Rom_8:33-34. Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.
OF all the systems that mankind have devised for reconciling themselves to God, there is not any that will afford solid confidence to the soul: they have never been able to fix a standard that should be a sufficient test of men’s attainments, or to draw a line of distinction between those who should attain salvation, and those who should fall short of it. Hence, after all their labours, they are left in a painful uncertainty about their eternal state. But the Gospel removes all suspense on this subject; and gives to those who cordially embrace it, a full assurance of their acceptance with God. In the New Testament we find scarcely any intimation of believers being harassed with doubts and fears: but there are many instances wherein they express the most assured expectation of happiness and glory. In confirmation of this, we need look no further than to the words before us; wherein St. Paul speaks of them as having communion with Christ in his most exalted privileges, and as possessing the very same confidence as the Messiah himself enjoyed [Note: Compare Isa_50:7-9. with the text.]: he, not in his own person only, but in the behalf of all God’s people, challenges the whole universe to lay any thing to their charge, so as ultimately to condemn them.
We shall consider,
His confident challenge—
The name by which he characterizes God’s people is most appropriate—
[Among the ungodly world, there is scarcely a more sarcastic or contemptuous expression ever used, than that by which God himself designates his own people. When they say, “There is one of the elect,” they mean by it, “There is a sanctimonious hypocrite, and a contemptible fanatic.” But, whatever opprobrium they may attach to the word “elect,” be it known, that there is an elect people, whom “God has chosen in Christ Jesus from before the foundation of the world [Note: Eph_1:4.],” and that too, irrespective of any works that they should afterwards perform [Note: 2Ti_1:9. Rom_9:11.]. He chose them because he would choose them, and loved them because he would love them [Note: Deu_7:6-8.]. And if any are disposed to quarrel with this exercise of sovereign grace, let them tell us, who made the distinction between the Jews and the rest of the world; and why he did so: let them also tell us, why he, who in that sovereign way chose nations, may not also choose individuals: and why he, who chose some to enjoy the means of salvation, may not choose others to salvation itself. Proud man may frame distinctions, if he pleases: but if the exercise of God’s sovereignty be unjust in the one case, it must be unjust also in the other; and if it be admitted in the one case, it must be also in the other.
Ignorant men are ready to think, that this is a proud title: but it is the most humiliating title that can be imagined; because it acknowledges that no man on earth would ever have chosen God, if God had not first chosen him: and it is the rejection of this title, not the assumption of it, that argues pride; inasmuch as it implies, that some have within themselves an excellence, which has attracted the notice of Almighty God, and induced him to confer on them the most distinguished privileges.]
In behalf of these he expresses the most assured confidence of their salvation—
[No assertion, however strong, could so fully declare his confidence, as the challenge does which he gives to the whole universe.
We are not to understand him as saying, that there is no ground for accusing and condemning the elect; but, that they are brought into such a state that nothing ever shall be laid to their charge so as finally to effect their ruin.
Let us then, with him, give the challenge to all who may be supposed most likely to prevail against us; to the law, to Satan, to conscience, yea, with reverence be it spoken, even to God himself.
The law indeed may accuse us of having violated every commandment in ten thousand thousand instances: yet will we defy it to condemn us. Satan may affirm with truth, that we have been his vassals far the greater part of our lives: yet shall not he prevail against us. As for conscience, that will testify against us, that we have indulged many secret lusts, and been guilty of innumerable transgressions: yet shall not its allegations be heard to our confusion. It is needless to say what the omniscient God might lay to our charge, what rebellion against his Majesty, what neglect of his dear Son, what opposition to his Holy Spirit: but yet, notwithstanding all, so is the believer circumstanced, that God himself can find nothing for which to condemn him.
Doubtless these are strong assertions; and we may perhaps be ready to question the truth of them. But, if there were the smallest room for doubt, would the Apostle have been so confident in his challenge? Would he have repeated the challenge in such unqualified terms, if he could have been answered in so easy and obvious a manner as some imagine?]
Arrogant as the Apostle may appear, we shall cease to think him so, if we consider,
The grounds of his confidence—
His answers might be read, like the questions themselves, in the form of interrogatories; and they would derive much additional spirit and force from this construction, which indeed both the preceding and following context seem to countenance. But in whatever way his words are pointed, the import of them is much the same. He grounds his confidence on,
The sovereignty of the Father’s grace—
[The elect, having believed in Jesus, are actually brought into a justified state. Now justification implies a free, a full, an everlasting remission of all our sins. It is a free gift bestowed upon us, not as saints, but as sinners: we are not first made godly, and then justified; but are first justified, and then made godly. St. Paul expressly gives this title to God, “The justifier of the ungodly [Note: Rom_4:5.].” When God of his infinite mercy vouchsafes to justify a sinner, he does not put away some sins, and retain others; but “blots them all out as a morning cloud [Note: Isa_44:22.],” and “puts them from us as far as the east is from the west [Note: Psa_103:12.].” It is a blessed and a certain truth, that “all who believe are justified from all things [Note: Act_13:39.].” Nor does God cancel our debt for a time only, intending to call us to account for it at a future period: for he covenants with us, that “our sins and iniquities he will remember no more [Note: Heb_10:17.];” and he assures us, that “his gifts and calling are without repentance [Note: Rom_11:29.].”
