Christ, Our Righteousness
"Behold, the days come, says the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, the Lord Our Righteousness." Jeremiah 23:5-6
"For the time is coming," says the Lord, "when I will place a righteous Branch on King David's throne. He will be a King who rules with wisdom. He will do what is just and right throughout the land. And this is his name: 'The Lord Is Our Righteousness.' In that day Judah will be saved, and Israel will live in safety." Jeremiah 23:5-6
There is but one being to whom this remarkable prophecy can properly apply. But one has ever appeared on the earth to fulfil it. And if no other ever appears, then it strictly follows that either that one is He, or else this prophecy shall never be fulfilled. We address this argument, in the outset of our present exposition, with confidence to the intelligent Jew, to the candid Gentile, and to all who believe prophecy to be the Word of God; and, as such, must sooner or later be literally and inevitably fulfilled. All the expressions of this prophecy refer to Christ, the Messiah. In Him and by Him it has received its full, personal accomplishment; and by no torture of criticism, ingenuity of argument, or sophistry of reasoning can it be properly interpreted of any other than Jesus of Nazareth. Let us group and examine briefly the several points in the description.
He was to be of the lineage of David. This was literally so. Christ was born of a virgin, "of the house and lineage of David." He was to be righteous. To Christ this particular exactly and exclusively applies. He was holy, the holy One; "He did no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth." He was "holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners;" and when tried by Satan- who, had there been anything in Christ congenial to his nature, would have discovered and proclaimed it- he found nothing in Him. He was to be "a King" This also belonged to Christ. He was "king of the Jews." He disguised but never ignored His regal character. When interrogated by Pontius Pilate, "Are you a king, then?" He affirmatively replied, "You say that I am a king. To this end was I born- and for this end came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth." Deny the kingship of Christ in His own proper person, and you render ambiguous and unintelligible a great portion of the New Testament writings. It is predicted in this prophecy that He should "reign and prosper." Spiritually this was fulfilled in Christ when upon earth; but there awaits a literal and universal fulfilment, when He shall come in the glory of His kingdom, and take to Him His great power and reign. He now reigns on the throne with His Father, and will so reign until His enemies be made His footstool.
It is said that He should "prosper." This He does in the progress of His truth and in the extension of His kingdom, going forth by His Spirit with the gospel conquering and to conquer; in subduing His enemies and calling in His saints, the pleasure of the Lord prospers in His hands. Moreover, He was to "execute justice and judgment on the earth." This He did in the administration of His laws, and in defending His people from their enemies, and in "rendering unto Caesar the things that were Caesar's, and unto God the things that were God's." In His reign it is predicted that "Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely." So shall it be with all the elect of God. All shall believe in and confess Him. They shall be saved from the guilt and power of their sins; from the law, its curse and condemnation; from all their enemies, and from the wrath which is to come. And beneath this victorious standard, and surrounded by Him as with a wall of fire, His Church shall dwell safely, the gates of hell unable to prevail against it.
In view of this spiritual and literal exposition of these several particulars of the prophecy, I again confidently challenge- Has any individual ever lived, either before or since the days of Christ, in this or in any land, other than Christ Himself, to whom this description could apply; or, applying it to whom, would not be absolute and unmitigated blasphemy! But we are now conducted in the course of our rapid examination to the very gist of the whole passage- the title which it
ascribes to Christ. "And this is the name by which He shall be called, the Lord Our Righteousness." In endeavoring to open up this title of our Lord, we shall show in what sense Christ is our righteousness- how His righteousness becomes ours- and then the blessings which flow from its possession.
IN WHAT SENSE CHRIST IS OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS- This title of our Lord at once points to His essential dignity as God. The construction is remarkable. The prophet does not designate Him as the righteous One, using the concrete, but righteousness itself, using the abstract term. Thus God is said not to be loving, but love- the abstract form in both texts is thus employed to show that these perfections- righteousness and love- are essentially and absolutely God's. Would it not be a fraudulent invasion of the divine dignity, a robbing God of His honor, to have denominated a mere creature, were he the holiest and purest even of the species, abstract and essential righteousness? Could this title be grounded in anything but essential Deity? A mere creature may be righteous through the possession of a righteousness imputed, a righteousness imparted, a righteousness given.
