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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary

Romans 6

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-13

Chapter 14

JUSTIFICATION AND HOLINESS

Romans 6:1-13

IN a certain sense, St. Paul has done now with the exposition of Justification. He has brought us on, from his denunciation of human sin, and his detection of the futility of mere privilege, to propitiation, to faith, to acceptance, to love, to joy, and hope, and finally to our mysterious but real connection in all this blessing with Him who won our peace. From this point onwards we shall find many mentions of our acceptance, and of its Cause; we shall come to some memorable mentions very soon. But we shall not hear the holy subject itself any more treated and expounded. It will underlie the following discussions everywhere; it will as it were surround them, as with a sanctuary wall. But we shall now think less directly of the foundations than of the superstructure, for which the foundation was laid. We shall be less occupied with the fortifications of our holy city than with the resources they contain, and with the life which is to be lived, on those resources, within the walls.

Everything will cohere. But the transition will be marked, and will call for our deepest, and let us add, our most reverent and supplicating thought.

"We need not, then, be holy, if such is your programme of acceptance." Such was the objection, bewildered or deliberate, which St. Paul heard in his soul at this pause in his dictation; he had doubtless often heard it with his ears. Here was a wonderful provision for the free and full acceptance of "the ungodly" by the eternal Judge. It was explained and stated so as to leave no room for human virtue as a commendatory merit. Faith itself was no commendatory virtue. It was not "a work," but the antithesis to "works." Its power was not in itself but in its Object. It was itself only the void which received "the obedience of the One" as the sole meriting cause of peace with God. Then-may we not live on in sin, and yet be in His favour now, and in His heaven hereafter?

Let us recollect, as we pass on, one important lesson of these recorded objections to the great first message of St. Paul. They tell us incidentally how explicit and unreserved his delivery of the message had been, and how Justification by Faith, by faith only, meant what was said, when it was said by him. Christian thinkers, of more schools than one, and at many periods, have hesitated not a little over that point. The mediaeval theologian mingled his thoughts of Justification with those of Regeneration, and taught our acceptance accordingly on lines impossible to lay true along those of St. Paul. In later days, the meaning of faith has been sometimes beclouded, till it has seemed through the haze, to be only an indistinct summary word for Christian consistency, for exemplary conduct, for good works. Now supposing either of these lines of teaching, or anything like them, to be the message of St. Paul, "his Gospel," as he preached it; one result may be reasonably inferred-that we should not have had Romans 6:1 worded as it is. Whatever objections were encountered by a Gospel of acceptance expounded on such lines, (and no doubt it would have encountered many, if it called sinful men to holiness,) it would not have encountered this objection, that it seemed to allow men to be unholy. What such a Gospel would seem to do would be to accentuate in all its parts the urgency of obedience in order to acceptance; the vital importance on the one hand of an internal change in our nature (through sacramental operation, according to many); and then on the other hand the practice of Christian virtues, with the hope, in consequence, of acceptance, more or less complete, in heaven. Whether the objector, the enquirer, was dull, or whether he was subtle, it could not have occurred to him to say, "You are preaching a Gospel of license; I may, if you are right, live as I please, only drawing a little deeper on the fund of gratuitous acceptance as I go on." But just this was the animus, and such were very nearly the words, of those who either hated St. Paul’s message as unorthodox, or wanted an excuse for the sin they loved, and found it in quotations from St. Paul. Then St. Paul must have meant by faith what faith ought to mean, simple trust. And he must have meant by justification without works, what those words ought to mean, acceptance irrespective of our recommendatory conduct. Such a Gospel was no doubt liable to be mistaken and misrepresented, and in just the way we are now observing. But it was also, and it is so still, the only Gospel which is the power of God unto salvation-to the fully awakened conscience, to the soul that sees itself, and asks for God indeed.

This undesigned witness to the meaning of the Pauline doctrine of Justification by Faith only will appear still more strongly when we come to the Apostle’s answer to his questioners, He meets them not at all by modifications of his assertions. He has not a word to say about additional and corrective conditions precedent to our peace with God. He makes no impossible hint that Justification means the making of us good, or that Faith is a "short title" for Christian practice. No; there is no reason for such assertions either in the nature of words, or in the whole cast of the argument through which he has led us. What does he do? He takes this great truth of our acceptance in Christ our Merit, and puts it unreserved, unrelieved, unspoiled, in contact with other truth, of coordinate, nay, of superior greatness, for it is the truth to which Justification leads us, as way to end. He places our acceptance through Christ Atoning in organic connection with our life in Christ Risen. He indicates, as a truth evident to the conscience, that as the thought of our share in the Lord’s Merit is inseparable from union with the meriting Person, so the thought of this union is inseparable from that of a spiritual harmony, a common life, in which the accepted sinner finds both a direction and a power in his Head. Justification has indeed set him free from the condemning chain of sin, from guilt. He is as if he had died the Death of sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction; as if he had passed through the Lama Sabachthani, and had "poured out his soul" for sin. So he is "dead to sin," in the sense in which his Lord and Representative "died to" it; the atoning death has killed sin’s claim on him for judgment. As having so died, in Christ, he is "justified from sin." But then, because he thus died "in Christ," he is "in Christ" still, in respect also of resurrection. He is justified, not that he may go away, but that in His Justifier he may live, with the powers of that holy and eternal life with which the Justifier rose again.

