By J.R. Miller
Justification by faith is the starting point in the Christian life. There can be no tree without a root; no stream without a fountain. The careless, unsaved ones may read about the blessings of redemption, as we have them here in our lesson, and may say, "Yes, they are very beautiful and good." But they never can possess these gifts and blessings, until they have been "justified." And they never can be justified, until they receive the Lord Jesus Christ by faith. Nothing but His blood can put away sin. Nothing but His Spirit can change and renew the life. When we have been "justified" our sins are put forever away. There is, therefore, now no condemnation. We stand before God--as if we had never sinned.
"Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Romans 5:1. We must stop at these first words and study them carefully. They are the gate at which we must enter the Father's house, whose blessedness is described in the verses following. After justification comes peace. Peace is a favorite word with Paul. He does not mean peace in an earthly sense, for he did not have such peace.
His life was full of suffering, care, toil, persecution and trial. Yet his epistles are starred all over with the bright word peace. There are several different kinds of peace mentioned by Paul. Here, he speaks of "peace with God." This means the consciousness of reconciliation with God. We have an illustration of it, in the prodigal son after his return to his father, when he had been forgiven and restored to his place.
Sin separates us from God. While the feeling of guilt is in the heart, there is no peace. We cannot look into God's face. But when we have repented of our sins and have confessed them and received God's forgiveness, there is peace WITH God.
Paul speaks also elsewhere of the "peace OF God." Writing from a prison, he exhorted his friends to be anxious for nothing--but to make all their cares known to God; and then he said the peace of God would keep their hearts and minds in Jesus Christ. This is a step further than peace with God. It is a peace which holds the heart quiet and still--in the midst of whatever things are hard and trying in this world. It comes from nestling in God's love, and leaving all tangled things in His hands. Christ promised the same peace when He said, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you." Evidently peace is a Christian duty--as well as a privilege. It is named as one of the fruits of the Spirit, in the same cluster with love, joy, gentleness, goodness and meekness. The peace mentioned here in our lesson, is the beginning of all true peace. The peace of God cannot be ours until--we have peace with God.
The peace of God comes through Jesus Christ, "through whom also we have had our access by faith into this grace." Always and everywhere, Christ is the door. We enter every place of blessing through Him. The way to peace with God, is through our Lord Jesus; and here "access" into the grace of salvation is also "through" Him. To reject Christ--is to reject everything of blessing and good. To receive Christ--is to be admitted to all the privileges and benefits of redemption. This "access" is into all "grace." Grace is undeserved favor. What we earn by our own work, is not grace--it is wages. What comes to us as mercy, through the love of God--is grace.
"Access"--to what? To all the blessings that belong to God's children. "All things are yours!" says Paul, in another letter. "All things are yours; ... and you are Christ's; and Christ is God's." There is the privilege of prayer--we have access to that. There is the Bible--that is ours. There is the Church--that is for us. There is the storehouse of grace--grace for life, comfort for sorrow, all divine fullness--we have access into that. There is heaven at the last--the door is open for us to enter in--and go no more out forever!
Because the door is open to us, "we rejoice in hope of the glory of God." It may seem ofttimes that the present gains of faith in Christ are not very great. It may even appear as if the worldly man had the better of it here. But this world is not the end. There is a future in which there shall be compensation for earth's ills and losses to all who are in Christ. We are some day to be like Christ and to be with Him in glory! This ought to cheer us in our earthly life. Those who have this blessed hope ought not to be affected by the hardness and trial of the way.
There is a man journeying along a lonely road at night. It is dark. The storm beats about him. He is weary and faint--but in his heart there is a vision of a beautiful and happy home, not many miles away, to which he is going. Loved ones are there, waiting for him. There he will find shelter from the storm, food for his hunger, rest to relieve his faintness and weariness. This vision of happiness, comfort, joy and safety, a little way before him--makes him forget the hardness and discomfort of the journey. So it is, that the "hope of the glory of God" should cheer us as we move through the world's darkness and sorrow and trial.
Paul reminds us that we are to rejoice also in our tribulations. This seems a hard lesson. We may learn to bear troubles submissively, without complaining; but to rejoice in them--that is something which seems impossible to many. The tree is too bitter--to have such sweet fruit growing on it. But the grace of Christ is equal to this strange task--enabling us to rejoice in our tribulations. Thousands of Christians have done it. Paul himself did it. We remember his songs in the night at Philippi. This is what Christian faith may always do. The secret of it is, perfect trust in the will and love of God. No one can rejoice in pain or loss who has not a settled confidence in the righteousness of God's ways. Then he knows that the thing God sends or permits--is the best thing, though it almost crushes him.
Someone tells how a flute is made. Here is a piece of wood. It is solid and hard and it makes no music. Then a workman take it and cuts holes in it, and makes a hollow tube through it. It is by thus cutting as if destroying it, that it is made into a flute, which gives forth sweet music. God seems ofttimes to be destroying His children by tribulations--but He is really preparing them to give forth sweet music. Tribulation is good, for it "works patience." Patience is a blessed lesson to learn. Any school in which we can learn it, is a good school, and the lesson can scarcely be too costly. Patience is ofttimes learned in the school of suffering. We are there trained to endure, not to cry out in the hour of anguish--but to sing instead.
Richter tells of the little bird that is shut away in the darkness to learn new strains, which afterwards it sings in the light. Many Christians are taken into the darkness and kept there for a time, while they are taught the songs of patience. We look at patient people with admiration, not knowing what it has cost them to get this pearl of the Christian graces.
Patience is only the first link in a golden chain. It begins in tribulation--in the fire. That is where the gold is refined. I saw the men in the great smelter at Denver, bringing in the ore--rough, unsightly, without any appearance of value, and I followed the processes until they showed us the pure metals ready for use. That is the way this chain of gold begins. The rough ore of common life is taken and put into the hot furnace, where it is purified until it shines in lustrous beauty.
"Patience works experience." Experience is what we have learned for ourselves by living. Most of us do not learn much any other way. Every day's life leaves its new lines written upon our character.
After experience comes hope. The more we know of the truth and the beauty of the blessedness of hope--the more does the future mean to us. Trying Christ, makes us even the more sure of Him. Testing the promises, makes us feel more secure in resting upon them. This "hope," too, is one that never shall disappoint us. One of the most pathetic things I saw in all the great West, was a little graveyard near the foot of Pike's Peak, in which sleep many of the men who journeyed there with the wild expectation of finding gold. Their hope put them to shame--and they died broken-hearted. Not so does ever the Christian's hope.
The ground of all our hope is in Christ, who died for us while we were yet sinners. God does not begin to love us--when we begin to get good and love Him. He loves us first in our sins, and it is His love that starts in our hearts the first glimmering of love for Him. The argument here is very strong. If He loved us in our sins so much that He died for us--surely now, when we have been justified and saved, He will be faithful to us and will keep us from falling away. Thus the cross is the abiding proof of the unchanging love of God.
"You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!"