I do not break up the clauses which follow. I group them as one prolonged strain, and call it "The Song of Victory, or Song of Redemption." For it is a Song unique in itself, complete, all-comprehensive--an anthem as of a multitude of the Heavenly host over the night-plains, not of Bethlehem, but of the world, praising God and saying--

(V. 3, 4.) "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh; that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."

[Let no Reader (may I here premise in a word), be repelled by the somewhat doctrinal tone of this and the earlier chapters. We must enter by the outer courts before reaching the innermost shrine. The foundations must be laid before the crowning super-structure be reared.]

The theme of this portion of the SONG, epitomized, is this. The demands of the law, in themselves impossible of fulfillment, have been satisfied through the atoning work of Christ; and those alone can take up the triumphal notes continued to the end of the chapter, who have thus absolutely renounced all legal ground of justification in the sight of God, and have accepted the gratuitous offers of pardon provided by the Divine Surety--"Christ the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believes."

The first clause of these verses--the first strain of this opening Redemption-Hymn is "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus."

What are we to understand by this? It may have other latent side-meanings, but we may take it, in its simplest acceptation, as an equivalent term for the Gospel method of salvation; forgiveness, peace, eternal life, as the gift of God through Jesus Christ. It is the glorious provision of the Life-giver--"In Him was life;"--Him--alike the Author of Redemption and the Bestower of the new principle of life in the heart of the believer.

The remaining assertion of the verse is in contrast, or contradistinction--"Has made me free from the law of sin and death." It speaks of the old decalogue of Sinai with its rigid, inflexible demand, "Do this and live." The two statements are brought together elsewhere in the concise epigrammatic sentence--"The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life."

Then follows (verse 3) a remarkable epitome of the Redemption-work; "What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh." "Weak." There was no weakness, no inherent defect or feebleness in the law itself. As the expression of the mind and will of the Great Lawgiver, it resembled one of the pillars of the ancient Temple ("Jachin")--STRENGTH. It had the Divine Holiness and Justice, Omnipotence and Immutability to rest upon. But its high, uncompromising demands were beyond the perfect obedience of the fallen creature. This alone constituted its "weakness." In its own majestic requirements it was potent. As a ground of human merit and a procuring cause of salvation, it was impotent. Amid the thunders and lightnings of the Mount comes the dread deliverance from which there is no escape or appeal--"by the deeds of the law, shall no flesh be justified." Moreover, let it be noted, in connection with the present argument of the Apostle, that this impossibility extended beyond what (to use a forensic term) I may call the major count of the indictment. There was the great outstanding fact of original sin--the human nature fallen and under condemnation; the depravity and corruption of the heart. That heart and its experience we have found faithfully portrayed--photographed--in the immediately preceding chapter. The holiness and sanctification of the believer even at the best are an unrealized and unrealizable ideal--no more. The most saintly image comes out blurred--the fight--the life-long encounter between the lower and the higher nature, as we have also seen, leaves behind the inevitable scars of battle. "For in me," says this noblest of spiritual combatants, "that is, in my flesh, [my weak flesh] dwells no good thing." He feels, that while one moment he may be the soaring eagle, the next he may be the groveling worm. Paul may in this be thought to take a pessimistic view of human nature generally. Yet who that knows his own heart and life experience can demur to the stern reality?

Here then, in this opening proposition, he reasserts what had been logically expanded in the previous lengthened context, the powerlessness and inefficacy, alike on the ground of nature and practice, of the law to give "LIFE."

He proceeds to unfold the great remedial measure of God's own sovereign devising--"God sent His Own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh."

We have spoken of the "Weakness;" now comes the contrasted "Strength;" "Christ the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes." A law, powerless either to justify or to sanctify, becomes both in Him. As the Apostle elsewhere with singular force and brevity, yet fullness, expresses it--"For if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness would have been by the law. But the scripture has concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe" (Gal. 3;21, 22). "GOD sending." The purpose of Love was His own--one undreamt of by human reason; beyond the conception and device either of man or of Angel.

