The Way Made Plain

By James H. Brookes

Chapter 6



Ignorance of God's righteousness is declared by the Holy Ghost to be as fatal and soul-destroying as the grossest wickedness, because it led the Jews and it leads others to go about the vain attempt to establish their own righteousness; and therefore they refuse to submit themselves unto the righteousness of God. You will observe that He does not charge the Israelites with insincerity, but only with ignorance; and yet practically one was as ruinous to the soul as the other. When our Lord in His sermon on the mount said to His disciples, " Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven,"1 He did not accuse the scribes and Pharisees of hypocrisy as the reason for asserting that we must have a better righteousness than theirs, if we would enter into the kingdom of heaven. Some of them, we know, were hypocrites, but there is not the slightest authority for saying that all of them were practiced and wilful impostors. Saul of Tarsus, for example, tells us he was perfectly sincere in his religion when he was a Pharisee, and verily thought with himself that he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth; but he afterwards informs us that he did these things "ignorantly in unbelief."2 Surely there were others equally sincere; and I have no doubt that among the Jews of that day there were many who attained a height of creature-righteousness which has never been surpassed in the history of the world.

They counted six hundred and thirteen precepts that were binding on man, dividing them into three hundred and sixty-five prohibitions and two hundred and forty-eight commands, and were scrupulously exact in striving to observe every one of them. They read the Scriptures diligently; they prayed constantly; they kept the Sabbath strictly; they contributed systematically to support the services of God's house; they adorned themselves with all the beauties of a faultless morality and maintained an incorruptible integrity in their social relations; but even then our Lord, who can neither deceive nor be deceived, solemnly announced that their righteousness utterly failed to procure for them a title to the heavenly inheritance; " 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." Paul, too, assures us that, ''touching the righteousness which is in the law," he was blameless before he became a Christian; and yet this boasted blamelessness could not save him, but afterwards was regarded by him as sinfulness. If, then, the testimony of Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit speaking by the apostle is to be believed on any subject, it is certain that a creature-righteousness could not save the Jews, and it is no less certain that it cannot save the Gentiles.

It has been the great purpose of Jehovah from the beginning, I may say, to teach this fundamental truth to mankind, for He stated and rehearsed it as distinctly before the coming of the Saviour into the world as He did afterwards. Thus when our first parents plucked the forbidden fruit, we are told, " the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig-leaves together, and made themselves aprons."3 The violated law instantly thundered its curse against them: " Thou shalt surely die;"4 but grace sweetly spoke in the promise of the conquering seed, and then it is added, " Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins and clothed them."5 What have we here but the insufficiency of man's righteousness as well as the precious truth of Divine righteousness taught in symbol? The attempt which Adam made with his apron of fig-leaves to cover his nakedness utterly failed, and hence he and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden; but the robe which Jehovah provided, and which told the story of the shedding of blood (as the appointed victim had to be slain before it could be presented), was Divinely perfect in its way; and when once received we read no longer of the sinner hiding from the view and voice of his Father. Again, in the next chapter, we learn that " in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering: but unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth, and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well [that is. If thou offerest properly], shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well [offerest not properly], sin lieth at the door."6 Here we have two altars, the one laden with beautiful fruits and fragrant flowers, the product of the worshipper's honorable toil, and the expression, no doubt, of his grateful and sincere homage, while the other is dripping with the blood of a dead lamb. The difference between the two brothers did not consist in the superiority of either by nature, but in the sacrifices which they presented. The one occupied the ground of man's righteousness in his worship, and hence was rejected; the other occupied the ground of Divine righteousness, and consequently was accepted; for the Holy Ghost informs us that " by faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gift."7 The offerer and the offering were identified, and stood or fell together, God regarding the former in the light of the latter, and proclaiming, even in that early age, that man's righteousness cannot save him.

It would be impossible, without writing a book nearly as large as the Bible itself, to give all the statements and illustrations of this essential doctrine found in the Scriptures, for the word of God from first to last views man as hopelessly ruined in himself, and sets forth in every variety of form his need of a better, even of a Divine, righteousness to enter into life. It is true, Moses said to the Hebrews in the wilderness, " It shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments before the Lord our God, as he hath commanded us;"8 but the little word "if" is very important in this connection, and the inspired history shows that they did not observe to do any of the commandments before the Lord their God as He commanded them. When they came to Sinai under the gentle conduct of grace that bare them on eagles' wings and promised to make them a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, " all the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do;"9 and yet scarcely had the rash vow proceeded from their lips before they were found dancing and bowing in idolatrous worship around a golden calf. Alas poor man! such is ever the end of his effort to obtain a righteousness of his own: defeat, discomfiture, disgrace, is the invariable result. Hence we hear the Psalmist exclaiming: "I will go in the strength of the Lord God: I will make mention of thy righteousness, even of thine only."10 "Who shallascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? . . . He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation."11 "Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven."12 By the mouth of His prophets the Almighty says, "O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help."13 "Their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord."14 "And this is his name whereby he shall be called, The Lord our Righteousness."15

