The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘righteousness

A life of righteousness

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Charles Haddon Spurgeon 2I have seen a few bits and pieces around in the last few weeks about the “two kingdoms” and a Christian’s responsibility as citizens in one and participants in the other.  I have also been asked to preach early next year on a topic which bears some relation to this.  I was therefore struck by a couple of paragraphs in Charles Spurgeon’s excellent book A Good Start: A Book for Young Men and Women (from the chapter ‘The Business Man’s Good Service’, pp. 287-289 of my edition) which gives a little insight into that good man’s perspective on the Christian’s earthly responsibilities.  This, remember, is the man whose secretary estimated him to be at the head of some sixty-six separate institutions, many of them charitable endeavours.  Spurgeon’s heart and money and hand were where his mouth was, and here he urges Christians to pursue righteousness in all their dealings.  Spurgeon never lost sight of the centrality of gospel teaching, but neither did he limit the extent of gospel reaching, and its impact on a man’s life and priorities.

By the phrase “His righteousness” [in Matthew 6.33], I understand that power in the world which is always working, in some form or other, for that which is good, and true, and pure.  Everything in this world which is holy, and honest, and of good repute, may count upon the Christian as its friend, for it is a part of God’s righteousness.  Does drunkenness eat out the very life of our nation?  Do you want men of temperance to battle this evil?  The Christian cries, “Write down my name.”  When the slave has to be freed, the subjects of God’s kingdom were to the front in that deed of righteousness; and to-day, if oppression is to be put down, we dare not refuse our aid.  If the people are to be educated, and better housed, we hail the proposal with delight.  If the horrible sin of the period is to be denounced and punished, we may not shrink from the loathsome conflict.  Let each man in his own position labour after purity; and, as God shall help us, we may yet sweep the streets of their infamies, and deliver our youth from pollution.  Every Christian man should say of every struggle for better things, “I am in it, cost what it may.”  Hosts of your professors of religion forget to seek God’s righteousness, and seem to suppose that their principal business is to save their own souls – poor little souls that they are!  Their religion is barely sufficient to fill up the vacuum within their own ribs, where their hearts should be.  This selfishness is not the religion of Jesus.  The religion of Jesus is unselfish: it enlists a man as a crusader against everything that is unrighteous.  We are knights of the red cross, and our bloodless battles are against all things that degrade our fellow-men, whether they be causes social, political, or religious.  We fight for everything that is good, true, and just.

True religion is diffusive and extensive in its operations.  I see people drawing lines continually, and saying, “So far is religious, and so far is secular.”  What do you mean?  The notion is one which suits with the exploded notions of sacred places, priests, shrines, and relics.  I do not believe in it.  Everything is holy to a holy man.  To the pure all things are pure.  To a man who seeks first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, his house is a temple, his meals are sacraments, his garments are vestments, every day is a holy day, and he himself is a priest and a king unto God.  The sphere of Christianity is co-extensive with daily life.  I am not to say, “I serve God when I stand in the pulpit”; for that might imply that I wished to serve the devil when the sermon was over.  We are not only to be devout at church, and pious at prayer-meetings; but to be devout and godly everywhere.  Religion must not be like a fine piece of mediaeval armour, to be hung upon the wall, or only worn on state occasions.  No; it is a garment for the house, the shop, the bank.  Your ledgers and iron safes are to be made by grace “holiness unto the Lord.”  Godliness is for the parlour and the drawing-room, the counting-house and the exchange.  It can neither be put off nor on.  It is of the man and in the man if it be real.  Righteousness is a quality of the heart, and abides in the nature of the saved man as a component part of his new self.  He is not righteous who is not always righteous.

(If you would like to dig deeper into this rich little book, you can read the first chapter in six instalments: 123456)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 31 August 2009 at 16:34

“A sensible reformation of attitudes”

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That is what Tony Blair, erstwhile Prime Minister and now roaming head and chief cheerleader of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, is calling for with regard to homosexuality in a Times article today.  The piece reports on Mr Blair’s interview with Johann Hari of the gay magazine, Attitude, in which

the former Prime Minister, himself now a Roman Catholic, said that he wanted to urge religious figures everywhere to reinterpret their religious texts to see them as metaphorical, not literal, and suggested that in time this would make all religious groups accept gay people as equals.

