but of His nature itself, charging and transforming them into His own blessed resemblance.
This adoption, then, is accompanied with a real change, and so great a change, that it bears the name of that which is the real ground of sonship, and is called regeneration. And these are inseparable. There are no sons of God by adoption, but such as are also His sons by regeneration. There is a new life breathed into them by God. He is not only the Father of their spirits by their first infusion into the body, enlivening it by them, but by this new infusion of grace into their souls, which were dead without it; and the Spirit of God renewing them is the Spirit of adoption, by which they cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ He gives them a supernatural life by His Spirit sent into their hearts; and the Spirit by that regeneration which He works, ascertains to them that adoption which is in Christ Jesus; and in the persuasion of both they call God their Father.
In this manner, after adoption comes our sonship by regeneration, not in the order of time, but of nature; for, being united to Christ, God forms in us His image, and this is the second way in which we are made the children of God. Regeneration, or this new birth, is not a figurative but a real change. ‘If any man be in Christ he is a new creature,’ or a new creation, 2 Corinthians 5:17; for when we are regenerated, we are created in Christ Jesus, Ephesians 2:10. Nor is it a reformation of character, but the renewal of the image of God in the soul, which had been totally effaced. They who are born again, are begotten in Christ Jesus through the Gospel, being born not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. Thus they are ‘born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.’ For this new birth the man can do nothing to prepare himself. Neither after he is renewed can he effect anything to ensure his perseverance in his new state. The Spirit of God alone both renews and preserves those who are renewed.
By this regeneration we obtain qualities which are analogous to the nature of God. He enlightens our understanding, sanctifies our will, purifies our affections, and, by the communication of those qualities which have a relation to His Divine nature, begets us in His image and likeness, which is the new man of which Paul speaks, Ephesians 4:23,24; Colossians 3:10; and, as the Apostle Peter declares, we are made ‘partakers of the Divine nature.’ The fall of Adam has not deprived man of his subsistence or of his faculties, but has introduced into his understanding the darkness of ignorance, with malice and evil into his will, and disorder in his affections; so that, before his adoption and regeneration, he is by these vicious qualities the child of Satan, whose image he bears. The opposite of all this is that spiritual regeneration by means of which he is the child of God, consisting in the re-establishment of the uprightness of his faculties, and the abolition of those vicious qualities which have been introduced by sin. God begets us by His Spirit and by His word, James 1:18; and on His sons, thus formed, He bestows two graces, — the one is their justification, and the other their sanctification. By the first, they are invested with the righteousness of Jesus Christ, which is imputed to them; and this is the principal part of their spiritual and supernatural life, which is hid in Jesus Christ, Colossians 3:3. By the second, the Holy Spirit operates in them, to quicken and make them walk in newness of life. And as this last grace is not perfect in this world, but still leaves many faults and imperfections, although they are the children of God, there are still in them remains of the old man, and of the image of Satan. In this sense they have more or less the character of children of God, as they advance more or less in sanctification; and to this advancement they are continually urged by the exhortations of the word of God. The adoption of God’s people, and their regeneration, are both declared, John 1:12,13.
Adoption confers the name of sons, and a title to the inheritance; regeneration confers the nature of sons, and a meetness for the inheritance. Abba, Father. — The interpretation which is generally given of this expression is, that Paul employs these two words — Syriac and Greek, the one taken from the language in use among the Jews, the other from that of the Gentiles — to show that there is no longer any distinction between the Jew and the Greek, and that all believers, in every nation, may address God as their Father in their own language. It would rather appear that the Apostle alludes to the fact that among the Jews slaves were not allowed to call a free man Abba, which signified a real father. ‘I cannot help remarking’ (says Claude in his Essay on the Composition of a Sermon) ‘the ignorance of Messieurs of Port-Royal, who have translated this passage, My Father, instead of Abba, Father, under pretense that the Syriac word Abba signifies Father. They did not know that St. Paul alluded to a law among the Jews which forbade slaves to call a free man Abba, or a free woman Imma. The Apostle meant that we were no more slaves, but freed by Jesus Christ; and consequently that we might call God Abba, as we call the Church Imma. In translating the passage, then, the word Abba, although it be a Syriac word, and unknown in our tongue, must always be preserved, for in this term consists the force of the Apostle’s reasoning.’
God is indeed our Father, as the Author of our being, beyond all visible creatures, as it is said, ‘We are also His offspring,’ Acts 17:28. But the privilege of this our natural relation, the sin of our nature hath made fruitless to us, till we be restored by grace, and made partakers of a new sonship. We are indeed the workmanship of God; but, it being defaced by sin, our true name, as considered in that state, is ‘children of wrath.’ But the sonship that emboldens us to draw near unto God as our Father is derived from His only-begotten Son. He became the Son of man to make us anew the sons of God. Being thus restored, we may indeed look back upon; our creation, and remember in prayer that we are His creatures, the workmanship of His hands, and He in that sense our Father; but by reason of our rebellion this argument is not strong enough alone, but must be supported with this other, as the main ground of our comfort, and that wherein the strength of our confidence lies, that He is our Father in His Son Jesus Christ; that by faith we are introduced into a new sonship, and by virtue of that may call Him Father, and move Him by that name to help and answer us. ‘To as many as received Him, He gave power to become the sons of God,’ John 1:12. But adoption holds in Jesus Christ, as the Head of this fraternity; therefore He says, ‘I go to My Father, and your Father; to holy God, and your God.’ He does not say, ‘to our Father and our God,’ but severally mine and yours; teaching us the order of the new covenant, that the sonship of Jesus Christ is not only more eminent in nature, but in order is the spring and cause of ours. So, then, He that puts this word in our mouths, to call God ‘Father,’ He it is by whom we have this dignity and comfort that we call Him so. Whereby we cry. — The Spirit of adoption, which, enabling those who receive this Spirit to address God as their Father, gives filial dispositions and filial confidence. ‘Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father,’ Galatians 4:6. It is by the Spirit of God that we cry unto Him, according to what is said afterwards, that the Spirit ‘helpeth our infirmities, for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.’ This teaches us that it is not our own disposition that excites us to prayer, but the Spirit of God.
Accordingly we are commanded to pray ‘always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit,’ Ephesians 6:18; and to build up ‘ourselves on our most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost,’ Jude 20. He is called ‘the Spirit of grace and of supplications,’ Zechariah 12:10, to teach us that prayer, being His work, and not an effort of our own strength, we are to ask of God His Spirit to enable us to pray. This is the source of our consolation, that since our prayers are effects of His own Spirit within us, they are pleasing to God. ‘He that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.’
The Holy Spirit, as the Spirit of adoption, also influences the prayers of believers as to their manner and earnestness, for by Him they not only say, but cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ They not only speak, but groan, for they cry not so much with the mouth as with the heart. By the term ‘we cry’ is also intimated the assurance of faith with which we ought to draw near to God. This expression signifies that we address God with earnestness and confidence; and that, having full reliance on His promises, which He hath confirmed even with an oath, we should ‘come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.’
We are also commanded to ask in faith, nothing wavering, for we come before the throne of God by His beloved Son. We appear as His members, in virtue of His blood, by which our sins, which would hinder our prayers from being heard, are expiated, so that God has no more remembrance of them. It is on this ground that we pray with assurance, for, as we cannot pray to God as our Father, but by His Son, so we cannot cry, ‘Abba, Father,’ but by Him; and on this account Jesus says, ‘I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father but by Me.’ Thus the consideration that we invoke God as our Father forms in believers a holy assurance, for, as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him. Since, then, we call God our Father, as our Lord teaches us to address Him, we should do it with the assurance of His love, and of His readiness to hear us. ‘Thou shalt call Me, My Father; and shalt not turn away from Me,’ Jeremiah 3:19.
The word Father also indicates the substance of our prayers; for when we can say no more to God than ‘O God, Thou art our Father,’ we say all, and comprehend in this all that we can ask; as the Church said in its captivity, ‘Doubtless Thou art our Father, though Abraham be ignorant of us.’ Thus, in whatever situation the believer finds himself, the crying, ‘Abba, Father,’ contains an appeal sufficient to move the compassion of God. Is he in want? he says, ‘Abba, Father,’ as if he said, ‘O Lord, Thou feedest the ravens, provide for Thy son.’ Is he in danger? it is as if he said, ‘Have the same care of me as a father has for his child, and let not Thy compassion and Thy providence abandon me.’ Is he on the bed of death? it is as if he said, ‘Since thou art my Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.’ All acceptable prayer must proceed from the Spirit of adoption; and the cry of the Spirit of adoption is no other than Ababa, Father.
The crying ‘Abba, Father,’ then, denotes the earnestness and importunity in prayer to God, which is the effect of the Spirit of adoption in the hearts of the children of God, as well as that holy familiarity, to the exercise of which, as viewing God sitting on a throne of grace, they are encouraged.
They call upon God as their Father, after the example of our Lord, who at all times addressed God in this manner during His ministry on earth, with that one memorable exception, when, under the pressure of the sins of His people, and the withdrawing of the light of His countenance, He addressed Him not as His Father but His God, Matthew 27:46. After His resurrection, in like manner, He comforted His disciples with the consolatory assurance that He was about to ascend to His Father and their Father.
The different expressions which the Scriptures employ to denote the filial relation of His people to God, are calculated to aid their conceptions, and to elevate their thoughts to that great and ineffable blessing. One mode of expression serves to supply what is wanting in another. The origin of the spiritual life, and the re-establishment of the image of God in the soul, are expressed by these words — born of God. But that they may not forget the state of their natural alienation from God, and ill order to indicate their title to the heavenly inheritance, it is said that they are adopted by God.
And lest they should suppose that this adoption is to be attributed to anything meritorious in them, they are informed that God has predestinated them unto the adoption of children, by Jesus Christ, to Himself, accordingly to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grave, Ephesians 1:5.
The passage before us is conclusive against the doctrine of the Church of Rome, which maintains that the believer ought to be always in fear of condemnation, always in doubt of the love of God, and of his salvation.
But is not this expressly to contradict the words of the Apostle? It should be remarked that they cannot plead here the exception that it was a prerogative peculiar to the Apostle, to be assured of his salvation, by a special revelation that had been made to him. For he speaks expressly to believers, ‘Ye have received the Spirit of adoption,’ and next he speaks of them with himself, when he says, ‘whereby we cry, Abba, Father.’ This assurance of the believer is clearly taught in many other places. The Apostle, after saying, Romans 5:1, ‘Being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ,’ adds, ‘By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God,’ — expressing by the word rejoice (literally boast) a full assurance; for it would be rashness to boast or glory (as the same word is translated in the following verse) in what was not a real certainty. He also declares that hope maketh not ashamed; and that we even glory in tribulations, as assured that they cannot deprive us of the love of God. ‘We have boldness, too, and access with confidence,’ by the faith we have in Jesus Christ, Ephesians 3:12. ‘Let us, therefore’ (seeing that we have a great High Priest, that is passed into the heavens), ‘come boldly unto the throne of grace,’ Hebrews 4:14-16. And why is the Spirit which is given to believers called the seal and earnest of their inheritance, if it is not to give them this assurance? Why, also, are the declarations so express, that there is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, and that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life? The Apostle John says, ‘These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God, that ye may know that ye have eternal life,’ — thus showing that he desires that all who believe should know that they have eternal life. The reply of the Roman Catholics, that we cannot know assuredly if we have faith, is altogether vain. Paul proves the contrary, when he says, ‘Examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves; know ye not your own selves how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?’ 2 Corinthians 13:5. This proves that believers may recognize their own faith. Faith combats doubts, as the Apostle James shows when he says, ‘Let him ask in faith, nothing wavering; for he that watereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.’
And speaking of Abraham, Paul says, ‘He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God.’
Believing, then, His promises, and drawing near in the full assurance of faith, gives glory to God.
But doe’s faith, then, exclude all uncertainty of salvation, and has the believer no misgivings after he has received the Spirit of adoption? It is replied, that as faith is more or less perfect, there is more or less uncertainty or doubt connected with it, for doubts are owing to the weakness or to the want of faith. Faith, as viewed in itself, is one thing, and another as viewed in an imperfect subject. Faith in itself excludes all doubts and misgivings; but, because our sanctification is incomplete in this world, and as there is always in us the remains of the old man and of the flesh, which is the source of doubts, faith has always to combat within us, and to resist the servile fear of distrust, arising from the remains of our corruption. The believer, therefore, need not wonder though he should sometimes find himself agitated and troubled with doubts; on which account he should, indeed, be humbled, but not discouraged, for in the end faith will again raise up itself from under the burden of temptation, and comfort him. The Spirit of adoption is sometimes as if it was extinguished in us; but in the end it exerts its force in our hearts, so that we cry, ‘Abba, Father,’ and say with David, ‘Make me to have joy and gladness, that the bones which Thou hast broken may rejoice.’ The language of the Spirit of adoption is, ‘Lord, Thou art my Father, make the light of Thy countenance to shine upon me; cause Thy peace to reign in my conscience; expel all doubts, scatter the clouds which prevent me from seeing clearly the light of Thy face, and which hinder the Sun of Righteousness from shining in my heart.’ ‘Say Thou to my soul, I am Thy salvation,’ Psalm 35:3. ‘O my soul, thou hast said unto the Lord, Thou art my Lord,’ Psalm 16:2. And God says, Hosea 2:23, ‘I will say to them which were not My people, Thou art My people; and they shall say, Thou art my God.’ That is, ‘I will speak within the believer by My Spirit; I will assure him of My grace, and of My love; and he also shall lift up his heart to Me, and call Me his Father and his God.’ All this teaches us that the conscience, sprinkled with the blood of the Son of God, does not accuse or condemn, but consoles and comforts; for we have, by means of the Spirit that is given us, the earnest of our final deliverance. This proves how precious the promise of the Spirit should be to us, in order that we may not grieve Him by giving way to sin.
In the preceding verse it is said, ‘Ye have received the Spirit of adoption;’ here it is added, ‘The Spirit itself’ — the same Spirit — ’beareth witness with our spirit that we are the sons of God.’ In this verse the Apostle shows that the sons of God may be assured of their adoption, because it is witnessed by the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit, in the heart of a believer, joins His testimony with his spirit, in confirmation of this truth, that he is a son of God. It is not merely the fruits of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers which afford this testimony, but the Spirit Himself, by imparting filial confidence, inspires it in the heart. This is a testimony which is designed for the satisfaction of believers themselves, and cannot be submitted to the scrutiny of others.
The witnesses here spoken of are two, — our spirit, and the Spirit of God together with our spirit. We have the testimony of our spirit when we are convinced of our sinfulness, misery, and ruin, and of our utter inability to relieve ourselves from the curse of the broken law, and are at the same time convinced of the righteousness of Christ, and of our dependence upon Him for acceptance with God. We have this testimony when we possess the consciousness of cordially acquiescing in God’s plan of salvation, and of putting our trust in Christ; and when we are convinced that His blood is sufficient to cleanse us from all sin, and know that we are willing to rest on it; and when in this way, and in this way alone, we draw near to gods with a true heart, sprinkled from an evil conscience in the discernment of the efficacy of His atonement, thus having the answer of a good conscience towards God. And we have the above testimony confirmed to us when we experience and observe the effects of the renovation of our souls in the work of sanctification begun and carrying on in us; and that not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have our conversation in the world.
In all this the Holy Spirit enables us to ascertain our sonship, from being conscious of, and discovering in ourselves, the true marks of a renewed state. But to say that this is all that is signified by the Holy Spirits testimony, would be falling short of what is affirmed in this text; for in that case the Holy Spirit would only help the conscience to be a witness, but could not be said to be a witness Himself, even another witness besides the conscience, which the text asserts. What we learn, therefore, from it is, that the Holy Spirit testifies to our spirit in a distinct and immediate testimony, and also with our spirit in a concurrent testimony.
This testimony, although it cannot be explained, is nevertheless felt by the believer; it is felt by him, too, in its variations, as sometimes stronger and more palpable, and at other times more feeble and less discernible. As the heart knoweth its own bitterness, in like manner a stranger intermeddles not with the joy communicated by this secret testimony to our spirit. Its reality is indicated in Scripture by such expressions as those of the Father and the Son coming unto us, and making their abode with us, — Christ manifesting Himself to us, and stepping with us, — His giving us the hidden manna, and the white stone, denoting the communication to us of the knowledge of an acquittal from guilt, and a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it. ‘The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us.’ ‘He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself,’ 1 John 5:10.
This witnessing of the Spirit to the believer’s spirit, communicating consolation, is never His first work, but is consequent on His other work of renovation. He first gives faith, and then seals. ‘After that ye believed ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise.’ He also witnesseth with our spirit, graciously shining on His own promises, making them clear, assuring us of their truth, enabling our spirit to embrace them and to discover our interest in them. He witnesseth with our spirit in all the blessedness of. His gracious fruits, diffusing through the soul love, and joy, and peace. In the first method of His witnessing with our spirit we are passive; but in the last method there is a concurrence on our part with His testimony. The testimony of the Spirit, then, is attended with the testimony of conscience, and is thus a co-witness with our spirit. It may also be observed, that where this exists, it brings with it a disposition and promptitude for prayer. It is the testimony of the Spirit of adoption whereby we cry, ‘Abba, Father;’ it disposes the soul to holiness.
The important truth here affirmed, that the Holy Spirit beareth witness with our spirit, does not seduce believers from the written word, or expose them to delusions, mistaken for internal revelations, differing from the revelations of Scripture. This internal revelation must be agreeable to Scripture revelation, and is no revelation of a new article of faith unknown to Scripture. It is the revelation of a truth consonant to the word of God, and made to a believer in that blessed book for his comfort. The Spirit testifies to our sonship by an external revelation in the Scriptures that believers are the sons of God. He concurs with this testimony by illuminating the mind and understanding, and persuading it of the truth of this external revelation. He unites with this testimony by reason of His gracious sanctifying presence in us, and is therefore called the earnest of our inheritance, and God’s seal, marking us as His own.
Ver. 17. — And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ: if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also, glorified together.
If children, then heirs. — The Apostle, having proved the adoption of believers from the confirmation of the double and concurrent testimony of their own spirit and of the Spirit of God, here infers from it the certainty of their possessing the eternal inheritance. The fact of their being heirs he deduces from their being children. In this world children are, in all nations, heirs of their parents’ possessions. This is the law of nature. As such, it not only illustrates but confirms the fact that believers are heirs as being children. By the declaration that they are heirs, we are reminded that it is not by purchase, or by any work of their own, that they obtain the inheritance to which they are predestinated, Ephesians 1:11, and begotten, 1 Peter 1:3. It is solely in virtue of their sonship. The inheritance, which is a kingdom, was provided for them from the foundation of the world, Matthew 25:34, before they existed; and as inheritances were under the law inalienable, so this inheritance is eternal.
They are heirs according to the promise, Galatians 3:29; heirs of promise, Hebrews 6:17, — that is, of all the blessings contained in the promise of God, which He confirmed by an oath; heirs of salvation, Hebrews 1:14; heirs of the grace of life, 1 Peter 3:7; heirs according to the hope of eternal life, Titus 3:7; heirs of righteousness, Hebrews 11:7; heirs of the kingdom which God hath promised, James 2:5. All things are theirs: for they are Christ’s and Christ is God’s, Corinthians 3:23. Heirs of God. — Here, in one word, the Apostle states what is the inheritance of those who are the children of God. It is God Himself. ‘If a son, then an heir of God through Christ,’ Galatians 4:7. This expression, ‘heirs of God,’ has a manifest relation to the title of ‘son,’ which is acquired by adoption, on which account the Apostle here joins them together. This teaches that believers have not only a right to the good things of God, but that they have this right by their adoption, and not by merit. As the birthright of a child confers a title to the property of its father, and so distinguishes such property from what the child may acquire by industry and labor, so also is the case with adoption. Here we see the difference between the law and the Gospel. The law treats men as mercenaries, and says, Do, and live; the Gospel treats them as children, and says, Live, and do. God is the portion of His people; and in Him, who is ‘the possessor of heaven and’ earth, they are heirs of all things. ‘He that overcometh shall inherit all things: and I will be his God, and he shall be My son,’ Revelation 21:7. God is all sufficient; and this is an all-sufficient inheritance. God is eternal and unchangeable; and therefore it is an eternal inheritance, — an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away. They cannot be dispossessed of it, for the omnipotence of God secures against all opposition. It is reserved for them in heaven, which is the throne of God, and where He manifests His glory. It is God Himself, then, who is the inheritance of His children. This shows that He communicates Himself to them by His grace, His light, His holiness, His life. They possess God as their inheritance in two degrees, namely, in possessing in this life His grace, and in the life to come His glory. ‘Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire besides Thee!’ Psalm 73:24. And what is the inheritance in glory, if it be not God, who is all in all! Here we have the life of grace, ‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all.’ In the life to come, it is the enjoyment or the vision of God which, in the seventeenth Psalm, the Prophet opposes to the inheritance of the men of this world, — ’Deliver me, O Lord, from men of the world, which have their portion in this life. As for me, I will behold Thy face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake with Thy likeness.’ Into this inheritance Moses — that is to say, the law — cannot introduce us. He alone can do it who is the great Joshua — Jesus Christ, the Mediator of a better covenant. Joint heirs with Christ. — This, with the expression ‘heirs of God,’ shows the glorious nature of the inheritance of the children of God. What must this honor be when they are heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ?
Adam was a son of God; the lordship of paradise was given him, but he lost it. Satan and his angels were also sons of God by creation, and they fell. But the joint heirs of Christ can never fall. They have their inheritance secured by their union with Christ, and hold it by a title which is indefeasible, and a right which never can be revoked. Christ is the heir, as being the Son of God. All things that the Father hath are His; and, as Mediator, He is appointed ‘heir of all things,’ and they are joint heirs with Him. The inheritance to be possessed by them is the same in its nature as that possessed by the man Christ Jesus; and the glory that the Father gives to Him, He gives to them, John 18:22. They participate of the same Spirit with Him; for they that have not the Spirit of Christ are none of His. That same life that He has is conferred on them; and because He lives, they live also. He is the fountain of their life, Psalm 36:9. The glory of their bodies will be of the same kind with His, Philippians 3:21. The glory that the Father gave to Him, He has given to them, John 17:22.
They shall be admitted to the same glorious place with Him, and shall behold His glory, John 17:24. There must be a conformity between the head and the members, but as to the degree, He who is the first-born among many brethren must in all things have the pre-eminence. If so be that ye suffer with Him. — The Apostle had shown that believers are the adopted children of God, heirs of ‘God, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. He now refers to a possible objection, namely, that notwithstanding this they are often full of trouble and afflictions in this life, which appears not to be suitable to so near a relationship with God.
This he obviates by reminding them that they suffer with Christ, and that their sufferings, which result from their bearing them with Him, will issue in future glory.
The sufferings of Jesus Christ are to be regarded in two points of view. On the one hand, He suffered as the propitiation for the sins of His people.
On the other hand, His sufferings are to be viewed as the road conducting Him to glory. In the first of these His people have no part; He alone was the sacrifice offered for their salvation; He alone made satisfaction to the justice of God; and He alone merited the reward for them. But in the second point of view, He is the pattern of their condition; in this they must follow His steps, and be made conformable to Him. Suffering, then, is a peculiarity in the earthly lot of all the heirs of heaven; they are all called to suffer with Christ. The man professing Christ’s religion, who meets with no persecution or opposition from the world for Christ’s sake, may well doubt the sincerity of his profession. ‘All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.’ All the heirs will come to the enjoyment of their inheritance through tribulation; most of them through much tribulation. But so far from this being an argument against the sure prospect of that inheritance, it tends to confirm it. The expression ‘if so be,’ or since, does not intimate that this is doubtful, but establishes its certainty. God causes His children to suffer in different ways, and for different reasons, for their good, as for the trial of their faith, the exercise of patience, the mortification of sin, and in order to wean them from this world and prepare them for heaven. Their sufferings are effects of His Fatherly love; and the great object of them is, that they may be conformed to Christ. Sufferings are appointed for them in order that they should not be condemned with the world, and, to work out for them a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. That we may be also glorified together. — This ought to support Christians under their sufferings. What a consolation in the midst of afflictions for Christ’s sake, that they shall also be glorified together with Him! In His sufferings He is set forth as their pattern, and the issue of them is their encouragement. They have the honor of suffering with Him, and they shall have the honor of being glorified with Him. They not only accompany him in His sufferings, but He also accompanies them in theirs; not only to sympathize with them, but to be their surety and defender.
