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The Righteousness of One Man Bookmark

The Righteousness of One Man

“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:18–19, ESV)

Two things are to be noticed in this text, before we proceed to consider the subject of it. First you will observe that in our bibles the words "judgment came" and "the free gift came" are in italics, that is, are put in by the translators to fill up the sense, but do not form any part of the sacred Word. The Verse more simply stands, "As through one trespass, the issue (or effect) was unto all men to condemnation, even so through one righteous act the issue (or effect) was unto all men unto justification of life." And secondly, that the "many" spoken of in the latter portion of it are clearly the same as the "all men" in the former, the word being used only by way of contrast with the word "one," and not as meaning a different set of persons from that spoken of before.

We may now ask, what it is that the text tells us. Here we have two things set over against one another; trespass, righteous act: one man’s disobedience, one man’s obedience: all men made sinners, all men made righteous: an effect upon all unto condemnation, an effect upon all unto justification of life.

Now that which we have to treat to-day, Christ’s obedience, and its effects, is a very important subject: important to our soundness in the faith, and to our answering the unbeliever, and to our own purity and our own comfort in believing. May God guide us to consider it aright.

We address God in our Collect as having made His blessed Son to be circumcised and obedient to the law for man. We take that undergoing of the ordinance of circumcision as an example, as the first and chief example, of our Lord’s becoming obedient to the law. And rightly: for though it was not originally of the law, as we shall see further on, yet it was the law’s first command when a man came into the world; and without obeying it, the whole life would have been an act of disobedience to the law. He entered on his course of obedience to the law by this act. So that we need not to-day fix our thoughts on that ordinance any further than as it brought the Lord into the state of being under the law and obedient to the law.

But first, what law? Not, the universal moral law of conscience: this He had as Man, had in its highest and purest form as Man without sin: in unclouded certainty, in undeviating equity, in uninterrupted action. When He was made man, He was rendered subject to this law, and needed no outward rite to introduce him into its dominion and obedience. Again then, what law? The answer is plain. A certain code of laws given on Mount Sinai to the children of Israel. But why should the Son of God humiliate himself for us in this peculiar manner, so as to become subject to that law and not to any other? In order to answer this, remember to whom and for what purpose, that law was given. It was given to a nation chosen out from among the other nations of the earth by God, that they might be a people of his own—the selected vehicle of his revelation of Himself to mankind. And the purpose of its being given was, we are expressly told, to bring about the knowledge of sin; to detect, as we heard in a previous sermon of this course, and make men aware of, their guiltiness and helplessness in God’s sight. Mind,—and this is a most essential point for us to-day, as you will presently see,—this law was not given to bring any man to salvation: as I then tried to make plain to you, no law could do this: much less could this one, which was but an imperfect manifestation of God’s holy will,—holy, just, and true as far as it went, but going only a little way: not helping man’s weakness, not revealing God’s law, not shedding abroad God’s Spirit.

Now all this which I am saying is not meant by way of going over old ground again, to prove that by the works of the law shall no flesh be saved in God’s sight: this we know: but it is in order that we may the better and the more clearly see, what it was that our Savior did, when He became obedient to, when He fulfilled that law for man. Now look at it in this way. This law was not, could not be, for salvation to any man. Did then, could then, our Blessed Lord work out salvation for us by keeping this law? Most clearly not. We sometimes hear it said, that His perfect righteousness was found in his fulfilment of this law of Moses, and that His righteousness, as thus formed and wrought out, is imputed unto us. But I cannot find such a doctrine either in Scripture or in the belief of God’s church. There is a doctrine which sounds something like it, and might be mistaken for it, and on which I shall have a good deal to say by and by: but which is not, and is very far from being, the same.