The Old Testament, then, clearly shows how and where righteousness is to be obtained; and in every instance it entirely excludes man's righteousness as the ground upon which God pronounces the sentence of justification. " All our righteousness," it declares, " are as filthy rags"16 (not all our wickednesses merely, for this any one is ready to admit, but all our righteousnesses are as rags, nay, filthy rags), and " he that trusteth in his own heart is a fool."17

Even the most illustrious saints whose splendid achievements are recorded in its pages are held up by the Holy Ghost in illustration, not of the value, but of the worthlessness, of creature-righteousness as the means of gaining acceptance with the Holy One of Israel. "For what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it [his believing God] was counted unto him for righteousness."18 " Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works."19 To this must be added the testimony of the selfsame Spirit in the New Testament, who says, "To him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness."20 Again, he speaks of righteousness not as a reward fairly earned, but as a gift freely bestowed: " For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ. Therefore, as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men [all united to Christ] unto justification of life."21 Again: ''What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law."22 Again: "After that the kindness and love of God our Saviour towards man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ, our Saviour; that being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life."23

It is useless, however, to quote other passages bearing the same testimony, because if my readers bow to the authority of God's word they are already convinced by what has been written; and if they refuse to accept that word as true, it would avail nothing to quote the whole Bible. It is certain that there is not a line in the book in conflict with the testimony here given; and hence it is equally certain that man's righteousness cannot save him. It is true "that faith without works is dead;"24 but this is not saying that works save; or that faith and works put together save the soul, for this would make faith itself a work. If it be true that faith without works is dead, do not forget that works without faith are also dead. "What doth it profit, my brethren," writes James, "though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him?"25 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath ten thousand a year, and have it not? Can his saying it do him any good? Depend upon it, Paul and James speak the same things; for it is one Spirit who speaks through them both. Paul speaks of a real possession of faith; James of a mere profession of faith. Paul speaks of a faith that justifies us before God; James of a faith that justifies us in the sight of men. Paul speaks of an inward principle; James of its active development. Paul speaks of a hidden life; James of its outward manifestation. Paul speaks of a "faith which worketh by love,"26 and so does James; and hence these two honored servants of the Lord are in perfect accord, only they view the same landscape from different points, and are fighting the same foe of legalism with their backs to each other. Both of them join all the holy men of God who "spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost,"27 in solemnly declaring that righteousness is the gift of grace, that is, of God's unmerited favor; for " by grace ye are saved,"28 "and if by grace, then it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work."29


Keeping in mind that righteousness, when applied to man, signifies the state or condition of being right according to the infallible judgment of God's law, a moment's reflection will show that we can never be saved in virtue of our own good character and conduct. The Holy Spirit tells us that "as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written. Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them."30 If, therefore, a man expects to be saved by means of his well-doing, it is obvious that he must not only profess to do, or try to do, right, but he must actually do, and continue to do, not only some things, but all things, which are written in the book of the law. If, however, he has failed to do right, and, on the other hand, has done wrong, it is no less obvious that he cannot be saved by his doing, whatever other ground of hope may suggest itself to his mind. "Master," said a certain lawyer to our Saviour, "what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? How readest thou? And he answering, said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live."31 Those, then, and only those, who can truthfully assert that they have always loved God with all the faculties of their being, and their fellow men as themselves, may claim to be righteous, and expect eternal life on the ground of their own righteousness. But what shall we say when we find it written in the Word of Truth, "There is none righteous, no not one,"32 "for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God"?33 Clearly, the only possible conclusion is that reached by the apostle when he argues, " Therefore, by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin."34

It will not remove the difficulty a hair's-breadth to repent and promise to abstain in the future from any violation of the law; for if such a promise could be kept for a day or an hour, could it atone for past transgressions? Suppose that a criminal, arrested after repeated offences running through a long course of years, and put upon his trial and convicted, and asked by the judge if he had anything to say why sentence should not be pronounced against him, could only reply that he was sorry he had committed the crimes, and would hereafter conduct himself as a good citizen. Could such a plea be accepted as vindicating the majesty of violated law or as satisfying the claims of insulted justice? But the sinner has been going on all his lifetime breaking the law of God with every breath, and at every beat of the pulse; and manifestly it is the silliest delusion to expect that he will be acquitted and pronounced righteous before the high tribunal of heaven simply because he has undertaken at length to perform the duties he was required to perform from the first. But, alas! his efforts to keep the law in its true intent will be as futile as his hope of acceptance on the ground of his own works. " Thy commandment," says the Psalmist, "is exceeding broad;"35 and it sweeps over the whole extent of our being, including the thoughts and emotions as well as the words and deeds. Our Lord, who knew the meaning of the law, declares that " whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart,"36 and the Spirit declares that "whosoever hateth his brother," though the hand may not be raised nor anger gleam from the eye, "is a murderer."37 "Wherefore, then, serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made."38 "Moreover, the law entered that the offence might abound."39 It was never designed to give life nor to be a rule of life to a sinner with the expectation that he would keep it, but its ministry is to penetrate the soul like the sunlight streaming into a dark room to reveal the dust and defilement that had remained concealed. Hence he who has been truly awakened, and who seeks to be conformed to the law, invariably finds that it keeps ahead of his most earnest strivings, discovering impurities and iniquities of which he had never dreamed before, and often wringing from him the cry of anguish, " O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"40 "If we," says the apostle John, speaking for himself and all his brethren—"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."41 "Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all;"42 but " in many things we offend all,"43 and therefore it is sheer madness to claim that man's righteousness can save him, because he has no righteousness, and never will have any, of his own. If, however, any are disposed to argue that, notwithstanding their imperfections, God will be merciful, and bestow eternal life for the sake of the good they have done, you observe that they shift the ground of their hope from their own doings, and really admit that their righteousness cannot save them.