Every act of human obedience must necessarily partake of the moral taint of the being by whom it is offered. Just as under the law the touch of the leper rendered ceremonially unclean the person or the thing he came in contact with, so everything to which sinful man puts his hand must partake of the taint of his sinful and corrupt nature. As water cannot rise above its level, so no nation can rise above its religion, no individual can rise above his nature, and no act can rise above its motive. The moral leprosy sin, of which all by nature are partakers, inoculates with its virus, and taints with its malaria all our religious doings- thus corrupting and neutralizing every attempt of man to render obedience and honor to the commandments and precepts of God's holy law. It follows from this that, seeing the sinner can only be saved on the footing of a law obeyed in every enactment, kept in every precept, magnified and honored in the dignity of its character and in the holiness of its nature, it must be by another obedience and infinitely beyond his own. This train of thought conducts us to the truth we seek to establish.
The divine dignity and personal holiness of Christ provided all the moral fitness and qualification which the case demanded. As the sinner could only stand with divine acceptance in a Divine righteousness, the "Lord our righteousness" fully met the case. Hence the strong language of God's Word. "The Righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ, unto all and upon all those who believe." And again, "He has made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the Righteousness of God in Him." Magnificent truth! precious announcement! The believing sinner stands before God in the righteousness of God Himself! He is as righteous- not essentially so, but legally- as God is righteous. If he is "made the righteousness of God in Christ," this must emphatically be so. And since no other righteousness could justify him before God, this must unquestionably be so. To what dignity does this righteousness raise the believer here, and to what super-angelic glory will it raise him hereafter? In your righteousness shall they be exalted."
The justified sinner therefore stands the closest to God of any created being in the universe. Nearer to the throne of the Eternal he cannot stand. What marvellous love! Who will dare assert that salvation is not, from first to last, of free, discriminating grace! Let your eye pierce the veil that falls between earth and heaven. Behold that shining, warbling being, standing so near to the throne of glory, bathed in the overpowering effulgence of its rays. Who is he? He was once a sinner upon earth, the vilest of his race, the dishonored of his generation, forsaken by man and abhorred of God. But Jesus met him, and divine love drew him, and sovereign grace rescued, pardoned, and saved him. And now washed from all his guilt by the blood, freed from all condemnation by the righteousness of Christ, he stands before the throne "without fault," a "king and a priest unto God." Such is the great love of Jesus! "He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor." And all this grace, and all this glory, and all this bliss flows from the "Lord our righteousness."
Reader, here let me pause and once more remind you of a truth essential to your everlasting well-being. Nothing short of the righteousness of Jehovah Himself can free you from endless condemnation. You must appear before God- if you stand with acceptance- in a divine righteousness. You must, if saved, be saved upon the footing of a law every requirement of which has been met. Its demands are holy, its restrictions are inexorable. It exacts full submission, insists upon perfect holiness, enters beneath the surface, penetrates every cell of the mind, and grapples with every fibre of the heart; it analyses every volition of the will, sifts every desire of the soul, and weighs in its unerring scale every motive and every action of the man. In a word, it is "the candle of the Lord, searching all the innermost parts of the belly." "Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, just, and good." It is on these stern and inflexible grounds that the law is so fearfully terrible to all offenders- and all are so. To look, then, for salvation by the works of the law, it were better to meet the lion rushing wild and hungry from his lair, than thus to expect "help from this destroyer, which rends the center of the heart" in pieces, and from whom none can rescue us. The law is the "minister of death" to every transgressor, and opens the gates of hell to all impenitent and unbelieving sinners! We have adverted to its inflexible rule. Nothing can abate, nothing soften, nothing arrest it. It sifts every motive, shakes every confidence, storms every citadel, and breaks up every hope not founded upon the Rock of Ages- the Lord our Righteousness. It meets the sinner like "a lion by the way and slays him." As says the apostle, "sin revived, and I died."
Confronted thus by God's holy law, the momentous question is raised- "How can man be just (or justified) with God?" "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?" The gospel alone can supply the answer, and that answer is contained in the significant and impressive title of Christ- "His name shall be called, the Lord Our Righteousness." And now we pass from the region of sin, death, and hell, into that of
holiness, life, and heaven; standing, as it were, amid the splendor of the "great white throne," with the "rainbow round about it," the emblem and the pledge that, for us there is no condemnation," since we stand before God in "the Lord our righteousness." We are thus conducted to the question-
IN WHAT WAY DOES CHRIST BECOME THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF HIS PEOPLE? How are we to understand that the righteousness of one individual becomes in reality the righteousness of another, yes, of countless myriads of beings? The reply to these questions will bring us to the practical issues of this great subject.
