This the Catechism means when it speaks of “that righteousness which he had purchased for us by his death.”
He paid the price for our righteousness, the price that was demanded by God’s unchangeable justice applied to the guilty. That price was death. And the price must be paid, righteousness must be purchased. The suffering of death must be a voluntary act of love, just as sin is wanton rebellion and disobedience. And such an act of perfect obedience was the death of Christ. Hence, He purchased righteousness for us by His death. And the resurrection of our Lord is God’s declaration that the price was paid in full, that He did, indeed, obtain righteousness for all His people.
And He arose in order that He might make us partakers of that righteousness.
The living Lord effects that change in us, whereby we lay hold upon the righteousness He obtained for us, and ourselves become righteous before God.
As we are, by nature, we are not partakers of the righteousness of Christ, and because we are not, we never could and never would lay hold upon that righteousness if Christ Himself did not fundamentally change us. We are dead in sin, perverse of heart, darkened in our understanding, rebellious of will, polluted and defiled in all our desires and inclinations. In that state we care not for righteousness, not even if it is freely offered us, if we can obtain it by just appropriating it unto ourselves. We do not want righteousness, we have no desire for it in our hearts, we do not seek it. Unrighteousness we love, and the way of unrighteousness we will pursue even though we are quite well aware of the fact that it leads us to destruction, that the wages of sin is death. And even though the gospel of a free righteousness were preached to us by men all our life, and though a thousand preachers would warn us of our peril,, and urge us to accept righteousness before it is too late, we would only despise and reject it. Christ, indeed, purchased righteousness for us, but there is no connection between that righteousness and us, nor is there any possibility that we, on our part, can establish such connection.
This situation, in all its seriousness, must be clearly understood and fully acknowledged in order to grasp the true implication of the language of the Catechism here: “he has overcome death, that he might make us partakers of that, righteousness which he had purchased for us by his death.”
None less than a living Lord, one that has overcome death, Who is the resurrection and the life, is able to make us partakers of His righteousness, to establish the living link between that righteousness and our soul, so to change us that, instead of hating and despising and rejecting righteousness, we seek it, desire it, and are able to lay hold upon it, and to appropriate it when it is bestowed upon us as a free gift.
And this change is effected in us by that marvelous gift of grace which the Holy Scriptures call faith, of which we treated more fully in connection with the twentieth question and answer of the Catechism.
Faith is the living bond between our soul and the Christ of the Scriptures, between the righteousness He purchased for us and our inmost heart. Faith is the spiritual power whereby our whole soul, with mind and will and all our desires, yearns for Christ and His righteousness, seeks Him, hungers and thirsts after His righteousness, cleaves to Him, knows Him as no faithless soul is able to know Him, wants Him as above all things precious, and appropriates Him and all His benefits. By the accomplishment of that change in us, by the bestowal of that spiritual gift of faith upon us, we become partakers of the righteousness which He purchased for us.
We are justified in Christ out of faith!
And this faith is the gift of the living Lord, Who overcame death.
He works it in us by His Spirit and by His own effectual calling through the preaching of the gospel.
This is not the proper place to elaborate upon this marvelous work of our living Lord. All we need to
emphasize in this connection is that it is Christ, the living Lord, Who overcame death, that bestows this gift of grace upon us, and thus makes us partakers of the righteousness which He purchased for us by His death.
Partakers of His righteousness we are only by faith.
And faith presupposes a living Lord.
For, mark you well, we are not to look upon this faith as a gift that is once bestowed upon us, and that, ever after its first bestowal, we possess in ourselves, apart from Christ. On the contrary, it is a continuous gift, the fruit in us of the constant operation of the living Christ in us. It is the union; of our soul with the living Lord.
Does the little electric bulb that sheds its light upon my typewriter and sheet of paper have light in itself? Will it retain its light if I cut the wire through which the living current of electricity flows into it? Do the branches of the vine have life, and can they bear fruit apart from the vine? No more do we have faith and righteousness, even for one moment, apart from the living Lord. Suppose that it were possible (which it is not) that, after we received the gift of faith by which we are made partakers of righteousness, the bond between Christ and our soul were cut, what would happen? That moment we would be dead in sin, in complete darkness, without righteousness before God. A constant current of faith-power flows into our soul from the living Christ, and thus He makes us partakers of His righteousness.
