"There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." Romans viii. 1.
In these words the inspired Apostle supplies us with the key to the great and precious truths embodied in the chapter, upon the unfolding of which, as guided by the Holy Spirit, we propose to enter. They contain the leading proposition, which, thus distinctly enunciated, he proceeds with his usual vigor of mind, perspicuity of reasoning, and gentleness of spirit, clothing his thoughts with the most eloquent diction, to confirm and illustrate. He had been descanting, with much feeling and power, upon the painful and ceaseless conflict waging between the antagonist principles of the regenerate heart, illustrating it, as is evident from his use of the first person, by a reference to his own personal experience as a Christian. The question, mooted by some, whether Paul delineated a state preceding, or subsequent to, conversion, ought not, we think, to allow a moment's doubt. Since, from the fourteenth verse to the close of the chapter, he unfolds the operation of a law which only finds scope for its exercise in the soul of the renewed man, and with whose hidden and mysterious workings, the experience of the saints has in all ages coincided. But if this argument still leaves the mind perplexed, the opening of the present chapter would appear sufficiently conclusive to set the question at rest. Having portrayed with a master pen- himself sitting for the picture- the spiritual struggles of the children of God, he then proceeds, in the passage under consideration, to apply the divine consolation and support appropriate to a condition so distressing and humiliating. Lifting them from the region of conflict and cloud, he places them upon an elevation towering above the gloom and strife of the battle-field, around whose serene, sunlight summit gathered the first dawning of eternal glory.
"There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus." The transition from the desponding tone of the seventh chapter, to the triumphant language of the eighth, may appear somewhat startling and abrupt; yet it is perfectly easy, logical, and natural. The verse before us is an inference fairly deducible from the whole of the preceding discussion; and is, in fact, the grand conclusion toward which the Apostle had throughout the argument been aiming to arrive. Clear is it, then, as the sun, that if to the saints of God belong the conflict of sin and death, over whose thraldom they mourn; to them also equally belongs the deliverance from the curse and the condemnation, in whose victory they rejoice. Let us now address ourselves to the exposition of this sublime and solemn theme, in humble reliance upon the Divine teaching of the Spirit, pledged and vouchsafed to guide us into all truth.
'Condemnation' is a word of tremendous import; and it is well fairly to look at its meaning, that we may the better understand the wondrous grace that has delivered us from its power. Echoing through the gloomy halls of a human court, it falls with a fearful knell upon the ear of the criminal, and thrills with sympathy and horror the bosom of each spectator of the scene. But in the court of Divine Justice it is uttered with a meaning and solemnity infinitely significant and impressive. To that court every individual is cited. Before that bar each one must be arraigned. "Conceived in sin, and shaped in iniquity," man enters the world under arrest- an indicted criminal, a rebel manacled, and doomed to die. Born under the tremendous sentence originally denounced against sin: "In the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die;" or, "You shall die the death," he enters life under a present condemnation, the prelude of a future condemnation. From it he can discover no avenue of escape. He lies down, and he rises up- he repairs to the mart of business, and to the haunt of pleasure, a guilty, sentenced, and condemned man. "Cursed is every one that continues not in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them," is the terrible sentence branded upon his brow. And should the summons to eternity arrest him amid his dreams, his speculations, and his revels, the adversary would deliver him to the judge, the judge to the officer, and the officer would consign him over to all the pangs and horrors of the "second" and "eternal death." "He that believes not, is condemned already." My dear reader, without real conversion this is your present state, and must be your future doom.
But from this woe all believers in Christ are delivered. The sentence of death under which, in common with others, they lay, is absolved; the curse is removed; the indictment is quashed; and "there is, therefore, now no condemnation"
But let us, for the better understanding of this subject, consider what this condition does not imply. It does not include deliverance from the indwelling of sin, nor exemption from Divine correction, nor the absence of self-accusation; still less does it suppose that there is nothing for which the believer deserves to die. All this exists where yet no condemnation exists. The battle with indwelling evil is still waged, and the loving chastisement of a Father is still experienced, and the self-condemnation is still felt, and daily in the holiest life there is still transpiring, that which, were God strict to mark iniquities, merits and would receive eternal woe; and yet the declaration stands untouched and unimpeached- "No condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus." This is the blessed condition we are now more fully to describe.
