(6) The results of the revelation of the righteousness of God, as affecting
(a) the consciousness and hopes of believers;
(b) the position of mankind before God.
( a ) As to the consciousness of individual believers.
But God commendeth his own love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us . The emphatic "his own" is lost sight of in the Authorized Version. It is not in contrast to our love to God, but expressive of the thought that the love of God himself towards men was displayed in the death of Christ. This is important for our true conception of the light in which the mysterious doctrine of the atonement is regarded in Holy Scripture. It is not (as represented by some schools of theologians) that the Son, considered apart from the Father, offered himself to appease his wrath—as seems to be expressed in the lines, "Actus in crucem factus es Irato Deo victima"—but rather that the Divine love itself purposed from eternity and provided the atonement, all the Persons of the holy and undivided Trinity concurring to effect it (cf. Romans 3:24 ; Romans 8:32 ; Ephesians 2:4 ; 2 Thessalonians 2:16 : John 3:16 ; 1 John 4:10 , et al.). If it be asked how this Divine love, displayed in the atonement, and therefore previous to it, is consistent with what is elsewhere so continually said of the Divine wrath, we answer that the ideas are not irreconcilable. The wrath expresses God's necessary antagonism to sin, and the retribution due to it, inseparable from a true conception of the Divine righteousness; and as long as men arc under the dominion of sin they are of necessity involved in it: But this is not inconsistent with ever-abiding Divine love towards the persons of sinners, or with an eternal purpose to redeem them. It may be added here that the passage Before us intimates our Lord's essential Deity; for his sacrifice of himself is spoken of as the display of God's own love.
The love of God commended.
It is a most remarkable phrase, this description which is given in the eighth verse, of God commending his own love. We have, indeed, in other portions of Scripture, the Divine Being represented as a heavenly Merchantman, setting forth the blessings of the gospel as a merchantman might set forth his wares. "He, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price." And again in the Book of Revelation, "I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed; . and anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see." But here God is represented as commending, not merely the blessings of the gospel, but his own love, to human observation and admiration. Yes; but this is for no selfish end. God's object in commending his love to us is for our sakes. He sets it before us in all its matchless tenderness and grandeur, that by means of it he may melt our hearts. He sets it before us in all its attractive power, that he may draw our hearts to holiness and our souls to heaven. He sets it before us in order that we may yield ourselves to its influence, and that thus, by what Dr. Chalmers calls "the expulsive power of a new affection," sin and the love of it, with all its withering blight and fatal grasp, may be driven out of our natures.
I. THE LOVE OF GOD IS COMMENDED BY ITS OBJECTS . We have set before us in these verses a description of those who are the objects of the love of God, as shown in the death of Jesus Christ his Son. Was it the angels that were the objects of God's redeeming love? Was it for the angels that Jesus died? No. They did not need his death. Was it for the good men and women of the world that Jesus died? If it was only for the good, then the love of God would be very limited in its range, and the great mass of humanity would be still helpless and hopeless. But one perfectly good person it would be impossible to find. "All have sinned." Who, then, are the objects of the love of God? Just those very men and women of whom it is said that "there is none righteous, no, not one."
1. The apostle describes us as being in a state of helplessness. "When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly" (verse 6). Surely here is a commendation of God's love. Very often in this world the weak are left to shift for themselves. But if any of us were left to our own unaided efforts, what would become of us? Are we not all glad, no matter how strong we are, of the assistance of others? if any of us were left to our own unaided efforts to get to heaven, which of us could hope to get there? The gospel is a gospel for the weak—that is to say, for the very strongest of us, physically, morally, and spiritually. In regard to God and eternity, how weak we are in all these aspects! We cannot stay the hand of disease or death; we cannot in our own strength maintain a life of an unswerving moral standard; we cannot work out a salvation for ourselves. But listen to this message: "When we were yet without strength,… Christ died for us."