In the first place, Christ becomes our righteousness by personal substitution. This was the first step in the wonderful process, and must be kept prominently before us. The law of substitution is fully recognized in the affairs of men. It is shadowed forth in various instances recorded in the Scriptures of truth. We remind the reader of Reuben becoming surety to his father for Benjamin; and of the apostle Paul discharging a like obligation to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus. In this sense, yet infinitely higher, the Son-Surety, stood in your place, did all, and endured all, and paid all for you. By a substitutionary act He made your sins His sins, your obedience His obedience, your curse His curse, your debt His debt- He took it all upon Himself, His Father accepting and sealing His suretyship by raising Him from the dead. "Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our, justification." Oh, love and admire, serve and glorify this precious Savior, who has so freely, so willingly, so fully done all this for you. You cannot love Him too intensely, nor serve Him too self-denyingly, nor exalt Him too highly; who threw Himself in the breach and exclaimed, "Father, lay all their sins and transgressions upon me. Charge their debt to my account. Upon me let their punishment fall. Let my life be for their life, my death for their death, my condemnation for their condemnation, my heaven for their hell!"
Christ becomes our righteousness by His personal obedience. Not less clear are the Scriptures of truth touching this essential doctrine of our salvation. Thus we read, "By the obedience of One shall many be made righteous." Who is this "One" of whom the apostle speaks, but the "Lord our righteousness?" But, you ask, how could the Law-giver become the Law-fulfiller? We again answer in the language of God's Word- "When the fulness of time was come, God sent forth His Son made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons." Could any answer be more explicit? It tells us that, in assuming our humanity, the Son of God necessarily became submissive to the law, since He took upon Him a nature born under its obligation and exposed to its penalty. As man, therefore, He was as much under the law, and was as personally and as strictly bound to obey the law, and in default of obedience as much exposed to its penalty, as any individual of the human race. Keeping in view the doctrine we have just insisted upon- the substitution of Christ for us- we shall experience no difficulty in understanding, still less in receiving, the doctrine of Christ's personal obedience to the precepts of the law in our stead. It follows that creature-merit, or man's own righteousness, can avail nothing in the great matter of his justification. Jehovah must keep, Jehovah must honor, Jehovah must magnify His own law, if, on the basis of a law inviolate, a law upheld and preserved in its most stringent precept, the sinner is saved. Rob Christ of His divinity, and you rob His obedience of its efficacy, and the sinner of his hope.
We learn from this part of our subject, the utter inadequacy of a human righteousness to justify the sinner before God. If it required the merit of Deity, if no other than Jehovah Himself could supply an obedience to the law man had broken, on the ground of which God could, with honor to Himself, justify the guilty, then the inference is as strictly logical as the fact is tremendously solemn that, in the language of Scripture, "By the works of the law shall no flesh be justified." Again, "As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, Cursed is every one that continues not in all things which are written in
the book of the law to do them." What a fatal blow do these words aim at the Babel of self-righteousness which multitudes are raising up, from the summit of which they vainly hope to leap into heaven! "Under the curse!" No repeal of its tremendous anathemas, no possible avenue of escape- while still under it- from its fiery and eternal condemnation! "Under the curse!" The very law you are striving to keep, cursing your every effort to keep it! The law cursing your soul, cursing your religion, cursing your duties, cursing your engagements- yes, turning your every blessing into a curse. This may be thought strong language, but the word of God justifies it. "As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse." What language could be stronger- what declaration more impressive? Oh that the Holy Spirit might use it to the rousing to a conviction of his state and danger every mere notionalist, every proud pharisee, every self-deceived professor, every soul dead in trespasses and sins, whose eye may light upon this page!
I have said there is no way of escape open to those who live and die in this condition. But to others whose eyes the Holy Spirit has opened to see their sin and danger, the righteousness of Christ provides a remedy. He was "made a curse for us," He was the "end of the law for righteousness to every one that believes," and so by His obedience and death, by His blood and righteousness, He emancipates us from the thraldom, cancels the curse, and delivers from the condemnation of the law, and thus we are "made the righteousness of God in Him."