This community in suffering with Jesus Christ is sufficient to impart to His people the highest consolation. What an honor is it to bear, here below, His cross, on the way to where one day they shall have a place upon His throne! Having the same enemies with Him, they must have the some combats, the same victories, and the same triumphs. Since the Lord has been pleased to suffer for them before reigning over them in heaven, it is proper that they should suffer also for His sake and in the prospect of reigning with Him. For suffering with Him, they shall overcome with Him; and overcoming with Him, they shall obtain the crown of life and eternal glory.
Ver. 18. — For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
The Apostle had been reminding those to whom he wrote, that their sufferings with Christ is the way appointed by God to bring them to glory. Here he encourages them to endure affliction, because there is no comparison between their present sufferings and their future glory. In order to encourage the Israelites to sustain the difficulties that presented themselves to their entry into Canaan, God sent them of the fruits of the land while they were still in the desert. Our blessed Lord, too, permitted some of His disciples to witness His transfiguration, when His face did shine as the sun, and His raiment was white as light. This was calculated to inspire them with an ardent desire to behold that heavenly glory, of which, on that occasion, they had a transient glimpse, and to render them more patient in sustaining the troubles they were about to encounter. In the same manner God acts towards His people when they suffer in this world. He sends them of the fruits of the heavenly Canaan, and allowing them to enjoy a measure of that peace which passeth all understanding, He favors them with some foretastes of the glory to be revealed.
The first testimony to the truth that the, Apostle is here declaring is his own. I reckon. — Paul was better qualified to judge in this matter than any other man, both as having endured the greatest sufferings, and as having been favored with a sight of the glory of heaven. His sufferings, Corinthians 4:9; 2 Corinthians 11:23, appear not to have been inferior to those that exercised the patience of Job, while his being caught up into the third heaven was peculiar to himself. But, independently of this, we have here the testimony of an inspired Apostle, which must be according to truth, as being immediately communicated by the Holy Ghost. Paul makes use of a word which refers to the casting up of an account, marking accurately the calculation, by comparing one thing with another, so as to arrive at the true result. The sufferings of the present time. — By this we are reminded that the present is a time of suffering, and that this world is to believers as a field of battle. The shortness, too, of the period of suffering is indicated. It is limited to the present life, respecting which man is compared to a flower which cometh forth and is cut down; to a shadow that fleeth and continueth not. ‘His days are swifter than a post; and as the flight of the eagle hastening after its prey.’ It is in the present time exclusively that sufferings are to be endured by the children of God. But if they promise to themselves the enjoyment of ease and carnal prosperity, they miscalculate the times, and confound the present with the future. They forget the many assurances of their Heavenly Father that this is not their rest.
They overlook the example of those who by faith obtained a good report.
Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. David, envying for a moment the prosperity of the wicked, having entered the sanctuary and considered their end, views it in a different light. ‘Nevertheless I am continually with Thee; Thou hast holden me by Thy right hand; Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel, and afterwards receive me to glory.’ ‘In Thy presence is fullness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.’ ‘Thou hast put gladness in my heart more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased. I will both lay me down in peace and sleep, for Thou, Lord, only makest me to dwell in safety.’
Christians often dwell upon their own sufferings, while they overlook the sufferings of their Lord, to whom they must be conformed. They forget their sins, on account of which they receive chastisement that they may not be condemned with the world, and for which they must also partake of their bitter fruits. But as there is no proportion between what is finite, however great it may be, and what is infinite, so their afflictions here, even were their lives prolonged to any period, and although they had no respite, would bear no proportion to their future glory either in intensity or duration The felicity of that glory is unspeakable, but their afflictions here are not insupportable. They are always accompanied with the compassion and the consolations of God. ‘As the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.’ The patriarch Jacob, a fugitive from his father’s house, constrained to pass the night without a covering, with stones only for his pillow, enjoyed a vision excelling all with which he had been before favored. This is recorded to show that the believer, in his tribulation, often experiences more joy and peace than in his prosperity. ‘Thus saith the Lord God, although I have cast them far off among the heathen, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet will I be to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they shall come.’ God never permits the sufferings of His people to be extreme. The glory that shall be revealed. — While the sufferings of believers here are only temporary, the glory which is to be revealed is eternal. Though yet concealed, it is already in existence, its discovery only is future. Now it is veiled from us in heaven, but ere long it shall be revealed. God is a source of ineffable light, joy, knowledge, power, and goodness. He is the sovereign good, and will communicate Himself to them that behold Him, in a way that is incomprehensible. In us. — The glory here spoken of is that to which the Apostle John refers, when he says that we shall see the Lord as He is, and that we shall be made like Him. If the rays of the sun illuminate the darkness on which they shine, what will be that light which the Sun of Righteousness will produce in the children of Him who is the Father of Lights! If the face of Moses shone, when, amidst the terrors of the law, he talked with God, what shall their condition be who shall behold Him, not on the mountain that might be touched, and that burned with fire, but in the heaven of heavens; not amidst thunderings and lightnings, but amidst the express testimonies of His favor and blessing They shall appear in the sanctuary of the Lord, and discern plainly the mysteries of the wisdom of God.
They shall behold not the ark and the propitiatory, but the things in the heavens which these were made to represent. They shall see as they are seen, and know as they are known. To the enjoyment of this glory after the persecutions and troubles of this life, the Bridegroom is represented as calling His Church. ‘Lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone, the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.’ As there is no proportion between finite and infinite, so no comparison can be made between the things that are seen and temporal, and the things that are unseen and eternal — between our light afflictions which are but for a moment, and that far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory that shall be revealed in us. Such is the consolation which the Apostle here presents to the children of God.
Ver. 19. – For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God
Ver. 20. – (for the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same), in hope
Ver. 21. – that the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
In the 18th verse, the Apostle, for the comfort of believers, had declared that there is reserved for them a weight of glory to which their sufferings while in this world bear no comparison. To the same purpose he now refers to the existing state and future destination of the visible creation. In thus appealing to a double testimony — the one the voice of grace uttered by himself, the other the voice of universal nature, which speaks the same language — he encourages the children of God to endure with patience their present trials.
In the verses before us, Paul, by an example of personification common in the Scriptures, which consists in attributing human affections to things inanimate or unintelligent, calls the attention of believers to the fact that the whole creation is in a state of suffering and degradation; and that, wearied with the vanity to which it has been reduced, it is earnestly looking for deliverance.
That interpretation which, according to Dr. Macknight and Mr. Stuart, applies this expectation to mankind in general, is contrary to fact. Men in general are not looking for a glorious deliverance, nor is it a fact that they will obtain it; but it is a fact that there will be new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. All that Mr. Stuart alleges against this is easily obviated. Most of it applies to passages that have been injudiciously appealed to on the subject, which do not bear the conclusion.
But if the earth, after being burnt up, shall be restored in glory, there is a just foundation for the figurative expectation. In order to understand these verses, it is necessary to ascertain the import, — 1st , of the term creation, or creature; 2nd , of that of the vanity to which it is subjected; 3rd , of that deliverance which it shall experience. Creature. — The word in the original, which is translated in the 19th, 20th, and 21st verses, creature, and in the 22nd, creation, can have no reference to the fallen angels, for they do not desire the manifestation of the children of God; this they dread, and, looking forward to it, tremble.
Neither can it refer to the elect angels, of whom it cannot be said that they shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption, for to this they were never subjected. It does not apply to men, all of whom are either the children of God or of the wicked one. It cannot refer to the children of God, for they are here expressly distinguished from the creation of which the Apostle speaks; nor can it apply to wicked men, for they have no wish for the manifestation of the sons of God whom they hate, nor will they ever be delivered from the bondage of corruption, but cast into the lake of fire. It remains, then, that the creatures destitute of intelligence, animate and inanimate, the heavens and the earth, the elements, the plants and animals, are here referred to. The Apostle means to say that the creation, which, on account of sin, has, by the sentence of God, been subjected to vanity, shall be rescued from the present degradation under which it groans, and that, according to the hope held out to it, is longing to participate with the sons of God in that freedom from vanity into which it shall at length be introduced, partaking with them in their future and glorious deliverance from all evil. This indeed cannot mean that the plants and animals, as they at present exist, shall be restored; but that the condition of those things which shall belong to the new heavens and the new earth, prepared for the sons of God, shall be delivered from the curse, and restored to a perfect state, as when all things that God had created were pronounced by Him very good, and when, as at the beginning, before sin entered, they shall be fully adapted to the use of man.
As men earnestly desire what is good, and, on the contrary, groan and sigh in their sufferings, the like emotions of joy and sorrow are here ascribed to the inanimate and unintelligent creation. In this way the prophets introduce the earth as groaning, and the animals as crying to God, in sympathy with the condition of man. ‘The land mourneth, for the corn is wasted; the new wine is dried up; the oil languisheth, because joy is withered away from the sons of men! How do the beasts groan! The beasts of the field cry also unto Thee!’ Joel 1:10-20. ‘How long shall the land mourn and the herbs of every field wither, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein?’ Jeremiah 12:4. ‘The earth mourneth and fadeth away; the world languishes and fadeth away; the haughty people of the earth do languish. The earth also is defiled, under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore hath the curse devoured the earth. The new wine mourneth; the wine languisheth!’ Isaiah. 24:4-7. To the same purpose, Isaiah 13:13, 33:9, 34:4. On the other hand, the Prophet Isaiah, 49:13, predicting a better state of things, exclaims, ‘Sing, O heavens; and be joyful O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains; for the Lord hath comforted His people, and will have mercy upon His afflicted!’ And in Psalm 98:4-6, ‘Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth; make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praises! Let the sea roar, and the fullness thereof! Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together!’ Thus, in the language of Scripture, the sins of men cause the creation to mourn; but the mercy of God, withdrawing His rebukes, causeth it to rejoice. Vanity. — What is called vanity in the 20th verse, is in the 21st denominated bondage of corruption. When the creation was brought into existence, God bestowed on it His blessing, and pronounced everything that He had made very good. Viewing that admirable palace which He had provided, He appointed man to reign in it, commanding all creation to be subject to him whom He had made in His own image. But when sin entered, then, in a certain sense, it may be said that all things had become evil, and were diverted from their proper end. The creatures by their nature were appointed for the service of the friends of their Creator; but since the entrance of sin they had become subservient to His enemies.
Instead of the sun and the heavens being honored to give light to those who obey God, and the earth to support the righteous, they now minister to rebels. The sun shines upon the wicked, the earth nourishes those who blaspheme their Maker; while its various productions, instead of being employed for the glory of God, are used as instruments of ambition, of avarice, of intemperance, of cruelty, of idolatry, and are often employed for the destruction of His children. All these are subjected to vanity when applied by men for vain purposes. This degradation is a grievance to the works of God, which in themselves have remained in allegiance. They groan under it, but, keeping within their proper limits, hold on their course. Had it been the will of the Creator, after the entrance of sin, the creature might have refused to serve the vices, or even the necessities of man. This is sometimes threatened. In reproving the idolatry of the children of Israel, God speaks as if He intended to withdraw His creatures from their service, in taking them entirely away. ‘Therefore will I return and take away My corn in the time thereof, and My wine in the season thereof, and will recover My wool and My flax given to cover her nakedness,’ Hosea 2:9. And sometimes the creature is represented as reclaiming against the covetousness and wickedness of men. ‘The stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it,’ Habakkuk 2:11.
The whole creation, then, groaneth together, and is under bondage on account of the sin of man, and has suffered by it immensely. As to the inanimate creation, in many ways it shows its figurative groaning, and the vanity to which it has been reduced. ‘Cursed is the ground for thy sake; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee.’ It produces all noxious weeds, and in many places is entirely barren. It is subject to earthquakes, floods, and storms destructive to human life, and in various respects labors under the curse pronounced upon it. The lower animals have largely shared in the sufferings of man. They are made ‘to be taken and destroyed,’ Peter 2:12, and to devour one another. They have become subservient to the criminal pleasures of man, and are the victims of his oppressive cruelty. Some partake in the labors to which he is subjected; and all of them terminate their short existence by death, the effect of sin. All that belongs to the creation is fading and transitory, and death reigns universally. The heavens and the earth shall wax old like a garment. The earth once perished by water, and now it is reserved unto fire. ‘The heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat; the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burnt up. The heavens being on fire shall be dissolved.’ The cause of this subjection to vanity is not from their original tendencies, or from any fault in the creatures. They have been so subjected, not willingly, not owing to any natural defect or improper disposition in themselves, but by reason of the sin of man, and in order to his greater punishment. The houses of those who were guilty of rebellion were destroyed, Ezra 6:11; Daniel 2:5, not that there was guilt in the stones or the wood, but in order to inflict the severer punishment on their criminal possessors, and also to testify the greater abhorrence of their crime, in thus visiting them in the things that belonged to them. In the same manner, man, haring been constituted the Lord of the creatures, his punishment has been extended to them. This in a very striking manner demonstrates the hatred of God against sin. For as the leprosy not only defiled the man who was infected with it, but also the house he inhabited, in the same way, sin, which is the spiritual leprosy of man, has not only defiled our bodies and our souls, but, by the just judgment of God, has infected all creation.
In whatever way it may be attempted to be accounted for, it is a fact that the world and all around us is in a suffering and degraded condition. This state of things bears the appearance of being inconsistent with the government of God, all-powerful, wise, and good. The proud skeptic is here completely at a stand. He cannot even conjecture why such a state of things should have had place. With Mr. Hume, the language of every reflecting unbeliever must be, ‘The whole is a riddle, an enigma, an inexplicable mystery. Doubt, uncertainty, suspense of judgment, appear the only result of our most accurate scrutiny concerning this subject.’ The Book of God alone dispels the darkness, and unveils the mystery.
Here, then, we learn how great is the evil of sin. It has polluted the heavens and the earth and has subjected the whole to vanity and corruption. Evil and misery prevail, and creation itself is compelled to witness the dishonor done to its Author. It would be derogatory to the glory of God to suppose that His works are now in the same condition in which they were at first formed, or that they will always continue as at present. In the meantime, all the creatures are groaning under their degradation, until the moment when God shall remove those obstacles which prevent them from answering their proper ends, and render them incapable of suitably glorifying Him. But the righteous Judge, who subjected them to vanity in consequence of the disobedience of man; has made provision for their final restoration.
The creation, then, is not in that state in which it was originally constituted. A fearful change and disorganization, even in the frame of the natural world, has taken place. The introduction of sin has brought along with it this subjection to vanity and the bondage of corruption, and all that ruin under which nature groans. How miserable is the condition of those who have their portion in this world! Of them it may be truly said, ‘Surely they have inherited lies, vanity, and things wherein there is no profit.’ Of those ‘who mind earthly things,’ it is written, their ‘end is destruction.’ ‘The heavens and the earth which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.’ Delivered. — Some suppose that the word delivered signifies an entire annihilation, and in support of this opinion allege such passages as Peter 3:10; Revelation 20:11. But as a tendency of all things in nature is to their own preservation, how could the creation be represented as earnestly expecting the manifestation of the sons of God, if that manifestation were to be accompanied with its final ruin and destruction?
Besides, the Apostle promises not merely a future deliverance, but also a glorious future existence. The Scriptures, too, in various places, predict the continued subsistence of the heavens and the earth, as 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1. Respecting the passages quoted above, as importing their annihilation, it ought to be observed that the destruction off the substance of things differs from a change in their qualities. When metal of a certain shape is subjected to fire, it is destroyed as to its figure, but not as to its substance. Thus the heavens and the earth will pass through the fire, but only that they may be purified and come forth anew, more excellent than before. In <19A226> Psalm 102:26, it is said, ‘They shall perish, but Thou shalt endure; yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shall Thou change them, and they shall be changed. ’ That the Apostle Peter, when he says that the heavens shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, does not refer to the destruction of their substance, but to their purification, is evident from what he immediately adds, — ’Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness;’ A little before he had said, ‘The world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished,’ although its substance remains as at the beginning. If, then, the punishment of sin has extended to the creatures, in bringing them under the bondage of corruption, so, according to the passage before us, that grace which reigns above sin, will also be extended to their deliverance. And, as the punishment of the sins of men is so much the greater as their effects extend to the creatures, in like manner so much the greater will be the glory that shall be revealed in them, that the creatures which were formed for their use shall be made to participate with them in the day of the restitution of all things. Through the goodness of God they shall follow the deliverance and final destination of the children of God, and not that of His enemies.
When God created the world, He ‘saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good.’ When man transgressed, God viewed it a second time, and said, ‘Cursed is the ground for thy sake.’ When the promise that the Deliverer should come into the world to re-establish peace between God and man was given, the effect of this blessed reconciliation was to extend even to the inanimate and unintelligent creation; and God, it may be said, then viewed His work a third time, and held out the hope of a glorious restoration.
The creature, then, has been subjected to the indignity which it now suffers, in hope that it will one day be delivered from the bondage of corruption, and partake of the glorious freedom of the children of God.
This hope was held out in the sentence pronounced on man, for, in the doom of our first parents, the Divine purpose of providing a deliverer was revealed. We know not the circumstances of this change, how it will be effected, or in what form the creation — those new heavens and that new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness, suited for the abode of the sons of God — shall then exist; but we are sure that it shall be worthy of the Divine wisdom, although at present beyond our comprehension. Manifestation of the sons of God. — Believers are even now The sons of God, but the world knows them not, 1 John 3:1. In this respect they are not seen. Their bodies, as well as their spirits, have been purchased by Christ, and they are become His members. Their bodies have, however, no marks of this Divine relation, but, like those of other men, are subject to disease, to death, and corruption. And although they have been regenerated by the Spirit of God, there is still a law in their members warring against the law of their mind. But the period approaches when their souls shall be freed from every remainder of corruption, and their bodies shall be made like unto the glorious body of the Son of God. Then this corruptible shall put on in corruption, and then shall they shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. It is then that they shall be manifested in their true character, illustrious as the sons of God, seated upon thrones, and conspicuous in robes of light and glory.
Ver. 23. — And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
In the four preceding verses, the Apostle had appealed to the state of nature, which, by a striking and beautiful figure, is personified and represented as groaning under the oppression of suffering, through the entrance of sin, and looking forward with ardent expectation, as with outstretched neck, to a future and better dispensation. He now proceeds to call the attention of believers to their own feelings and experience, meaning to say that if the unintelligent creation is longing for the manifestation of the sons of God, how much more earnestly must they themselves long for that glorious event.
Christians who have received the foretastes of everlasting- felicity, sympathize with the groans of nature. They enjoy, indeed, even at present, a blessed freedom. They are delivered from the guilt and dominion of sin, the curse of the law, and a servile spirit in their obedience to God.
Still, however, they have much to suffer while in the world; but they wait for the redemption of their bodies, and the full manifestation of their character as the children of God. Their bodies, as well as their spirits, have been given to Christ. They are equally the fruit of His purchase, and are become His members. But it is not till His people shall have arisen from the grave that they will enjoy all the privileges consequent on His redemption. The first fruits of the Spirit. — These are love and joy in the Holy Ghost, peace of conscience, and communion with God. They are the graces of the Spirit conferred on believers, called first fruits, because, as the first fruits of the fields were offered to God under the law, so these graces redound to God’s glory. And as the first ears of corn were a pledge of an abundant harvest, so these graces are a pledge to believers of their complete felicity, because they are given to them Of God for the confirmation of their hope.
They are a pledge, because the same love and grace that moved their Heavenly Father to impart these beginnings of their salvation will move Him to perfect the good work. These first fruits, then, are the foretastes of heaven, or the earnest of the inheritance. This is the most invaluable privilege of the children of God in the present life. It is a joy the world cannot give and cannot take away. The error which would represent these privileges as peculiar to the Apostles and the first Christians, and restrict the fruits of the Spirit to miraculous gifts, ought not for one moment to be admitted. The Apostle is speaking of all the children of God to the end of the world, without excepting even the weakest.
As the first fruits of the harvest were consecrated to God, so we should be careful not to abuse the gifts of the Spirit of God in us. As the first fruits were to be carried to the house of God, so, as God has communicated to us His grace, we should also go to His house making a public profession of His name. The children of Israel, in offering the first fruits, were commanded to confess their miserable original state, and to recount their experience of the goodness of God, Deuteronomy 26:5. In the same way we should consider the graces of the Holy Spirit in us as the first fruits of the heavenly Canaan which God hath given us, and confess that we were by nature children of wrath, dead in trespasses and sins, and that the Lord, having had compassion on us, has delivered us from the servitude of sin, and the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son. Groan within ourselves. — Not only they — the whole creation or every creature — but also believers themselves, will all their advantages, groan.
Even they find it difficult to bear up under the pressure which in their present state weighs them down, while carrying about with them a body of sin and death. Of this groaning the Apostle, as we have seen, ch. 7:24, presents himself as an example, — ’O wretched man that I am;’ and again when he says, ‘We that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened,’ 2 Corinthians 5:4. In the same manner David groaned, when he complained that his iniquities were a burden too heavy for him.
Believers groan on account of indwelling sin, of the temptations of Satan and the world, and of the evils that afflict their bodies and souls. They feel that something is always wanting to them in this world. There is nothing but that sovereign good, which can only be found in God, fully able to satisfy their desires. Believers groan within themselves. Their groanings are not such as those of hypocrites, which are only outward; they are from within. They do not always meet the ear of man, but they reach the throne of God. ‘All my desire,’ says David, ‘is before Thee, and my groaning is not hid from Thee,’ Psalm 38:9. These groanings are sighs and prayers to God, which are spoken of in the 26th verse of this chapter, where we learn their efficient cause, which is not flesh and blood. They are fruits of the Spirit, so that by them believes observe in themselves the spirit of regeneration. Waiting for the adoption. — Believers have already been adopted into the family of God, and are His children; but they have not yet been openly declared to be so, nor made in all respects suitable to this character. If they are the sons of God, they must be made glorious, both in soul and body; but till they arrive in heaven, their adoption will not be fully manifested. Adoption may be viewed at three periods. It may be considered in the election of His people, when God decrees their adoption before they are called or united to Jesus Christ; yet they are even then denominated the children of God. In the eleventh chapter of John, where Caiaphas, prophesying of the death of Jesus, says that he should die, not for that nation only, but for all the children of God that were scattered abroad. Under the term children of God were comprehended those who had not yet been called, Acts 18:10. In their calling and regeneration they are adopted into God’s family, being then united to Christ; but as their bodies do not partake in that regeneration, and are not yet conformed to the glorious body of Jesus Christ, they still wait for the entire accomplishment of their adoption, when, at the resurrection, they shall enter on the full possession of the inheritance. Accordingly Jesus denominates that blessed resurrection ‘the regeneration,’ because then not only the souls of believers, but also their bodies, shall bear the heavenly image of the second Adam. Then they shall enter fully into the possession of their inheritance; for in that day Jesus Christ will say to His elect ‘Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’ Heaven, into which they will then enter, is an inheritance suitable to the dignity of the sons of God, and for this they are waiting.
The children of God wait for the accomplishment of all that their adoption imports. They wait for it as Jacob did. ‘I have waited for Thy salvation, O Lord!’ Genesis 49:18. They wait as the believers at Corinth were waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, 1 Corinthians 1:7; and as all believers who through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith, Galatians 5:5. ‘Looking for the blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God, even our Savior Jesus Christ,’ Titus 2:13.
And as the Thessalonians, who, having been turned from idols to serve the living and true God, waited for His Son from heaven, 1 Thessalonians 1:10; also as is recorded in Hebrews 9:28; James 5:7,8; 2 Peter 3:12. In this manner Paul waited for his crown, 2 Timothy 4:8. It was this waiting for, or expectation of, deliverance from the Lord, that encouraged Noah to build the ark, and Abraham to leave his country, and Moses to esteem the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt, and the elders who obtained a good report through faith, to seek a better, that is, an heavenly country. It was the expectation of eternal life that sustained those who shed their blood for the testimony of Jesus. The redemption of our body. — That there might be no mistake respecting the meaning of the adoption in this unusual application, the Apostle himself subjoins an explanation — even the redemption of our body, because the body will then be delivered from the grave, as a prisoner when redeemed is delivered from his prison.
But why, it may be asked, does the Apostle here employ the term redemption rather than that of resurrection, which is so common in the New Testament? To this it may be replied, that the Holy Scriptures often make use of this expression to represent a great deliverance, as in <19A702> Psalm 107:2: ‘Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom He hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy’ And as in Isaiah 63, where those are spoken of who are redeemed of the Lord from the hand of the enemy. It is evident that Paul employs this expression forcibly to designate the greatest of all deliverances, the highest object of our desires, which is to be the subject of our eternal gratitude. When this term is so used, it commonly denotes two things, — the one, that the deliverance spoken of is effected in a manner glorious and conspicuous, exhibiting the greatest effort of power; the other, that it is a complete deliverance, placing us beyond all danger. On this ground, then, it is evident that no work is better entitled to the appellation of redemption than that of the re-establishment of our bodies, which will be an illustrious effect of the infinite power of God. It is the work of the Lord of nature — of Him who holds in His hands the keys of life and death. His light alone can dispel the darkness of the tomb. It is only His hand that can break its seal and its silence. On this account the Apostle appeals, with an accumulation of terms, to the exceeding greatness of the power of God to upward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead, Ephesians 1:19,20.