2. But God loves more than the weak. He loves the ungodly. "Christ died for the ungodly" (verse 6). The word here used expresses the indifference of the human heart to spiritual things. "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit." If God only loved those who turned to him of their own accord, who then could be saved? If any of us have an interest now in spiritual things, was it not because God, in his mercy, laid his hand upon us, and awakened our minds to serious thought about him and our own souls? If there are those who are godless, ungodly, any who have no interest in spiritual things, to whom God's service is a weariness, let us say to them, "God loves even you." "Christ died for the ungodly."
3. But God goes a step lower than even the ungodly and indifferent. He goes down into the depths of sin. "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (verse 8). And not merely sinners, but enemies. "When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son" (verse 10). Here is the greatest of all commendations of the Divine lore. It was a love, not for the deserving, but for the undeserving; not for the obedient, but for the disobedient; not for the just, but for the unjust; not for his friends, but for his enemies. If you have ever tried to love your enemies, those who have done you an injury, you know how hard it is. But God loved his enemies—those who had broken his Law and rejected his invitations—God loved them so much that he gave his own Son to die for their salvation, in order that he might bring those who were his enemies to dwell for ever with himself. What a description it is of the objects of God's love! "Without strength;" "ungodly;" "sinners;" "enemies." Surely this ought to be enough to commend the love of God to us. Surely, then, there is hope for the guiltiest. "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief."
"In peace let me resign my breath,
And thy salvation see;
My sins deserve eternal death,
But Jesus died for me."
II. THE LOVE OF GOD IS COMMENDED BY ITS OPERATION .
1. On God's side it involved sacrifice. God's love did not exhaust itself in profession. It showed itself in action. It showed itself in the greatest sacrifice which the world has ever seen. That was a genuine love. How it must have grieved the Father to think of his own holy, innocent Son, being buffeted and scourged and crucified by the hands of wicked men, in the frenzy of their passion and hatred! What a sacrifice to make for our sakes, when God gave up his own Son to the death for us all! Herein is the proof of the reality of God's love. Herein is its commendation to us.
"Love so amazing, so Divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all."
2. And then look at the operation of this love on our side. Look at the results it produces in human hearts. "Hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us" (verse 5). "And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement" (verse 11). What confidence it produces, what holy calm, what peace, what hope, what joy for time and for eternity, when we know that God loves us! Oh! there is no power like it to sustain the human heart. Temptations lose their power to drag us down, when that love is bound around us like a life-buoy. Hatred and malice cannot harm us, hidden in the secret of his presence. Sorrow and suffering can bring no despair, when the Father's face is bending over us with his everlasting smile, and his arms are underneath us with their everlasting strength. His love is like a path of golden sunlight across the dark valley. "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Thus God commends to us his love. He commends it to us by showing us our own condition—what we are without it. He shows us the character of the objects of his love—"without strength;" "ungodly;" "sinners;" "enemies." He shows us the operation of his love. He points us to the cross, and bids us measure there the height and depth of his marvellous love. He shows us the operation of his love in human hearts—what peace, what confidence, what hope, what joy unspeakable and full of glory, it produces. For all these reasons it is a love worth yielding to. For all these reasons it is a love worth having. Christians should commend the love of God. A consistent Christian life is the best testimony to the power of the love of God. By loving even our enemies, by showing a spirit of unselfishness and self-sacrifice, let us commend to those around us the love of God.
"When one that holds communion with the skies
Has filled his urn where those pure waters rise,
And once more mingles with us meaner things,
'Tis e'en as if an angel shook his wings;
Immortal fragrance fills the circuit wide
That tells us whence his treasures are supplied?
The great love.
The realization of the love of God in the Christian consciousness is the crowning Christian evidence; and it is the work of God himself by his Spirit. But an historical fact is used by the Spirit of God as the instrumentality of his work of love; and it is because we believe in the fact that we realize the love which gives us such a blessed life. Yes, "God commendeth his love toward us;" and the great fact of commendation is this, "Christ died for us."