But let us for a moment imagine that the matter were so: that Christ’s fulfilling of all the Mosaic law in all its requirements constituted His perfect righteousness before God, and is made ours by being imputed to us. Well—what follows? Why, two most unsatisfactory results. First, the righteousness thus obtained is formally not of the kind we want. We, all mankind, we Gentiles, were never bound under the law of Moses: Gentiles were never invited to put themselves under it, nay they were expressly excluded from its obligations and its benefits. So that, according to this view, Christ did for us what we were never bound to do for ourselves: and more: Christ justified Jews only. And secondly, this righteousness is not, essentially and in itself, of the kind we want. We want something far above and beyond the ordinances and provisions of the law of Moses. That law crept in, was introduced by the side, as the Apostle says in the verses following my text, for a lower and a special purpose, to persuade of their guilt that people to whom the Redeemer was to be sent, and by its types to keep their minds fixed on Him and His future work: but we want what it could never give, even had a man obeyed it to the utmost; transformation into God’s image; new creation in the power of purity and love; the inspiration and indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit. The righteousness in which our Redeemer must be perfect, and which by his Death and Resurrection and circumcision and gift of his Spirit He must make ours, is something infinitely above and more glorious and heavenly than this law of carnal ordinances, this law given by Moses. It was not by fulfilling the law of Moses that our Blessed Lord became our righteousness. He did fulfil it indeed: not one jot or tittle of it was neglected or passed uncared for, because every part of it was given by divine command, and by the mediation of angels, and men appointed by God: He did fulfil it: and He fulfilled it for man. But His fulfilling it was not our righteousness.

What was it then? How does Holy Scripture ever speak of it? Why simply thus; as a taking out of the way—cancelling, annulling, of that law. He fulfilled it, and made an end of it. He was the end of the law with a view to righteousness. It has lost its power as regards us who are in Him. And it did thus lose its power, the day that our Blessed Lord was fastened to his Cross; He blotted out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his Cross. This marvelous completion of the work does not form our subject to-day: it will come before us, God willing, hereafter; but the great preparation for that completion does come before us to-day and thus early in our course. And we shall be led to speak of it in several of its forms and manifestations; among which one is, this keeping of the limited, special, Mosaic law of ordinances and precepts. Let us then now look at this observance a little more closely. What was it, in itself? and what was it, for us? In what consisted its necessity, its fitness, its usefulness for mankind?

What was it in itself? It was careful, precise, undeviating, complete. From his eight days old circumcision to the Passover the night before his Sacrifice, our Lord made a point of not falling short in any thing, but walked in all the commandments and ordinances of his Father blameless. Then, it was necessary for us. In the course of God’s arrangements for the salvation of man, the Redeemer could not and must not be born a Gentile. The Jews were the people set in the bright line of the revelation of God to man. To them belonged the law: this is much to our purpose: but, which is much more to our purpose, to them belonged the promises and the covenant of faith with Abraham, in fulfilment of which promises, and in the discharge and line of which covenant, this very Redeemer was to come. The terms and matter of these promises and covenant absolutely required that our Lord should be a Jew. And what was a Jew? One born under the law of Moses. As a Jew, condescending to take our nature in that particular form and under those special circumstances, our Lord became personally bound to the observance of this law. Had He not observed it, He would not have been the spotless One in all the will of God: He would not have Himself stood accepted with our nature perfect and acquitted in the sight of the Father: and we should not have been accepted in Him.

So that thus He kept the law for man: not that man might get righteousness by that kept law, which righteousness it could not give, whether Christ kept it, or any one else kept it: but that He who was to be the righteous Head of our nature, might fulfil all righteousness. And so, when He came to be baptized by John His forerunner and His inferior, and John was preventing him, He replied, Suffer it to be so now; for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.

And I entreat you, in fixing in your minds the verities of the Christian faith, to remember this clearly and well; that it was not on our Blessed Lord’s fulfilment of the law that our justification in God’s sight by His righteousness depends, as some would try to persuade you. This is only in one, and that a partial sense, true: that law indeed lay in the course of His own personal work: in the course of working out that perfect Righteousness which when complete in Him is reckoned for ours, and wrought in us by the Holy Ghost.