This last deliverance will be so perfect, that nothing can be more complete, since ‘the children of the resurrection’ shall be restored not to their first life, but to a state which will be one of surpassing glory and never-ending immortality. Death will be swallowed up in victory. Earthly warriors may obtain two sorts of victories over their enemies. One may be called a temporary or partial victory, which causes the enemy to fly, which deprives him of part of his force, but does not prevent him from re-establishing himself; returning to the field of battle, and placing the conqueror in the hazard of losing what he has gained. The other may be termed a complete and decisive victory, which so effectually subdues the hostile power, that it can never regain what it has lost. There are also two sorts of resurrections, one like that of Lazarus, in which death was overcome but not destroyed, since Lazarus died a second time; the other is, that of believers at the last day, when death will not only be overcome, but cast out and for ever exterminated. Both of these may be properly called a resurrection; but to speak with greater force, the second is here called a redemption. Besides, the Apostle, in employing this term, has reference to the redemption which Jesus Christ has effected at the infinite price of His blood. It is true this price was fully paid on the day of His death; yet two things are certain: the one is, that our resurrection will only take place in virtue of the value and imperishable efficacy of that blood, which has acquired for us life and happiness; the other, that the redemption accomplished on the cross and the resurrection are not two different works. They are hut one work, viewed under different aspects, and at different periods; the redemption on the cross being our redemption by price, and the resurrection our redemption by power — a perfect and undivided salvation begun and terminated.
The day, then, of the redemption of our bodies will be the day of the entire accomplishment of our adoption, as then only we shall enter on the complete possession of the children of God. In Jesus Christ our redemption was fully accomplished when He said on the cross, ‘It is finished.’ In us it is accomplished by different degrees. The first degree is in this life; the second, at death; the third, at the resurrection. In this life, the degree of redemption which we obtain is the remission of our sins, our sanctification, and freedom from the law and the slavery of sin. At death, our souls are delivered from all sin, and their sanctification is complete; for the soul, at its departure from the body, is received into the heavenly sanctuary, into which nothing can enter that defileth; and as to the body, death prepares it for in corruption and immortality, for that which we sow is not quickened except it die. It must therefore return to dust, there to leave its corruption, its weakness, its dishonor. Hence it follows that believers should not fear death, since death obtains for them the second degree of their redemption. But as our bodies remain in the dust till the day of our blessed resurrection, that day is called the day of the redemption of our body, as being the last and highest degree of our redemption. Then the body being reunited to the soul, death will be swallowed up in victory; for the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death, for till then death will reign over our bodies. But then the children of God shall sing that triumphant song, ‘O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?’ ‘I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death; O death, I will be thy plague; O grave, I will be thy destruction.’
The elevation of His people to glory on the day of their redemption, will be the last act in the economy of Jesus Christ as Mediator. He will then terminate His reign and the whole work of their salvation. For then He will present the whole Church to the Father, saying, ‘Behold I and the children whom Thou hast given Me.’ Then He will deliver up the kingdom, having nothing further to do in the work of redemption. This will be the rendering of the account by the Son to the Father of the charge committed to Him; and for this reason the Apostle says, ‘When all things shall be subdued unto Him, then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him that put all things under Him, that God may be all in all;’ because, as His economy commenced by an act of submission of the Son to the Father, when in entering into the world He said, ‘Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God,’ it will also terminate by a similar act, as the Son will then deliver up the kingdom to Him from whom He received it.
Believers are here said to have received the first fruits of the Spirit, and to be waiting for the redemption of their bodies. In the fourth chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians, the Apostle says, ‘Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.’ As this last passage has so much similarity to the one before us, and as they are calculated to throw light on each other, it may be proper in this place to consider its meaning.
The sealing of believers implies that God has marked them by His Spirit to distinguish them from the rest of mankind. Marking His people in this manner as His peculiar property, imports that He loves them as His own; that they are His ‘jewels,’ or peculiar treasure, Malachi 3:17. But the Apostle does not say that believers have been merely marked, but that they have been sealed, which implies much more; for although every seal is a mark, every mark is not a seal. Seals are marks which bear the arms of those to whom they belong, and often their image or resemblance, as the seals of princes. Thus the principal effect of the Holy Spirit is to impress on the hearts of His people the image of the Son of God. As the matter to which the seal is applied contributes nothing to the formation of the character it receives, and only yields to the impression made on it, so the heart is not active, but passive, under the application of this Divine seal, by which we receive the image of God, the characters of which are traced by the Holy Spirit, and depend for their formation entirely on His efficiency. As seals confirm the covenants or promises to which they are affixed, in the same manner this heavenly signet firmly establishes the declaration of the Divine mercy, and makes it irreversible. It confirms to our faith the mysteries of the Gospel, and renders certain to our hope the promises of the covenant. The seal of man, although it alters the form, makes no change on the substance of the matter to which it is applied, and possesses no virtue to render it proper for receiving the impression. But the seal of God changes the matter on which it is impressed, and although naturally hard, renders it impressible, converting a heart of stone into a heart of flesh. The seal of man is speedily withdrawn from the matter it impresses, and the impression gradually becomes faint, till it is at length effaced. But the seal of the Holy Spirit remains in the heart, so that the image it forms can never be obliterated.
The Apostle not only affirms that we are sealed by the Holy Spirit of God, but says that we are sealed unto the day of redemption; that is, this seal is given us in respect of our blessed resurrection; as the pledge of our complete transformation into the likeness of Christ. This Divine seal is that by which the Lord our great Judge will distinguish the righteous from the wicked, raising the one to the resurrection of life, and the other to the resurrection of damnation. It is also the Holy Spirit which forms in us the hope of that future redemption, our souls having no good desire whatever of which He is not the author. These things are certain; but it does not appear to be the principal design of the Apostle to enforce them here. It seems rather to be to teach that the Holy Spirit is to us a seal or assured pledge of the reality of our resurrection, or, as is said, ‘the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession.’ Besides this, the Holy Spirit confirms in our souls everything on which the hope of our resurrection depends.
That hope depends on the belief that Jesus Christ has died for our sins, of which the Holy Spirit bears record in our hearts by giving us the answer of a God conscience. It depends on knowing that Jesus Christ has in dying overcome death, and has gloriously risen again to restore to us life which we had forfeited. This is a truth which the Holy Spirit certifies to us, since He is the Spirit of Christ given in virtue of His resurrection. It depends on knowing that Jesus Christ is in heaven, reigning at the right hand of the Father, and that all power is given unto Him, that He may give eternal life to all His people. The Holy Spirit testifies to us this glory since His coming is its fruit and effect. ‘The Holy Spirit was not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified;’ and the Savior Himself says that He will send the Comforter, ‘even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father,’ concerning which the Apostle Peter declares, ‘Being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, He hath shed forth this which ye now see and hear.’ As if he had said that this marvelous effusion of the Holy Spirit is an effect, and consequently an assured proof, of the heavenly glory of Jesus Christ.
Since God gives His Holy Spirit to His children to seal them to the day of redemption, it is evident that His care of them must extend to the blessed consummation to which He purposes to conduct them. He will not withdraw His gracious hand from them, but will bring them to the possession and enjoyment of His glory. ‘The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me.’ ‘Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ.’
It may be remarked that the Apostle says ‘unto the day of redemption,’ and not simply, to the redemption. This expression, the day of redemption’s leads us to consider the advantage that grace has over nature, and the future world over that which we now inhabit. When God created the universe, He made light and darkness, day and night; and our time consists of their alternate successions. But it will not be so in the second creation, for ‘there shall be no night there.’ It will be one perpetual day of life without death, of holiness without sin, and of joy without grief.
The day here referred to may be viewed in contrast with two other solemn days, both of which are celebrated in the Scriptures. One is the day of Sinai, the other of Pentecost: this is the day of redemption. In the economy of the Father, the first was a day of public and extraordinary grandeur, appointed to display in the most remarkable manner His glory, when God descended with awful majesty amidst blackness, and darkness, and tempest: In the economy of the Holy Ghost, the second was the day when He came as a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, when the Apostles were assembled, and, under the symbol of cloven tongues of fire, rested upon them. In the economy of the Son, there will also be a day of public magnificence, and that will be the day of judgment, when, seated on the throne of His glory, Jesus Christ will come with His mighty angels to judge the quick and the dead. Then calling His elect from the four winds, with the voice of the archangel, He will raise them from the dust, and elevate them to the glory of His kingdom. The first of these days was the day of the publication of the law; the second was the day of the publication of grace; and the third will be the day of the publication of glory. This will be the day of the complete redemption of the children of God, unto which they have been sealed, and of their manifestation in their proper character. It will be the day when their bodies shall come forth from the grave, made like unto the glorious body of the Son of God, by the sovereign efficacy of the application of His blood, and by His infinite power. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Then they shall inherit the new heavens and the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness, which they now expect according to the promise, for God will make all things new. Then they shall be with Jesus where He is and shall behold His glory which God hath given Him.
Let those rejoice who are waiting for the Divine Redeemer. Their bodies indeed must be dissolved, and it doth not yet appear what they shall be.
But at that great day they shall be raised up incorruptible, they shall be rendered immortal, and shall dwell in heavenly mansions. And that they may not doubt this, God has already marked them with His Divine seal They have been sealed by the Holy Spirit of God unto the day of the redemption.
Ver. 24. — For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope; for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?
For we are saved by hope. — According to the original, this phrase may either be translated by hope, or in hope; but from the connection it appears that it ought to be translated, as in the French versions, in hope .
The word salvation, or saved, signifies all the benefits of our redemption, — namely, remission of sins, sanctification, and glorification. ‘The Son of Man is come to save that which was lost.’ In this sense Jesus Christ is called the Savior, because it is by Him that we are justified and sanctified, and glorified. This word has in Scripture sometimes a more limited, and sometimes a more extended, meaning. In particular places salvation is spoken of as already possessed, as where it is said, God has ‘saved us by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.’ Generally it signifies all the benefits of our redemption, when fully possessed by our final admission to glory, as when it is said, ‘He that endureth to the end shall be saved.’ In this verse it is regarded as enjoyed only in hope, — that is to say, in expectancy, since we have not yet been put in possession of the glory of the kingdom of heaven, In order to distinguish the measure of salvation which believers have in possession, and what they have of it in hope, we must consider its gradations. The first of these is their eternal election, of which the Apostle speaks, Ephesians 1:3,4, according to which their names were written in heaven before the creation of the world. The second gradation is their effectual calling, by which God has called them from darkness into the kingdom of His beloved Son, so that their souls are already partakers of grace, and their bodies habitations of God through the Spirit, and members of Jesus Christ. Of these gradations of their salvation they are already in possession. But the third gradation, in which sin shall be entirely eradicated from their souls, and their bodies shall be made like to the glorious body of the Lord Jesus Christ, is as yet enjoyed by them only in hope.
The term hope is used in two different senses, — the one proper, and the other figurative. Properly, it means the mixture of expectation and desire of that to which we look forward, so that we are kept students to one object, as where it is said, ‘Hope is the anchor of the soul.’ Figuratively, it signifies that which we hope for, as when God is called our hope — ’Thou art my hope, O Lord God,’ Psalm 71:5; or, ‘Jesus Christ, which is our hope,’ 1 Timothy 1:1; and as when it is said, we give thanks to God ‘for the hope which is laid up for you in heaven,’ Colossians 1:5. The word hope, then, either denotes as in the verse before us, the grace of hope, in reference to the person hoping, or the object of hope, in reference to the thing hoped for.
Hope is so closely allied to faith, that sometimes in Scripture it is taken for faith itself. They are, however, distinct the one from the other. By faith we believe the promises made to us by God; by hope we expect to receive the good things which God has promised; so that faith hath properly for its object the promise, and hope for its object the thing promised, and the execution of the promise. Faith regards its object as present, but hope regards it as future. Faith precedes hope, and is its foundation. We hope for life eternal, because we believe the promises which God has made respecting it; and if we believe these promises, we must expect their effect. Hope looks to eternal life as that which is future in regard to its remoteness; but in regard to its certainty, faith looks to it as a thing that is present. ‘Hope,’ says the Apostle, ‘maketh not ashamed;’ and he declares that ‘we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.’ Thus he ascribes to it the same certainty as to faith; and in the Epistle to the Hebrews he speaks of ‘the full assurance of hope.’ Faith and hope are virtues of this like, which will have no place in the life that is to come. ‘Now abideth faith, hope, and love.’ Faith and hope will cease; and in this respect love is the greatest, as love will abide for ever.
The objects of the believer’s hope are spiritual and heavenly blessings.
They are different from earthly blessings. The men of the world hope for riches and the perishable things of this life; the believer hopes for an inheritance in heaven, that fadeth not away. For this hope Moses gave up the riches and treasures of Egypt. By this hope David distinguishes himself from the ungodly. ‘Deliver me from men of the world, which have their portion in this life, and whose belly Thou fullest with Thy hid treasure; they are full of children, and leave the rest of their substance to their babes. As for me, I will behold Thy face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake with Thy likeness,’ Psalm 17:13-15. And, contrasting his condition with that of the children of this world, he says, Psalm 73:7, ‘Their eyes stand out with fatness: they have more than heart could wish;’ but as to himself, he had been plagued all the day long, and chastened every morning; yet he adds, ‘Nevertheless I am continually with Thee; Thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.’ If it should be said by believers, May not we also hope for perishable and temporal blessings? the answer is, that Christian hope is founded on the promises of God, and on them it is rested. The hope which exceeds these promises is carnal and worldly. To know, therefore, what is the object of Christian hope, we must observe what are the promises of God. It is true that godliness has the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come; but respecting this life God’s promises are conditional, and to be fulfilled only as He sees their accomplishment to be subservient to His glory and our good; while as to the life that is to come, they are absolute. Are we, then, to expect only ease and happiness in this world, to whom it has been declared that ‘we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God;’ and to whom the Lord Himself says, ‘If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me?’ The people of God should therefore rest their hope on the absolute promises of God, which cannot fail, of blessings that are unperishable, and of a real and permanent felicity.
The foundations and support of Christian hope are firm and certain. First, the word and immutable promise of God; for heaven and earth shall pass away, but His word shall remain for ever. God has promised heaven as the eternal inheritance of His people. Shall they doubt His fidelity? He has said, ‘The mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but My kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of My peace be removed,’ Isaiah 54:10. He has accompanied His promise with His oath. ‘Willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel; that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have ‘died for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us,’ Hebrews 6:17. We have, besides, the blood of the Son of God, with which His promise has been sealed; and His obedience even unto death, which He has rendered to His Father, for the foundation of this hope. We have also the intercession of our great High Priest, of whom the Apostle, in establishing the grounds of the assurance of faith and hope, says not only that He is dead, but that He is risen, and at the right hand of God; who also maketh intercession for us. He declares, too, that our hope enters into heaven, where Jesus our forerunner has entered for us. To these foundations of our hope may be added, that it is said, ‘Ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance, until the redemption of the purchased possession.’ The Apostle calls this hope an anchor of the soul, — representing the believer, in the temptations and assaults to which he is exposed, under the similitude of a ship tossed by the sea, but which has an anchor fixed in the ground, firm and steadfast, which prevents its being driven away by the waves. This hope is not only necessary in adversity, but also in prosperity, in raising our affections to things above, and disengaging them from the world. The good hope through grace tranquilizes the soul. ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God,’ Psalm 43:5. This hope consoles us in life and in death. It softens the bitterness of affliction, supports the soul in adversity, and in prosperity raises the affections to heavenly objects. It promotes our sanctification; for he who hath this hope of beholding Jesus as He is, purifieth himself even as He is pure, 1 John 3:3. It assures us that, if Jesus died and rose again, them all who sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him. Let believers renounce their vain hopes of happiness in this world. Here they are strangers and pilgrims, and absent from the Lord. Let them hope for His presence, and communion with Him in glory. ‘Now,’ says the Apostle, ‘the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.’
Christian hope is a virtue produced by the Holy Spirit, in which, through His power, we should abound, and by which, resting on the promises of God in Jesus Christ, we expect our complete salvation. This hope is a part of our spiritual armor against principalities and powers, and spiritual! wickedness, with which we have to wrestle. We are commanded to put on ‘for an helmet the hope of salvation,’ 1 Thessalonians 5:8.
In the preceding verse the Apostle had said, ‘We wait for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.’ Here he gives it as a reason of our waiting, that as yet we are saved only in hope. As far as the price of redemption is concerned, we are already saved; but in respect to the power by which we shall be put in possession of that for which the price has been paid, namely, our deliverance from the remainder of sin under which we groan, the resurrection of our bodies, and the enjoyment of the eternal inheritance, we are saved only in hope. The hope of all this is present with us, but the enjoyment is future. Hope that is seen is not hope. — That is, hope cannot respect anything which we already enjoy. For it is impossible, as the Apostle subjoins, for a man to hope for that which he possesses. Hope and possession are ideas altogether incongruous and contradictory.
Believers, then, are as yet saved only in hope. They have received but the earnest and foretaste of their salvation. They groan under the weight which is borne by them, and their bodies are subject to the sentence of temporal death. If they were in the full possession of their salvation, faith would no longer be the conviction of things hoped for, as things hoped for are not things enjoyed. This corresponds with what the Apostle says elsewhere, when he exhorts believers to work out their salvation, and when he remarks that our elevation is nearer than when we first believed. When it is said we are saved in hope, as it supposes our felicity to be future, so it implies that all the good we can for the present enjoy of that distant and future felicity is obtained by hoping for it; and, therefore, if we could not hope for it, we should lose all the encouragement we have in the prospect.
Hope produces patience with respect to all the, trials, and labors, and difficulties that must be encountered before we obtain its object. Since we hope for what we see not, — that is, for what we possess not, — there must consequently be a virtue by which, being held firm, we wait for it, and that is patience. For between hope and enjoyment of the thing hoped for a delay intervenes, and there are many temptations within, and afflictions from without, by which hope would be turned into despair, if it were not supported by patience. As long as hope prevails, the combat will not be given up. In the 23rd verse, believers are said to be waiting for the adoption; here the inducement to their waiting, and patiently waiting, is stated, — it is their hope supported by patience. Patiently bearing their present burden, and waiting for heaven, implies their expectation that it is reserved for them. They have been begotten again to a lively hope of possessing it by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, which is a sure pledge of the redemption of their bodies from the grave. This verse and the preceding teach the importance of hope to believers, and of their obeying the exhortation to give all diligence to the full assurance of hope.
The hope of beholding Jesus as he is, and of obtaining ‘a better resurrection,’ is calculated to enable them patiently to sustain the sufferings of the present time. This hope is represented as encouraging the Lord Himself, ‘who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame,’ Hebrews 12:2.
Ver. 26. — Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities; for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
Believers have need of patience, that, after they have done the will of God, they may receive the promise; but their patience is not perfect as it ought to be, and they are often ready to cast away their confidence, although it hath great recompense of reward. For their support, then, in their warfare, which is attended with so much difficulty, the Apostle presents a variety of considerations. He had reminded them, in the 17th verse, of their communion with Jesus Christ, and that, if they suffer with Him, they shall with Him also be glorified. In the 18th verse, he had told them that their sufferings bear no proportion to that glory of which they shall be made partakers. He had next drawn an argument, from the present state of creation, suffering, but waiting for and expecting its deliverance, and the manifestation of the sons of God; and reminding them of the pledges they had already received of that glorious manifestation, he had spoken of its certainty, although still future, and therefore as yet enjoyed only in hope.
But as they might still object, How, even admitting the force of these encouragements, can we, who are so weak in ourselves, and so inferior in power to the enemies we have to encounter, bear up under so many trials? the Apostle, in the verse before us, points out an additional and internal source of encouragement of the highest consideration, namely, that the Holy spirit helps their infirmities, and also prays for them, which is sufficient to allay every desponding fear, and to communicate the strongest consolation.
At the close of the sacred canon, the Church is represented as saying, ‘Come, Lord Jesus.’ Being a stranger on earth, and her felicity consisting in communion with her glorious Lord, she groans on account of His absence, and ardently desires His holy and blessed presence. In the meantime, however, He vouchsafes to His people great consolation to compensate for His absence. He assures them that He has ascended to His Father and their Father, to His God and their God; that in His Father’s house are many mansions; that He is gone to prepare a place for them; and that, when He has prepared a place He will return and receive them to Himself, that where He is they may be also. They also know the way, He Himself being the way and their guide. How encouraging is this doctrine, and how well calculated for the support of hope and patience in expecting the return of the Bridegroom! If He is gone to their common Father, communion in His glory will not long be delayed. If there be many mansions in the house of their Heavenly Father, these are prepared to receive not only the elder Brother, but all His brethren; for were there only one abode, it would be for Him alone. If He is gone to prepare a place, and if He is soon to come again to receive them to Himself, is it not calculated to fill them with joy in the midst of troubles and afflictions? But all these consolations would be insufficient unless Jesus had added, that He would not leave them orphans, but would give them another Comforter to abide with them for ever, even the Spirit of truth. Without such support they would be overwhelmed by the weight of their afflictions, and overcome by their manifold temptations. But since they have not only an almighty Surety, but also an almighty Comforter, even the Holy Spirit, who dwells in them, and abides with them, this is sufficient to confirm their joy, to establish their hope, and to give them the assurance that nothing shall separate them from the love of Christ. Such is the consolation, in addition to all the others which, in the passage before us, the Apostle presents. Likewise the Spirits also helpeth our infirmities. — Likewise, or in like manner, as we are supported by hope, so the Spirit also helps our infirmities. The expression helpeth our infirmities, is very significant. The Apostle intends to say that the Holy Spirit carries, or bears with us, our afflictions. If it be inquired why this help which we received from the Holy Spirit is distinguished from the support we have from hope and patience, the answer is, that the Holy Spirit supports us, as being the efficient principle and first cause; and hope and patience supports as His instruments. On this account the Apostle, after having referred to the two former, speaks of this support of the Spirit. And here we find the most abundant consolation in Him who is the promised Comforter, for the all-powerful God Himself comes to help our infirmities.
Paul does not say infirmity, but infirmities, that we may remember how numerous they are, and may humble ourselves before God, renouncing our pride and presumption, and imploring His support. He also says, our infirmities, thus recognizing them as also his own, and reminding the strongest of their weakness. The burdens of believers are of two kinds: the one is sin, the other is suffering. Under both of these they are supported.
As to sin, Jesus has charged Himself with it. ‘He bore our sins in His own body on the tree;’ and as to sufferings, they are helped by the Holy Spirit, but only in part, by imparting strength to bear them; for all Christians must bear their cross in following Jesus. But in the kingdom of heaven, where every tear shall be wiped from their eyes, they shall be for ever delivered from all suffering.
Christians have at present many infirmities; they are in themselves altogether weakness; but the Holy Spirit dwells in their hearts, and is their strong consolation. Without Him they could not bear their trials, or perform what they are called to endure. But as He dwells in them, He gives them that aid of which they stand in need. Are we weak, and our troubles great? Here the almighty God comes to support us. Are we bowed down under the weight of our afflictions? Behold, He who is all-powerful bears them with us! The care of shepherds over their flocks, and the care of mothers who carry their infants in their bosoms, are but feeble images of the love of God and the care He exercises over His people.
A mother may forsake her sucking child, but the Lord will not forsake His children. ‘When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.’ For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. — There are two things in prayer: namely, the matter of prayer, that is, the things we ask for, and the act of prayer, by which we address God respecting our desires and necessities. But so great is the infirmity and ignorance of the believer, that he does not even know what he ought to ask. He is not thoroughly acquainted either with his dangers or his wants.
