What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision?What advantage ... - The design of the first part of this chapter is to answer some of the objections which might be offered by a Jew to the statements in the last chapter. The first objection is stated in this verse. A Jew would naturally ask, if the view which the apostle had given were correct, what special benefit could the Jew derive from his religion? The objection would arise particularly from the position advanced Romans 2:25-26, that if a pagan should do the things required by the Law, he would be treated as "if" he had been circumcised. Hence, the question, "what profit is there of circumcision?"
Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.Much every way - Or, in every respect. This is the answer of the apostle to the objection in Romans 3:1.
Chiefly - That is, this is the principal advantage, and one including all others. The main benefit of being a Jew is, to possess the sacred Scriptures and their instructions.
Unto them were committed - Or were intrusted, were confided. The word translated "were committed," is what is commonly employed to express "faith" or "confidence," and it implied "confidence" in them on the part of God in intrusting his oracles to them; a confidence which was not misplaced, for no people ever guarded a sacred trust or deposit with more fidelity, than the Jews did the Sacred Scriptures.
The oracles - The word "oracle" among the pagan meant properly the answer or response of a god, or of some priest supposed to be inspired, to an inquiry of importance, usually expressed in a brief sententious way, and often with great ambiguity. The place from which such a response was usually obtained was also called an oracle, as the oracle at Delphi, etc. These oracles were frequent among the pagan, and affairs of great importance were usually submitted to them. The word rendered "oracles" occurs in the New Testament but four times, Acts 7:38; Hebrews 5:12; 1 Peter 4:11; Romans 3:2. It is evidently used here to denote the Scriptures, as being what was spoken by God, and particularly perhaps the divine promises. To possess these was of course an eminent privilege, and included all others, as they instructed them in their duty, and were their guide in everything that pertained to them in this life and the life to come. They contained, besides, many precious promises respecting the future dignity of the nation in reference to the Messiah. No higher favor can be conferred on a people than to be put in possession of the sacred Scriptures. And this fact should excite us to gratitude, and lead us to endeavor to extend them also to other nations; compare Deuteronomy 4:7-8; Psalm 147:19-20.
For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?For what if some did not believe? - This is to be regarded as another objection of a Jew. "What then? or what follows? if it be admitted that some of the nation did not believe, does it not follow that the faithfulness of God in his promises will fail?" The points of the objection are these:
(1) The apostle had maintained that the nation was sinful Romans 2; that is, that they had not obeyed or believed God.
(2) This, the objector for the time admits or supposes in relation to some of them. But,
(3) he asks whether this does not involve a consequence which is not admissible, that God is unfaithful.
Did not the fact that God chose them as his people, and entered into covenant with them, imply that the Jews should be kept from perdition? It was evidently their belief that all Jews would be saved, and this belief they grounded on his covenant with their fathers. The doctrine of the apostle Romans 2 would seem to imply that in certain respects they were on a level with the Gentile nations; that if they sinned, they would be treated just like the pagan; and hence, they asked of what value was the promise of God? Had it not become vain and nugatory?
Of none effect - Destroy it; or prevent him from fulfilling his promises. The meaning of the objection is, that the fact supposed, that the Jews would become unfaithful and be lost, would imply that God had failed to keep his promises to the nation; or that he had made promises which the result showed he was not able to perform.
God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.God forbid - Greek. Let not this be. The sense is, "let not this by any means be supposed." This is the answer of the apostle, showing that no such consequence followed from his doctrines; and that "if" any such consequence should follow, the doctrine should be at once abandoned, and that every man, no matter who, should be rather esteemed false than God. The veracity of God was a great first principle, which was to be held, whatever might be the consequence. This implies that the apostle believed that the fidelity of God could be maintained in strict consistency with the fact that any number of the Jews might be found to be unfaithful, and be cast off. The apostle has not entered into an explanation of this, or shown how it could be, but it is not difficult to understand how it was. The promise made to Abraham, and the fathers, was not unconditional and absolute, that all the Jews should be saved. It was implied that they were to be obedient; and that if they were not, they would be cast off; Genesis 18:19. Though the apostle has not stated it here, yet he has considered it at length in another part of this Epistle, and showed that it was not only consistent with the original promise that a part of the Jews should be found unfaithful, and be east off, but that it had actually occurred according to the prophets; Romans 10:16-21; 11. Thus, the fidelity of God was preserved; at the same time that it was a matter of fact that no small part of the nation was rejected and lost.
Let God be true - Let God be esteemed true and faithful, whatever consequence may follow. This was a first principle, and should be now, that God should be believed to be a God of truth, whatever consequence it might involve. How happy would it be, if all people would regard this as a fixed principle, a matter not to be questioned in their hearts, or debated about, that God is true to his word! How much doubt and anxiety would it save professing Christians; and how much error would it save among sinners! Amidst all the agitations of the world, all conflicts, debates, and trials, it would be a fixed position where every man might find rest, and which would do more than all other things to allay the tempests and smooth the agitated waves of human life.
But every man a liar - Though every man and every other opinion should be found to be false. Of course this included the apostle and his reasoning; and the expression is one of those which show his magnanimity and greatness of soul. It implies that every opinion which he and all others held; every doctrine which had been defended; should be at once abandoned, if it implied that God was false. It was to be assumed as a first principle in all religion and all reasoning, that if a doctrine implied that God was not faithful, it was of course a false doctrine. This showed his firm conviction that the doctrine which he advanced was strictly in accordance with the veracity of the divine promise. What a noble principle is this! How strikingly illustrative of the humility of true piety, and of the confidence which true piety places in God above all the deductions of human reason! And if all people were willing to sacrifice their opinions when they appeared to impinge on the veracity of God; if they started back with instinctive shuddering at the very supposition of such a lack of fidelity in him; how soon would it put an end to the boastings of error, to the pride of philosophy, to lofty dictation in religion! No man with this feeling could be for a moment a universalist; and none could be an infidel.
As it is written - Psalm 51:4. To confirm the sentiment which he had just advanced and to show that it accorded with the spirit of religion as expressed in the Jewish writings, the apostle appeals to the language of David, uttered in a state of deep penitence for past transgressions. Of all quotations ever made, this is one of the most beautiful and most happy. David was overwhelmed with grief; he saw his crime to be awful; he feared the displeasure of God, and trembled before him. Yet "he held it as a fixed, indisputable principle that" God was right. This he never once thought of calling in question. He had sinned against God, God only; and he did not once think of calling in question the fact that God was just altogether in reproving him for his sin, and in pronouncing against him the sentence of condemnation.
That thou mightest be justified - That thou mightest be regarded as just or right, or, that it may appear that God is not unjust. This does not mean that David had sinned against God for the purpose of justifying him, but that he now clearly saw that his sin had been so directly against him, and so aggravated, that God was right in his sentence of condemnation.
In thy sayings - In what thou hast spoken; that is, in thy sentence of condemnation; in thy words in relation to this offence. It may help us to understand this, to remember that the psalm was written immediately after Nathan, at the command of God, had gone to reprove David for his crime; (see the title of the psalm.) God, by the mouth of Nathan, had expressly condemned David for his crime. To this expression of condemnation David doubtless refers by the expression "in thy sayings;" see 2 Samuel 12:7-13.
And mightest overcome - In the Hebrew, "mightest be pure," or mightest be esteemed pure, or just. The word which the Septuagint and the apostle have used, "mightest overcome," is sometimes used with reference to litigations or trials in a court of justice. He that was accused and acquitted, or who was adjudged to be innocent, might be said to overcome, or to gain the cause. The expression is thus used here. As if there were a trial between David and God, God would overcome; that is, would be esteemed pure and righteous in his sentence condemning the crime of David.
When thou art judged - The Hebrew is, "when thou judgest;" that is, in thy judgment pronounced on this crime. The Greek may also be in the middle voice as well as the passive, and may correspond, therefore, in meaning precisely with the Hebrew. So the Arabic renders it. The Syriac renders it, "when they (that is, people) shall judge thee." The meaning, as expressed by David, is, that God is to be esteemed right and just in condemning people for their sins, and that a true penitent, that is, a man placed in the best circumstances to form a proper estimate of God, will see this, though it should condemn himself. The meaning of the expression in the connection in which Paul uses it, is, that it is to be held as a fixed, unwavering principle, that God is right and true, whatever consequences it may involve; whatever doctrine it may overthrow; or whatever man it may prove to be a liar.