Asked about the Pope’s stance, Mr Blair blamed generational differences and said: “We need an attitude of mind where rethinking and the concept of evolving attitudes becomes part of the discipline with which you approach your religious faith.”

Later on in the piece, we are offered the following profound insight:

He continued: “What people often forget about, for example, Jesus or, indeed, the Prophet Muhammad, is that their whole raison d’être was to change the way that people thought traditionally.”

Worryingly, Mr Blair also has confidence that things are ‘improving’ elsewhere:

He also claimed that the mood was changing in evangelical circles, which have been long been anti-gay – the source of the dispute that has taken the worldwide Anglican Communion to the brink of schism.

Referring to his contacts with evangelical groups in the US and elsewhere through the foundation, he said: “I think there is a generational shift that is happening. If you talk to the older generation, yes, you will still get a lot of pushback, and parts of the Bible quoted, and so on. But if you look at the younger generation of evangelicals, this is increasingly for them something that they wish to be out of – at least in terms of having their position confined to being anti-gay.”

So, Mr Blair’s alleged Christianity is based entirely on temporally shifting metaphor, rather than eternally solid truth.  This allows him to interpret Jesus – “or, indeed, the Prophet Muhammad,” because we great religious thinkers are capable of seeing, apparently, that their diametrically opposed notions are perfectly reconcilable – as merely a rebel and progressive, concerned only to change the way people think traditionally.  In keeping with his pointless and nebulous view of faith, the architect of faith, Jesus, is simply trying to keep us on the move, bring us change, which is good for its own sake, being merely whatever is not traditional.  “Yes, we can.”

We also see the all-too-familiar vacuous idea of an ‘evangelical’ trotted out, probably more to do with a style of worship, dress and hair than anything substantial (for example, rooted in the gospel).  Here is a generational shift: old people will still give you those old chestnuts, “parts of the Bible quoted, and so on.”  But the young people, the radicals, the emergents, they are being nicely liberalised, and there is hope for them.  They do not want to be defined by their stance on homosexuality, as if any genuine Christian defines himself or herself by such a stance.

The Bible is not “anti-gay” in the sense that it tells us to hate homosexuals.  It is “anti-gay” in the sense that it is anti-sin, exposing homosexuality – along with a multitude of other sins – as what it really is: an offence against the God that made us.  Sexual sins, including homosexuality, get unusually short shrift because they are a high-handed demonstration of worshipping and serving the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever (Rom 1.25).  The idea that true religion is defined simply by its stance on homosexuality is utterly vacuous.  Christians have always accepted “gay people as equals”:

What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.  As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God.  They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one.”  “Their throat is an open tomb; with their tongues they have practiced deceit”; “The poison of asps is under their lips”; “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.  Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3.9-20)

See: absolute equality.  Oops, there’s me, only in my thirties, and quoting parts of the Bible, and so on . . .

But the point is that the Bible levels every man before God: we are all, by nature and deed, guilty.  And it is to guilty sinners that God makes known his righteousness in Christ Jesus, his incarnate Son:

For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.  (Romans 3:22-26)

True religion is men and women saved from their sins by the overwhelming and glorious grace of God in his Son Jesus Christ, the embodiment of the good news, preached to sinners of all kinds, outwardly virtuous or evidently vicious, religious or irreligious or pagan, and each with a rotten heart.  It is the declaration of salvation, of a true and lasting change of heart, accomplished by the power of God in the hearts of men and women whose ingrained pattern of life was once to think and speak and act contrary to the Lord God of heaven.  The apostle Paul describes such sinners:

For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature.  Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.  (Romans 1.26-32).

Yes, homosexuality is in there (note, Mr Blair, in the New Testament, and not just in those tricky Levitical bits that you are so quick to dismiss).  In fairness, though, it is a fairly comprehensive catalogue, and not one that leaves any of us with a leg to stand on.

To such men and women the Scriptures of God offer an uncompromising warning and a glorious hope:

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.  (1 Corinthians 6.9-11)

That is how true Christians define themselves: as new creatures washed in the blood of Jesus, set apart to serve God in the pursuit of holiness, indwelt by the Spirit of God and so continuing to pursue likeness to Jesus Christ.