The freedom of the believer is just what it is declared to be- entire exemption from condemnation. From all which that word of significant and solemn import implies, he is, by his relation to Christ, delivered. Sin does not condemn him, the law does not condemn him, the curse does not condemn him, hell does not condemn him, God does not condemn him. He is under no power from these, beneath whose accumulated and tremendous woe all others wither. A brief and simple argument will, perhaps, be sufficient to establish this fact. The pardon of sin necessarily includes the negation of its condemnatory power. There being no sin legally alleged, there can be no condemnation justly pronounced. Now, by the sacrifice of Christ all the sins of the Church are entirely put away. He, the sinless Lamb of God, took them up and bore them away into a land of oblivion, where even the Divine mind fails to recall them. "How forcible are right words!" Listen to those which declare this wondrous fact: "I, even I, am He that blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and will not remember your sins." "You have cast all my sins behind your back." "Having forgiven you all trespasses" "Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more." The revoking of the sentence of the law must equally annihilate its condemnatory force. The obedience and death of Christ met the claims of that law, both in its preceptive and punitive character. A single declaration of God's Word throws a flood of light upon this truth- "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us." The sentence of the law thus falling upon the Surety, who was "made under the law, that he might redeem those who were under the law," there can be no condemnation from it to those who have taken shelter in him. Thus, then, is it evident that both sin and the law are utterly powerless to condemn a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. We have hinted, that the perfection of Christ's satisfaction supplies the meritorious and procuring cause of our non-condemnation. This truth cannot be too frequently repeated, nor too prominently kept in view. No legal obedience- no personal merit or worthiness of the sinner whatever- is taken into the account of his discharge from condemnation. This exalted position can only be reached by an expedient that harmonizes with the attributes of God, and thus upholds, in undimmed luster, the majesty and honor of the Divine government. God will pardon sin, and justify the sinner, but it must be by a process supremely glorifying to himself. How, then, could a creature-satisfaction, the most perfect that man, or the most peerless that angels could offer, secure this result? Impossible! But the case, strange and difficult though it is, is met, fully, adequately met, by the satisfaction of Jesus. The Son of God became the Son of man. He presents himself to the Father in the character of the church's substitute. The Father, beholding in him the Divinity that supplies the merit, and the humanity that yields the obedience and endures the suffering, accepts the Savior, and acquits the sinner. Hence the freedom of the believer from condemnation. "There is, therefore, now no condemnation." It is the existence of a present condition. It is the enjoyment of a present immunity. "He is now free from condemnation, not as if the sentence of acquittal were still in dependence, but as if the sentence had already passed, not as if he had to look, perhaps doubtfully and ambiguously, forward to some future day, when a verdict of exculpation shall be pronounced upon him; but as if he stood exculpated before God even now, and even now might rejoice in the forgiveness of all his trespasses." (Chalmers)
It is the simple belief of this fact that brings instant peace to the bosom. A present discharge from condemnation must produce a present joy. Open the iron-bound door of the condemned cell, and by the dim light that struggles through its bars read the sovereign's free pardon to the felon, stretched, pale and emaciated, upon his pallet of straw; and the radiance you have kindled in that gloomy dungeon, and the transport you have created in that felon's heart, will be a present realization. You have given him back a present life; you have touched a thousand chords in his bosom, which awake a present harmony; and where, just previous; reigned in that bosom sullen, grim despair, now reigns the sun-light joyousness of a present hope. Christian! there is now no condemnation for you! Be yours, then, a present and a full joy. "Christ has made atonement, and with it God is satisfied; and if so, well may you be satisfied- delighting yourselves greatly in the abundance of peace, and going forth even now in the light and liberty of your present enlargement."
