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Sunday, December 10th, 2023
the Second Week of Advent
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Bible Commentaries
Romans 3

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Verses 1-8


Romans 3:1. What advantage then hath the Jew?—Pre-eminence. Passage brings out the idea of surplus (Wordsworth).

Romans 3:3.—πίστιν τοῦ Θεοῦ—the faith of God—may perhaps be best explained by the assertion, God is faithful.

Romans 3:4. God forbid: yea, let God be true, etc.—More proper is it that men should impute unfaithfulness to themselves than to God. God forbidi.e., far be it. An idiomatic exclamation. The sense in which David used the Hebrew word “tsadak,” and in which his LXX. translators used δικαιῶν and δικαιοῦσθαι, is the sense in which Paul uses them. And mightest overcome.—Mayest prevail judicially in thy cause.

Romans 3:5. If our unrighteousness commend.—Sets off to advantage, makes conspicuous. I speak more humano, in such a manner as is intelligible to men.

Romans 3:7.—The truth of God, not objectively, but subjectively. Why should I suffer punishment on account of that which contributes to the glory of God?

Romans 3:8.—Whose judgment is in harmony with right.


The surplus to the Jew.—The poor Jew has been persecuted, harassed, stripped, and robbed; and yet for the most part he has come forth with a respectable material advantage. The material surplus has been to the Jew. The money-lenders of the nations have been and are still the Jews. They value this surplus. In this respect they are like Christians. The latter profess to despise the former, but there is perhaps more envy than contempt in the feeling. The material surplus is valued more highly than the moral. The bond which we hold for money due is too oft more precious than the bond of God’s oracles, which tells of our indebtedness to the divine Being. Here we have:—

I. A great blessing conferred.—The blessing of being God’s chosen people, and this affirmed and declared to mankind by the seal of circumcision. The natural Israel a type of the spiritual Israel. How thankful we ought to be for God’s distinguishing favours to the Anglo-Saxon race! The most prosperous race on the face of the earth, because God-enlightened. Let us cherish our privileges. True religion our best and only safeguard. Our Victorias may be submerged; our nearly four hundred gallant men may find a watery grave. He that sails in the ark of Christianity sails in an ark that is secure in all deluges and cannot be overturned by any colliding force. The chief blessing which St. Paul alludes to is that unto the Jew were entrusted the oracles of God. Wonderful that a country which has no literary greatness should have produced the noblest literary volume of all time! No; Palestine did not produce the Old Testament. It came from “the better country—that is, the heavenly.” The oracles are not of man, but of God. The bards that sing in these oracles were not taught in the schools of Greece; they learnt the lore of heaven—they speak, but their utterances are in their moral aspect the speakings of God. These oracles are a greater treasure to the Jew than all his material wealth. What honour we render the Jew to-day arises from the fact, not that he is a great money power, but that he has been a great custodian and dispenser of immortal truth. And as we read the New Testament, let us not forget our indebtedness to the Jew. As we study our grand but very difficult epistle, we remember that St. Paul was a Jew. Let us try to realise the fact that unto us have been entrusted the oracles of God. Do we value the truth? Do we put out to usury by scattering the word of God?—for we enrich ourselves by striving to enrich others.

II. A great blessing not diminished by rejection.—What if some did not believe. The oracles of God are no less true because hypercritics point out discrepancies. The sun is no less a sun because spots are shown on its surface; the eyes are no less useful for seeing because the modern optician pronounces them very imperfect organs of vision. What if some do not believe? I devoutly thank God for my eyesight; I prefer it vastly to the aids of modern opticians. I read gladly the oracles, for I find in them a power to heal, to bless, and to guide which no other oracles afford. I sail in the ark Christ Jesus amid all deluges. The sceptics strive to upset this ark as the Victoria was upset in the Mediterranean, but they have not yet built any water-tight moral vessel.

III. This rejection is the result and proof of unrighteousness.—The rejecter of the Bible contends for his moral rectitude, and says that will not allow him to accept what is contrary to reason and to history. He may think himself right; but perhaps he does not know himself as well as he thinks he does. Our metaphysicians examine mind in general, and leave their own mental and moral natures unexplored. A moral twist may turn the intellectual powers in a wrong direction. A rivet may let a bridge fall and destroy many lives. A moral rivet loosely made and set may cause damage. We want, not more intellectual light, but less moral darkness.

IV. The unrighteousness of the rejecter sets forth the eternal rectitude.—Out of chaos comes beautiful order, out of seeming evil good, in the wonderful working of divine proceedings. The rejecters of the oracles have led to the discovery of fresh confirmations of their authenticity. The rejecters have been unwittingly builders. So the unrighteousness of man sets forth the righteousness of God. It shines forth all the more brilliantly by the contrast. The rectitude of God is not capable of swerving from the right line. Jesuitical men may say, Let us do evil that good may come. The righteous God says, Forsake evil, and thereby good will come. If at any time the proceedings of God appear to diverge from the straight line of moral rectitude, let us be sure that the fancied divergence is only in appearance. Whatever befalls let this be our noble creed, that God must be true, though this assertion makes all men liars. The rectitude of God is not disproved by strokes of vengeance. A man revenges himself because he is stirred by passion, by envy, by hatred. A God takes vengeance because it is required in the interests of a moral government. The modern God is the amicable guest who winks at the sins of the host. Paul’s God is a moral governor as well as an all-father. The rectitude of God constitutes the basis of final judgment. All must come right, for God is right. But all cannot come right to the man who is all wrong, and continues in hardness and impenitence to walk in the wrong. All will come right, and on this we calmly rest our souls. We are not troubled, for all must come right, since God is righteous. All will be well, for God is righteous. Whatever condemnation takes place in the future will be just, for a righteous God is an arbiter of all destinies. Our moralists have their ethical systems, and yet how little they know about what is wrong and what is right! God’s rectitude is the eternal standard of true ethics, and that will be vindicated in the final account. The truth of God will abound, even through human falsehoods, to His glory. The truth of God’s rectitude, and, blessed thought! the truth of God’s love and mercy, will abound to His eternal glory. Let us embrace the mercy, and the rectitude need not cause alarm, if we embrace the mercy as revealed in the crucified One.

Romans 3:1-2. The oracles of God.—Our religious privileges are not to be thought of trifling importance because they do not produce their full effect. They cannot be a substitute for personal holiness; but man’s ingratitude does not cancel his obligations, nor does the abuse of privileges destroy their value. Much, O ye Jews, as ye have abused the divine goodness, it has flowed to you in a special manner; and if you ask what advantage you have had, I reply, Much every way, because unto you were committed the oracles of God.

I. The leading characters of the oracles of God.—

1. Absolute truth and wisdom. Being from God, the question of their wisdom and truth is settled. We cannot admit that there is a Being of infinite perfection without admitting His perfect wisdom and holiness.

2. The subjects of these oracles are of infinite importance. The oracle always speaks on those questions which are vital to our peace and safety, and on those which are curious rather than useful the oracle is silent. Yet knowledge is not prohibited—only delayed: “What thou knowest not now thou shalt know hereafter.” It is sufficient for us now to know how we may be delivered from sin, and from its penalty, eternal death, and how we may daily walk so as to please Him.

3. We have an interesting character given us of the oracles when they are called “lively” oracles. It is this which constitutes the peculiarity of the word of God. It is a word with which the Spirit of God wonderfully works, and which He renders living. No other book has this peculiarity. Show me one which the wicked fear, which lays a secret dread upon the boldest, which cuts deep into the conscience, which comforts and supports, which deprives death of its sting—show me such a one, and you show me the Bible. Nothing explains this but the life which the Spirit imparts. With the oracles of God the author is present, whether you read or hear. You cannot avoid this power. It will make the word either “a savour of life unto life, or a savour of death unto death.”

4. The oracles of God not only speak, but make all His other oracles vocal. God has three other oracles—nature, general providence, and personal providence. Nature has its solemn voice: “There is not a speech nor language where their voice is not heard.” This is connected with the spread of the gospel. The voice of nature is not heard where the gospel is not. In heathen countries the heavens are turned into idols, and God is excluded from the thoughts of men. But when the living oracles come, then star and mountain and river proclaim their glorious Maker, and the voice of the oracle falls distinct upon every ear. There is the general providence of God exercised in the government of nations. All its arrangements display the wisdom, power, and truth of God. Yet it is all unknown to those destitute of the divine oracles. The personal providence of God confers upon us all our blessings, appoints us our station in life, and assigns to us our sorrows. Many lessons this providence teaches us. But till the living oracle speaks all is silence, and we derive no lessons of true wisdom from the events of life.

5. The oracles of God present a peculiar character in their form; and in this we perceive an instance of the condescension of the almighty God, who intended thus to attract and fix our attention on what to us is vitally interesting.

6. The last character is the fulness of truth conveyed in the oracles of God. Who can exhaust the doctrines of Holy Scripture—doctrines specially relating to God and Christ, and the depth of all redeeming love? The Bible will be the oracles of God to the Church above. Every part of that holy book will be written upon the memory of each glorified human heart, and be always receiving illustration to the glory of its great Author.

II. These oracles are committed or entrusted to you.—

1. They are entrusted to be read or understood;

2. To interpret honestly;

3. To make them known to others;

4. To apply to practical purposes.—R. Watson.

Romans 3:4. “Let God be true.”—But cannot God be true and man be true also? Does the veracity of the one infer the falsehood of the other? Not absolutely, but in particular instances. There may be, and there often is, an opposition between their testimony; and when this is the case we are not to hesitate a moment by whose claims we shall be decided. If the whole world were on one side and He on the other, let God be true, but every man a liar. And, comparatively, the credibility of the one must always be nothing to that of the other. If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater. And this will appear undeniable from four admissions:—

I. The first regards the ignorance of man and the wisdom of God.—Man is fallible. He not only may err, but he is likely to err. He may be deceived by outward appearances, by the reports of others, by his own reasonings; for his powers are limited. Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom. How much of it is mere opinion and conjecture! With what follies have the greatest minds been charged! But God knows all things, and cannot be mistaken.

II. The second regards the mutability of man and the unchangeableness of God.—Creatures, from their very being, are mutable. Many of the angels kept not their first estate. Adam fell from his original condition. Who needs to be told that man never continues in one stay? New views engender new feelings, and these new pursuits. What pleases to-day may offend to-morrow. But God changes not. What He thinks now He always thought, for with Him there is “no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”

III. The third regards the weakness of man and the all-sufficiency of God.—Man may threaten in fury, but be unable to execute—he may promise sincerely, but cannot fulfil. In this respect he is not always to be judged of by his conduct. But God is almighty. He who made and upholds all things by the word of His power speaks everything in the Scriptures.

