The account of creation reveals the marvellous wisdom and power of Christ, by whom all things were created. Col. 1:14-16. The sin of the first Adam, with all its awful consequences, is related in order that Christ, the last Adam, may be hailed as Redeemer and restorer. Rom. 5:12-21. Death with all its terrors is set before us, that Christ may be exalted and glorified as the Life-giver. 1 Cor. 15:22. The disappointments, sorrows, and tragedies of this life are recounted, that Christ may be sought as the great comforter and deliverer. John 16:33. Our sinful, corrupt natures are presented in lurid colours, that Christ may be appealed to for cleansing, and may in very deed be unto us "the Lord our righteousness."
Thus it is throughout the Sacred Volume, – every phase of truth unfolded, points in some way to Christ as our righteousness.
But righteousness as a distinct, well-defined subject of vital importance, occupies a large place in the word of God. Its source, its nature, the possibility of its being obtained by sinners, and the conditions upon which it may be secured, are set forth in great clearness in that original, authoritative textbook on righteousness.
Of the source of righteousness, we read: "O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto Thee” Dan. 9:7. "The Lord is righteous in all His ways." Ps. 145:17. "Thy righteousness is like the great mountains." Ps.
36:6. "Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness." Ps. 119:142. "The righteous Lord loveth righteousness." Ps. 11:7. "There is no unrighteousness in Him." Ps. 92:15.
Regarding the nature of righteousness, the Scriptures are most explicit. It is set forth as the very opposite of sin, and is associated with holiness, or godliness. "Awake to righteousness, and sin not." 1 Cor. 15:34. "That ye put away, as concerning your former manner of life, the old man, which waxeth corrupt after the lusts of deceit; and that ye be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, which after God hath been created in righteousness and holiness of truth." Eph. 4:22-24, R. V. "The fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth." Eph. 5:9. "Follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness." 1 Tim. 6:11. "All unrighteousness is sin." 1 John 5:17.
Perhaps the finest and most inspiring statement regarding righteousness in all the word of God is the following concerning Christ: "Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even Thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows." Heb. 1:9. This places righteousness as the antithesis, the direct opposite, of iniquity, or sin.
Thus the word declares that God is the source of righteousness, and that it is one of His divine, holy attributes. The supreme question regarding the righteousness of God, the question of the deepest interest and consequence to us, is our personal relation to that righteousness. Is righteousness in any degree inherent in human nature? If so, how may it be cultivated and developed? If not, is there any way of obtaining it? If so, by what means, and when?
To the mind untaught and unenlightened by the word of God, this is a great, dark, baffling problem. In endeavouring to solve it, man has surely "sought out many inventions." But uncertainty and confusion regarding our relation to the righteousness of God are quite unnecessary, for the true situation is clearly stated in the Scriptures of truth.
The Scriptures declare that "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23); that we are "carnal, sold under sin" (Rom. 7:14); that "there is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3: 10); that in our flesh there "dwelleth no good thing" (Rom. 7:18); and finally, that we are "filled with all unrighteousness- (Rom. 1:29). This clearly answers the question as to whether righteousness is in any degree inherent in human nature. It is not. On the contrary, human nature is filled with unrighteousness.
But in this same word we find the good, glad news that God has provided a way by which we may be cleansed from our unrighteousness, and be clothed and filled with His perfect righteousness. We find that this provision was made and revealed to Adam as soon as he fell from his high and holy estate. This merciful provision has been understood and laid hold of by fallen, unrighteous men and women from the very beginning of the fierce, unequal conflict with sin. This we learn from the following testimonies recorded in the Scriptures:
1. In one of His sermons, Christ refers to the second son of Adam, and speaks of him as “righteous Abel.” Matt. 23:35. And Paul declares that Abel "obtained witness that he was righteous." Heb. 11:4.
2. “The Lord said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before Me in this generation.” Gen. 7:1. Again: "Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God." Gen. 6:9.
3. "Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness." Rom. 4:3.
4. "And delivered righteous Lot, sore distressed by the lascivious life of the wicked (for that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their lawless deeds)." 2 Peter 2:7, 8, R. V.
5. Of Zacharias and Elisabeth, living just before the birth of Christ, it is said: "They were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless." Luke 1:6.
6. The apostle Paul declares that the Gentiles to whom he had preached the gospel had "attained to righteousness." Rom. 9:30; 6:17-22.
Thus it is seen that from the promise made to Adam, to the close of apostolic times, there were men and women all along the way who laid hold of the righteousness of God and had the evidence that their lives were pleasing to Him.
Upon What Conditions?
How was this accomplished? Upon what conditions was this wonderful transaction wrought? Was it because the times and conditions in which these men and women lived were favourable to righteousness? Or was it due to the special and superior qualities inherent in those who reached the high tablelands of godliness?
All the records of the times and of individuals give a negative answer. They were people with natures like our own, and their environment “vexed” their righteous souls from day to day. 2 Peter 2:7, 8. They obtained the priceless blessing of righteousness in the one way, the only way, it has been possible for any human being to secure it since Adam sinned.
The way of being made righteous is given great prominence in the New Testament. The clearest and fullest exposition is found in the epistle of Paul to the Romans. At the very beginning of his argument the apostle declares: “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. . . . For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” Rom. 1:16, 17.
It is the gospel that reveals to men the perfect righteousness of God. The gospel also reveals the way that righteousness may be obtained by sinful men, namely, by faith. This is presented at greater length in the following statement:
"By the deeds [the works] of the law there shall no flesh be justified [accounted righteous] in His sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law [works of the law] is manifested, being witnessed [approved, accepted] by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe." Rom. 3:20-22.
In the first part of this statement, the apostle shows the part which the law takes in the problem of justification. "By the law is the knowledge of sin." The knowledge of sin; not the deliverance from sin. The law points out sin. In so doing it declares the whole world to be guilty before God. Romans 3. But the law cannot deliver from sin. No effort of the sinner to obey the law can cancel his guilt or bring to him the righteousness of God.
That righteousness, Paul declares, is "by faith of Jesus Christ: ... whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation [an atoning sacrifice] through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God." Rom. 3:22-25.
It is through faith in the blood of Christ that all the sins of the believer are cancelled and the righteousness of God is put in their place to the believer's account. O, what a marvellous transaction! What a manifestation of divine love and grace. Here is a man born in sin. As Paul says, he is “filled with all unrighteousness”. His inheritance of evil is the worst imaginable. His environment is at the lowest depths known to the wicked. In some way the love of God shining from the cross of Calvary reaches that man's heart. He yields, repents, confesses, and by faith claims Christ as his Saviour. The instant that is done, he is accepted as a child of God. His sins are all forgiven, his guilt is cancelled, he is accounted righteous, and stands approved, justified, before the divine law. And this amazing, miraculous change may take place in one short hour. This is righteousness by faith.
Having made these clear, forceful statements as to the way of being made righteous, the apostle then illustrates the truth declared by a concrete case. He takes the experience of Abraham as an example.
"What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?" Rom. 4: 1. Anticipating his answer, we reply: Abraham had found righteousness. But how - by what method? Paul tells us: “If Abraham were justified [accounted righteous] by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.” Rom. 4:2. Made righteous by works is a suggestion, a proposal, -if such a thing could be. Is that the way by which to obtain righteousness? "What saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it [his belief] was counted unto him for righteousness." Rom. 4:3. This statement settles forever the way by which Abraham obtained God's righteousness. It was not by works; it was by faith.
Abraham's Way the Only Way
Having settled the question as to how Abraham secured the righteousness of God, Paul proceeds to show that that is the only way any one else can obtain righteousness.
"To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." Rom. 4:5.
What kindness! What great compassion! The Lord, who is “righteousness in all His ways,” offers His own perfect righteousness to any and every poor, weak, helpless, hopeless sinner who will believe what He says. Read it again: "To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him, his faith is counted for righteousness."
So important, so fundamental is this way of righteousness that the apostle goes on through this entire chapter to restate and repeat and press home to all what he has made so clear in few words. Here are some of his statements:
"Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works." Rom. 4:6.
"We say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness." Rom. 4:9.
"And being fully persuaded that, what He had promised, He was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on Him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; who was delivered for our offences [sins], and was raised again for our justification [righteousness]." Rom. 4:21-25.
This clear-cut, positive statement reveals to every lost soul for all time the only way from sin and guilt and condemnation to righteousness and deliverance from condemnation and death. With this agree all the other statements of the Scriptures regarding this great problem of being made righteous.
The three words “righteousness by faith” express the most wonderful transaction in this material world which the human intellect can grasp. They express the greatest gift that God, in His infinite plenitude, could bestow upon mankind. The great fact expressed by this phrase of three words, has been studied, expounded, and rejoiced in by millions during past ages, and it is still the theme of the most sublime interest and importance to the human family.