"To those who are in Christ Jesus." We here touch a vital and profound truth. Rich and accumulative as the passages are which offer their aid in its elucidation, we despair of conveying to other than a mind experimentally acquainted with the truth itself, anything like an adequate representation of the imposing magnitude and glory of the condition. To be in Christ may really be felt, but not easily described. The first view, then, which we present, is that which illustrates the mystical indwelling of the church in Christ, when he stood as its substitute. As all the nations of the world were federally and mystically in Adam when he fell; so the "holy nation," the Church of God, was federally and mystically in the Second Adam, "the Lord from heaven," when in the counsel of God he presented himself as its Surety, and when in the fulness of time he appeared, all robed for the sacrifice, to discharge the engagement. Approach that cross, and what do you behold? Is it that you see a guilty one, suffering- a criminal, worthy of death? No; you see the sinless Son of God bearing the sin, and, by consequence, the condemnation of his people. And in that wondrous spectacle, you see brought to the bar of Infinite Justice- tried, sentenced, and condemned, in the person of their surety- all those who are in Christ Jesus. In Christ they were chosen- to Christ they were betrothed- with Christ they were united- by Christ they are saved,- and, sitting with Christ on his throne, they shall reign with him forever and ever.
But, there is the open, manifest being in Christ, on which we must lay especial stress in our attempted description of this blessed state. "Preserved in Christ Jesus," the sinner is eventually "called in Christ Jesus." "If any man be in Christ Jesus, he is a new creature." An external and nominal profession of the Gospel may exist, and exist, too, in connection with great knowledge, and fervent zeal, and costly sacrifice, and morality of a high order, apart from this internal change. Such a character our Lord describes in these words: " Every branch in me that bears not fruit he takes away." Such an individual is in Christ by an outward profession only. But a state of non-condemnation implies a being in Christ in a far higher sense. It includes the great truth of Christ being in us- "I in them." "We are in him who is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ." Thus it is a mutual in-dwelling- Christ in us, and we in Christ. Here is our security. The believer is in Christ as Jacob was in the garment of the elder brother when Isaac kissed him, and he "smelled the smell of the clothing, and blessed him, and said, See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field which the Lord has blessed." He is in Christ, as the poor homicide was within the city of refuge when pursued by the avenger of blood, but who could not overtake and slay. He is in Christ as Noah was inclosed within the ark, with the heavens darkening above him, and the waters heaving beneath him, yet with not a drop of the flood penetrating his vessel, nor a blast of the storm disturbing the serenity of his spirit. How expressive are these scriptural emblems of the perfect security of a believer in Christ! He is clothed with the garment of the Elder Brother, the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, "which is unto all, and upon all those who believe." On that garment the Father's hands are placed; in that robe the person of the believer is accepted; it is to God "as the smell of a field which the Lord has blessed:" the blessing of the heavenly birthright is his- and for him there is no condemnation. Pursued by the avenger of blood, the threatenings of a condemning law, he has reached the city of refuge, the Lord Jesus Christ. Fearful and trembling, yet believing and hoping, he has crossed the sacred threshold, and in an instant he is safe- and for him there is no condemnation. Fleeing from the gathering storm- "the wrath which is to come,"- he has availed himself of the open door of the sacred ark- the crucified Savior- has entered, God shutting him in- and for him there is no condemnation. Yes, Christ Jesus is our sanctuary, beneath whose shadow we are safe. Christ Jesus is our strong tower, within whose embattlements no avenger can threaten. Christ Jesus is our hiding-place from the wind, and covert from the tempest; and not one drop of "the wrath to come" can fall upon the soul that is in him. O how completely accepted, and how perfectly secure, the sinner who is in Christ Jesus! He feels he is saved on the basis of a law, whose honor is vindicated; through the clemency of a righteous Sovereign, whose holiness is secured; and through the mercy of a gracious God, the glory of whose moral government is eternally and illustriously exhibited. And now is his head lifted up above his enemies round about him; for there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. Reader, are you in Christ Jesus? Is this your condition? We repeat the solemn declaration- "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things have passed away; behold, all things are become new." Are you that new creature? Prove, examine, and ascertain. For if you are not born again of the Spirit, be well assured that you are still under the curse and sentence of the law. And while condemnation, in dark and gloomy characters, is written upon the brow of every unbelieving sinner out of Christ; Christ has said of all who have fled out of themselves to him, "He who hears my word, and believes on Him that sent me, has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life."