IV. The fourth regards the depravity of man and the rectitude of God.—Man goes astray. He often knowingly deceives. Even men who are influenced by religious principles may be overcome of evil, and occasion our saying, “Lord, what is man?” How far from truth was the sentiment of Jonah: “I do well to be angry, even unto death”! How lamentable was the falsehood of Abraham! How dreadful was the perjury of Peter! But God is holiness itself. He is incapable of a wrong bias—He cannot be tempted to deceive. The use to which this fact should be applied is to reduce our confidence in man and increase our confidence in God. And yet the reverse of this is our practice. We yield where we should be cautious, and we hesitate where it is impossible for us to err. We turn from the Rock of Ages, and lean on the broken reed. What is the consequence? “Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord.” Let us cease, then, from man. Not that we are to become universally suspicious and suppose that there is no sincerity in the world. It was David’s error to say in his haste, “All men are liars.” And when the Scripture says, “There is no faithfulness in them; men of low degree are vanity, and men of high degree are a lie,” it must be taken with a qualification. Yet instances of inflexible integrity are not abundant. And we should not implicitly rely upon any one, especially in divine things. Let us respect great and good men, but not be enslaved by them; let us suffer no man to have dominion over our conscience, always searching the Scriptures to see whether these things are so in the word of truth; for God is entitled to our absolute confidence. “God is not a man, that He should lie; neither the son of man, that He should repent: hath He said, and shall He not do it? or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?” Let us trust Him as He deserves. Let us always place a ready and an unshaken reliance on His word. “Yea, let God be true, but every man a liar.”—W. Jay.

Romans 3:5. God’s justice not to be ignored.—Sinful men, in their eagerness to exculpate themselves, are given to think and say such a horrid thing as this: If a sinner’s sin cause God’s justice and truth to shine forth more clearly, God has no right to punish the man for that very action by which God Himself, so to speak, has profited. If the Eternal reap good out of my evil, then I deserve no longer blame, at His hands at all events, but rather thanks. This is the perverted logic of evil which is expressed twice over in these words of our text: If our unrighteousness commend (or, set forth in greater clearness) God’s righteousness, what shall we say? That God in inflicting vengeance upon us does an unjust thing? For example: If through a lie of mine the truth of God is made to appear more admirable, to His greater glory, why am I to be still judged as a sinner for it? Every pious heart must sympathise with the indignant rejection by the apostle of so hateful an inference as this. But the arguments by which he rebuts it are very instructive. They are two: neither of them speculative, nor professing to explain the deep mysteries of this tremendous subject—I mean of the relation of God to that sin which He permits and punishes; but both of them simply exposing the practical results which would follow from such a position. It would prove fatal, he argues, both to religion and to morality. In the first place, if God could not justly punish any sin which He is able to overrule for good, then there could be no judgment of the world at all. Obviously it would always be open to a transgressor to plead in bar of judgment that God’s justice was to be somehow made more conspicuous by that very sin; and if this made it unjust in God to punish, how is God to judge the world? Now the final judgment of God is of all religious truths the most fundamental and the most certain. Any doctrine accordingly which should thus paralyse the hand of the final Judge of men or drive Him from His judgment seat is by that very fact shown to be absurd and incredible. Secondly, this blasphemous inference is as fatal to morals as it is to faith. It cuts through the distinction betwixt good and evil. If an act is no longer to be called bad or to be punished out of which some good comes, then you may do any evil you like for the sake of a good result. Of course this is on the face of it to confound moral right and wrong, and by withdrawing all practical restraint on immorality to open a perfect flood-gate of evil. Any doctrine which sanctions such a conclusion is by that very fact, not absurd only, but atrocious. Yet this immoral maxim had actually been imputed to St. Paul by certain of his contemporaries. As he comes in sight of it he cannot restrain his impatient indignation at such a calumny, but breaks through the construction of his sentence to tell us that some actually charged him with teaching and (what was even worse) with practising the vile principle, Let us do evil that good may come. Who they were that said so, or what pretext for saying it they found in his teaching, we can only guess. But there is no question that the evangelical doctrine of a sinner’s gratuitous justification on the ground of Christ’s righteousness (which St. Paul is here preparing to prove) has often been assailed on this very charge—that it not only confers immunity upon sinners, but actually holds out to a man an inducement to continue in sin that thereby grace may abound at last to the greater glory of God. Such a charge rests indeed upon a misconception of the gospel, as appears further on in this epistle (Romans 6:1 ff.). It is flatly oppugnant to that consuming zeal for righteousness which blazes through every portion of this epistle, and especially through the section we have been examining. Whatever Paul taught, every reader feels that he was not a man to teach anything to weaken in the slightest the paramount claims of virtue, or the guilt and hatefulness of sin, or the majesty of God’s judgment, or the wholesome dread of men for a reckoning to come. On the contrary, his whole argument rests on a basis of natural justice. It assumes that God’s final judgment according to human actions is the surest of all things; that it must be impartial; that no religious privilege can lessen responsibility, but must increase it; that you cannot sophisticate sin into anything else than sin; and that God is always just in punishing every soul of man that doeth evil. You feel, therefore, that Paul is speaking out of the very heart of his faith, as well as out of the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, when he flings back with all his strength this hateful calumny, protests against the gospel, any more than the Hebrew law, being made a minister to sin, and declares that every man who ventures to do evil that good may come shall meet with a condemnation which shall be just. On the whole, then, the lesson of this section is to warn us against the insidious temptation, so near to the human heart, to break down the edge of God’s justice against sin, in the hope that somehow He will prove as placable in the last judgment as He is kind and patient now, or to fancy that, because He makes His own use of sin, He will not avenge it on the sinner very strictly—especially in the case of people who belong to the true religion. All this is most perilous. We who live in Christendom are the privileged class nowadays, as Jews were once. Our superiority over the heathen is enormous “in every way”; but it confers on us no immunity to sin. It makes our evil deeds not less evil, but more so, that we do them under cover of the Christian name. In our own righteousness, therefore, we dare as little meet God at last with any hope to escape His wrath as an unbaptised infidel dare. Practically we are shut up under sin—guilty before God, with no apology to plead in bar of judgment. Hope—if we have any hope—lies neither in our knowledge of the Bible, nor in our membership in the Church, nor in any fact about ourselves at all, but only in the grace of God through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Gratuitous justification through the righteousness of our Surety—to that we are shut up by the apostle’s logic. May God shut us all up to it by what is better than logic, the constraint of His convicting and regenerating Spirit!—Oswald Dykes, D.D.


Importance of the third chapter of this epistle.—The third chapter of the Epistle to the Romans has, from a very early period of the Christian era, been a special study to Paul’s students. It has been regarded—and with great justice—as of very peculiar significance in relation to some of the most important doctrines of theology. As regards more particularly the vital doctrine of justification by faith, it is perhaps the principal locus classicus that is to be found in the Bible. At that part of the chapter in which we find the culminating point of the apostle’s exhibition of this great and favourite theme, Luther, in a marginal note attached to his German translation, arrests the attention of the reader, saying, “Take heed to what is here said. It is the central and most important passage of the epistle, and indeed of the entire Scripture.” Calvin coincided with Luther in opinion. “There is probably,” he remarks, “no passage in the whole Bible of greater significance as regards the justifying righteousness of God.” Corresponding opinions are expressed by multitudes of other theologians and critics whose judgments are entitled to consideration. It is hence the case that, if there be, in an exposition of the third chapter of the Epistle to the Romans anything approximating to a thorough investigation of the broader aspects as well as of the minuter elements of the apostle’s teaching, there will be the realisation of theological results of no inconsiderable magnitude and moment. The mind will most probably acquire a very definite conception of that “article of a standing or a falling Church,” justification by faith without works. Such other articles, too, as are inseparably connected with that doctrine—the articles which refer to man’s need of a gratuitous method of justification, and to God’s provision of propitiation as the ground or “meritorious cause” of gracious justification, will probably be apprehended, and to a certain extent even comprehended. In this third chapter of Romans the apostle portrays in a most elaborate manner man’s need of gratuitous justification. He likewise exhibits in some most weighty and far-reaching observations the necessity of propitiation, and its relation to justification. He says something, too, of very great significance regarding redemption and the pretermission, as well as the remission, of sins.—Morrison.

Paul confutes gainsayers.—To understand the full scope and design of this passage, we are to observe that of all the apostles of the Lord St. Paul asserts everywhere in the most copious manner the extensive mercy and compassion of God in entering into a covenant of grace with sinners, and fulfilling faithfully the promises of the gospel, notwithstanding the wickedness and infidelity of mankind, who were corrupted at the heart, and in their daily practice betrayed their impiety and want of faith; and yet so far was the sinner from vacating the evangelical promises, and making them of none effect, that his very sins contributed to God’s glory, and made His truth and grace still more illustrious; “for where sin abounded grace did much more abound.” From this doctrine of the apostle, not only the sophisters and impostors took occasion to defame and undermine the authority of St. Paul, but the hypocrites and libertines of the age made use of it to countenance and give them a security in their vices. And no wonder; for if the preaching of the apostle were true, that the sins of men redounded to the glory of God, the divine justice could not reasonably exert itself in the punishment of sinners; there could be no encouragement for virtue or religion—nay, men were obliged to sin more abundantly, that God might receive the more abundant glory; and it would be their duty on all occasions to do evil that good might come. Other aspersions that were thrown upon the apostle by his enemies he confutes by proper arguments. But this he thought unworthy of an answer; the only expostulates with indignation, and resents it as the vilest slander and as a degree of blasphemy.—Bishop Sanderson.

God educes good from evil.—David does not excuse his sin on the ground that in its pardon God’s mercy will be glorified, although he says that this will be the result; but he grieves over his sins, and declares that God will judge the world, and that the wicked shall be punished. God may and does exercise His wisdom and power and love in educing the greatest good from the worst evil; but this is the effect of His own incommunicable attributes, and not of man’s sins, which are not ordinabilia ad bonam finem. God never does evil in order to elicit good from it, nor does He permit any man to do evil in order that good may come. The intention with which a thing is done is indeed of very great importance; but whatever is sinful is not to be done on the plea of good intention.—St. Augustine.

God not an infinite Jesuit.—In some of the more dogmatic commentaries, as in Willet’s, for example, and in that of Pareus, the theological bearing of the jesuitical principle condemned by the apostle is discussed. Willet asks “whether God do not evil that good may come thereof in reprobating—viz., unconditionally—the vessels of wrath, to show His power.” Such is his question. It is pertinent. But he certainly fails to clear, in the light of his peculiar theology, the character of God. He says that the action referred to is not evil:

1. “Because it is God’s will, which is always just and holy.”
2. Because “that which tendeth to God’s glory cannot be evil.”
3. Because “that which is lawfully done cannot be evil.” “God,” he adds, “in rejecting some doth that which He may do by lawful right to dispose of His own as it pleaseth Him, as no man can reprove the potter in making some vessels of honour, some of dishonour, of the same piece of clay.”
4. “But,” continues he, “seeing in the end God’s rejecting and reprobating some—viz., such as by their sins deserved eternal death—appeareth to be most just, it must needs also be good; for that which is just is good.” In the last of these reasons the critic reverses his own theory of unconditional reprobation; and in the former three he only echoingly reiterates the idea that the jesuitical principle may be to God, though not to man, a legitimate and right glorious rule of conduct. Pareus, a short time before Willet, had trodden exactly the same round of apologetic thought; and thus, so far as we can judge, Feurborn is correct when he contends that the great theologian of Heidelberg has violated the apostle’s axiom. His whole reasoning seems simply to amount to this—that God is an infinite Jesuit.—Morrison.

