Romans 3:8

Like human works, Divine operations are liable to misconstruction. The serpent secretes poison from wholesome food. And the redemptive love of God may be perverted into a justification of sinful conduct by those who wish for an excuse, and fancy they find it in the very universality of unrighteousness which the apostle has demonstrated. For this universality, they say, shows that to sin is natural, and therefore not blameworthy. And they derive a further reason for the irresponsible and inculpable character of man's sin in the splendour of the vindication of Divine righteousness, which is the outcome of human depravity. Let us state the truth in three propositions.

I. SIN IS OVERRULED BY GOD TO GREATER GOOD. The work of the Law evidenced in man's accusing conscience, and in the state of degradation and misery to which a sinful career reduces man, becomes a convincing testimony that the Governor of the universe sets his face against evil. The dark background throws into bright relief the holiness of the Most High. Man learns more of his own nature through sin than he could otherwise have known, and perhaps realizes better the vast interval between the creature and the Creator. But especially in the gospel scheme of salvation, and in its effects upon those who heartily receive its benefits, does the righteousness of God shine out conspicuous. Our weakness and folly are the theatre for the display of his transcendent grace and power. The loss of Eden is naught compared with the gain of a heavenly paradise. Like the oyster whose fretting at the noxious intrusion produces the lustrous pearl, or like the clouds which reflect and magnify the effulgence of the setting sun, so has man's fall furnished scope for the exhibition of love that stoops to suffering in order to redeem, and righteousness that triumphs over all the ravages of sin anti death. Man redeemed is to be raised to a higher plane; having tasted the knowledge of good and evil, he is thereby disciplined, renewed, through a more glorious manifestation of his Maker's wisdom and self-sacrifice, to a nobler end. Like a crypt opened under an organ, deeper notes and a richer harmony shall result from the pit of destruction that yawned beneath the feet of our sinful race. Holy beings who have kept their first estate may detect a wondrous pathos in the songs of ransomed saints. The sentence, "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread," has become a blessing to our fallen humanity, for by toilsome effort we gain experience, humility, and strength. And so, by the habit of wrestling against sinful impulses, we can acquire a security of position which innocent integrity could never guarantee. Which justified believer could really wish never to have had the necessity for gazing at the cross, which melts his soul and transforms his being? Thus is man's unrighteousness made "to commend the righteousness of God."

II. WILFUL SIN IS NOT, THEREFORE, TO GO UNPUNISHED. Mark the deceitfulness of sin, trying to find a cloak for its existence, and even a motive to its further commission, in the very method whereby God demonstrates his grief at its prevalence, and his determination to root it out of his dominions. No traitor could expect to escape judgment on the plea that his rebel designs, being detected, exposed, and defeated by his sovereign, had really only contributed to his monarch's glory. Perhaps the direction in which the apostle's argument needs chief application today is in respect of practical antinomianism. They mistake the intent of the atonement who can live as if the superabounding grace of Christ gives liberty to the recipient to neglect righteousness of behaviour. Full forgiveness for past conduct does not imply that all the natural consequences will be averted. The wound may be healed, but the scar shall remain. Men receive in themselves the harvest resulting from their seed-crop of thoughts and practices. The reasoning of the supposed objector in the text reminds one of the self-justifying query of a thief to the policeman, "What would you do for a livelihood if it were not for the likes of us?" Paul never hesitates to bring complacent sinners into the presence of the great white throne of judgment, in whose searching light delusive pretences fall away and leave the soul naked before God.

III. NOR IS SIN IN ANY FORM TO BE PERPETRATED WITH A VIEW TO GOOD EFFECTS. The condemnation is just of those who say, "Let us do evil, that good may come." Modern preachers should not be surprised if their utterances get misinterpreted, since even the apostle's clear statements did not prevent opponents from twisting his declarations into a proposition abhorrent to his mind. To permit sin in his children would be for God to allow the roots of his moral government to be cut. The casuistry of the Middle Ages was a trifling with the plain utterances of the inner judgment. Our only safe guide is morality. To do what we know to be wrong is always hurtful, though sometimes we may do harm by what we believe to be right. Man's reason soon begins to spin out of itself a cocoon wherein it lies in dark imprisonment. The prevention of sin is better than its cure. An unrighteous policy is never expedient. Sweet at first, it turns to bitterness at the last. For Churches to seek by unrighteous methods to further the kingdom of God is like the action of the Irish agent, who, when ordered to take measures for the preservation of a certain ancient ruin, proceeded to use the stones of the ruin for a wall of enclosure to protect it against further harm. Righteousness alone can establish any throne and exalt any people. We have need of prayer and converse with Christ, that the spiritual vision may be keen enough to detect Satan, though appearing as "an angel of light." - S.R.A.

