II. SALVATION. THE GOSPEL MESSAGE
We now come to that part of the epistle which
contains its supreme message. Having shown the condemnation under which
the whole world is lying, the apostle sets forth God's way of salvation
for lost men. His statement falls into three parts, the first dealing
with justification; the second with sanctification; and the third with
glorification; thus covering the whole of man's need, past, present, and
future; and having regard to his standing before God, his conformity to
the will of God, and his ultimate perfecting in fellowship with God.
The fundamental subject is that of justification, the
section dealing with which may be divided into three parts. In the first
of these the provision is announced; in the second the principle is
illustrated; and in the third the privileges are described.
a. THE PROVISION ANNOUNCED
As everything which is to follow in the course of the
letter is dependent upon the fundamental fact of justification we look
for clearness and conciseness of statement, and I we are not
disappointed. In broad and general terms the apostle first declared the
scheme of salvation; and then particularly developed it.
1. The Scheme declared
The "But" with which the paragraph opens, necessarily
recalls the argument of the world. The last finding of that argument was
that "every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may be brought under
the judgment of God." Thus the world is seen silent, having nothing to
say; without righteousness, without excuse; having no ground on which to
plead for mercy, and no method to suggest for its own salvation. It is
the silence of helplessness and hopelessness.
To this silent and condemned race the evangel comes.
"But now" begins the apostle. This "Now'' is God's great word,
indicating a result following the accomplishment of a work, and
suggesting a present and immediate application.
Now, to the silent world there is announced the fact
that "a righteousness of God hath been manifested." This declaration
links the commencement of the new section with the fundamental
affirmation which announced that in the Gospel "is revealed a
righteousness of God." This manifested righteousness, whatever it may be
in itself, and whencesoever it may come, is at the disposal of the
silent and condemned race. In this preliminary statement the apostle
tabulated great facts concerning the righteousness with which he dealt
more fully subsequently. First it is a righteousness witnessed to, by
the "law and the prophets." Secondly, it is a righteousness appropriated
by the faith of any, for "there is no distinction." Finally it is a
righteousness resulting from "faith in Jesus Christ."
2. The Scheme developed
In this section the apostle dealt more explicitly
with the second of the facts already referred to, as tabulated in the
introductory declaration; taking this first because it is the central
truth of the whole movement, namely, that this righteousness is at the
disposal of those who believe.
This fuller detail he again introduced with a general
statement. He repeated his charge against humanity, but in this case in
such a way as to bring guilt home to individuals. There is a perpetual
tendency in the heart of man to consent to the general statement that
men are sinners, while there is a constant reluctance to confess
personal guilt. In this summarized charge, therefore, the apostle passed
from the thought of the sin of the race to the actual sin of the
individual, as he declared that "All have sinned," rather than that, All
are sinners. Not that the second statement is untrue, but that every
individual has been guilty of disobedience to light, either with or
without law, and that the personal aspect of sin issues in failure to
realize the glory of God, and constitutes the ruin of the person.
Having thus repeated his charge in this more
particular form, he declared the great provision of grace, by first
naming the original source of justification in the words, "by His
grace"; then declaring the medium through which that grace has operated
in order to justification, in the phrase, "the redemption," a phrase
fraught with infinite meaning, to be more fully unfolded as the argument
proceeded; and finally naming the Person, "Christ Jesus," Who has
accomplished that work of redemption, which issues in the justification
of the sinner.
How closely these verses stand together revealing
need and provision, ruin and redemption! Over against the sin of all is
placed the grace of One; and at the disposal of those failing of the
glory, is placed the infinite redemption of grace, which, as will be
shown, issues at last in fullness of glory.
The apostle next proceeded to more particular dealing
with this great subject; showing its method and manifestation both on
the part of God and on the part of man. The method of God is that of
setting forth, or presenting, Christ Jesus to men, to be a Propitiation.
He is God's provision. Man is guilty, and consequently silent, having no
method by which he can cancel his sin, or live the life of
righteousness. God provides in the Person of His Son all that man needs.
The first work of the Son in fulfillment of the Father's purpose is that
of vindicating righteousness by making it clear that God sacrificed
nothing of His requirement when in His forbearance He passed over "sins
done aforetime." The work of the Son is a revelation of the method by
which it was possible for God thus to act. This work was accomplished in
the mystery of all that is symbolized by "His blood.'' Thus the work of
the Cross is set at the heart of the evangel of salvation, and is seen
to be a fulfillment of God's purpose by God's Son, for the vindication
of God's righteousness in the activity of God's forbearance.
This, moreover, was for the demonstration of the
righteousness of God, not only with regard to the "sins done aforetime,"
but also "at this present season." The result of the work of Christ is
declared in a statement which is as startling as it is gracious, "that
He might Himself be just," or righteous; "and the Justifier," or the One
Who accounts as righteous; "him that hath faith in Jesus." This is the
glorious evangel by the proclamation of which men come to know that a
righteousness of God is now at the disposal of unrighteous man on
condition of his faith in Jesus. The evangel is founded upon eternal
justice, because the righteousness of God has been vindicated in the
death of Jesus, and placed at the disposal of man by that death because
of the perfection of the life which preceded the death. Here all human
reason is baffled, and yet here faith finds foothold upon reason, which
nothing can shake.
In the presence of this evangel man is still silent,
and boasting is entirely excluded, for the justification of the sinner
does not result from the operation of a law of works: it is entirely the
act of God in response to faith.
Therefore justification is available to Jews and
Gentiles alike, because it is the act of God, Who is the God of all; in
answer not to works, but to faith. Here again the apostle was careful to
guard himself from misinterpretation. Faith establishes rather than
makes void the law. The law cannot produce justification, but
justification will issue in the fulfillment of the law.