All things will manifest God’s glory.—If the objections were well founded, it would entirely divest God of the character of judge of the world. The reason of this is manifest, for there is no sin that any man can commit which does not exalt some perfection of God in the way of contrast. If, then, it be concluded that because unrighteousness in man illustrates the righteousness of God, God is unrighteous when He taketh vengeance, it must be further said that there is no sin that God can justly punish; whence it follows that God cannot any longer be the judge of the world. The objection, then, is such that, were it admitted, all the religion in the world would at once be annihilated. For the sin of the world, for which men will be punished, will no doubt be made to manifest God’s glory. Such is the force of the apostle’s reply.—Haldane.

For the holiness of the divinity has blazed forth, as it were, into brighter conspicuousness on the dark ground of human guilt and human turpitude.—Chalmers.

Verses 9-20


Romans 3:9.—Do we bring pleas forward on behalf of ourselves—i.e., in fear of a sentence of condemnation against ourselves? (Stuart.)

Romans 3:10.—The apostle having mentioned that he had impeached both Jews and Gentiles of being under sin, adduces documentary evidence of the legitimacy of his impeachment (Wordsworth).

Romans 3:19.—By the “law” here expositors understand the written revelation as a whole. That every month may be stopped.—Phraseology borrowed from the custom of gagging criminals.


A great deficit to all.—There may be a surplus of privilege, and a deficit of conduct—plenty of light from heaven, and yet such depravity that, in the midst of light, we are still in darkness. The Jews a people favoured of Heaven, and this favour not without some good results; but from time to time how dark their state, how deplorable their condition! A dark picture is by the apostle here presented to our view—a correct representation in its general aspect. How much light in England! And yet what a dark picture must be drawn! Notwithstanding our Christianity and our civilisation, we have often hard work in keeping the forces of evil at bay. Let us not too easily lay the flattering unction to our souls that we are better than the Jew. We have all the light God will shed upon our race, and yet how morally dark is our condition! We may still mournfully cry that both Jews and Gentiles, both Christians and “heathen” (we mean by the term the peoples born in a Christian country and raised under Christian influences), are all under sin. As it is written, “There is none righteous; no, not one.” Here, then, is the doctrine of universal depravity, which shows itself by:—

I. Practical atheism.—“There is none that seeketh after God.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” The avowed atheist says, “There is no God”; the practical atheist acts as if there were no God. So that both characters come to the same practical result, and both are the outcome of a degenerate nature. In our darker moods, how often rise to our lips the words, “There is none that seeketh after God”! Where are those who seek after God as the soul’s true and only good? Where are those who can legitimately use the language of the sacred poet, “My soul thirsteth for God”? We thirst for the material benefits a God may be supposed to confer. We thirst for a material God, for a God that we can presume to put to serviceable uses, and not for a God who shall put us to serviceable uses. Each man seeks for his own God, who is thus a being subject to human imperfections and limitations. In fact, the modern Christian says God is not wisely trusted when declared unintelligible. And yet can a God of perfect rectitude be fully knowable to a creature who is all imperfect? “Canst thou by searching find out God?” Canst thou find out the Almighty to perfection? Who is there that seeks after the unknowable God—unknowable in His perfections, and yet so far knowable in the manifestation made by the God-man that we may feel it is no vain search? Is not the fear of man stronger than the fear of God, so that the words have a very wide application, “There is no fear of God before their eyes”? If God were a detective dogging each man’s steps, there would be a change in society. Do we fear God as a judge? Do we fear God as a father? Have we the loving fear that prompts to holy action and sweet deeds of divine charity?

II. A depraved understanding.—There is a depravity of morals which works depravity of intellect. In these days we pride ourselves on our intellectual greatness. Some mental philosophers affirm that mind is sublimated matter. They are materialists. They are so far correct that our modern tendencies are materialistic. Morally it may be said “there is none that understandeth.” We understand science, literature, art, commerce, creeds, an outside religion. Where is the man who touches the core and heart of the spiritual sphere? “There is none that understandeth.”

III. A depraved physical nature.—We are so far materialists that we believe the elevation of the moral is the elevation of the physical, and that the depravation of the former is the depravation of the latter. The throat becomes sepulchral. Instead of the sweet odour of gracious words flowing through the portals of the lips, there comes the death-producing miasma of profane thoughts in the vehicle of ribald language. Honeyed lips cover the secreted poison. Thought touches speech. Evil thoughts and evil speech defile the organs of utterance. These, unrestrained, terminate in the climax of brutality. “Their feet are swift to shed blood. Destruction and misery are in their ways.” Thank God, there is a force of good stronger than the force of evil. As we see men restrained from extreme violence, we the more firmly believe in an overruling good force. If it were not so, the feet would run so swiftly to shed blood that soon on this bloodstained earth there would be no blood to shed—the last man, gloated in human blood, would perish a victim of his own vile doings. Wars and rumours of wars have been many. Wild beasts in human form have fought like fiends. Modern skill and science have made the shedding of human blood one of the fine arts. Adored be the great Peace-bringer that the way of peace is not unknown! Give peace in our time, O Lord—national peace, individual peace; harmony amongst the nations—harmonious adjustment and working of all the soul’s powers.

IV. The revelation of the law.—When the law speaks in its awful majesty, the sad doom of universal guilt is pronounced. The law is a revealing force; the law condemns; the law renders speechless when its voice is properly heard and felt in the secret chambers of imagery. When the man is so oppressed with the sense of his guilt that he can frame no words of apology, and stands self-confessed a sinner in the presence of the infinite Justice, then the light of redeeming love and mercy breaks through the oppressive gloom, the clouds are scattered, the shadows flee away, the morning light glints the mountain tops, the voice of merry singing is heard in the land, the soul glows with the gladness of the upper sphere, the spirit soars to unite itself with the spirit of the Eternal, and the redeemed man wonders at the marvel of divine grace, and humbly asks himself if it be indeed true that he is a member of that race which has shown itself capable of a depravity so appalling.

Romans 3:13-18. Dignity of human nature shown from its ruins.—A dark picture of humanity, and yet it has two aspects. In one view it is the picture of weakness and shame; in the other it presents a fearfully great being. I propose to call your attention to:—

The dignity of man as revealed by the ruin he makes in his fall and apostasy from God.—It has been the way of many in our time to magnify humanity; but I undertake to show the essential greatness of man from the ruin itself which he becomes. As from the ruins of ancient dynasties and cities we tell their former greatness, so it is with man. Our most veritable though saddest impressions of his greatness as a creature we shall derive from the magnificent ruin he displays. And exactly this, I conceive, is the legitimate impression of the Scripture representations of man as apostate from duty and God. Thoughtfully regarded, all exaggerations and contending theories apart, it is as if they were showing us the original dignity of man from the magnificence of the ruin in which he lies. How sublime a creature must that be, call him either man or demon, who is able to confront the Almighty and tear himself away from His throne! So of the remarkable picture given by Paul in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. In one view we are disgusted, in another shocked, doubting whether it presents a creature most foolish and vile or most sublimely impious and wicked. And the picture of the text corresponds, yielding no impression of a merely feeble and vile creature, but of a creature rather most terrible and swift—destructive, fierce, and fearless—miserable in his greatness—great as in evil. But we come to the ruin as it is, and receive the true impression for ourselves. We look, first of all, upon the false religions of the world—pompous and costly rites transacted before crocodiles and onions, magnificent temples built over all monkeyish and monstrous creatures carved by men’s hands, children offered up by their mothers in fire or in water, kings offered on the altars by their people to propitiate a wooden image, gorgeous palaces and trappings of barbaric majesty studded all over with beetles in gold or precious stones to serve as a protection against pestilences, poisons, and accidents. I cannot fill out a picture that so nearly fills the world. The wars of the world yield a similar impression. These are men such as history in all past ages shows them to be—swift to shed blood, swifter than the tiger race, and more terrible. Cities and empires are swept by their terrible marches, and become a desolation in their path. Destruction and misery are in their ways—oh, what destruction, misery! how deep and long! And what shall we think of any creature of God displayed in signs like these? Plainly enough he is a creature in ruins; but how magnificent a creature! Consider again the persecutions of the good. What does it mean? Man hates with a diabolical hatred. Feeling “how awful goodness is,” the sight of it rouses him to madness, and he will not stop till he has tasted blood. And what a being is this that can be stung with so great madness by the spectacle of a good and holy life! The great characters of the world furnish another striking proof of the transcendent quality of human nature by the dignity they are able to connect even with their littleness. But we must look more directly into the contents of human nature and the internal ruin by which they are displayed. And here you may notice, first of all, the sublime vehemence of the passions. Consider again the wild mixture of thought displayed both in the waking life and the dreams of mankind. How grand! how mean! how sudden the leap from one to the other! how inscrutable the succession! how defiant of orderly control! Notice also the significance of remorse. How great a creature must that be that, looking down upon itself from some high summit, in itself withers in condemnation of itself! So again you may conceive the greatness of man by the ruin he makes if you advert to the dissonance and obstinacy of his evil will. How great a creature is it that, knowing God, can set itself off from God, and maintain a persistent rebellion even against its own convictions, fears, and aspirations. Consider once more the religious aspirations and capabilities of religious attraction that are garnered up and still live in the ruins of humanity. Regarding man, then, as immersed in evil—a spiritual intelligence in a state of ruin—we derogate nothing from his dignity. O Thou Prince of life! come in Thy great salvation. Breathe on these majestic ruins, and rouse to life again, though it be but for one hour, the forgotten sense of their eternity.—Bushnell.

The consciousness of evil.