He needs not only to be supplied from on high, but also Divine guidance to show him what he wants. When he knows not what to ask, the office of the Holy Spirit in the heart is to assist him in praying. Though, in a peculiar sense, Jesus is the believer’s intercessor in heaven, yet the Holy Spirit intercedes in him on earth, teaching him what to ask, and exciting in him groanings expressive of his wants, though they cannot be uttered; that is, they cannot be expressed in words. Yet these wants are uttered in groans, and in this manner most emphatically express what is meant, while they indicate the energy of the operation of the Spirit. Here the Apostle goes farther than in the former clause of the verse, and shows that the Spirit helpeth our infirmities, by referring to a particular example of this aid. In order to prove the extent of our weakness, the importance of the help of the Holy Spirit, and the greatness of the assistance He gives, Paul declares that we know not what we should pray for as we ought. Our blindness and natural ignorance are such, that we know not how to make a proper choice of the things for which we ought to pray. Sometimes we are ready to ask what is not suitable, as when Moses prayed to be allowed to enter Canaan, although, as being a type of Christ, he must die before the people, for whom he was the mediator, could enter the promised land; and as Paul, when He prayed to be delivered from the thorn in his flesh, not understanding that it was proper that he should be thus afflicted, that he might not be exalted above measure. Sometimes, too, we ask even for things that would be hurtful were we to receive them; of which there are many examples in Scripture, as James 4:3.
The people of God are often so much oppressed, and experience such anguish of mind, that their agitated spirits, borne down by affliction, can neither perfectly conceive nor properly express their complaints and requests to God. Shall they then remain without prayer? No; the Holy Spirit acts in their hearts, exciting in them sighs and groans. Such appear to have been the groanings of Hezekiah, when he said, ‘Like a crane or a swallow, so did I chatter; I did mourn as a dove; mine eyes fail with looking upward; O Lords I am oppressed, undertake for me.’ Such also was the experience of David in the <197701> seventy-seventh Psalm, when he says, ‘I am so troubled that I cannot speak.’ Thus, too, Hannah ‘space in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard.’ No words of Peter in his repentance are recorded; his groanings are represented by his weeping bitterly; and in the same way we read of the woman who was a sinner as only washing the feet of Jesus with her tears, which expressed the inward groanings of her heart.
Although these sightings or groanings of the children of God are here ascribed to the Holy spirit, it is not to be supposed that the Divine Spirit can be subject to such emotions or perturbations of mind; but it is so represented, because He: draws forth these groans from our hearts and excites them there. Thus it is for hearts that groan, but the operation and emotion is from the Holy Spirit; for the subject of these, and He who produces them, must not be confounded. In this way the Apostle speaks in the fourth chapter to the Galatians. ‘Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.’ And in the 15th verse of the chapter before us, he shows that it is we who cry ‘Abba, Father,’ in order that we may observe that it is not the Spirit who cries, who prays, who groans, but that He causes us to cry, and pray, and groan. Such, then, is the work of the Holy Spirit here spoken of in the heart of believers, from which we learn that if there be any force in us to resist evil, and to overcome temptation, it is not of ourselves, but of our God. And hence it follows that if we have borne up under any affliction or temptation, we ought to render thanks to God, seeing that by His power He has supported us, and to pray, as David did, ‘Uphold me with Thy free Spirit.’
The Holy Spirit often, in a peculiar manner, helpeth the infirmities of the children of God in the article of death enabling them to sustain the pains and weaknesses of their bodies, and supporting their souls by His consolations in that trying hour. The body is then borne down with trouble, but the mind is sustained by the consolations of God. The eye of the body is dim, but the eye of faith is often at that season most unclouded. The outward man perisheth, but the inward man is renewed.
Then, when Satan makes his last and greatest effort to subvert the soul, and comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord lifts up a standard against him, exciting in the believer a more ardent faith, and consoling him, though unable to express it, with a strong conviction of the Divine love and faithfulness. It is by this means that so many martyrs have triumphantly died, surmounting, by the power of the Spirit within them, the apprehension of the most excruciating bodily torture, and rejoicing in the midst of their sufferings.
Ver. 27. — And He that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.
It might be objected, To what purpose are those groanings which we cannot understand? To this the Apostle very fully replies in this verse, — 1. God knows what these prayers mean, for ‘He searcheth the hearts’ of men, of which he hath perfect knowledge. The believer sighs and groans, while, owing to his perplexity and distress, he cannot utter a word before God; nevertheless these sighs and groanings are full of meaning. 2. God knoweth what is ‘the mind of the Spirit,’ or what He is dictating in the heart, and therefore He must approve of it; for the Father and Spirit are one. 3. Because, or rather, ‘that He maketh intercession.’ We are not to understand His intercession as the reason why God knows the mind of the Spirit, but as the reason why He will hear and answer the groans which the Holy Spirit excites. A further reason is, that this intercession is made for the saints; that is, for the children of God, of whom He hath said, ‘Gather My saints together unto Me, those that have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice,’ Psalm 1:5.
Finally, it is added, that it is ‘according to God,’ or to the will of God.
These prayers, then, will be heard, because the Spirit intercedes for those who are the children of God, and because He excites no desires but what are agreeable to the will of God. From all this we see how certain it is that these groanings which cannot be uttered must be heard, and consequently answered. For ‘this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He heareth us.’ The best prayers are not those of human eloquence, but which spring from earnest desires of the heart.
This verse is replete with instruction as well as consolation. We are here reminded that the Lord is the searcher of hearts. ‘Hell and destruction are before the Lord; how much more then the hearts of the children of men.’
The reasons of the perfect knowledge that God has of our hearts, are declared in the <19D901> 139th Psalm: — 1. The infinity, the omnipresence, and omniscience of God. 2. He forms the heart, and knows His own work. 3. He preserves and maintains the heart in all its operations. 4. He conducts and leads it, and therefore knows and sees it. The prayer of the heart, then, is attended to by God, as well as the prayer of the lips. Yet this does not prove that oral prayer is unnecessary — not even in our secret devotions.
This passage teaches us to look to God for an answer to the secret groanings of our heart; but it does not teach us to neglect communing with God with our lips, when we can express our thoughts. This is abundantly taught in the word of God, both by precept and example. Searching the heart is here given as a characteristic peculiar to God. As, then, it is ascribed in other passages to our Lord Jesus Christ, He must be God. This passage clearly establishes the personal distinction between the Father and the Holy Spirit.
The persons to whom the benefit of this intercession of the Spirit extends are said to be saints This proves that none can pray truly and effectually except the saints. It is only in the saints that the Spirit dwells, and of whose prayers He is the Author; and it is they only who are sanctified by Him. It is the saints, then, emphatically, and the saints exclusively, for whom the Spirit makes intercession. Such only are accepted of God, and fit subjects for the operation of the Spirit; but this is not the first work of the Spirit in them. He first sanctifies and then intercedes. First, He puts into us gracious dispositions, and then stirs up holy desires; and the latter supposes the former. In those in whom the Spirit is a Spirit of intercession, in them He is a Spirit of regeneration. These are therefore joined together in Zechariah 12:10, ‘The Spirit of grace and of supplications.’ None but saints have an interest in the blood of Christ, as applied unto them, and in His intercession. None are able to pray for themselves, for whom Christ does not likewise pray. We can only approach God by the Spirit. ‘We have access by one Spirit to the Father,’ Ephesians 2:18. We can only pray under the influence of the Holy Spirit with groanings which cannot be uttered; while the wicked may groan without prayer. ‘They have not cried unto Me with their heart, when they howled upon their beds,’ Hosea 7:14.
The other reason which renders acceptable to God the prayers and sighs excited in the saints by the Holy Spirit, is, that they are according to the will of God. The Spirit Himself being God, these requests must be agreeable to God. The carnal mind, it is said in verse 7, is enmity against God; but the mind (the same word here employed) of the Spirit is agreeable to God. The intercession made by the Holy Spirit is according to the command and the revealed will of God, and in the name and in dependence on Christ the Mediator. The Holy Spirit, then, teaches the saints how to pray, and what to pray for. What He teaches them to ask on earth, is in exact correspondence with that for which Jesus, their great High Priest, is interceding for them in heaven. The intercession of Jesus before the throne is an echo to the prayer taught by the Holy Spirit in their hearts. It is therefore not only in perfect unison with the intercession of Christ, and the indicting of the Holy Spirit, but it is in exact conformity to the will of God. Such, then, is the security to the saints that their prayers, although only expressed in groans, shall be heard by their Father in heaven. ‘The prayer of the upright is His delight,’ Proverbs 15:8. ‘He will fulfill the desire of them that fear Him,’ <19E519> Psalm 145:19.
Ver. 28. — And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.
Nothing is more necessary for Christians than to be well persuaded of the happiness and privileges of their condition, that they may be able to serve God with cheerfulness and freedom of spirit, and to pass through the troubles and difficulties of the world. Here, then, is further consolation:
Christians are often in sorrows, sufferings, and trials. This is not in itself joyous, but grievous; but in another point of view it is a matter of joy.
Though afflictions in themselves are evil, yet in their effects as overruled and directed by God, they are useful. Yea, all things, of every kind, that happen to the Christian, are overruled by God for his good!
Having previously spoken of the various sources of consolation, and, in the two preceding verses, of the Spirit helping our infirmities, and dictating those prayers which are heard of God, the Apostle now obviates another objection. If God hears our sighs and groanings, why are we not delivered from our afflictions and troubles? In answer, it is here shown that afflictions are salutary and profitable; so that, although they are not removed, God changes their natural tendency, and makes them work for our good. But in order that none should hereby be led into carnal security, the Apostle adds, that those for whom all things work together for good are such as love God, and are the called according to His purpose. This is not only true in itself, but it is here asserted to be a truth known to believers.
The Apostle had proposed various considerations, to which he now says we know this is to be added. This does not mean that believers know it merely in a speculative manner, but that it is a knowledge which enters into their heart and affections, producing in them confidence in its truth. It is a knowledge of faith which implies certainty and self application, by which the believer not only knows but applies the promises of God, and is able to say, This promise is mine, it belongs to me. For otherwise, what advantage would there be in a general knowledge of this fact? where would be its consolation, and where its practical use? ‘The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him, and He will show them His covenant.’ The experience, too, of the believer brings home to his mind the conviction of this encouraging truth. The Church of Rome accuses of presumption those who make such an application to themselves. They allow that the Christian should believe, in general, the promises of God, but that, as to a particular self-application or appropriation of them, he should hold this in doubt, and be always uncertain as to his own salvation. This is to destroy the nature of those consolations, and to render them useless. For if, in order to console one who is afflicted, it be said to him, ‘All things work together for good to them that love God,’ he will answer, True, but I must doubt whether this belongs to me; and thus the consolation is made of no effect. But if this error be not imbibed, and the duty of such appropriation be not denied, why is it that so many believers experience so little of this consolation in their afflictions? Is it not because they have little of that knowledge of which the Apostle speaks when he says, ‘We know that all things work together for good to them that love God?’ Carnal affections, the love of the world, and indulgence of the flesh, prevent this consideration from being deeply impressed on their minds; they also darken their understandings, so as not to allow the light of the consolations of God to enter their hearts. But in proportion as their hearts are purified from these affections, in the same degree it is confirmed in their minds.
The objection, why sufferings are not removed, should be answered by reminding believers that all things work together for their good. All things work together for good to them that love God. — All things, whatever they be — all things indefinitely — are here intended. The extent of this expression is by many limited to afflictions. ‘Paul, it must be remembered,’ says Calvin on this text, ‘is speaking only of adversity;’ and he adds, ‘Paul is here speaking of the cross; and on this account the observation of Augustine, though true, does not bear on this passage — that even the sins of believers are so ordered by the providence of God as to serve rather to the advancement of their salvation than to their injury.’
It is true that the Apostle had been referring to the present sufferings of believers, and enumerating various special topics of consolation; but, approaching to the conclusion of his enumeration, it might be expected that the last of them would be no longer of a special but of a most comprehensive description. That it is so, the terms he employs warrant us to conclude. All things, he says. If the context necessarily limited this expression, its universality ought not to be contended for; but it does not If it be, as Calvin admits, that what is here said is true even of the sins of believers (and if applicable to sins, what else can be excepted?), why should the sense be limited to sufferings It is much more consolatory, and consequently more to the Apostle’s purpose, if literally all things be comprehended; and in this view it would form the most complete summing up of his subject. He had been pointing out to believers their high privileges as heirs of God, and partakers of glory with Christ. He had said that their sufferings in the present time are not worthy to be compared with that glory. He had suggested various topics to induce them to wait for it with patience; and had given them the highest encouragement, from the fact of the working of the Spirit of all grace within them, and of the acceptance of that work by God. Is it then more than was to be expected, that he should conclude the whole by saying that all things, without exception, were concurring for their good? Is it too much to suppose that it must be so to them whom he had addressed as heirs of God, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ, who are therefore under the guidance of the Good Shepherd, and honored by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost? Is it more than the Apostle says on another occasion, when he uses the very same expression, all things, and, so far from intimating any exception, adds a most comprehensive catalogue? ‘All things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours, for ye are Christ’s and Christ is God’s,’ Corinthians 3:21. And again, ‘All things are for your sakes,’ Corinthians 4:15. Finally, ought the expression here to be restricted, when it is impossible to believe that the same expression, occurring a few sentences afterwards, verse 32, can be restricted? That all things work together for the good of them that love God, is a truth affording the highest consolation. These words teach believers that whatever may be the number and overwhelming character of adverse circumstances, they are all contributing to conduct them into the possession of the inheritance provided for them in heaven. That they are thus working for the good of the children of God, is manifest from the consideration that God governs the world. The first cause of all is God; second causes are all His creatures, whether angels, good or bad men, animals, or the inanimate creation.
Second causes move only under His direction; and when God withdraws His hand, they cannot more at all, as it is written, ‘In Him we live, and move, and have our being.’ As God, then, the first cause, moves all second causes against His enemies, so, when He is favorable to us, He employs all to move and work for our good, as it is said, ‘In that day will I make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven, and with the creeping things of the ground; and will break the bow, and the sword, and the battle out of the earth, and will make them to lie down safely,’ Hosea 2:18. And as of men it is said, ‘When a man’s ways please the Lord, He maketh even his enemies-to be at peace with him,’ Proverbs 16:7.
If all things work together for good, there is nothing within the compass of being that is not, in one way or other, advantageous to the children of God.
All the attributes of God, all the offices of Christ, all the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit, are combined for their good. The creation of the world, the fall and the redemption of man, all the dispensations of Providence, whether prosperous or adverse, all occurrences and events — all things, whatsoever they be — work for their good. They work together in their efficacy, in their unity, and in their connection. They do not work thus of themselves: it is God that turns all things to the good of His children. The afflictions of believers, in a peculiar manner, contribute to this end. ‘Before I was afflicted I went astray; but now have I kept Thy word. It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn Thy statutes.’ ‘Tribulation worketh patience.’ ‘No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness Unto them which are exercised thereby.’ And believers are chastened by God for their profit, that they may be partakers of His holiness. The Apostle himself was an example of this, when a thorn in his flesh was sent to him to prevent his being exalted above measure. We see how much the sufferings of those spoken of in the eleventh chapter of the Hebrews were calculated to detach their affections from this present world, and lead them to seek a better, even a heavenly country. There is often a need be for their being in heaviness through manifold temptations.
Even the sins of believers work for their good, not from the nature of sin, but by the goodness and power of Him who brings light out of darkness.
Everywhere in Scripture we read of the great evil of sin. Everywhere we receive the most solemn warning against its commission; and everywhere we hear also of the chastisements it brings, even upon those who are rescued from its finally condemning power. It is not sin, then, in itself that works the good, but God who overrules its effects to His children, — shows them, by means of it, what is in their hearts, as well as their entire dependence on Himself, and the necessity of walking with Him more closely. Their falls lead them to humiliation, to the acknowledgment of their weakness and depravity, to prayer for the guidance and overpowering influence of the Holy Spirit, to vigilance and caution against all carnal security, and to reliance on that righteousness provided for their appearance before God. It is evident that the sin of Adam, which is the source of all their sins, has wrought for their good in raising them to a higher degree of glory. Believers fall into sin, and on account of this God hides His face from them, and they are troubled; and, like Hezekiah, they go softly. God left Hezekiah to himself, but it was to do him good at his latter end.
But if our sins work together for our good, shall we sin that grace may abound? Far be the thought. This would be entirely to misunderstand the grace of God, and to turn it into an occasion of offending Him. Against such an abuse of the doctrine of grace, the Apostle contends in the 6th chapter of this Epistle. Sin should be considered in its nature, not as to what it is adventitiously, or in respect to what is foreign to it. Sin as committed by us is only sin, and rebellion against God and the holiness of His nature. It ought therefore to be regarded with abhorrence, and merits eternal punishment. That it is turned to good, is the world of God, and not ours. We ought no more to conclude that on this account we may sin, than that wicked men do what is right when they persecute the people of God, because persecutions are overruled by Him for good. That all things work together for good to them who love God, establishes the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints; for if all things work together for their good, what or where is that which God will permit to lead them into condemnation?
That all things happen for the best is a common saying among people of the world. This is a fact as to the final issue of the Divine administration, by which all things shall be made to contribute to the glory of God. But as to sinners individually, the reverse is true. All things are indeed working together in one complex plan in the providence of God for the good of those who love Him; but so far from working for good, or for the best to His enemies, everything is working to their final ruin. Both of these effects are remarkably exemplified in the lives of Saul and David. Even the aggravated sin of David led him to deep humiliation and godly sorrow, to a greater knowledge of his natural and original depravity, of the deceitfulness of his heart, and to his singing aloud of God’s righteousness. The sins of Saul, as well as everything that befell him in God’s providence, led to his becoming more hardened in his impiety, and at last conducted him to despair and suicide. The histories of many others, both believers and sinners, recorded in the Old Testament, abundantly confirm the words of the Psalmist, ‘The Lord preserveth all them that love Him, but all the wicked will be destroyed.’ ‘The way of the wicked He turneth upside down.’
There are two scriptures which should fill the people of God with joy and consolation. The one is, ‘The Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold from them that love Him,’ Psalm 84:11. The other is the passage before us, ‘All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.’ If, then, God will withhold nothing that is good for us, and will order and dispose of all things for good to us, what can be wanting to our absolute and complete security? How admirable is the providence of God, not only as all things are ordered by Him, but as He overrules whatever is most disordered, and turns to good things that in themselves are most pernicious. We admire His providence in the regularity of the seasons, of the course of the sun and stars; but this is not so wonderful as His bringing good out of evil in all the complicated acts and occurrences in the lives of men, and making even the power and malice of Satan, with the naturally destructive tendency of his works, to minister to the good of His children. That love God. — What is said of all things working together for good is here limited to those who love God. This is given as a peculiar characteristic of a Christian. It imports that all behaviors love God, and that none but believers love Him. Philosophers, falsely so called, and men of various descriptions, may boast of loving God; but the decision of God Himself is, that to love Him is the peculiar characteristic of a Christian. No man can love God till He hath shined into his heart to give him the light of the knowledge of His glory in the face of Jesus Christ. It is therefore only through faith in the blood of Christ that we can love God. Until our faith gives us some assurance of reconciliation with God, we cannot have the confidence which is essential to loving God. Till then we dread God as our enemy, and fear that He will punish us for our sins. In loving God, the affections of the believer terminate in God as their last and highest end; and this they can do in God only. In everything else, there being only a finite goodness, we cannot absolutely rest in it. This is the rest that David had when he said, ‘Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire besides Thee; God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever,’ Psalm 73:25. This is what satisfies the believer in his need and poverty, and in every situation in which he may be placed, for it suffices him to have God for his heritage and his possession, since God is his all; and as this Divine love expels the love of the world, so it overcomes the immoderate love of himself. He is led to love what God loves, and to hate what God hates, and thus he walks in communion with God, loving God, and more and more desiring to comprehend what is the breadth and length, and depth and height, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge. To those who are the called according to His purpose. — This is a further description or characteristic of God’s people. They are called not merely outwardly by the preaching of the Gospel, for this is common to them with unbelievers, but called also by the Spirit, with an internal and effectual calling, and made willing in the day of God’s power. They are called according to God’s eternal purpose, according to which He knew them, and purposed their calling before they were in existence; for all God’s purposes are eternal. It imports that their calling is solely the effect of grace; for when it is said to be a calling according to God’s purpose, it is distinguished from a calling according to works. ‘Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,’ 2 Timothy 1:9. It imports that it is an effectual and permanent calling; for God’s purposes cannot be defeated. ‘The counsel of the Lord, that shall stand.’ Their calling is according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things according to the counsel of His own will,’ Ephesians 1:11.
Ver. 29. — For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.
The Apostle having exhibited to believers many grounds of consolation, to induce them patiently to endure the sufferings of this present time, now points to the source of their future glory, in order to assure them of its certainty. The easy and natural transition to this branch of his subject should be particularly noticed. He had declared in the foregoing verse that all things work together for good to them who love God; but as it is always necessary to keep in mind that our love to God is not the cause of His love to us, nor, consequently, of the privileges with which we are favored, but the effects of His loving us, Deuteronomy 7:6-8; Jeremiah 1:5, the Apostle adds, ‘Who are the called according to His purpose.’ This declaration leads at once to a full and most encouraging view of the progress of the Divine procedure originating with God, and carried, through all its connecting links, forward to the full possession of that glory which shall be revealed in us. For whom He did foreknow. — The word foreknow has three significations. One is general, importing simply a knowledge of things before they come into existence. In this general sense it is evident that it is not employed in this passage, since it is limited to those whom God predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son. He foreknows all things before they come to pass; but here foreknowledge refers only to particular individuals. A second signification is a knowledge accompanied by a decree. In this sense it signifies ordinance and providence, as it is said, Acts 2:23, ‘Him being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God;’ that is to say, by the ordinance and providence of God. The reason why this word is used to denote the Divine determinations is because the foreknowledge of God necessarily implies His purpose or decree with respect to the thing foreknown. For God foreknows what will be, by determining what shall be. God’s foreknowledge cannot in itself be the cause of any event; but events must be produced by His decree and ordination. It is not because God foresees a thing that it is decreed; but He foresees it because it is ordained by Him to happen in the order of His providence. Therefore His foreknowledge and decrees cannot be separated; for the one implies the other. When He decrees that a thing shall be, He foresees that it will be. There is nothing known as what will be, which is not certainly to be; and there is nothing certainly to be, unless it is ordained that it shall be. All the foreknowledge of future events, then, is founded on the decree of God; consequently He determined with Himself from eternity everything He executes in time, Acts 15:18. Nothing is contingent in the mind of God, who foresees and orders all events according to His own eternal and unchangeable will. Jesus Christ was not delivered by God fore knowing it before it took place, but by His fixed counsel and ordination, or His providence. Thus believers are called elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, 1 Peter 1:2; and in the same chapter, ver. 19, 20, the Apostle Peter says that Jesus Christ was foreknown before the foundation of the world. Here foreknown signifies, as it is rendered, fore-ordained.
The third signification of this word consists in a knowledge of love and approbation; and in this sense it signifies to choose and recognize as His own, as it is said, Romans 11:2, ‘God hath not cast away His people whom He foreknew,’ — that is, whom He had before loved and chosen; for the Apostle alleges this foreknowledge as the reason why God had not rejected His people. In this manner the word ‘know’ is often taken in Scripture in the sense of knowing with affection, loving, approving; as in the first Psalm, ‘The Lord knoweth the way of the righteous; but the way of the ungodly shall perish.’ To know the way of the just, is to love, to approve, as appears by the antithesis. Paul says to the Corinthians, ‘If any man love God, the same is know of Him,’ 1 Corinthians 8:3; and to the Galatians, ‘But now after ye have known God or rather are known of Him.’ In the same way, God said by His Prophet to Israel, ‘You only have I known of all the families of the earth,’ Amos 3:2. At the day of judgment Jesus Christ will say to hypocrites, ‘I never knew you,’ Matthew 7:23; that is to say, He never loved or acknowledged them, although He perfectly knew their characters and actions. In this last sense the word foreknow is employed in the passage before us. Those whom God foreknew — those whom He before loved, chose, acknowledged as His own — He predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son It is not a general anticipated knowledge that is here intended. The Apostle does not speak of all, but of some, whom in verse 33 he calls ‘God’s elect;’ and not of anything in their persons, or belonging to them, but of the persons themselves, whom it is said God foreknew. And He adds, that those whom He foreknew He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son; and whom he predestinated He also called, and justified, and glorified.
By foreknowledge, then, is not here meant a foreknowledge of faith or good works, or of concurrence with the external call Faith cannot be the cause of foreknowledge, because foreknowledge is before predestination, and faith is the effect of predestination. ‘As many as were ordained to eternal life believed,’ Acts 13:48. Neither can it be meant of the foreknowledge of good works, because these are the effects of predestination. ‘We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works; which God hath before ordained (or before prepared) that we should walk in them,’ Ephesians 2:10. Neither can it be meant of foreknowledge of our concurrence with the external call, because our effectual calling depends not upon that concurrence, but upon God’s purpose and grace, given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, Timothy 1:9. By this foreknowledge, then, is meant, as has been observed, the love of God towards those whom He predestinates to be saved through Jesus Christ. All the called of God are foreknown by Him, — that is, they are the objects of His eternal love, and their calling comes from this free love. ‘I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore with loving-kindness I have drawn thee,’ Jeremiah 31:3. He also did predestinate. — Foreknowledge and predestination are distinguished. The one is the choice of persons, the other the destination of those persons to the blessings for which they are designed. To predestinate signifies to appoint beforehand to some particular end. In Scripture it is taken sometimes generally for any decree of God, as in Acts 4:28, where the Apostles say that the Jews were assembled to do whatsoever the hand and the counsel of God had determined (predestinated) before to be done. And Paul says, 1 Corinthians 2:7, ‘We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom which God ordained (predestinated) before the world unto our glory.’
Sometimes this word is taken specially for the decree of the salvation of man, as Ephesians 1:5, ‘Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace.’ In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.’ In the same way, in the passage before us, ‘Whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son.’ As the term is here used, it respects not all men, but only those of whom God has placed His love from eternity, and on whom He purposes to bestow life through Jesus Christ. As, then, it is absolute and complete, so it is definite; and the number who are thus predestinated can neither be increased nor diminished. It is not that God had foreseen us as being in Christ Jesus by faith, and on that account had elected us, but that Jesus Christ, being the Mediator between God and man, God had predestinated us to salvation only in Him. For as the union which we have with Him is the foundation of all the good which we receive from God, so we must be elected in Him; that is to say, that God gives us to Him to be His members, and to partake in the good things to which God predestinates us. So that Jesus Christ has been the first predestinated and appointed to be the Mediator, in order that God should bless us with all spiritual blessings in Him.
In the passage above quoted, Ephesians 1:5, the cause of predestination is traced solely to God. After saying that God had predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ, it is added, ‘to Himself,’ to show that God has no cause out of Himself moving Him to this grace. In order to enforce this, it is further added, ‘according to the good pleasure of His will;’ and, in the third place, it is subjoined, ‘to the praise of the glory of His grace;’ from all which it follows that it must necessarily be by grace, — that is, free, unmerited favor. Love to God, or conformity to the image of Christ, cannot in any respect have its origin in fallen man. ‘Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us.’ ‘We love Him, because He first loved us.’ ‘It is a foolish inference,’ says Calvin, ‘of these disputants, who say that God has elected such only as He foresaw would be worthy of grace. For Peter does not flatter believers, as if they were elected for their own individual merits, but refers their election to the eternal counsel of God, and strips them of all worthiness. In this passage, also, Paul repeats in another word what he had lately intimated concerning God’s eternal purpose; and it hence follows that this knowledge depends on the good pleasure of His will, because, by adopting whom He would, God did not extend His foreknowledge to anything out of Himself, but only marked out those whom He intended to elect.’
The foundation of predestination is Jesus Christ, by whom we receive the adoption of children. Its object is man, not invested with any quality which moves God to predestinate him, but as corrupted and guilty in Adam — dead in trespasses and sins until quickened by God. The blessing to which God had predestinated those whom He foreknew is salvation, as it is said, ‘God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ;’ or, as it is expressed in the verse before us, ‘to be conformed to the image of His Son.’ The means to all this are our calling and justification. The final end of predestination is the glory of God, — ’to the glory of His grace;’ ‘and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory.’ On the consideration of their election, the Apostles urge believers to walk in holiness. ‘Put on, therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering,’ Colossians 3:12. ‘Ye are a chosen (elected) generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light,’ 1 Peter 2:9.
In the election of some, and the passing by of others, the wisdom of God is manifest; for by this means He displays both His justice and mercy, — otherwise one of these perfections would not have appeared. If all had been withdrawn from their state of corruption, the justice of God would not have manifested itself in their punishment. If none had been chosen, His mercy would not have been seen. In the salvation of these, God has displayed His grace; and in the punishment of sin in the others, He has discovered His justice and hatred of iniquity. This doctrine of election is full of consolation, and is the true source of Christian assurance. For who can shake this foundation, which is more firm than that of the heavens and the earth, and can no more be shaken than God Himself? The sheep whom God hath given to His Son by His predestination no one can pluck out of His hands.
But although this doctrine of election of the people of God to eternal life is a doctrine so consoling to them, and must have necessarily entered into the plan of salvation to render it consistent with itself, yet there are many who, in preaching the Gospel, deem it improper, notwithstanding they have the express example of our Lord, John 6:37,44,65, to declare it before promiscuous multitudes, or even generally to believers, although so frequently introduced by the Apostles in their Epistles to the churches.
Against this practice, prompted by worldly wisdom, Luther has forcibly remonstrated in the following appeal to Erasmus: — ’If, my Erasmus, you consider these paradoxes (as you term them) to be no more than the inventions of men, why are you so extraordinarily heated on the occasion?
In that case your arguments affect not me; for there is no person now living in the world who is a more avowed enemy to the doctrines of men than myself. But if you believe the doctrines in debate between us to be (as indeed they are) the doctrines of God, you must here bid adieu to all sense of shame and decency thus to oppose them. I will not ask, whither is the modesty of Erasmus fled? but, which is much more important, where, alas! are your fear and reverence of the Deity, when you roundly declare that this branch of truth, which He has revealed from heaven, is at best useless and unnecessary to know? What! shall the glorious Creator be taught by you, His creature, what is fit to be preached, and what to be suppressed? Is the adorable God so very defective in wisdom and prudence, as not to know, till you instruct Him, what would be useful and what pernicious? Or, could not He, whose understanding is infinite, foresee, previous to His revelation of this doctrine, what would be the consequences of His revealing it, till these consequences were pointed out by you? You cannot, you dare not, say this. If, then, it was the Divine pleasure to make known these things in His word, and to bid His messengers publish them abroad, and to leave the consequences of their so doing to the wisdom and providence of Him in whose name they speak, and whose message they declare, who art thou, O Erasmus, that thou shouldst reply against God?’ To be conformed to the image of His Son. — This implies that the children of God must all be made to resemble Christ, their head and elder brother.
This likeness respects character and suffering, as well as all things in which such similarity is found to exist. The Lord Jesus Christ, the first elect of God, is the model after which all the elect of God must be formed. Man was created in the image of God; but when sin entered, he lost this image; and Adam ‘begat a son in his own likeness after his image,’ Genesis 5:3; thus communicating to his posterity his corrupted nature. But as God had determined to save a part of the fallen race, it was ‘according to His good pleasure’ to renew His image in those whom He had chosen to this salvation. This was to be accomplished by the incarnation of His Son, ‘who is the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person,’ to whose image they were predestinated to be conformed.
This image of the Son of God, consisting in supernatural, spiritual, and celestial qualities, is stamped upon all the children of God when they are adopted into His family. Imparting to them spiritual life, He renders them partakers of the Divine nature; that is to say, of His image, being the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. They are the workmanship of God, erected in Christ Jesus, being born of the Spirit, and the Spirit of Christ dwelling in them; and he that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit. Thus the souls of believers are confirmed to the image of Christ, as their bodies will be also at his second coming, when they shall be ‘fashioned like unto His glorious body.’ To this conformity to the image of His Son, all those whom God foreknew are predestinated. For as they have borne the image of the earthy, they shall also bear the image of the heavenly Adam.
Believers are conformed to the image of the Son of God in holiness and suffering in this life, and in glory in the life to come. They are conformed to Him in holiness, for Christ is made unto them sanctification. Beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, they are changed into the same image.
They put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that erected him. In suffering they are conformed to Him who was ‘a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.’ They must endure tribulation, and fill up what is behind of His affection. As the Captain of their salvation was made perfect through sufferings, and through sufferings entered into His glory, so the sufferings of His people, while they promote their conformity to Him in holiness constitute the path in which they follow Him to that glory. ‘Ye are they who have continued with Me in My temptations, and I appoint unto you a kingdom.’ What the Apostle hath said in the 17th verse, that if believers suffer with Christ they share also be glorified together, is here confirmed by his declaration that they are predestinated to be conformed to His image. This image, of which the outlines are in this world traced in them, is only perfected in heaven. That He might be the Firstborn among many brethren. — Here is a reason for those whom God foreknew being conformed to the image of His Son; and a limitation of that conformity which they shall have to Him. The reason is, that He might have many brethren. Next to the glory of God, the object of His incarnation was the salvation of a multitude which no man can number of those whose nature He assumed, and this was accomplished by His death. Referring to this, He Himself says, ‘Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.’ Accordingly, in the everlasting covenant between the Father and the Son, when grace was given to His people in Him before the world began, 2 Timothy 1:9, and when God promised to Him for them eternal life also before the world began, Titus 1:2, it was determined that when He should make His soul an offering for sin, He should see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied, and that by the knowledge of Him many should be justified. He was to bear the sins of many. ‘ Glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son also may glorify Thee; as Thou hast given Him power over all flesh, that He might give eternal life to as many as Thou hast given Him.’ By His obedience many were to be made righteous. As the Captain of their salvation, He was to bring many sons unto glory. To Him many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. ‘The gift by grace which is by one man Jesus Christ hath abounded unto many.’ And as He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one, He is not ashamed to call them brethren. But as in all things He must have the pre-eminence, so this limitation is introduced, that among them all He must be the ‘firstborn;’ that is to say, the first, the principal the most excellent, The Governor, the Lord.
Under the law, the firstborn had authority over their brethren, and to them belonged a double portion, as well as the honor of acting as priests, — the firstborn in Israel being holy, that is to say, consecrated to the Lord Reuben, forfeiting his right of primogeniture by his sin, its privileges were divided, so that the dominion belonging to it was transferred to Judah, and the double portion to Joseph, who had two tribes and two portions in Canaan, by Ephraim and Manasseh; while the priesthood and right of sacrifice was transferred to Levi. The word first to born also signifies what surpasses anything else of the same kind, as ‘the firstborn of the poor,’ Isaiah 14:30, that is to say, the most miserable of all; and the firstborn of death, Job 18:13, signifying a very terrible death, surpassing in grief and violence. The term firstborn is also applied to those who were most beloved, as Ephraim is called the firstborn of the Lord, Jeremiah 31:9, that is, His ‘dear son.’ In all these respects the appellation of firstborn belongs to Jesus Christ, both as to the superiority of His nature, of His office, and of His glory.
Regarding His nature, He was as to His divinity truly the firstborn, since He alone is the only-begotten — the eternal Son of the Father. In this respect He is the Son of God by nature, while His brethren are sons of God by grace. In His humanity He was conceived without sin, beloved of God; instead of which they are conceived in sin, and are by nature children of wrath. In that nature He possessed the Spirit without measure; while they receive out of His fullness according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Regarding his office, He is their King, their Head, their Lord, their Priest, their Prophet, their Surety, their Advocate with the Father, — in one word, their Savior. It is He who of God is made unto them wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption. They are all His subjects, whom He leads and governs by His Spirit, for whose sins He has made atonement by His sufferings. They are His disciples, whom He has called from darkness into His marvelous light. Concerning His glory, ‘God hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth.’ ‘He is the head of the body, the Church; what is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He might have the pre-eminence He is the firstborn from the dead, as being raised the first, and being made the first-fruits of them that slept; and by His power they shall be raised to a life glorious and eternal.
Ver. 30. — Moreover, whom He did predestinate, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He also glorified.
Moreover, whom He did predestinate, them He also called — Here the Apostle connects our calling, which is known, with God’s decree, which is concealed, to teach us that we may judge of our election by our calling Peter 1:10. For Paul says, they whom God hath predestinated He hath also called and justified; so we may say, those whom He hath called and justified He hath elected and predestinated. If God hath called us, then He hath elected us. Paul had spoken of God’s predestining His people to be conformed to the image of His Son: He now shows us how this is effected.
They are to be molded into this likeness to their elder Brother by being called both by the word and Spirit of God. God calls them by His grace, Galatians 1:15, — that is, without regard to anything in themselves.
Effectual calling is the first internal operation of grace on those who are elected. They are not merely called externally, as many who are not elected. The scriptures speak of the universal call of the Gospel, addressed to all men; but this is not inseparably connected with salvation; for in this sense the Lord has said that ‘many are called, but few are chosen.’ At three periods, all mankind were called. They were called through Adam; they were called by Noah; and, finally, by the Apostles, Colossians 1:23; yet how soon in each period was the external call forgotten by the great body of the human race ‘They did not like to retain God in their knowledge.’
In the passage before us, and in various other places, as in verse 28, it is effectual calling that is spoken of. This calling, then, signifies more than the external calling of the word. It is accompanied with more than the partial and temporary effects which the word produces on some, and is always ascribed to the operation of God by the influence of the Holy Spirit. Even when the external means are employed to most advantage, it is God only who gives the increase, 1 Corinthians 3:6. It is He who opens the heart to receive the word, Acts 16:14, — who gives a new heart, Ezekiel. 36:26, — who writes His law in it, — and who saves His people, not by works of righteousness which they have done, but by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost, Titus 3:5.
That which is meant, then, by the word called in this passage, and in many others, is the outward calling by the word accompanied with the operation of God, by His Spirit, in the regeneration and conversion of sinners. When Jesus Christ thus calls, men instantly believe, Matthew 4:19. Grace — the operation of the favor of God in the heart — is communicated, and the sinner becomes a new creature. Regeneration is not a work which is accomplished gradually; it is effected instantaneously. At first, indeed, faith is often weak; but as the new-born infant is as much in possession of life as the full-grown man, so the spiritual life is possessed as completely in the moment of regeneration as ever it is afterwards, and previous to that moment it had no existence. There is no medium between life and death: a man is either dead in sin, or quickened by receiving the Holy Spirit; he is either in Christ, or out of Christ; God has either begun a good work in him, or he is in a state of spiritual death and corruption. By means of the word, accompanied by His Spirit, God enlightens the understanding with a heavenly light, moves the will and the affections to receive and embrace Christ, and forms in the heart His image and the new man, of which the Apostle says that it is created in righteousness and true holiness. God says, ‘Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.’ He prophesies upon the dry bones, and the Spirit enters into them. Thus the same grace that operates in the election of the saints is exercised in their calling and regeneration, without which they would remain dead in trespasses and sins. ‘No man,’ says Jesus, ‘can come to Me, except the Father which hath sent Me, draw him.’
All who are elected are in due time effectually called, and all who are effectually called have been from all eternity elected and ordained to eternal salvation. Effectual calling, then, is the proper and necessary consequence and effect of election, and the means to glorification. As those whom God hath predestinated He hath called, so He hath effectually called none besides. These words before us, therefore, are to be taken not only as emphatical, but as exclusive. Consistently with this, we read of the faith of God’s elect, Titus 1:1, as that which is peculiar to them. With this calling sanctification is inseparably connected. It is denominated a holy calling. ‘Who hath saved us and called us with an holy calling, Timothy 1:9. The Author of it is holy, and it is a call to holiness. ‘As He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation,’ 1 Peter 1:15. ‘Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light,’ 1 Peter 2:9. It is a calling into the grace of Christ, Galatians 1:6. In this effectual calling the final perseverance of the saints is also secured, since it stands connected on the one hand with election and predestination, and on the other hand with sanctification and glorification. ‘The gifts and calling of God are without repentance.’ Calling, as the effect of predestination, must be irresistible, or rather invincible, and also irreversible.
The Church of Rome perverts the meaning of this calling; for, instead of considering it as accompanied with the communication of life to the soul, they view it merely as an act which excites and calls into action some concealed qualities in man, and awakens some feelings of holiness that are in him, and some virtues which he possesses, to receive the grace that is proclaimed to him. In this way it must not be said, with the Scripture, that God communicates life to those who are dead in trespasses and sins, and regenerates them, but that He only aids their weakness, and calls forth their own exertions.
If it be inquired whether God calls all men with a calling sufficient for their salvation, that is to say, if He gives to all grace sufficient to save them, it is replied, that this calling may be considered as sufficient or insufficient in different points of view; for the sufficiency of grace may be considered either on the part of God or of man. On the part of God, it must be said that His general calling is sufficient, for God having created man upright, with a disposition to obey Him, if we consider this general calling connected with that original perfection, there can be no doubt that it is sufficient. But, on the part of man, viewed in his natural state of corruption, assuredly the outward call is not sufficient, unless accompanied with the internal operation of the Holy Spirit, to enlighten the eyes of the understanding, and to open the heart to receive the calling of God, any more than if Jesus Christ had spoken to a deaf or dead man, without removing his deafness, or imparting to him life. If the voice of Jesus calling Lazarus had been unaccompanied with His power, it would not have been sufficient to raise him from the grave. The calling, then, which is not accompanied with the power of the Spirit of God, is not sufficient in regard to man, while man is inexcusable, and has no just ground of complaint, for he resists that call which, unless he was a sinful creature and an enemy to God, would be sufficient. He is, as the Psalmist says, ‘like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear; which will not hearken to the voice of the charmers, charm they never so wisely.’
If, again, it be inquired whether men can resist the calling of God, it is evident that, when the calling is only external, and unaccompanied with the internal operation of the Spirit, they can, and always will, resist it, Genesis 6:3; Acts 7:51. But when the calling is, at the same time, internal, — when God regenerates men, and makes them new creatures, — the question, if they can resist this, is altogether nugatory; for it is as if it were inquired if a man could resist his creation, or a dead man his being brought to life. God here acts by His almighty power, without, however, forcing our will; for communicating to us spiritual qualities, He gives us to will and to do of His good pleasure. It is therefore absurd to say that a man can resist this influence by the hardness of his heart, since it removes that hardness, and is the converting of hearts of stone into hearts of flesh.
In opposition to this, the saying of our Lord is stated as an objection: ‘Woe unto thee, Chorazin! Woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.’ On this it is to be remarked, that the reference here is to Christ’s miracles, not to His preaching; and what is said of Tyre and Sidon is by comparison, what is meant being, as it seems, that the hardness of heart of those of Chorazin and Bethsaida surpassed that of Tyre and Sidon, and that if such miracles had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would not have had so little effect as upon the former, although it is not said that the latter would have repented unto life, or that they could have been conferred to God except by the operation of His Spirit. Here the declaration of our Lord in the same context is decisive: ‘At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things (the truths of God which He proclaimed) from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.’ And this He resolves, not into the difference found in man, but into the sovereignty of God. ‘Even so, Father; for so it seemed good in Thy sight.’ And He immediately adds, ‘Neither knoweth any man the Father save the Son, and He to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him.’ This must refer to an internal revelation; for as to that which was solely external, Jesus was declaring it to all. Jesus Christ knew from the beginning who they were that would believe and who would not believe, because He knew who they were whom the Father had given Him and would draw unto Him. And it is this eternal decree which He here shows is the rule of God’s calling, according to which the Son is or is not revealed: ‘Ye believe not, because ye are not of My sheep, as I said unto you.’ And whom He called, them He also justified. — They whom the Holy Spirit effectually calls by the Gospel to the knowledge of God are also justified. They are ‘ungodly,’ Romans 4:5, till the moment when they are called; but, being then united to Christ, they are in that moment justified. They are instantly absolved from guilt, and made righteous, as having perfectly answered all the demands of the law, for by Him it has been fulfilled in them, verse 4. To justify signifies to pronounce and account righteous such as have transgressed, and forfeited the favor of God, as well as incurred a penalty, conveying to them deliverance from the penalty, and restoration to that favor. And they who are thus accounted righteous by God, must be righteous, for God looks upon things as they really are; as, being one with Christ, they are perfectly righteous. ‘Justification,’ says Luther, ‘takes place when, in the just judgment of God, our sins, and the eternal punishment due to them, are remitted, and when clothed with the righteousness of Christ, which is freely imputed to us, and reconciled to God, we are made His beloved children, and heirs of eternal life.’ The connection between calling and justification is manifest, for we must be united to Christ to enjoy the good derived from Him. We must be members of Christ that His obedience may be ours that in Him we may have righteousness. Now, he is by our calling that we are brought into His communion, and by communion with Him to the participation of His grace and blessing, which cannot fail to belong to them who are with Him one body, one flesh, and one spirit. Those who are called must therefore be justified. They who are the members of Jesus Christ must be partakers in His righteousness, and of the Spirit of life that is in Him. Whom He calls He justifies. This proves that there are none justified till they are called. We are justified by faith, which we receive when we are effectually called. Whom He justified, them He also glorified. — A man is justified the moment He believes in Christ; and here being glorified is connected with justification. No believer, then, finally comes short of salvation. If he is justified, he must in due time be glorified. To be glorified is to be completely conformed to the glorious image of Jesus Christ; when we shall see Him as He is, and be made like unto Him, enjoying that felicity which the Psalmist anticipated: ‘Thou wilt show me the path of life; in Thy presence is fullness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.’ The glorifying of the saints will have its consummation in the day of the blessed resurrection, when their bodies shall be made like unto the glorious body of Jesus Christ; when that natural body, which was sown in corruption, in dishonor, in weakness, shall be raised a spiritual body in corruption, in glory, in power. Then death will be swallowed up in victory, all tears shall be wiped away, the Lamb will lead and feed them, and God shall be all in all.
In this verse glorification is spoken of as having already taken place, because what God has determined to do may be said to be already done. ‘He calls those things that be not as though they were.’ The Apostle does not say that those whom God predestinates He calls, and that those whom He justifies He glorifies; but, speaking in the past time, he says that those whom God did predestinate, them He hath also called, and justified, and glorified. By this he expresses the certainty of the counsel of God. In the same way, in the Old Testament, things future were spoken of as already accomplished, on account of the infallibility of the promises of God; so that, before Jesus Christ came into the world, it was said, ‘Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.’ And He Himself speaks of what is future as already accomplished. ‘I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do.’ ‘Now I am no more in the world,’ John 17:4,11. In like manner the Apostle speaks here of glory as already come, to show how certain it is that those who are called and justified shall be glorified. And this is in accordance with the object he has in view, which is to console the believer amidst his afflictions. For when he thus suffers, and all things appear to conspire for his ruin, and to be opposed to his eternal salvation, he is represented as already glorified by God, and during the combat as having already received the crown of life.
The plan of salvation is here set before us in its commencement, in the intermediate steps of its progress, and in its consummation. Its commencement is laid in the eternal purpose of God, and its consummation in the eternal glory of the elect. He calls those whom He hath predestinated to faith in Christ, to repentance and to a new life. He justifies by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ those whom He hath called; and, finally, He will glorify those whom He hath justified. The opponents of the doctrine contained in this passage distort the whole plan of salvation. They deny that there is any indissoluble connection between those successive steps of grace, which are here united by the Apostle, and that these different expressions relate to the same individuals. They suppose that God may have foreknown and predestinated to life some whom He does not call, that He effectually calls some whom He does not justify, and that He justifies others whom He does not glorify. This contradicts the express language of this passage, which declares that those whom He foreknew He predestinated, that those whom he predestinated them He also called, that those whom He called them He also justified, and that those whom He justified them He also glorified. It is impossible to find words which could more forcibly and precisely express the indissoluble connection that subsists between all the parts of this series, or show that they are the same individuals that are spoken of throughout.
The same doctrine is in other places explicitly taught: ‘Of Him ’ (by God, according to His sovereign election) ‘are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God’ (by the appointment of God) ‘is made unto us wisdom’ (in our calling), ‘righteousness’ (by the imputation of His righteousness), ‘sanctification’ (in making us conformed to His image), and ‘redemption’ (in giving us eternal glory). ‘These truths are also declared in 2 Thessalonians 2:13. ‘God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth whereunto He called you by our Gospel to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.’
It is, indeed, often objected to the doctrine of grace, that, according to it, men may live as they list; if they are certainly to be saved, they may indulge in sin with impunity. But, according to Paul’s statements in this chapter, all the doctrines respecting the salvation of the elect are indissolubly connected, and a single link in the chain is never wanting. He who has ordained the end, has ordained the means. He who has chosen them in Christ, from before the ‘foundation of the world, has chosen them through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth, Thessalonians 2:13. If they are predestinated to be conformed to the image of the Son, they are in due time called by the word and Spirit of God. If they are called, they are justified, so that there is no unrighteousness to stand in the way of their acceptance. If they are justified, they will also be glorified in the appointed season. How fatally erroneous, then, is the opinion of those who say that, if we are predestinated, we shall obtain eternal glory in whatever way we live! Such a conclusion breaks this heavenly chain. It is vain for human ingenuity to attempt to find an imperfection in the plans of Divine wisdom in ordering the steps in the salvation of His people: ‘the word of God effectually worketh in them that believe,’ 1 Thessalonians 2:13.
