(Preached in London on Monday evening, July 27th, 1810)
“Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with him.” (Isaiah 3:10)
We shall attempt in the first place, to make a few remarks to show who these “righteous” are; and, secondly, notice the very encouraging language spoken respecting them. God says, “Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with him.”
I. A “righteous” man before God is made so by the imputation of Christ’s holy obedience, put to his account–made his. Bless God for this. What a sweet way is this, of making man righteous! Some people tell us, that it is “imputed nonsense.” I dare say it is to them; I think they tell truly what it is to them; they are blinded by the god of this world, they are fancying that our obedience and piety are a garment that is pleasing to God, and imputed righteousness to these is hateful. But it is not so to those that are really righteous before God. There are none upon earth that have such a sight of their own unworthiness as the righteous have; there are none upon earth that have such views and sights of their own vileness as the righteous have; there are none upon earth, that ever can degrade themselves as the righteous do, for when they come to speak of their own righteousness, they cannot afford it a better name than “filthy rags.” These will be heartily thankful for imputed righteousness.
But let us see what God says. “Christ Jesus is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” (1 Cor. 1:30) So that, it is not to be done, but it is done; He is made of God unto us–that is, the righteous, the chosen, the redeemed, the preserved. Here they stand, then, righteous; perfect, spotless and complete in the obedience of Christ, entirely separate from anything of their making. So, the apostle says again, “He was made sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Cor. 5:21)
Here you see that these are righteous in the sight of God, by the sovereign act of God in imputing the obedience of Christ unto them. One more text; and it seals it up beautifully. “As by the disobedience of one many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” (Rom. 5:19) Oh! that the Holy Spirit might lead us up in faith, out of self into Christ, and give us a faith’s view of the blessing of imputed righteousness–the garment that covers, and hides from all spots, wrinkles and blemishes. Nay, God says,–“Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee.” (Songs 4:7)
Why, child of God, I dare say you are like myself, often looking at the wanderings, the coldness, the deadness, the carelessness, the indifference, the wretchedness–the monster of iniquity that you are. What a blessing, when God leads us to look up to the blessed imputed righteousness, and have it sweetly sealed home in our hearts that it is ours! Here is the blessing–here is the blessing of it.
“Ah!” says one,” “I never could reach that blessing.” It will reach you by and by; be quiet. Pray for it, if you want it; beg for it, if you believe it; cry and sigh for it, if you cannot do without it. Nobody else will ever pray for it from their hearts, but those that are brought to see they are damned without it; nobody else will ever thank God for it from their hearts, but those that are brought to see, that if they are found without it, they are lost for ever. And you think God will bring you to see your need of it, and bring you to long for it and ask for it, and never give it at last, poor soul? Yes, God will give it you. No mortal can reveal it; but God will reveal it in your conscience–for He gives it to His people as an act of sovereign discriminating grace.
Here, then, His people stand righteous in the sight of God. Here is the robe that covers them. Here is the robe that admits them into the presence of God. Here is the robe that the holy Trinity delights to view. Here is the robe, that can conquer the devil, that can resist his fiery darts, and light up the soul with joy and peace. This is the “fine linen, and white, which is the righteousness of the saints,” (Rev. 19:8) in which they shall shine in immortal glory. These are those that are righteous in God’s sight; not one more, nor one less.
But again; the “righteous” man has a righteous kingdom implanted and set up in his soul; a holy kingdom, which God says is “in righteousness and true holiness.” A righteous man has a proof of his being a righteous man. Do not misunderstand me; God’s people are righteous in the sight and purpose and decree of God from everlasting, and regeneration makes them no more righteous in His sight than they were (in Christ and His obedience) from eternity; but there is no manifestation of a righteous man’s standing in Christ, till the Holy Spirit enters into his heart and sets up His kingdom in his soul. The very moment that this is done, there is such light, there is such life, that that poor soul, if he is a drunkard, hates drunkenness–he is killed and dead to it; if he has been a whoremonger, the moment this work and kingdom influences him, he abhors it–confesses such abominations to God and hates them. Let his practice have been what it may, and let his companions be ever so vile, this holy kingdom cuts him off from the pleasures of sin, and the enjoyment and indulgence of it in his soul. Oh! from this holy kingdom, that is set up in the soul of a righteous man arises all his hatred to sin, all his grief for sin, all his mourning for sin, all his panting for God, all his desires after the image of Christ. This holy kingdom that there is in his soul so influences his heart, that he is never, never satisfied, but as he enjoys a holy God and is conformed to the image of His Son.
Talk of a child of God, that is fixed and settled in the purposes and manifestation of God’s grace, well established in the doctrines of grace–why, the more he sees the beauty of the doctrines of grace and the preciousness of them, the more he pants after holy enjoyments; the more he pants after holy conformity to the image of the Son of God. There is nothing that is so grievous to him as sin.
It is true, there are times and seasons, when the child of God gets into such a stupid, carnal, fleshly, hardened state of mind, that he appears as if his very “conscience was seared as with a hot iron;” but even under this there is a something that gives him pain, there is a something that makes him hate himself for it, there is a something he cannot make out that makes him feel he would give worlds if he could get rid of it, there is something that brings him to cry–“Beast that I am! wretch that I am!” There is something that he cannot unriddle, but a feeling that he would gladly get rid of it. By and by it comes more into exercise, and more into life. And what is the branching out of this life? Oh! that he might be more like God–that he might not be such a fool, in wandering upon such forbidden objects–that he might be preserved from such ungodly feelings, and that he might be blessed with his mind stayed upon God and admiring God.
This is hard fighting. The righteous man has a righteous kingdom set up in his soul, and he loves that which is holy, and holiness itself; but there is an “old man of sin,” that is in his very nature. For when God’s kingdom is set up, all nature is not eradicated; it is not changed; it is not made any better, and it cannot be made worse; only, when the kingdom of grace and holiness is set in the heart of a child of God, the old man rages more, and makes himself known more. Thus what can you see, but as it were two armies? Hear Paul speak of “the flesh lusting against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, and these two being contrary the one to the other, so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” (Gal. 5:17)
What is it that the child of God would do if it were the Lord’s blessed will, from this kingdom of grace and holiness set up in his heart? Do? why, he would walk with God, he would talk with God, he would have communion with God, he would live at a distance from sin, he would glorify God in his walk, in his conduct, and in his conversation. And what would the “old man” do? Why, the “old man” would influence him–(and does)–to hate God, and to abhor God, and to quarrel with God, and to despise God, and to treat Him with every contempt.
Have you not such contentions at times in your heart, that you wonder how it is? You want to read your Bible, and you are condemned in your conscience that you do not read it more; you take your Bible, and you open it, and you beg that you may read it and that you may meditate upon it, but there is something rising in your heart that spurns at the Bible, that tells you there is nothing there for you, that tells you you have no business with it. If you want to kneel down, and there is something in you that tells you you must pray, there is something in you also that tells you prayer is nothing, that tells you that God never hears it, never notices your groans or your cries. If you come to talk to your friends of God’s goodness, there is something in your heart that pours contempt upon it, something that opposes it. So that “ye cannot do the things that ye would.” A self-righteous man can “do the things that he would;” he would go to chapel or church, and he can do it, he tells you; he would read his Bible morning and evening, and he can do it; he would love his Bible, and he can do it, he can pray when he will, and read his Bible when he will, and do anything he will. But hear the poor child of God; he joins Paul, (and all God’s dear family, taught of the Lord, can join Paul–they are all the same family)–“The good that I would I do not, but the evil which I would not that I do; I delight in the law of God after the inward man, but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.” (Rom. 7:19,22,23,25)