But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man)But if our unrighteousness - If our sin. The particular sin which had been specified Romans 3:3 was "unbelief." But the apostle here gives the objection a general form. This is to be regarded as an objection which a Jew might make. The force of it is this:
(1) It had been conceded that some had not believed; that is, had sinned.
(2) but God was true to his promises. Notwithstanding their sin, God's character was the same. Nay,
(3) In the very midst of sin, and as one of the results of it, the character of God, as a just Being, shone out illustriously. The question then was,
(4) If his glory resulted from it; if the effect of all was to show that his character was pure; how could he punish that sin from which his own glory resulted? And this is a question which is often asked by sinners.
Commend - Recommend; show forth; render illustrious.
The righteousness of God - His just and holy character. This was the effect on David's mind, that he saw more clearly the justice of God in his threatenings against sin, in consequence of his own transgression. And if this effect followed, if honor was thus done to God, the question was, how he could consistently punish what tended to promote his own glory?
What shall we say? - What follows? or, what is the inference? This is a mode of speech as if the objector hesitated about expressing an inference which would seem to follow, but which was horrible in its character.
Is God unrighteous? - The meaning of this would be better expressed thus: "Is "not" God unrighteous in punishing? Does it not follow that if God is honored by sin, that it would be wrong for him to inflict punishment?"
Who taketh vengeance - The meaning of this is simply, "who inflicts punishment." The idea of vengeance is not necessarily in the original ὀργήν orgēn. It is commonly rendered "wrath," but it often means simply "punishment," without any reference to the state of the mind of him who inflicts it, Matthew 3:7; Luke 3:7; Luke 21:23; John 3:36. Notes, Romans 1:18; Romans 4:15.
I speak as a man - I speak after the manner of human beings. I speak as appears to be the case to human view; or as would strike the human mind. It does not mean that the language was such as wicked people were accustomed to use; but that the objector expressed a sentiment which to human view would seem to follow from what had been said. This I regard as the language of an objector. It implies a degree of reverence for the character of God, and a seeming unwillingness to state an objection which seemed to be dishonorable to God, but which nevertheless pressed itself so strong on the mind as to appear irresistible. No way of stating the objection could have been more artful or impressive.
God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?God forbid - Note, Romans 3:4.
For then - If it be admitted that it would be unjust for God to inflict punishment.
How shall God ... - How will it be right or consistent for him to judge the world.
Judge - To "judge" implies the possibility and the correctness of "condemning" the guilty; for if it were not right to condemn them, judgment would be a farce. This does not mean that God would condemn all the world; but that the fact of judging people implied the possibility and propriety of condemning those who were guilty. It is remarkable that the apostle does not attempt to explain how it could be that God could take occasion from the sins of people to promote his glory; nor does he even admit the fact; but he meets directly the objection. To understand the force of his answer, it must be remembered that it was an admitted fact, a fact which no one among the Jews would call in question, that God would judge the world. This fact was fully taught in their own writings, Genesis 18:25; Ecclesiastes 12:14; Ecclesiastes 11:9. It was besides an admitted point with them that God would condemn the pagan I world; and perhaps the term "world" here refers particularly to them.
But how could this be if it were not right for God to inflict punishment at all? The inference of the objector, therefore, could not be true; though the apostle does not tell us how it was consistent to inflict punishment for offences from which God took occasion to promote his glory. It may be remarked, however, that God will judge offences, not from what he may do in overruling them, but from the nature of the crime itself. The question is not, what good God may bring out of it, but what does the crime itself deserve? what is the character of the offender? what was his intention? It is not what God may do to overrule the offence when it is committed. The just punishment of the murderer is to be determined by the Law, and by his own desert; and not from any reputation for integrity and uprightness which the judge may manifest on his trial; or from any honor which may accrue to the police for detecting him; or any security which may result to the commonwealth from his execution; or from any honor which the Law may gain as a just law by his condemnation. Nor should any of these facts and advantages which may result from his execution, be pleaded in bar of his condemnation. So it is with the sinner under the divine administration. It is indeed a truth Psalm 76:10 that the wrath of man shall praise God, and that he will take occasion from people's wickedness to glorify himself as a just judge and moral governor; but this will be no ground of acquittal for the sinner.
For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner?For if ... - This is an objection similar to the former. It is indeed but another form of the same.
The truth of God - His truth or faithfulness in adhering to his threatenings. God threatened to punish the guilty. By their guilt he will take occasion to show his own truth; or their crime will furnish occasion for such an exhibition.
Hath more abounded - Has been more striking, or more manifest. His "truth" will be shown by the fulfillment of all his promises to his people, and of all his predictions. But it will also be shown by fulfilling his threatenings on the guilty. It will, therefore, more abound by their condemnation; that is, their condemnation will furnish new and striking instances or his truth. Every lost sinner will be, therefore, an eternal monument of the truth of God.
Through my lie - By means of my lie, or as one of the results of my falsehood. The word "lie" here means falsehood, deceitfulness, "unfaithfulness." If by the unfaithfulness of the Jewish people to the covenant, occasion should be given to God to glorify himself, how could they be condemned for it?
Unto his glory - To his praise, or so as to show his character in such a way as to excite the praise and admiration of his intelligent creation.
Why yet am I ... - How can that act be regarded as evil, which tends to promote the glory of God? The fault in the reasoning of the objector is this, that he takes for granted that the direct tendency of his conduct is to promote God's glory, whereas it is just the reverse; and it is by God's reversing that tendency, or overruling it, that he obtains his glory. The tendency of murder is not to honor the Law, or to promote the security of society, but just the reverse. Still, his execution shall avert the direct tendency of his crime, and do honor to the law and the judge, and promote the peace and security of the community by restraining others.
And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just.And not rather - This is the answer of the apostle. He meets the objection by showing its tendency if carried out, and if it were made a principle of conduct. The meaning is, "If the glory of God is to be promoted by sin, and if a man is not therefore to be condemned, or held guilty for it; if this fact absolves man from crime, "why not carry the doctrine out, and make it a principle of conduct, and do all the evil we can, in order to promote his glory." This was the fair consequence of the objection. And yet this was a result so shocking and monstrous, that all that was necessary in order to answer the objection was merely to state this consequence. Every man's moral feelings would revolt at the doctrine; everyman would know that it could not be true; and every man, therefore, could see that the objection was not valid.
As we - This refers, doubtless, to the apostles, and to Christians generally. It is unquestionable, that this accusation was often brought against them.
Slanderously reported - Greek, As we are "blasphemed." This is the legitimate and proper use of the word "blaspheme," to speak of one in a reproachful and calumnious manner.
As some affirm ... - Doubtless Jews. Why they should affirm this, is not known. It was doubtless, however, some perversion of the doctrines that the apostles preached. The doctrines which were thus misrepresented and abused, were probably these: the apostles taught that the sins of people were the occasion of promoting God's glory in the plan of salvation. That "where sin abounded, grace did much more abound;" Romans 5:20. That God, in the salvation of people, would be glorified just in proportion to the depth and pollution of the guilt which was forgiven. This was true; but how easy was it to misrepresent this as teaching that people ought to sin in order to promote God's glory! and instead of stating it as an inference which they drew from the doctrine, to state it as what the apostles actually taught. This is the common mode in which charges are brought against others. People draw an inference themselves, or suppose that the doctrine leads to such an inference, and then charge it on others as what they actually hold and teach. There is one maxim which should never be departed from: "That a man is not to be held responsible for the inferences which we may draw from his doctrine; and that he is never to be represented as holding and teaching what we suppose follows from his doctrine." He is answerable only for what he avows.
Let us do evil - That is, since sin is to promote the glory of God, let us commit as much as possible.
That good may come - That God may take occasion by it to promote his glory.
Whose damnation is just - Whose "condemnation;" see the note at Romans 14:23. This does not necessarily refer to future punishment, but it means that the conduct of those who thus slanderously perverted the doctrines of the Christian religion, and accused the apostles of teaching this doctrine, was deserving of condemnation or punishment. Thus, he expressly disavows, in strong language, the doctrine charged on Christians. Thus, he silences the objection. And thus he teaches, as a great fundamental law, "that evil is not to be done that good may come." This is a universal rule. And this is in no case to be departed from. Whatever is evil is not to be done under any pretence. Any imaginable good which we may think will result from it; any advantage to ourselves or to our cause; or any glory which we may think may result to God, will not sanction or justify the deed. Strict, uncompromising integrity and honesty is to be the maxim of our lives; and in such a life only can we hope for success, or for the blessing of God.