Now if God thus justify his elect, we may well ask, “who shall condemn them?” If he “cast all our sins into the very depths of the sea [Note: Mic_7:19.],” who shall bring them up again from thence, and lay them to our charge? He “beholdeth not iniquity in Jacob [Note: Num_23:21.],” but views us as “complete in Christ [Note: Col_2:10.]:” and has formed a chain that shall not be broken: “whom from eternity he foreknew and predestinated, them, in his appointed time, he called and justified; and them he will also glorify” for evermore [Note: Rom_8:30.].]
The perfection of the Redeemer’s work—
[Every part of Christ’s work was considered by the Apostle as a security for the salvation of God’s elect. His death, his resurrection, his ascension, his intercession are so many pledges, that no one shall ever trust in him in vain.
For what end was it that Christ died, but to procure “eternal redemption” for his people [Note: Heb_9:12.]? “He gave his own life to be a ransom for them [Note: Mat_20:28.];” “he shed his blood for the remission of their sins [Note: Mat_26:28.]:” “he died that they might live no longer to themselves, but unto him that died for them [Note: 2Co_5:15.].” We confess, that, if we look only at their steadfastness, they may come into condemnation; and “the weak brother for whom Christ died, and that has been actually washed in his blood, may perish [Note: Rom_14:15 and 1Co_8:11.]:” but their security is in Christ; who will not readily forego the ends of his death, or give up to Satan the souls which he has purchased at so dear a rate.
The resurrection of Christ is a great additional security to the believer; because it was a liberating of our surety from the prison to which he had been carried on our account; and consequently it argues the full discharge of that debt which he had taken upon himself. Hence a peculiar stress is laid upon it in the text; as also in another place, where it is said, “If when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life [Note: Rom_5:10.].” Now if he “died for our offences, and rose again for our justification [Note: Rom_4:25.],” will he suffer this end to be defeated? We may be well assured he will not.
From the ascension of Christ a yet fuller assurance may be derived, because he is gone to “the right hand of God” both as our forerunner and our head. He is not only “preparing places for his people,” but is invested with all power in heaven and in earth, and has the government of the whole universe committed to him, on purpose that he may put down all his, and his people’s, enemies [Note: 1Co_15:24-25.]. If then he kept his people when he was on earth, so that not one of them was lost [Note: Joh_17:12.], will he now suffer any to pluck them out of his hand? No: he has said, that “they shall never perish [Note: Joh_10:28.]:” and he will assuredly fulfil his word.
If any thing further be requisite for the comfort of our minds, we find it abundantly supplied in the intercession of Christ. The only doubt that can arise on this subject is, whether our manifold backslidings will not provoke the Father to cast us off? But “Christ ever liveth to make intercession for us,” and thereby preserves that peace, which otherwise would be interrupted every hour. If indeed our transgressions were wilful and habitual, we should prove ourselves at once not to be of the number of God’s elect. But if they be only such as arise from the infirmity of our nature; if they be lamented, resisted, and diminished; and if they make us to cleave more earnestly to Christ, Christ will be “our Advocate with the Father [Note: 1Jn_2:1.],” and will prevail so as to “save us to the uttermost [Note: Heb_7:25.].”
From all these grounds we may affirm with the fullest assurance, that “there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus [Note: Rom_8:1.].”]
To improve this subject, let us stir up ourselves,
To humble inquiry—
[Are we of the number of “God’s elect?” This is no difficult point to ascertain: for though we cannot look into the book of God’s decrees, to see whether God have chosen us, we may search the records of our own conscience, to see whether we have chosen God: and this will determine the point at once. If we have chosen God as our portion, and Christ as our way to the Father, it is an indisputable evidence that God had before chosen us; because we never should have loved him, if he had not first loved us. But if we feel no such delight in God, we have no reason to think that we belong to him. Let this mode of inquiry be instituted; and let it be pursued with the seriousness which it deserves.]
To grateful adoration—
[What debtors are we to the grace of God, that grace that chose us, that grace that treasured up a fulness for us in Christ Jesus! What do we owe to him, who, when he had passed by angels, was pleased to choose us; and when he might justly have driven us beyond the hope of mercy, has placed us beyond the fear of condemnation! Surely, if we pour not out our hearts in devoutest gratitude before him, the very stones may well cry out against us.
But while we render to him the tribute of a thankful heart, let us also glorify him by a holy life. It is “to good works that we are chosen [Note: Eph_2:10. Tit_2:14.],” and “to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit [Note: 2Th_2:13.],” and therefore we must answer the end of our election, if we would finally enjoy its blessings. Let us then walk worthy of our high calling, and cultivate all the dispositions of God’s elect; and be as studious to avoid all grounds of accusation, as to escape the miseries of condemnation itself.]