The two truths are concentrated as it were into one, by their equal relation to the same Person, the Lord. The previous argument has made us intensely conscious that Justification, while a definite transaction in law, is not a mere transaction; it lives and glows with the truth of connection with a Person. That Person is the Bearer for us of all Merit. But He is also, and equally, the Bearer for us of new Life; in which the sharers of His Merit share, for they are in Him. So that, while the Way of Justification can be isolated for study, as it has been in this Epistle, the justified man cannot be isolated from Christ, who is his life. And thus he can never ultimately be considered apart from his possession in Christ, of a new possibility, a new power, a new and glorious call to living holiness.

In the simplest and most practical terms the Apostle sets it before us that our justification is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. We are accepted that we may be possessed, and possessed after the manner not of a mechanical "article," but of an organic limb. We have "received the reconciliation" that we may now walk, not away from God, as if released from a prison, but with God, as His children in His Son. Because we are justified, we are to be holy, separated from sin, separated to God; not as a mere indication that our faith is real, and that therefore we are legally safe, but because we were justified for this very purpose, that we might be holy.

To return to a simile we have employed already, the grapes upon a vine are not merely a living token that the tree is a vine, and is alive; they are the product for which the vine exists. It is a thing not to be thought of that the sinner should accept justification-and live to himself. It is a moral contradiction of the very deepest kind, and cannot be entertained without betraying an initial error in the man’s whole spiritual creed.

And further, there is not only this profound connection of purpose between acceptance and holiness. There is a connection of endowment and capacity. Justification has done for the justified a twofold work, both limbs of which are all important for the man who asks, How can I walk and please God? First, it has, decisively broken the claim of sin upon him as guilt. He stands clear of that exhausting and enfeebling load. The pilgrim’s burthen has fallen from his back, at the foot of the Lord’s Cross, into the Lord’s Grave. He has peace with God, not in emotion, but in covenant, through our Lord Jesus Christ. He has an unreserved "introduction" into a Father’s loving and welcoming presence, every day and hour, in the Merit of his Head. But then also Justification has been to him as it were the signal of his union with Christ in new life; this we have noted already. Not only therefore does it give him, as indeed it does, an eternal occasion for a gratitude which, as he feels it, "makes duty joy, and labour rest." It gives him "a new power" with which to live the grateful life; a power residing not in Justification itself, but in what it opens up. It is the gate through which he passes to the fountain, the roof which shields him as he drinks. The fountain is his justifying Lord’s exalted Life, His risen Life, poured into the man’s being by the Spirit who makes Head and member one. And it is as justified that he has access to the fountain, and drinks as deep as he will of its life, its power, its purity. In the contemporary passage, 1 Corinthians 6:17, St. Paul had already written (in a connection unspeakably practical), "He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit." It is a sentence which might stand as a heading to the passage we now come to render.

What shall we say then? Shall we cling to the sin that the grace may multiply, the grace of the acceptance of the guilty? Away with the thought! We, the very men who died to that sin, -when our Representative, in whom we have believed, died for us to it, died to meet and break its claim-how shall we any longer live, have congenial being and action, in it, a sin an air we like to breathe? It is a moral impossibility that the man so freed from this thing’s tyrannic claim to slay him should wish for anything else than severance from it in all respects. Or do you not know that we all, when baptised into Jesus Christ, when the sacred water sealed to us our faith received contact with Him and interest in Him, were baptised into His Death, baptised as coming into union with Him as, above all, the Crucified, the Atoning? Do you forget that your covenant-Head, of whose covenant of peace your baptism was the divine physical token, is nothing to you if not your Saviour "who died," and who died because of this very sin with which your thought now parleys; died because only so could He break its legal bond upon you, in order to break its moral bond? We were entombed therefore with Him by means of our baptism, as it symbolised and sealed the work of faith, into His Death; it certified our interest in that vicarious death, even to its climax in the grave which, as it were, swallowed up the Victim; that just as Christ rose from the dead by means of the glory of the Father, as that death issued for Him in a new and endless life, not by accident, but because the Character of God, the splendour of His love, truth, and power, secured the issue, so we too should begin to Walk ( περιπατησωμεν) in newness of life, should step forth in a power altogether new, in our union still with Him. All possible emphasis lies upon those words, "newness of life." They bring out what has been indicated already (Romans 6:17-18), the truth that the Lord has won us not only remission of a death penalty, not only even an extension of existence under happier circumstances, and in a more grateful and hopeful spirit-but a new and wonderful life power. The sinner has fled to the Crucified, that he may not die. He is now not only amnestied but accepted. He is not only accepted but incorporated into his Lord, as one with Him in interest. He is not only incorporated as to interest, but, because his Lord, being Crucified, is also Risen, he is incorporated into Him as Life. The Last Adam, like the First, transmits not only legal but vital effects to His member. In Christ the man has, in a sense as perfectly practical as it is inscrutable, new life, new power, as the Holy Ghost applies to his inmost being the presence and virtues of his Head. "In Him he lives, by Him he moves."

To men innumerable the discovery of this ancient truth, or the fuller apprehension of it, has been indeed like a beginning of new life. They have been long and painfully aware, perhaps, that their strife with evil was a serious failure on the whole, and their deliverance from its power lamentably partial. And they could not always command as they would the emotional energies of gratitude, the warm consciousness of affection. Then it was seen, or seen more fully, that the Scriptures set forth this great mystery, this powerful fact; our union with our Head, by the Spirit, for life, for victory and deliverance, for dominion over sin, for willing service. And the hands are lifted up, and the knees confirmed, as the man uses the now open secret-Christ in him, and he in Christ-for the real walk of life. But let us listen to St. Paul again.

For if we became vitally connected, He with us and we with Him, by the likeness of His Death, by the baptismal plunge, symbol and seal of our faith union with the Buried Sacrifice, why, we shall be vitally connected with Him by the likeness also of His Resurrection, by the baptismal emergence, symbol and seal of our faith union with the Risen Lord, and so with His risen power. This knowing, that our old man, our old state, as out of Christ and under Adam’s headship, under guilt and in moral bondage, was crucified with Christ, was as it were nailed to His atoning Cross, where He represented us. In other words, He on the Cross, our Head and Sacrifice, so dealt with our fallen state for us, that the body of sin, this our body viewed as sin’s stronghold, medium, vehicle, might be cancelled, might be in abeyance, put down, deposed, so as to be no more the fatal door to admit temptation to a powerless soul within.

"Cancelled" is a strong word. Let us lay hold upon its strength, and remember that it gives us not a dream, but a fact, to be found true in Christ. Let us not turn its fact into fallacy, by forgetting that, whatever "cancel" means, it does not mean that grace lifts us out of the body; that we are no longer to "keep under the body, and bring it into subjection," in the name of Jesus. Alas for us, if any promise, any truth, is allowed to "cancel" the call to watch and pray, and to think that in no sense is there still a foe within. But all the rather let us grasp, and use, the glorious positive in its place and time, which is everywhere and every day. Let us recollect, let us confess our faith, that thus it is with us, through Him who loved us. He died for us for this very end, that our "body of sin" might be wonderfully "in abeyance," as to the power of temptation upon the soul. Yes, as St. Paul proceeds, that henceforth we should not do bond service to sin; that from now onwards, from our acceptance in Him, from our realisation of our union with Him, we should say to temptation a "no" that carries with it the power of the inward presence of the Risen Lord. Yes, for He has won that power for us in our Justification through His Death. He died for us, and we in Him, as to sin’s claim, as to our guilt; and He thus died, as we have seen, on purpose that we might be not only legally accepted, but vitally united to Him. Such is the connection of the following clause, strangely rendered in the English Version, and often therefore misapplied, but whose literal wording is, For he who died, he who has died, has been justified from his ( της) sin, stands justified from it, stands free from its guilt. The thought is of the atoning Death, in which the believer is interested as if it were his own. And the implied thought is that, as that death is "fact accomplished," as "our old man" was so effectually "crucified with Christ," therefore we may, we must, claim the spiritual freedom and power in the Risen One which the Slain One secured for us when He bore our guilt.

This possession is also a glorious prospect, for it is permanent with the eternity of His Life. It not only is, but shall be. Now if we died with Christ, we believe, we rest upon His word and work for it, that we shall also live with Him, that we shall share not only now but for all the future the powers of His risen life. For He lives forever-and we are in Him! Knowing that Christ, risen from the dead, no longer dies, no death is in His future now; death over Him has no more dominion, its claim on Him is forever gone. For as to His dying, it was as to our sin He died; it was to deal with our sin’s claim; and He has dealt with it indeed, so that His death is "once," εφαπαξ, once forever; but as to His living, it is as to God He lives; it is in relation to His Father’s acceptance, it is as welcome to His Father’s throne for us, as the Slain One Risen. Even so must you too reckon yourselves, with the sure "calculation" that His work for you, His life for you, is infinitely valid, to be dead indeed to your sin, dead in His atoning death, dead to the guilt exhausted by that death, but living to your God, in Christ Jesus; welcomed by your eternal Father, in your union with His Son, and in that union filled with a new and blessed life from your Head, to be spent in the Father’s smile, on the Father’s service.

Let us too, like the Apostle and the Roman Christians, "reckon" this wonderful reckoning; counting upon these bright mysteries as upon imperishable facts. All is bound up not with the tides or waves of our emotions, but with the living rock of our union with our Lord. "In Christ Jesus":-that great phrase, here first explicitly used in the connection, includes all else in its embrace. Union with the slain and risen Christ, in faith, by the Spirit-here is our inexhaustible secret, for peace with God, for life to God, now and in the eternal day.

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, mortal, because not yet fully emancipated, though your Lord has "cancelled" for you its character as "the body of sin," the seat and vehicle of conquering temptation. Do not let sin reign there, so that you should obey the lusts of it, of the body. Observe the implied instruction. The body "cancelled" as "the body of sin," still has its "lusts," its desires; or rather desires are still occasioned by it to the man, desires which potentially, if not actually, are desires away from God. And the man, justified through the Lord’s death and united to the Lord’s life, is not therefore to mistake a laissez-faire for faith. He is to use his divine possessions, with a real energy of will. It is "for him," in a sense most practical, to see that his wealth is put to use, that his wonderful freedom is realised in act and habit. "Cancelled" does not mean annihilated. The body exists, and sin exists, and "desires" exist. It is for you, O man in Christ, to say to the enemy, defeated yet present, "Thou shalt not reign; I veto thee in the name of my King."

And do not present your limbs, your bodies in the detail of their faculties, as implements of unrighteousness, to sin, to sin regarded as the holder and employer of the implements. But present yourselves, your whole being, centre and circle, to God, as men living after death, in His Son’s risen life, and your limbs, hand, foot, and head, with all their faculties, as implements of righteousness for God.

"O blissful self-surrender!" The idea of it, sometimes cloudy, sometimes radiant, has floated before the human soul in every age of history. The spiritual fact that the creature, as such, can never find its true centre in itself, but only in the Creator, has expressed itself in many various forms of aspiration and endeavour, now nearly touching the glorious truth of the matter, now wandering into cravings after a blank loss of personality, or an eternal coma of absorption into an Infinite practically impersonal; or again, affecting a submission which terminates in itself, an islam, a self-surrender into whose void no blessing falls from the God who receives it. Far different is the "self-presentation" of the Gospel. It is done in the fulness of personal consciousness and choice. It is done with revealed reasons of infinite truth and beauty to warrant its rightness. And it is a placing of the surrendered self into Hands which will both foster its true development as only its Maker can, as He fills it with His presence, and will use it, in the bliss of an eternal serviceableness, for His beloved will.


Verses 14-23

Chapter 15

JUSTIFICATION AND HOLINESS: ILLUSTRATIONS FROM HUMAN LIFE

Romans 6:14-23 - Romans 7:1-6

AT the point we have now reached, the Apostle’s thought pauses for a moment, to resume. He has brought us to self-surrender. We have seen the sacred obligations of our divine and wonderful liberty. We have had the miserable question, "Shall we cling to sin?" answered by an explanation of the rightness and the bliss of giving over our accepted persons, in the fullest liberty of will, to God, in Christ. Now he pauses, to illustrate and enforce. And two human relations present themselves for the purpose; the one to show the absoluteness of the surrender, the other its living results. The first is Slavery, the second is Wedlock.

For sin shall not have dominion over you; sin shall not put in its claim upon you, the claim which the Lord has met in your Justification; for you are not brought under law, but under grace. The whole previous argument explains this sentence. He refers to our acceptance. He goes back to the justification of the guilty, "without the deeds of law," by the act of free grace; and briefly restates it thus, that he may take up afresh the position that this glorious liberation means not license but divine order. Sin shall be no more your tyrant creditor, holding up the broken law in evidence that it has right to lead you off to a pestilential prison, and to death. Your dying Saviour has met your creditor in full for you, and in Him you have entire discharge in that eternal court where the terrible plea once stood against you. Your dealings as debtors are now not with the enemy who cried for your death, but with the Friend who has bought you out of his power.

What then? are we to sin, because we are not brought under law, but under grace? Shall our life be a life of license, because we are thus wonderfully free? The question assuredly is one which, like that of ver. 1, and like those suggested in Romans 3:8; Romans 3:31, had often been asked of St. Paul, by the bitter opponent, or by the false follower. And again it illustrates and defines, by the direction of its error, the line of truth from which it flew off. It helps to do what we remarked above, to assure us that when St. Paul taught "Justification by faith, without deeds of law," he meant what he said, without reserve; he taught that great side of truth wholly, and without a compromise. He called the sinner, "just as he was, and waiting not to rid his soul of one dark blot," to receive at once, and without fee, the acceptance of God for Another’s blessed sake. Bitter must have been the moral pain of seeing, from the first, this holy freedom distorted into an unhallowed leave to sin. But he will not meet it by an impatient compromise, or untimely confusion. It shall be answered by a fresh collocation; the liberty shall be seen in its relation to the Liberator; and behold, the perfect freedom is a perfect service, willing but. absolute, a slavery joyfully accepted, with open eyes and open heart, and then lived out as the most real of obligations by a being who has entirely seen that he is not his own.

