Introductory remarks to the Exposition to Romans
We should consider the difference between the counsels of God and the responsibility of man. The counsels of God have their accomplishment in the second Man, who is from heaven. However, every intelligent creature has responsibility, and a believer more so than a mere child of Adam.
Purpose was before responsibility. It is a wondrous and blessed truth that God’s purpose and delight was in man – especially the Son of His love. Before the world existed, man was in God’s thoughts. Wisdom was there, and man occupied Wisdom’s (i.e. God’s) though and delight.
Human responsibility awaited the creation of a responsible creature (angels are different). This is seen in 2 Tim. 1:9, “Who hath saved us and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works [that is responsibility], but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, but is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and brought life and immortality [incorruptibility] to light by the gospel, whereunto I am appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher of the Gentiles.”
Hence when the Word became flesh, the angels acclaimed, ‘Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good pleasure [not merely goodwill] in men’ (Luke 2:14). God used the same word when He said, ‘in thee I am well pleased’ (Luke 3:22) God’s purpose was thus in the second Man, the Son of God, the Word made flesh, the Son of God’s love, and in those in whom His delight was associated with Him.
The purpose of God was not accomplished in the first man. That came with the second Man, who dealt with the whole question of man’s responsibility.
Let us look at the history of man:
First man was innocent. He failed, tested by the simple claim of obedience without an evil lust. But he distrusted God, and listened to Satan. Man lost God; lust and transgression came in; man became afraid of God, and was driven out by Him. When Adam failed, no promise was made to him. No promise could be made to sinful flesh – only judgment. But the woman was told that her seed would crush the serpent’s head. That was Christ.
What prevailed afterwards was utter lawlessness: then the flood and judgment came upon the earth. God established restraint and authority in Noah, but he failed and got drunk. Though individuals such as Abel and Enoch had been dealt with in grace, no new system of grace had set up. After the flood, man rose up in rebellion to make himself a name, but God confounded his language, nations were formed, and Satan introduced idolatry (a vague consciousness of God, deified ancestors, astrology and reincarnation). God was set aside; men put demons in His place, and clothed deified lusts with His name.
Then God called Abraham out from the world and revealed Himself, making him head of a family, both naturally and spiritually. Grace was revealed: a free unconditional promise being given to Abraham. Abraham became the father of the faithful, this being confirmed by a figure representing the death and resurrection of Christ (Gen. 22). The promise and the seed were fully united in God’s revelations.
After this came another very important aspect of God’s dealings with the fleshly seed of Abraham – the giving of the law. It raised the question of righteousness, and required it from man. The law provided a perfect rule for Adam’s children: blessing and life dependent on obedience. We know the result: the golden calf was made even before the tables of the law could be brought into the camp.
Finally God came into this sinful world in grace, beseeching men to be reconciled to Him. The promised son of David, son of Abraham came, and when He came, not only was there sin and lawlessness everywhere, but mercy had been rejected. The promise, and the promised One, had been despised. The tree was bad; and brought no true fruit to God. It bore only leaves, and it was judged for ever. God’s one beloved Son, was cast out and slain; God’s wedding-feast invitation was despised. God had come in grace, but Man had cast Him out in hatred. Sin was complete; man was lost.
Wicked hands had slain Christ, but it was according to the pre-determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. The truth was, He had appeared at the appointed time to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. The Lord met the consequences of man’s responsibility, bearing his sins in His own body on the tree. Propitiation was perfect; redemption was accomplished; and God was perfectly glorified in all that He is – love. In the cross of Christ (the second Man, the last Adam, the Lord from heaven), the foundation was laid in righteousness for the accomplishment of divine counsels in glorifying the redeemed,. Sins had been put away, and Christ being at the right hand of God, the righteousness of God was now on solid ground.
Thus we have these two great subjects before us: the responsibility of man and the counsels of God.
A simplified summary of part of the introduction to John Nelson Darby’s Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans