The Higher Life through the Old Fashioned Gospel.
THESE are perhaps the most incredible statements uttered, not just in the Bible, but that anyone has ever claimed in history. For those who have for many years become callously familiar to the gospel message this statement will hardly be understood; and thus will not move to similar action. But to every humble reader who personally penetrates deeply into the reality of these statements there cannot but be an overwhelming glory that wells up within their breast and causes them to wonder how they could have ever doubted God's love in any matter. With deeper and deeper reflections and "from faith to faith" (Rom. 1:16) this statement, which represents the essential elements of "the power of God" in the gospel, then causes every honest reader to wonder at how they could have ever withheld anything from God.
This morning these things were unfolding to me. Towards the morning I dreamt of a classroom of bible students before a teacher. The question somehow (and I must say by God's grace) was intuitively urged upon me to ask a simple but profound question to this affect: "If we are to be more than conquerors because of God's love (Rom. 8:37) then what does it mean to be merely a conqueror?" No answer was given; and thus my soul awoke with earnest desire to search out the depths of that mystery in Roman's eight. Now whether the question is right in itself, or whether some translations correctly represent the original idea in stating "more than conquerors" does not matter so much to me presently; my concern, as I searched out the context, became consumed with God's method of giving all things to us needful for being absolute conquerors over sin so that we then know within our deepest consciousness that "I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus or Lord." (Rom. 8:38-9) Please sympathize with me as I try and express what He showed was the answer. I do not believe anything beyond what was written in this book, but it took a personal encounter to cause me to behold the truths as they stand and embrace them by unreserved faith--because of the marvelous motive within the above text.
Our text begins with the question "What then shall we say to these things?" In order for us to begin to appreciate and experience these subsequent verses in the latter half of Romans chapter 8, and specifically the next verse as above quoted, we need to know what "these things" were in their full significance. And as is so important to understanding different chapters of this systematic book we wish to not miss the rightful progression of thought that lead up to this grand statement of naturally unbelievable victory. We therefore wish to:
I. State the Doctrine in Expanded Form.
II. Show the Reasons Why God Could and Had to do this.
III. Show how the Motive clearly seen and Received produces the Same Results.
I. The Doctrine of God's Love and Salvation.
The apostle, as we shall see under our second heading in more detail, had spent much time unfolding the truths pertaining to the fact that all people, both Jews and Gentiles, had sinned against God and man, and that they could only be forgiven through God's method of salvation--the Gospel. He further attempted to "show God's righteousness" in the whole matter, and continually stressed both the impossibility of justification (forgiveness) apart from this plan, as well as absolute salvation from sin through this same gospel. With well calculated repetition he unfolded the heart of God, so that by the time the reader arrives at this text in the eighth chapter they can fully appreciate that God's love has no limitations. Not that God can forgive outside of his necessary method of atonement, and thus could pardon sin without real repentance and faith in Him and His gospel. God would not love His creatures if He did this. But the reader, when he comes to this point in the letter to the Romans, can readily see that God's love has been so revealed and so deep as to enforce the idea that because He has not withheld His only Son--not withheld His very life!--that He surely will not withhold anything else necessary for our salvation. This "not sparing His own Son" was for us, so that we could personally be forgiven. And Paul argues here that if God went to the incredible point of condescending to become as one of us and suffering to the greatest extent for our salvation from the penalty and power of sin, that anything else--and anything else would be much easier for God to do--would be freely given to us through Christ. Notice also he says "also with Him." Just as it was not the Father only that loved us in giving us His Son, but the Son of God Himself laid down His life for us so that we could be saved from sin and death. Thus we see here that the Father "also with Him", because they did not withhold their great love in this most incredible self-denial will both "freely give us all things" necessary "for life and godliness."