Away with the thought. Do you not know that the party to whom you present, surrender, yourselves bondservants, slaves, so as to obey him, -bondservants you are, not the less for the freewill of the surrender, of the party whom you obey; no longer merely contractors with him, who may bargain, or retire, but his bondservants out and out; whether of sin, to death, or of obedience, to righteousness? (As if their assent to Christ, their Amen to His terms of peace, acceptance, righteousness, were personified; they were now the bondsmen of this their own act and deed, which had put them, as it were, into Christ’s hands for all things.) Now thanks be to our God, that you were bondmen of sin, in legal claim, and under moral sway; yes, every one of you was this, whatever forms the bondage took upon its surface; but you obeyed from the heart the mould of teaching to which you were handed over. They had been sin’s slaves. Verbally, not really, he "thanks God" for that fact of the past. Really, not verbally, he "thanks God" for the pastness of the fact, and for the bright contrast to it in the regenerated present. They had now been "handed over," by their Lord’s transaction about them, to another ownership, and they had accepted the transfer, "from the heart." It was done by Another for them, but they had said their humble, thankful that as He did it. And what was the new ownership thus accepted? We shall find soon (Romans 6:22), as we might expect, that it is the mastery of God. But the bold, vivid introductory imagery has already called it (Romans 6:16) the slavery of "Obedience." Just below (Romans 6:19-20) it is the slavery of "Righteousness," that is, if we read the word aright in its whole context, of "the Righteousness of God," His acceptance of the sinner as His own in Christ. And here, in a phrase most unlikely of all, whose personification strikes life into the most abstract aspects of the message of the grace of God, the believer is one who has been transferred to the possession of "a mould of Teaching." The Apostolic Doctrine, the mighty Message, the living Creed of life, the Teaching of the acceptance of the guilty for the sake of Him who was their Sacrifice, and is now their Peace and Life-this truth has, as it: were, grasped them as its vassals, to form them, to mould them for its issues. It is indeed their "tenet." It "holds them"; a thought far different from what is too often meant when we say of a doctrine that "we hold it." Justification by their Lord’s merit, union with their Lord’s life; this was a doctrine, reasoned, ordered, verified. But it was a doctrine warm and tenacious with the love of the Father and of the Son. And it had laid hold of them with a mastery which swayed thought, affection, and will; ruling their whole view of self and of God. Now, liberated from your sin, you were enslaved to the Righteousness of God. Here is the point of the argument. It is a point of steel, for all is fact; but the steel is steeped in love, and carries life and joy into the hearts it penetrates. They are not for one moment their own. Their acceptance has magnificently emancipated them from their tyrant enemy. But it has absolutely bound them to their Friend and King. Their glad consent to be accepted has carried with it a consent to belong. And if that consent was at the moment rather implied than explicit, virtual rather than articulately conscious, they have now only to understand their blessed slavery better to give the more joyful thanksgivings to Him who has thus claimed them altogether as His own.

The Apostle’s aim in this whole passage is to awaken them, with the strong, tender touch of his holy reasoning, to articulate their position to themselves. They have trusted Christ, and are in Him. Then, they have entrusted themselves altogether to Him. Then, they have, in effect, surrendered. They have consented to be His property. They are the bondservants, they are the slaves, of His truth, that is, of Him robed and revealed in His Truth, and shining through it on them in the glory at once of His grace and of His claim. Nothing less than such an obligation is the fact for them. Let them feel, let them weigh, and then let them embrace, the chain which after all will only prove their pledge of rest and freedom.

What St. Paul thus did for our elder brethren at Rome, let him do for us of this later time. For us, who read this page, all the facts are true in Christ today. Today let us define and affirm their issues to ourselves, and recollect our holy bondage, and realise it, and live it out with joy.