In the passage before us, we see that all the links of that chain by which man is drawn up to heaven, are inseparable. In the whole of it there is nothing but grace, whether we contemplate its beginning, its middle, or its end. Each of its parts furnishes the most important instruction. If we are elected, let us feel and experience in ourselves the effects of our election. If we are called, let us walk worthy of our vocation. If we are justified, let us, like Abraham show our faith and prove our justification by our works. If we shall be glorified, let us live as fellow-citizens of the saints, and of the household of God. Let our conversation be in heaven, and let us confess that we are pilgrims and strangers on the earth.
In looking back on this passage, we should observe that, in all that is stated, man acts no part, but is passive, and all is done by God. He is elected, and predestinated, and called, and justified, and glorified by God.
The Apostle was here concluding all that he had said before in enumerating topics of consolation to believers, and is now going on to show that God is ‘for us,’ or on the part of His people. Could anything, then, be more consolatory to those who love God, than to be in this manner assured that the great concern of their salvation is not left in their own keeping God, even their covenant God, hath taken the whole upon Himself. He hath undertaken for them. There is no room, then, for chance or change: He will perfect that which concerneth them.
The same great truths are held forth in every part of the new covenant which God makes with His people, Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:8-12. It consists exclusively of absolute promises on the part of God, and from beginning to end is grace and only grace. But does the doctrine of grace encourage licentiousness? To assert this directly contradicts the Scriptures, which show that grace has the very opposite tendency. ‘The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world,’ Titus 2:11,12. Such is the testimony of God. ‘The grace of God manifests His love, and produces love in us, which is the first-fruit of the spirit, and the foundation of all acceptable obedience.
Let every believer glory in this grace of God by which he is predestinated, and called, and justified, and glorified. This is all his consolation and all his joy, for it is an indissoluble chain, which neither the world nor the powers of hell can break. Does he feel a holy sadness for having offended God, a holy desire to struggle against the corruptions of his heart, and to advance in the work of sanctification? does he hunger and thirst after righteousness, and is he seeking to put on the new man, and to possess more of the image of Christ? Let him conclude, from these certain marks of his calling, that he is justified, the righteousness of Christ being imputed to him, and that his happiness is as certain as if he was already glorified. But, on the other hand, let none abuse these doctrines. No one shall be glorified who does not previously partake of this holy calling. Let no one attempt to take away any of the parts of this chain, and to pass from election without the intermediate steps to glory. Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.
Here the Apostle makes a sudden and solemn pause, while he emphatically demands, What shall we then say to these things? What can be said against them? Is it possible to value them too highly? What use shall we make of such consoling truths? What comfort shall we draw from them? Can anything detract from the peace they afford? On the foundation that God is for him, the eternal interest of the Christian is secured, and though he wrestles not only against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, and against the rulers of the darkness of this world; though of himself he can do nothing, yet, through Christ strengthening him, he can do all things. But what shall they say to these things who reject the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints; who maintain that God allows some to perish whom He hath justified; and that many things, instead of working for their good, contribute to their ruin? A conclusion entirely the reverse is to be deduced from all the consolations previously set forth by the Apostle, in reference to which he now exclaims, If God be for us who can be against us?
The expression if, which Paul here uses, does not denote doubt, but is a conclusion, or consequence, or affirmation, signifying since; as if he had said, Since we see by all these things that God is for us, who shall be against us? For is it not evident that God is for us, since He hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father;’ since the Spirit helps our infirmities; since all things work together for our good; since we are predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son? When we were alienated from Him, He called us; when we were sinners, He justified us; and, finally, translating us from a scene of trouble and afflictions, He will confer on us a crown of immortal glory. Since, then God thus favors us, who can be against us?
Many, however, in every age, speak of these things very blasphemously.
They are far from being pleasing to man’s wisdom. But they excite a different feeling in the breast of every Christian. They give a security to God’s people which supports them under a sense of their own weakness.
If they had no strength but their own, if there were no security for their perseverance but their own resolutions, they might indeed despond; for how could they ever arrive at heaven? But as this passage shows, that all things are secured by God, and that in His almighty hands all the links of the chain that connects them with heaven are indissolubly united, they have no language in which they can adequately express their wonder, gratitude, and joy. No truth can be more evident than this — that although we have innumerable enemies, and are ourselves utter weakness, yet, if God be for us, nothing can be so against us as finally to do us injury. As the angel said to Gideon, ‘The Lord is with thee,’ so the same is said in this passage to every Christian. ‘No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper.’ ‘All men forsook me,’ said Paul, ‘but the Lord stood by me.’ As God had said to Israel, and Moses, and Joshua, so He said, ‘Fear not, Paul, for I am with thee.’ When Christians, surrounded with difficulties and enemies, are disposed to say, with the servant of Elisha, ‘Alas, what shall we do?’ the passage before us speaks the same language as did the Prophet, ‘Fear not, for they that be with us, are more than they that be with them,’ and likewise that of Hezekiah, ‘There be more with us than with them. With them is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God to help us, and to fight our battles.’ It is added, ‘And the people rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah, King of Judah.’
In the verse before us we have two propositions. One is, that God is for us; the other, that nothing can be — that is, can prevail — against us.
From this we may consider who are against, and who is for believers.
There is arrayed against them a formidable host composed of many powerful enemies. There are Satan and all wicked spirits; there are the world, and indwelling sin; there are all sufferings, and death itself. How could believers themselves withstand the power of such antagonists? But, on the other hand, the Apostle shows in one word who is for them. God, says he, is for us! God is the shield of His people: He holds them in His hand, and none can pluck them out of it. ‘The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms!’
Ver. 32. — He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?
In the preceding verse, the Apostle had comforted believers from the consideration that, if God, with all His glorious attributes, were engaged for their defense, they might look without dismay upon an opposing universe. Here, in order to confirm their confidence in God, he presents an argument to prove that God is with them of a truths and also to assure them that they shall receive from Him every blessing.
There are two circumstances calculated to inspire distrust in the mind of the believer. The one is the affections which press upon him in this world; and these of two kinds, namely, such as are common to all men, and such as are peculiar to the followers of Christ. The other circumstance calculated to cloud the hopes of the Christian, is the sins of which he is guilty. When suffering so many troubles, he has difficulty in persuading himself that he is favored by God, and is ready, with Gideon, to exclaim to the angel, ‘Oh my Lord, if the LORD be with us, why then is all this befallen us?’ And, on the other hand, as he is by nature a child of wrath, and sins daily, how can he be sure that God is with him, and not rather against him? To these objections the Apostle here opposes the declaration that God hath not spared His own Son, but delivered Him up to the death for His people. No stronger argument could be offered in proof of His favor to them than the gift of His own Son. Him He has given to redeem them from all their sins and all their troubles; while such is the dignity and excellency of Christ, that the Apostle, arguing from the greater to the less, further proves that after such a gift as that of His own Son, nothing can be refused which is consistent with the glory of God and the salvation of their souls. He thus assures them of freedom from the evils they might dread from sin and suffering.
Paul does not say that the Father has given His Son, but that God has given Him. This is calculated to establish the confidence of believers more firmly, since, by referring to God, He brings into view all His perfections as infinitely good, powerful, wise, and able to render them supremely blessed in holiness and eternal glory. Another effect is to draw their attention to the greatness of the love of God; for one to whom we are in some respects equal may confer upon us His favors, but here we are reminded that the bestower is infinitely above us, being the Creator to whom we are indebted even for our existence. His goodness, then, is so much the more wonderful, that though He is the infinite Jehovah, dwelling in light which is inaccessible, of whom it is said ‘that He humbleth Himself to behold the things that are in heaven’ <19B306> Psalm 113:6, still He draws near to us, and condescends to raise us up, who are as nothing before Him, and who, being the Creator of all things, has set His love on those who are sinful, and poor, and miserable.
What God has given is His own Son. — This imports that He is His Son in the sense of that relation among men. It is sonship in this sense only that shows the immensity of the love of God in this gift. This proves that it was greater than if He had given the whole creation. If His Son were related to Him in merely a figurative sonship, it could not be a proof of His ineffable love. God did not spare Him. — Not sparing Him may either mean that He spared Him not in a way of justice, 2 Peter 2:4, that is, exacted the utmost farthing of debt He had taken upon Him; or that He spared Him not in a way of bounty, that is, withheld Him not God spared Abraham’s son, but He spared not His own Son. This passage shows that Christ was given over by the Father to the sufferings which He bore, and that these sufferings were all necessary for the salvation of His people.
Had they not been necessary, He would not have exposed His Son to them. ‘It became Him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.’ From all this it appears that God, who cannot deny Himself, 2 Timothy 2:13, could not show mercy to us without satisfying the demands of His justice, vindicating the authority of His law, and magnifying and honoring all the perfections of His nature. Delivered Him up for us all. — When the Jews seized and crucified our Lord Jesus Christ, He was delivered up by the Father’s decree, and by the direction of His providence, though it was through the guilty criminality of the Jews that He was put to death. It took place when His appointed hour arrived, for till then they could not accomplish their purpose. ‘Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.’ As the Father delivered Him up, the great end of His suffering was satisfaction of the justice of God; and as He bore the whole curse of the broken law, His people are never, on that account, to bear any portion of vindictive wrath. ‘It was exacted, and He answered,’ Isaiah 53:7. ‘Then;’ says the Son Himself, ‘I restored that which I took not away,’ Psalm 69:4. Thus the Father delivered up His Son to humiliation, involving an assumption of our nature and our transgressions. He delivered Him up to sorrows unparalleled, and even to death itself, — to death, not merely involving the dissolution of the soul and body, but the weight of the sins of men, and the wrath of God against sin. God thus delivered up His Son, that He might rescue us from that misery which He might have justly inflicted upon us, and might take us, who were children of wrath, into His heavenly presence, and there rejoice over us for ever, as the trophies of His redeeming love. For us all. — That is, for all to whom the Apostle is writing, whom he had addressed as beloved of God, called, saints, Romans 1:7, among whom he ranks himself. But as these epistles to the churches equally apply to all believers to the end of time, so this expression includes all the elect of God — all who have been given to Jesus — all in whose behalf He addressed the Father in His intercessory prayer. ‘I pray for them. I pray not for the world, but for them which Thou hast given Me,’ John 17:9,20. That those to whom Paul here refers when he says, ‘for us all,’ applies to none but believers, is evident, — 1st, because in the preceding and following verses the Apostle speaks of those who love God, and who are the called according to His purpose; 2nd, he says in express terms that He will with Him freely give us all things, which implies that we have faith, by which we receive Jesus Christ. This absolute gift, then, concerns only those who, being elected by God, believe in Him. How shall He not with Him freely give us all things? — This is the most conclusive reasoning. If He has given us the greatest gift, He will not refuse the lesser. His Son is the greatest gift that could be given, — plainly, then, nothing will be withheld from those for whom He has given His Son. This also assumes the fact as granted, that Jesus is the Son of God in the literal sense; for in no other sense is the inference just. If Jesus were only figuratively a son, there is no room to infer, from the gift of Him to us, that the Father will give ‘us all things.’ These ‘all things’ are what eye hath not seen, nor ear heard. He will give His Spirit and eternal life. His children are heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ, whom He hath appointed heir of all things. The Apostle does not here speak of himself alone, as if this were a privilege peculiar to himself, to receive freely all things with Christ, but of all believers, — He will freely give us . And the expression, How, with which he commences, imports the absolute certainty that on all such they shall be bestowed.
When it is here said that God will give us all things, we are reminded that all the good things that we obtain or hope for are from God, who is the Author of every good and perfect gift: for a man can receive nothing except it be given him from heaven; and all that God gives us He gives freely, without money and without price. Here it may be remarked that the Apostle’s manner of reasoning, who concludes that, since God has not spared His own Son but delivered Him up for us all, He will with Him also freely give us all things, teaches us that the believer ought to reason out of the Scriptures, and draw the necessary consequence from what is said in them.
Among the temptations to which the believer is exposed in this life, some are from without, others are from within. Within are the alarms of conscience, fearing the wrath of God; without are adversity and tribulations. Unless he overcomes the first he cannot prevail against the last. It is impossible that he can possess true patience and confidence in God in his afflictions, if his conscience labors under the apprehension of the wrath of God. On this account the Apostle, in the fifth chapter of this Epistle, in setting forth the accompaniments of justification by faith, first speaks of peace with God, and afterwards of glorying in tribulations. In the chapter before us he observes the same order; for, in this last part of it, in which he speaks of the triumph of the believer, he first fortifies the conscience against its fears from guilt, and next secures it against external temptations from afflictions. As to the first, he says, ‘Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth; it is Christ that died, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.’ And as to the last, ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or sword? Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors.’
He does not mean to say that nothing shall occur to trouble believers, but that nothing shall prevail against them. In assuring them of this, he ascends to their election as the source of all their blessings. Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? — The Apostle speaks here of God’s elect. This reminds believers that their election is not to be ascribed to anything in themselves, but is to be traced solely to the grace and mercy of God, by whom they were chosen in Christ before the, foundation of the world, Ephesians 1:4. Their election demonstrates the vanity of all accusations that can be brought against them, either by their own conscience, by the world, or by Satan. Thus, while the Apostle removes every ground of boasting and vainglory, and all presumptuous thoughts of themselves, of their freewill and self-righteousness, he lays the sure foundation of joy and peace in believing. He leads us to the election of God as the source of all the good we enjoy or hope for, in order to set aside every ground for vainglory, and all presumption as to any worthiness in ourselves of our own will or righteousness, so that we may fully recognize the grace and mercy of God to us, who, even when we did not exist, chose us for Himself, according to His own good pleasure, Ephesians 1:4,5. He likewise does so that we may have a sure foundation to rest on, even God’s eternal and unchangeable purpose, instead of any fallacious hope from reliance on anything in ourselves.
When it is said here, ‘Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?’ it does not refer to men generally, but to believers as the elect of God. The word elect must be taken in this place in its connection with called, as in the preceding verses, since it is here found connected with justification.
For a man might be elected, and yet not be for the present justified, as Paul, when he persecuted the Church, who was not justified till he actually believed, though even then elected, and, according to God’s purpose and counsel, ordained to salvation. It is God that justifeth. — This is the first thing which the Apostle opposes to the accusations that might be brought against the elect of God:
God justifies them. There is none that justifies besides God. None can absolve and acquit a sinner from guilt, and constitute and pronounce him righteous, but God alone! ‘I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for Mine own sake,’ Isaiah 43:25; for it is God alone against whom sin is committed, in reference to future condemnation. ‘Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned,’ Psalm 51:4. It is God alone that condemns, and therefore it is God alone that justifies. If, then, God has made believers just or righteous, who is he that will bring them in guilty? There are here two grounds upon which the Apostle founds the justification of believers. One is taken from its Author — it is God that justifies; the other is taken from the subjects of this privilege — they are the elect. And thus the freeness of justification, and its permanency, are both certified.
It is here established that the elect are saved in such a way that nothing can be laid to their charge. All their debt, then, must be paid, and all their sins must be atoned for. If full compensation has not been made, something might be laid to their charge. This shows that salvation is by justice, as well as by mercy, and gives a view of salvation that never would have entered into the heart of man. Nay, it is so far from human view, that even after it is revealed, it still lies hid from all the world, except from those who are taught of God. And some, even of them, being slow of heart to believe, are but partially enlightened in this glorious view of the salvation of the guilty.
Ver. 34. — 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.
Who is he that condemneth? — In the preceding verse it is asked, Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? here it is demanded, Who shall condemn them? They who cannot be accused cannot be condemned.
God Himself is pleased to justify the elect, to deliver them from condemnation, and views them as possessing perfect righteousness; and being in this justified state by the judicial sentence of God, who shall dare to condemn them? None can discover a single sin of which to accuse them as still subjecting them to the curse of the law, and to bring them into that condemnation, from which they have been delivered by what God Himself hath done for them. It is here supposed that their condemnation is impossible, because it would be unjust. In similar language, the Lord Jesus Christ, the first elect of God, speaking by the Prophet Isaiah, 50:8, says, ‘He is near that justifieth Me; who will contend with Me?’ These words relate to His confidence in His Heavenly Father, who would uphold Him as His righteous servant; and it is on His righteousness and work that the acquittal of all those whom the Father hath given Him, and who are elected in Him, is rested. The Apostle having said that it is God that justifieth them, next proceeds to give the reasons of their freedom from condemnation. Four grounds are here stated: — 1st , Christ’s death; 2nd , His resurrection; 3rd , His enthronement at the right hand of God; and, 4th , His intercession. It is Christ that died. — By His death, the penalty of the holy law, on account of its violation by His people, was executed, and satisfaction made to Divine justice. In answer to the question, Who is he that condemneth? the Apostle replies that Christ died. By this he intimates the impossibility of our being absolved from sin, without satisfaction for the injury done to the rights of God’s justice and the sacred majesty of His eternal laws which had been violated; for the just God could not set aside His justice by His mercy, and justify sinners without an atonement. It is on this account that God had instituted sacrifices under the law, to hold forth the necessity of a satisfaction, and to prove that without shedding of blood there could be no remission of sin. There is, then, a manifest necessity of repairing the outrage against the perfections of God, which are the original and fundamental rule of the duty of the creature. This reparation could only be made by a satisfaction that should correspond with the august majesty of the holiness of God; and consequently it must be of infinite value, which could only be found in a person of infinite dignity.
To the death of Jesus Christ as the atonement for sin, our eyes are constantly directed throughout the Scriptures, whether by types, by prophecies, or by historical descriptions of the event. Death was the punishment threatened in the covenant of works against sin. But Jesus Christ had neither transgressed that covenant, nor could participate in the imputation of the sin of Adam, because He sprang not from him by the way of natural generation. Being, therefore, without sin, either actual or imputed, the penalty of death could not be incurred on His own account.
Death, then, which is the wages of sin, must have been suffered by Him for sinners. Their iniquities were laid on Him, and by His stripes they are healed. His death, therefore, utterly forbids the condemnation of the elect of God, who were given to Him, and are one with Him, of whom only the context speaks. It must be a just and full compensation for their sins. It is evidently implied that none for whom He died can be condemned. For if condemnation be forbidden by His death, then that condemnation must be prohibited with respect to all for whom He died. His death made satisfaction to justice for them, and therefore, in their case, both accusation and condemnation are rendered impossible. Yea rather, that is risen again. — This is the second ground affirmed by the Apostle against the possibility of the condemnation of God’s elect.
What purpose would the death of Christ have served, if He had been overcome and swallowed up by it? ‘If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.’ If He be not risen, it must be because He had not expiated those sins for which He died, and was therefore retained a prisoner by death. But since the Surety has been released from the grave, complete satisfaction must have been made; for if but one sin which had been laid upon Him had continued unatoned for, He would have remained for ever in the grave, death being the wages of sin. But now, since He has risen from the grave, the obligation against His people must be effaced and entirely abolished, His resurrection being their resurrection, Colossians 2:12. It is on this account that the Apostle here opposes to condemnation not only the death of Christ, but also His resurrection, as something higher, and as being our full absolution. And, by the commandment of Jesus Christ, the Gospel was not announced to the Gentiles, nor spread through the world, till after His resurrection, as He Himself said, Luke 24:46: ‘It behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day, that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations.’
The resurrection, then, of Christ, is the proof of His victory, and of the entire expiation of His people’s sins. It is therefore opposed to their condemnation, as being the evidence and completion of their absolution and acquittal; for as the death of Jesus Christ was His condemnation, and that of all united to Him, so His resurrection is His absolution and also theirs. As the Father, by delivering Him to death, condemned their sins in Him, so, in raising Him from the dead, he pronounced their acquittal from all the sins that had been laid upon Him. This is what the Apostle teaches respecting the justification of Jesus Christ. He was justified by the Spirit, 1 Timothy 3:16; that is, declared and recognized to be righteous; and with regard to His people’s justification in Him, that as He had died for their sins, so He was raised for their justification. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was a manifestation of His Godhead and Divine power. He was declared to be the Son of God, and consequently possessing over all things absolute power and dominion. ‘For to this end Christ both died and rose, and revived, that He might be Lord both of the dead and living.’ Who is even at the right hand of God. — This is the third ground on which the security of God’s elect is rested. Jesus Christ sits at God’s right hand.
This is a figurative expression taken from the custom of earthly monarchs, to express special favor, and denotes, with respect to Christ, both dignity and power. ‘When He had by Himself purged our sins, He sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.’ Having finished the work of redemption, this was the result of His labors, and the testimony of its consummation. His thus sitting down indicates an essential difference between our Lord Jesus Christ and the Levitical priests. ‘Every priest standeth daily ministering, and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sin, for ever sat down on the right hand of God.’ The Levitical priests had never finished their work: it was still imperfect. They stood, therefore, ministering daily, in token of continued service. But Christ having offered one sacrifice for sins, by which He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified, for ever sat down on the right hand of God, Hebrews 10:12.
Jesus Christ, then, is not only raised from the dead, but has also ascended into heaven, and is possessed of all power and glory, and is there to defend His people. His seat at the right hand of God signifies His permanent exaltation as Mediator, and His communion with God in sovereign power and authority, reigning as the Head and King of His Church. The amount of the Apostles reasoning is, that such being the condition of Him who was dead and is risen again, possessed of the keys of hell and of death, who shall dare to appear before Him to bring an accusation against His members or to condemn the elect of God? Who also maketh intercession for us. — This is the fourth and last ground of the security of God’s elect. The intercession of Jesus Christ is the second act of His priesthood, and is a necessary consequence of His sacrifice, which is the first act, and precedes the third, namely, His coming forth from the heavenly sanctuary to bless those whom He has redeemed to God by His blood. His intercession consists in that perpetual application which He makes to His Father; in the name of His Church, of the blood which He shed on the cross for the salvation of His people, in order to obtain for them the fruits of that oblation. It was necessary that His sacrifice should be offered upon earth, because it was an act of His humiliation; but His intercession which supposes the establishment of righteousness and peace, is made in heaven, being an act of His exaltation.
This intercession was figuratively represented by the high priest in Israel, when, after having offered in his linen garments the sacrifice, without the precincts of the holy place, he took the blood of the victim, and, clothed in his sacerdotal golden robes, entered alone into the most holy place, and sprinkled the blood on and before the mercy-seat. Jesus Christ, then, who suffered without the gate, Hebrews 13:12, in accomplishing the truth of this figure, first offered upon earth His sacrifice, and afterwards entered in His glory into heaven, to present to His Father the infinite price of His oblation by the mystical sprinkling of His blood. This is not to be understood as being any bodily humiliation, as bowing the knee before God, but it is the presenting of His blood of perpetual efficacy. It is the voice of that blood which speaketh better things than the blood of Abel.
The blood of Jesus Christ being the blood of the everlasting covenant — that blood which was to reunite God with men, and men with God — it was necessary, after its being shed on the cross, that it should be thus sprinkled in heaven. ‘I go,’ says He to His disciples, ‘to prepare a place for you.’ It was necessary that this blood should be sprinkled there, and also upon them, before they could be admitted. But by its means they were prepared to enter into heaven, and heaven itself was prepared for their reception, which without that sprinkling would have been defiled by their presence. ‘Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood, He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption.’ Jesus Christ is not only seated at the right hand of God, but He is there for the very purpose of interceding for His people. By the perpetual efficacy of His blood their sins are removed, and consequently every ground of their condemnation. This never-ceasing intercession of Him who ever liveth to advocate their cause, not only procures the remission of their sins, but also all the graces of the Holy Spirit; and by the efficacy of the Holy Spirit an internal aspersion is made upon their hearts when they are actually converted to God, and when by faith they receive the sprinkling of the blood of their Redeemer. For them He died, He rose, He ascended to heaven, and there intercedes. How, then, can they be condemned? How can they come short of eternal glory?
Ver. 35. — Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
In the contemplation of those glorious truths and Divine consolations which the Apostle had been unfolding, he had demanded, Who shall accuse, who shall condemn, the elect of God? he here triumphantly asks, Who shall separate them from the love of Christ? Having pointed out the grounds on which the fears of behaviors from within are relieved, he now fortifies them against fears from without. This order is the more proper, since their internal fears and misgivings are more formidable than their outward trials, and the hatred and opposition of the world; and until the believer, as has been observed, has overcome the former by having the answer of a good conscience towards God, he is not prepared to withstand the latter. Although the people of God are exposed to all the evils here enumerated, these shall not prevail to separate him from the love of Christ.