And thus we already entered upon a discussion of the second “profit” of the resurrection of Christ mentioned by the Heidelberg Catechism, namely, that “we are also by his power raised up to a new life.”
That we should do so was inevitable.
We may distinguish the benefits of Christ’s resurrection, we may enumerate them in a certain order, but they can never be separated. For fact is that by faith we become partakers of Christ Himself, and, therefore, of all His benefits. In reality, we do not receive the benefits of the resurrection of Christ piecemeal, in a certain consecutive order, so that we first become partakers of His righteousness, next of His life, and, finally, of His resurrection. On the contrary, we become partakers of Christ first, of the full Christ, of the living Lord In all His riches of salvation. With Him we are united by faith, with Him we become one plant, Him we appropriate. And having Him we have all. He is our redemption, our righteousness, our life, our deliverance, our sanctification, our eternal glory. Small wonder, then, that we cannot speak of any particular benefit we receive through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, without reminding ourselves that we are partaker of that individual blessing only because we possess the whole living Christ!
Yet, we may distinguish the blessings of salvation, both as they are objectively related, and as, subjectively, we receive them by the act of conscious faith.
And, considering the benefits of Christ’s resurrection in this light, the Catechism presents them in the proper order when it mentions righteousness first, then the power of a new life, and, finally, our own glorious resurrection.
For, as stated before, righteousness, imputed righteousness, is first, and is basic for all the other blessings of salvation. Only on the basis of the former the latter can be bestowed, according to the justice of God.
But thus it is also before the consciousness of our faith. Fact is, of course, that actually we become partakers of the life of Christ first of all. When faith is bestowed upon us our soul is united with the living Lord. Faith is only the expression of our union with Him. And how could we be united with Him, without partaking of His resurrection life? And yet, paradoxical though it may seem, when thus we live, and faith becomes active in us, we find ourselves in the midst of death. It is when we begin to live in Christ that, before the consciousness of our faith, we die. And, what is more, when we thus begin to live by faith in Christ, we see and acknowledge that we have no right to life, that we are worthy of eternal condemnation and death. It is by faith that we come to the spiritual discovery that we have no righteousness, and that, therefore, we have no right to live. And thus, by that same faith, we are drawn to Christ as our only hope, we cast ourselves upon Him in our sin and death, and we receive and lay hold upon His righteousness.
And in the consciousness of that righteousness of Christ by faith, we have the unspeakably joyous assurance that we have the adoption unto children of God, and the right to eternal life.
Thus, objectively, as the basis of the right to live; and, subjectively, as to the order in which we receive the blessings of Christ’s resurrection, righteousness is first.
But having understood and acknowledged that in ourselves we lie in the midst of death, and that through the righteousness we have in Christ by faith alone we are made worthy of eternal life, we also actually receive that life, i.e., we begin to live a new life, the life of Christ, before the consciousness of our faith. We are raised up to a new life by the power of the risen Lord.
The Scriptures frequently speak of this spiritual resurrection in fellowship with Christ. Our Lord spoke of this when He tabernacled among us in the days of His flesh: “For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them ; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will . . . Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death into life. Verily, verily, I say unto you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.”. The apostle Paul writes: “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus
Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.” . And in : “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace are ye saved); And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” And he admonishes the Church: “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.”
Unto this life we are raised by the power of the risen Lord.
And again, let us beware of presenting this matter as if Christ, in the moment of regeneration, bestows this life on us, raises us from our spiritual death, and that now we possess that life apart from Him. Not for one moment do we have life in separation from the living Lord. We live only because He lives. It is He that lives in us. We are raised in fellowship with Him only. It is in virtue of our fellowship with Him that we do live. By His Spirit and through His Word He calls us out of death into life; and by His Spirit and through His Word He continues to dwell in us, and to make us partakers of His resurrection life. For “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”. That is the confession of him that is raised by the power of the risen Lord.