What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin;What then? - This is another remark supposed to be made by a Jewish objector. "What follows? or are we to infer that we are better than others?
Are we better than they? - Are we Jews better than the Gentiles? Or rather, have we any preference, or advantage as to character and prospects, over the Gentiles? These questions refer only to the great point in debate, to wit, about justification before God. The apostle had admitted Romans 3:2 that the Jews had important advantages in some respects, but he now affirms that those advantages did not make a difference between them and the Gentiles about justification.
No, in no wise - Not at all. That is, the Jews have no preference or advantage over the Gentiles in regard to the subject of justification before God. They have failed to keep the Law; they are sinners; and if they are justified, it must be in the same way as the rest of the world.
We have before proved ... - Romans 1:21-32; 2.
Under sin - Sinners. Under the power and dominion of sin.
As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:As it is written - The apostle is reasoning with Jews; and he proceeds to show from their own Scriptures, that what he had affirmed was true. The point to be proved was, that the Jews, in the matter of justification, had no advantage or preference over the Gentiles; that the Jew had failed to keep the Law which had been given him, as the Gentile had failed to keep the Law which had been given him; and that both, therefore, were equally dependent on the mercy of God, incapable of being justified and saved by their works. To show this, the apostle adduces texts to show what was the character of the Jewish people; or to show that according to their own Scriptures, they were sinners no less than the Gentiles. The point, then, is to prove the depravity of the Jews, not that of universal depravity. The interpretation should be confined to the bearing of the passages on the Jews, and the quotations should not be adduced as directly proving the doctrine of universal depravity. In a certain sense, which will be stated soon, they may be adduced as bearing on that subject. But their direct reference is to the Jewish nation. The passages which follow, are taken from various parts of the Old Testament. The design of this is to show, that this characteristic of sin was not confined to any particular period of the Jewish history, but pertained to them as a people; that it had characterised them throughout their existence as a nation. Most of the passages are quoted in the language of the Septuagint. The quotation in Romans 3:10-12, is from Psalm 14:1-3; and from Psalm 53:1-3. Psalm 53:1-6 is the same as Psalm 14:1-7, with some slight variations.
(Yet if we consult Psalm 14:1-7 and Psalm 53:1-6, from which the quotations in Romans 3:10-12 are taken, we shall be constrained to admit that their original application is nothing short of universal. The Lord is represented as looking down from heaven, (not upon the Jewish people only, but upon the "children of men" at large, "to see if there were any that did understand and seek God);" and declaring, as the result of his unerring scrutiny, "there is "none" that doeth good, no, not one."
That the apostle applies the passages to the case of the Jews is admitted, yet it is evident more is contained in them than the single proof of Jewish depravity. They go all the length of proving the depravity of mankind, and are cited expressly with this view. "We have before proved both Jews and Gentiles," says Paul in Romans 3:9, "that they are all under sin." Immediately on this, the quotations in question are introduced with the usual formula, "as it is written," etc. Now since the apostle adduces his Scripture proofs, to establish the doctrine that both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin," we cannot reasonably decide against him by confining their application to the Jews only.
In Romans 3:19 Paul brings his argument to bear directly on the Jews. That they might not elude his aim, by interpreting the universal expressions he had introduced, of all the pagan only, leaving themselves favorably excepted; he reminds them that" whatsoever things the law saith, it saith to them that were under it." Not contented with having placed them alongside of the Gentiles in Romans 3:9; by this second application of the general doctrine of human depravity, to their particular case, he renders escape or evasion impossible. The scope of the whole passage then, is, that all people are depraved, and that the Jews form no exception. This view is further strengthened by the apostle's conclusion in Romans 3:20. "Therefore, by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his (God's) sight."
"If the words," says President Edwards, "which the apostle uses, do not most fully and determinately signify an universality, no words ever used in the Bible are sufficient to do it. I might challenge any man to produce any one paragraph in the scriptures, from the beginning to the end, where there is such a repetition and accumulation of terms, so strongly, and emphatically, and carefully, to express the most perfect and absolute universality, or any place to be compared to it." - "Edwards on Original Sin, - Haldane's Commentary."
There is none righteous - The Hebrew Psa 14:1 is, there is none that doeth good. The Septuagint has the same. The apostle quotes according to the sense of the passage. The design of the apostle is to show that none could be justified by the Law. He uses an expression, therefore, which is exactly conformable to his argument, and which accords in meaning with the Hebrew, "there is none just," δίκαιος dikaios.
No, not one - This is not in the Hebrew, but is in the Septuagint. It is a strong universal expression, denoting the state of almost universal corruption which existed in the time of the psalmist. The expression should not be interpreted to mean that there was not literally "one pious man" in the nation; but that the characteristic of the nation was, at that time, that it was exceedingly corrupt. Instead of being righteous, as the Jew claimed, because they were Jews, the testimony of their own Scriptures was, that they were universally wicked.
(The design of the apostle, however, is not to prove that there were few or none pious. He is treating of the impossibility of justification by works, and alleges in proof that, according to the judgment of God in the Psalm 14:1 Psalm, there were none righteous, etc., in regard to their natural estate, or the condition in which man is, previous to his being justified. In this condition, all are deficient in righteousness, and have nothing to commend them to the divine favor. What people may afterward become by grace is another question, on which the apostle does not, in this place, enter. Whatever number of pious people, therefore, there might be in various places of the world, the argument of the apostle is not in the least affected. It will hold good even in the millennium!)
There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.There is none that understandeth - In the Hebrew Psa 14:2, God is represented as looking down from heaven to see, that is, to make investigation, whether there were any that understood or sought after him. This circumstance gives not only high poetic beauty to the passage, but deep solemnity and awfulness. God, the searcher of hearts, is represented as making investigation on this very point. He looks down from heaven for this very purpose, to ascertain whether there were any righteous. In the Hebrew it is not asserted, though it is clearly and strongly implied, that none such were found. That fact the apostle "states." If, as the result of such an investigation, none were found; if God did not specify that there were any such; then it follows that there were none. For none could escape the notice of his eye; and if there had been any, the benevolence of his heart would have led him to record it. To understand is used in the sense of being wise; or of having such a state of moral feeling as to dispose them to serve and obey God. The word is often used in the Bible, not to denote a mere intellectual operation of the mind, but the state of the heart inclining the mind to obey and worship God; Psalm 107:43; Psalm 119:27, Psalm 119:100; Proverbs 5:5; Isaiah 6:10; "Lest they should understand with their heart," etc.
That seeketh after God - That endeavors to know and do his will, and to be acquainted with his character. A disposition not to seek after God, that is, to neglect and forget him, is one of the most decided proofs of depravity. A righteous man counts it his highest privilege and honor to know God, and to understand his will. A man can indulge in wickedness only by forgetting God. Hence, a disposition "not" to seek God is full proof of depravity.
They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.They have all gone out of the way - They have "declined" from the true path of piety and virtue.
They are together - They have at the same time; or they have equally become unprofitable. They are as one; they are joined, or united in this declension. The expression denotes union, or similarity.
Become unprofitable - This word in Hebrew means to become "putrid" and "offensive," like fruit that is spoiled. In Arabic, it is applied to "milk" that becomes sour. Applied to moral subjects, it means to become corrupt and useless. They are of no value in regard to works of righteousness.
There is none ... - This is taken literally from the Hebrew.
Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:Their throat ... - This expression is taken from Psalm 5:9, literally from the Septuagint. The design of the psalm is to reprove those who were false, traitorous, slanderous, etc. Psalm 5:6. The psalmist has the sin of deceit, and falsehood, and slander particularly in his eye. The expressions here are to be interpreted in accordance with that. The sentiment here may be, as the grave is ever open to receive all into it, that is, into destruction, so the mouth or the throat of the slanderer is ever open to swallow up the peace and happiness of all. Or it may mean, as from an open sepulchre there proceeds an offensive and pestilential vapor, so from the mouths of slanderous persons there proceed noisome and ruinous words. "(Stuart.)" I think the connection demands the former interpretation.
With their tongues ... - In their conversation, their promises, etc., they have been false, treacherous, and unfaithful.