In order for us to more deeply appreciate these vital realities let us consider,
II. The Reasons Why God Could and Had to do this: The Atonement.
The reasons why God was willing to "freely give us all things" was not because of anything man had done to convince Him that He should. Many people act as if God is not absolutely good and perfect and needed someone else to make Him willing to even love mankind. Many people also suppose that they can have salvation by doing what they think is best, or by agreeing with part of the gospel. But if we consider the fact that God went to the trouble to so humble Himself as to suffer the frailties of man--then all the unjust cruelties from man--and finally the willingness to be counted as a curse, and be sentenced to a horrific execution--if we consider these facts in all their vast details we will easily see if there was some other way He could have forgiven mankind, then God would have wasted such precious energies and mocked His almighty dignity in giving up His Son. Let it never be forgotten that God does everything for a perfectly good purpose and is not arbitrary and does not waste.
In the beginning man's relationship to God was different. Man lived by obedient faith and God accepted him. All man was required to do was to continue to obey the law of love given by God and he was saved. But each one of us cannot do this because we have sinned. We have each "set our minds on the things of the flesh" (Rom. 8:5) and corrupted the "body" to fulfill the momentary desires that the same flesh gives. We have set up good to self as the highest priority. We have "suppressed the truth" about God and His kingdom and therefore "exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man." (Rom. 1:18-25) This criminal lust that we each made our ruling principle was not limited to the desires of the body only, but we all adopted "the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience" which was a continual "indulging of the desires of the flesh and of the mind". (Eph. 2:2-3) In light of this challenge to God's government and insult of His love, man could not merely return to obedience in order to be accepted with God and have a hope of eternal life with Him. This government of sin, this spirit of lust was, and still "is hostile to God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God". "The mind set on the flesh is death" and only breeds death by its example and influence. It is the height of irrationality as it is a rejection of the Reason as given by God, and all the truths of God given as seen by every fair-minded person. It is essential lying, essential theft, essential treason, essential ingratitude, essential immorality, essential murder (as it withholds the life-giving truth from others and encourages others to follow its destructive ways)--we have all become guilty of violating the entire law. This sin we all made our rule to live by, and it was not possible to be born again or reconciled to God merely by ceasing from such lust and beginning to "do the works of the law."
It was not as though many millions have not tried to return to God by stopping their lusts and trying to obey His commandments. We all know that many millions of devout people are doing just this; but they are missing some very important elements. For one, they have not been convinced to impartially seek out God's only way to return to Him. Many have what they are after and content themselves by their obedience to their few self-made laws. Others groan in their mournful religion as it pains them to obey. Still others laugh at the whole idea of obedience to any law and suppose God still allows them the freedom to indulge in the flesh at their own direction. All these people are on the broad road of deception because they have not gone through the Gate which is Jesus Christ, nor have they traveled the Way to the Gate which is understanding and believing the Person and work of Christ in the Atonement.
But why was it necessary for the Son of God to suffer and die so that we could return to God and be forgiven? We have already seen that because God did it, then it was something He could not omit. And by faith we trust God's ways and need not know beyond what He tells us. Yet He tells us through the apostle in the same letter that it was so we could be "justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness . . . for the demonstration of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." (Rom. 3:22-26) We are told that God sent His Son to suffer and die for us to be forgiven in order that He would be seen as just in such forgiveness.
In order to see the righteous quality of His "public demonstration" we must look at the other public demonstration that it was substituting. In other words, what was this act of mercy in the atonement replacing? In the first chapter of Romans we read about "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold the truth in unrighteousness." We further read that we all "know the ordinance of God, that those who do such things are worthy of death." (1:18-32) Again, in chapter 2 we read: "those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation" awaits them. Repeatedly Paul turns over these ideas, and then simplifies the comparison we are looking for in chapter 6 verse 23: "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." As we look into the nature of this death throughout this book and the whole bible we see that all such reprobates will be publicly cast into an eternal lake of fiery punishment, whose smoke will forever rise up as a testimony of the wages of sin in God's government. All of us deserve to go there--this is our rightful wage! When some of the angels first sinned they were immediately sentenced to this same punishment without a second chance. That Judgment day will be a public demonstration of God's righteousness as He has sworn. But how will it demonstrate His righteousness?
When the angels and man sinned, each person independently trampled upon three essential values: 1. Sin is a setting aside of God's law which was given for the well-being of each person; 2. Sin selfishly sets aside God's kingdom by setting up an influence that destroys each member; 3. Sin sets aside God's honor and character in not believing what God says and that His word is worthy to be followed. And as we consider the full significance of each one of these truths combined we rightly will agree with God in judging sin as He does in light of these precious values. We will see that such a public judgment will properly "declare God's righteousness" and fully vindicate or give back the honor due to His law, his kingdom, and his name.
When we consider these three values as reestablished or vindicated by such a public demonstration of God's righteous judgment, then we will understand the comparison which can be made with the other public demonstration of God's righteousness--the Atonement. We rightly agree that what God does, He is compelled to do. And "God has set apart a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness." This He was compelled to do. Each of these three values could not be neglected by God without unrighteousness on His part. The big question throughout the ages was therefore, "Could God forgive sins?" The angels did not get a second chance. And if humans were going to get a chance at repentance then something needed to be done to "declare God's righteousness" in forgiving sin. If it were possible then it would have to accomplice the same purposes that the sentencing of sinners would have done. It would have to vindicate the three essential values above named. (See Caleb Burge's The Scriptural Doctrine of the Atonement. 1822 for these concepts fully illustrated)
The apostle claims that Christ did accomplish such a vindication in His suffering and death. But how could one man's temporary suffering and death replace the suffering and death of millions who have repented and believed in Him in this plan? I will say first that it showed everyone under heaven how serious God views sin. If it cost Him so much to find a way to forgive others, then it showed that God would punish sin if it was not repented of, and the gospel embraced. Thus it had the right tendency to reveal God's hatred for sin and love for His character, law and kingdom. It was also just as effective in preventing sin in that it was the Lawgiver Himself that suffered in exchange for the guilty. No one could ever doubt the love for the persons under the law, in the giving of the law and the punishment of transgressors, when the Lawgiver Himself is willing to suffer the penalty in order to win them back to Himself! Finally, and as we shall see in our final heading, this example of love influences, in the deepest way, others to not only become and remain obedient, but makes them eager to suffer and die that others might live and do the same...
Words could be multiplied and each reflection would reveal the wonderful glory of the atonement in declaring God's righteousness in forgiving sin. But let us return back to our question, "how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?" When these truths have been duly considered and received into the heart and life, then we can know "the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 'Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered.'" And if God has forgiven us our sins then we are in a perfect place for Him to not withhold any good thing necessary for our obedience and love to Him.
This would also answer the question in our text, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" If God was so willing to suffer and die in exchange for our death, and if He took upon Himself our sins so that we could become His dear children--if He went to such extents to do this--then who in all heaven and earth could be against us! And if God has now given the greatest and most expensive gift to us already, then who could suppose that He would withhold anything less? Indeed, every other possible gift imaginable is infinitely less than this Gift of all gifts. And if Almighty God, the greatest being in all heaven and earth, is now for us, then who is it that dares to be against us?