Now to-day’s subject, the Circumcision, will carry us a step further yet in the direction of the great doctrine given out in our text. The ordinance of circumcision, as stated just now, was not first given when the law was given. It was not of Moses, but of the fathers, declares our Lord Himself. And St. Paul teaches us, in a passage read for the Epistle to-day, that Abraham received it as a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had being yet uncircumcised. So that our Lord not only obeyed the law for us, and entered on that His obedience, in this the first ordinance of the law, but by it He also entered into and complied with the terms of that covenant of faith which God made with Abraham centuries before the law was given. Now this covenant was of a far higher order than the law: for remember how St: Paul compares the two in the third chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians, and proves the promise and the covenant greater than the law. It is of that promise that we are the inheritors, and by that covenant that we look for God’s heavenly kingdom, and not by the law at all. And now just consider what that covenant is, and what were its promises. It was universal—"In thy seed shall all nations of the earth be blessed:" faith was its very entrance and condition—"Abraham believed God:" justification was its firstfruit: "it was counted to him for righteousness:" sanctification and renewal in holiness were its conditions also—"God said to Abraham, I am Almighty God—walk thou before me and be thou perfect." And into this covenant and condition did our Blessed Lord enter for us by this ordinance, and all his life through He continued to fulfil it: He walked by faith in his heavenly Father: He walked before Him and was perfect: not in the law only, with which we have no immediate concern: but in God’s higher and better covenant of faith, which is our covenant and condition also.

But there is more than this yet behind: nor have we yet reached the wide stretch and universality of the assertion in our text. The law of Moses, which our Blessed Lord fulfilled, was, so to speak, a narrow and prescribed path or groove of obedience: and even the covenant made with Abraham was in a special line of descent and with limited ordinances of obedience, however much in character, and duration, and ultimate extent, superior to the law. But the obedience of the One Man must reach beyond either of these: it must be as wide in its extent and effect as the disobedience of the one man had been in former times which had brought death on all our race. By means of that, death spread through unto all men, for that all were sinners. There was, as our text says, a consequence resulting to all men from that one offence, Adam’s disobedience. And so is there, as it also says, a consequence resulting to all men from that righteous act, Christ’s obedience. What, even to those who are not in the covenant of faith, not in the line of Christian ordinances, not in the fold of Christ’s church? Yes, my brethren, even to them: or else God’s word in our text cannot be true. As all men are partakers of the detriment occasioned by Adam’s sin, so all men are partakers of the benefit occasioned by Christ’s righteousness.

First Why? and secondly, How? And to the first I answer, Because Christ is the righteous Head of our whole race: because His obedience was not limited to the law, nor to the covenant with Abraham, but was perfect, entire, universal: because that obedience of His was carried infinitely further than any code of precepts could order, than any conditions of a covenant could prescribe. What does St. Paul say? "Being found in fashion as a man, He humbled himself and became obedient even as far as unto death." Obedient, even up to death. Why this is no mere obeying of law. No law ever ordered a man to die, as one of its duties. We shall say more of this another time; but you see even now how infinitely the bounds of the Lord’s obedience for us transcend those of law and covenant. He came to do God’s will: not His revealed will merely, but His entire and perfect will: not His will as a Jew only, but His will as Man. Standing in the center and stem of our Humanity; with all its duties, all its dignity, all its blessedness upon Him, He carried out all that the Almighty Father ever intended it to do and be: He brought it through trial and temptation and suffering, spotless, blameless, perfect: He, being not a single individual man self-contained and limited, but being God, the Son of God in man, the second and righteous Head of our nature, undid in it what Adam did, planted righteousness in it which it had not without Him, and finally carried it up through Death and out of the grave to God’s own throne, where He at this moment is reigning as Man, in your nature and mine, having obtained eternal redemption for us.