And not rather...Let us do evil that good may come.

1. This is sufficiently intimated in the beginning of this chapter, which gave occasion to the reflection made in the text. The Jews had been favoured with special advantages for the knowing the Messiah, yet they rejected Him to their ruin. But yet their sin illustrated God's justice in punishing them for their crime; and by giving occasion to the apostles to turn from them to the Gentiles, it proved a means of advancing God's glory. The Gentiles, on the other hand, had been grievous sinners; yet upon their hearing the gospel preached many of them embraced it, which likewise gave occasion to the magnifying the grace of God towards them in forgiving and receiving them into His favour. This proved the —

1. Occasion of the Jews imputing to Paul the principle of doing evil that good may come (cf. Romans 6:1).

2. Scripture furnishes many instances of the like kind. The book of Esther seems to have been written to declare the wisdom and goodness of God, in overruling the pride and malice of a wicked man to His own glory, and the good of His Church. The greatest sin that ever was committed, the crucifying the Son of God, was by the Divine wisdom and goodness overruled, to become a means of the greatest good.

3. And the reason of all this is evident. That Being who seeth all things at one view, who discerneth the tendency and consequence of every action, and who hath all power in His hands, can easily outwit and overreach the craftiest of men, and dispose their designs to other purposes. And as His goodness is equal to His power and wisdom, we may safely conclude that He will govern affairs in such wise as to bring good out of evil. So we argue from the perfection of His nature, that He never would have permitted evil to have come into the world unless He could have overruled it to wise and good ends.

II. NOTWITHSTANDING ALL THIS, IT IS A DETESTABLE PRINCIPLE, THAT UNLAWFUL MEANS MAY BE USED IN ORDER TO THE BRINGING ABOUT AN END THAT IS GOOD. You see with what abhorrence the apostle in the text disclaims it. It is such an open defiance to God and goodness; such a flat contradiction to truth and reason, as well as to Christianity, that it very well became him thus to express himself.

1. Paul has elsewhere testified his sense of this matter (Acts 26:11; 1 Timothy 1:13). And Christ also (John 16:2). And as the New, so the Old Testament also hath fully born its testimony (Job 13:7-11).

2. But, indeed, we may certainly conclude without the affirmation of an apostle or prophet, that this is a detestable principle. It is absurd and self-contradictory. To design, and to do good, is the proper business of a reasonable being. It is the glory of God Himself, and is what He requires of all, whom He hath made after His own image. Now that is good, either to design or do, which is according to the will of the Creator; so that to do evil, in order to the doing good, is to contradict and thwart His will in order to the performing it; it is to break His commandments in order to the keeping them. In a word, it is to do that which is directly opposite to the end we profess to aim at. For no evil has in its own nature a tendency to good, but to the contrary.

III. IT IS A SLANDEROUS, AND THEREFORE AN UNJUST AND DETESTABLE PRACTICE, TO CHARGE THIS PRINCIPLE UPON THOSE WHO NOT ONLY DISOWN IT, BUT WHO GIVE NO JUST OCCASION FOR SUCH AN IMPUTATION. This is in truth so lewd a principle that those who do act upon it will probably not own to it. But, however, if they do act upon it, then it is no injustice to say they do. But if, on the contrary, they not only disavow the principle, but give no just ground for such a charge, then it is without all question a slanderous report. So St. Paul affirms in the text, using the same word, which, when applied to God, is rendered "blasphemy"; and when to men, "evil-speaking," or "calumniating." And those Jews who raised this slanderous report, when they knew, or at least might easily have known that it was a slander, were justly liable to damnation for so doing; so that God would punish them, not only for rejecting the gospel when preached to them, but also for calumniating the doctrine of Christianity, and slandering its preachers.

(Bp. Bradford.)

He who does evil that good may come, pays a toll to the devil to let him into heaven.

(Guesses at Truth.)

I. This will appear from THE NATURE OF MORAL GOOD AND EVIL.

1. To denominate an action morally good there must be a concurrence of all conditions requisite thereunto. If the object be lawful, the manner of the performance regular, and it be fitly circumstantiated, yet if it be done for a wicked end, this mars the action and renders it sinful; and for the same reason let the intention be never so good, the end never so excellent, yet, if the thing we do is forbidden by God's laws, it is a vicious action.