What a "door of hope" is here set open to the soul, brought, after long and painful teaching, to despair of finding acceptance, pardon, and grace by its own works. Long and earnestly have you striven to work your way to heaven. Like the disciples on the sea, you have "toiled in rowing" against a contrary wind and a strong current, and are ready to give up all for lost. Like the poor diseased woman in the gospel, you are "nothing bettered, but rather grown worse." Oh, blessed extremity! Happy end of all hope springing from yourself! Your soul is now, if the expression may be used, ripe for Christ. You are just in the condition to accept Him, and He to accept you. You have reached that critical point in your spiritual history which decides your state for eternity. Like Paul's mariners, you are in danger of sinking; and like them, you are prepared to throw overboard everything that imperils your safety, exclaiming with the apostle on another occasion, and who doubtless recalled to mind his shipwreck when he wrote the words, "I once thought all these things were so very important, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I may have Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ– the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith." And now having thus "lightened the ship," like the weary mariners, you "wish and wait for the dawn" of salvation. Lo! it is come! Jesus draws near and says to your soul, "I am your salvation without a work of your own. Look unto Me and be you saved; I am the Lord your righteousness. Only believe." What joyful tidings are these! Saved without a work of human merit! Saved just as you are! Saved by free and sovereign grace! Saved by simple, childlike faith in Christ! Saved forever! Hope now dawns upon your path, heaven smiles down upon your soul, and henceforth your Christian life on earth becomes a sweet and holy psalm.
HOW DOES THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF CHRIST BECOME OURS? The righteousness of Christ, by which we are alone justified, becomes ours by imputation. What is meant by imputation? The literal idea is, the imputation of anything to an individual which did not originally belong to him. Now our justification strikingly illustrates this. The instance of Abraham is the first we quote. "Abraham believed in the Lord, and it was counted unto him for righteousness." James, alluding to the same event, says, "Abraham's faith was imputed unto him for righteousness." Paul confirms this idea when he says, noticing the case of Abraham, "And it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him, but for us also, unto whom it shall be imputed if we believe." We are clearly taught in these passages that the justification of Abraham, the friend of God, the father of all those who believe, the mirror of Old Testament piety, resulted not from a personal righteousness, but from an imputed righteousness. And that the divine dealing with Abraham is an example of God's dealing with us, the apostle says, "To him that works not, but believes in Him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted unto him for righteousness." Thus, written as with a sunbeam, the glorious truth shines upon the sacred page, that when any child of Adam is justified it is by the imputation of a righteousness not his own- even the righteousness of Him who is emphatically called "The Lord our Righteousness."
The righteousness of Christ becomes ours by faith. This truth has already appeared in the course of our discussion. Faith is the divine and holy principle which places us in a justified state. "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith– and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast." Tell me that I must purchase my pardon, must merit no justification, must come to the Savior with a price in my hand, and you extinguish the last ray of hope. If these be the terms upon which I am to be saved, then I am lost to all eternity! But, tell me that I have nothing to pay, that I may come to the waters of salvation, to the milk and honey of the gospel, "without money and without price," that, if I present myself at the door of Divine mercy, as Naaman "covered with leprosy," as Lazarus "full of sores," as the prodigal "clothed with rags," as Paul the "chief of sinners," as the malefactor on the cross turning his last and final look at Jesus, that I may come as a bankrupt debtor, as a self-destroyed sinner, then you pencil the hue of hope in its brightest hues upon the dark thunder-cloud draping my soul." Oh, do words more inspiring, does music so enchanting breathe through this world of sin and woe than the divine announcement of a freely-given salvation to the vilest child of Adam's fallen race? Truly may the inspired apostle write- "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us." What are these words but a New Testament echo of an Old Testament voice- "Ho, every one that thirsts, come to the waters, and he that has no money: come, buy, and eat; yes, come, buy wine and milk without money, and without price."
Thus the voice of free grace, which strikes its key-note in paradise, rolls throughout the inspired Scriptures, waxing stronger and growing sweeter until it reached its heightened note in the last and closing echoes of the Apocalypse. "And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that hears say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whoever will, let him take the water of life freely." Come, then, my reader, just as you are, poor, penniless, naked, and receive in faith, and as the gratuitous bestowment of the God that justifies the ungodly, this divine and beauteous righteousness, "which is unto all and upon all those who believe." Are you a penitent prodigal, returning to your Father in rags and wretchedness and woe? Behold, He comes running to you.
Joy, too, is a fruit of justification. "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness." Oh, be joyful, you who stand in the Lord your righteousness! You maybe heavily afflicted, deeply tried, sorely tempted, yet, standing in righteousness of Christ you are exalted above the billows and clouds that gather around your pathway to heaven, eternal sunshine bathing all your glorious and endless future!
Then the hope of glory is the last blessing to which we refer. A present justification is the pledge of a future glorification. "Whom He justified, them He also glorified." Oh, how truly has Christ, the "Lord our righteousness," "opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers!"
When from the dust of death I rise,
To take my mansion in the skies,
Even then shall this be all my plea,
'Jesus has lived and died for me.'
"Bold shall I stand in that great day,
For who aught to my charge shall lay?
While through Your blood absolved I am
From sin's tremendous curse and shame."