THE LAW OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.
FOUNDATION TEXT:-- "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." -- Rom. 9:30, 31.
WE have been considering the laws of many things in the spiritual life, but none are more important for every-day religion than the one we are to consider in this lesson, namely, the law of righteousness. On no subject is there more misunderstanding. Every one realises that righteousness is absolutely vital to the spiritual life, not only on Sundays but each day in the week as well; and every child of God "follows after" it with eager quest. But, like the Israelites of whom our text speaks, how many there are who do not attain to it; and whose souls cry out in bitter questioning, "Wherefore?"
Let the Scriptures answer their cry.
"Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling-stone; as it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumbling-stone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed" (Rom. 9:32, 33).
"Because they sought it not by faith." No answer could be clearer than this. Faith is the law of spiritual righteousness, and righteousness is to be attained in no other way. No amount of works, however religious, can bring about true holiness. Outward doings can never take the soul into the inner sanctuary of the righteousness of God. The reason of this is evident. God's righteousness is a righteousness of nature or being, and outward doings can never create inward life; they can only reveal it. God is not righteous because He does righteous deeds, but He does righteous deeds because He is righteous. This is the essential difference between the righteousness of faith and the righteousness of works. The last is a righteousness put on from the outside, the first springs up from within. The one is works, the other is fruit.
"For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:20).
"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity" (Matt. 23:23-28).
No sin in all the Bible receives such utter condemnation as this one of substituting an outward righteousness of doing for an inward righteousness of being. A man may "appear" ever so righteous outwardly, but if his inward springs of life are "full of extortion and excess," there is no real righteousness in anything he does. The law of spiritual righteousness is above all things this, that it is real. And to be real, it must be inward; not inward only of course, but inward first, before it reveals itself outwardly.
"But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people" (Jer. 31:33).
"For the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart" (1 Sam. 16:7).
Even on the earthly plane we recognise that the "outward appearance" is very often no indication of any real thing inside; and we value the kind deeds our friends do for us only in proportion as we believe them to be the manifestation of an inward reality. That which is on the outside only, has no charm, even to human eyes. Much more then can we understand that this must be the case with God.
"Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (Matt. 15:7-9).
It is all "in vain" for us to think that any righteousness which is only outside can be acceptable to God, or of any worth to ourselves. Nothing was more universally condemned by our Lord, and nothing was more despised by the Apostles. If ever any man had that wherein he might glory as to outward righteousness, Paul had. He had been zealous and faithful in all that his religion demanded of him, and could even say of himself that "touching the righteousness that is in the law" he had been blameless; and yet, in the face of the reality of true inward righteousness in Christ, he counted all this outward righteousness to be but dung, that he might "win Christ and be found in Him, not having his own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith." (See Phil. 3:4-9).
Paul had learned that only the "righteousness which is of God by faith" could satisfy the longings of his awakened spiritual nature. And every child of God since must learn the same lesson. Our souls cry out for something that is real. We go through all the faithful round of outward doings; we give up this, we consent to that; we perform every known duty; we are obedient to all requirements; and yet we are not satisfied. We feel, as our Lord Himself has said, that the righteousness that belongs to the kingdom of God must "exceed" this outward righteousness, just as the inward reality always exceeds the outward show; and we cannot be satisfied short of it.
"Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. 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" (Rom. 10:1-3).
Dear reader, I would appeal to your own experience, and ask whether the case of Israel is not also your own case? Are you not conscious of having a "zeal of God" after righteousness, that has never yet been realised? Do you not feel that your expectations at conversion, as to the righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, which you then understood were to be the characteristics of your new life, have failed to become your portion? Is there not some terrible deficiency in your experience, for which you do not know how to account? The passage quoted above explains all this. You have been trying to establish your own righteousness, and have not known how to submit yourselves to the righteousness of God.
"For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth" (Rom. 10:4).
Christ is the end of all our self efforts after righteousness; not "at the end," as I used to think, but the actual ending of them. For He is our righteousness. That is, the life of Christ in our souls is a righteous life, which produces all right outward actions by the power of its inward workings; and therefore, in the very nature of things, puts an end to any need for "going about to establish our own righteousness." Instead of our trying to take possession of righteousness, the life of Christ in the soul makes righteousness take possession of us. We are controlled from within, and not from without.
"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. But now 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: for there is no difference" (Rom. 3:20-22).
The law then by which this "righteousness of God" works is the law of faith. You have understood this law as regards the forgiveness of your sins, and learned long ago, perhaps, how you must lay aside all legal efforts to earn or purchase forgiveness for yourselves, and must take it by simple faith as a gift from the Lord Jesus Christ. But when it came to righteousness, this has seemed to you, it may be, a different matter, and you have honestly thought you ought to bring it about by your own self-efforts. You have failed to notice the significance of the "as" and "so" in the verse which says, "As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him." You received Him by simple faith alone, and you must walk in Him by simple faith alone also. This was the secret Luther discovered on that memorable day in Rome, as he was climbing on his knees up the stairs in the Vatican, hoping to make himself righteous thereby. When he was half-way up he was suddenly arrested by the voice of God sounding in his heart the words, "The just shall live by faith;" and he saw, as in a vision, that the righteousness of God, the only sort of righteousness with which his soul could be satisfied, was to come by faith and by faith alone; and he rose from his knees a new man.
"For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" (1 John 5:4, 5).
"I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; 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. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain" (Gal. 2:20, 21).
