But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;…
A whole system of theology is compacted into these few words. The keystone of the arch. We have here - redemption; righteousness.
I. REDEMPTION. The redemption centres in Christ; it touches on either side God and man. Originating in the purposes of God, and actualized in the work of Christ, it is appropriated in the consciousness of man. These verses deal with one aspect of Christ's work and of man's salvation - justification through Christ's atoning sacrifice. Hence we have - God's grace, Christ's sacrifice, man's faith.
1. God's grace. (Ver. 24.) This is the fountain-head, whence all salvation issues. Importance of holding forth this truth; not that God loves us because Christ died, but that Christ died because God loved us. So John 3:16. And yet the error has some element of truth. It was God's compassionate love which prompted the bestowal of the gift, and the "setting forth" of the Propitiation (ver. 25); but only when the gut has been received, and the propitiation made ours through faith, does God, can God, love with an intimate, complacent love. First the pitying Father, then the forgiving Father, and then the reconciled, rejoicing Father.
2. Christ's sacrifice. (Ver. 25.) We are in the presence of a mystery, which we may not analyze too closely. In Christ, God and man are one, and therefore the sacrifice of Christ represents a sacrifice of God and a sacrifice of man. In him, man expiates his own sin; in him, the Infinite Love stoops and suffers and dies. It was a real atonement of the race; it was a real atonement for the race; and what God hath joined we may not put asunder.
3. Man's faith. (Vers. 22, 25, 26.) To reduce it to its simplest, ultimate form, it is but the acceptance of what God gives, of what can only come to us from without, apart from any efforts of our own (ver. 21), "freely" (ver. 24). And such faith is virtually included in true penitence - the penitence of the "poor in spirit;" and, we doubt not, such true penitence is therefore virtually in possession of the pardon which hovers round every repentant heart. But, for a consciousness of pardon, there is required a conscious faith, i.e. an intelligent, glad acceptance of the gift of God in Christ. And the more vivid and realistic the consciousness of faith - or, may we say, the more strong and energetic the laying hold of life? - the stronger and more joyous wilt be the experience of salvation, and the resultant love for God through Christ.
II. RIGHTEOUSNESS. Redemption and righteousness are not at variance, but rather redemption is the great instrumentality whereby the righteousness of God works the righteousness of man.
1. Man's righteousness. Man's righteousness is wrought by the redemption of Christ, and therefore it is all Divine (vers. 21, 22). And yet it is truly man's. The righteousness which is expressly spoken of here is a relative, not an actual, righteousness; i.e. a condition of acquittal in presence of Law and judgment. Hence the specific term, "justification" Such relative righteousness may be the adjunct of actual righteousness; the Law must acquit those who have perfectly fulfilled the Law. But can it be so with man? "All have sinned." And even one sin destroys all possibility of acquittal this way. Therefore only by some extraneous, some substitutionary satisfaction of Law, can man be justified. Such satisfaction the redemption of Christ provides. He represents us all in the great atonement before God, and when we penitently acknowledge his representation and accept it, the satisfaction made by him is ours. The Law of the Jews was the discipline by which God was leading them to feel their need of a righteousness "apart from Law;" the prophets promised it. But since all need it, Gentiles as well as Jews, it is for all; "there is no distinction."
2. God's righteousness. Man's righteousness and God's are intervolved. Mere pardon would not set aside the claims of Law; justification respects those claims. The righteousness of God is his executive holiness - the active upholding of Law. It can only be manifested in the case of sin by punishment. This punishment must be of the individual offenders, or of some proper substitute. In Christ the great Head of the race is smitten - smitten that the race may be justified. But only a relative righteousness, as productive again of actual righteousness, can be wrought by the righteousness of God; and therefore the justification is for penitents, believing in Christ. And the very faith itself of penitents in a Christ who died for sin, is the germ of a new righteousness of life. So, then, does God justify himself in justifying the ungodly; and so does he justify his past forbearance, whether as respects the world or the individual offender. Thus in Christ is the great problem solved. God is "just, and the Justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus." Is it more than a problem of the intellect to us? has it wrought itself out in our heart and life? - T.F.L.
Parallel VersesKJV: But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;