The Way Made Plain

By James H. Brookes

Chapter 5



"For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God."—Romans x. 3.

The first question to be settled here is the meaning of the term righteousness. Some idea of the importance of the question may be gathered from the fact that the same word, which is used three times in the passage placed at the head of this chapter, occurs ninety-two times in the New Testament, and is found thirty-six times in the Epistle to the Romans. Many inquirers after the way of eternal life are kept in darkness and uncertainty from a failure to see the signification of the language employed by the Holy Ghost in the Sacred Scriptures. They might often be spared weary months of struggling, and feebleness in all their subsequent walk, if distinctly taught at the very beginning of their religious experience the precise import of such expressions as redemption, regeneration, repentance, faith, grace, justification, adoption, sanctification, and righteousness.

The last of these it is my purpose to notice at present, with the hope, through God's blessing, of leading my readers to see that their own good character and conduct cannot save them. The word which is so often translated " righteousness " in the Bible is defined in Robinson's Greek and English Lexicon of the New Testament as follows: " The doing or being what is just or right; and when spoken of character, conduct, and the like, it is the being just as one should be." So the word translated righteous is explained, when applied to character or conduct, as meaning " just as it should be"; and hence a righteous man " is strictly one who does right." In the lexicons of Classic Greek the word which is translated righteous is rendered " observant of the rules of right, upright, in all duties both to gods and men." In the Hebrew the word translated righteousness comes from a verb which means "to be right, straight"; and hence in a moral sense it is "rectitude, right, righteousness, what is right and just, such as it should be"; and a righteous person is said to be one who is '' obedient to divine laws." In English, Webster says righteousness means " purity of heart and rectitude of life; conformity of heart and life to the divine law." The term righteous he defines as "just, accordant to divine law. Applied to persons, it denotes one who is holy in heart, and observant of the divine commands in practice; as a righteous man. Applied to things, it denotes consonance to the divine will or to justice; as a righteous act." The word right, he says, means "conformity to the will of God, or to His law, the perfect standard of truth and justice. In a literal sense, right is a straight line of conduct, and wrong a crooked one."

According to these various authorities, righteousness is the state or quality of being righteous, and righteous is that which is right, and right implies some rule, standard, or test to distinguish it from wrong. If there were no such rule, it is obvious that right and wrong would lose their meaning, and the difference between them would instantly cease to exist. Whether this rule is supposed to be found in the decisions of conscience or of custom, of reason or of revelation, its authority is instinctively and universally recognized. Not only the best but the worst of men pronounce certain acts to be right and other acts to be wrong, and thus show that they have before their minds, it may be unconsciously, some rule to which the right acts are conformed, and which the wrong acts have violated. A few infidel writers like Hobbes have maintained that the only foundation of right and wrong is the civil law; and a few like Rousseau have ventured to affirm that all the morality of our actions lies in the judgment we ourselves form of them. But even these reckless sceptics confess that there is a rule, however low and imperfect, that must decide whether our conduct is worthy of commendation or of censure. Although in their view that is right which is conformed to civil law, or which meets the approval of our own judgment, still they acknowledge the existence and power of a rule to determine what should be done and what should be left undone.

Now if it be true that God has made known in the Sacred Scriptures His will concerning the way in which He would have men feel and think and speak and act, it is certain that this revealed will is the supreme rule of duty. Of course, a Being who " is righteous in all his ways and holy in all his works"1 cannot enjoin us to be or to do anything in the slightest degree improper or unbecoming in the relations we sustain to Him and to our fellow creatures; and as " the law of the Lord is perfect,"2 it will at once be admitted that no higher rule is possible as the standard of right. Webster is correct, therefore, in defining righteousness as " conformity of heart and life to the divine law." The law of God is like a plumb-line (if I may so speak), let down from heaven to test the uprightness of our character and the rectitude of our conduct; it is like an exact measure applied both to our inward and outward life to discover whether it is according to holiness; it is like light shining into the chambers of our souls to reveal their real condition. If any are perfectly obedient in every respect to the requirements of the law, they are righteous, and the obedience they render constitutes their righteousness.

