“Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifies. Who is he that condemns? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, Who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” (Romans 8:33,34).
What comfort, what profound peace it brings into the life, what stability it gives to faith, when it is understood that it is God that justifies; that He is “just and the Justifier of him that believes in Jesus” (Romans 3:26); that He can take to Himself, in this bright gospel day, the title of “Him that justifieth the ungodly” (4:5); yea, that this title is His glory, the righteous triumph of His grace in a world where sin abounded.
It brings peace and gives stability because, if God justifies a man, then that man is justified, the case is closed, for none may speak after God: There can be no appeal from His verdict.
According to the law of this land, an action may be tried in the civil courts and go against a man; he may appeal that verdict to the Court of Appeals, it may also decide against him; he may carry his case finally to the Highest Court, the court of last resource, and, if the law give a verdict in his favor every other decision is annulled: if they justify him, it matters not that the lower courts have condemned, for he stands justified now in the final court of appeal.
It is even so with the sinner who believes: He can with triumph say, “Who is he that condemns?”
Satan—the foe—may still accuse, recounting sins which no mortal can number; but, if God has justified the man, he appeals in vain: There is no court in which his charges can be heard, for God has decided the case and there are none higher than God.
But this question of justification, which is dealt with so blessedly and completely in the Roman Epistle, is not a civil action, as of a man versus his neighbor: it is a criminal one; it is a question of God and the ungodly; of God, who must judge the secrets of men by Christ Jesus, and the sinner who has sinned against Him. In this case the sinner has no defense, there are no extenuating circumstances, and it will not avail to plead ignorance. A plea of ignorance could not be admitted even in a worldly court of justice; upon this matter an authority has written, “Ignorance of law excuses no man. Every man must be taken to know the law: to hold the contrary would be to confer a premium on ignorance which would afford a defense to every possible transgression of the law.”
To plead guilty and then to be silent before God, to see what He will do and say, is the only honest, the only right course for the sinner to pursue. When this is done, then does God surprise us by the magnificence of His ways, for He declares His righteousness in justifying the guilty sinner, in justifying him freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (3:24); and, if it is God that justifies, who is he that condemns? There is no answer to the challenge, for every voice that had a claim to be heard has been silenced in the death of Christ; and so we are turned to that death and what follows as the basis upon which all rests.
“It is Christ that died.” Here we are carried down into depths deeper than which nothing can be, and here in these depths was laid the foundation, broad and immovable, upon which every act of God, in grace or judgment, is righteously built. Death was an intruder in God’s domain; sin opened the door for it to enter in devastating power; it lay upon all men as the judgment of God because all had sinned; it was the evidence, beyond all other, of the utterly lost condition of men; it was also Satan’s power, and by it he hoped to keep men forever from the heart of the God who loved them. But God has taken it—the enemy, the invader—and has made it, in that hour which appeared to be its crowning victory, to declare all the glory of His love. Goliath, in the fullness of his strength, has been slain with his own sword.
The sinless One, instead of the sinful, submitted Himself to sin’s penalty, and thus was eternal justice vindicated and the righteousness of God established beyond dispute; so that He can justify whom He elects, and do it in such completeness that none can lay a charge against them.
“Yea rather, that is risen again.” We pass on and up, carried, as it were, upon a rising cadence, for this is a psalm of triumph, it is the music of the gospel of God. The resurrection from the dead is the vindication of Him who died; it is the seal of God upon the work accomplished in those mighty depths; it is victory, the victory of the divine purposes over all the efforts of the devil to thwart them.
“Who is even at the right hand of God.” In the lowest depths, when He died for us, Jesus glorified God about our sins; in the highest height in resurrection life God has glorified Him, evidence of His satisfaction in all that He has accomplished; and the glory secured in the depths, and the satisfaction declared in the heights, are the measure of the justification in which the believer stands:
It is absolute and eternal; and he is not only justified, but he stands now where no charge can be advanced; he is in Christ Jesus, and “there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
This is how God acts for the glory of His grace and the blessing of His own.