"Who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." We have here the character of all those who have secured, by faith in the Lord Jesus, their full discharge from the sentence of death. Thus, in the passage under consideration are clearly stated, the cause and the consequence of the believer's discharge. It has been shown, that our being in Christ is the ground of our not being in condemnation. It then follows, that as a fruit- a consequence of our immunity from condemnation- is our walking after the Spirit. Thus, while justification and sanctification are separate and distinct conditions, they yet are cognate truths, and co-exist in the experience of all the regenerate. The deduction which the Apostle here makes of holiness from acceptance; or rather, the order of sequence which he observes, is worthy of the reader's closest attention. Its lack of observance has kept numbers of sincere seekers of Christ in the cold dreary region of embarrassment and doubt, who, but for thus overlooking the order observed, or perhaps rather, by reversing that order, might have fully received into their souls that "kingdom which is righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit." Their great error has been an attempt to shape their course, not after the flesh, but after the Spirit, before having ascertained their being in Christ and consequent freedom from condemnation.
In plainer language, their placing sanctification in advance of justification; in substituting the effect for the cause; in looking to the Spirit rather than to Christ. How painfully distressing is the struggle of such an one! Sincere and earnest in his desire to love God, but with his back turned upon the cross, and his face towards the "mountain that burns with fire," he can see everything in God to awaken his fear, but nothing to inspire his love. He longs to obey God; but, lacking the impelling motive to obedience, he fails in every attempt. He sighs for rest; but his incessant effort to recover the ground perpetually sliding from beneath his feet, places that rest further and further beyond his reach. He would sincerely be holy; but, seeking his holiness in the way of doing, and not in the way of believing, he never attains it. But let us explain the words.
"To walk after the flesh" is to regulate the life and conduct according to our fallen and depraved nature. The "flesh," which stands for the corrupt desires and propensities, is the sole guide of the unregenerate. They are in the flesh, they are of the flesh, and they live according to the flesh. "The works of the flesh are manifest," and these they do. But the converse of this is the characteristic of all true believers. They "walk after the Spirit." Possessing, in common with the unregenerate, a fleshly nature, in which there dwells no good thing; they also partake of a new and divine nature, of which the unregenerate do not. Renewed by the Spirit, inhabited by the Spirit, sanctified by the Spirit, led by the Spirit, they aim to regulate their life according to his divine dictates, influence, and teaching. The bent of their minds is holiness: this they breathe after, pray and labor for, as the one great purpose of their being. That they are opposed by the flesh, and by it are often foiled, wounded, and cast down, cannot yet destroy the divine principle of their soul, any more than a false attraction can destroy the magnetic power of the needle. That there should ever be an occasional unevenness and irregularity in the walk of any of the Lord's people, is a matter of the profoundest humiliation; yet even in the stumblings and falls of a righteous man, it cannot in truth be said that he 'walk after the flesh,' seeing that he rises again, restored by the grace of Christ; and his desires and breathings after the Spirit are, perhaps, all the deeper and stronger for that fall. An unrenewed man falls, and where he falls he lies. "A just man falls seven times, and rises up again," and "walks," perhaps more softly than ever, "after the Spirit." "It is the direction of that sovereign faculty, the will, which explains the difference. If this be enlisted on the side of the flesh, as it is with every unconverted man, then he sins wilfully. If this be enlisted on the side of the Spirit, as it is with every man who has truly turned him unto the Lord Jesus Christ, then he may sin accidentally; and in some moment of sleep or of surprise he may be overtaken; and before the will, as it were, had time to rally and to recover, some outpost may have been carried, and even some advantage have been gained, to the length of a most humiliating overthrow. But deep is the grief that is thereby awakened, and strenuous is the resistance that is thereby summoned into the future warfare; and