III. The Motive clearly Seen and Received Produces the Same Results.
This public demonstration of God's righteousness in Jesus Christ--His suffering, death, and resurrection--is truly the greatest thing that has ever happened and we think ever could happen under heaven. People who have not made it their concern certainly have not known its true significance. And those who have not made it their highest and most worthy reflection have not personally entered into its benefits. But those who have truly seen their own story in the previous chapters of Romans--who have agreed with God about all their sin and righteous punishment, and who have been called as Abraham to believe God--to such, the words of our text have deep significance. These words only have significance as we travel yonder to Calvary and there behold the gory scene. But we must not stop there. We must travel to the temple to behold the innocent lamb that was slain for us. Does your heart faint at the blood? It was spilt so that yours would not have to be! Now did you think that I was referring to the ancient temple in Jerusalem? Look higher, for I was talking about the very temple in heaven. All those earthly sacrifices were only to prepare us to appreciate the one and only sacrifice that Christ was to offer. Yes look upward to heaven and behold that perfect High Priest who need not yearly offer up sacrifices for Himself and others. Can you see Him both offering the sacrifice as High Priest and as Lamb willingly laying down on that heavenly alter? And do you see Him turning to you and saying "This is for you!" Do you remember that this is your Creator and Lawgiver? Can you see yourself on that alter as Isaac, ready to die? "Behold the Lamb of God" is ready to take your place as did the ram. If He has done this for you, then you will travel on to behold this same Lamb rise again that you may live. If you have been to these scenes and have made Him your true substitute, then you will have often told this story of this love of God that has lead you to repentance--this love that moves you to obey God as you never could before--this love that makes it easy to lay down your life for the One who did it first for you. "If God is for you--if He did this much for you--then who could be against you? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?"
Everyone walking down this Way to heaven and entering in through the Gate of God's only atoning Sacrifice will freely admit that God will freely give us all things for life and godliness through the same faith. Yet it often happens that we get distracted from this wonderful scene and forget the glories beheld and received. For some time I did the same as the Galatians--beginning in the Spirit and seeking perfection in the flesh. It was not so much a constant neglect as a occasional distraction. The scenes of Calvary would fade out as other distractions would win a higher favor. Then I would remember and return to seek the cleansing through His blood. Over the years I witnessed the power of God through the love of God as experienced in my life. But even though I knew He said He could save me from all sin and present me faultless before Him, etc., I still did not know the Way He could keep me constant. Perhaps habits of obedience? Maybe more attention here or there to doctrine and practice would do it? More prayer? More reading? More sacrifice? No it did not keep me. It was not to be essentially different from the beginning first-love faith. It was something in which the Spirit of God was to accomplish. He it was that raised Christ from the dead. And it is the same Holy Spirit that gives life to our mortal bodies. I looked deeper and deeper into the subject and found that in order for this to happen I was going to have to receive this same Spirit into my life in a far greater way in order that I could behold the great revelations of the offices of Christ as promised in John 14 to 16. But how was this to be received? It said simply by faith and asking the Father through the Son. But could I ask in faith? What if nothing happened? What if I did not understand it right? Was there something else to do to prepare for this asking? And was there a long wait after praying acceptably? For how could I know if I did pray right when after I prayed it did not happen? These questions and diversion along with personally important distractions tossed me for some time. And the subject of how and even what was even used as an excuse for not pressing in.
But now I see that the problem was with the way I was looking at God and what I was focusing on. Not that I think we should not focus on asking persistently, or in making sure we are clear and honest. But where does our source of deep respect and love of God come from? What was the only successful thing to overcome our first state? It was 'the love of God that lead us to repentance.' But it was the love of God in the transactions of the cross that produced that reformation in our hearts and lives. This love has a tendency to carry us for some time; and we can forget that it is the Spirit of God that is helping us see these impressive truths. We ought not to grieve the Spirit for "all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God." And "the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace." (Rom. 8: 14, 6) However this actually happens, if we stop setting our minds on the things of the Spirit and set them on the things of the flesh--and all we have to do is neglect Him and this happens--then we will not be motivated by godly considerations as formerly but by legal and fleshly motives. Thus we easily continue on trying to serve God, not out of a eye looking to Calvary's love which constrains us--but with trying to carry out the deeds of the law by mere resolutions of our weak wills. Those who have never truly receive the Spirit and had a personal Calvary will then find themselves to a greater extent in Roman's chapter seven. While the Christian who grieves the Spirit will find themselves in a similar state--not being able to do the good which they know and agree with. But why is this? Why can they not rise above these legal efforts? It is because they are still under the deeds of the law and they are looking to themselves for salvation. They have not come into the salvation chapter. Let us read what is said of those who find forgiveness and life: "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus as set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did--sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." (1-4) Notice there is no salvation by merely doing the works of the law as in chapter 7. Notice the new gospel "law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus." This is an entirely new law that will come as a surprise the first time you experience it. Notice that it does what the Law could not do for you: it ensures that you will be actually able to fulfill the requirements of the Law. But the key part is found in the motive. And this is the place we are wanting to focus on as the same motive for the higher life. Indeed, this is the place where we want to dwell for all eternity!