And, my beloved brethren, now come we to our second enquiry about this matter of the effect of one man’s obedience on all men. How does it affect all men? You may say to me, "Do you mean to tell us that a poor heathen who has never heard of Christ, that a hard-hearted sinner in Christendom who will not have Christ for his master, that such as these are affected by the righteousness of which you have been telling us?" I can only answer that my text tells it you; and it is not for me to question what Christ’s Apostle says, but to endeavour to understand it for myself and to explain it to you. There certainly is an effect produced on every man living, by Christ’s finished work of righteousness. Let me make this plain to you in one or two ways. We all believe in the certainty of a Resurrection of the dead: that all men with their bodies will one day come up out of their graves: the just to the resurrection of life: the unjust to the resurrection of judgment. Well: why is this? why shall this be? Go to one of the most solemn chapters of the Bible, and read the reason. Hear how St. Paul proves it. It is, and shall be, just simply as a consequence of this obedience of the man Christ Jesus of which we are speaking. His death was the crown of that obedience: His resurrection followed on that obedience, because on Him personally death, the consequence of disobedience, had no lasting power: and because He rose, all shall rise. Here then is one such effect upon all men, good and bad, Christians and heathens, believers and unbelievers.

But I will tell you another and a more notable effect of the obedience of this one man: even your existence and mine; the fact, that we are in the world at all. If it had not been for this obedience of Christ, foreseen and graciously reckoned as belonging to our nature, the race of man must have come to an end at the time when Adam sinned. "In the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die," was the word to him of God who cannot lie nor repent. And why did he not die? why did he not cease to be? why did the holy and pure One who cannot abide iniquity, tolerate him any longer? Simply because of the Blood of Jesus Christ which taketh away the sin of the world: because of that Lamb, slain from before the foundation of the world in God’s gracious purposes. And the power of the same blood,—the atoning virtue of that obedience, crowned by the propitiatory sacrifice of His death,—is the simple reason why you and I are alive before God at this moment. The blessed and glorious Son of God has reconciled God and man; and by His obedience this effect has come upon all men; that, though sinners, they live and move and have being in the presence of a God who hates sin, just because Christ is the Head of their nature; because Christ in that nature obeyed God to the utmost; because Christ died and rose again and is at God’s right hand in heaven.

And there is yet another effect which this obedience of Christ has had upon all men. It has brought them all within the blessed range of the promises which are in Christ; so that there is now no longer any distinction in this matter between one nation and another, or one man and another, but "Christ among you, the hope of glory," is preached to all the world,—to learned and unlearned, bond and free, Jew and Gentile. But this part of my subject will more properly come before us next Sunday, when we shall have entered the season beginning to-morrow with the Epiphany, or Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.

I must not however conclude my present sermon without reminding you that there is a meaning for us in the circumcision of our Lord, touched on in the Collect, and deserving our serious attention. What He did and submitted to for us, not only had its own value as a part of His working out of our redemption, but also in every case was our example, by some sense which it bore, having a reference to our spiritual state and duties. And this ordinance was one typifying the cleansing of the faithful soul from all uncleanness. "Grant us," we pray in the Collect, "the true circumcision of the Spirit, that our hearts and all our members being mortified from all worldly and carnal lusts, we may in all things obey thy blessed will." Just as this ordinance was the first and necessary step in our Lord’s obeying of the law for us, so is that which it signified, the cleansing of our hearts and bodies from all impurity, the necessary condition of our serving God and obeying His holy will. Only the pure in heart shall see God. Though the effect of Christ’s obedience passed upon all men, and brought all men near to God, only those who, turning to Him with their hearts, perfect holiness in His fear, are made partakers of the divine nature, and inherit the blessedness of justification unto life. Let us, now we are beginning the duties and the faith of another year, cleanse our hands and purify our hearts: let us prove ourselves God’s peculiar people, by being zealous of good works, and enemies of all impurity, all untruthfulness, all serving of Him deceitfully and in a worldly spirit: that so our obedience may be, if not up to the measure of, at least after the pattern of Christ’s obedience: simple, earnest, pure, self-denying and self-forgetting: the blessed and acceptable fruit of faith working by love.

