The Cross’s Double Cure
That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. Romans 8:4
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save from wrath and make me pure….
As Christ’s secured salvation for sinners, he freed us from the wrath of God; freed us from sin and death; condemned sin; and after the Spirit, fulfilled the righteousness of the law in us. What does Romans 8:4 mean by fulfilled in us? Thomas Manton in his exposition of Romans 8 raises the question concerning the words, “in us.” He asks, “How is this to be understood? Of justification or of sanctification?” (Manton’s Works, 11.430.)
Through the grammar of “for” versus “in,” Manton begins with demonstrating that the words are unable to be understood as related to justification. He says, “The words will not bear it [as justification], for the apostle does not say that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled for, but fulfilled in us.” (Ibid.) This is a very important distinction as Manton considers what this fulfillment looks like in the life of the Christian. Surely, the Apostle Paul, according to Manton, meant that Christ’s work was not only a justifying work, but a sanctifying work: “Christ came not only to redeem us from wrath, but to renew and sanctify us.” (Ibid, 11.431.)
Before giving his readers four biblical reasons for this qualification, Manton tells them that the sanctification of the Christian is the “constant drift and tenor of the Scriptures.” Manton, like a skilled roper, strings together several texts from the Scripture to show that this was always God’s intentions in the life of the Christian: “And you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21.) “…God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities.” (Acts 3:26.) “Him God has exalted to His right hand…to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.” (Acts 5:31.) “And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin.” (I John 3:5.) Each of these show that the constant drift and tenor of the Word of God is that Jesus would provide the double cure of saving from wrath and making pure.
From the tenor and drift, Manton then turned his attention to the fact that from the Scriptures, this fulfillment of the law in us has to be sanctification. He says, “It must needs be so.” (Manton’s Works, 11.432.) Manton gave four reasons for this.
The extent of the damage to humanity is a full and complete damage. The Fall in Adam brought a total depravity—a depravity of the body and soul; a depravity of the mind and will; a depravity of flesh and spirit. Not only did humanity accrue guilt before God in original sin; but actual guilt as a life of sin commenced. Sin begets sin. With this fact in mind, Manton demonstrates to his readers that the fulfillment of the law in us must be sanctification, “Because the plaster else would not be as broad as the sore; nor our reparation by Christ be correspondent to our loss by Adam. We lost not only the favor of God but the image of God.” (Ibid.) In other words, if wound care only provided medication and clean bandages for half of a wound, the healing would remain incomplete. The cure that Christ provides covers our need to be right with God—and our need to be holy. In that sense, the law is fulfilled in us. Surely Christ is the great physician. Manton would ask, “Now is he a good physician that only taketh away the pain and leaveth the great disease uncured? Certainly we cannot recover God’s favor until we recover his image.” (Ibid.)
The second reason that “fulfillment in us” must be sanctification and not justification is that Christ came to break the power of sin, not merely the guilt of sin. Manton said, “Christ’s undertaking would not answer the trouble of a true penitent, nor remove our sorest burden. A sensible and compunctionate [feeling guilt or scruples which keep one from sinning] sinner is troubled not only with the guilt of sin, but the power of sin.” (Ibid.) When the Lord Jesus Christ does a saving work in the life of a sinner, he or she is not only concerned with being free of guilt in the presence of God; but also being holy in the presence of God. The power of sin is broken and one is able to be well. “They do not only desire pardon and release from punishments but grace to break the power of sin; as a man who has his leg broken desireth not only ease of the pain, but to have it well again.” (Ibid, 11.433.) The power of sin is broken and we are able to look to Christ and say, “Be of sin the double cure; save from wrath and make me pure!”
Maketh a Way
The most theologically interesting evidence of this fulfillment in us being sanctification is related to the economics of the Trinity. Manton presumes an understanding of theological language from his readers when he says that the law fulfilled in us must be sanctification because this is how the work—the economics—of the Trinity unfolds in the life of one who has been given newness of life. This work “makes way for the Spirit.” (Ibid.) Manton will unfold this truth by showing a progression of work of the divine persons which open the door for the work of the next divine person. He said, “For divine persons work into each other’s hands; as the election of the Father maketh way for the redemption in Christ, so the redemption of Christ maketh way for the sanctification of the Spirit. All the divine persons are glorified in the reduction of a sinner; and they take their turn.” (Ibid.) The work of God in “reducing” a sinner is a work that all three persons of the Trinity have participation in. “The application of the merit of Christ and the grace of the Spirit are inseparable.” (Ibid.)
Glory and Honor
And lastly, this fulfillment of the law is best understood as promoting the glory and honor of God. To pardon a sinner and then to not conform him or her to the image of Jesus Christ is an incomplete work. Surely God has counted the cost of redemption and would leave a house unbuilt or the war unwon. See Luke 14:25-33. The great redemption that we have in Jesus Christ was to bring great honor and glory to God; as well as for our good. Manton said, “Christ’s undertaking was not only for the benefit of man, but for the glory of God, to redeem us to God… Impunity and taking away the guilt of sin, doth more directly respect our good; but sanctifying…us…doth more immediately respect his glory and honor.” (Ibid.)
The Apostle said, “That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Manton demonstrated that sanctification is the law being fulfilled “in us” through a broad plaster, broken powers, making a way, and for the glory and honor of God.
Editor's note: the last article in this series can be found here.
Nathan Eshelman is the pastor of the Orlando Reformed Presbyterian Church (RPCNA). He studied for ministry at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Nathan co-hosts “The Jerusalem Chamber” podcast, a paragraph by paragraph exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith; writes for Gentle Reformation; and has a forthcoming book on the Westminster Confession of Faith through Crown and Covenant Publications. Nathan is married to Lydia and has five children and is an avid book collector and antique aficionado.