The term the love of Christ, in itself, may signify either our love to Christ, or Christ’s love to us; but that it is Christ’s love to us in this place there can be no question. A person could not be said to be separated from his own feelings. Besides, the object of the Apostle is to assure us not so immediately of our love to God, as of His love to us, by directing our attention to His predestining, calling, justifying, and glorifying us, and not sparing His own Son, but delivering Him up for us. In addition to this, it contributes more to our consolation to have our minds fixed upon God’s love to us than upon our love to God; for, as our love is subject to many failings and infirmities, and as we are liable to change, to endeavor to impart consolation from the firmness of our love, would be less efficacious than holding forth to us the love of God, in whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of change. The language, too, employed, favors this sense; for the Apostle does not say, ‘Who shall separate Christ from our love?’ but, ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?’ and, in the 37th verse, the meaning is determined by the expression, ‘We are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. ’ God, however, in loving His children, makes them love Him; and believers are enabled to love Christ because He loves them. It is He who first loved us, and in loving us has changed our hearts, and produced in them love to Him. Paul prays that believers, ‘being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that they may be filled with all the fullness of God.’
To have a just idea of the love of Christ, we must contemplate its duration. It was from before the foundation of the world — from all eternity. We must consider that He who has loved us is the high and lofty One who inhabiteth eternity, who dwelleth in light that is inaccessible; before whom the angels veil their faces, crying, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts;’ and before whom the inhabitants of the earth are as grasshoppers, and the nations as a drop of a bucket. We must remember, too, who we are, who are the objects of His love, — not only creatures who are but dust and ashes, dwelling in houses of clay, but who were His enemies, and by nature children of wrath. We must also reflect on the greatness of His love, that it is His will we should be one with Him, and that He guards us as the apple of His eye. He loves His people as His members, of whom He is the Head, and sympathizes with them when they suffer. He calls their sufferings His sufferings, and their persecutions His persecutions, as He said to Saul persecuting His members, ‘Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?’ He will also say to those on His right hand in the day of judgment that He hungered, and thirsted, and was naked, and that they gave Him to eat and drink, and clothed Him, when these things were done to the least of His members. He loves His people, too, as being their Husband, by that spiritual marriage He has contracted with them, as it is said, ‘Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself for it.’
The love here spoken of as the security of believers being the love of Christ, Christ must be God. Were Christ not God, we might come short of heaven without being separated from His love. He might love, and yet not be able to save the objects of His love.
It is likewise to be remarked, that the confidence of believers that they shall not be separated from the love of Christ, is not founded on their high opinion of themselves, or on their own ability to remain firm against temptations, but is grounded on Christ’s love, and His ability to preserve and uphold them. As nothing can be laid to their charge — as none can condemn them — as all things that happen to them, instead of proving injurious, work together for their good, — it is impossible that they can be finally lost. If Christ so love them, what shall separate them from that love?
In specifying those evils which in appearance are calculated to separate the believer from the love of Christ, the Apostle points out the sufferings of the people of God, the time of these sufferings — all the day long; the manner — as sheep for the slaughter; the cause — for Thy sake. He distinguishes the seven evils that follow: — 1st , Tribulation. — This is placed first, as being a general term, comprehending all the particulars which he afterwards enumerates. It means affliction in general. It refers not only to the general state of suffering which, when man had sinned, it was pronounced should be his lot — ’In sorrow shalt thou eat of it (of the produce of the ground) all the days of thy life’ — but also more particularly to the tribulation which the disciples of Christ shall all more or less experience. ‘In the world ye shall have tribulation,’ John 16:33. The tribulation of unbelievers is the effect of the wrath of God; but the afflictions of His people are salutary corrections, which, so far from separating them from His love, yield the peaceable fruits of righteousness, and are for their profit, that they might not be condemned with the world, but be partakers of His holiness. ‘As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.’
To tribulation is added, 2nd , Distress, which signifies straits, difficulties, critical situations. It means the perplexity in which we are, when, under pressure or trouble, we see no way of deliverance, and no way to escape presents itself.
The word denotes a narrow place, in which we are so much pressed or straitened that we know not where to go or turn; which expresses the condition of the believer when he is not only oppressed, but reduced to extremity. ‘Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress,’ Psalm 4:1. 3rd , Persecution is affliction for the profession of the Gospel. The persecuted have often been pursued and constrained to flee from place to place, as the Lord Jesus was carried into Egypt when Herod sought to kill Him. ‘If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.’ But so far is persecution from separating believers from the love of Christ, that ‘Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.’ 4th , Famine. — To this the persecuted are frequently subjected, though they may have been rich and powerful. 5th , Nakedness. — The disciples have often been reduced to indigence and poverty, stripped by their enemies, and obliged to wander naked in deserts, and to hide themselves, like wild beasts, in caves of the earth, Hebrews 11:38. Paul himself was frequently exercised with hunger, and thirst, and fastings, and cold, and nakedness. 6th , Peril. — This refers to the dangers to which the Lord’s people are exposed. These, at some times, and in some countries, are exceedingly many and great; and at all times, and in all countries, are more or less numerous and trying. If God were not their protector, even in this land of freedom, the followers of the Lamb would be cut off or injured. It is the Lord’s providence that averts such injuries, or overrules events for the protection of His people. This is too little considered even by themselves, and would be thought a most unfounded calumny or fanatical idea by the world. But let the Christian habitually consider his safety and protection as secured by the Lord, rather than by the liberality of the times. That time never yet was when the Lord’s people could be safe, if circumstances removed restraint from the wicked. Those who boast of their unbounded liberality would, if in situations calculated to develop their natural hatred of the truth, prove, after all, bitter persecutors. f44 7th , Sword. — This means violence carried to the utmost extremity. It is persecution which stops not with smaller injuries but inflicts even death.
Ver. 36. — As it is written, For Thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
As it is written. — To the enumeration of evils presented in the foregoing verse, the Apostle here adds the testimony of the Scriptures, by which he verifies what is declared in the fifteenth chapter. ‘For whatever things were written afore time, were written for our learning that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.’ And to what purpose would, it be to appeal to the afflictions of the Church under the former dispensation, were it not to lead us to patience under the Gospel?
For if believers in that period bore their trials with patience, how much more should we do so when God now clearly reveals His saving grace, and not as formerly in figures and shadowed. In this manner the Lord and His Apostles frequently appeal to the Old Testament Scriptures, by which they testify to them as the word of God, and also show the agreement between the Old Testament and the New. The reference, then, is not intended to state a similar fact in similar language, by way of what is called accommodation, according to the interpretation of Mr. Stuart, Mr.
Tholuck, and others. A greater indignity to the Scriptures, and the Spirit of God, by whom they were dictated, cannot be offered, than to assert that passages of the Old Testament, which are quoted by the Apostles as predictions, are only an accommodation of words. This would not merely be silly, but heinously criminal. It is not only irreverent to suppose that the Apostles, in order to enforce the truth of what they were teaching, would quote the language of the Spirit in a meaning which the Holy Spirit did not intend to convey, but it is a charge of palpable falsehood and dishonesty against the writers of the New Testament, as calling that a fulfillment which is not a fulfillment, and appealing to the Old Testament declarations as confirmatory of their own doctrine, when they were aware that it was merely a fanciful accommodation of words, and that they were deluding their readers. Are practices to be admitted, in explanation of the word of God, which are never tolerated on other subjects, and which, if detected, would cover their authors with disgrace?
The quotation here shows that this passage in the Psalm, to which the reference is made, was in its fullest sense a prediction, and this regards the fulfillment. It was indeed a historical fact, and verified with respect to the Jews. But this fact, instead of proving it not to be prophetical and typical, is the very circumstance that fits it for that purpose. ‘The quotation here,’ says Professor Stuart, ‘comes from Psalm 44:22 [Septuagint 43:22], and is applied to the state of Christians in the Apostle’s times, as it was originally to those whom the Psalmist describes; in other words, the Apostle describes the state of suffering Christians, by the terms which were employed in ancient days to describe the suffering people of God.’
What could be more degrading to the book of God than the supposition that the Apostles ever quoted the Scriptures in this manner, by way of accommodation? How does this hide the glory of the perfection of the Old Testament, as in figure it exhibits Christ and His Church! For Thy sake. — It was for God’s sake that the Jews were hated and persecuted by the other nations, because, according to the commandment of God, they separated themselves from them in all their worship. They could have not religious fellowship with them, and on that account they were regarded as enemies to the rest of mankind. In like manner, when Christianity appeared, preferring a solemn charge of falsehood against all other religions in the world, Christians were accused of hating all mankind.
This was the grand accusation against them in primitive times by the heathens, and even by such historians as the so-called philosophic Tacitus.
Christians, in the same way, are still hated by the world, because they profess that salvation is only through the blood of Christ. As this implies that all who do not hold that doctrine are in error and ignorance, and under condemnation, it excites in the strongest manner the enmity of the world.
But the cause of this hatred must be traced to a principle still deeper, even the enmity of the carnal mind against God, and against His image in man, wherever it is seen. It is the working of that enmity which God put at the beginning between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman, Genesis 3:15 The afflictions and trials of the people of God are here referred to, to induce believers to exercise patience, to teach them not to promise themselves exemption from the treatment experienced by those who formerly lived under the covenant of God, but rather to remember that, if sometimes spared, it is owing to the forbearance and mercy of God. They are appealed to in order to lead them to consider the goodness of God in former times, as exhibited in the issues of the afflictions with which He visited His people, not to separate them from His love, but to do them good in the latter end. ‘Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.’
How much consolation and joy should Christians experience in suffering affliction of any description whatever, when they can appeal to their Lord and Savior, and say, It is for ‘Thy sake,’ Matthew 5:11. So far from being separated from the love of Christ by such sufferings, they are by them made more conformable to His image. In suffering for evil, men are conformable to the image of the first Adam. We are killed. — In speaking of those sufferings, which shall not separate believers from God, the Apostle here refers to death, the highest point to which they can be carried. As to the time, he speaks of it as ‘all the day long;’ that is, they are constantly exposed to the greatest measure of suffering in this life, and are frequently exercised with it. As to the manner, he says, We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. — The enemies of the people of God have often given them up to death with as little reluctance as sheep are driven to the slaughter. There is pity even for the murderer on the scaffold, but for Christ and His people there is none. The cry still is against the servants, as it was against the Master, ‘Crucify, crucify.’ Even in death they find no sympathy. This is attested by history in every age and country; witness the repeated and dreadful persecutions of Christians during the first three centuries, when they were treated not like men but as wild beasts, and the cry of the multitude was, ‘The Christians to the lions.’ When there is a respite from persecution, it is through the kind providence of God, when He restrains the malice of him who was a murderer from the beginning, and the evil passions of men, who are the willing instruments of Satan.
The sufferings of believers above enumerated, which, as the Apostle had just shown, verify the truth of the ancient predictions of the word of God, shall not separate them from the love of Christ, but, on the contrary, are to them the sources of the greatest benefits. Through them they are more than conquerors. — This is a strong expression, but in its fullest import it is strictly true. The Christian not only overcomes in the worst of his trials, but more than overcomes his adversaries, and all those things which seem to be against him. It is possible to overcome, and yet obtain no advantage from The contest, nay, to find the victory a loss. But the Christian not only vanquishes, he is also a gainer by the assault of his enemy. It is better for him than if he had not been called to suffer. He is a gainer and a conqueror, both in the immediate fruits of his sufferings, as God overrules them for his good, bringing him forth from the furnace as gold refined, and also in their final issue; for ‘our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.’ The term conquerors reminds us that the life of a believer is a warfare, in which he is called to combat, both within and without. We may remark, too, the difference between the judgment of God, and the judgment of men, respecting the victory of believers. In the world, persecutors and oppressors are judged as the conquerors; but here, those are pronounced to be such, who are oppressed and persecuted. They are the servants of Him whom the world put to death, but who said to His disciples, ‘Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.’ Through Him that loved us. — The Apostle says that we are more than conquerors, not through Him that loves us, but through Him that loved us, — using the past time, thus directing our attention to Christ dying for us.
His love to us is the character by which Christ is often described, as if it were that by which He should be best known to us, and as if, in comparison, there was none but He alone who loved us. ‘Who loved me,’ says the Apostle, ‘and gave Himself for me.’ ‘Who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood.’ ‘Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself for it.’ This expression shows that the confidence spoken of in this place is a confidence wholly grounded on Christ’s love and power, and not on our own firmness. It is not by our own loyalty and resolution, but through Him that loved us, that we are more than conquerors. In the Apostle Peter we see the weakness of all human affection and resolutions.
All the glory, then, of this victory which we obtain is to be ascribed solely to God; for it is He who is at our right hand, and who supports us in all our afflictions. In the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Revelation, the Lamb, who is Jesus Christ, is represented as combating against the enemies of His Church. He is our shield, our rock, and our refuge. It is declared that we are ‘kept (as in a garrison) by the power of God,’ Peter 1:5, in order that we may not presume on our own strength, or attribute to ourselves the glory of our preservation; but that we may keep our eyes fixed upon Him who, with His outstretched arm, conducts us to the heavenly Canaan.
Ver. 38. — Far I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come.
In the preceding verses Paul had proclaimed the triumph of believers over everything within and without them, that seemed to endanger their security. He had spoken of tribulation, and distress, and persecutions, and famine, and nakedness, and peril, and sword, over all of which he had pronounced them more than conquerors. He now proceeds, in the same triumphant language, to defy enemies still more formidable; asserting that all the conceivable powers of the universe shall not be able to separate them from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ. For I am persuaded — Here Paul introduces his own persuasion of the love of God to His people, that in so doing others may imitate him. This appears more fully in the next verse, by his making the constancy of God’s love a privilege not peculiar to himself, but common to all His people. He sets before believers this persuasion, to confirm them in the conviction that they need not fear the want of God’s support to enable them to overcome all trials, and surmount all dangers. For this persuasion is not conjectural, but an assured confidence, such as he expresses when he says, ‘I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day,’ Timothy 1:12.
Here we see the nature and quality of faith as opposed to the doctrine of the Church of Rome, which holds it to be merely a general belief of all that God has said, without confidence in His promises, or assurance of His grace. But the object of the Gospel, which is called ‘the Gospel of peace,’ is, that those who have fled for refuge to the hope set before them, should have strong consolation, Hebrews 6:18, and peace in their conscience.
The words, ‘I am persuaded,’ used by the Apostle, about that faith is a persuasion, and a union and conformity of heart to the word which we believe. Our reception of the promises, then, is a special application of them, when we take home to ourselves the grace and love of God, as the Apostle does when he says, verse 39, that nothing shall be able to separate us, to prove that he speaks in the name of all believers, and that, in this triumph of faith, he employs language common to them all. The objection that the language he used was appropriate only to Apostles, would set aside his intention and object altogether. The Church of Rome, however, objects, that in order to this application of faith, the Gospel should speak to each individual by his name, and say, ‘Thou art saved, thou art pardoned.’ But if, as they admit, the law, by its general propositions, obliges every one to obey it, while it names no person individually, and in saying, ‘Cursed is every one who continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them,’ condemns every man who does not yield obedience to its commands, why should they deny that the propositions of the Gospel comprise every believer in particular, or affirm that in saying, ‘He that believeth in Jesus hath eternal life,’ it does not speak to all who believe in Jesus, and declare that each one of them hath eternal life? When the law says, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ ‘Thou shalt not steal,’ ought any one to doubt that these commandments are addressed to him? But, in the Gospel, we find the same manner of speaking. ‘If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thy heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.’ Every believer, then, should rejoice in the declarations and promises of the Gospel, as if they were addressed to him by name. That neither death. — Death itself shall not separate believers from the love of God, nor should they question His love because He has appointed that they should die once. Death, with all its accompaniments, which are always solemn and sometimes terrible, may wear the semblance of God’s displeasure. But, notwithstanding the pains and sufferings by which it is usually preceded, especially when inflicted by persecution, to which there may be here a particular allusion, — notwithstanding the humiliating dissolution of the body into dust, — yet God is with His children when they walk through this dark valley, and ‘precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.’ In their death they have fellowship with Him who has disarmed it of its sting, and destroyed him that had the power of death. So far from separating them from God, it is His messenger to bring them home to Himself. If its aspect be terrible, it is still like the brazen serpent in the wilderness, which had but the form of a serpent, without its deadly poison. It dissolves the earthly house of their tabernacle, but introduces them into their house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. It discharges the soul from the burden of sin, that it may be clothed with perfect holiness; for death, although the effect of sin, is the occasion of slaying and destroying it in the believer. Nor life. — This is the next thing that the Apostle enumerates as threatening to separate believers from the love of God. It includes all the dangers and difficulties they have to encounter while passing through this world, and carrying about with them a body of sin and death amidst the various temptations from prosperity or adversity to which they are exposed. Yet Christ is their shepherd, and the Holy Spirit their leader. So far from separating them from the love of God, life as well as death are included among the privileges which belong to the children of God, Corinthians 3:22.
Nor angels. — Some restrict this to good angels, and some to evil angels.
There is no reason why it should not include both. Mr. Stuart asks, How can the good angels, ‘who are sent forth to minister to such as are heirs of salvation ( Hebrews 1:14), be well supposed to be opposers and enemies of Christians?’ But how could Mr. Stuart pronounce such a judgment in the face of the Apostle himself on another occasion/ If ‘an angel from heaven preach any other Gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.’ Could an angel from heaven be supposed a false preacher rather than a persecutor? But such suppositions are common in Scripture. They do not imply the possibility of the things supposed; and it fully justifies them, if the consequence would follow from the supposition, were it realized. By the expression, ‘nor height, nor depth,’ Mr. Stuart understands is meant neither heaven nor hell. Did he not observe, then, that this is inconsistent with his objection to explaining the term principalities and powers as referring to heavenly angels? If height means heaven, surely it is the inhabitants of the place who are meant, not the place itself. Nor principalities, nor powers. — This is also variously interpreted. Some confine it to angels, and some to civil rulers. There is no reason that it should not extend to the words in their widest meaning. It is true of civil powers; it is equally true of all angelic powers. It is as true with respect to principalities in heaven, as it is with respect to those in hell. Were all the principalities, through all creation, to use their power against Christians, it would not succeed. They have Christ on their side; who, then, can prevail against them? This justifies strong expressions in the exhibition of Divine truth. We are warranted by this to illustrate Scripture doctrine from the supposition of things impossible, in order the more deeply to impress the human mind with the truth inculcated. This fact is of great importance as to the explanation of Scripture. Nor things present, nor things to come. — Neither the trials nor afflictions in which the children of God are at any time involved, nor with which they may at any future period be exercised, will avail to separate them from Christ. There is nothing that can happen against which the providence of God does not secure them. What dangers should they dread when He says, ‘Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel; I will help thee, saith the Lord, and thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel’ ‘When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burnt; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Savior.’ Nothing does happen, nothing can happen, which, from eternity, He hath not appointed and foreseen, and over which He hath not complete control.
Ver. 39. — Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God , which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Nor height, nor depth. — These expressions appear to comprise all that had been said of angels, principalities, and powers, including them altogether to give greater force to the declaration concerning them.
Wherever they were, or whatever other power might inhabit heaven above, or hell beneath, if either a part of them, or the whole in combination, were to assail those whom Jesus loves, it would be of no avail. A reference may also be made to the highest state of prosperity to which a man may be elevated, or the lowest degree of adversity to which he may be depressed — of honor or of reproach. Neither the situation of Solomon the king, amidst the splendors of royalty, nor that of Lazarus the beggar, clothed in rags and covered with sores, although both are dangerous in the extreme, shall separate the believer from the love of God. Nor any other Creature. — The Apostle here, in conclusion of his discourse, after his long enumeration, intending to accumulate into one word all possible created existence in the whole universe, adds this expression, which completes the climax. Any other creature, that is, any creature which at present or hereafter should exist, all being created by and for Jesus Christ, and subordinate to His power, — no such creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Him. From all the evils above enumerated God has delivered His people, not that they should not suffer them, but that they should not be overcome by them. The love of God. — Here what was before called the love of Christ is called the love of God. Could such a variety of expressions be used if Christ were not God as well as the Father? Among all the uncertainties of this life, that which is certain and can never fail, is the love of God to His children. On this ground, Job, when deprived of all his earthly possessions, exclaims, ‘Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him,’ Job 13:15. ‘My flesh and my heart faileth, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever,’ Psalm 73:26. In Christ Jesus our Lord. — The love of God is here declared to be in Christ Jesus, to show that it is not God’s love in general that is here referred to, but that covenant love with which God loves us as His children, His heirs, and joint heirs with His only-begotten and well-beloved Son. If it were simply said that God loves us, we might say, in reflecting on our sins, how can God love such sinful creatures as we are; and how can we assure ourselves of the continuance of His love, since we are daily sinning, and provoking Him to anger? The Apostle, therefore, sets forth to us Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever, as the medium of this love, in order that while we see that we are sinners and worthy of condemnation we may regard ourselves as in Jesus Christ, in whom we are reconciled, and washed from our sins in His blood.
It is this medium to which the Apostle refers when he says, ‘He hath made us accepted in the Beloved,’ and God ‘hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in, heavenly places in Christ; ‘He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world,’ Ephesians 1:4. As, then, Jesus Christ is the true object of the love of the Father, as He testified by the voice from heaven, so in Him He loves His people with an everlasting love. To Him He had given them from eternity, and has united them to Him in time, that He might love them in Him, and by Him. Thus the Father loves no man out of the Son. As the sins of men had rendered them enemies to God, His justice could never have permitted them to be the objects of His love, if He had not expiated their sins, and washed them in the blood of His Son. Whoever, then, is not or shall not be in Christ, is not loved by the Father, but the wrath of God abideth on him. As the Apostle John testifies that God hath given us life, and this life is in His Son, so the Apostle Paul here declares that God hath given us His love, but that this love is in Jesus Christ. Consequently, we should not look for its cause in our works, or in anything in ourselves, but in Jesus Christ alone. Its incomprehensible extent and eternal duration are seen in His own words, when, addressing His Father, He says, ‘And hast loved them, as Thou hast loved Me;’ and again, ‘Thou lovest Me before the foundation of the world,’ John 17:23.
The love of God, then, to His people, flows entirely through Jesus Christ.
Men in general are fond of contemplating God as a God of benevolence.
They attempt to flatter Him by praising His beneficence. But God’s love to man is exercised only through the atonement made to His justice by the sacrifice of His Son. Those, therefore, who rejoice Christ and hope to partake of God’s love through any other means than Christ’s all-powerful mediation, must fail of success. There is no other name under heaven given among men whereby a sinner can be saved. As there was no protection in Egypt from death by the destroying angel except in those houses that were sprinkled with the blood of the paschal lamb, so none will be saved in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, except those who are sprinkled with the blood of atonement.
The order followed by the Apostle in all this discourse is very remarkable.
First, he challenges our enemies in general, and defies them all, saying, ‘If God be for us, who can be against us?’ Next, he shows, in detail, that neither the want of anything good, nor the occurrence of any evil, ought to trouble us. Not the want of any good, for ‘God hath not spared His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all; how, then, shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?’ Not the occurrence of any evil, for that would be either within us or without us. Not within us, for the evil that is within us is sin, and as to sin, ‘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.’ Not anything without us, for it would be either in the creatures, or in God. Not in the creatures, for that would be ‘tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword.’ But ‘in all these things we are more than conquerors, through Him that loved us.’ Not in God, for then there must be variableness and change in His love. ‘Now,’ says the Apostle, ‘I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ On this he rests the believer’s peace and assurance, and with these words he concludes his animated and most consolatory description of the victory and triumph of faith.
Well, indeed, may the Gospel be called the wisdom of God. It harmonizes things in themselves the most opposite. Is it not astonishing to find the man, who before had declared that there was no good thing in him, here challenging the whole universe to bring a charge against any of the elect of God? With respect to every Christian, in one point of view, it may be asserted that there is nothing good in him; and in another, it may be as confidently asserted that there is in him nothing evil. How could Paul say of himself, after he was a partaker of the holiness of the Spirit of truth, that there was nothing good in him? It was as concerned his own corrupt human nature. On what principle could he say, Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It was as they are in Christ Jesus. This is beautifully exhibited, 1 Corinthians 1:30. God hath united us to Christ Jesus in such an intimate manner, that His obedience is our obedience; His sufferings are our sufferings; His righteousness is our righteousness, for He is made unto us righteousness. This fully explains the ground on which we stand righteous before God: we stand in Christ. He has taken away all our sins. He who knew no sin was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. It is of the highest importance fully to understand our oneness with Christ. This will give the utmost confidence before God, while we entertain of ourselves the lowest opinion.