Now he follows up the thought. Conscious of the superficial repulsiveness of the metaphor-quite as repulsive in itself to the Pharisee as to the Englishman-he as it were apologises for it; not the less carefully, in his noble considerateness, because so many of his first readers were actually slaves. He does not lightly go for his picture of our Master’s hold of us, to the market of Corinth, or of Rome, where men and women were sold and bought to belong as absolutely to their buyers as cattle, or as furniture. Yet he does go there, to shake slow perceptions into consciousness, and bring the will face to face with the claim of God. So he proceeds. I speak humanly, I use the terms of this utterly not-divine bond of man to man, to illustrate man’s glorious bond to God, because of the weakness of your flesh, because your yet imperfect state enfeebles your spiritual perception, and demands a harsh paradox to direct and fix it., For-here is what he means by "humanly"-just as you surrendered your limbs, your functions and faculties in human life, slaves to your impurity and to your lawlessness, unto that lawlessness, so that the bad principle did indeed come out in bad practice, so now, with as little reserve of liberty, surrender your limbs slaves to righteousness, to God’s Righteousness, to your justifying God, unto sanctification-so that the surrender shall come out in your Master’s sovereign separation of His purchased property from sin.

He has appealed to the moral reason of the regenerate soul. Now he speaks straight to the will. You are, with infinite rightfulness, the bondmen of your God. You see your deed of purchase; it is the other side of your warrant of emancipation. Take it, and write your own unworthy names with joy upon it, consenting and assenting to your Owner’s perfect rights. And then live out your life, keeping the autograph of your own surrender before your eyes. Live, suffer, conquer, labour, serve, as men who have themselves walked to their Master’s door, and presented the ear to the awl which pins it to the doorway, each in his turn saying, "I will not go out free."

To such an act of the soul the Apostle calls these saints, whether they had done the like before or no. They were to sum up the perpetual fact, then and there, into a definite and critical act ( παραστησατε, aorist) of thankful will. And he calls us to do the same today. By the grace of God, it shall be done. With eyes open, and fixed upon the face of the Master who claims us, and with hands placed helpless and willing within His hands, we will, we do, present ourselves bondservants to Him; for discipline, for servitude, for all His will.

For when you were slaves of your sin, you were freemen as to righteousness, God’s Righteousness. It had nothing to do with you, whether to give you peace or to receive your tribute of love and loyalty in reply. Practically, Christ was not your Atonement, and so not your Master; you stood, in a dismal independence, outside His claims. To you, your lips were your own; your time was your own; your will was your own. You belonged to self; that is to say, you were the slaves of your sin. Will you go back? Will the word "freedom" (he plays with it, as it were, to prove them) make you wish yourselves back where you were before you had endorsed by faith your purchase by the blood of Christ? Nay, for what was that "freedom," seen in its results, its results upon yourselves? What fruit, therefore, (the "therefore" of the logic of facts,) used you to have then, in those old days, from things over which you are ashamed now? Ashamed indeed; for the end, the issue, as the fruit is the tree’s "end," the end of those things is-death; perdition of all true life here and hereafter too. But now, in the blessed actual state of your case, as by faith you have entered into Christ, into His work and into His life, now liberated from sin and enslaved to God, you have your fruit, you possess indeed, at last, the true issues of being for which you were made, all contributing to sanctification, to that separation to God’s will in practice which is the development of your separation to that will in critical fact, when you met your Redeemer in self-renouncing faith. Yes, this fruit you have indeed; and as its end, as that for which it is produced, to which it always and forever tends, you have life eternal. For the pay of sin, sin’s military stipend ( οψωνια), punctually given to the being which has joined its war against the will of God, is death; but the free gift of God is life eternal, in Jesus Christ our Lord.

"Is life worth living?" Yes, infinitely well worth, for the living man who has surrendered to "the Lord that bought him." Outside that ennobling captivity, that invigorating while most genuine bond service, the life of man is at best complicated and tired with a bewildered quest, and gives results at best abortive, matched with the ideal purposes of such a being. We "present ourselves to God," for His ends, as implements, vassals, willing bondmen; and lo, our own end is attained. Our life has settled, after its long friction, into gear. Our root, after hopeless explorations in the dust, has struck at last the stratum where the immortal water makes all things live, and grow, and put forth fruit for heaven. The heart, once dissipated between itself and the world, is now "united" to the will, to the love, of God; and understands itself, and the world, as never before; and is able to deny self and to serve others in a new and surprising freedom. The man, made willing to be nothing but the tool and bondman of God, "has his fruit" at last; bears the true product of his now recreated being, pleasant to the Master’s eye, and fostered by His air and sun. And this "fruit" issues, as acts issue in habit, in the glad experience of a life really sanctified, really separated in ever deeper inward reality, to a holy will. And the "end" of the whole glad possession, is "life eternal."