Alford, H. (1862). Sermons on Christian Doctrine. London: Rivingtons. (Public Domain)

The Righteousness of One Man

“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:18–19, ESV)

Two things are to be noticed in this text, before we proceed to consider the subject of it. First you will observe that in our bibles the words "judgment came" and "the free gift came" are in italics, that is, are put in by the translators to fill up the sense, but do not form any part of the sacred Word. The Verse more simply stands, "As through one trespass, the issue (or effect) was unto all men to condemnation, even so through one righteous act the issue (or effect) was unto all men unto justification of life." And secondly, that the "many" spoken of in the latter portion of it are clearly the same as the "all men" in the former, the word being used only by way of contrast with the word "one," and not as meaning a different set of persons from that spoken of before.

We may now ask, what it is that the text tells us. Here we have two things set over against one another; trespass, righteous act: one man’s disobedience, one man’s obedience: all men made sinners, all men made righteous: an effect upon all unto condemnation, an effect upon all unto justification of life.

Now that which we have to treat to-day, Christ’s obedience, and its effects, is a very important subject: important to our soundness in the faith, and to our answering the unbeliever, and to our own purity and our own comfort in believing. May God guide us to consider it aright.

We address God in our Collect as having made His blessed Son to be circumcised and obedient to the law for man. We take that undergoing of the ordinance of circumcision as an example, as the first and chief example, of our Lord’s becoming obedient to the law. And rightly: for though it was not originally of the law, as we shall see further on, yet it was the law’s first command when a man came into the world; and without obeying it, the whole life would have been an act of disobedience to the law. He entered on his course of obedience to the law by this act. So that we need not to-day fix our thoughts on that ordinance any further than as it brought the Lord into the state of being under the law and obedient to the law.

But first, what law? Not, the universal moral law of conscience: this He had as Man, had in its highest and purest form as Man without sin: in unclouded certainty, in undeviating equity, in uninterrupted action. When He was made man, He was rendered subject to this law, and needed no outward rite to introduce him into its dominion and obedience. Again then, what law? The answer is plain. A certain code of laws given on Mount Sinai to the children of Israel. But why should the Son of God humiliate himself for us in this peculiar manner, so as to become subject to that law and not to any other? In order to answer this, remember to whom and for what purpose, that law was given. It was given to a nation chosen out from among the other nations of the earth by God, that they might be a people of his own—the selected vehicle of his revelation of Himself to mankind. And the purpose of its being given was, we are expressly told, to bring about the knowledge of sin; to detect, as we heard in a previous sermon of this course, and make men aware of, their guiltiness and helplessness in God’s sight. Mind,—and this is a most essential point for us to-day, as you will presently see,—this law was not given to bring any man to salvation: as I then tried to make plain to you, no law could do this: much less could this one, which was but an imperfect manifestation of God’s holy will,—holy, just, and true as far as it went, but going only a little way: not helping man’s weakness, not revealing God’s law, not shedding abroad God’s Spirit.

Now all this which I am saying is not meant by way of going over old ground again, to prove that by the works of the law shall no flesh be saved in God’s sight: this we know: but it is in order that we may the better and the more clearly see, what it was that our Savior did, when He became obedient to, when He fulfilled that law for man. Now look at it in this way. This law was not, could not be, for salvation to any man. Did then, could then, our Blessed Lord work out salvation for us by keeping this law? Most clearly not. We sometimes hear it said, that His perfect righteousness was found in his fulfilment of this law of Moses, and that His righteousness, as thus formed and wrought out, is imputed unto us. But I cannot find such a doctrine either in Scripture or in the belief of God’s church. There is a doctrine which sounds something like it, and might be mistaken for it, and on which I shall have a good deal to say by and by: but which is not, and is very far from being, the same.