The poison of asps - This is taken literally from the Septuagint of Psalm 140:3. The asp, or adder, is a species of serpent whose poison is of such active operation that it kills almost the instant that it penetrates, and that without remedy. It is small, and commonly lies concealed, often in the "sand" in a road, and strikes the traveler before he sees it. It is found chiefly in Egypt and Lybia. It is said by ancient writers that the celebrated Cleopatra, rather than be carried a captive to Rome by Augustus, suffered an asp to bite her in the arm, by which she soon died. The precise species of serpent which is here meant by the psalmist, however, cannot be ascertained. All that is necessary to understand the passage is, that it refers to a serpent whose bite was deadly, and rapid in its execution.
Is under their lips - The poison of the serpent is contained in a small bag which is concealed at the root of the tooth. When the tooth is struck into the flesh, the poison is pressed out, through a small hole in the tooth, into the wound. Whether the psalmist was acquainted with that fact, or referred to it, cannot be known: his words do not of necessity imply it. The sentiment is, that as the poison of the asp is rapid, certain, spreading quickly through the system, and producing death; so the words of the slanderer are deadly, pestiferous, quickly destroying the reputation and happiness of man. They are as subtle, as insinuating, and as deadly to the reputation, as the poison of the adder is to the body. Wicked people in the Bible are often compared to serpents; Matthew 23:33; Genesis 49:17.
Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:Whose mouth - Psalm 10:7. The apostle has not quoted this literally, but has given the sense. David in the psalm is describing his bitter enemies.
Bitterness - In the psalm, deceits. The word "bitterness" is used to denote severity, harshness, cruelty; reproachful and malicious words.
Their feet are swift to shed blood:Their feet ... - The quotation in this and the two following verses, is abridged or condensed from Isaiah 59:7-8. The expressions occur in the midst of a description of the character of the nation in the time of the prophet. The apostle has selected a few expressions out of many, rather making a reference to the entire passage, than a formal quotation. The expression, "their feet are swift," etc., denotes the eagerness of the nation to commit crime, particularly deeds of injustice and cruelty. They thirsted for the blood of innocence, and hasted to shed it, to gratify their malice, or to satisfy their vengeance.
Destruction and misery are in their ways:Destruction - That is, they "cause" the destruction or the ruin of the reputation, happiness, and peace of others.
Misery - Calamity, ruin.
In their ways - Wherever they go. This is a striking description not only of the wicked then, but of all times. The tendency of their conduct is to destroy the virtue, happiness, and peace of all with whom they come in contact.
And the way of peace have they not known:And the way of peace ... - What tends to promote their own happiness, or that of others, they do not regard. Intent on their plans of evil, they do not know or regard what is suited to promote the welfare of themselves or others. This is the case with all who are selfish, and who seek to gain their own purposes of crime and ambition.
There is no fear of God before their eyes.There is no fear of God - Psalm 36:1. The word "fear" here denotes "reverence, awe, veneration." There is no such regard or reverence for the character, authority, and honor of God as to restrain them from crime. Their conduct shows that they are not withheld from the commission of iniquity by any regard to the fear or favor of God. The only thing that will be effectual in restraining people from sin, will be a regard to the honor and Law of God.
In regard to these quotations from the Old Testament, we may make the following remarks.
(1) they fully establish the position of the apostle, that the nation, as such, was far from being righteous, or that they could be justified by their own works. By quotations from no less than six distinct places in their own writings, referring to different periods of their history, he shows what the character of the nation was. And as this was the characteristic of those times. it followed that a Jew could not hope to be saved simply because he was a Jew. He needed, as much as the Gentile, the benefit of some other plan of salvation.
(2) these passages show us how to use the Old Testament, and the facts of ancient history. They are to be adduced not as showing directly what the character of man is, now, but to show what human nature is. They demonstrate what man is when under the most favorable circumstances; in different situations; and at different periods of the world. The concurrence of past facts shows what the race is. And as past facts are uniform; as man thus far, in the most favorable circumstances, has been sinful; it follows that this is the characteristic of man everywhere. It is settled by the facts of the world, just as any other characteristic of man is settled by the uniform occurrence of facts in all circumstances and times. Ancient facts, and quotations of Scripture, therefore, are to be adduced as proofs of the tendency of human nature. So Paul used them, and so it is lawful for us to use them.
(3) it may be observed further, that the apostle has given a view of human depravity which is very striking. He does not confine it to one faculty of the mind, or to one set of actions; he specifies each member and each faculty as being perverse, and inclined to evil. The depravity extends to all the departments of action. The tongue, the mouth, the feet, the "lips," are all involved in it; all are perverted, and all become the occasion of the commission of sin. The entire man is corrupt; and the painful description extends to every department of action.
(4) if such was the character of the Jewish nation under all its advantages, what must have been the character of the pagan? We are prepared thus to credit all that is said in Rom. i., and elsewhere, of the sad state of the pagan world.
(5) what a melancholy view we have thus of human nature. From whatever quarter we contemplate it, we come to the same conclusion. Whatever record we examine; whatever history we read; whatever time or period we contemplate; we find the same facts, and are forced to the same conclusion. All are involved in sin, and are polluted, and ruined, and helpless. Over these ruins we should sit down and weep, and lift our eyes with gratitude to the God of mercy, that he has pitied us in our low estate, and has devised a plan by which "these ruins may be built again," and lost, fallen man be raised up to forfeited "glory, honor, and immortality."
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.Now we know - We all admit. It is a conceded plain point.
What things soever - Whether given as precepts, or recorded as historical facts. Whatever things are found in the Law. "The law saith." This means here evidently the Old Testament. From that the apostle had been drawing his arguments, and his train of thought requires us here to understand the whole of the Old Testament by this. The same principle applies, however, to all law, that it speaks only to those to whom it is expressly given.
It saith to them ... - It speaks to them for whom it was expressly intended; to them for whom the Law was made. The apostle makes this remark in order to prevent the Jew from evading the force of his conclusion. He had brought proofs from their own acknowledged laws, from writings given expressly for them, and which recorded their own history, and which they admitted to be divinely inspired. These proofs, therefore, they could not evade.
That every mouth may be stopped - This is perhaps, a proverbial expression, Job 5:15; Psalm 107:42. It denotes that they would be thoroughly convinced; that the argument would be so conclusive as that they would have nothing to reply; that all objections would be silenced. Here it denotes that the argument for the depravity of the Jews from the Old Testament was so clear and satisfactory, that nothing could be alleged in reply. This may be regarded as the conclusion of his whole argument, and the expressions may refer not to the Jews only, but to all the world. Its meaning may, perhaps, be thus expressed, "The Gentiles are proved guilty by their own deeds, and by a violation of the laws of nature. They sin against their own conscience; and have thus been shown to be guilty before God Romans 1. The Jews have also been shown to be guilty; all their objections have been silenced by an independent train of remark; by appeals to their own Law; by arguments drawn from the authority which they admit. Thus, the mouths of both are stopped. Thus, the whole world becomes guilty before God." I regard, therefore, the word "that" here ἵνα hina as referring, not particularly to the argument from the Law of the Jews, but to the whole previous train of argument, embracing both Jews and Gentiles. His conclusion is thus general or universal, drawn from arguments adapted to the two great divisions of mankind.
And all the world - Both Jews and Gentiles, for so the strain of the argument shows. That is, all by nature; all who are out of Christ; all who are not pardoned. All are guilty where there is not some scheme contemplating forgiveness, and which is not applied to purify them. The apostle in all this argument speaks of what man is, and ever would be, without some plan of justification appointed by God.
May become - May "be." They are not made guilty by the Law; but the argument from the Law, and from fact, proves that they are guilty.
Guilty before God - ὑπόδικος τῷ Θεῷ hupodikos tō Theō. Margin, "subject to the judgment of God." The phrase is taken from courts of justice. It is applied to a man who has not vindicated or defended himself; against whom therefore the charge or the indictment is found true; and who is in consequence subject to punishment. The idea is that of subjection to punishment; but always because the man personally deserves it, and because being unable to vindicate himself, he ought to be punished. It is never used to denote simply an obligation to punishment, but with reference to the fact that the punishment is personally deserved." This word, rendered "guilty," is not used elsewhere in the New Testament, nor is it found in the Septuagint. The argument of the apostle here shows,
(1) That in order to guilt, there must be a law, either that of nature or by revelation Rom. 1; 2; 3; and,
(2) That in order to guilt, there must be a violation of that law which may be charged on them as individuals, and for which they are to be held personally responsible.
Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.By the deeds of the law - By works; or by such deeds as the Law requires. The word "Law" has, in the Scriptures, a great variety of significations. Its strict and proper meaning is, a rule of conduct prescribed by superior authority. The course of reasoning in these chapters shows the sense in which the apostle uses it here. He intends evidently to apply it to those rules or laws by which the Jews and Gentiles pretended to frame their lives; and to affirm that people could be justified by no conformity to those laws. He had shown Romans 1 that "the pagan, the entire Gentile world," had violated the laws of nature; the rules of virtue made known to them by reason, tradition, and conscience. He had shown the same Romans 2-3 in respect to the Jews. They had equally failed in rendering obedience to their Law. In both these cases the reference was, not to "ceremonial" or ritual laws, but to the moral law; whether that law was made known by reason or by revelation. The apostle had not been discussing the question whether they had yielded obedience to their ceremonial law, but whether they had been found holy, that is, whether they had obeyed the moral law. The conclusion was, that in all this they had failed, and that therefore they could not be justified by that Law. That the apostle did not intend to speak of external works only is apparent; for he all along charges them with a lack of conformity of the heart no less than with a lack of conformity of the life; see Romans 1:26, Romans 1:29-31; Romans 2:28-29. The conclusion is therefore a general one, that by no law, made known either by reason, conscience, tradition, or revelation, could man be justified; that there was no form of obedience which could be rendered, that would justify people in the sight of a holy God.
There shall no flesh - No man; no human being, either among the Jews or the Gentiles. It is a strong expression, denoting the absolute universality of his conclusion; see the note at Romans 1:3.
Be justified - Be regarded and treated as righteous. None shall be esteemed as having kept the Law, and as being entitled to the rewards of obedience; see the note at Romans 1:17.
In his sight - Before him. God sits as a Judge to determine the characters of people, and he shall not adjudge any to have kept the Law.
For by the law - That is, by all law. The connection shows that this is the sense. Law is a rule of action. The effect of applying a rule to our conduct is to show us what sin is. The meaning of the apostle clearly is, that the application of a law to try our conduct, instead of being a ground of justification, will be merely to show us our own sinfulness and departures from duty. A man may esteem himself to be very right and correct, until he compares himself with a rule, or law; so whether the Gentiles compared their conduct with their laws of reason and conscience, or the Jew his with his written law, the effect would be to show them how far they had departed. The more closely and faithfully it should be applied, the more they would see it. So far from being justified by it, they would be more and more condemned; compare Romans 7:7-10. The same is the case now. This is the way in which a sinner is converted; and the more closely and faithfully the Law is preached, the more will it condemn him, and show him that he needs some other plan of salvation.
But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;But now - The apostle, having shown the entire failure of all attempts to be justified by the "Law," whether among Jews or Gentiles, proceeds to state fully the plan of justification by Jesus Christ in the gospel. To do this, was the main design of the Epistle, Romans 1:17. He makes, therefore, in the close of this chapter, an explicit statement of the nature of the doctrine; and in the following parts of the Epistle he fully proves it, and illustrates its effects.
The righteousness of God - God's plan of justifying people; see the note at Romans 1:17.
Without the law - In a way different from personal obedience to the Law. It does not mean that God abandoned his Law; or that Jesus Christ did not regard the Law, for he came to "magnify" it Isaiah 42:21; or that sinners after they are justified have no regard to the Law; but it means simply what the apostle had been endeavoring to show, that justification could not be accomplished by personal obedience to any law of Jew or Gentile, and that it must be accomplished in some other way.
Being witnessed - Being borne witness to. It was not a new doctrine; it was found in the Old Testament. The apostle makes this observation with special reference to the Jews. He does not declare any new thing, but that which was rally declared in their own sacred writings.
By the law - This expression here evidently denotes, as it did commonly among the Jews, the five books of Moses. And the apostle means to say that this doctrine was found in those books; not that it was in the Ten Commandments, or in the Law, strictly so called. It is not a part of "law" to declare justification except by strict and perfect obedience. That it was found "in" those books; the apostle shows by the case of Abraham; Romans 4; see also his reasoning on Leviticus 18:5; Deuteronomy 30:12-14, in Romans 10:5-11; compare Exodus 34:6-7.
And the prophets - Generally, the remainder of the Old Testament. The phrase "the Law and the prophets" comprehended the whole of the Old Testament; Matthew 5:17; Matthew 11:13; Matthew 22:40; Acts 13:15; Acts 28:23. That this doctrine was contained in the prophets, the apostle showed by the passage quoted from Habakkuk 2:4, in Romans 1:17, "The just shall live by faith." The same thing he showed in Romans 10:11, from Isaiah 28:16; Isaiah 49:23; Romans 4:6-8, from Psalm 32:1-11. The same thing is fully taught in Isaiah 53:11; Daniel 9:24. Indeed, the general tenor of the Old Testament - the appointment of sacrifices, etc. taught that man was a sinner, and that he could not be justified by obedience to the moral law.
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:Even the righteousness of God - The apostle, having stated that the design of the gospel was to reveal a new plan of becoming just in the sight of God, proceeds here more fully to explain it. The explanation which he offers, makes it plain that the phrase so often used by him, "righteousness of God," does not refer to an attribute of God, but to his plan of making people righteous. Here he says that it is by faith in Jesus Christ; but surely an attribute of God is not produced by faith in Jesus Christ. It means God's mode of regarding people as righteous through their belief in Jesus Christ.
(That the "righteousness of God" cannot be explained of the attribute of justice, is obvious enough. It cannot be said of divine justice, that it is "unto and upon all them that believe." But we are not reduced to the alternative of explaining the phrase, either of God's justice, or God's plan of justifying people. Why may we not understand it of that righteousness which Yahweh devised, Jesus executed, and the Spirit applies; and which is therefore justly denominated the righteousness of God? It consists in that conformity to law which Jesus manifested in his atoning death, and meritorious obedience. His death, by reason of his divine nature, was of infinite value. And when he voluntarily submitted to yield a life that was forfeited by no transgression of his own, the Law, in its penal part, was more magnified than if every descendant of Adam had sunk under the weight of its vengeance.
Nor was the preceptive part of the Law less honored, in the spotless obedience of Christ. He abstained from every sin, fulfilled every duty, and exemplified every virtue. Neither God nor man could accuse him of failure in duty. To God he gave his piety, to man his glowing love, to friends his heart, to foes his pity and his pardon. And by the obedience of the Creator in human form, the precept of the Law was more honored than if the highest angels had come down to do reverence to it, in presence of people. Here then is a righteousness worthy of the name, divine, spotless, broad, lasting - beyond the power of language to characterize. It is that everlasting righteousness which Daniel predicted the Messiah should bring in. Adam's righteousness failed and passed away. That of once happy angels perished too, but this shall endure. "The heavens," says Yahweh," shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner, but my salvation shall be forever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished," This righteousness is broad enough to cover every sinner and every sin. It is pure enough to meet the eye of God himself. It is therefore the sinner's only shield. See the note at Romans 1:17, for the true meaning of the expression "righteousness of God.")
By faith of Jesus Christ - That is, by faith in Jesus Christ. Thus, the expression, Mark 11:22, "Have the faith of God" (margin), means, have faith in God. So Acts 3:16, the "faith of his name" "(Greek)," means, faith in his name. So Galatians 2:20, the "faith of the Son of God" means, faith in the Son of God. This cannot mean that faith is the meritorious cause of salvation, but that it is the instrument or means by which we become justified. It is the state of mind, or condition of the heart, to which God has been pleased to promise justification. (On the nature of faith see the note at Mark 16:16.) God has promised that they who believe in Christ shall be pardoned and saved. This is his plan in distinction from the plan of those who seek to be justified by works.
Unto all and upon all - It is evident that these expressions are designed to be emphatic, but why both are used is not very apparent. Many have supposed that there was no essential difference in the meaning. If there be a difference, it is probably this: the first expression, "unto all" εἰς πᾶς eis pas, may denote that this plan of justification has come "(Luther)" unto all men, to Jews and Gentiles; that is, that it has been provided for them, and offered to them without distinction. The plan was ample for all, was suited for all, was equally necessary for all, and was offered to all. The second phrase, "upon all" ἐπὶ πᾶντας epi pantas, , may be designed to guard against the supposition that all therefore would be benefited by it, or be saved by the mere fact that the announcement had come to all. The apostle adds therefore, that the benefits of this plan must actually come upon all, or must be applied to all, if they would be justified. They could not be justified merely by the fact that the plan was provided, and that the knowledge of it had come to all, but by their actually coming under this plan, and availing themselves of it. Perhaps there is reference in the last expression, "upon all," to a robe, or garment, that is placed upon one to hide his nakedness, or sin; compare Isaiah 64:6, also Philippians 3:9.
