“…and having on the breastplate of righteousness.”
Put on the breastplate of righteousness. Thus this text must, be understood. We read literally here: “Having put on the breastplate of righteousness.” Indeed, we must put it on, even as a soldier puts on his entire armor.
How tremendously important is this breastplate! This was the first part of the armor the soldier put on. And that first part of the armor is righteousness. We surely have a divine order here: the truth, righteousness, gospel of peace, salvation, sword of the Spirit. And this order must not be overlooked. This righteousness, as the first item of the armor of the Christian warrior, is therefore the first gift of grace that is imparted to us through the Bible, the Word of truth.
We must also bear in mind one more thing. These different parts of the Christian’s armor are not all different parts of the girdle of truth. We cannot divide this girdle into parts. What is true is that these parts all refer to the entire Word of God.
This breastplate was the armor which covered the body from the neck to the thighs, consisting of two parts, the one covering the back and the other the front. Without this breastplate the warrior was ex posed to every thrust of the enemy, even to every casual dart. Without it his position was utterly hopeless in the midst of the battle.
What is this righteousness? The word itself means: a straight line, to be in a straight line with God. Must this be understood as a spiritual righteousness? This refers to our conduct, that all our life and activities are in harmony with the will of God, and this, of course, according to the righteous Judge of all the earth. Or, must this righteousness be understood legally, judicially, as referring to our justification? This concerns our state, our legal relation to the law. God, then, declares us guiltless, that He sees in us no ground for condemnation, that we are free of all guilt and heirs of everlasting life and glory. This, of course, is of the utmost significance. God is the Judge of all the earth. His verdict can never be appealed. To whom could we carry our appeal? If God justify us, who can condemn? He will surely enforce this judgment of justification and there is none who can possibly force Him to change it.
This breastplate of righteousness surely refers to our justification. In the first place, the view that this righteousness must be interpreted spiritually is surely impossible. How can my conduct ever guarantee my safety, my ability to stand in this spiritual struggle? Indeed, we must not ignore here our righteousness in the spiritual sense. But, how will I be able to hold up before the devil my good works when, in the first place, my best works are but filthy rags, and when, in the second place, all the good I do can so easily be offset by the far greater amount of evil? Indeed, my good works are important only insofar as they are the fruit of my justification and therefore assure me that God has begun His work in me. In the second place, we must bear in mind the order here of the various parts of the Christian’s armor. This breastplate is mentioned first. And it is surely true that the first blessed gift we experience through the Word of God is that of justification. In the third place, we must ever hold before us the meaning of the expression, “breastplate of righteousness” in the light of Scripture. How pertinent is Is. 59:17: “For He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon his head; and He put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloke.” The apostle appears to have this text in mind and to be guided by it in his description of the Christian’s armor. In Is. 59:17Jehovah speaks as revealed in Christ Jesus, and the prophet here declares that He has wrought salvation in the way of righteousness, in the way of the complete and perfect satisfaction of the righteousness and justice of the Lord.
How, terrible was this breastplate of righteousness as put on by Jesus Christ, our Lord! Please note what we read in Is. 59:16. His was the task which demanded that the awful holiness of God be revealed in connection with our sins and trespasses, that God’s infinite wrath and indignation be borne in full consciousness and in perfect obedience. Only God could do this. No wonder we read what we read in Is. 59:16! God, in Christ, took upon Himself, not only the hatred of the wicked and of all the powers of hell, but also the fearful wrath of God upon sin, tasted and experienced it in all its infinite horror. God satisfied His own justice, Himself paid the awful penalty.
This is the breastplate of righteousness of this text. This breastplate of righteousness is, of course, not another, in distinction from Is. 59:17. This breastplate of righteousness is not, we understand, our righteousness. Fact is, the breastplate of righteousness of Is. 59:17 is the only breastplate of righteousness in existence. There is simply none other. No man can ever attain unto this righteousness. Indeed, this is the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. Only, it is the perfect righteousness of God in Christ as applied to all my sins and trespasses. God, in Christ Jesus, has rendered me eternally righteous before God, has paid in full for all my sins and trespasses and has made me an heir of life and glory everlasting. This breastplate is that wonderful, unspeakable assurance, completely beyond all human understanding, that in spite of whatever the devil and my own conscience may say, I am righteous before God, free of all guilt and heir of everlasting life and glory.
