ROMANS v. 3-8.
The Onward Path of Faith.
by W.B. Dyer
TREASURE after treasure of grace and truth is opened to us in this chapter. By the words "also" and "not only so," we are led on deeper and deeper into the "unsearchable riches of Christ." These are the green pastures and the still waters, by which the good Shepherd refreshes and nourishes His beloved sheep. May the Holy Spirit use for our profit, and to the praise of our ever-blessed God, the following thoughts, however feeble, on Rom. v. 3-8 of this precious chapter!
The love of God towards His people, manifested in the death of Christ for them when sinners, is shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Ghost when they are in tribulation. The river of God thus makes them glad when the furnace glows around them. They tasted His love in the death of His Son, when first they believed the gospel of His grace. Justified by way of faith, they had peace with God. Their consciences were purged by the blood of Jesus. But as in their Christian course, they advance into tribulation for Christ's sake they enter into a far deeper experience of the love of God.
There is a consistency in the ways of our God. Bitter and sweet are correspondingly weighed out to us by His hand. The trouble of a convicted conscience and a terrified soul was calmed by His forgiveness and embrace, when first He met us at the Cross of His Son. Thus our dread of His judgment was taken from us, and His Own Word, by His Own Spirit, spoke peace to our souls through the atoning blood of the Lamb. But, after this, waves of rough tribulation may toss and shake us, and as we endure these, we learn much more of that blessed God Who has thus loved and forgiven us. As the storm rages without, the Holy Ghost is graciously engaged in shedding abroad love within. And what love? God's love—proved in the death of Christ for us as sinners. This surely is the link between verses 5 and 8. The deeper knowledge of this love kindles the hope of v. 5, and leads the apostle to say, "We glory in tribulations also."
And why is it that that display of God's love is so sweet amidst tribulations, distresses and afflictions for Christ's sake? Is it not, in fact, because tribulation may be mistaken for wrath? The dregs of unbelief and ignorance of God may be stirred up under the trial; and if so, conscience will soon accuse us, and then that which love sends for our profit, will be supposed to flow from displeasure and wrath.
Hence, then this sweet and effectual ministry of the Holy Ghost within, while tribulation rages without. These waves and billows denote no wrath, for being justified by the blood of Him Who was delivered for our offences, "we shall be saved from wrath through Him." They are sent, or allowed, by the same love that gave Jesus for us when we were ungodly, and they serve as the occasion for deeper discovery of that love to our hearts. The wrath due to us was borne for us, once for all, by the Son of God on the tree. Such has been God's wondrous work of love for us there. And now, if we are called to bear reproach for Christ's sake, that same love is poured the more abundantly into our hearts, so that our experimental knowledge of it grows with our need of its consolations and promises. Infinitely wise and gracious is the way of our God and Father.
Let us not, then, shrink from following our Lord and Shepherd, lest while escaping trial for His sake, we lose also the continual and deepening experience of the love of God for us. As we bear our cross, we learn more of the wonders of His Cross. As we are conformed to Him as the obedient and suffering Son, we drink more and more deeply of that love which gave Him up to die in our stead as sinners. Thus the gospel will be more valued the more closely we follow our Saviour. Grace opens to us with augmenting fulness as we tread the path of holiness. We become filled with the enjoyment of the love. wherewith God loved us when we were dead in sins—that "great love" of which we were then utterly insensible, that love so ancient, so practical, so profound—just as we press forward in the path of faith and patience and obedience.
Thus the gospel of the grace of God lives most freshly and fully in the hearts of the most devoted and mature disciples. Who suffered with Christ like Paul? and who so deeply drank of the redeeming love of God? The Cross was his theme; the grace of God to him was ever uppermost in his heart; and thus with humility and fervent love, he preached that grace to others. Real spiritual progress lies in increasing conformity to Jesus and in deepening acquaintance with God, as revealed in grace, in the death of His Son for His enemies.
If these things are so, what must we lose if we refuse the path of obedience because of its attendant tribulations, and choose some self-pleasing by-path? For in that case, our experiences and our condition will be the reverse of those already described. Our first tastes of the love of God are then our sweetest; our first experiences of its redeeming victories the deepest; our first love the warmest. Having been led to the Cross of Christ for pardon and peace, and having some rays from the glorified Jesus, our Forerunner, shining upon us at the outset, we gradually decline in light, love, peace and hope; and perhaps soon lose, through self-will and guilt, the very peace with God and the assured hope of glory (vv. 1, 2) which once we knew.