Quite apart from these flaws in his thinking, the principle on which Mr Blair builds his argument is also inherently unstable.  What happens if accepting and promoting homosexuality becomes the norm?  Would Tony Blair have us then overthrow the new tradition?  If Tony Blair and those who think like him establish the agenda for the world, is that the time for everyone to rise up and change the way things are for something new?  This would be a recipe for chaos, a rolling maul of pointless, directionless change.

Given such thinking, would it not be about time we rethought slavery?  Being against slavery has become quite a traditional idea in the West.  Is it time to ring the changes once again?  It seems that the right to choose to end the life of a child in the womb is substantially accepted by the majority of people today.  Is that traditional enough for Mr Blair to call for a change?

Of course, the very premise on which he is arguing is patently a nonsense, and it is actually not what Mr Blair wants at all.  He wants to fix a tradition, to establish a norm, in his own image, and in the image of those who think like him.  Like every sinful man, in his heart he wants to dethrone God and be God himself.

What a heap of confusion!  We end up with a faith which has no foundation, a Jesus who is no God, and a gospel defined only by what it is not.  What a miserable and empty vision for religion.  What on earth – seriously, what on earth – does such a perspective have to offer?

How much more credible, coherent, consistent, hopeful, real and glorious, is the gospel of the true and living God, eternal and unchangeable:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.  Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.  Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.  For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.  (2 Corinthians 5.17-21)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 8 April 2009 at 09:21

Remembering and rejoicing

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Just before Christmas last year my dear wife miscarried.  I can still remember sitting in the room for the scan with a big foolish grin on my face (my wife was ahead of me, and knew better what to look for, and had already reached her own conclusion) as the nurse looked at me and said, “I am afraid I have got some bad news for you.”

mystery-of-providence-flavelNo amount of professional poise or genuine sympathy from the hospital staff makes that news easy to bear.  I went home, and pulled down John Flavel’s The Mystery of Providence.  I don’t think I actually finished re-reading it, but I needed time to be reminded of those basic truths of God’s good and gracious government of all things, and to have them pressed upon my soul.

I know that Christians of different stripes take their comfort differently under these circumstances.  I found mine primarily in the character of my God, in his righteousness and in his mercy:

Far be it from you to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from you!  Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?  (Gen 18.25)

But the Lord said, “You have had pity on the plant for which you have not laboured, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night.  And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left – and much livestock?”  (Jon 4:10-11)

Last night, God was pleased to bring into this world William Latimer Walker, also preserving his mother through labour and delivery.  We were always conscious of the frailty of life.  I am more conscious of how grateful I must be for the health of my wife and myself, and for the continuing health and preservation of William’s “big bwuvver,” Caleb.  I am much more conscious of how thankful to God we must be that this baby has survived and seems so healthy.

I am also conscious that William is the son that would never have been born had God not been pleased to take the second child from us.  We do not know from what God spared that baby, or us, by taking him or her when he did.  But William is, in a distinctive way, the child the Lord intended for us.  We shall look forward with excitement and a little trepidation to learning what that might mean.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 7 November 2008 at 13:36

Counting up

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David Dickson lay dying on his bed, persecuted by the government of the day and under sentence of banishment.  A friend came to see him, who had known him for about fifty years.  As he sought to comfort the dying man, the friend asked how things were with his soul.  David Dickson replied: “I have taken all my good deeds and all my bad deeds, and thrown them together in a heap before the Lord, and fled from both, and laid hold of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in him I have sweet peace.”

David Dickson was a true Christian, and he knew how to count up.  How would you answer under the same circumstances?

Most of us like to think of ourselves as good people, especially when someone suggests that we are bad.  We are very quick to defend ourselves if someone exposes a flaw in our work or our character.  There is almost always a “Yes, but . . .” in which we pile up our good deeds against whatever counts against us.  We play this counting game in our families, at school, at work, and with friends.  We do it all the time.  We do it with God.

God’s law reveals our pride, unbelief and sin.  Do you use God’s name to curse?  Then you have broken God’s law.  Do you use the Lord’s day to worship God?  If not, you have broken God’s law.  God’s law exposes disobedience and dishonour to parents, anger, hatred, murder, lust, adultery, greed, envy, theft, lies, gossip, slander, and covetousness.  It points out sins in our hearts and in our lives.  And what do we do?