Hence, this life unto which we are raised in fellowship with the living Lord is resurrection life. It is life from the dead.
This means, to be sure, that it is the true life, the essence of which is the fellowship of friendship with the living God. ft is life eternal. “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” To know the living God, to enter into His secret fellowship, to be righteous as He is righteous, to be holy as He is holy, to taste the goodness and lovingkindness of the Lord, to love Him and be loved of Him, and in that most intimate communion to serve the living God, and have our delight in that service,—that is life. And to be called out of our natural death, darkness, corruption, enmity against God, in which we are children of wrath, neither worthy nor capable of dwelling in His house, into that life of most intimate fellowship with the God of our salvation,—that is resurrection from the dead through Jesus Christ our living Lord.
But this means, too, that in no sense death has anymore dominion over us. Christ is raised from the dead. Death has no more dominion over Him. He is beyond the- very reach of death. And so are we in Him. This eternal life is intrinsically everlasting, exactly because it is the life of the Son of God, Who died and was raised again. Adam was created, to be sure, a living soul: he was, in the state of righteousness, not in the power of death; but he stood within death’s reach. But the life unto which we are raised by the power of the risen Lord is everlasting: death cannot reach out for it. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life,”. “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” . To be translated out of the darkness of this mortal life, in which we are beset by death on every side, and in which the fear of death pursues us through all our living ( ), into the freedom from the fear of death, the glorious state of immortality,—that is resurrection from the dead. And unto this we are raised, even now, by the power of the living Lord.
It means, finally, that by this power of the risen Lord we are set in heavenly places with Christ, in principle. For the life unto which we are raised by the risen Lord is not of this earth earthy: it is from the Lord of heaven. It is heavenly. It is that knowledge of God which is obtained, not by looking into a glass, not by beholding a reflection of the adorable Lord of heaven and earth, but by seeing Him face to face, and by knowing Him, even as we are known. To be called into that likeness of our heavenly Lord, in virtue of which we put off the image of the earthy, and partake of the image of the heavenly,—that is resurrection from the dead. And, in principle, it is unto that resurrection life that we are raised by the power of the living Lord.
Rut for this very reason, this life unto which we are raised looks forward to the final resurrection. And the Catechism teaches us that “lastly, the resurrection of Christ is a sure pledge of our blessed resurrection.”
This is not the place to explain this “blessed resurrection” in detail. This must wait until we discuss the article of the Apostolicum that speaks of the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting, explained in the twenty second Lord’s Day. Now it is sufficient to call attention to the fact that the resurrection of Christ is a “sure pledge of our glorious resurrection.” It is the ground and fountain of our hope.
For we are saved by hope. Being raised with the risen Lord, and having within us the beginning of the resurrection life, we are, nevertheless, still in the flesh. And in the flesh we lie in the midst of death. We live, and we cannot die; yet we are encompassed by death on every side, and we must die. And, therefore, we do groan with all the groaning and suffering creation, waiting for the adoption, to wit the redemption of our body. And we groan not without hope, but exactly in hope. And this hope is sure and well founded. It has its source within us in the fact that, even now, we are raised unto a new life by the risen Lord: we live because He lives, we cannot die, because death hath no more dominion over Him. And it has its objective ground in the fact of His resurrection: He was raised in glory, as to the body; we shall be raised in glory with Him in the last day. For: “blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”. And also: “if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.”
For it was Christ, not a mere individual, but the Head of the body, the Church, that is raised.
Therefore, He is raised as the first fruits. The harvest is sure to follow.
Just as the first fruits are the beginning of the harvest that is begun, so the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the beginning of the resurrection, and, therefore, its sure pledge.
Already the resurrection has begun!
And its beginning is also its principle!
It can never stop, until all the elect have followed Christ into His blessed resurrection; yea, until all things have been renewed so as to be the proper habitation of this risen Lord, and His resurrected Church!
That is the power of the resurrection of Christ!