First, this breastplate of righteousness is the entire Word of truth. It is not simply a’ part of it. One cannot divide this Word into five parts, each part, then, applying to each part of the Christian’s armor; The Word of God is one as God is one. Included in this breastplate is God’s eternal counsel of election and reprobation. How necessary it is that this be included! Fact is, this breastplate refers to the righteousness of God in Christ. This includes particular atonement, that Christ died for our sins and trespasses, inasmuch as a Christ for all is a Savior of none. Hence, the Lamb of God and of Calvary is the Head of His church, the Head of call His elect. He dies only for His sheep, given Him of the Father. How basic is the doctrine of election!
Then, this breastplate includes the doctrine of sin and guilt and man’s utter and complete hopelessness and helplessness. God saw and there was no man; He wondered that there was no intercessor. This emphasizes the scriptural doctrine of sin. Man’s fall and subsequent depravity are of such an extent that all we can do is add sin and guilt. All our righteousness is therefore of God alone in Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Thirdly, this breastplate includes the scriptural truth of God’s particular and efficacious atonement. Christ died atoningly; He blotted out sin; He paid for guilt; He merited everlasting life and glory. All this is denied by the doctrine of universal atonement. A Christ for all is a Savior of none, inasmuch as He also died for those who perish. Then there is simply no breastplate of righteousness.
To this we must also add the doctrine of irresistible grace, the certain perseverance of the saints, and eternal glory. This righteousness of God in Christ means that His grace is irresistible, inasmuch as because of His perfect righteousness Christ was raised, exalted, lifted up on high unto the right hand of God. And this also includes our certain and ultimate salvation, because God Who delivered Him for us all will surely with Him give us all things. Indeed, the whole Word of God is this breastplate.
This breastplate we must put on. This means, first of all, that we must know the scriptures. This applies to all of us. To this there is no exception. Also our young people. And, we must know all the scriptures. Secondly, we must appropriate this breastplate of righteousness by a true and living faith. Indeed, we are not justified because of our good works, not even because of our faith; it is not my spiritual righteousness which can ever assure our safety in the midst of the world. In the cross of Christ we glory and shall glory; God’s righteousness in Christ is our only hope. However, our spiritual righteousness is for us the proof of our legal righteousness. Our spiritual righteousness means that we have been redeemed and justified, that it has been purchased for us. And it is only when we walk in God’s commandments that we will be able to taste and experience this blessed love of God in Christ; in fact, if we walk in ways of sin and evil we do not even care for this breastplate of righteousness.
We now understand our calling. Put on, every day anew, this breastplate of righteousness. Cleave to this righteousness of God in Christ. This means that, in principle, we will also walk in the way of its fruit, hating sin, and showing that the righteousness of God in Christ is our only comfort, our only hope, our only need, our only longing in the midst of the world.
Nothing else insures, guarantees my protection. Shall I face the enemy in my own strength, with my own good works, my ethical righteousness as a ground for my assurance of victory? But, how hopeless is then my lot . . .!
This is my protection: the breastplate of my righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. If then, you point me to my sin and guilt, I will claim the righteousness of Christ, claim that all my sins and guilt are paid. If, then, you point to all my filth and corruption (and there is so much of it), I will say that I love the truth, that I possess in principle the love of God, and that He has merited for me everlasting life and glory. If, then, you should point to the Church’s smallness in the midst of the world and to the greatness of the world, all its manpower and resources, I will look to Him Who died for me and now lives for me in heavenly glory at the right hand of God. And I will proclaim that God has justified me, that therefore nothing can condemn me or can ever be against me, that Christ’s work for me shall also be finished in me, and that therefore I am safe in the midst of the world, yea, that all things work together for my good.
Indeed, the world would separate me from the love of God in Christ. And it is indeed true that, as far as I am concerned, that world can easily separate me from that love of God. In fact, of myself I would and can never remain standing in the cause of God and of His Christ and covenant. This, however, is the first weapon in the Christian’s arsenal. It has the priority. For this we may give thanks unto God. Nothing will ever be able to separate me from the love of God, will ever be able to separate God from me, will ever be able to change or alter the eternal, unconditional, irresistible, and sovereign love of God. My assurance is not my work, anything in me, but His work for me, now and forevermore.