For there is no difference - That is, there is no difference in regard to the matter under discussion. The apostle does not mean to say that there is no difference in regard to the talents, dispositions, education, and property of people; but there is no distinction in regard to the way in which they must be justified. All must be saved, if saved at all, in the same mode, whether Jews or Gentiles, bond or free, rich or poor, learned or ignorant. None can be saved by works; and all are therefore dependent on the mercy of God in Jesus Christ.
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;For all have sinned - This was the point which he had fully established in the discussion in these chapters.
Have come short - Greek, "Are deficient in regard to;" are lacking, etc. Here it means, that they had failed to obtain, or were destitute of.
The glory of God - The praise or approbation of God. They had sought to be justified, or approved, by God; but all had failed. Their works of the Law had not secured his approbation; and they were therefore under condemnation. The word "glory" (δόξα doxa) is often used in the sense of praise, or approbation, John 5:41, John 5:44; John 7:18; John 8:50, John 8:54; John 12:43.
Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:Being justified - Being treated as if righteous; that is, being regarded and treated as if they had kept the Law. The apostle has shown that they could not be so regarded and treated by any merit of their own, or by personal obedience to the Law. He now affirms that if they were so treated, it must be by mere favor, and as a matter not of right, but of gift. This is the essence of the gospel. And to show this, and the way in which it is done, is the main design of this Epistle. The expression here is to be understood as referring to all who are justified; Romans 3:22. The righteousness of God by faith in Jesus Christ, is "upon all who believe," who are all "justified freely by his grace."
Freely - δωρεὰν dōrean. This word stands opposed to what is purchased, or which is obtained by labor, or which is a matter of claim. It is a free, undeserved gift, not merited by our obedience to the Law, and not that to which we have any claim. The apostle uses the word here in reference to those who are justified. To them it is a mere undeserved gift, It does not mean that it has been obtained, however, without any price or merit from anyone, for the Lord Jesus has purchased it with his own blood, and to him it becomes a matter of justice that those who were given to him should be justified, 1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Corinthians 7:23; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 Peter 2:9. (Greek). Acts 20:28; Isaiah 53:11. We have no offering to bring, and no claim. To us, therefore, it is entirely a matter of gift.
By his grace - By his favor; by his mere undeserved mercy; see the note at Romans 1:7.
Through the redemption - διὰ τῆς ἀπολυτρώσεως dia tēs apolutrōseōs. The word used here occurs only 10 times in the New Testament, Luke 21:28; Romans 3:24; Romans 8:23; 1 Corinthians 1:30; Ephesians 1:7, Ephesians 1:14; Ephesians 4:30; Colossians 1:14; Hebrews 9:15; Hebrews 11:35. Its root (λύτρον lutron) properly denotes the price which is paid for a prisoner of war; the ransom, or stipulated purchase-money, which being paid, the captive is set free. The word used here is then employed to denote liberation from bondage, captivity, or evil of any kind, usually keeping up the idea of a price, or a ransom paid, in consequence of which the delivery is effected. It is sometimes used in a large sense, to denote simple deliverance by any means, without reference to a price paid, as in Luke 21:28; Romans 8:23; Ephesians 1:14. That this is not the sense here, however, is apparent. For the apostle in the next verse proceeds to specify the price which has been paid, or the means by which this redemption has been effected. The word here denotes that deliverance from sin, and from the evil consequences of sin, which has been effected by the offering of Jesus Christ as a propitiation; Romans 3:25.
That is in Christ Jesus - Or, that has been effected by Christ Jesus; that of which he is the author and procurer; compare John 3:16.
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;Whom God hath set forth - Margin, "Fore-ordained" (προέθετο proetheto). The word properly means, "to place in public view;" to exhibit in a conspicuous situation, as goods are exhibited or exposed for sale, or as premiums or rewards of victory were exhibited to public view in the games of the Greeks. It sometimes has the meaning of decreeing, purposing, or constituting, as in the margin (compare Romans 1:13; Ephesians 1:9); and many have supposed that this is its meaning here. But the connection seems to require the usual signification of the word; and it means that God has publicly exhibited Jesus Christ as a propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of people. This public exhibition was made by his being offered on the cross, in the face of angels and of people. It was not concealed; it was done openly. He was put to open shame; and so put to death as to attract toward the scene the eyes of angels, and of the inhabitants of all worlds.
To be a propitiation - ἱλαστήριον hilastērion. This word occurs but in one other place in the New Testament. Hebrews 9:5, "and over it (the ark) the cherubim of glory shadowing the mercy-seat. It is used here to denote the lid or cover of the ark of the covenant. It was made of gold, and over it were the cherubim. In this sense it is often used by the Septuagint Exodus 25:17, "And thou shalt make a propitiatory ἱλαστήριον hilastērion of gold," Exodus 18-20, 22; Exodus 30:6; Exodus 31:7; Exodus 35:11; Exodus 37:6-9; Exodus 40:18; Leviticus 16:2, Leviticus 16:13. The Hebrew name for this was כפּרת kaphoreth, from the verb כּפר kaaphar, "to cover" or "to conceal." It was from this place that God was represented as speaking to the children of Israel. Exodus 25:22, "and I will speak to thee from above the Hilasterion, the propitiatory, the mercy-seat. Leviticus 16:2, "For I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy-seat." This seat, or cover, was covered with the smoke of the incense, when the high priest entered the most holy place, Leviticus 16:13.
And the blood of the bullock offered on the great day of atonement, was to be sprinkled "upon the mercy-seat," and "before the mercy-seat," "seven times," Leviticus 16:14-15. This sprinkling or offering of blood was called making "an atonement for the holy place because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel," etc. Leviticus 16:16. It was from this mercy-seat that God pronounced pardon, or expressed himself as reconciled to his people. The atonement was made, the blood was sprinkled, and the reconciliation thus effected. The name was thus given to that cover of the ark, because it was the place from which God declared himself reconciled to his people. Still the inquiry is, why is this name given to Jesus Christ? In what sense is he declared to be a propitiation? It is evident that it cannot be applied to him in any literal sense. Between the golden cover of the ark of the covenant and the Lord Jesus, the analogy must be very slight, if any such analogy can be perceived. We may observe, however,
(1) That the main idea, in regard to the cover of the ark called the mercy-seat, was that of God's being reconciled to his people; and that this is the main idea in regard to the Lord Jesus whom "God hath set forth."
(2) this reconciliation was effected then by the sprinkling of blood on the mercy-seat, Leviticus 16:15-16. The same is true of the Lord Jesus - by blood.
(3) in the former case it was by the blood of atonement; the offering of the bullock on the great day of atonement, that the reconciliation was effected, Leviticus 16:17-18. In the case of the Lord Jesus it was also by blood; by the blood of atonement. But it was by his own blood. This the apostle distinctly states in this verse.
(4) in the former case there was a sacrifice, or expiatory offering; and so it is in reconciliation by the Lord Jesus. In the former, the mercy-seat was the visible, declared place where God would express his reconciliation with his people. So in the latter, the offering of the Lord Jesus is the manifest and open way by which God will be reconciled to people.
(5) in the former, there was joined the idea of a sacrifice for sin, Leviticus 16. So in the latter. And hence, the main idea of the apostle here is to convey the idea of a sacrifice for sin; or to set forth the Lord Jesus as such a sacrifice. Hence, the word "propitiation" in the original may express the idea of a propitiatory sacrifice, as well as the cover to the ark. The word is an adjective, and may be joined to the noun sacrifice, as well as to denote the mercy-seat of the ark. This meaning accords also with its classic meaning to denote a propitiatory offering, or an offering to produce reconciliation. Christ is thus represented, not as a mercy-seat, which would be unintelligible; but as the medium, the offering, the expiation, by which reconciliation is produced between God and man.
Through faith - Or by means of faith. The offering will be of no avail without faith. The offering has been made; but it will not be applied, except where there is faith. He has made an offering which may be efficacious in putting away sin; but it produces no reconciliation, no pardon, except where it is accepted by faith.