It was Calvary that broke that Roman's 7 bondage and that "set us free from the law of sin and of death." Nothing else could have won our hearts to God and break the power of this law of sin and death. Nothing else was suitable as a substitute for our punishment. And no other influence will save us from future sin as this will. I have had many wonderful experiences that have proved the love of God to me personally. These have carried me to some extent. I remember when I finally realized that all my frustrated ways were God's love and method to make me see how vain my efforts and ungodly plans were. This was a wonderful revelation. But it is too weak to carry us through the last parts of Romans 8. Indeed I could not say that it did.
But this morning God awoke me to consider the matter more perfectly; and called me to consider it just one more time (who can count how many hundreds of times I have read these words). And though I knew it well and could have immediately turned to those final words, instead I read through slowly and noted all our privileges in the gospel. I agreed with God about my sin. I noted again the calling to suffering. I also saw freedom available to the children of God. I was starting to see more perfectly the connection of things. Not that I had not before, but it was becoming all the more clear. The Spirit also helps us in our weakness . . . The work of God so manifest in comparison to our helplessness. But this time I did not look long at verse 28 even though it had been so outstanding in every reading. Perhaps I would have missed what I found if I had dwelt there as usual (this passage had been part of the wonderful revelation of God's goodness towards me as mentioned above). Then I noted again His predestining us to be conformed to the image of his son. But then I came to our text and Paul's rhetoric gripped me: "What then shall we say to these things?" Really, what are the only possible or logical responses to these things? What is necessarily implied in these works of God? Then Paul gets really specific and appeals to us to consider the most amazing argument that ever got a hold of the very fabric of my being. He asks us as believers, if God went to all the trouble to spare you by the death of His Son, could anything else needed to live for Him be a problem for Him to give you? Ah, but I need the comforter to come and abide with me as promised that I may be "crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me!" (Gal. 2:20) And will Christ withhold this essential relationship and vision from me? "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?" Added to this we read further that this same Judge and Lamb has risen and now intercedes for us in order that we may be freely given all these things.
When all these things are seen and God is employed to so fill us, will not "the love of God constrain us" to face all and every battle? Is there any reason that we should not be "more than conquerors through Him who loved us"? Only if we do not know Him who loved us or fail to understand or behold the power of His love to save. This is why Paul starts off this long argument in chapter one verse 16: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes." If it has not been a power to save from sin then it has not be understood or believed. Thus we see that not only are men justified and saved from the penalty of sin through the power and transitions of the gospel, but this same gospel of the suffering and death of Christ are to be the focus of the end of our faith. "For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'But the righteous shall live by faith.'" Faith in His blood sanctifies us completely just as the same faith justified us completely. But we have to believe that it can and ask for it all the same.
Now if "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?"--if this be so--if God did not withhold His most precious Son, but gave Him up to be so abused, mocked, and to become a curse--then 'how shall we not freely give Him all things? And how shall we not give Him the appropriate trust that will receive all these free gifts that are necessary for our continual salvation and deepest respect for His love? Can we receive the most difficult gift that secures our salvation, and not receive His lesser gifts more easily given, which are for our continued life and deepest growth? Do not insult the depths of His love with the false humility that criminally rejects His "exceedingly precious promises" for a complacent quietude. There is an heavenly fountain of the water of life opened up for you through His Son.