The Bible presents us with three pictures of man’s condition and character. They are very different, and yet they are all true pictures. 1. There is the picture of man before the Fall, as he walked with God in primeval innocence of heart and sinless purity of life. 2. There is the picture of man after the Fall, with the Divine image marred and stained by sin. 3. And then there is the picture of man renewed again – man an object of Divine mercy, man a subject of Divine grace, man prepared for sharing once more the Divine glory.
Two of these views of human nature concern man as he is now. The one humbles, the other exalts him. On the one hand, man is put before us as he is by nature – fallen, sinful, lost. On the other hand, he is put before us as God wants him to be, and as God has done all he can to make him – a pardoned sinner, a holy character, an heir of everlasting life. These two views are brought together in these verses. The apostle speaks of the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe (vers. 21, 22). And then he adds, as a reason for this broad, all-embracing statement, “For there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (vers. 22, 23). There is no difference as to the fact of universal sin. And there is no difference as to the fact of universal mercy: “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (ver. 24). There is no difference as to the need of salvation. There is no difference in the way of salvation. Christ is the Saviour of all men who come to him in faith.
I. THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE IN THE FACT OF UNIVERSAL GUILT. “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” This is not a mere cynical statement. The Bible is not a cynical book. It does not look down with contempt upon human nature. But it deals with facts as they are. And yet, if it speaks of human nature as sinful, it is in terms of pity and compassion and desire to save. You will often meet with cynical views of human nature. You will meet some who will tell you that all men are equally bad, or that one man is as good as another. You will meet some who will sneer at the idea of virtue, or unselfishness, or honesty being found in any one. They will tell you that no such thing exists. They will tell you that selfishness is the ruling principle of human nature, and that, if men or women are honest, or virtuous, or charitable, it is because it is their interest to be so. Now, it will generally be found that those who speak thus of human nature have not a very high moral character of their own. They judge others from their own standpoint. They look at everything from a selfish point of view, and they think that every one else does the same.
But this is not the way in which the Bible speaks of human nature. It paints it very black, it is true – because it paints it in its true colours. But it speaks of human nature as it is, not to depreciate it, but to elevate it. Moreover, it allows for the good that is in human nature. It meets human nature half-way. It recognizes that there is sometimes even in the most fallen nature a desire for better things. It represents the poor prodigal as coming to himself and saying, “I will arise, and go to my Father.” Jesus says,” Him that cometh to me! will in no wise cast out.” The Bible is no cynical book. And yet it says that “all have sinned.” This does not mean that all are equally bad, that all have committed sins of the deepest dye. But it does mean just what is said, that all have sinned – that there is sin in some degree in all, sin enough to condemn, to destroy. How humbling this is to human pride! And this was just how the apostle meant it. His whole desire in these opening chapters of Romans is to show the need of a Saviour, of a perfect righteousness. He first of all showed that the heathen needed a righteousness. Then, turning to the Jews, whom he knew so well, he saw at once their self-righteous spirit. They made their boast in the Law, and yet all the while they were transgressors of the Law. And so he proves that both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin (ver. 9). “For there is no difference: for all have sinned.” It is amazing to see how one professing Christian can look down upon another, just because the other is of a humbler class in society or wears a poorer dress, when, if they were true Christians, they would remember that they are all sinners saved by grace. Yes, the Bible is a very democratic book. It teaches that God hath made of one blood all nations of men to dwell upon the face of the earth. It teaches that the rich and poor meet together, and that God is the Maker of them all. It places all men upon a common platform, as sinners in the sight of God. It says, “There is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”
II. THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE IN THE OFFER OF UNIVERSAL MERCY. “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” It is when we come to look at the cross of Jesus that we can see how God looks at human nature. It was certainly no depreciation of human nature that caused the Son of God to come and die upon the cross. It was no desire to depreciate human nature that caused God to give “his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Ah no! When we speak of the depravity of human nature, of the fall of man, of universal guilt and sinfulness, some persons would charge us with taking low views of human nature. They are Bible views, at any rate; and the cross of Jesus shows us that, if God looks upon human nature as fallen, he does not look upon it with contempt. No! He looks upon it with infinite compassion. He looks upon it with redeeming love. He looks upon it, helpless, sinful, fallen; and as he looks, he stretches down the hand of mercy to save, to save for ever!
On the porch of an old house in England is this inscription cut in stone, “Dextram cadenti porrigo (I stretch out my right hand to him that is falling”). That is just what God does. He stretches out the strong hand of mercy, and not only to him that is falling, but to him that is fallen. He does not exclude the profligate, or there would have been no place in the kingdom of heaven for St. Augustine or John Newton. He does not offer salvation only to his friends, or where would the Apostle Paul have been? There is no difference. “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” How, then, is this, that the guilty sinner is an object of Divine mercy? He is guilty, and yet God not merely pardons, but justifies him, declares him just. “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (ver. 24). It is on account of what Jesus did and suffered that the sinner is accepted in God’s sight. This is to be remembered, that Jesus not only bore our punishment (which one human being might do for another), but he bore our guilt. “The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” It is thus that the sinner is looked upon as justified in God’s sight. Thus God’s righteousness is shown: “That he might be just, and the Justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (ver. 26). And hence there is no difference. It is no merit in man, no penances, no good works of his own, that obtain his justification, his salvation. It is free grace. It is the righteousness that is in Jesus Christ. What large-hearted charity, what universal brotherhood of Christians, this large view of God’s universal mercy ought to teach us! “The same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.” How this view of the universal mercy, the universal love of God, should break down all narrow views of creed and party and class! The day is long in coming, but surely, under the influence of this Christian gospel, it will come at last –
“When man to man, the world o’er,
Shall brithers be for a’ that.”
RESPONSE TO THE GOSPEL
Yet it is to be observed that there is a great difference in man’s treatment of this universal offer of mercy. Some accept the message. The goodness of God leads them to repentance. The love of Christ melts their hearts. Some reject this message. They put it away from them. They neglect it. They are too much occupied with other things – with pleasure, money-making, and the like. Now, this difference in the way in which men receive the offer of salvation will make a vast difference in their condition throughout eternity. How could it be otherwise? If Christ died to save those who take him as their Saviour, it must be a sad but stern reality that those who do not believe on him must perish. There is no difference in the universal guilt. There is no difference in God’s universal offer of his mercy. But there is a difference in man’s treatment of this offer. And there will be an awful difference throughout eternity.