In his blood - Or in his death - his bloody death. Among the Jews, the blood was regarded as the seat of life, or vitality. Leviticus 17:11, "the life of the flesh is in the blood." Hence, they were commanded not to eat blood. Genesis 9:4, "but flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat." Leviticus 19:26; Deuteronomy 12:23; 1 Samuel 14:34. This doctrine is contained uniformly in the Sacred Scriptures. And it has been also the opinion of not a few celebrated physiologists, as well in modern as in ancient times. The same was the opinion of the ancient Parsees and Hindus. Homer thus often speaks of blood as the seat of life, as in the expression πορφυρεος θανατος porphureos thanatos, or "purple death." And Virgil speaks of "purple life,"
Purpuream vomit ille animam.
AEniad, ix. 349.
Empedocles and Critias among the Greek philosophers, also embraced this opinion. Among the moderns, Harvey, to whom we are indebted for a knowledge of the circulation of the blood, fully believed it. Hoffman and Huxham believed it Dr. John Hunter has fully adopted the belief, and sustained it, as he supposed, by a great variety of considerations. See Good's Book of Nature, pp. 102, 108, New York edition, 1828. This was undoubtedly the doctrine of the Hebrews; and hence, with them to shed the blood was a phrase signifying to kill; hence, the efficacy of their sacrifices was supposed to consist in the blood, that is, in the life of the victim. Hence, it was unlawful to eat it, as it were the life, the seat of vitality; the more immediate and direct gift of God. When, therefore, the blood of Christ is spoken of in the New Testament, it means the offering of his life as a sacrifice, or his death as an expiation. His life was given to make atonement. See the word "blood" thus used in Romans 5:9; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14; Hebrews 9:12, Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 13:12; Revelation 1:5; 1 Peter 1:19; 1 John 1:7. By faith in his death as a sacrifice for sin; by believing that he took our sins; that he died in our place; by thus, in some sense, making his offering ours; by approving it, loving it, embracing it, trusting it, our sins become pardoned, and our souls made pure.
To declare - εἰς ἔνδειξις eis endeixis. For "the purpose" of showing, or exhibiting; to present it to man. The meaning is, that the plan was adopted; the Saviour was given; he suffered and died: and the scheme is proposed to people, for the purpose of making a full manifestation of his plan, in contradistinction from all the plans of people.
His righteousness - His plan of justification. The method or scheme which he has adopted, in distinction from that of man; and which he now exhibits, or proffers to sinners. There is great variety in the explanation of the word here rendered "righteousness." Some explain it as meaning veracity; others as holiness; others as goodness; others as essential justice. Most interpreters, perhaps, have explained it as referring to an attribute of God. But the whole connection requires us to understand it here as in Romans 1:17, not of an attribute of God, but of his "plan" of justifying sinners. He has adopted and proposed a plan by which people may become just by faith in Jesus Christ, and not by their own works. His acquitting people from sin; his regarding them and treating them as just, is set forth in the gospel by the offering of Jesus Christ as a sacrifice on the cross. (For the true meaning of this phrase, see the note at Romans 1:17; Romans 3:22.)
For the remission of sins - Margin, "Passing over." The word used here πάρεσιν paresin occurs no where else in the New Testament, nor in the Septuagint. It means "passing by," as not noticing, and hence, forgiving. A similar idea occurs in 2 Samuel 24:10, and Micah 7:18. "Who is a God like unto thee, that passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance?" In Romans it means for the "pardoning," or in order to pardon past transgression.
That are past - That have been committed; or that have existed before. This has been commonly understood to refer to past generations, as affirming that sins under all dispensations of the world are to be forgiven in this manner, through the sacrifice of Christ. And it has been supposed that all who have been justified, have received pardon by the merits of the sacrifice of Christ. This may be true; but there is no reason to think that this is the idea in this passage. For,
(1) The scope of the passage does not require it. The argument is not to show how people had been justified, but how they might be. It is not to discuss an historical fact, but to state the way in which sin was to be forgiven under the gospel.
(2) the language has no immediate or necessary reference to past generations. It evidently refers to the past lives of the individuals who are justified, and not to the sins of former times. All that the passage means, therefore, is, that the plan of pardon is such as completely to remove all the former sins of the life, not of all former generations. If it referred to the sins of former times, it would not be easy to avoid the doctrine of universal salvation.
(The design of the apostle is to showy the alone ground of a sinner's justification. That ground is "the righteousness of God." To manifest this righteousness, Christ had been set forth in the beginning of the gospel age as a propitiatory sacrifice. But though at this time manifested or declared, it had in reality been the ground of justification all along. Believers in every past dispensation, looking forward to the period of its revelation, had built their hopes on it, and been admitted into glory.
The idea of manifestation in gospel times, seems most intimately connected with the fact that in past ages, the ground of pardon had been hidden, or at best but dimly seen through type and ceremony. There seems little doubt that these two things were associated in the apostle's mind. Though the ground of God's procedure in remitting the sins of his people, during the former economy, had long been concealed, it was now gloriously displayed before the eyes of the universe. Paul has the very same idea in Hebrews 9:15, "And for this cause he is the Mediator of the New Testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance." It may be noticed also that the expression in Hebrews 9:20, "at this time," that is, in the gospel age, requires us to understand the other clause, "sins that are past," as pointing to sin committed under former dispensations. Nor is there any fear of lending support to the doctrine of universal salvation. if we espouse this view. the sins remitted in past ages being obviously those of believers only. The very same objection might be urged against the parallel passage in Hebrews 9:15.)
Through the forbearance of God - Through his patience, his long-suffering. That is, he did not come forth in judgment when the sin was committed; he spared us, though deserving of punishment; and now he comes forth completely to pardon those sins concerning which he has so long and so graciously exercised forbearance. This expression obviously refers not to the remission of sins, but to the fact that they were committed while he evinced such long-suffering; compare Acts 17:30. I do not know better how to show the practical value and bearing of this important passage of Scripture, than by transcribing a part of the affecting experience of the poet Cowper. It is well known that before his conversion he was oppressed by a long and dreadful melancholy; that this was finally heightened to despair; and that he was then subjected to the kind treatment of Dr. Cotton in Alban's, as a melancholy case of derangement.
His leading thought was that he was doomed to inevitable destruction, and that there was no hope. From this he was roused only by the kindness of his brother, and by the promises of the gospel; (see Taylor's Life of Cowper). The account of his conversion I shall now give in his own words. "The happy period, which was to shake off my fetters, and afford me a clear discovery 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 Romans 3:25; "Whom God hath set forth, etc." Immediately I received strength to believe, and the full beam of the Sun of righteousness shone upon me. I saw the sufficiency of the atonement he had made for my pardon and justification. In a moment I believed, and received the peace of the gospel. Unless, the Almighty arm had been under me, I think I should have been overwhelmed with gratitude and joy. My eyes filled with tears, and my voice choked with transport. I could only look up to heaven in silent fear, overwhelmed with love and wonder. How glad should I now have been to have spent every moment in prayer and thanksgiving. I lost no opportunity of repairing to a throne of grace; but flew to it with an earnestness irresistible, and never to be satisfied."
To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.At this time - The time now since the Saviour has come, now is the time when he manifests it.
That he might be just - This verse contains the substance of the gospel. The word "just" here does not mean benevolent, or merciful, though it may sometimes have that meaning; see the Matthew 1:19 note, also John 17:25 note. But it refers to the fact that God had retained the integrity of his character as a moral governor; that he had shown a due regard to his Law, and to the penalty of the Law by his plan of salvation. Should he forgive sinners without an atonement, justice would be sacrificed and abandoned. The Law would cease to have any terrors for the guilty, and its penalty would be a nullity. In the plan of salvation, therefore, he has shown a regard to the Law by appointing his Son to be a substitute in the place of sinners; not to endure its precise penalty, for his sufferings were not eternal, nor were they attended with remorse of conscience, or by despair, which are the proper penalty of the Law; but he endured so much as to accomplish the same ends as if those who shall be saved by him had been doomed to eternal death.
That is, he showed that the Law could not be violated without introducing suffering; and that it could not be broken with impunity. He showed that he had so great a regard for it, that he would not pardon one sinner without an atonement. And thus he secured the proper honor to his character as a lover of his Law, a hater of sin, and a just God. He has shown that if sinners do not avail themselves of the offer of pardon by Jesus Christ, they must experience in their own souls forever the pains which this substitute for sinners endured in behalf of people on the cross. Thus, no principle of justice has been abandoned; no threatening has been modified; no claim of his Law has been let down; no disposition has been evinced to do injustice to the universe by suffering the guilty to escape. He is, in all this great Transaction, a just moral governor, as just to his Law, to himself, to his Son, to the universe, when he pardons, as he is when he sends the incorrigible sinner down to hell. A full compensation, an equivalent, has been provided by the sufferings of the Saviour in the sinner's stead, and the sinner may be pardoned.