Those great words here signify, surely, the coming bliss of the sons of the resurrection, when at last in their whole perfected being they will "live" all through, with a joy and energy as inexhaustible as its Fountain, and unencumbered at last and forever by the conditions of our mortality. To that vast future, vast in its scope yet all concentrated round the fact that "we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is," the Apostle here looks onward. He will say more of it, and more largely, later, in the eighth chapter. But as with other themes so with this, he preludes with a few glorious chords the great strain soon to come. He takes the Lord’s slave by the hand, amidst his present tasks and burthens, (dear tasks and burthens, because the Master’s, but still full of the conditions of earth,) and he points upward-not to a coming manumission in glory; the man would be dismayed to foresee that; he wants to "serve forever"; -but to a scene of service in which the last remainders of hindrance to its action will be gone, and a perfected being will forever, perfectly, be not its own, and so will perfectly live in God. And this, so he says to his fellow servant, to you and to me, is "the gift of God"; a grant as free, as generous, as ever King gave vassal here below. And it is to be enjoyed as such, by a being which, living wholly for Him, will freely and purely exult to live wholly on Him, in the heavenly places.

Yet surely the bearing of the sentences is not wholly upon heaven. Life eternal, so to be developed hereafter that Scripture speaks of it often as it began hereafter, really begins here, and develops here, and is already "more abundant" [John 10:10] here. It is, as to its secret and also its experience, to know and to enjoy God, to be possessed by Him, and used for His will. In this respect it is "the end," the issue and the goal, now and perpetually, of the surrender of the soul. The Master meets that attitude with more and yet more of Himself, known, enjoyed, possessed, possessing. And so He gives, evermore gives, out of His sovereign bounty, life eternal to the bondservant who has embraced the fact that he is nothing, and has nothing, outside his Master. Not at the outset of the regenerate life only, and not only when it issues into the heavenly ocean, but all along the course, the life eternal is still "the free gift of God." Let us now, today, tomorrow, and always, open the lips of surrendering and obedient faith, and drink it in, abundantly, and yet more abundantly. And let us use it for the Giver.

We are already, here on earth, at its very springs; so the Apostle reminds us. For it is "in Jesus Christ our Lord"; and we, believing, are in Him, "saved in His life." It is in Him; nay, it is He. "I am the Life"; "He that hath the Son, hath the life." Abiding in Christ, we live "because He liveth." It is not to be "attained"; it is given, it is our own. In Christ, it is given, in its divine fulness, as to covenant provision, here, now, from the first, to every Christian. In Christ, it is supplied, as to its fulness and fitness for each arising need, as the Christian asks, receives, and uses for his Lord.

So from, or rather in, our holy bond service the Apostle has brought us to our inexhaustible life, and its resources for willing holiness. But he has more to say in explaining the beloved theme. He turns from slave to wife, from surrender to bridal, from the purchase to the vow, from the results of a holy bondage to the offspring of a heavenly union. Hear him as he proceeds:

Or do you not know, brethren, (for I am talking to those acquainted with law, whether Mosaic or Gentile,) that the law has claim on the man, the party in any given case, for his whole lifetime? For the woman with a husband is to her living husband bound by law, stands all along bound to him. "His life," under normal conditions, is his adequate claim. Prove him living, and you prove her his. But if the husband should have died, she stands ipso facto cancelled from the husband’s law, the marriage law as he could bring it to bear against her. So, therefore, while the husband lives, she will earn adulteress for her name if she weds another ("a second") husband. But if the husband should have died, she is free from the law in question, so as to be no adulteress, if wedded to another, a second, husband. Accordingly, my brethren, you too, as a mystic bride, collectively and individually, were done to death as to the Law, so slain that its capital claim upon you is met "and done," by means of the Body of the Christ, by the "doing to death" of His sacred Body for you, on His atoning Cross, to satisfy for you the aggrieved Law; in order to your wedding Another, a second Party, Him who rose from the dead; that we might bear fruit for God; "we," Paul and his converts, in one happy "fellowship," which he delights thus to remember and indicate by the way.

The parable is stated and explained with a clearness which leaves us at first the more surprised that in the application the illustration should be reversed. In the illustration, the husband dies, the woman lives, and weds again. In the application, the Law does not die, but we, its unfaithful bride, are "done to death to it," and then, strange sequel, are wedded to the Risen Christ. We are taken by Him to be "one spirit" with Him. [1 Corinthians 6:17] We are made one in all His interests and wealth, and fruitful of a progeny of holy deeds in this vital union. Shall we call all this a simile confused? Not if we recognise the deliberate and explicit carefulness of the whole passage. St. Paul, we may be sure, was quite as quick as we are to see the inverted imagery. But he is dealing with a subject which would be distorted by a mechanical correspondence in the treatment. The Law cannot die, for it is the preceptive will of God. Its claim is, in its own awful forum domesticum, like the injured Roman husband, to sentence its own unfaithful wife to death. And so it does; so it has done. But behold, its Maker and Master steps upon the scene. He surrounds the guilty one with Himself, takes her whole burthen on Himself, and meets and exhausts her doom. He dies. He lives again, after death, because of death; and the Law acclaims His resurrection as infinitely just. He rises, clasping in His arms her for whom He died, and who thus died in Him, and now, rises in Him. Out of His sovereign love, while the Law attests the sure contract, and rejoices as "the Bridegroom’s Friend," He claims her-herself, yet in Him another-for His blessed Bride.