Besides all the other strong grounds of consolation contained in this chapter, it incontrovertibly establishes the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, which, though clearly exhibited in so many other parts of Scripture, is opposed by the Church of Rome, which teaches that believers may finally fall from the love of God, thus representing that love as variable and inconstant. They make the grace of God to depend on the will of man for its effect; and as the will of man is mutable, so they believe that the grace of God is likewise mutable; and, having ascribed to their free will the glory of perseverance, they have like many who call themselves Protestants, lost altogether the doctrine of the perseverance of believers unto eternal life. Closely connected with this doctrine of perseverance, is the believer’s knowledge of his acceptance with God, without which that of final perseverance, or, more properly speaking, the certainty of preservation by God, could impart to him no comfort. When one of these doctrines is mentioned in Scriptures, the other is generally referred to.
Both of them are intimately connected with the Christian’s love to God, his joy and peace, and with his being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ to the praise and glory of God. The enemies of this doctrine insist that it sets aside the necessity of attending to good works. On the contrary, it establishes them, and obliges us to perform them, not from servile fear, but from gratitude, and filial love to our Heavenly Father. God combats for us against principalities, and powers, and all our enemies; we ought, therefore, to fight under His banner. The believer combats along with God, while the issue of the combat and all the victory is from God, and not from the believer.
It was one great object of the apostle to hold out strong consolation to all who had fled for refuge, to lay hold of the hope set before them, and to urge them to give all diligence to the full assurance of hope. In exhorting to the duties of the Christian life, they proceeded on the ground that those to whom they wrote had the knowledge of their interest in the mediation of Christ, of the forgiveness of their sins through His love, and of the enjoyment of the love of God, to whom, by that Spirit of adoption which they had received, they cried, ‘Abba, Father’ and from all their Epistles it appears that those whom they addressed enjoyed this assurance. Paul accordingly exhorts the believers at Ephesus not to grieve the Holy Spirit of God, whereby they were soaked unto the day of redemption, and immediately after enjoins on them the duty of forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ’s sake, had forgiven them. ‘Ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord; walk as children of light.’ When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shalt ye also appear with Him in glory; mortify, therefore, your members which are upon the earth,’ Colossians 3:4. The Apostle Peter exhorts those to whom he wrote to love one another fervently, seeing they had purified their souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit. And the Apostle John enjoins on the little children, the young men, and the fathers, not to love the world, because their sins were forgiven; because they had known Him that is from the beginning, and because they had known the Father. The exhortations of the Apostles are in this manner grounded on the knowledge that those to whom they were directed were supposed to have of their interest in the Savior. Without this, the motives on which they are pressed to obedience would be unavailing.
The whole strain of the apostolic Epistles is calculated to confirm this knowledge, which is referred to as the spring of that joy unspeakable and full of glory with which those who were addressed rejoiced, 1 Peter 1:8.
Their faith, then, must have been an appropriating faith, taking home to themselves individually, according to its measure, the promises of mercy, and enabling them to say each for himself, with the Apostle, ‘I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I have; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.’ No believer, without this persuasion that Christ gave Himself for him, and that he is ‘dead unto sin,’ and ‘alive unto God,’ should rest satisfied. If, in opposition to this, it be said that assurance of our interest in Christ is a gift of God, which He bestows as He sees good, it should be recollected that so also are all spiritual blessings; and if of these it is our duty diligently to seek for a continual supply and increase, it is our duty to seek for this personal assurance among the rest. It is glorifying to Christ our Savior, and highly important to ourselves. This assurance is what we are commanded to aim at, and to give all diligence to attain; and full provision is made for it in the Gospel, Hebrews 6:11-20; 2 Peter 1:10. We enjoy this assurance of our salvation, when we are walking with God, and in proportion as we walk with Him.
The full assurance of faith, in which believers are commanded to draw near to God, stands inseparably connected with having their hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience. An evil conscience accuses a man as guilty, as deserving: and liable to punishment, and keeps him at a distance from God.
It causes him to regard the Almighty as an enemy and avenger, so that the natural enmity of the mind against God is excited and strengthened. On the contrary, a good conscience is a conscience discharged from guilt, by the blood of Christ. Conscience tells a man that the wages of sin is death, and that he has incurred the penalty; but when the atonement made by Christ is believed in, it is seen that our sins are no more ours, but Christ’s, upon whom God hath laid them all, and that the punishment due for sin, which is death, has been inflicted upon Him; the demands of the law have been fulfilled, and its penalty suffered. On this the believer rests, and his conscience is satisfied. It is thus purged from dead works, and this is what is called the answer of a good conscience toward God, 1 Peter 3:21. This answer of a good conscience cannot be disjoined from assurance of our acceptance with Him to whom we draw near; and the degree in which both this assurance, and a good conscience, are enjoyed, will be equal. As far, then, as the duty of a Christian’s possessing this assurance is denied, so far the duty of having the answer of a good conscience is not admitted.
The same also is true respecting the grace of hope. Hope is the anchor of the soul, to the attainment of the full assurance of which believers are commanded to give all diligence, and they are encouraged to hold fast the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end. It is when they have the hope of beholding Jesus as He is that they purify themselves even as He is pure, 1 John 3:3. The ‘hope of salvation’ covers their heads in the combat in which they are engaged, which they are therefore commanded to put on, and wear as an helmet, 1 Thessalonians 5:8. In writing to the Thessalonians, the Apostle ascribes to God and the Lord Jesus Christ the everlasting consolation, and good hope through grace, which had been given to them. And he prays for the believers at Rome that the God of hope may fill them with all joy and peace in believing, and that they might abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost.
This good hope through grace, then, as well as a conscience purged from dead works — the duty of possessing which no Christian will deny — stand inseparably connected with the personal assurance of an interest in the Savior, and all of them lie at the foundation of love to God, and consequently of acceptable obedience to Him. We love Him when we see that He hath loved us, and that His Son is the propitiation for our sins. ‘Thy loving-kindness is before mine eyes, and I have walked in Thy truth,’ Psalm 26:3. ‘Lord, I have hoped for Thy salvation, and done Thy commandments,’ <19B9166> Psalm 119:166. In this manner was David led to serve God. When, according to the precious promise of our blessed Lord, the Spirit takes of the things that are His — the glory of His person, and the perfection of His work — and discovers them to us, we then know whom we have believed, the conscience is discharged from guilt; and thus, hoping in God, and having our hearts enlarged, we run the way of His commandments, <19B932> Psalm 119:32, and bring forth the fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, and peace. But how can there be love without a sense of reconciliation with God; and how can the fruits of joy and peace be brought forth till the conscience is discharged from guilt? It is earnestly and repeatedly enjoined on believers to rejoice in the Lord; but how can they rejoice in Him unless they have the persuasion that they belong to Him? ‘The joy of the Lord is your strength,’ Nehemiah 8:10. ‘The end of the commandment is charity, out of a pure heart, and a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned,’ 1 Timothy 1:5. Love flows from a pure heart, a pure heart from a good conscience, and a good conscience from true faith. The necessity of a good conscience, in order to acceptable obedience to God, is forcibly pointed out, Hebrews 9:14. ‘How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?’ Till this takes place, all a man’s doings are dead works , or, as the Apostle expresses it in the seventh chapter of this Epistle, ‘fruit unto death.’ An evil or guilty conscience leads a man to keep at a distance from God, like Adam, who, conscious of his guilt, hid himself among the trees of the garden. But when the conscience is made good, — that is, is at peace, — the heart is purified, and love is produced. Then, and not till then, when ascribing praise to the Lamb who has washed us from our sins in His own blood, and having a sense of reconciliation with God, and of the enjoyment of His favor, we serve Him in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter — not from servile fear, but with gratitude and filial affection. Thus, having boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us through the vail, that is to say, His flesh; and having an High Priest over the house of God, we draw near with a true heart, in the full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. We enjoy the persuasion that by His mercy we are saved by the wishing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost. ‘Come unto Me, and I will give you rest.’ What is this rest but that peace and repose of the soul which can never be found but in God? Then we can adopt the language of the Psalmist, ‘I will go unto God, my exceeding joy.’
The Spirit of God being holy, will not produce Christian assurance without at the same time producing sanctification, and by this sanctification the persuasion is confirmed of our communion with God; for although our sanctification be imperfect, it is a certain mark of our election.
When we feel a holy sadness for having offended God, we enjoy the blessedness of those who mourn, and are assured that we shall be comforted. When we hunger and thirst after righteousness, we have the promise that we shall be filled. This mourning for sin, and thirsting after righteousness, on which the Savior pronounces His blessing, can only proceed from the Spirit of God, and not from the desire of the carnal mind, which is enmity against God. The fruits of the Spirit are first produced by believing in Christ, trusting in Him, and regarding what He has done without us, and are increased and confirmed by what He is doing within us. Abounding in the fruits of righteousness, we make our calling and election sure. Keeping his commandments, we prove our love to our Savior, and He manifests Himself to us as He doeth not unto the world.
Personal application, or the appropriation of faith, is often signalized in Scripture. Moses says; ‘The Lord is my strength and my song, and He is become my salvation: He is my God,’ Exodus 15:2. Job says, ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God,’ Job 19:25. ‘I know,’ says David, ‘that God is for me,’ Psalm 56:9. ‘The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want,’ Psalm 23:1. ‘The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup,’ Psalm 16:5. ‘I will love thee, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower,’ Psalm 18:1. ‘I know,’ says Paul, ‘whom I have believed.’ John says, ‘We have known and believed the love that God hath to us.’ Peter, classing himself with those to whom he wrote, blesses God that he and they were begotten again to a lively hope of an inheritance reserved in heaven; and, referring to their final perseverance, he adds, that they were ‘kept by the power of God, through faith, unto salvation.’ In the hope of that salvation, those who received the doctrine of the Apostles rejoiced as soon as it was announced to them, Acts 2:41, 8:39, 16:34. Their joy, then, had not its source in reflection on, or consciousness of, their faith, or its effects, although afterwards so confirmed, but arose, in the first instance, from the view they had of the glory and all-sufficiency of the Savior, and His perfect righteousness made theirs by faith, resting on the Divine warrant and promise, ‘In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of Him,’ Ephesians 3:12.
Although the assurance of sense be confirmatory of the assurance of faith it is not so strong as the latter. ‘Sanctification,’ says Rutherford, ‘does not evidence justification as faith doth evidence it, with such a sort of clearness as light evidences colors, though it be no sign or evident mark of them; but as smoke evidences fire, and as the morning star in the east evidenceth the sun will shortly rise; or as the streams prove there is a head-spring whence they issue; though none of these make what they evidence visible to the eye; so doth sanctification give evidence of justification, only as marks, signs, effects, give evidence of the cause. But the light of faith, the testimony of the Spirit by the operation of free grace, will cause us, as it were, with our eyes, see justification and faith, not by report, but as we see the sun’s light.’
If it be objected that a man cannot know that he has faith without seeing its effects; it is replied that this is contrary to fact. When a thing is testified, or a promise is made to us, we know whether or not we believe it, or trust in it. According to this objection, when Philip said, ‘If thou believest with all thine heart thou mayest,’ the eunuch should have replied, ‘You ask me to tell you a thing I cannot know;’ but instead of this, he answers, ‘I believe.’ When the Lord asked the blind man, ‘Believest thou in the Son of God?’ he did not ask a question which it was impossible to answer. Does the Spirit of God cry in the hearts of believers, ‘Abba, Father,’ and witness with their spirits that they are the children of God, without their being able to know it? If, however, the flesh raises doubts in the believer, from the weakness of his faith, he should consider that the weakness of his faith does not prevent it from being true faith; that God accepts not the perfection but the reality of faith; that Jesus Christ recognized the faith of him who said, ‘Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief; ‘and that these doubts are not in his faith, but opposed to it.
They are in the flesh, with the believer resists, and says with Paul, ‘Now, if I do what I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.’ ‘In the first act of believing,’ says Mr. Bell in his work On the Covenants , ‘sinners have no evidence of grace in themselves: they feel nothing within but sin; they see a word without them as the sole foundation of faith, and on that alone they build for eternity. This is a point of no small importance to saints and sinners. Many of the modern builders are at great pains to keep their hearers from all confidence till they first discern the evidences of grace in their hearts; and, having got evidence, then, and not till then, can they have any just, lawful, or well-grounded confidence, — nay, they seem pretty plainly to intimate that a sinner’s right to Christ turns on something wrought in him, or done by him, and till he have evidence of this, he can claim no interest in Christ, nor assure himself of salvation by Him. According to this, Christ, the Tree of Life, is forbidden fruit, which the sinner must not touch till he has seen inward evidence. I confess I have not so learned Christ. The sinner’s right to Christ turns not at all upon any inward gracious qualifications, but purely on the Divine warrant revealed in the word. Faith is not a qualification in order to come to Christ, but the coming itself; it is not our right to Christ, but our taking and receiving Him to ourselves on the footing of the right conveyed by the Gospel offer.’ ‘Tis a thing of huge difficulty,’ says Archbishop Leighton, ‘to bring men to a sense of their natural misery, to see that they have need of a Savior, and to look out for one. But then, being brought to that, ‘tis no less, if not more difficult, to persuade them that Christ is He; that as they have need of Him, so they need no more, He being able and sufficient for them. All the waverings and fears of misbelieving minds do spring from dark and narrow apprehensions of Jesus; Christ. All the doubt is not of their interest, as they imagine; they who say so, and think it is so, do not perceive the bottom and root of their own malady. They say they do no whit doubt but that He is able enough, and His righteousness large enough, but all the doubt is, if He belong to me. Now, I say this doubt arises from a defect and doubt of the former, wherein you suspect it not. Why doubtest thou that He belongs to thee? Dost thou fly to Him, as lost and undone in thyself? Dost thou renounce all that can be called thine, and seek thy life in Him? Then He is thine. He came to seek and to save that which was lost .
Oh I but I find so much not only former but still daily renewed and increasing guiltiness. Why? Is He a sufficient Savior, or is He not? If thou dost say He is not, then it is manifest that here lies the defect and mistake.
If thou sayest He is, then hast thou answered all thy objections of that kind: much guiltiness much or little, old or new, neither helps nor hinders, as to thy interest in Him, and salvation by Him. And for dispelling of these mists, nothing can be more effectual than the letting in of those Gospel beams, the clear expressions of His riches and fullness in the Scriptures, and eminently this — made of God wisdom and righteousness.’ The religion of the Church of Rome leaves a man nothing but doubts respecting his salvation. It teaches, as has been formerly remarked, that a Christian should believe in general the promises of God, while personal application of these promises, and assurance of God’s love, it calls presumption. This subject was one of the grand points of discussion between that church and the Reformers. But how many Protestants have forsaken the ground which their predecessors here occupied, and have gone over to that of their opponents! The doctrine of the duty of our personal assurance of salvation, and the persuasion of our interest in Christ, is denied by many, and doubts concerning this are even converted into evidences of faith, although they are directly opposed to it. Doubts of a personal interest in Christ, are evidences either of little faith or of no faith. ‘O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?’ If this assurance were built on anything except on the foundation that God Himself hath laid, it would indeed be eminently presumptuous. But, in opposition to such opinions, the Apostle John has written a whole Epistle to lead Christians to this assurance. ‘He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself. He that believeth not God hath made Him a liar: because He believeth not the witness which God hath witnessed concerning His Son.
And this is the witness, that God hath given to us eternal life; and this life is in His Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.’ ‘This assurance,’ says Archbishop Leighton, ‘is no enemy to holy diligence, nor friend to carnal security; on the contrary, it is the only thing that doth eminently enable and embolden the soul for all adventures and services. Base fears and doubtings, wherein some place much of religion, and many weak Christians seem to be in that mistake, to think it a kind of Holy Spiritual temper to be questioning and doubting. I say, then, base fears can never produce anything truly generous, no height of obedience, — they do nothing but entangle and disable the soul for every good work; perfect love casts out this fear, and works a sweet unperplexing fear, a holy wariness, not to offend, which fears nothing else. And this confidence of love is the great secret of comfort, and of ability to do God service. Nothing makes so strong and healthful a constitution of soul as pure love: it dare submit to God and resign itself to Him; it dare venture itself in His hand, and seeks no more but how to please Him. A heart thus composed goes readily and cheerfully unto all services, to do, to suffer, to live, to die, at His pleasure; and firmly stands to this, that nothing can separate from that which is sufficient to it, what is all its happiness, the love of God in Christ Jesus.’ ‘It is true that all Christians have not alike clear and firm apprehension of their happy and true state, and scarce any of them are alike at all times; yet they have all and always the same right to this state and to the comfort of it; and where they stand in a right light to view it, they do see it so, and rejoice in it. Many Christians do prejudice their own comfort, and darken their spirits, by not giving freedom to faith to act according to its nature and proper principles; they will not believe till they find some evidence or assurance, which is quite to invert the order of the thing, and to look for fruit without settling a root for it to grow from. Would you take Christ upon the absolute word of promise tendering Him to you, and rest on Him, this would ingraft you into life itself, for that He is; and so those fruits of the Holy Ghost would bud and flourish in your hearts. From that very believing on Him would arise this persuasion, yea, even to a gloriation, and an humble boasting in His love, — who shall accuse? who shall condemn ? who shall separate? ’ In opposition to the believer’s personal assurance of salvation, Satan will represent to him the number and enormity of his sins, and the strictness of God’s justice, which has often fallen on those whom He hardens. But believers will answer, ‘We know that to God belongeth righteousness, and unto us confusion of faces, but mercy and pardon belong to the Lord our God. If our sins ascend to heaven, His mercy is above the heavens. It is true that sin abounds in us; but where sin abounded grace and mercy have much more abounded; and the greater our misery, the greater towards us is the glory of the mercy of God. In entering into paradise, our Lord Jesus Christ has not taken with Him angels, but the spirit of a malefactor, that we might know that the greatest sinners are objects of His compassion. He came into the world to save sinners, and He calls to Himself those who are heavy laden with sin. He came to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound. The more, then, that we feel the power of sin, the closer we cleave to Him. If Peter, affrighted, exclaimed, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord,” let us, on the contrary, say, Lord Jesus, we come to Thee, and the more so because we are sinners; for Thou hast been made sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Thee. We have sinned seventy times, and seventy times have fallen again into sin; but God, who commands us to forgive offenses even seventy times seven, will many more times pardon! In comparison of His love, the love of man is not as a drop to the ocean.’
The foundation on which believers repel doubts concerning their salvation rests on the excellence of their Mediator, His love and compassion for them, the merit of His obedience, and their communion with Him. As to the excellence of their Mediator, He is the eternal Son of God, the Beloved of the Father, for whom they are beloved in Him, and His intercession for them is acceptable to God and efficacious. ‘We have a great High Priest that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God.’ ‘He is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them.’ It rests on the love and compassion of Jesus. ‘For we have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.’ His love to us has been stronger than death; and He Himself saith, ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’ Having thus given Himself for us, will He reject us? Having ascended to heaven, will He forget us, for whom He descended to earth and for whom, as the forerunner, He hath again entered heaven to intercede for us, to prepare a place, and to receive us to Himself?
Believers rest their assurance of salvation on the merit of their Redeemer’s obedience; for when their sins are red as crimson, they shall be made white as snow. Our robes have been washed in the blood of the Lamb, whose blood cleanseth us from all sin. It is impossible that sin can be more powerful to destroy us, than the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ to save us. We are condemned by the law; but, in answer to the law, we plead the blood of Jesus Christ, who hath borne the curse of the law, and who is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. We have been condemned by the justice of God; but to this justice we present the righteousness of Christ, who is ‘Jehovah our righteousness.’ God hath been angry with us; but in Jesus Christ He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath He seen perverseness in Israel.
To the temptations of Satan, believers also oppose their union with Jesus Christ; for Jesus Christ and they are one. We are His members, bone of His bones, and flesh of His flesh; His obedience is our obedience; for as we are one body with Him, we appear before our God in Him. We are found in Him, not having our own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith. By union with Him we are already seated together in heavenly places in Christ. As Jesus Christ has risen to die no more, but to live eternally, it follows that the righteousness which He has wrought is an everlasting righteousness, and that, being united to Him as His members, we derive from Him a life which cannot fail, so that we shall never die; for as the risen Head dies no more, and His life is an everlasting life, in like manner, whoever receives spiritual life from Him, receives a life which can never terminate. Hence it follows that the resurrection of Jesus Christ, assuring us of our justification and eternal life, is a source of the greatest joy and consolation. The Psalmist, accordingly, prophesying of the resurrection of Christ, says ‘that his heart is glad, and his glory rejoiceth.’
The first words of Jesus Christ to Mary, after His resurrection, were, ‘Woman, why weepest thou?’ and to the other women, ‘Be not afraid;’ and to the disciples, ‘Why are ye troubled?’ His resurrection ought to wipe away the tears of His people, to tranquilize their minds, and dissipate their fears, by the assurance it gives of their acquittal from condemnation before God, and of the destruction of him who had the power of death. ‘The words of Jesus, above referred to,’ says an eloquent writer, ‘are generally applicable to the life of a Christian. He can look upon that rich field of privilege and of promise placed before him in the Bible, and can say that it is all his own. And where is the want that the blessed fruits of that field cannot supply, the distress which they cannot relieve, the wound that they cannot heal, the fear that they cannot quiet, or the sorrow for which they do not furnish abundant consolation? Where, then, is the cause of depression? Friend of Jesus, why weepest thou? If you have an Advocate with the Father, through whom you sins are all forgiven, and you are made a child of God, — and the Holy Ghost is given you as your Sanctifier and Comforter, — and you are assured of having almighty power for your support, and unerring wisdom for your guide, and heaven for your eternal home — what can overbalance or suppress the joy which naturally results from such privileges as these? Trials we may, we must, meet with; but can these depress us, when we know that our light affliction which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding, even an eternal weight of glory? If tried by bodily pain, we feel more keenly the happiness of the hope which anticipates the time when we shall have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens! Worldly losses will not overwhelm us, if we know that we are undoubted heirs of an inheritance that is incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away. Friends may change, but we will be comforted by the assurance that in Christ we have a brother born for adversity, — nay, a friend that sticketh closer than a brother. There rolls between us and our Father’s house the deep and restless tide of this world’s corruption, through which we must of necessity pass, and the deeper and still more dangerous tide of the corruption of our hearts, and we are surrounded by enemies on every side; and when we feel our own weakness, we may be ready to fear lest we should one day fall by the hand of some of them. But every distressing fear is removed, when we recollect that we shall not be tempted beyond what we are able to bear, and that, in point of fact, there is no limit to our power, for we can do all things through Christ strengthening us, and that the life that is in us is the life of Christ, a life which no power can extinguish in any one of Christ’s members, any more than it can extinguish it in our glorious Head.’
From the 28th verse to the conclusion of the chapter, the greatest encouragement is held out to repose all our confidence on the love of God in Christ Jesus, with the assured conviction that, receiving Him, we shall be enabled to persevere unto the end. The impossibility of plucking His people out of the Savior’s hand is here established in the most triumphant manner. Whatever objection is raised against it, is contrary to the power of Jesus Christ, contrary to His love, to the virtue of His sacrifice, and to the prevalence of His intercession, — contrary to the operation of the whole Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, in every part of the plan of salvation. If we look upwards or downwards, — to heaven above, or the earth or hell beneath, — to all places, to all creatures, — neither any nor all of them together shall prevail against us. Were heaven and earth to combine, and all the powers of hell to rise up, they would avail nothing against the outstretched arm of Him who makes us more than conquerors.
The power of Jesus, who is our Head, ascends above the heavens, and descends beneath the depths; and in His love there is a breadth, and length, and depth, and height, which passeth knowledge. ‘Thy mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens, and Thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds. Thy righteousness is like the great mountains; Thy judgments are a great deep,’ Psalm 36:5. Can anything prevail to pluck out of the hands of Jesus Christ those who have fled to Him as their surety, — those who are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones, — those whom He hath purchased with His precious blood?
The feelings of the believer, viewed in Christ, as described in the close of this chapter, form a striking contrast with what is said in the end of the former chapter, where he is viewed in himself. In the contemplation of himself as a sinner, he mournfully exclaims, ‘O wretched man that I am!’
In the contemplation of himself as justified in Christ, he boldly demands, Who shall lay anything to my charge? Who is he that condemneth? Well may the man who loves God defy the universe to separate him from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus his Lord. Although at present the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together, although even he himself groaneth within himself, yet all things are working together for his good. The Holy Spirit is interceding for him in his heart; Jesus Christ is interceding for him before the throne; God the Father hath chosen him from eternity, hath called him, hath justified him, and will finally crown him with glory. The Apostle had begun this chapter by declaring that there is no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus: he concludes it with the triumphant assurance that there is no separation from His love. The salvation of believers is complete in Christ, and their union with Him indissoluble.