heavy is that mourning of sackcloth and of ashes with which the soul of the penitent offender is afflicted; and though he has stumbled in the way of temptation, he yet utterly refuses to walk therein- so giving testimony to the mode in which the leading tendencies of his spirit have most painfully and most offensively been thwarted, by the momentary power and assault of his great adversary; and that the whole drift of his choosing, and deliberating, and purposing faculties is indeed on the side of God and on the side of holiness." (Chalmers) What a high and privileged walk, then, is the believer's! While the slaves of the flesh are groveling amid their darkness and chains, he is walking after the Spirit, soaring and exulting in holy light and liberty.
The subject is suggestive of much important practical instruction.
What a ground of rejoicing does it afford you who are the saints of God! You may see within and around you- in your soul, in your family, and your circumstances- much that saddens, and wounds, and discourages you; but behold the truth which more than counterbalances it all- your freedom from condemnation. What if you are poor- you are not
condemned! What if you are afflicted- you are not condemned! What if you are tempted- you are not condemned! What if you are assailed and judged by others, you yet are not forsaken and condemned by God; and ought you not, then, to rejoice? Go to the condemned cell, and assure the criminal awaiting his execution, that you bear from his sovereign a pardon; and what though he emerge from his imprisonment and his manacles, to battle with poverty, with sorrow and contempt, will he murmur and repine, that in the redemption of his forfeited life, there is no clause that exempts him from the ills to which that life is linked? No! life to him is so sweet and precious a thing, that though you return it trammeled with poverty, and beclouded with shame, you have yet conferred upon him a boon which creates sunshine all within and around him. And why should not we "rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory," for whom, "through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus," there is now no condemnation? Christ has "redeemed our life from destruction;" and although it is "through much tribulation we are to enter the kingdom," yet shall we not quicken our pace to that kingdom, rejoicing as we go, that "there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus? " "These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full."
Be earnest and diligent in making sure to yourself your discharge from the sentence and penalty of the law. Sue out the great fact in the Lord's own court by fervent prayer and simple faith. Your Surety has cancelled your debt, and purchased your exemption from death. Avail yourself of the comfort and the stimulus of the blessing. You may be certain, yes, quite certain, of its truth. No process is more easy. It is but to look from off yourself to Christ, and to believe with all your heart that he came into the world to save sinners, and assurance is yours. The order is, "We believe, and are sure." Oh, do not leave this matter to a bare peradventure. Make sure of your union with Christ, and you may be sure of no condemnation from Christ.
As sin is the great condemning cause, let us aim to condemn sin, if we would rank with those for whom there is no condemnation. Most true is it, that either sin must be condemned by us, or we must be condemned for sin. The honor of the Divine government demands that a condemnatory sentence be passed, either upon the transgression, or upon the transgressor. And shall we hesitate? Is it a matter of doubt to which our preference shall be given? Which is best, that sin should die, or that we should die? Will the question allow a moment's consideration? Surely not, unless we are so enamored with sin as calmly and deliberately to choose death to life, hell to heaven. "The wages of sin is death." Sin unrepented, unforgiven, unpardoned, is the certain prelude to eternal death. Everlasting destruction follows in its turbid wake. There is a present hell in sin, for which the holy shun it; and there is a future hell in sin, for which all should dread it. If, then, we would be among "the pure in heart who shall see God," if we would lift up our faces with joy before the Judge at the last great day, if we would be freed from the final and terrible sentence of condemnation, oh, let us be holy, "denying all ungodliness and worldly lusts, and living righteously, soberly, and godly in this present world." Oh, let us condemn sin, that sin may not condemn us. And let us draw the motive that constrains us, and the power that helps us, from that cross where Jesus "condemned sin in the flesh."
