The Word of RIGHTEOUSNESS
Arthur Pink, 1943
"The Word of righteousness." Hebrews 5:13
At no point does the uniqueness of the Divine Oracles appear more strikingly and conspicuously, than in their teachings concerning righteousness. Those teachings are at direct variance with the beliefs and conceits of men the world over—in fact so radical and unpalatable are its pronouncements on this subject, that many of those who profess to receive the Scriptures as a Divine revelation, have exhausted their ingenuity in attempting to explain away some of its plainest statements. The sweeping assertion that among the sons of men "there is none righteous, no, not one," but that "all the world" stands "guilty before God" (Romans 3:10,20), is one which never had its origin in any human brain. The declaration that "all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6) is too distasteful to the proud heart of fallen man to have been invented by "the Church." The question, "how can the unrighteous become righteous before the Divine Judge?" is one which, when duly weighed, defies solution by human wisdom. If he had no other evidence for the inspiration of the Scriptures than their teaching upon righteousness, they would suffice to convince this writer of their Divine Authorship.
The word righteousness is a 'legal' one, being the antithesis of guiltiness. Reduced to its simplest form, it means righteous, or up to the required standard. It therefore presupposes a rule by which conduct is measured, and that Rule is the will of God as revealed in His Word. The will of God for man is summed up in the Divine Law, and righteousness is nothing more or less than a perfect conformity to the Law in heart and life. Hence we find the Lord saying "Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet" (Isaiah 28:17), that is, all shall yet be measured by the immutable standard of His Law.
Thus we may say, in the first place, that the Word of God is given this particular title, because righteousness itself has no other Rule to be regulated by. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:16).
Second, the Word is so denominated, because righteousness is its prime and inexorable demand. The Law is inflexible and implacable. It makes no favorable allowance for human infirmities, constitutional weaknesses, or personal defects. All possibility of misapprehension on this score is excluded, if we weigh its solemn declaration, "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law" (Gal. 3:10).
"Cursed is everyone"—without any exception of persons, without any regard to pleas of human weakness or violent temptations.
"Who does not continue"—it is not sufficient to observe those holy commandments in the general tenor of our lives—our course of conduct must be without the slightest intermission, from the earliest dawn of reason to the final breath we draw. In all things—we must refrain from every sin forbidden and the least approach to them; and practice every virtue enjoined and every duty enforced. The Law insists upon an obedience which is perfect in its principle, perfect in all its parts, perfect in every degree—and in each of these respects, perpetual; and pronounces a curse on the slightest failure.
The spirituality and strictness of such a Law, reveals the ineffable purity and immaculate righteousness of its Author. It shows that His nature is so holy and His will so immutable, that He will not tolerate the least sin nor spare the slightest transgression. It tells us that those sins in which the light of nature could discern but little turpitude, that those faults which the light of reason is ready to excuse as mere trifles—are unspeakably odious and intolerably loathsome in the eyes of Jehovah. Only when the soul is made acutely aware of this—does it cry out with the Psalmist, "My flesh trembles in fear of you; I stand in awe of your laws" (119:120). It is because of their sottish insensibility of this, that the vast majority of our fellows are sleeping in a false security and dreaming in presumptuous hope, instead of crying to God for mercy and fleeing from the wrath to come. It is because of their willful ignorance and excuseless blindness, that the religious crowd knows not that "by the deeds of the Law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight" (Romans 3:20).
Third, the Word is so denominated because righteousness, is its grand revelation. Thousands of years ago the question was raised, "How then can man be justified with God?" (Job 25:4) and that perplexity would have remained unresolved until the end of time—had not God Himself supplied the solution. In the Scriptures, He has made known a perfect righteousness provided for the unrighteous. It was for that reason the apostle declared, "I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ—however it may be deemed foolishness by the sophisticated Greeks or prove a stumbling-block to the carnal Jews—for it is the power of God unto salvation"—the grand Instrument which He has ordained for that purpose, and which He will certainly crown with the success He has appointed. And wherein lies the chief and distinguishing glory of the Gospel? "For therein is the righteousness of God revealed, from faith to faith" (Romans 1:16,17), not demanded of impotent sinners—but made ready for their free acceptance—held aloft by a promising God, appropriated by believing souls.
After furnishing conclusive proof that Jew and Gentile alike are destitute of righteousness, the apostle went on to say "But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe." (Romans 3:21,22). It is a perfect righteousness, which obliterates all guilt and bestows an inalienable title to eternal life. "It is styled the righteousness of God, by way of superlative pre-eminence, in opposition to any righteousness of our own and in contradistinction from the righteousness of all creatures whatever" (James Hervey). But more—it is the "righteousness of God" because God the Father devised it from all eternity, God the Son wrought it out here upon earth, and God the Holy Spirit makes it good to us by working in us a faith which appropriates the same. To sum up Romans 1:16, 17 and 3:21, 22—salvation is by righteousness, righteousness is found in Christ, that righteousness becomes ours by faith.
In Romans 4, the apostle proceeded to illustrate his doctrine by two notable examples. Abraham, who was the most eminent of the patriarchs, the most illustrious pattern of piety among the O.T. saints, the "friend of God" (James 2:23). David, who was the most zealous of the kings, the "sweet Psalmist of Israel," a "man after God's own heart" (1 Sam. 13,14). How then were they justified before God? Not as upright beings who could claim it—but as sinful creatures who must implore it; not by their own obedience—but by faith in the promised Messiah. Abraham "worked not" with a view to obtaining justification—but "believed on Him who justifies the ungodly" (vv. 1-5). How was David justified? By his zeal for God's glory, or by his noble services for his fellow-men? No, by a righteousness imputed, even the righteousness of Christ, that blessed redemption through which "iniquities are forgiven and sins are covered" (vv. 6-8).
Fourth, the Word is so designated, because righteousness is its chief bestowment. "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them" (Matthew 5:17) said Christ. He fulfilled the Law by rendering to it a personal, perfect and perpetual obedience as the Surety of His people, and the moment they savingly believe in Him-His obedience is reckoned to their account and becomes their legal righteousness before God (Romans 4:24; 5:19). The perfect righteousness of Christ is "upon all those who believe" (Romans 3:22). It is their "wedding garment" (Matthew 22:12) the "best robe" (Luke 15:22) by which they are covered. And thus may each one say, "In the Lord, I have righteousness and strength" (Isaiah 45:24). Now can he declare "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" (Isaiah 61:10).
A righteous nature is also communicated, which produces righteous conduct, "everyone who does righteousness is born of God" (1 John 2:29). Righteousness imputed, and righteousness imparted, constitute our salvation. Then let us unite with the Psalmist in exclaiming, "My mouth shall show forth Your righteousness and Your salvation all the day…I will go in the strength of the Lord God. I will make mention of Your righteousness, even of Yours alone" (Psalm 71:15,16).