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The Way to Heaven


I count all things to be loss . . . so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith

—Philippians 3:8–9

In December, 1936, J. Gresham Machen lay dying in a hospital in Bismarck, North Dakota (a little more than an hour from my home). From his bed, he dictated a telegram to his friend and colleague, Professor John Murray. It read simply, “I’m so thankful for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.” With his eternal hope thus assured, he went home to be with the Lord on New Year’s Day, 1937.

What is this “active obedience,” and why is it so important? David Clarkson answers:


In regard of the promise of the law, Do this and live, that is, perform perfect obedience, and thou shalt have eternal life. This perfect obedience was the way to life under the law, and if the gospel shew not another righteousness, it is the way still.

Now Christ, when he was interpreting the law, tells us, ‘One jot or tittle shall in nowise pass from the law till all be fulfilled.’ So that unless perfect obedience be fulfilled, it seems there is no life to be had under the gospel, Mat. v. 17. Nay, the apostle, when he is proving justification by faith only, which seems quite to repeal the law in this point, Rom. iii. 28, answers this very objection: ver. 31, ‘Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid,’ saith he; ‘yea, we establish the law.’ So that it seems the way to heaven by perfect obedience, which the law prescribed, is not contradicted by the gospel, but established. No eternal life now without perfect obedience. But you will say, Alas! if it be so, then no flesh shall be saved, for perfect obedience in man’s fallen estate is impossible. See here then the necessity of Christ’s righteousness. It is indeed impossible for man, though a believer, but not impossible for his surety, Christ; so the apostle tells us, Rom. viii. 3, 4, ‘What the law could not do,’ &c. The law could not bring any to life, because of man’s inability to satisfy its demands. Christ was able to do it, and he did it, performed all that the law requires, ‘in the likeness of sinful flesh, that the righteousness of the law,’ ver. 4, that we, being unable to fulfil it ourselves, might have it fulfilled in us. So that the gospel doth not contradict the law, but favourably expounds it. Whereas it might be taken thus, Do this in person, and live, the gospel expounds it thus favourably, Do this (if not by thyself, yet) by thy Surety, and thou shalt live. So that the doctrine of the gospel is not contrary, but subservient to the law.

The righteousness of Christ turns the law into gospel to a believer, and of a doctrine full of dread and terror, renders it the most acceptable message that ever was brought to the world. The law, which stands as the angel with a flaming sword, to bar all flesh out of paradise, when the righteousness of Christ is applied, it becomes an angel to carry every believer into Abraham’s bosom; Christ’s righteousness added, it loses its name, and we call it gospel. The way in both seems to be the same for substance; perfect obedience is requisite in both. They differ in the circumstances of the person performing this obedience. In the law it was to be personal, in the gospel his surety’s performance is sufficient.

However, if there be any terror, dread in the law, Christ’s righteousness removes it; if any grace, comfort in the gospel, Christ’s righteousness is the rise of it. Take away Christ’s righteousness, and the gospel can give no life; take it away, and the law speaks nothing but death; no life, no hope of life without it, either in law or gospel.

—David Clarkson, Justification by the Righteousness of Christ, Works (Banner of Truth, 1988), 1:314–315.

Posted 2017·11·08 by David Kjos
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