I. Law discovers the fact of sin.—Renan has written, “It may be said, in fact, that original sin was an invention of the Jahveist.” What a strange misuse of language to speak of the sacred writers as inventing original sin! Can we say that Jenner invented the smallpox, or that Pasteur invented the rabies, or that any of the celebrated physicians invented the maladies which are known by their names? What these famous men did was to successfully diagnose, characterise, and to treat diseases which already existed, and which proved their malignant power by carrying thousands of men and women to the grave. Did the sacred writers invent sin? Listen to a modern writer on science who has no theological sympathy whatever, but who is constrained to give a testimony to a theological tenet that is to thousands a huge offence. “Men are born with their moral natures as deformed or as imperfect as their physical ones. To the doctrine of original sin science thus has given an unexpected support.” No, revelation did not invent the doctrine of original sin; that doctrine serious men have discerned in all ages; that doctrine the scientist finds deep down in the grounds of human nature. What revelation has done is to define the doctrine, to make clear its real nature, to express its characters, to discover its source, to bring it home to the conscience, and, thank God, to prescribe for it a sovereign remedy. The law showed the apostle that the reality of sin was in his own heart, that it lived and worked there beneath all the moral aspects of his character; the law convinced him that his conduct—socially and ecclesiastically blameless—was nevertheless essentially false and hollow. Says George Sand: “Proprieties are the rule of the people without soul or virtue.” Says Schopenhauer: “Politeness is a conventional and systematic attempt to mask the egoism of human nature. To combine politeness with pride is a masterful piece of wisdom.” And, indeed, how little do many of those grand words mean which are on our lips! What does “good form” mean—etiquette, decorum, good breeding, “the code of honour,” respectability? What do justice, temperance, diligence, benevolence, and other of our virtues mean if they are severely looked into? What do reputation, fame, success, glory, often mean? What the Frenchwoman saw, what the German saw, what we all see dimly from time to time of the dimness of human virtue, the apostle in presence of the law saw and felt profoundly; he was overwhelmed to find under all the proprieties of his life the fact and power of sin. “We all do fade as a leaf.” Before the searching brightness of the eternal righteousness our proud virtues wither; for they have no depth of earth, no sap of life. Studying the commandments of Sinai; pondering the exposition of the law in prophet, psalmist, and apostle; listening to the Sermon on the Mount; beholding the beauty of the Lord,—we become conscious how deeply we are wrong at heart; what a mysterious weakness, disharmony, perverseness, exists within us; spoiling our great gifts and possibilities; involving our life in constant failure; filling us with remorse. In the purgatory of the Chinese is the mirror of sin. Into this mirror departed sinners are compelled to gaze and see all the naughtiness of their own heart, after which they are dismissed to punishment. The moral law is that mirror, here and now revealing the wickedness and deceitfulness of our heart. One of our novelists writes of “the tragedy of the mirror.” The mirror has its tragedies. It makes palpable to us the ravages of grief; it pathetically discloses the lines of suffering; but the real tragedy of the mirror is when revelation sharply frees us from all illusions, and from its infinite depths of purity flashes back upon our consciousness the image of our moral self.

II. By the law we discover the nature of sin.—It discloses the real character of that dark mysterious power which forbids our perfection and felicity. And what then is sin? Sin as against God is the preference of our own will to the supreme will. “I had not known sin except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” Sin is not limitation; we act irregularly, not because we are so much less than God, but because we are contrary to God.

III. By the law as unfolded in revelation we discover the strength of sin.—The presence of the law brings out the virulence and wrath of the evil principle which is in our heart. “When the commandment came sin revived.” “The strength of sin is the law.” The presence of the lofty, the beautiful, in the first instance evokes, stirs up, draws out, the morbid humours of the soul; the fierce light stimulates the vicious germs which are in us.

IV. By the law as unfolded in revelation we discover the guilt of sin.—It is the ministry of condemnation; it convinces us that our transgressions are worthy of death. With the law before us we cannot plead that sin is ignorance. Sin is the transgression of the law, but we should think mercifully of sin committed in total ignorance of the law. But the law which convicts us first enlightens us; we clearly see our duty, and yet persist in carrying out our own desires. With the law before us we cannot plead that sin is imperfection. It is now seen that sin is not finiteness, but contradictoriness; it is a conflict of wills. With the law before us we cannot plead that sin is misfortune. By the deepest of instincts we discern the vast difference between a misfortune and a sin. And the law brings sin and guilt home to us personally. It does not impeach and condemn a race so much as it challenges the man, the woman, the child. Those who have no proper consciousness of sin must come to the light. We must test ourselves by the standard of Sinai; we must submit ourselves to the white light which shines upon us and into us in the perfection of Jesus Christ. The law does not give deliverance from sin. The redemption of our life is in Christ Jesus. He turns the knowledge of sin into true sorrow for sin. Its issue is eternal life. He also awakens in us the love of holiness. We have redemption in His blood, even the forgiveness of sin. How infinite our debt to Jesus Christ! If He has banished the light laughter of Grecian joyousness, He has brought in a diviner joy. He has changed a life of petty thoughts, narrow sympathies, ignoble aims, into a life of large ideas, of emotions at once blissful and profound, of delightful fellowships, of sublime charity, and of most glorious hope.—W. L. Watkinson.


Jews and Gentiles guilty.—Of these passages it is unnecessary to offer a particular illustration. They are selected from different parts of the inspired books, but chiefly from the poetical parts of Scripture, and sometimes the sense is expressed rather than the words of the original. They are quite sufficient to establish the wickedness of the Jews, which they are brought to prove. But the strong and amplified expressions common in Eastern poetry must not be understood according to their literal meaning in our speech. Nor is it to be presumed that all parts of the description apply to the general body of the nation, or that there were not many good men among them who did not deserve to be thus characterised. The passages describe either the general character of the wicked or of the people at large in times of great degeneracy, though no doubt with many exceptions. They are intended as the proof of what the apostle had immediately before asserted—that the Jews as well as the Gentiles are all guilty of sin, and generally also of very heinous sins, and that, consequently, they are as far from deserving to be justified by their works as the Gentiles are. Now as these quotations express the conviction of their own inspired writers, the Jews could not deny their truth. Had the apostle described their sins in his own language, they might have refused to acquiesce in his statement; but when he merely quotes their own Scriptures in which they gloried, and the inspiration of which they admitted, they could not refuse assenting to his conclusion. It may be observed, further, of these quotations, that though intended to describe the character of the wicked, or the national character generally, in times of great degeneracy, they are, however, true to a certain extent of every individual, seeing every individual may justly be charged with much sin, though not with each of the particular sins here specified. Still, however, it was possible for the Jews to flatter themselves that these descriptions were not intended to apply to themselves, but to the heathen; and to take away the possibility of this pretence, the apostle adds in the nineteenth verse: “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.”—Ritchie.

Paul’s mosaic of sin.—On what principle and with what precise object did Paul select these quotations? We cannot conceive that he gives here a universal or even a comparatively fair description of the nation. He has rather gathered together into one awful picture the very darkest lines of the many delineations of character contained in the Jewish Scriptures. The men before us are of the very worst kind. The opening of their mouths is the opening of a grave. They are deadly as vipers. Their language is a curse. The prospect of murder hurries them on with rapid steps. Where they have been destruction and calamity are found. How to walk so as to be at peace they know not. The delineations form one picture. Romans 3:13-14 describe their words; Romans 3:15-17, their actions; Romans 3:18 gives the cause of the whole. Paul has, in my view, put together this mosaic of sin to prove that the Old Testament teaches that Jewish privileges do not in themselves save even from the lowest depths of sin. He does not say that the objector of chap. 2 is as bad as these men. But whatever he has pleaded for himself these might have pleaded. These bad men whose names are forgotten, but in whose character is plainly written the condemnation of God, arise from oblivion to declare that outward privileges, even though they come from God, and outward connection with the covenant people, do not necessarily save.—Beet.

Fear of God.—“If,” says Cartwright, “the prophet and apostle had laid their heads together to have found out the most forcible words, and most significative, to shut all men, born of the seed of men, from righteousness, and to shut them under sin, they could not have used more effectual speeches than these.” Clause is piled upon clause to the effect that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” The passages which are quoted in continuation are tacked on to the quotation from the fourteenth Psalm, and not as containing additional Scripture evidence of the universality of sin, but as exhibiting in graphic touches, and distributively, as Zwinger remarks, representative specimens of the very varied forms into which the essential principle of sin has in its universal range developed itself. The reference more particularly is, as Melancthon observed, to breaches of the second table of the law.—Annot.

“It is a grand and magnificent thing,” says Origen, “always to have before the eyes of the heart the fear of God.” Such fear is “the beginning of wisdom,” and it is not far removed from the end of it. There is a fear indeed which “hath torment”—the fear of the lash, the dread foreboding of final woe. It is well when this fear is “cast out,” and supplanted by perfect confidence in the propitious favour of God. And it is ousted from the soul when the soul is filled with love; and the soul is filled with love when “we have known and believed the love that God hath to us.” Nevertheless there is always an element of sensitive fear in man’s love to God and in man’s love to man. There is a fear of doing anything to offend or to wound. This fear is inseparable from a consciousness of imperfection, and it is at once a self-imposed rein to restrain and a self-appointed watch to keep guard. When it is said that “there is not the fear of God before the eyes,” “there” is objectively ascribed to a condition which is psychologically subjective. But the subjective may become objective when it is made the mark of reflective thought. The wicked not only do not feel as a general rule “the fear of God”—they do not even think of it as a feeling which they should cherish. It is not “kept in view” by them as an object to be realised in emotion.—Morrison.

Corrupt in thought, abominable in deed.—“They are corrupt, they have done abominable things; there is none that doeth good.” “Men,” says Bernand, “because they are corrupt in their minds, become abominable in their doings—corrupt before God, abominable before men. There are three sorts of men of which none doeth good. There are those who neither understand nor seek God, and they are the dead. There are others who understand Him, but seek Him not, and they are the wicked. There are others who seek Him, but understand Him not, and they are the fools.” “O God!” cries a writer of the Middle Ages, “how many are here at this day who, under the name of Christianity, worship idols, and are abominable both to Thee and to men! For every man worships that which he most loves. The proud man bows down before the idol of worldly power, the covetous man before the idol of money, the adulterer before the idol of beauty, and so of the rest.” And of such saith the apostle, “They profess that they know God, but in works deny Him, being abominable and disobedient, and unto every work reprobate” (Titus 1:16). “There is none that doeth good.” Notice how Paul avails himself of this testimony of the Psalmist, among those which he heaps together in the third chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, where he is proving concerning “both Jews and Gentiles that they are all under sin.”—John Mason Neale.