“Yes, but . . .”  We begin to pile up all the things that we think count in our favour.  We’re trying to tell God that he’s got nothing on us, that we’re actually good enough to please him.

How wrong we are!  God’s standard is pure and perfect.  He requires, with perfect fairness and justice, absolute righteousness from us.  Trying to make up for our sin with so-called good deeds is like trying to polish a dirty car with an oily rag: you can redistribute the mess, but nothing gets any cleaner.  In fact, God’s Word tells us that all our efforts at righteousness – the best we have to offer – are like filthy rags that cannot cover our sin.

Our good deeds simply are not good enough.  They may soothe the conscience somewhat, but they cannot satisfy a holy God.  However, God – in his great mercy – has himself provided a perfect righteousness in Christ Jesus.  He is willing to forgive both our sins and our poor attempts to cover them, and to put to our account the perfection of his Son, Jesus Christ, who came to this world to save sinners by dying in their place, suffering the punishment that we deserve, that we might obtain his righteousness.

This is the good news: that God has provided for sinners – through Christ Jesus – a perfect righteousness, offered to all who repent of their sins and trust in Christ for salvation.

David Dickson knew how to count up.  He took all the deeds he knew were bad, and all the deeds he thought were good, and he threw them all aside, and turned to Christ.  He died with peace and joy, trusting in Jesus Christ and his righteousness.  What about you?

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 17 October 2008 at 10:49

Christ our righteousness #5 A real reliance essential

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(Part 5 of 5. See parts 1 and 2 and 3 and 4.)

Finally, we must ask the question: How does a sinner obtain such incalculable blessings? “In him.” The blessings are obtained by being united to Christ. God is “the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom 3.26) and in so doing his justice and holiness are by no means compromised but rather exalted. Faith is the instrument of union with the Lord Jesus: real, lively, engaged faith, as opposed to something static or inactive. Faith is not a child stillborn: it cries! It is a gift of God by which the regenerate man reaches out with an empty hand to latch hold of Christ. Christ saves, and the instrument by which he saves is faith. Do we describe faith as active or as passive? Faith acts, but it acts by receiving. It is not mindless, it does not bypass man and his faculties, but is the engagement of the whole man with the whole Christ, by means of which union the God-righteousness of Christ is made man’s. Robert Traill speaks of justifying faith thus:

They all, both Christ’s enemies and his disciples, knew that faith in him was a believing that the man Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God, the Messiah, the Saviour of the world, so as to receive, and look for salvation in his name (Acts 4.12) . . . . That faith in Jesus Christ justifies (although, by the way, it is to be noted that it is never written in the Word that faith justifies actively,[1] but it is always expressed passively: that a man is justified by faith, and that God justifies men by and through faith; yet admitting the phrase) only as a mere instrument, receiving that imputed righteousness of Christ, for which we are justified. And this faith, in the office of justification, is neither condition, nor qualification, nor our gospel-righteousness, but is in its very act a renouncing of all such pretences.[2]

These blessings belong to a man in union with Christ, and nowhere else; that union is effected by saving faith, and nothing else. We shall be judged in accordance with our relationship with Jesus Christ the Righteous, and faith alone brings us into a saving connection with him.

In closing, I want to address each of you with two questions.

Firstly, what is your relationship with Jesus Christ and his righteousness?

Are you in Christ? Have you ever reckoned with the fact that God will reckon your sins to your own account if they are not reckoned to Christ? Have you realised that if your sins are put to your own account then you are under the just condemnation of a holy God, and exposed to the damnation and abandonment that your sins deserve? Will you not turn from your sins to Christ, in order that you might be saved? Or perhaps you are in agony of conscience, and have been for days, or weeks, or months, or even years, and you feel yourself to be on the outside, longing to be reconciled to God and to have peace with him? As an ambassador for Christ, I implore you: “Be reconciled to God!” Believe and be saved! Trust in Christ for your reconciliation with God! Come to this glorious Redeemer, receive this real righteousness, rest upon the promises of the merciful Almighty. How poorly we have painted his glory, but how glorious is his sufficiency for guilty sinners! Trust in Jesus Christ the righteous and these blessings are yours. The most perverse and filthy sinner who trusts in Jesus Christ receives in that moment pardon for his sins, and is accounted in the eyes of God as actually possessing the flawless righteousness of the perfect God-man, in whom he is well pleased. This is what it means to be “accepted in the Beloved” (Eph 1.6): this is God’s grace in Christ.