But let us for a moment imagine that the matter were so: that Christ’s fulfilling of all the Mosaic law in all its requirements constituted His perfect righteousness before God, and is made ours by being imputed to us. Well—what follows? Why, two most unsatisfactory results. First, the righteousness thus obtained is formally not of the kind we want. We, all mankind, we Gentiles, were never bound under the law of Moses: Gentiles were never invited to put themselves under it, nay they were expressly excluded from its obligations and its benefits. So that, according to this view, Christ did for us what we were never bound to do for ourselves: and more: Christ justified Jews only. And secondly, this righteousness is not, essentially and in itself, of the kind we want. We want something far above and beyond the ordinances and provisions of the law of Moses. That law crept in, was introduced by the side, as the Apostle says in the verses following my text, for a lower and a special purpose, to persuade of their guilt that people to whom the Redeemer was to be sent, and by its types to keep their minds fixed on Him and His future work: but we want what it could never give, even had a man obeyed it to the utmost; transformation into God’s image; new creation in the power of purity and love; the inspiration and indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit. The righteousness in which our Redeemer must be perfect, and which by his Death and Resurrection and circumcision and gift of his Spirit He must make ours, is something infinitely above and more glorious and heavenly than this law of carnal ordinances, this law given by Moses. It was not by fulfilling the law of Moses that our Blessed Lord became our righteousness. He did fulfil it indeed: not one jot or tittle of it was neglected or passed uncared for, because every part of it was given by divine command, and by the mediation of angels, and men appointed by God: He did fulfil it: and He fulfilled it for man. But His fulfilling it was not our righteousness.

What was it then? How does Holy Scripture ever speak of it? Why simply thus; as a taking out of the way—cancelling, annulling, of that law. He fulfilled it, and made an end of it. He was the end of the law with a view to righteousness. It has lost its power as regards us who are in Him. And it did thus lose its power, the day that our Blessed Lord was fastened to his Cross; He blotted out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his Cross. This marvelous completion of the work does not form our subject to-day: it will come before us, God willing, hereafter; but the great preparation for that completion does come before us to-day and thus early in our course. And we shall be led to speak of it in several of its forms and manifestations; among which one is, this keeping of the limited, special, Mosaic law of ordinances and precepts. Let us then now look at this observance a little more closely. What was it, in itself? and what was it, for us? In what consisted its necessity, its fitness, its usefulness for mankind?

What was it in itself? It was careful, precise, undeviating, complete. From his eight days old circumcision to the Passover the night before his Sacrifice, our Lord made a point of not falling short in any thing, but walked in all the commandments and ordinances of his Father blameless. Then, it was necessary for us. In the course of God’s arrangements for the salvation of man, the Redeemer could not and must not be born a Gentile. The Jews were the people set in the bright line of the revelation of God to man. To them belonged the law: this is much to our purpose: but, which is much more to our purpose, to them belonged the promises and the covenant of faith with Abraham, in fulfilment of which promises, and in the discharge and line of which covenant, this very Redeemer was to come. The terms and matter of these promises and covenant absolutely required that our Lord should be a Jew. And what was a Jew? One born under the law of Moses. As a Jew, condescending to take our nature in that particular form and under those special circumstances, our Lord became personally bound to the observance of this law. Had He not observed it, He would not have been the spotless One in all the will of God: He would not have Himself stood accepted with our nature perfect and acquitted in the sight of the Father: and we should not have been accepted in Him.

So that thus He kept the law for man: not that man might get righteousness by that kept law, which righteousness it could not give, whether Christ kept it, or any one else kept it: but that He who was to be the righteous Head of our nature, might fulfil all righteousness. And so, when He came to be baptized by John His forerunner and His inferior, and John was preventing him, He replied, Suffer it to be so now; for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.

And I entreat you, in fixing in your minds the verities of the Christian faith, to remember this clearly and well; that it was not on our Blessed Lord’s fulfilment of the law that our justification in God’s sight by His righteousness depends, as some would try to persuade you. This is only in one, and that a partial sense, true: that law indeed lay in the course of His own personal work: in the course of working out that perfect Righteousness which when complete in Him is reckoned for ours, and wrought in us by the Holy Ghost.