And is it not true that with this real and solemn declension, old carnal habits revive, though it may be in new forms, and the "works of the flesh" prevail, instead of the "fruit of the Spirit"?
In all these matters, God acts by fixed and revealed rules. The path of believing obedience is the path of blessing; the path of self-pleasing is the path of coldness, doubt, defilement and fear. "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." "If ye live after the flesh ye shall die."
How much that we all mourn in the present spiritual condition of the family of God may be thus accounted for. Have not some who once rejoiced in the love of God, who had confidence before Him through Christ, and who promised well as to Christian devotedness and usefulness, too often exchanged peace and hope for doubt and fear? And are not their best hours those in which under some fresh and powerful influence, early faith and peace and joy in some measure re-appear?
But thus it should not be. Only let the young believer hold fast the revelation God has made of Himself in the Person and death of His Son; let him, leaning on the Beloved, press on, step by step, in the path of filial dependence, worship and obedience, feeding daily on the precious Word of God, and mingling praises for his salvation with earnest prayer for instruction, guidance and upholding grace, and then he will prove the truth of these precious verses. The eye (Ps. xxxii. 8) and the Word of his Father will lead him in paths which many bearing the Christian name may condemn; many trials of faith, steadfastness and humility will arise; and Satan will lay many snares for one who determines to be an obedient child of God. But as that child of God holds on in the path of light, ever looking to Jesus the Author and Finisher of faith, let him suffer what he may, and from whom he may, his peace will flow more and more "as a river," and his experience of that love, which loved him, when an enemy, will be correspondingly purer and deeper. "Patient continuance in well-doing" is the path of communion, confidence and usefulness.
True indeed it is that lusts from within will also assail; our old lusts—those enemies which were once fondled and fed, and whose native strength grew by indulgence. Indwelling sin and carnal habits are mighty instruments in the hands of our adversary. But all these are triumphed over through faith in Jesus. In His death for us, we see the true malignity, and the certain judgment, of our sinful flesh. He "who knew no sin," but was made "in the likeness of sinful flesh," bore in love the judgment due to us. Thus our sin brought death on Him, and thus we have died through Him. What incentives to mortify our lusts, whether of the mind or of the flesh, do we therefore find in the Cross of Christ! That one offering of Himself for us reveals at once the love with which we are loved, our sinfulness and our desert, and the riches of the grace in which we stand.
Alas! that Satan should so much prevail, generally little by little, against the family of God in our present warfare. Are we not too generally feeble, wounded and fettered, like the inmates of hospitals or prisons, rather than like sons and kings and priests of God, and servants and soldiers of Christ? Yet for all this, there is full provision through the grace of God in Christ Jesus. The wounds caused by our unbelief, and the guilt of self-will, in the family of God, are provided for by the one offering and the unchangeable priesthood of Jesus. So that the very affronts which divine love receives from those whom it has embraced, were as surely atoned for at Calvary as the pollutions of unregeneracy, when that love, though existent, had never been tasted.
We do well however to remember that there is One Who is "able to keep us from falling." How blessed it is to prove the exercise of His power! His pardoning grace we know; His restoring grace have we not proved? But is it not our privilege to know His upholding grace? What must be the beauty, in the esteem of our God, of His children's growth from "babes" to "young men," and from "young men" to "fathers"! (1 John ii. 13) It is true that the whole power of Satan, of the flesh, and of the world, resists this, and the general condition of a divided and lukewarm church does not promote it; but the desire, the Word and the sufficiency of our God are unchangeable.
If even one precious child of God shall feel searched and humbled while reading these thoughts, I must once more say, let no sense of declining or barren years in the family of God lead you to fall from His grace. If our hearts are contrite, He will meet us where we are, and smile on us and succour us. Yea, He will even turn our past follies and ingratitude to our profit, humbling and instructing us thereby, and thus meetening us for His service. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness," is a Word written to the children of God, who also have "an Advocate with the Father, even Jesus Christ the righteous." (1 John i. 7; ii. 1.)
Surely there are amazing depths in the love and mercy of our God and Father; depths that are not fathomed by us when that love first fills the pardoned sinner's heart with joy; depths that are never fathomed by us though that love is our constant study and delight; yet depths that we now grow in experimental enjoyment of, just in proportion as we take up our cross and follow our blessed Saviour and Master.
This is not the knowledge which "puffeth up," or which genders pride and strife, for it is the knowledge of that love of God wherewith He loved us when we were His enemies, and which has so triumphantly redeemed us by the atoning death of His Own Son. Let us therefore earnestly ponder the death of Him Who said, "He that eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, dwelleth in Me, and I in him."