2. Nay, further, such is the contrariety between the good and evil, that what is really evil cannot be chosen as a fit means to produce good, any more than darkness can beget light, or false premises infer a true conclusion, or an evil tree bring forth good fruit. To do evil to obtain good is as if a man should put his hand into the flame to cool it.

II. To do evil that good may come is A GREAT AFFRONT TO AND DISTRUST OF THE DIVINE PROVIDENCE AND GOVERNMENT OF THE WORLD. So saith Job, "Will ye speak wickedly for God, and talk deceitfully for Him?" (Job 13:7).

1. Doth He stand in need of our sins to help Him out at a dead lift to bring His designs to pass? Cannot He preserve His religion without our venturing on a special occasion to strain a point, and transgress our duty for the sake of it?

2. This is seen in those who, fondly imagining that our Saviour and His apostles had not wrought miracles enough for confirmation of their doctrine, have coined other miracles; which pious frauds are most highly dishonourable to our Saviour, intimating as if His gospel had been imperfect, unless men had interposed their own wit and knavery to complete it.

3. Let us but suppose God to have done wisely and considerately in all that He hath commanded or forbidden, and it must then necessarily follow that we must never go against His will, though it may seem to tend to never so great or good an end.

III. Add to this THE EXAMPLES IN SCRIPTURE OF GOD'S CONDEMNING WHAT HATH BEEN DONE AGAINST HIS COMMAND, THOUGH WITH A GOOD INTENTION AND FOR A WORTHY END. In the Old Testament, not to insist on the case of Uzzah, you find King Saul (1 Samuel 15) receiving commandment from God to destroy all Amalekites. He very zealously sets about the work, but saves the best and fattest of the cattle to offer them for a sacrifice. This one act of disobedience, notwithstanding the piety of his intention, cost him his kingdom. "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice," etc. In the New Testament we read of Peter, who, out of great love to his Master when apprehended, "drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest's, and smote off his ear." It was done in defence of Christ; it was against unjust violence. Yet mark our Saviour's rebuke (Matthew 26:52).

IV. THE ILL CONSEQUENCES OF SUCH A CONCESSION AS THIS, that evil may be done for a good end. This one principle sets us free from all authority either Divine or human, and everyone may do whatever he thinks fit, so his intention and end be but good.

1. What we are to do, or to avoid, if this doctrine be admitted for true, we are not to learn from God's law. Things are either good or evil according as they seem to us, and our own judgment is the measure of lawful and unlawful, and thus we are wholly our own masters and lawgivers.

2. Nay, this principle plainly overthrows all justice and faith amongst men, all peace and security in societies, and makes all government precarious, since everyone is an arbitrary subject, and may obey or resist the laws as they appear to himself to be for or against the common good; and every man's life and fortune is at my disposal, if once I think it most for the glory of God and the safety of religion that they should be taken away. You know our Saviour tells His disciples of some that should arise, who would think they did God good service in killing them. According to this doctrine St. Paul was innocent when he was so mad against the Church.

(B. Calamy, D. D.)

We ought to think much more of walking in the right path, than of reaching our end. We should desire virtue more than success. If by one wrong deed we could accomplish the liberation of millions, and in no other way, we ought to feel that this good, for which perhaps we had prayed with an agony of desire, was denied us by God, was reserved for other times and other hands.


Yield to no established rules if they involve a lie. Do not do evil that good may come of it. "Consequences!" — this is the devil's argument. Leave consequences to God; but do right. If friends fail thee, do the right. If foemen surround thee, do the right. Be genuine, real, sincere, true, upright, godlike. The world's maxim is trim your sails and yield to circumstances. But if you would do any good in your generation, you must be made of sterner stuff, and help make your times rather than be made by them. You must not yield to customs, but, like the anvil, endure all blows until the hammers break themselves. When misrepresented, use no crooked means to clear yourself. Clouds do not last long. If in the course of duty you are tried by the distrust of friends, gird up your loins, and say in your heart, I was not driven to virtue by the encouragement of friends, nor will I be repelled from it by their coldness. Finally, be just and fear not; "corruption wins not more than honesty"; truth lives and reigns when falsehood dies and rots.

(T. Guthrie, D. D.)

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