And there is a farther notable emphasis in the appended word. "The stress," says Dean Alford, "is on 'His own,' and the word is pregnant with meaning." His own Son, spotless in His holiness; in Nature and Person immaculate as the law whose debts He came to discharge and its precepts to fulfill. This sinless Son is in marked antithesis to "the sinful flesh" in whose likeness He came. "Likeness;" for though in all respects tempted and tried as the Brother in our nature, it was "yet without sin." One single spot or stain in the Incarnate humanity would have vitiated the efficacy of His atonement. But He was "holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners." He could make the unanswerable challenge to His adversaries--"Which of you convinces me of sin?"

"And for sin" (marg., "by a sacrifice for sin;" R.V., "as an offering for sin") "condemned sin in the flesh."

Much of the true meaning of this important clause must be determined by what is implied in the word "condemned." It seems to us capable of but one interpretation--the vicarious sufferings and death of the Son of God for us men and for our salvation. In case of any verbal misapprehension, we reject the harsh and unwarrantable rendering given by an otherwise admirable commentator (Haldane), when he ventures to translate it by the term "punished." We cannot for a moment accept the word, if in the remotest form it suggests or embodies the thought of the loving Father of heaven punishing "the Son in whom He declares Himself well pleased." Such be it said at once would be altogether unworthy, abhorrent, blasphemous; distinctly at variance, it may, moreover, well be added, with the creed of so distinguished and reliable a student of Scripture.

And yet we dare not eliminate the implied truth of an Expiatory Offering.

Another commentator to whom the Church of Christ owes much (Barnes), suggests an alternative rendering, probably the nearest to the truth, while evading the objectionable punitive term--"God passed a judicial sentence on sin in the person of Christ." He condemned sin in the flesh, that is, in His own assumed, human, fleshly nature, Incarnate God.

Should we retain the accepted rendering in both Authorised and Revised Versions ("condemned"), there may possibly be implied another antithesis between this and the word of the first verse, for they are in the Greek the same, "condemnation." There is condemnation by the law. There is no condemnation by the substitution of the immaculate Redeemer.

Then comes the grand result (v. 4). "That the righteousness" (or, marginal, requirements) "of the law" (that which the law demands) "might be fulfilled in us;" fulfilled by the meritorious life and death of the Son of God, and through our mystical union with Him.

Reader, are you and I able to accept, and accepting to repose on this great truth, what the old Divines call "THE SATISFACTION." We know how in modern days it is a doctrine slighted and discredited. In the language of Reuss, who may be taken as a leader in the so-called "advanced school," "there is not a word of all this weighing and calculating scheme to be found in the writings of Paul." While refusing to accept the German's depreciatory definition of our Apostle's "systematic theology," I conclude far otherwise. I feel I must reject the teachings of this Epistle and of all his other Epistles--as well as the teachings of his inspired contemporaries; I must reject my Bible itself, before I can repudiate so cardinal an article of the faith. That there is mystery, profound mystery, in this dogma of Divine Substitution and Suretyship none can deny. But I would ask those who discard it, calmly to read without cavil or prejudice the following among many assertions (not by any means exclusively Pauline)--and say if their plain, unambiguous meaning can be evaded?

To begin with Christ's own testimony, "The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Matt. 20;28). Omitting for the present the prophetical writings, His Apostles and other inspired penmen repeat and rehearse the assertions of their Lord. "He has made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor. 5;21). "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us" (Gal, 3;13). "Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many" (Heb. 9;28). "He Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree" (1 Pet. 2;24). "Who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2;20). "Christ also once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God" (1 Pet. 3;18). "It became Him" (that word "became" is solemnly emphatic; there was a necessity laid on God, arising out of His own nature--than which we can conceive no stronger necessity) "of whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings" (Heb. 2;10). "To Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood" (Rev. 1;5).

You may strive, by a forced exegesis, to get rid of the meaning wrapped up in these and kindred passages on the Suretyship of Christ; but a literal acceptance can alone give explanation and consistency to the reasoning of the Apostle in this verse on which we are now meditating. God, in the Person, and work, and atoning death of His dear Son, has thrown the luster of a glorious vindication around every requirement of His law and every attribute of His nature. Christ, by a holy life, obeyed the law's precepts, and by a holy death of self-surrender and sacrifice endured its penalty. The law says, "Do this and live." I cannot do it. But I listen to the words of Him who can do it--who has done it. "Lo, I come, I delight to do Your will, O my God" (Ps. 40;7, 8). "When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem those who were under the law" (Gal. 5;4).