And the justifier of him ... - Greek, "Even justifying him that believeth, etc." This is the uniqueness and the wonder of the gospel. Even while pardoning, and treating the ill-deserving as if they were innocent, he can retain his pure and holy character. His treating the guilty with favor does not show that be loves guilt and pollution, for he has expressed his abhorrence of it in the atonement. His admitting them to friendship and heaven does not show that he approves their past conduct and character, for he showed how much he hated even their sins by giving his Son to a shameful death for them. When an executive pardons offenders, there is an abandonment of the principles of justice and law. The sentence is set aside; the threatenings of the law are departed from; and it is done without compensation. It is declared that in certain cases the law may be violated, and its penalty "not" be inflicted. But not so with God. He shows no less regard to his law in pardoning than in punishing. This is the grand, glorious, special feature of the gospel plan of salvation.
Him which believeth in Jesus - Greek, "Him who is of the faith of Jesus;" in contradistinction from him who is of the works of the Law; that is, who depends on his own works for salvation.
Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.Where is boasting then? - Where is there ground or occasion of boasting or pride? Since all have sinned, and since all have failed of being able to justify themselves by obeying the Law, and since all are alike dependent on the mere mercy of God in Christ, all ground of boasting is of course taken away. This refers particularly to the Jews, who were much addicted to boasting of their special privileges; See the note at Romans 3:1, etc.
By what law? - The word "law "here is used in the sense of "arrangement, rule, or economy." By what arrangement, or by the operation of what rule, is boasting excluded? "(Stuart)." See Galatians 3:21; Acts 21:20.
Of works - The Law which commands works, and on which the Jews relied. If this were complied with, and they were thereby justified, they would have had ground of self-confidence, or boasting, as being justified by their own merits. But a plan which led to this, which ended in boasting, and self-satisfaction, and pride, could not be true.
Nay - No.
The law of faith - The rule, or arrangement which proclaims that we have no merit; that we are lost sinners; and that we are to be justified only by faith.
Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.Therefore - As the result of the previous train of argument.
That a man - That all who are justified; that is, that there is no other way.
Is justified by faith - Is regarded and treated as righteous, by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Without the deeds of the law - Without works as a meritorious ground of justification. The apostle, of course, does not mean that Christianity does not produce good works, or that they who are justified will not obey the Law, and be holy; but that no righteousness of their own will be the ground of their justification. They are sinners; and as such can have no claim to he treated as righteous. God has devised a plan by which, they may be pardoned and saved; and that is by faith alone. This is the grand uniqueness of the Christian religion. This was the special point in the reformation from popery. Luther often called this doctrine of justification by faith the article upon which the church stood or fell - articulus stantis, vel cadentis ecclesiae - and it is so. If this doctrine is held entire, all others will be held with it. If this is abandoned, all others will fall also. It may be remarked here, however, that this doctrine by no means interferes with the doctrine that good works are to be performed by Christians. Paul urges this as much as any other writer in the New Testament. His doctrine is, that they are not to be relied on as a ground of justification; but that he did not mean to teach that they are not to be performed by Christians is apparent from the connection, and from the following places in his epistles: Romans 2:7; 2 Corinthians 9:8; Ephesians 2:10; 1 Timothy 2:10; 1 Timothy 5:10, 1 Timothy 5:25; 1 Timothy 6:18; 2 Timothy 3:17; Titus 2:7, Titus 2:14; Titus 3:8; Hebrews 10:24. That we are not justified by our works is a doctrine which he has urged and repeated with great power and frequency. See Romans 4:2, Romans 4:6; Romans 9:11, Romans 9:32; Romans 11:6; Galatians 2:16; Galatians 3:2, Galatians 3:5,Galatians 3:10; Ephesians 2:9; 2 Timothy 1:9.
Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also:Is he the God ... - The Jews supposed that he was the God of their nation only, that they only were to be admitted to his favor. In these verses Paul showed that as all had alike sinned, Jews and Gentiles; and as the plan of salvation by faith was adapted to sinners, without any special reference to Jews; so God could show favors to all, and all might be admitted on the same terms to the benefits of the plan of salvation.
It is one God - The same God, there is but one, and his plan is equally suited to Jews and Gentiles.
The circumcision - Those who are circumcised - the Jews.
The uncircumcision - Gentiles; all who were not Jews.
By faith ...through faith - There is no difference in the meaning of these expressions. Both denote that faith is the instrumental cause of justification, or acceptance with God.
Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.
Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.Do we then make void the law - Do we render it vain and useless; do we destroy its moral obligation; and do we prevent obedience to it, by the doctrine of justification by faith? This was an objection which would naturally be made; and which has thousands of times been since made, that the doctrine of justification by faith tends to licentiousness. The word "law" here, I understand as referring to the moral law, and not merely to the Old Testament. This is evident from Romans 3:20-21, where the apostle shows that no man could be justified by deeds of law, by conformity with the moral law. See the note.
God forbid - By no means. Note, Romans 3:4. This is an explicit denial of any such tendency.
Yea, we establish the law - That is, by the doctrine of justification by faith; by this scheme of treating people as righteous, the moral law is confirmed, its obligation is enforced, obedience to it is secured. This is done in the following manner:
(1) God showed respect to it, in being unwilling to pardon sinners without an atonement. He showed that it could not be violated with impunity; that he was resolved to fulfil its threatenings.
(2) Jesus Christ came to magnify it, and to make it honorable. He showed respect to it in his life; and he died to show that God was determined to inflict its penalty.
(3) the plan of justification by faith leads to an observance of the Law. The sinner sees the evil of transgression. He sees the respect which God has shown to the Law. He gives his heart to God, and yields himself to obey his Law. All the sentiments that arise from the conviction of sin; that flow from gratitude for mercies; that spring from love to God; all his views of the sacredness of the Law, prompt him to yield obedience to it. The fact that Christ endured such sufferings to show the evil of violating the Law, is one of the strongest motives prompting to obedience. We do not easily and readily repeat what overwhelms our best friends in calamity; and we are brought to hate what inflicted such woes on the Saviour's soul. The sentiment recorded by Watts is as true as it is beautiful:
"'Twas for my sins my dearest Lord.
Hung on the cursed tree.
And groan'd away his dying life,
For thee, my soul, for thee.
"O how I hate those lusts of mine.
That crucified my Lord;
Those sins that pierc'd and nail'd his flesh.
Fast to the fatal wood.
"Yes, my Redeemer, they shall die,
My heart hath so decreed;
Nor will I spare the guilty things.
That made my Saviour bleed."
This is an advantage in moral influence which no cold, abstract law always has over the human mind. And one of the chief glories of the plan of salvation is, that while it justifies the sinner, it brings a new set of influences from heaven, more tender and mighty than can be drawn from any other source, to produce obedience to the Law of God.
(This is indeed a beautiful and just view of the moral influence of the gospel, and especially of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. It may be questioned, however, whether the apostle in this place refers chiefly, or even at all, to the sanctifying tendency of his doctrine. This he does very fully in the 6th Rom.; and therefore, if another and consistent sense can be found, we need not resort to the supposition that he now anticipates what he intended, in a subsequent part of his epistle, more fully to discuss. In what other way, then, does the apostle's doctrine establish the Law? How does he vindicate himself from the charge of making it void? In the preceding chapter he had pointed out the true ground of pardon in the "righteousness of God." He had explained that none could be justified but they who had by faith received it. "Do we then," he asks in conclusion," make void the Law by maintaining thus, that no sinner can be accepted who does not receive a righteousness commensurate with all its demands?." "Yea, we establish the law," is the obvious answer. Jesus has died to satisfy its claims, and lives to honor its precepts. Thus, he hath brought in "righteousness," which, being imputed to them that believe, forms such a ground of pardon and acceptance, as the Law cannot challenge.
Calvin, in his commentary on the passage, though he does not exclude the idea of sanctification, yet gives prominence to the view now stated. "When," says he, "we come to Christ, the exact righteousness of the Law is first found in him, which also becomes ours by imputation; in the next place sanctification is acquired," etc.)