Now to-day’s subject, the Circumcision, will carry us a step further yet in the direction of the great doctrine given out in our text. The ordinance of circumcision, as stated just now, was not first given when the law was given. It was not of Moses, but of the fathers, declares our Lord Himself. And St. Paul teaches us, in a passage read for the Epistle to-day, that Abraham received it as a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had being yet uncircumcised. So that our Lord not only obeyed the law for us, and entered on that His obedience, in this the first ordinance of the law, but by it He also entered into and complied with the terms of that covenant of faith which God made with Abraham centuries before the law was given. Now this covenant was of a far higher order than the law: for remember how St: Paul compares the two in the third chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians, and proves the promise and the covenant greater than the law. It is of that promise that we are the inheritors, and by that covenant that we look for God’s heavenly kingdom, and not by the law at all. And now just consider what that covenant is, and what were its promises. It was universal—"In thy seed shall all nations of the earth be blessed:" faith was its very entrance and condition—"Abraham believed God:" justification was its firstfruit: "it was counted to him for righteousness:" sanctification and renewal in holiness were its conditions also—"God said to Abraham, I am Almighty God—walk thou before me and be thou perfect." And into this covenant and condition did our Blessed Lord enter for us by this ordinance, and all his life through He continued to fulfil it: He walked by faith in his heavenly Father: He walked before Him and was perfect: not in the law only, with which we have no immediate concern: but in God’s higher and better covenant of faith, which is our covenant and condition also.

But there is more than this yet behind: nor have we yet reached the wide stretch and universality of the assertion in our text. The law of Moses, which our Blessed Lord fulfilled, was, so to speak, a narrow and prescribed path or groove of obedience: and even the covenant made with Abraham was in a special line of descent and with limited ordinances of obedience, however much in character, and duration, and ultimate extent, superior to the law. But the obedience of the One Man must reach beyond either of these: it must be as wide in its extent and effect as the disobedience of the one man had been in former times which had brought death on all our race. By means of that, death spread through unto all men, for that all were sinners. There was, as our text says, a consequence resulting to all men from that one offence, Adam’s disobedience. And so is there, as it also says, a consequence resulting to all men from that righteous act, Christ’s obedience. What, even to those who are not in the covenant of faith, not in the line of Christian ordinances, not in the fold of Christ’s church? Yes, my brethren, even to them: or else God’s word in our text cannot be true. As all men are partakers of the detriment occasioned by Adam’s sin, so all men are partakers of the benefit occasioned by Christ’s righteousness.

First Why? and secondly, How? And to the first I answer, Because Christ is the righteous Head of our whole race: because His obedience was not limited to the law, nor to the covenant with Abraham, but was perfect, entire, universal: because that obedience of His was carried infinitely further than any code of precepts could order, than any conditions of a covenant could prescribe. What does St. Paul say? "Being found in fashion as a man, He humbled himself and became obedient even as far as unto death." Obedient, even up to death. Why this is no mere obeying of law. No law ever ordered a man to die, as one of its duties. We shall say more of this another time; but you see even now how infinitely the bounds of the Lord’s obedience for us transcend those of law and covenant. He came to do God’s will: not His revealed will merely, but His entire and perfect will: not His will as a Jew only, but His will as Man. Standing in the center and stem of our Humanity; with all its duties, all its dignity, all its blessedness upon Him, He carried out all that the Almighty Father ever intended it to do and be: He brought it through trial and temptation and suffering, spotless, blameless, perfect: He, being not a single individual man self-contained and limited, but being God, the Son of God in man, the second and righteous Head of our nature, undid in it what Adam did, planted righteousness in it which it had not without Him, and finally carried it up through Death and out of the grave to God’s own throne, where He at this moment is reigning as Man, in your nature and mine, having obtained eternal redemption for us.