But are you indeed in Christ by faith? Then you, as John Owen says, have obtained acceptance before God, with a right and title unto a heavenly inheritance. What joys and blessings are unshakeably and unmistakeably yours! You are loved like Christ (Jn 17.23) on account of the righteousness of Christ imputed to you, received by faith. You are a justified man: having been justified, you have peace with God through your Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also you have access by faith into this grace in which you stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but you also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance, and perseverance, character, and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Rom 5.1-5). How many sweet hours we might spend considering what we have in Christ: privileges and blessings unshakeably, securely, and eternally ours! These joys and blessings do not rest upon your works, or lack of them. They can never be taken from you. No flaw shall ever be found in the righteousness which God considers as yours, and so there will never be any falling short to be made up in your relationship with God through Christ. He is yours, and you are his, and in him you stand eternally secure.

Secondly, what is your report of Jesus Christ and his righteousness?

What is your report to heretics and opposers? What do you have to say to those who set themselves against these truths? Christian, if you die, this will be your hope – shall you therefore be ashamed of it while you live? We live in an age when once more the very heart of the gospel is at stake, and we must take pains to identify and defend truth, and identify and contend with error. This is a time when there is a great necessity of standing for the truths upon which the destiny of your immortal soul is hanging. Can we not afford to suffer a little now for the sake of the Christ who suffered to obtain these blessings for us, especially when we recall that those sufferings are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Rom 8.18)? Martin Luther put it this way:

If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing him. Where the battle rages there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle front besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.[3]

This is no “little point”: this is the centre of things. As we have already seen from Mr Traill, all the great fundamentals of Christian truth centre in this of justification. The Trinity of Persons in the Godhead; the incarnation of the only Begotten of the Father; the satisfaction paid to the law and justice of God for the sins of the world by his obedience and sacrifice of himself in that flesh he assumed; and the divine authority of the Scriptures which reveal this: these are all straight lines of truth that centre in this doctrine of justification of a sinner by the imputation and application of that satisfaction.

If the heart of truth is shifted, it will bend and bias all the lines of truth which centre upon it; if the lines of truth are twisted and bent, they shall lead no one to salvation. We face a battle to defend truth, but William Gurnall reminds us that one of the qualities of truth that helps us to love it and hold to it is that it is victorious. He admits that “sometimes, I confess, the enemies to ‘truth’ get the militia of this lower world into their hands, and then truth seems to go to the ground,” but reminds us that “persecutors need not be at cost for marble to write the memorial of their victories in, dust will serve well enough, for they are not like to last so long”:

Who loves not to be on the winning side? Choose truth for thy side, and thou hast it. News may come that truth is sick, but never that it is dead. No, it is error that is short-lived. ‘A lying tongue is but for a moment;’ but truth’s age runs parallel with eternity. [4]

We might be tempted to wonder at Gurnall’s suggestion that error is short-lived, given that we are fighting old errors reborn, but when we realise that his context is eternity, then we are encouraged! Truth’s face is now covered in tears and blood, but we must stand with her and fight for her, in the sure anticipation of her eventual and eternal victory.

And what is your report to the ignorant and needy? What report do you have of Christ and his righteousness for your lost family members, neighbours, friends and colleagues? We are none of us apostles, but we all of us have some duty and warrant in this text to call to the ungodly: “Be reconciled to God!” These and these alone are the truths that can heal the broken-hearted – no-where but here is salvation to be found. Again, Traill asks of the man or woman whose conscience is awakened, who asks what must they do to be saved:

Why should not the right answer be given, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved’? Tell him what Christ is, what he has done and suffered to obtain eternal redemption for sinners, and that according to the will of God and his Father. Give him a plain downright narrative of the gospel salvation wrought out by the Son of God; tell him the history and mystery of the gospel plainly. It may be the Holy Ghost will work faith thereby, as he did in those firstfruits of the Gentiles in Acts 10.44. If he asks what warrant he has to believe on Jesus Christ, tell him that he has an utter indispensable necessity for it, for without believing on him he must perish eternally; that he has God’s gracious offer of Christ and all his redemption, with a promise that, upon accepting the offer by faith, Christ and salvation with him are his: that he has God’s express commandment (1Jn 3.23) to believe on Christ’s name, and that he should make conscience of obeying it, as much as any command in the moral law. Tell him of Christ’s ability and goodwill to save; that no man was every rejected by him who cast himself upon him; that desperate cases are the glorious triumphs of his art of saving.[5]

Do you do this, brethren? Are you speaking for, praying for, and looking for the glorious triumphs of the art of Christ’s saving through his finished work? Can you tell the history and mystery of the gospel plainly and clearly? Are you ready to give to wretched and needy sinners a plain downright narrative concerning Christ and him crucified, the forgiveness of sins, and a God-righteousness obtainable through faith in Jesus? Are you calling sinners to trust in this Jesus and thereby to be delivered from sin, to obtain acceptance with our holy God, and to receive a right and title to a heavenly inheritance?

On these things hang the eternal destinies of our own souls, and the souls of every man and woman, boy and girl, in this world. Let us, then, love, hold to, and proclaim the Christ of the truth, and love, hold to, and proclaim the truth as it is in Jesus Christ.

[1] Traill’s point is not that faith does not act, but rather that God does not view us as righteous because of our faith (which would make faith, in essence, a work), but because of Christ’s righteousness, which is appropriated by the God-given instrument of faith.

[2] Traill, Justification Vindicated, 29 and 46.

[3] Martin Luther, Briefwechsel [Correspondence], Works (Weimar Edition), 3:81.

[4] William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1964), 316.

[5] Traill, Justification Vindicated, 27-28.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 30 April 2008 at 10:40

Christ our righteousness #4 A real righteousness imputed

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(Part 4 of 5. See parts 1 and 2 and 3.)

There is a further element, a positive change for the man or woman, boy or girl, in Christ. We are not merely declared or constituted innocent – free from guilt – on account of our sins being counted to and fully punished in Christ. God does more than a human judge might do at the bar of a human court. The human judge can look at the criminal before him and – so long as the law has somehow been satisfied, perhaps through lack of evidence to convict – he can declare the guilty man’s innocence. However, he cannot declare him righteous, and put obedience to his account. The criminal might leave the courtroom declared innocent, and free from guilt in the eyes of the law, but still lacking any particular positive merit in the eyes of the law.

In God’s dealings with us in Christ, the Lord Jesus is made our sin-bearing substitute with the intention of a corresponding transfer the other way. The transfer of our sin to Christ is with a definite purpose: “in order that we might become the righteousness of God in him” – the transfer of righteousness from Christ to man. Again, the language is both profound and deliberate. It is not the language of a process that occurs over time, but the language of one mighty and decisive act of the reconciling God, without any possible or necessary contribution from man. The language is not even that of accounting, or imputation. Murray elucidates:

Just as Christ became so identified with our sins that, though knowing no sin, he was made sin, so we being in ourselves utterly ungodly and therefore knowing no righteousness are so identified with Christ’s righteousness that we are made the righteousness of God. In reality the concept is richer than that of imputation; it is not simply reckoned as ours, but it is reckoned to us and we are identified with it.[1]

This is more than appearance, than a mere gilding of righteousness: this is divinely constituted reality. I could freight a load of gold-leaf into the pulpit and cover all the wood so that it appeared to be gold to the outward observer, but it would not change the nature of the wood. However, if I possessed the enviable alchemic power actually to alter the nature of the wood so that it became, by some supernatural means, gold, then no matter how deeply you bored or drilled, it would have ceased to be constituted wood, and would have become gold. It is altogether gold, and cannot be considered otherwise. And so it is with us – and what gold! We “become the righteousness of God”! As Christ’s sin was not of him, so our righteousness is not of us – it is of God, it is divine in its quality. Adam before the fall was a man without any sin upon his record, and righteous with the righteousness of a man who had not sinned. The sinner saved by the grace of God in Christ is a man stripped of the sin that was upon his record – his trespasses are not imputed to him, because Christ has been made sin for him – and who has been constituted not humanly but divinely righteous in God’s sight. The righteousness is nothing less than “God’s own” – it is divine in quality[2] – and God’s own righteousness satisfies God’s righteous demands as completely, absolutely and eternally as could be calculated or imagined. Under the microscope of divine scrutiny, God has himself assured that the redeemed sinner lacks nothing and possesses everything that is required, and is constituted the fit object of the holy God’s delight.