Not only were we made alive in the first place by Christ, but moment by moment we must live in Him. When temptations arise we must no longer try to conquer them ourselves; we must not meet them with our own resolves or our own efforts; we must meet them simply with the Lord. We must hide in Him as within the walls of a Gibraltar, and make Him our "strong refuge." In the language of an old writer, we must say to Him, "Lord, thou hast declared that sin shall not have dominion over thy people. I believe this word of thine cannot be broken; and therefore, helpless in myself, I rely upon thy faithfulness to save me from the dominion of the sins which now tempt me. Put forth thy power, O Lord Christ, and get thyself great glory in subduing my flesh, with its affections and lusts." Then, having thus committed our temptations to Him, we must believe that He has undertaken to deliver us, and we must leave ourselves in His care. We must stand by, and let Him fight. And we shall find, to our unutterable rejoicing, that He DOES deliver, according to His word. The enemy flees from His presence, and the soul is enabled to be "more than conqueror" through Him.
This is the law of God's righteousness, under the covenant of grace. The righteousness of the old covenant was not like this. It began at the opposite end. It put works first, and life last, as the result of works; while the new covenant puts life first, and works last, as the result of life. The one said, "This do, and thou shalt live;" the other says, "Live, and then thou shalt do." The old covenant was a law imposed from the outside. The new covenant is a law written within.
"For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts; and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people; and they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest ... In that He saith, A new covenant, He hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away" (Heb. 8:10-13).
If righteousness could have come under the covenant of works, then "no place would have been sought" for a new covenant. But it could not so come; not, however, because of any arbitrary enactment of God, but because of the very nature of things which makes it inevitable that works must always be the result of life, and never life the result of works. Faith, and faith only, is the divine law of righteousness.
"For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them. But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (Rom. 10:5-10).
"The righteousness which is of faith" speaketh to us here in unmistakable terms. "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness." "With the heart," that is with the inner man, the central "ego" of our being. If this inner man takes up an attitude of faith for righteousness, righteousness cannot fail to come. This is the law of a righteous life; and it is good plain common-sense as well. Out of the heart are the issues of life, and out of nothing else. And the heart, or, in other words, the inner man, works by faith and by faith alone. By faith therefore, we must reckon ourselves dead to sin, and by faith we must reckon ourselves alive unto righteousness. By faith we must put off the old man, and by faith we must put on the new man. We must turn our back on self and all self's activities; and, ceasing from our own works, we must suffer Christ to work in us "to will and to do of His good pleasure."
"But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption" (1 Cor. 1:30).
"Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace" (Rom. 6:11-14).
The inner working of the law of righteousness is revealed here in the two words "reckon" and "yield." These are the things we have to do, God does all the rest. This is the attitude of faith.
I can best illustrate my meaning by the experience of a little girl of my acquaintance. She was a child of about seven years, and was, as her mother believed, a little Christian, with a very simple but real faith in her Saviour. She was, however, sometimes quite naughty. One night as she was going to bed, she said to her mother, "Mother, what can be the reason that I am so naughty? I know I am one of Jesus' lambs, and I thought His lambs were always good; but though I try and try as hard as I can, I am not always good." Her mother, who knew something about the unalterable working of this law of righteousness, said, "The reason is, darling, that you are trying to be good in your own strength, and are not trusting the Lord to make you good."
"Of course I am," the child replied. "That is the only way there is to be good, to just try and try as hard as you can."
"Oh, no," said the mother, "that is not the way at all. You never can be good that way. You must just trust Jesus to make you good."
"I don't believe that at all," said the child indignantly. "I believe the way is to make up your minds to be good, and then to put all your will into it, and just try."
The mother tried to explain the law of righteousness, somewhat as it has been set forth in this lesson, and told the little girl that she herself had tried all ways of being good, and had never succeeded until she trusted the Lord to make and keep her good. But all was in vain. The little girl persisted that she knew she could be good, if she only tried hard enough; and that she was sure that was the way.
Finally, the mother thought of a plan, and said, "Very well, darling, if you will be good for a whole month by your own efforts, I will give you fifty dollars" (i.e., ten pounds). The child was delighted, and eagerly embraced her mother's offer. "I will begin to-morrow," she cried with eager anticipation, "and I know I shall be good every minute of the time, for I am just going to put my whole will into it, and make myself be good."
The next morning the little girl was awake bright and early, and called out eagerly from her little bed, "Well, Mother, I am going to begin being good to-day, and you had better write down what day of the month it is, so as to keep a safe account." The mother agreed. Then in a few minutes the child added, as if after a little thought about the difficulties that might beset her, "But mind, Mother, nobody must be provoking." This was promised, and the day began.
In about ten minutes there was not a naughtier little girl in that whole neighborhood; and all that day, and the next, and the next the naughtiness continued. The mother said nothing, thinking it best to wait for the Holy Spirit to teach the child Himself.
At the close of the third day, as the mother was tucking up her darling for the night, the little girl burst out with, "Well, Mother, I am cured at last." "Cured," repeated the mother in surprise, "cured of what?" "Why, cured of trying to make myself good," replied the child. "It is not a bit of use, for I did try just as hard as ever I could, and I could not be good. And besides," she added, "I found out, that even if I could be good outside, it would not be good inside, so where was the use?"
Silently thanking God for His divine teaching, the mother assured the child that, now she had found out her own helplessness, she might with confidence trust the Lord to make her good; and tried to tell her in simple language how to do this. The childish heart seemed to comprehend the "law of righteousness," and joyfully put itself into the hands of the Lord, that He might give the victory.
"Do you tell everybody this, mother?" she asked earnestly at last, "for I am sure there must be lots of people just like me, who think they can be good in their own strength; and they ought to know." Then, as her mother leaned over the little cot for the last farewell kiss, the child added her final childish prayer, "Dear Lord, I thank thee for curing me of that foolish notion; and if I am not all cured tonight, please let me be all cured by to-morrow morning. Amen!"
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