Romans 3:13-18. Littleness of great men.—On a small island of the southern Atlantic is shut up a remarkable prisoner, wearing himself out there in a feeble mixture of peevishness and jealousy, solaced by no great thoughts and no heroic spirit, a kind of dotard before the time, killing and consuming himself by the intense littleness into which he has shrunk. And this is the great conqueror of the modern world, the man whose name is the greatest of modern names, or, some will say, of all names the human world has pronounced—a man, nevertheless, who carried his greatest victories and told his meanest lies in close proximity—a character as destitute of private magnanimity as he was remarkable for the stupendous powers of his understanding and the more stupendous and imperial leadership of his will. How great a being must it be that makes a point of so great dignity before the world, despite of so much that is really little and contemptible! But he is not alone. The immortal Kepler, piloting science into the skies and comprehending the vastness of heaven for the first time in the fixed embrace of definite thought, only proves the magnificence of man as a ruin, when you discover the strange ferment of irritability and “superstition wild” in which his great thoughts are brewed and his mighty life dissolved. So also Bacon proves the amazing wealth and grandeur of the human soul only the more sublimely that, living in an element of cunning, servility, and ingratitude, and dying under the shame of a convict, he is yet able to dignify disgrace by the stupendous majesty of his genius, and commands the reverence even of the world as to one of its sublimest benefactors. And the poet’s stinging line,

“The greatest, wisest, meanest of mankind,”
pictures only with a small excess of satire the magnificence of ruin comprehended in the man. Probably no one of mankind has raised himself to a higher pitch of renown by the superlative attributes of genius displayed in his writing than the great English dramatist—flowering out, nevertheless, into such eminence of glory on a compost of fustian, buffoonery, and other vile stuff, which he so magnificently covers with splendour and irradiates with beauty that disgust itself is lost in the vehemence of praise. And so we shall find, almost universally, that the greatness of the world’s great men is proved by the inborn qualities that tower above the ruins of weakness and shame in which they appear, and out of which pillars and dismantled temples they rise.

Romans 3:18. Restraining grace.—The rev. and pious Dr. Ives, whose house was on Oxford Road, and by which the criminals were carried weekly in carts to Tyburn, used to stand at his window and say to any young friends who might be near him, pointing out any of the most notorious malefactors, “There goes Dr. Ives!” If an explanation were asked, he took occasion to expound the innate corruption of the heart, and appealed to the experience of his auditors whether they had not often felt the movements of those very passions, errors, prejudices, lusts, revenge, covetousness, etc., whose direct tendency was to produce the crimes for which these offenders satisfied the claims of public justice, and which were solely prevented from carrying them to the same dreadful fate by the restraining grace of God.

Verses 21-26


Romans 3:22. By faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe.—Faith apprehends and appropriates a personal mediator. The righteousness of God.—Our participation by faith in Christ as being the only righteousness that God approves, and thus is here called “the righteousness of God through faith.”

Romans 3:23. The glory of God—viz., the divine approbation.

Romans 3:24.—The English, or rather Latin, word “redemption” is not a perfect synonym of the term employed by the apostle (ἀπολύτρωσις). It means a ransoming off—deliverance on the ground of ransom.

Romans 3:25.—God has openly exhibited Christ to the world as a propitiatory offering for sin, unto all who believe in Him, in order that He might fully exhibit His pardoning mercy (His δικαιοσύνη) in respect to the forgiveness of sins under the past and present dispensations (Stuart).

Romans 3:26.—Righteousness as distinguished from truthfulness and goodness on the one hand, and from mere justice on the other. Because of the pretermission of the former sins.


Divine justice vindicated.—Some say Christianity is played out. Perhaps the wish is father to the saying. We may seem to have taken a pessimistic view of Christianised society. Not quite. St. Paul’s collection of Old Testament texts cannot be applied to England, and to that we are indebted to Christianity. Our point is that some of the essential failings of Judaism are reproduced in Christianity, and we must be on our guard. We do not admit that Christianity is played out, but we allow that modern Pauls are needed to proclaim the old gospel with new power. The sinfulness of man must be declared, the righteousness of God proclaimed, and the way of salvation opened out by faith, as the result of grace, and through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. The opponents of the mediatorial scheme give grotesque representations of a supposed conflict between justice and mercy. Nevertheless, justice is not to be eliminated from the attributes of a perfect God. He is Himself just and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus. All the dispensations of God make for righteousness. What we know not now we shall know hereafter. The climactic and indisputable proof of God’s justice is the setting forth of Jesus to be a propitiation.

I. God justifies Himself.—Of course not in the way of making Himself just, for that He always and essentially is; but in the way of showing His justice, and condescending to show to men that all His ways are right. Paul does not bring before us a one-sided Deity—a Being stripped of that attribute which must be the basis of an equitable moral government. Paul vindicates the righteousness of God in His former dealings with the race; and now he brings us to see in the atonement of Christ a crowning proof of justice, as well as a manifestation of love. God is just because He freely forgives men by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

1. God declares His justice. The ancient prophet speaks of a just God and a Saviour. The apostle adopts the utterance. God’s justice declared by the different economies. The history of Israel a testimony. The form of divine justice has never been absent from the march of human events. All tend to the vindication of the eternal rectitude. A twofold love of the Father and the Son speaks to us from Calvary. The voice of justice also heard. The fatherhood of God must not destroy His kingship. Eli was a mild father, the type of the modern God of some, and his sons were ruined. God speaks and rules as a father-king. God is not a great, grim, and relentless justice, neither is He a pliant amiability. The Atonement declares God’s justice, and sets forth the truth that men cannot be saved merely on the ground that God is love.

2. God honours justice. The monarch as the representative of civil government, as the person to whom is delegated the central power around which the commonwealth is to move in circles of social order, must rule in justice tempered by mercy. God is surely more perfect. Around Him must be glorious circles of moral order. The Atonement has not wrested the sceptre from His grasp. He still sits on a throne which has justice and judgment for its foundation. A tyrant may arbitrarily pardon a rebel. A just God must devise means whereby rebels may be pardoned and justice honoured. God honoured justice when He gave His Son, for the Son was willing to be offered. In His case the sweet compulsive power of love was the only constraining force. If a life on earth of pleasure, of greatness, and of renown ending in a triumphant translation to a brighter sphere had been sufficient, God’s love would have demanded no more. If there was any violence in the moral transaction, it was Deity that did violence to His own loving nature in the interests of eternal justice.

3. God harmonises justice. The opponents make justice and mercy two abstractions. These ideal creations are seen wrestling for victory. One determines to punish; the other is equally determined to forgive. Being equally powerful, how is the contest to end? Now justice and mercy are not distinct personalities. They are attributes of the one great personality termed God. And there can be no fierce conflict, speaking after the manner of men. God in the eternal councils deliberates. God the Father and God the Son devise the wondrous method. Behold the result. Mercy and truth meet together. Righteousness and peace kiss each other when they hear the sad triumphant refrain, “It is finished.” Truth springs out of the earth which has been replenished by the stream flowing from the Rock of Ages. Righteousness looks down from heaven in glad approval. All nations must finally rejoice, for the Lord has given that which is good.

II. God justifies believers.—When God justifies Himself, He shows His justice. When God justifies the believer, He receives him as justified. God has made men moral agents, and does not justify them, the volition refusing the benefit. All are not justified because all are not willing—i.e., all who have heard. There is a condition. It is the simple one of faith, loving acceptance, the doctor’s prescription, the brazen serpent. Believe and live. Look and be saved. Take and be healed.

1. Believing involves a confession of guilt and of helplessness. Guilt is the awakened sense of moral sickness. The extent of feeling no matter. This is the world’s want—the power to feel as well as to understand.

2. Believing implies God’s right to punish. So that the man who believes in Christ does not make void the law and the authority of God. The believer suffers in himself the pangs of remorse, feels the pains of condemnation; but what would the judge say to or think of the criminal who should plead his pangs and his feelings as an atonement for his crimes?

3. Believing in Jesus Christ carries in it the declaration of human inability. Good works cannot save. High resolves cannot redeem. Noble endeavours cannot lift out of the pit. All the tears of a Niobe, should the race be concentrated in one image, and should the tears flow from the dawn of time to its close, cannot wash away sin. There is a fountain opened for sin and uncleanness. There is a propitiatory offering. Faith in Jesus Christ is the grand starting-point for noble endeavour, for moral enterprise, and for all holy living. Here are healing for the sick, bright raiment for the naked, precious gold for the poor, satisfying bread for the hungry, peace for the troubled, joy for the sorrowful, and laughter for the weepers.

4. Believing in Jesus Christ supposes loving consecration. The imperfection of many professing Christians must be admitted; but the candid soul must confess that the world’s noblest heroes have been produced by Christianity. A religion which could produce a Paul has in that one fact a good deal to say in its defence. And what should be said of a religion which has produced thousands who have followed in his train, though they have failed to reach his high measure of nobility?

The righteousness of God.—“But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets.” It is of sin and righteousness that the apostle speaks so fully and so minutely throughout this whole epistle.

I. It is the righteousness of God.—It is a divine, not a human, righteousness. That righteousness which we had lost in Adam was, after all, but a human thing, finite like him who lost it; but that which we gain is a divine righteousness, and by being divine forms an infinite compensation for that which Adam lost for us; and we in receiving it are made partakers of a most glorious exchange. It is called the righteousness of God, because it is a righteousness provided by Him—a righteousness which was conceived by Him and carried out in every part by Him. Again, it is called the righteousness of God, because it is a righteousness made up of the doings of the Son of God. It is not merely with His sufferings that this righteousness has to do, but it is with His doings as well. These two things enter into its composition, so that without both of them it would be imperfect. Further, it is called the righteousness of God, because it provides such a compensation for human unrighteousness, that it not only takes it all away, but brings in a new and far higher and surer footing for the sinner to rest on.

II. It is a righteousness without the law.—He does not mean that it is in any sense an unlawful righteousness—a righteousness not based on law; but it means a righteousness which, in so far as we are concerned, has nothing to do with law at all. It is not a righteousness which asks any doing or working to make it what it is—“the righteousness of God”; for did it require anything of this kind on our part, it would cease to be what it is here represented to be, “the righteousness of God,” and would become, to a large extent at least, “the righteousness of man.” This righteousness does not send us to the law in order to be justified. Let us hold fast then this truth of the gospel, this foundation truth—righteousness without law, righteousness founded in no sense upon our keeping of the law; but wholly and absolutely upon this fact, that another has kept the law for us, and that other no less than the Son of God Himself.

III. This righteousness has been “manifested.”—“Now,” he says, “the righteousness of God is manifested”; it has been clearly brought to light, so that there can be no mistake concerning it and no mystery in it. It is not a thing hidden, wrapped up, reserved, held back, veiled from our view. It has been clearly manifested. In every way God has sought to guard it against the possibility of being mistaken by man. In every way has He taken precautions against this being hidden from view or darkened by the words of man’s wisdom.

IV. This righteousness is a righteousness “to which the law and the prophets bear witness.”—By this expression we understand the whole of the Old Testament. It is not something (he means to tell us) now come to light for the first time, not understood in the ages gone by; it is something which has been proclaimed from the beginning hitherto. Righteousness shone down upon the pilgrimage of Old Testament worthies, and in the light of which they walked. On this righteousness they rested, in it they rejoiced. It is no new righteousness which we preach. It is no new foundation of which we tell. It is the old one, the well-proved one. It has been abundantly sufficient in past ages, and it has lost none of its efficiency now in these last days.