O blessed Savior, I desire with simple unwavering faith to look to You thus--to You only--wholly, and forever. I desire to behold You as the great Antitype of the Jewish Scapegoat, bearing away the load of transgression into a land of oblivion and forgetfulness, so that "as far as the East is distant from the West," so far have You "removed our transgressions from us." I look to You, indeed, also in the beauty of Your Character and Work, as the perfect Example, the great Ideal of Humanity. In this acceptation of the word, I know that You did oppose and overcome the forces of evil. I know in a similar manner, too, You may be said to have "condemned sin in the flesh;" overcome it, and conquered it in Your own pure, stainless human nature. You could say in a real, what our Apostle could only utter in a qualified sense, "I have fought the good fight; I have vanquished, and thereby have I given a pledge of sin's final subjugation." But this is not all I need. I must look to You as the Atoning Sacrifice--the Sin-offering. "O Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us!" "O Lamb of God, that takes away the sin of the world, grant us Your peace!" I shall not go to the Temple without the Altar, or to the Altar without the Sacrifice. Thanks be to the dying, ever living love of the divine Surety, if I am enabled with the heavenly harpers spoken of in Revelation (5;8, 9) to "sing the new song"--the Song whose strains gave them their golden harps and golden vials and crowns of victory--"You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation!"

I close with one verse from an earlier chapter of this same Epistle. It has been purposely kept by itself and to the last. It is culled from the midst of Paul's cogent argument. But it seems to express, in a brief sentence, the peerless truth on which we have now been dwelling. Olshausen, by a metaphor not less truthful than happy, calls it "The Acropolis of the Christian faith," "Whom God has set forth to be a Propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God" (Rom. 3;25).

Propitiation (margin, RV., "Propitiatory"). The reference, as is well known, is to the lid of the Ark of the Covenant, in the Tabernacle or Temple--the Mercy-Seat. The tables of the law, the two tables of stone were deposited within that Sacred Ark--the eternal decalogue with its unrepealed, unabrogated demands, and solemn requirements. It spoke condemnation--"The soul that sins, it shall die." But the blood besprinkled "Shield" resplendent with gold and fragrant with acacia wood (significant type and emblem of the divine Surety), interposed between it and the officiating High Priest--the Representative of Covenant Israel in all ages. Christ--the true "Propitiatory" stands between the living and the dead, that the great plague of sin might be stayed. Or, to give a different illustration, we recall the host of Assyrian warriors in ancient Jewish story, "their cohorts gleaming with purple and gold"--their banners "floating proudly at sunset"--

"Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn has blown,
That host of the morrow lay withered and strewn;
For the Angel of death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed."

Each hand grasped a sword, but was impotent to wield it. Even so; the law retains, in all their force, the deadly weapons of condemnation. But a mightier than created Angel has come down and paralyzed its arm--"stilled the enemy and the avenger." The sharp, keen-edged swords slumber powerless in their scabbards. "Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."

These remarks ought appropriately to close this section. But one practical thought dare not be omitted--one note is needed for the full cadence and harmony of this Redemption-Song. If the law is impotent to save--if its claims have to be fulfilled and its penalties borne by Another, are we to disregard it as a rule of life?

This is answered in the closing saying of the passage. It is a brief but necessary restatement of the Apostle's preceding and fully discussed question; "Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?" "Who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (v. 4). We cannot enter on the wide subject here. It will come in course, and be amplified in next chapter. Enough to say, that the love of God, in the gift of His Son, has, as its result, in the case of the believer, the imparting of a new life of love. To quote the words of a Brother Apostle (1 John 4;9)--"In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because God sent His only Begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him." Or Paul's own equally cogent saying (Rom. 6;18)--"Being then made free from sin, you become the servants of righteousness." (Ver. 22)--"But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, you have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life." The Gospel message of free pardon through the merits and righteousness of Christ, acts as a dominating influence--a new pervading principle of action, permeating and energizing the whole being. The hospices which crowd the pilgrim way lead up to the pure and serene atmosphere of the everlasting hills. The Temple-stairs, not of the Law but of Grace, conduct to the Holy of Holies. A stray note from the Savior's greatest "Song of Songs"--His own Beatitude-chapter, is on the lips of every worshiper, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."

Home       QUOTES       SERMONS       BOOKS