The phrase "righteousness of God," which frequently occurs in the inspired Epistles, next demands our consideration. We find the apostle writing to the Romans, "I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, . . . for therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith."3 Again, "The righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all, and upon all them that believe."4 Again, "He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."5 Again, he expresses an earnest desire to be found in Christ; not having, he says, "mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith."6 Simon Peter also sends his salutation" to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ."7 The term righteousness, when applied to God, does not so much refer to any one attribute as it denotes the perfection of His nature and sets forth the fact that He is most holy in Himself and most just in all His dealings with His creatures. The righteousness of God as used in the passages just quoted is understood by some writers to mean nothing more than God's method of justification; but that they are mistaken in their view is evident, first, because the Holy Ghost would have said God's method of justification if this had been the thought in His mind; and, secondly, because no man can be justified until there is a righteousness that precedes as the ground upon which the sentence of justification is pronounced. "Wordsworth well says, "This significant phrase, the righteousness of God, is not to be lowered, weakened, and impaired, so as to mean only the method of justification by which God acquits and justifies mankind." Other writers tell us that the expression means " the righteousness which God gives and which He approves"; but while this is the truth, as far as it goes, it is not the whole truth. God might give and approve a creature-righteousness such as Adam had in the garden of Eden, and such as angels possess in the paradise of heaven; but there is something better and nobler than this in store for the redeemed sinner.

"The righteous Lord loveth righteousness;"8 and His love for it is so great that when He saw our utter destitution and extreme wretchedness, in His infinite kindness and amazing condescension He gave us His own. He gave Christ, His co-equal, co-eternal, and only-begotten Son, who was and is forevermore the true God in our nature, and who not only furnished the most illustrious exhibition of His Father's righteousness the universe has ever seen, but by His perfect obedience to all the demands of the divine law, and by His endurance of its penalty in the room and for the justification of His people, becomes their righteousness; and this righteousness is the righteousness of God Himself. It is that kind of righteousness which is worthy of admittance into His presence; and He imputes to believers the righteousness of His Son, which is only another name for His own righteousness. Hence we read such astonishing language as this: "Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world?"9 "Know ye not that we shall judge angels?"10 "He that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father."11 "Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, Avhich is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God; and I will write upon him my new name."12 "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne."13 In other words, the righteousness of God gives a title to those who are saved to be associated with "the Prince of the kings of the earth"14 in the most endeared intimacy and in places of highest dignity, which would be impossible if they did not stand upon the ground of a perfect righteousness before the Father, arrayed as it were in the robe of His own unsullied perfections.

The righteousness of God, then, is an expression which has a broader and deeper significance than that given to it by those who explain it to mean simply God's method of justification or the righteousness of which God is the author and approver. The law demands righteousness; and as we cannot meet the high demand, grace gives righteousness; and as it is a gift, it is bestowed in a manner worthy of God who gives us His own righteousness. Nothing less than this could satisfy the desires of His loving heart, and nothing less than this could suffice to admit us into His blessed presence. If the soul has upon it the faintest stain of sin, it must be excluded forever from His glorious dwelling-place; for " there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth,"15 and only those who are righteous in the sense that God Himself is righteous can appear for a moment in the dazzling splendor of His holiness. Hence, amid the untold wonders of His creation and providence the most wonderful thing He has ever done is to impute a Divine righteousness to the believing sinner who can say, with perfect confidence: " Holy Father! there is no difference now between Thy righteousness and mine; for I am made the very righteousness of God in Christ." I need not add that this righteousness is no less enduring and immutable than is the self-existent and unchangeable nature of the Almighty; and never, never can it be torn from those to whom it has been reckoned as the ground of their justification until the eternal Jehovah shall cease to exist or be hurled from His throne.



1) Ps. cxlv. 17.

2) Ps. xix. 7.

3) Rom. i. 16, 17.

4) Rom. iii. 21, 22.

5) 2 Cor. v. 21.

6) Phil. iii. 9.

7) 2 Peter i. 1.

8) Ps. xi. 7.

9) 1 Cor. vi. 2.

10) 1 Cor. vi. 3.

11) Rev. ii. 26, 27.

12) Rev. iii. 12.

13) Rev. iii. 21.

14) Rev. i. 5.

15) Rev. xxi. 27.