V. This righteousness is a righteousness which is by the faith of Jesus Christ.—“Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference.” He means to say by this expression that it is a righteousness which comes to us by believing in Jesus Christ. It is not our faith that is our righteousness; it is not our act of believing that justifies. If your faith were your righteousness, then faith would be just reduced to the level of all other works, and would be itself a work. If it were our faith, our act of faith, that justified, then should we be justified by our own acts, by our own deeds. The expression, then, “the righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ,” means simply that it is a righteousness which passes over to us, and becomes available for us, by believing in Him whose righteousness it is—that is, by believing the Father’s testimony concerning Jesus Christ. Or it is just as if we were saying, I have no righteousness, seeing I am wholly a sinner; but I take this righteousness of the Son of God, and I draw near, expecting to be treated by God just as if I and not He were the righteous person. I cannot present any suffering to Him in payment of penalty; but I take this suffering of the Son of God, and I claim to have it reckoned to me as payment of my penalty. Thus it is “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.”

VI. This righteousness is a righteousness for the unrighteous.—It “is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” It is not righteousness for the good, but for the evil. It is not righteousness for the worthy, but for the unworthy. How foolish, then, to say as men, when convinced of sin, or when going back into former iniquity, are sometimes found saying, I am too great a sinner to be forgiven. Why, if you were not such a sinner, you would not need such a righteousness. This righteousness for the unrighteous is said by the apostle to be “unto all.” It is a righteousness which is like the sun in the heavens. It is one sun; yet it is enough for every one, it is free to every one. You open your eye and enjoy its beams without asking any questions. Again, it is a righteousness which is “upon all them that believe.” It is “unto all”; but it is only “upon” them that believe. The moment that we believe through grace we are accepted in the Beloved, redeemed from condemnation and from wrath. Again, the apostle affirms, regarding this righteousness for the unrighteous, that “there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” There is no difference as to its fitness for the sinner, whatever his sin may be; and there is no difference as to the fitness of the sinner for the righteousness. There is this twofold fitness: the fitness of the righteousness for the sinner, and the fitness of the sinner for the righteousness. There is no question as to the kind of your unrighteousness, the length of time, the amount or degree—there is no question about that: the simple question is, Are you an unrighteous man? Then it suits your case. And it is a righteousness near to each one of you; it is not afar off; it is not in heaven above, so that you have to climb to the seat of God to obtain it; and it is not down so low that you must dig to earth’s centre to find it: it is near, it is at your very side; and if you reject it, it cannot be because of its distance. God has brought it near.—H. Bonar.

Romans 3:24. Justification an act of God’s free grace.—Justified by grace—i.e., God’s part; not by blood—i.e., Christ’s part (Romans 5:9); not even by faith—i.e., man’s part (Romans 5:1); still less by works—i.e., the proof and manifestation of all the rest (James 2:24). Justification is contemplated from the side of God.

I. Justification itself.—“Being justified.” Rome versus Geneva—the former tending to the view that justification includes the removal of sin, not simply the removal of condemnation, as held by the latter. The structure of this epistle seems to favour the latter. The apostle begins with chaps. 1–5, discussing that awful liability to punishment which rests on Jew and Gentile alike; and only when this is disposed of does he come in chaps. 6–8 to treat of the removal of sin and the gift of eternal life. God comes first as a judge to pardon or absolve, and His second act is that of the Spirit imparting the regenerating seed of spiritual life. Justification is a change of relations, not of nature.

II. Modifications of the principal idea.—

1. The source—in the grace of God: “being justified freely by His grace.” Grace is love stooping, love in action—love manifesting itself to man; but love is eternal, therefore the revealed righteousness will endure. This is the key to the apostle’s confidence.

2. The mode—“freely.” Justification not of works, therefore not of wages; but of grace, therefore a free gift. This fathoms at once the sinner’s helplessness, and exhibits the divine munificence. The helplessness is spiritual—not necessarily mental, or even moral. Man may learn, know, hate, love; but he cannot justify himself in the sight of God. The divine munificence is twofold. The free gift is not dependent on any human return, and in itself is the pledge of all other spiritual blessings.

3. The means—“through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Redemption is another word that looks at justification from the divine side. It contains two ideas—ransom paid in vindication of justice and righteousness, and liberation effected for the guilty party. The two combined give the principle of substitution. The price was His “blood,” therefore not “without price,” not freely to Him. And it is “in Christ Jesus”—in Him in that historical sense in which in His own body on the tree the propitiation for sin was offered; and in Him in this legal and substitutionary sense in which justification is ours, only as we are treated in the Saviour’s place and accepted as righteous in Him. We are justified by grace—i.e., the source; by blood—i.e., the channel; by faith—i.e., the reception; by works—i.e., the fruit. “By their fruits ye shall know them.”—John Adams, B.D.

Law cannot justify.—“Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight,” etc. How shall man be just before God? Wherewith shall I come before the Lord? Such questions have presented themselves to men ever since sin found an entrance into this world. Such questions demand an answer now. Let us not shrink from considering them.

I. The very essence of God’s nature is holiness.—The outcome of holiness in effect and action is righteousness; hence God, perfectly righteous Himself, requires righteousness in His rational creatures. To come before God with acceptance we must have righteousness; and righteousness is obeying God’s law—and obeying it perfectly—for God admits of no imperfection.

II. What then is our condition as regards the law of God.—

1. The law condemns us, for we have not perfectly obeyed it. Nay, our very best actions are so mixed with imperfections that they come short of what God’s holiness requires. Every one who thinks with any seriousness of God and of himself—God in His holiness, I in my sins—must necessarily ask, What must I do? how can I escape condemnation? how can I be righteous?

2. Shall we then turn again to God’s law—try to keep it more perfectly, leave off sinning, seek righteousness by our own doings? Vain efforts! The more we try, the more plainly we shall see our failures. By the law is the knowledge of sin, but no righteousness for man. Man, left to deal with God’s law with his own efforts alone, either falls into spiritual blindness and deadness of heart, or betakes him to some vain superstition to bring peace to his conscience before God, which they never can bestow.

III. The gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims the way in which man can be justified.—Accounted righteous before God.

1. This is not by the law. God cannot forgo the claims of His law, cannot clear the guilty.

2. But the gospel does for us what the law cannot do.

3. The Lord Jesus, made man for us, standing in our place, bearing our sins, rendering a perfect obedience to the law as man, has redeemed us from the just condemnation of the law.

4. He is declared in the language of prophecy to be “Jehovah our righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:6). All that believe in Him are justified—they have a righteousness given to them by God. They are even said to “be made the righteousness of God” in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21).

IV. By this marvellous work of God, wrought out for us in and by the Lord Jesus, the most blessed results ensue.—

1. All God’s glorious attributes shine forth. His holiness is vindicateu, His justice satisfied, His law honoured, His love triumphant. The glorious contradiction of Exodus 34:6 finds its blessed solution: “Forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty.” Christ taking the place of the guilty—the believer’s sins forgiven.

2. Hence God can be just, and yet justify the ungodly. Hence He is not only merciful, but “faithful and just to forgive us our sins” (1 John 1:9).

V. This great gospel truth of justification by faith in Christ, almost lost in the visible Church in the times of mediæval darkness, but recovered and proclaimed anew in the Reformation, is now in the opened Scriptures set full in view for us. Let us receive it, hold it fast, rejoice in it, and let us prove in our own life that it is a doctrine according to godliness.—Dr. Jacob.


Salvation undeserved.—Here we have an answer to the most important of all inquiries, “How shall man be just with God?” To be justified is to be acquitted from the charge brought against us, and absolved from the condemnation with which we were threatened. With regard to us the condemnation was deserved and the charge was true. This renders the case so difficult and peculiar, and calls for the apostle’s development. But, in exposing the source of the privilege, he seems to use a tautology: “Being justified freely by His grace.” If it be done freely, it must be of grace; and if it be gracious, it must be free. Yet this is not saying too much. Paul knew that men were proud and vain, and that as Simon Magus thought of purchasing the Holy Ghost with money, so they, in dealing with God about their souls, wish to be merchants rather than suppliants, and would seem to buy while they are compelled to beg. But surely, if it be saying too much, it is saying enough. Surely, after this, the freeness and graciousness of the thing cannot be questioned; it is not only free and gracious as opposed to constraint, but as opposed to worthiness. Merit in a sinner is impossible—his desert lies all on the other side. There he is worthy of death. A man who asks a favour may have no claim upon you; but you may also have no demand upon him, and therefore, though you may justly refuse him, yet you have no right to apprehend and punish him. But God had a right to punish us, and it is of His mercies that we are not consumed. It is also free and gracious as opposed to desire. This is undeniable with regard to the constitution and accomplishment of the plan itself, for these long preceded even our being; but is it true with regard to the application of it? The publican prayed, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” and went down to his house justified. And you sought and found. But what induced you to seek? A sense of your want of the blessing. But how came you to feel this after being so long insensible of it? Hearing such a preacher. But who made this preacher, and sent him, and placed him in your way, and applied what he said to your heart? And the same may be asked with regard to any other instrumentality. Go as far back as you please, when you arrive you will find Him there before you, with all His preparations and excitements, and will hear Him say as you approach, “Come, for all things are now ready.”—W. Jay.

Mistaken view of cause.—A commentator on this chapter gives six causes of justification.

I. The principal cause.—The love of God the Father.

II. The meritorious cause.—The active and passive obedience of the Son.

III. The efficient cause.—The operation of the Holy Ghost.

IV. The instrumental cause.—The ministry of the word and the sacraments.

V. The instrumental cause for the reception on our part.—Faith in Christ’s blood.

VI.—The final cause.-—Eternal life by virtue and holiness.

Now with all due deference this appears to be a strange jumbling of causes, and even the schoolmen could not have gone any further. John Stuart Mill was not a theologian, perhaps a sceptic, but he was an able logician, and he teaches us to distinguish between the cause and the antecedent; and in the case of these six causes we should say that a distinction should be observed between the cause and both the antecedent and the consequent. Some of these so-called causes are no causes. They are not even antecedents, but consequents. How can the final cause be an antecedent of justification? Virtue and holiness come after justification. They are its blessed results, the effects of that sanctifying process which is being carried on in the justified. If the ministry of the word and the sacraments be the instrumental cause of justification, then the Saviour’s mediatorial work is not complete. The Twenty-fifth Article of the Church of England does not make the sacraments into a cause of justification: “Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God’s good will toward us, by the which He doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken but also strengthen and confirm our faith in Him.” The Christian man is surely a justified man, and the sacraments are tokens of his profession. If the sacraments are a cause of justification, then the article on justification by faith must be altered, for it says, “We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by faith, and not for our own works or deservings.”