And, my beloved brethren, now come we to our second enquiry about this matter of the effect of one man’s obedience on all men. How does it affect all men? You may say to me, "Do you mean to tell us that a poor heathen who has never heard of Christ, that a hard-hearted sinner in Christendom who will not have Christ for his master, that such as these are affected by the righteousness of which you have been telling us?" I can only answer that my text tells it you; and it is not for me to question what Christ’s Apostle says, but to endeavour to understand it for myself and to explain it to you. There certainly is an effect produced on every man living, by Christ’s finished work of righteousness. Let me make this plain to you in one or two ways. We all believe in the certainty of a Resurrection of the dead: that all men with their bodies will one day come up out of their graves: the just to the resurrection of life: the unjust to the resurrection of judgment. Well: why is this? why shall this be? Go to one of the most solemn chapters of the Bible, and read the reason. Hear how St. Paul proves it. It is, and shall be, just simply as a consequence of this obedience of the man Christ Jesus of which we are speaking. His death was the crown of that obedience: His resurrection followed on that obedience, because on Him personally death, the consequence of disobedience, had no lasting power: and because He rose, all shall rise. Here then is one such effect upon all men, good and bad, Christians and heathens, believers and unbelievers.

But I will tell you another and a more notable effect of the obedience of this one man: even your existence and mine; the fact, that we are in the world at all. If it had not been for this obedience of Christ, foreseen and graciously reckoned as belonging to our nature, the race of man must have come to an end at the time when Adam sinned. "In the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die," was the word to him of God who cannot lie nor repent. And why did he not die? why did he not cease to be? why did the holy and pure One who cannot abide iniquity, tolerate him any longer? Simply because of the Blood of Jesus Christ which taketh away the sin of the world: because of that Lamb, slain from before the foundation of the world in God’s gracious purposes. And the power of the same blood,—the atoning virtue of that obedience, crowned by the propitiatory sacrifice of His death,—is the simple reason why you and I are alive before God at this moment. The blessed and glorious Son of God has reconciled God and man; and by His obedience this effect has come upon all men; that, though sinners, they live and move and have being in the presence of a God who hates sin, just because Christ is the Head of their nature; because Christ in that nature obeyed God to the utmost; because Christ died and rose again and is at God’s right hand in heaven.

And there is yet another effect which this obedience of Christ has had upon all men. It has brought them all within the blessed range of the promises which are in Christ; so that there is now no longer any distinction in this matter between one nation and another, or one man and another, but "Christ among you, the hope of glory," is preached to all the world,—to learned and unlearned, bond and free, Jew and Gentile. But this part of my subject will more properly come before us next Sunday, when we shall have entered the season beginning to-morrow with the Epiphany, or Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.

I must not however conclude my present sermon without reminding you that there is a meaning for us in the circumcision of our Lord, touched on in the Collect, and deserving our serious attention. What He did and submitted to for us, not only had its own value as a part of His working out of our redemption, but also in every case was our example, by some sense which it bore, having a reference to our spiritual state and duties. And this ordinance was one typifying the cleansing of the faithful soul from all uncleanness. "Grant us," we pray in the Collect, "the true circumcision of the Spirit, that our hearts and all our members being mortified from all worldly and carnal lusts, we may in all things obey thy blessed will." Just as this ordinance was the first and necessary step in our Lord’s obeying of the law for us, so is that which it signified, the cleansing of our hearts and bodies from all impurity, the necessary condition of our serving God and obeying His holy will. Only the pure in heart shall see God. Though the effect of Christ’s obedience passed upon all men, and brought all men near to God, only those who, turning to Him with their hearts, perfect holiness in His fear, are made partakers of the divine nature, and inherit the blessedness of justification unto life. Let us, now we are beginning the duties and the faith of another year, cleanse our hands and purify our hearts: let us prove ourselves God’s peculiar people, by being zealous of good works, and enemies of all impurity, all untruthfulness, all serving of Him deceitfully and in a worldly spirit: that so our obedience may be, if not up to the measure of, at least after the pattern of Christ’s obedience: simple, earnest, pure, self-denying and self-forgetting: the blessed and acceptable fruit of faith working by love.

Alford, H. (1862). Sermons on Christian Doctrine. London: Rivingtons. (Public Domain)



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