Reviewing these statements, we find:
That the law of God demands righteousness from all who are under its jurisdiction. But through transgression all have made themselves incapable of rendering the righteousness which the law demands. What, then, is the sinner to do? His transgression of God's righteous law has made him unrighteous. This has brought him under the condemnation of that law. Being condemned, the penalty of his transgression must be paid. The penalty is death. He owes a debt that demands his life. He is under a condemnation that he can never remove. He is facing a penalty he can never escape. What can he do? Is there any way out of this dark, hopeless situation? Yes, there is.
“The righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed [approved and accepted] by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe.” Rom. 3:21, 22.
This reveals the way of meeting the demands of the law, and emphatically states that the only way of doing so is by faith. To the natural, unilluminated mind, this solution of the dark problem is a mystery. The law requires obedience; it demands righteous deeds in the activities of life. How can such demands be met by faith instead of by works? The answer is given in plain words: "Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation [an atoning sacrifice] through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God." Rom. 3:24, 25.
What a marvellous solution of the awful problem of sin! Only our infinite, all-wise, and compassionate Father could and would provide such a solution. Only inspired writings could reveal it. And this way of making a sinner righteous is found only in the untainted gospel of Christ.
“Byfaith he [the sinner, who has so grievously wronged and offended God] can bring to God the merits of Christ, and the Lord places the obedience of His Son to the sinner's account. Christ's righteousness is accepted in place of man's failure.” Review and Herald, Nov. 4, 1890.
Christ came to this world as our Redeemer. He became our substitute. He took our place in the conflict with Satan and sin. He was tempted in all points as we are, but never sinned. He loved righteousness and hated iniquity. His life of perfect obedience met the highest demands of the law. And O, the wonder and the marvel of it is that God accepts Christ's righteousness in the place of our failure, our unrighteousness!
In this divine transaction, "God receives, pardons, justifies.... and loves him [the sinner] as He loves His Son." –Ibid. No wonder Paul proclaimed to the whole world that it was the love of Christ which constrained him in his arduous labours, and that he counted it a great privilege and joy to suffer the loss of all things, that he might gain Christ and stand clothed in His righteousness, which is imputed to the sinner through faith.
Thus is explained just how faith takes the place of works and is accounted righteousness. This wonderful truth should be perfectly dear to every believer; and it must become personal experience. It should enable us to cease from our own works, efforts, and struggles, and to enter into calm, trusting, living faith in the merits, the obedience, the righteousness of Christ. These we may present to God in the place of our failures. We should joyfully accept the pardon and justification granted, and should now experience the peace and joy which such a marvellous transaction is able to bring to our hearts.
"Therefore being justified [accounted righteous] by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Rom. 5:1.
Many Have Missed the Way
How strange and how sad that this simple, beautiful way of righteousness seems so hard for the natural, carnal heart to find and accept! It was a great sorrow to Paul that Israel, his kinsmen according to the flesh, missed the way so fatally. He said: "Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law." Rom. 9:31, 32.
On the other hand, "the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith." Rom. 9:30.
And now the apostle reveals the real secret of Israel's failure: "For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law [the one to whom the law points] for righteousness to every one that believeth." Rom. 10: 3, 4
Finally, the apostle closes his exposition of this sublime theme with these assuring words: "But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." Rom. 10:8-10.
"Righteousness by faith" is not a theory. People may hold a theory about it, and at the same time be “ignorant of God's righteousness and going about to establish their own righteousness.” “Righteousness by faith” is a transaction, an experience. It is a submitting unto “the righteousness of God.” It is a change of standing before God and His law. It is a regeneration, a new birth. Without this change there can be no hope for the sinner, for he will remain under the condemnation of God's changeless, holy law; its terrible penalty will still hang over his head.
How very essential it thus appears that we come to know, by clear, positive experience, that this great, vital transaction called "righteousness by faith" has been wrought in our hearts and lives by the power of God. Only then can we truly pray our Lord's prayer, addressing, "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name."
"This name is hallowed by the angels of heaven, by the inhabitants of unfallen worlds. When you pray, 'Hallowed be Thy name,' you ask that it may be hallowed in this world, hallowed in you. God has acknowledged you before men and angels as His child; pray that you may do no dishonour to the 'worthy name by which ye are called.' God sends you into the world as His representatives. In every act of life you are to make manifest the name of God. This petition calls upon you to possess His character. You cannot hallow His name, you cannot represent Him to the world, unless in life and character you represent the very life and character of God. This you can do only through the acceptance of the grace and righteousness of Christ." – "Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing," P.158.