I. THE LOVE . We may never forget that it was because God loved us we were saved. The originating impulse to salvation was in him. Wrath and love were mingled, but the love strove so to act that the wrath should be put away. The claims of righteousness on account of sins that were past were strong; but what if, by a supreme self-sacrifice, he himself should meet those claims? Even so it was; thus God's love worketh all in all.
II. THE SELF - SACRIFICE . Some object to the doctrine of a vicarious atonement, that to punish the innocent for the guilty is not just. But here we behold God himself stooping to death for man! And may not love make such a sacrifice? Nay, this is the only sacrifice which true love can make—to sacrifice itself. "God commendeth his own love toward us, in that Christ died for us." The son of a father, dearer than self: Abraham; William Tell. But such illustrations utterly fail; for God's Son is indissolubly One with him—the Communication of himself.
III. THE SACRIFICE FOR SINNERS . Such love the great prototype of all self-sacrificing human love. There may be the sacrifice of husband for wife, of mother for child. But this, in a sense, is self for self; God's was God for man. There may be more disinterested sacrifice: subject for monarch, friend for friend. Yes, there may be self-sacrifice even unto death "for a righteous man," "for the good man" —there may be: "peradventure" "scarcely." But God's love—for the weak, for the ungodly, for sinners! For such as were averse from himself, transgressing the laws of holiness, impotent to attempt or desire the good—for such he died! A love which not merely pitied the victims of weakness, but gave itself for those who were most repulsive in their love of sin, most unblushing in their hate of God: herein is love indeed! And such was his love to us, in Christ.
Our faith in him, then, must be a faith which shall never let go its hold, which shall trust unto the uttermost. Also, our love must be a reflex of his. Even for those who are most distasteful in their sin, a redeeming love must be felt and shown.—T.F.L.
The state of the justified.
We saw in last chapter how Abraham was justified by faith alone, and how his case really covers ours. The promise of blessing through a seed, which Abraham believed so implicitly, has been fulfilled in Christ. We accordingly behove in the faithful Promiser who raised up Jesus from the dead, and we regard his death and resurrection as being a deliverance to death for our offences, and a deliverance from death for our justification. Faith enables us to draw the assurance of our justification from the resurrection of our Saviour. But now we pass under the guidance of the apostle to the consideration of the delightful state into which the justified come. And here we notice—
I. THE ASSURANCE THAT WE ARE THE OBJECTS OF THE DIVINE LOVE . ( Romans 5:1-5 .) By nature and by reason of our sin we are the objects of God's righteous wrath; but when we are enabled to believe in a Saviour who died for us and rose again, we find ourselves passing out of the condemned condition into an assurance of God's love. And the apostle here gives us the stages in the blessed process.
1. We pass into a state of peace with God. We prefer the indicative ( ἔχομεν ) adopted in the Authorized Version to the subjunctive ( ἔχωμεν ) adopted by the Revised Version after Westcott and Hort. For the state of peace is not some uncertainty into which we may come, but it is a state which results from justification if it has really taken place. We cease from war, we are no longer enemies, we have entered into a state of peace. The believer, as he calmly meditates on the atoning work of Jesus Christ, sees that he has been led thereby out of the storm into the calm, out of war into peace. Enmity is over and peace is proclaimed.
2. We realize that Christ conducts us into a standing in grace. By his gracious mediation we pass into a new relation to God; we realize that we are justified, as believers, from all things from which we could not be justified by the Law of Moses. We can now stand before God, and realize our pardon and acceptance in the Beloved.
3. We are enabled to rejoice in hope of God's heavenly glory. For the justified condition into which we have come through Christ is intended to reach through the present life and issue in the glory of the life to come. It is no mere temporary frame of mind, but a permanent state, into which our Saviour has brought us.