The propitiation.—“Freely.” The word “excludes merit,” says Hemming—“not Christ’s indeed, but ours.” “It excludes,” says Aquinas, “the merit of preceding works.” “It excludes more,” says Berga; “it excludes the works that come after faith, as well as the works that go before it.” If the justification be gratuitous on the part of God, it must be to man “without money and without price.” It would no longer be a gift to believers if they purchased or deserved it by their merit. Luther translates the word “without merit” (ohne Verdienst). So does Sharpe. Bellarmin explains it admirably, so far as its theology is concerned, “out of His mere liberality.” Limborch explains it happily, so far as its philology is concerned, as meaning donatitie. So far, then, as we can learn anything from the New Testament usage of the compound term employed by the apostle, we have reason to come to the conclusion that, in the passage before us, it will not denote, barely and abstractly, simply “deliverance.” It will, indeed, denote “deliverance,” but the “deliverance” referred to will be deliverance “on the ground of something that meets all rightful claims.” It will be, in some legitimate sense, “a purchased deliverance.” It will be, in short, deliverance “on the ground of a ransom.” “There is perhaps,” says Dr. Chalmers, “no single passage in the book of inspiration which reveals, in a way so formal and authoritative as the one before us, the path of transition by which a sinner passes from a state of wrath to a state of acceptance. There is no passage—to which, if we would only bring the docility and the compliance of childhood—that is more fitted to guide and to turn an inquiring sinner into the way of peace.” “These six verses,” says C. P. Shepherd, “which contain the first enunciation of the doctrine of justification in this epistle—the first overflow, so to speak, of that matter of which the apostle’s heart and mind were full—contain also in a short compass the completest expression of the Christian doctrine.” If Christ Jesus be set forth as “propitiatory,” then it must be true that He was set forth as a “propitiator,” and set forth as a “propitiation,” and set forth as a “propitiatory sacrifice,” and set forth too as the “antitypical fulfilment of all the symbols of propitiation” that “were divinely instituted under preceding dispensations.” It was Christ Himself, in His theanthropic personality, that was thus “propitiatory.” He was, in His intermingled “satisfactio” and “satispassio,” the meritorious cause of God’s relation of propitiousness to the human family. It is in consideration of His propitiation that God, as the moral governor of the universe, is willing and is ready to forgive and to justify all such of the “ungodly” as will be induced to take up, by means of faith in the propitiator, that one mental position that will insure their voluntary reception of such divine influences as are needed to renew the heart and assimilate the characters to the archetypal character of God.—Dr. Morrison.

Justice and mercy.—The following passage taken in connection with others of a similar character naturally excites a little surprise: “High above all they imagine a great, grim, and relentless justice ever ready to sweep down and crush men out of existence. Long ago this would have happened, men would have been destroyed, the whole universe would have been consumed in wrath, were it not that this great and terrible Judge was pled with, restrained, forcibly held back by the struggling form of an equally powerful mercy. At last Christ appeared; He brings with Him a grand expedient, appeases justice, reconciles it to mercy, and mercy, freed from the conflict and no longer alarmed for men, goes forth and takes up its mission to save. It is not in the writings of the apostle, nor in the writings of any of the sacred penmen, that ideas like these are to be found. They are to be found, not there, but in the books and pictures of mediæval and modern theologians.” We also affirm that such ideas as these are not to be found in the books of modern theologians. If they are, the books are not much read, and therefore it is scarcely worth while to quote them for the sake of refutation. The book would be regarded as a curiosity which contained such teaching. At first sight we are disposed to look with compassion upon the “struggling form” of pleading mercy; but our compassion is turned into wonder when we find that mercy is “equally powerful” with justice. Surely any person capable of writing a book on theology would see that there could be no end to the conflict between two infinitely powerful persons or attributes such as justice and mercy—the one determined to punish and the other to pardon. Equally powerful, the contest would be equal; and on what principle Christ could appear with His “grand expedient” to the settlement of this awful struggle we cannot understand. The appropriateness of the adjectives “grim” and “relentless” when applied to justice may be fairly questioned. The breakers of law, the hardened and impenitent despisers of authority, may be expected to look upon justice as grim; but shall we expect law expounders and enforcers to take this view? It certainly does not seem to us fitting that justice and mercy should be represented as two beings in deadly conflict, as descriptive of the divine procedure; for there can be no violent opposition among the attributes of the Godhead. All work together in harmony. We cannot see anything grotesque in the proceeding when God’s mercy is inclined to save, and when God sees it proper to have regard to the interests of His moral government, and devises a method whereby He may be just and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.


Romans 3:23. Pharisaism.—When the late Rev. George Burder, of London, was preaching at Warwick, he was called to attend the execution of three men, one a coiner, and the other two housebreakers. “One circumstance,” says Mr. B., “affected me very deeply. All the men were on ladders, then the mode of execution, with the ropes about their necks, about to be turned off, when the coiner, endeavouring to fortify his mind in this awful situation, uttered words to this purpose, which I distinctly heard, being at a short distance, ‘I never killed anybody; I never hurt anybody: I hope the Lord will have mercy upon me.’ This poor creature seemed nearly to die in the spirit of the Pharisee, ‘I thank God I am not as other men are, or as this publican,’ for I thought he alluded to the two thieves suffering with him. I was so deeply affected that I could scarcely refrain from crying out to the man, ‘Do not trust in your own righteousness: look to Christ.’ This has often occurred to me as one of the most glaring instances of a self-righteous spirit that I ever knew.”

Romans 3:25. Propitiation.—Cowper, the poet, speaking of his religious experience, says, “But the happy period which was to shake off my fetters and afford me a clear opening of the free mercy of God in Christ Jesus was now arrived. I flung myself into a chair near the window, and seeing a Bible there, ventured once more to apply to it for comfort and instruction. The first verse I saw was the twenty-fifth of the third of Romans: ‘Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.’ Immediately I received strength to believe, and the full beams of the Sun of righteousness shone upon me. I saw the sufficiency of the atonement He had made, my pardon sealed in His blood, and all the fulness and completeness of His justification. In a moment I believed, and received the gospel. Whatever my friend Madan had said to me so long before revived in all its clearness, with demonstration of the Spirit, and with power.”

Romans 3:26. One man loses blood to save another.—The other day a man allowed two ounces of blood to be extracted for the purpose of being infused into an invalid. The loss of blood was more than he could bear. The man died as a consequence of the sacrifice. The offering, if not the death, was voluntary. He was not compelled to the suffering. And so Jesus freely offered Himself. He could have paralysed the arm of the Roman soldier that was raised to pierce His sacred side. Even after the wound was made He could have spoken the word of healing; but then the stream would not have flowed for the healing of the nations. Yea, after He had freely undertaken the work of our redemption, He might have stopped short and secured to Himself a glorious body-guard of more than twelve legions of angels. But His love both to God and to man sustained Him in the mighty conflict.

Romans 3:26. Eli believes the sad tidings.—The power which resides in a word, or which operates through a word, requires one (and no more than one) condition for its operation—it must be believed. Old Eli, bowed with the weight of years, sat in the city gate of Shiloh, when a message came to him which had in it a power of death. But if Eli had not believed the fatal tidings of that Benjamite who professed to report the disastrous issue of the day’s engagement, Eli would not have fallen dead in a fit by the side of the gate. The message which another Benjamite spoke at midnight to the Roman jailor had in it, on the contrary, a power of spiritual life. But if that jailor had not received Paul’s record of God concerning His Son, no life could have visited his rude, dark, heathen soul. Faith is no exceptional demand on the gospel’s part. It is the condition of all power which comes by word, whether it be a word that teaches or a word that commands. Though the power of God, operating through His gospel, is an exceptional power, since it is the direct energy of the Holy Ghost which quickens dead souls, yet God has chosen this particular vehicle of speech for His life-giving, saving, spiritual energy, and having chosen it, He respects its ordinary laws. Salvation must come by faith, because faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.—Dykes.

Romans 3:26. Zaleucus.—Zaleucus, the ancient legislator, shared the punishment with his son, and submitted to lose one eye so that his son might not be rendered totally blind, which was the legal penalty for his transgression. Zaleucus, being both legislator and father, devised the method and endured the suffering, so that law might not be dishonoured and that fatherly love might be expressed. It would be an easy task to describe, after the manner of some writers, the contest between the grim, relentless king and the loving father. We might draw a picture that the heroic Zaleucus would not be able to recognise. He did not become three by the transaction. The ego did not stand by as a calm spectator, while the legislator and the father fought out the affair on the fertile plains of the Locri. The stern legislator and the loving father made up the one Zaleucus. The feeling of love and the sense of justice are not separate from but form a part of my personality. Justice, love, and mercy are not personalities standing away from, though still surrounding, the divine Being. They are the essential attributes of a perfect and full-orbed Deity, and are in subjection to the deliberative faculty. Above them is the great divine consciousness speaking after the manner of men. There can be no fierce conflict among the divine attributes. There never was the represented struggle. All work together in blessed harmony. A man may consult with himself; but he does not get into fierce conflict with himself, as he might if consulting with his fellows. And so even God may consult with Himself. We fail to see anything grotesque in the proceeding when God’s mercy is inclined to save, and God, deeming it proper to have regard to the interests of His moral government, devises a method whereby He may be just and yet the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus.

Verses 27-31


Romans 3:27.—Where is then the glorying? Such is the most literal and most correct rendering of the clause. Almost tantamount to the expression, Where is then their glorying?

Romans 3:30-31.—The gospel establishes the law, because it is the most sublime manifestation of the holiness and strictness of God. Sin never appears more fearful than at Golgotha, where, on account of it, “God spared not His own Son” (Olshausen).


The triumphant conclusion.—St. Paul concludes the chapter with a triumphant assertion of the principles he has been establishing. He has reached a point in the course of his reasoning where it is necessary to summarise and impress upon the minds of his readers the main questions at issue. In doing this he seems to place before us a general unity.

I. One God.—The monotheistic idea was peculiar to the Jew in the early world. He stood alone as the worshipper of the one living and true God. It was not therefore a new doctrine which Paul proclaimed—it was an old doctrine with a new application. The Jew seemed to believe in a Jewish God. One God for the Jew; another God for the Gentile. Paul preaches one God, an all-God, a universal God. If Paul had lived in these days, would the mention of one God have started him on a line of defence against atheism? However, he did not, but appears to take the existence of God as an axiomatic truth, a self-evident proposition. He does not argue, but makes assertions and quotations from heathen poets when speaking to the men of Athens. With Paul and the men of those days to doubt the existence of God is synonymous with doubting their own existence. One God for all, and yet the unit not lost in the whole number, the atom not absorbed in the wide ocean of being.

II. One divine law.—One God, one mind. In the Trinity there is a blessed unity, one glorious personality, one mighty intellect, which is light, which has neither variableness nor shadow of turning, which knows neither the eclipse of uncertainty nor the obscuration of passing from one phase of truth to another, or from old positions which have to be abandoned to new positions which in course of advancing revelations may also have to be resigned. One God, one mind, one law. Superior to all laws is the law of faith. Our scientists may ignore it as having no power in the material realm. The thought world is higher than the material world. Moral forces are mighty. The law of faith reaches further than is dreamt of in our materialistic philosophies. One law for Jew and Gentile, one law of faith stretching out through all dispensations.