In this great matter, there is an especial blessing attached to the act of self-condemnation. Self-condemnation averts God's condemnation. When a penitent sinner truly, humbly, graciously, sits in judgment upon himself, the Lord will never sit in judgment upon him. "If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged of the Lord." The penitent publican, who stood afar off, wrapped in the spirit of self-condemnation, retired from his presence a justified man. The proud, self-righteous Pharisee, who marched boldly to the altar and justified himself, went forth from God's presence a condemned man. When God sees a penitent sinner arraigning, judging, condemning, loathing himself, he exclaims, "I do not condemn you, go and sin no more." He who judges and condemns himself upon God's footstool, shall be acquitted and absolved from God's throne. The Lord give unto us this secret spirit of self-judgment. Such was Job's, when in deep contrition he declared, "I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." Such was David's, when he penitentially confessed, "Against you, you only have I sinned, and done this evil in your sight." Such was Peter's, when he vehemently exclaimed, "Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man." Such was Isaiah's when he plaintively cried, "Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips." Such was the publican's, when he humbly prayed, "God be merciful to me a sinner." O lovely posture! O sacred spirit of self-abhorrence, of self-condemnation! The Holy Spirit works it in the heart, and this stamps it as so precious, so salutary, and so safe. The great day of the Lord will unveil blessings passing all thought, and glories passing all imagination, to the soul who beneath the cross lies prostrate, in the spirit of self-condemnation. The judgment day of the self-condemning soul is on this side of eternity; while the judgment day of the self-justifying soul, is on the other side of eternity. And oh, how terrible will that judgment be!
How strong the consolation flowing from this truth to the believer in Jesus! No condemnation is the ground of all comfort to the suffering Christian. What a mighty breakwater is this condition to the rolling surge of sorrow, which else might flow in upon and immerse the soul! Let it be your aim to improve it on every occasion of suffering and trial. God may afflict, but he will never condemn you. Chastisements are not judgments; afflictions are not condemnations. Sickness, and bereavement, and low estate, based upon a condition of non-condemnation, you can welcome and patiently bear, since they are not the fore-castings of a coming storm, but the distillings of a mercy-cloud sailing athwart the azure sky of a soul in Christ. The fiery trials which purify our faith have not a spark in them of that "unquenchable fire" that will consume the condemned hereafter. Oh, what are the crosses and the discomforts of this present world, if at last we are kept out of hell? And oh, what are the riches, and honors, and comforts of this life, if at last we are shut out of heaven? At the bottom of that cup of sinful pleasure, which sparkles in the worldling's hand, and which with such zest and glee he quaffs, there lies eternal condemnation- the death-worm feeds at the root of all his good. But at the bottom of this cup of sorrow, now trembling and darkling in the hand of the suffering Christian, bitter and forbidding as it is, there is no condemnation- eternal glory is at the root of all his evil. And in this will you not rejoice? It is not only your holy duty, but it is your high privilege to rejoice. Your whole life not only may be, but ought to be a sweetly-tuned psalm, a continual anthem of thanksgiving and praise, pouring forth its swelling notes to the God of your salvation; since, beyond the cloudy scene of your present pilgrimage there unveils the light and bliss of celestial glory, on whose portal you read as you pass within- NO CONDEMNATION. Unless, then, you either distrust or disparage this your joyous condition and blessed hope, you must, in the gloomiest hour, and from the innermost depths of your soul, exultingly exclaim- "He is near that justifies me; who will contend with me? Let us stand together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord God will help me! who is he that shall condemn me?"