The work of Christ shows conclusively that we need a better righteousness than we ourselves can render; "for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law;"44 and " if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain."45 Yes: he who relies for salvation upon his own works defiantly sets his opinion in opposition to the eternal counsel of Jehovah, and boldly declares that the awful scene on Calvary, when the tender heart of the immaculate and incarnate One was broken by reproach upon the cross, was altogether unnecessary. Every one must see, then, at a glance, the gross inconsistency of professing to believe the Bible, and, at the same time, denying the necessity of the atonement; for Christ and His cross form the key to unlock the meaning of the Scriptures, and constitute the all-pervading theme of its sacred pages. They exhibit in every possible form of expression the Divine person and mediatorial work of Christ Jesus, " who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also 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; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."46 Whoever, in proud or ignorant dependence upon his good character and conduct, refuses to confess that most worthy name which raises the anthems of heaven to their highest notes, will certainly find his boasted righteousness a foundation of sand when the Lord "ariseth to shake terribly the earth,"47

Dear reader! be persuaded, "before that great and notable day of the Lord come,"48 to accept the perfect and proffered righteousness of Christ, which alone can stand the inspection of Him whose eyes are as a flame of fire. I do not ask you to " give your heart to God," or to " enter into covenant with God that you will serve him," as the means of obtaining His favor, for this is wretched advice, although you often hear it urged. God is already favorable, and in His infinite love is holding out to your immediate acceptance a Divine righteousness,—yea, His own righteousness,—as the ground of your instant, complete, and eternal justification. Without this you may unite with any church, or with all the churches, on the face of the earth; you may be baptized in any mode, or in all the modes ever practiced; you may receive confirmation at the hands of the most distinguished ecclesiastical dignitary in the world; you may regularly partake of the Lord's Supper in the most stately cathedral and amid the most imposing ceremonies; you may bestow all your goods to feed the poor, and give your body to be burned; and after all remain the same condemned and ruined sinner you are at present. But now the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ is unto all, that is, it is offered to all, and it is actually upon all them that believe. The righteousness of God! What a wonderful truth! Blessed be His name, the worst need nothing better than this, but the best can do with nothing less. "While such a righteousness is so generously pressed upon dying men, sad indeed it is to think of the vast multitudes who, " being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God." I would not undervalue, in the slightest degree, the real worth of morality in its relation to human society, but do not, I beseech you, put it in the place of righteousness; for the former may shine in its brightest glory without receiving one ray from the latter to mingle with its radiance. "Covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet show I unto you a more excellent way."49



1) Matt. v. 20. 62

2) 1 Tim. i. 13.

3) Gen. iii. 7

4) Gen. ii. 17.

5) Gen. iii. 21.

6) Gen. iv. 3-7.

7) Heb. xi. 4.

8) Deut. vi. 25.

9) Exod. xix. 8.

10) Ps. lxxi. 16.

11) Ps. xxiv. 3, 5.

12) Ps. lxxxv. 10, 11.

13) Hos. xiii. 9.

14) Isa. liv. 17.

15) Jer. xxiii. 6.

16) Isa, lxiv. 6.

17) Prov. xxviii. 26.

18) Rom. iv. 3.

19) Rom. iv. 6.

20) Rom. iv. 5.

21) Rom. v. 17, 18.

22) Rom. ix. 30-32.

23) Tit. iii. 4-7.

24) James ii. 20.

25) James ii. 14.

26) Gal. v. 6.

27) 2 Pet. i. 21.

28) Eph. ii. 5.

29) Rom. xi. 6.

30) Gal. iii. 10.

31) Luke x. 25-28.

32) Rom. iii. 10.

33) Rom. iii. 23.

34) Rom. iii. 20.

35) Ps. cxix. 96.

36) Matt. v. 28.

37) 1 John iii. 15.

38) Gal. iii. 19.

39) Rom. v. 20.

40) Rom. vii. 24.

41) 1 John i. 8.

42) James ii. 10.

43) James iii. 2.

44) Gal. iii. 21.

45) Gal. ii. 21.

46) Phil, ii, 6-11.

47) Isa. ii. 19.

48) Acts ii. 20.

49) 1 Cor. xii. 31.