We must pay attention to the context in which the article of justification is found in Scripture. Isaiah 1:18-20 introduces the gracious judgment that God speaks to sinners: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” etc. What precedes it? A grave, sharp reprimand of the prophet. Isaiah punishes the ingratitude and apostasy of Israel, the hypocritical sacrifices with which the people sought to cover and gloss over its evil ways. The reprimand continues at verse 21 and following. The princes of the people are “murderers”, “companions of thieves.” We hear the New Testament preaching of comfort in Isaiah 40:1-2: “Comfort, comfort My people! says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and preach to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned” etc. At the same time another, harsher voice is heard: “It is a voice of a preacher in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the landscape a level way for our God” etc. The speech of the wilderness preacher closes with the words “And thus”, when the way is prepared, “the glory of the Lord”, His glorious grace, “shall be revealed.” The way to the Lord and His grace is revealed by the preaching of repentance. In the second half of Romans chapter one St. Paul describes in thirsty colors the moral condition of the heathen world. The heathen have not honored God nor gave thanks to Him as their God, have set the creature in the place of the living God. For this reason God gave them over to shameful passions. Fidelity and faith have disappeared. They are “filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil, whisperers” etc. In Romans chapter two the apostle passes judgment on the Jews. They are no better than the heathen. They set themselves up as magistrates and instructors who teach others that one does not steal, should not commit adultery, and yet they do precisely what they forbid others to do. In chapter three the sins of the heathen and Jews are summarized. The general human corruption is described with well-known words of Old Testament Scripture: “There is no one who is righteous, not even one, there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks for God, they have all deviated; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” And at this point the introduction about justification is now introduced: “But now the righteousness that avails before God has been manifested apart from the law” etc.
Preachers must never lose sight of this connection when they bear witness about justification by faith. What use is the most precious gift when one allows it to fall on the ground or into the well instead of being handed to the needy? What help is the most powerful ointment and pharmaceutical if it does not contact the sore spot? How good and helpful is the most precious preaching about justification if it slides over the heads of the hearers, let alone over their hearts and consciences? The consolation of justification, divine grace, sticks only in a battered and anguished heart and conscience. Secure and careless hearts are only angered and hardened when one gives them only friendly, good words and comforts them with the grace of Christ. Therefore, it is the sacred duty of an evangelical preacher, who does not blindly throw away the entrusted treasure, but shall bring to man, to prepare his hearers’ hearts to receive the blessings and consolations of the Gospel, and always to prepare anew the way to Christ by the preaching of repentance. The Gospel is so dear to him, the salvation of hearers lie so near and dear to him, he must so seriously chastise sin, and indeed so chastise that the sinner feels his sin and is restless about it and therefore is worried how he may stand again before God. And it is necessary, following the example of Scripture, not merely to speak in general about sin, but to point out individual sins, and especially those sins that are common to all mankind, and also still cling to Christians. Even Christians still have, because they are flesh and blood, their share of the general corruption of mankind. People do not thank God as their God. Their heart hangs, instead of on the living God, on the corruptible creature. And how easy Christians still forget about the daily blessings of the benevolent Giver of all good things! How Christians still have love for vanity! People ask nothing from God. There is no fear of God before their eyes. And how often Christians set the fear of the Lord before their eyes, do what they please, and ask nothing afterwards whether it pleases God! People speak lies. The poison of asps is on their lips. Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. And even from the lips of Christians often overflow with bitter, poisonous speech. “In their paths are ruin and misery.” In other words: In their paths are found misery and repression that trample over them and they are plunged into misery. One kicks, suppresses, and oppresses others in order to raise himself. And how often Christians also even deny and violate all consideration for their neighbors! Further, it is necessary to call sin by the proper name, to paint it as black as it really is. The prophet Isaiah called the princes and judges of Israel, “companions of thieves.” They were not common criminals who break into houses at night. But they took bribes, could be bribed. All unrighteousness in doings and dealings is theft. Isaiah calls the rulers of the people, “murderers”, and that is because they did not embrace the widows and orphans themselves, did not justifiably help provide for them. Whoever denies help and mercy to their neighbor breaks the Fifth Commandment, is guilty of his brother’s blood. It is necessary to expose the sins of the time, the moral damage of the current race. We have pointed to the bloodcurdling image that the apostle outlines in Romans chapter one about the Roman culture of his time. It remains intact even to this day. The present generation, who have brought so much in culture, art, science, education, industry, is morally lazy and rotten, a stinking rotten carcass. Modern culture is only a glistening cloak of shameful lusts and vices. And even Christians are infected by the general moral decay. Many have lost shame and discipline, sensation and conscience for decency in many parts. It also applies to those, heathens and Jews, who think themselves better than others, and who judge and master others and yet do the same thing, only in other ways, to punish others! Woe to those who gloss over their malice and wickedness with external worship! It is necessary to fight and to control sin with a holy, divine seriousness, and therefore also the incorrigible sinners who do not want to let go of their sin, to proclaim God’s wrath and judgment and to retain their sin, in order that they are still scared about them, before it is too late, and thus others learn to be afraid of sin.