4. We are enabled to profit by life's tribulations. So much is this the case that we are enabled to congratulate ourselves upon ( καυχώμεθα ) our tribulations; for through these we reach the power of patient endurance ( ὐπομονὴ ), and through the power of patient endurance we reach experience ( δοκιμὴ , which means the result of the probation, as well as the "probation" itself, and the former gives here, notwithstanding the Revisers, the better sense); £ and through experience we reach hope—the hope of heavenly glory, since as its earnest there is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost a consciousness that we are the objects of the Divine love. The hope can never be disappointed. We have a "present heaven" in our happy assurance of God's love. We have passed out of the gloom into the gladness, and beyond us and awaiting us there lies the glory. Thus our tribulations conduct us to assurances of Divine love such as we could not otherwise enjoy.
II. THE NATURAL HISTORY OF THE DIVINE LOVE . ( Romans 5:6-10 .) The apostle, to confirm believers in the assurance of God's love, proceeds to exhibit its history.
1. And he shows its sovereign character. That is to say, it was when we were without strength, when we were helpless and hopeless in our guilt, that God gave love's greatest proof in Christ dying for the ungodly. It was, therefore, no reason in us, but solely the exercise of God's sovereign love, which led to the death of Jesus for the ungodly.
2. The death of Jesus is the great demonstration of God's love. Men have occasionally sacrificed their lives for good men, never for a merely just one; but God in Christ sacrificed his life for those who are yet sinners. No mightier demonstration of Divine love can he imagined than this dying of God's Son for sinners. And it is well here to notice that as a "trinitarian transaction," as Shedd has happily put it, God in Christ's death exhibits "his own love" (Revised Version). Through the unity of Father and Son in the Divine essence, the death of Jesus is really the self-sacrifice of God. It is, therefore, the most marvellous of all exhibitions of love.
3. The resurrection-life of Jesus is the great guarantee of our salvation from Divine wrath. Jesus died to secure our justification. We are justified by his blood. In this God has reconciled us to himself. The resurrection of Jesus is accordingly the proof that God is satisfied with his own self-sacrifice in Jesus Christ, and so his wrath is turned away from us through the spectacle of a risen Saviour. "The highest form of love," says Shedd, "that, namely, of self-sacrifice, prompts the triune God to satisfy his own justice, in the room and place of the sinner who has incurred the penalty of justice. In the work of vicarious atonement, God himself is both the offended and the propitiating party. This is taught in 2 Corinthians 5:18 , 'God hath reconciled us to himself;' Colossians 1:20 , 'To reconcile all things to himself.' God, in the Person of Jesus Christ, is Judge, Priest, and Sacrifice, all in one Being. The common objections to the doctrine of the propitiation of the Divine anger rest upon the unitarian idea of the Deity. According to this view, which denies personal distinctions in the essence, God, if propitiated, must be propitiated by another being than God. Christ is merely a creature. The influence of the atonement upon God is, therefore, a foreign influence from the sphere of the finite. But, according to the trinitarian idea of the Supreme Being, it is God who propitiates God. Both the origin and the influence of the atonement are personal, and not foreign, to the Deity. The transaction is wholly in the Divine Essence. The satisfaction of justice, or the propitiation of anger (whichever terms be employed, and both are employed in Scripture) is required by God, and made by God." It is a risen Saviour, living and reigning, who saves us from fear of Divine wrath and assures us of acceptance.
III. JOY THROUGH RECEIVING THE RECONCILIATION . ( Colossians 1:11 .) Now, when we appreciate God's wondrous love in providing a reconciliation, then we receive it by faith, and find ourselves constrained to rejoice in God who could so provide for us. Moreover, it is clear from the term "received" ( ἐλάβομεν ) that the "reconciliation" ( καταλλαγὴ ) is not something paid by the sinner, but something divinely provided which has to be accepted. It is an additional obligation imposed, not a price paid. God is so regal as to "reconcile himself," and then ask us to receive the benefit thereof. We ought to rejoice in such a God. Verily his thoughts are not our thoughts, nor his ways our ways. The justified have every reason to be joyful in their King.—R.M.E.