[1] John Murray, ‘Justification’ in Works (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1977), 2:214.

[2] Professor Murray carefully points out that this God-righteousness “is not, of course, the divine attribute of justice or righteousness, but, nevertheless, it is a righteousness with divine attributes or qualities, and therefore a righteousness which is of divine property.” Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, 127.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 29 April 2008 at 09:27

Christ our righteousness #3 A real Redeemer supplied

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(Part 3 of 5. See parts 1 and 2.)

How can God remain holy and yet declare a sinner righteous in his sight? How can he be just and yet justify a sinner (Rom 3.26)? If God is to be just, sin must be punished – it cannot be overlooked, excused, or forgotten: it must be dealt with in righteousness. So, if God does not impute our trespasses to us (v19) then how does he deal with sins in accordance with his holiness?

The non-imputation of our sins rests upon the fact that Christ was made our substitute: he paid the price of our ransom from the guilt and power of sin, and its necessary and appropriate penalty.

He was qualified in himself for such a substitution, for he ‘knew no sin’. Of all men who ever lived, only Jesus the Christ was entirely without sin. Peter quotes Isaiah to tell us that he “committed no sin, nor was deceit found in his mouth” (1Pt 2.22), calling our attention to the fact that his blood was “precious . . . as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1Pt 1.19). The writer to the Hebrews builds his case for the absolute supremacy of Christ in part upon his sinlessness, informing us that he was “without sin” (Heb 4.15), “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners” (Heb 7.26). Given the opportunity, even Christ’s enemies could bring no charge against him to convict him of sin (Jn 8.46); Pilate himself, that vacillating judge, confessed that “I find no fault in him” (Jn 19.4). The Lord Jesus recognised sin for what it was, and was grieved, appalled and angered by it, but he had no personal acquaintance with it: he was a stranger to it in his personal experience. He never indulged in sin, never committed one transgression, was guilty of no iniquity. He had no trespasses of his own to be imputed to his own account.

This one, whose sinlessness Chrysostom exposits and throws into sharp relief by speaking of him as ‘Righteousness-itself,’ was alone capable of standing for others precisely because he was under no obligations of his own. Perhaps a very prosaic illustration will help. Imagine that you have done your weekly shop, and – as tends to be the case – you have as many heavy bags as you have fingers, and you pull up outside your home and open the boot of the car to carry your bags inside. Your neighbour looks over and sees you struggling with the burden. If he had likewise just pulled up with his own shopping, and was laden down with it, he would be in no position to assist you with yours. If he was carrying any of his own, he would not be able to bear all of yours. But, fortunately, he has no burden of his own, and so is able to come and relieve you of the entirety of the weight that you would otherwise have to bear. So with Christ: having nothing of his own to bear, he is able to relieve us of the entirety of the sins that would otherwise be put to our account. He alone, being sinless, was able to bear the sin of others.

And that is precisely what he did: being qualified, he accomplished in himself this substitution. “God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us.” Peter tells us that this sinless one “himself bore our sins in his own body on the tree” (1Pt 2.24). Isaiah uses similar words: “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all . . . he bore the sin of many” (Is 53.6, 12). The thought almost seems to beggar the meaning of language: he who was never personally defiled by his own sin was accounted the embodiment of sin by God, and punished accordingly. The sins not imputed to us were counted his, and he exhausted the curse those sins deserved. This very one was delivered up – in the place of others – to the damnation and abandonment which sin merits. This is substitutionary atonement, and this is not the doctrine of ‘cosmic child abuse,’ as some would have it! This is the Triune God satisfying divine justice, the Son voluntarily bearing sin in the place of his people and the Father necessarily punishing it in the person of his Son. “For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: he condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom 8.3).

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 26 April 2008 at 07:32

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