III. One method of justification.—One method for the Justifier, and one method for the justified. God justifies freely by His grace all those who believe in Jesus. The man is justified by faith, receives the position and the blessing of justification by faith. Whether by or through, it is of faith, not the deeds of the law. The man by sinfulness has placed himself outside the law. Justification rises to a higher plane. The law condemns. Grace justifies. The works of the law perplex the true heart that is seeking the true good. The act of faith in the propitiatory offering of Jesus removes trouble from the soul, and peace reigns in the soul kingdom, and all its powers move to harmonious measures.

IV. One attitude of mind.—Boasting is excluded, and the attitude is one of humble thankfulness. There is one attitude for the circumcised and the uncircumcised, for the educated and the uneducated, for those who have been good from their birth and for those who have never been brought up, scarcely dragged up, in any moral school. The complacent, self-satisfied mind of some does not appear to say that from them boasting is excluded. If boasting were excluded, would there be so much patronage? Some conduct themselves as if they were lords over God’s heritage, and even over God Himself.

V. One sublime plan of life.—To establish the honour and dignity and supremacy of the law of love, which will prompt to good works. The law of faith generates the law of love. He that keeps the law of love keeps all laws. He is raised above law because it has no power to condemn. Law is not a dread, but a delight. Law is not a hard taskmaster, but a gracious guide. Law is not an executioner, but an invigorating rule of action. The moralist has to spell his way through difficult lessons while the schoolmaster holds the rod. He who is learned in the law of love finds the schoolmaster, a pleasant companion, who can even beguile the tediousness of the way with merry song.


How faith works.—To the importance of Christ’s death for the remission of sins we teach faith alone to be necessary, whereby it is not our meaning to separate thereby faith from any other quality or duty which God requireth to be matched therewith, but from faith to seclude, in justification, the fellowship of worth through precedent works, as St. Paul doth. Nor doth any faith justify but that therewith there is joined both hope and love; yet justified we are by faith alone, because there is no man whose works, in whole or in particular, can make him righteous in God’s sight. As St. Paul doth dispute for faith without works, so St. James is urgent for works with faith. To be justified, so far as remission of sins, it sufficeth to believe what another hath wrought for us. But whosoever will see God face to face, let him show his faith by his works; for in this sense Abraham was justified—that is to say, his life was sanctified.—Hooker.

Faith doth not shut out repentance, love, and the fear of God, to be joined with faith in any man that is justified; but it shutteth them out from the office of justifying.—Homily on Salvation.

The word “faith “is used to signify the theological virtue, or gracious habit, whereby we embrace with our minds and affections the Lord Jesus Christ as the only begotten Son of God, and alone Saviour of the world, casting ourselves wholly upon the mercy of God, through His merits, for remission and everlasting salvation. It is that which is commonly called “justifying faith” whereunto are ascribed in Holy Writ many gracious effects, not as to their primary cause, but as to the instrument whereby we apprehend and apply Christ, whose merits and spirit are the true causes of all those blessed effects.—Bishop Sanderson.

Boasting excluded.—The change from condemnation to justification is very great. Must awaken many new feelings in one’s breast—gratitude, hope, joy. One feeling which it will not awaken—pride. It cuts the tap-root of pride. It leaves no room for boasting. For God is everything here, and man is nothing.

I. Boasting is excluded by the knowledge of the condition of the persons justified.—All who are saved have sinned (Romans 3:23). Some flagrantly. All more than enough to bring condemnation. Certainly failed to keep the commandment, “Thou shalt love the Lord with all thy heart.” All have sinned to such a degree as that they come short of the glory of God. Cannot secure His approbation, for He will not be satisfied with obedience less than perfect. Some come further short than others. A plank needed to bridge over a chasm. One two feet short, another six inches. The larger one as useless as the shorter for the purpose. The best of men cannot cross the gulf which separates a sinner from the righteous God.

II. Boasting excluded because all are justified freely.—“Justified” means “pronounced righteous.” “Justified” in Romans 3:20 opposed to “pronounced guilty” in Romans 3:19. Justification the act of a judge. When God justifies, He sits in judgment and pronounces a verdict. Every sinner condemned already. If not justified, the sentence is hanging over him, waiting the expiry of day of grace. Yet God is saying, “Come, and let us reason together,” etc. If we ask Him, He is ready. If we agree to His terms, the sentence is at once removed. Not only pardoned, but accepted. Sentence of death cancelled, and receive a title to the kingdom of heaven. He justifies freely—gratis—in the way of a gift. Thus the case of all met. Bibles are cheap, yet some too poor to buy one. None too poor to receive freely. But boasting goes.

III. Boasting excluded because the moving cause of justification is His own grace.—Finds in Himself the reason. Comes out of the goodness of His own heart. This disposes of all pretexts for delay, for God not more gracious to-day than He will be to-morrow. But it takes away all ground for boasting.

IV. Boasting excluded in view of the means by which grace operates: viz., the propitiatory redemption in Christ Jesus.—Justification is part, not all, of the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus Christ. No justification without the payment of His life as the ransom. It is the result of an obedience already given, and to which we can add nothing. This ought to remove the thought that God may be unwilling to justify. If any unwillingness on His part, it would have manifested itself before His Son humbled to death. He cannot be unwilling to see the results produced for which He gave up His Son. This gives another knockdown blow to boasting.

V. Boasting excluded when we know the way in which we receive an interest in that redemption: viz., by simply believing God’s word.—Through faith the propitiatory offering is ours. An Israelite brought a lamb for sacrifice, believing that through its blood being shed his sin would be forgiven. God says, Look at My Lamb as offered for you, and believe that His blood cleanses from all sins. God justifies the man who trusts in Jesus (Romans 3:26). All that is Christ’s becomes ours; His obedience, His sacrifice, is as efficacious as if we had obeyed and suffered. There is no more condemnation. Our trial is just, and we cannot be condemned until He is condemned. The reason of this may not be clear to us. The way of works seems perfectly intelligible. The law of works we can fully understand. But there is a law of faith also, which is as manifestly from God as is the law of works for the sinless. And by it sinners are justified freely. It is a glorious salvation, for which there ought to be much praise to God, but no boasting as regards ourselves.—G. Wallace, D.D.

Many of the fathers were accustomed to use the expression “by faith only” when discoursing on justification. For example, Ambrosiaster, in commenting on Romans 4:5, uses the expression twice over. Such were some of the pleas that were put in, and appropriately and powerfully urged, in defence of Luther. Bengel stands true to the German Megalander, and fell on an ingenious method of vindicating the “only.” He applies arithmetic to the case. Two things only are referred to:

Faith and works


Works are excluded


Faith remains alone


One being subtracted from two, there remains but one. “It is,” says Bengel, “an arithmetical demonstration.” Tholuck says that Erasmus remarks, “Vox SOLA, tot clamoribus lapidata hoc seculo in Luthero, reverenter in patribus auditor”—“The word ‘alone,’ which has been received with such a shower of stones when uttered in our times by Luther, is yet reverently listened to when spoken by the fathers.” Hodge repeats the quotation and the reference. We do not know where Tholuck picked it up. But while the observation seems to bespeak, by its peculiar felicity and piquancy, an Erasmian origin, it is certainly not to be found in that great respository of felicities, and wisdom, and wit, and semi-garrulities—the Liber Concionandi. Now his doctrine of justification by faith in the propitiation of Christ not only meets the wants of men in the direction of pardon for the past—it also meets their wants in the direction of purity for the future. It involves provision for the establishment of the moral influence of moral law. Into whatever soul it finds an entrance, in that soul it raises up, as from the dust, the prostrate law, and makes it stand. It sets-up that which was up-set by sin. It establishes, in the sphere of the soul’s inner and outer activities, an ethical influence, which is really, when we let down our line into the depths of the subject, nothing more, nor less, nor else than the native moral influence of the moral law. There is a point of unity whence both propitiation and legislation respectively start, and whither they return.—Dr. Morrison.

“Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.”

I. Justification by faith without the works of the law is distinctly proclaimed in the former part of this chapter.—

1. This is a wholesome doetrine, and very full of comfort (Art. XI.): full of comfort to the believer in Christ, wholesome in its influence on the believer’s own life.

2. This great gospel truth has been opposed by the enemy of man, for it upsets his kingdom; rejected by man’s pride, for it destroys his self-righteousness (Romans 10:3); perverted by man’s licentiousness, and made even a minister of sin (Galatians 2:17; Jude 1:4).

3. If this doctrine did make void the law, it would not be of God; for God’s law must stand and be magnified. Christ came not to destroy the law, but to fulfil it (Matthew 5:17).

4. This doctrine establishes the law.

(1) The law is established, confirmed, honoured, when it is perfectly obeyed.
(2) The law is established, confirmed, honoured, when the transgression of it is visited with God’s just condemnation.

II. The law is thus established in Jesus Christ.—The believer in Jesus rests on Him as his surety, his substitute, who has perfectly obeyed the law and obtained a perfect righteousness for him, who has paid the penalty of the broken law for him by His death. How wonderfully has the law of God been magnified and honoured in the life and death of Jesus!

1. Thus the believer in Jesus has an, answer

(1) for the accuser who takes up the law against him;

(2) for his own conscience, which speaks with the voice of the law. There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

2. Thus again he has confidence and boldness towards God. God is not only merciful, but faithful and just to forgive. What an encouragement to believers! All God’s perfections are on their side.

3. Perversions and excuses. However good and true this doctrine is, it is not liked by men until they are taught by the Holy Spirit. Men naturally want to be saved by their own goodness, their own righteousness. Hence

(1) attempts are made to bring down God’s law to the level of man’s sinful nature;
(2) outward observances are rested on and made much of;
(3) resolutions and endeavours put for true obedience.

III. The law is also established in the believer’s heart and life.—The law of God reaches to the thoughts of the heart, and requires a loving obedience. The believer in Christ is led by the Holy Spirit of God, given to him, abiding in him. The love of God is shed abroad in his heart. He loves God’s law. He is enabled to obey it by the power of the Spirit dwelling in him. True, his obedience is not perfect. He may at times “be sore let and hindered in the Christian race.” But he desires and aims at nothing short of perfect obedience. He consciously walks after the Spirit, and not according to his own natural, selfish, sinful desires. Hence St. Paul declares that the very purpose of our justification by faith is that the righteousness of the law may be fulfilled in us (Romans 8:4). And St. James reminds us that a faith without works is dead, and that a believer’s life must testify before men the reality of his faith in Christ and the righteousness which that faith receives. Let us never forget

(1) that by grace we have been saved through faith;

(2) and that we are created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:8-10).—Dr. Jacob.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Romans 3". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/romans-3.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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