All is love, as if we walked through the lily gardens of the holy Song, and heard the call of the turtle in the vernal woods, and saw the King and His Beloved rest and rejoice in one another. All is law, as if we were admitted to watch some process of Roman matrimonial contract, stern and grave, in which every right is scrupulously considered, and every claim elaborately secured, without a smile, without an embrace, before the magisterial chair. The Church, the soul, is married to her Lord, who has died for her, and in whom now she lives. The transaction is infinitely happy. And it is absolutely right. All the old terrifying claims are amply and forever met. And now the mighty, tender claims which take their place instantly and of course begin to bind the Bride. The Law has "given her away"-not to herself, but to the Risen Lord.

For this, let us remember, is the point and bearing of the passage. It puts before us, with its imagery at once so grave and so benignant, not only the mystic Bridal, but the Bridal as it is concerned with holiness. The Apostle’s object is altogether this. From one side and from another he reminds us that "we belong." He has shown us our redeemed selves in their blessed bond service; "free from sin, enslaved to God." He now shows us to ourselves in our divine wedlock; "married to Another," "bound to the law of" the heavenly Husband; clasped to His heart, but also to His rights, without which the very joys of marriage would be only sin. From either parable the inference is direct, powerful, and, when we have once seen the face of the Master and of the Husband, unutterably magnetic on the will. You are set free, into a liberty as supreme and as happy as possible. You are appropriated, into a possession, and into a union, more close and absolute than language can set forth. You are wedded to One who "has and holds from this time forward." And the sacred bond is to be prolific of results. A life of willing and loving obedience, in the power of the risen Bridegroom’s life, is to have as it were for its progeny the fair circle of active graces, "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, fidelity, meekness, self-control."

Alas, in the time of the old-abolished wedlock there was result, there was progeny. But that was the fruit not of the union but of its violation. For when we were in the flesh, in our unregenerate days, when our rebel self, the antithesis of "the Spirit," ruled and denoted us, (a state, he implies, in which we all were once, whatever our outward differences were,) the passions, the strong but reasonless impulses, of our sins, which passions were by means of the Law, occasioned by the fact of its just but unloved claim, fretting the self-life into action, worked actively in our limbs, in our bodily life in its varied faculties and senses, so as to bear fruit for death. We wandered, restive, from our bridegroom, the Law, to Sin, our paramour. And behold, a manifold result of evil deeds and habits, born as it were into bondage in the house of Death. But now, now as the wonderful case stands in the grace of God, we are (it is the aorist, but our English fairly represents it) abrogated from the Law, divorced from our first injured Partner, nay, slain (in our crucified Head) in satisfaction of its righteous claim, as having died with regard to that in which we were held captive, even the Law and its violated bond, so that we do bond service in the Spirit’s newness, and not in the Letter’s oldness.

Thus he comes back, through the imagery of wedlock, to that other parable of slavery which has become so precious to his heart. So that we do bond service, "so that we live a slave life." It is as if he must break in on the heavenly Marriage itself with that brand and bond, not to disturb the joy of the Bridegroom and the Bride, but to clasp to the Bride’s heart the vital fact that she is not her own; that fact so blissful, but so powerful also and so practical that it is "worth anything" to bring it home.

It is to be no dragging and dishonouring bondage, in which the poor toiler looks wistfully out for the sinking sun and the extended shadows. It is to be "not in the Letter’s oldness"; no longer on the old principle of the dread and unrelieved "Thou shalt," cut with a pen of legal iron upon the stones of Sinai; bearing no provision of enabling power, but all possible provision of doom for the disloyal. It is to be "in the Spirit’s newness"; on the new, wonderful principle, new in its full manifestation and application in Christ, of the Holy Ghost’s empowering presence. In that light and strength the new relations are discovered, accepted, and fulfilled. Joined by the Spirit to the Lord Christ, so as to have full benefit of His justifying merit; filled by the Spirit with the Lord Christ, so as to derive freely and always the blessed virtues of His life; the willing bondservant finds in his absolute obligations an inward liberty ever "new," fresh as the dawn, pregnant as the spring. And the worshipping Bride finds in the holy call to "keep her only unto Him" who has died for her life, nothing but a perpetual surprise of love and gladness, "new every morning," as the Spirit shows her the heart and the riches of her Lord.

Thus closes, in effect, the Apostle’s reasoned exposition of the self-surrender of the justified. Happy the man who can respond to it all with the "Amen" of a life which, reposing on the Righteousness of God, answers ever to His Will with the loyal gladness found in "the newness of the Spirit." It is "perfect freedom" to understand, in experience, the bondage and the bridal of the saints.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Romans 6:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/romans-6.html.

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