Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Romans 3

Verses 1-8


(1-8) Continuing the subject, but with a long digression in Romans 3:3 et seq. The Apostle asks, What is the real value of these apparent advantages? He is about to answer the question fully, as he does later in Romans 9:4-5; but after stating the first point, he goes off upon a difficulty raised by this, and does not return to complete what he had begun. This, again, is characteristic of his ardent and keenly speculative mind. Problems such as those which he discusses evidently have a fascination for him, and lead him, here as elsewhere, at once to leave the immediate subject before him, and to enter eagerly into the discussion of them. A more lethargic or timid brain would be under no such temptation.

One real and solid advantage on the part of the Jew was that he was made the direct recipient of the divine revelation. This privilege of his is not annulled by the defection of a part of the people. It rests not upon the precarious fidelity of men, but upon the infallible promise of God. Yet is not the ultimate triumph of that promise any excuse for those who have set it at nought. They will be punished just the same, and rightly. Otherwise there could be no judgment at all. The casuistical objection that sin loses its guilt if it redounds to God’s glory, or, in other words, that the end justifies the means, carries with it its own condemnation.

Verse 2

(2) Chiefly.—In the first place; “secondly,” &c., was to follow, but does not, as the Apostle is drawn away to other topics (see above).

Unto them were committed.—This is paraphrastic. “Oracle” is the object, and not the subject, of the sentence. “They were entrusted with.”

Oracles.—A good translation; the Scriptures of the Old Testament as containing a revelation of God.

Verse 3

(3) For what if.-What (follows) if, &c. Or we may take the first two words by themselves, and throw the next two clauses together. How stands the case? If some rejected the faith, shall their rejection make void or defeat the faithfulness of God?

The Apostle considers an objection that might be brought against his argument that the divine revelation vouchsafed to them was a special privilege of the Jewish people. It might be said that they had forfeited and cancelled this privilege by their unbelief. He first reduces the objection to its proper limits; it was not all, but some, who were unbelievers. But granting that there were some who did not believe this fact would have no power to shake the eternal promises of God.

Verse 4

(4) Impossible! Rather let God be seen to be true though all mankind should be proved false, even as the Psalmist looked upon his own sin as serving to enhance the triumph of God’s justice. Speaking of that justice for the moment as if it could be arraigned before the bar of a still higher tribunal, he asserts its absolute and complete acquittal.

That thou mightest be justified.—Strictly, in order that, here as in the Hebrew of the Psalm. Good is, in some way inscrutable to us, educed out of evil, and this is clearly foreseen by God, and forms part of His design, though so as not to interfere with the free-will of man. Religion assumes that the two things, free-will and omnipotence, are reconcilable, though how they are to be reconciled seems an insoluble problem. The same difficulty attaches to every system but one of blank fatalism and atheism. But the theory of fatalism if logically carried out would simply destroy human society.

Psalms 51, in which the quotation occurs, is commonly (in accordance with the heading), though perhaps wrongly, ascribed to David after his sin with Bathsheba. The effect of this sin is to throw out into the strongest relief the justice of the sentence by which it is followed and punished. The original is, “That thou mightest be just in thy speaking; that thou mightest be pure in thy judging.” St. Paul adopts the rendering of the LXX., who make the last word passive instead of active, thus making it apply, not to the sentence given by God, but to the imaginary trial to which by a figure of speech that sentence itself is supposed to be submitted.

Verse 5

(5) But if our unrighteousness.—A new and profound question suggests itself to the mind of the Apostle, and his keen intellect will not let it go: “If the sin (here the unbelief) of man only tends to vindicate (commends or establishes) the righteousness of God, why should that sin be punished?” The mere raising of such a question requires an apology; it is only as a man might speak about man that he dares to utter such a thought. That, too, is an impossible objection, for if it held good there could not be any judgment. No sin would be punishable, for all sin would serve to emphasise the strict veracity of God in His denunciations of it, and therefore would ultimately conduce to His glory. It would thus cease to be sinful, and there would be nothing to hinder us from adopting the principle that is so calumniously attributed to us—that it is lawful to do evil that good may come. A calumny it is, and any such principle with all that appertains to it—i.e., with the whole of the preceding argument,—is justly condemned.

Verse 6

(6) For then how shall God judge the world?—St. Paul considers it a sufficient answer merely to propound this question. He and those to whom he was writing all assumed that there must be a future judgment.

The way in which Bishop Butler deals with the argument from necessity is very similar to this, substituting only present for future judgment. “It is fact that God does govern even brute creatures by the method of rewards and punishments in the natural course of things. And men are rewarded and punished for their actions—punished for actions mischievous to society as being so, punished for vicious actions as such—by the natural instrumentality of each other under the present conduct of Providence,” &c. Hence the necessitarian is in this dilemma: either his opinion is not true, or else it must be capable of being harmonised with these facts. The facts themselves are postulated.

Verse 7

(7) The truth of God.—In the first instance His veracity as involved in His threats and promises, and then those other attributes, especially justice, that are intimately connected with this. “Truth” is leaning towards its moral sense. (See Note on Romans 2:8.)

My lie.—The Apostle puts his supposed case in the first person. “Lie,” suggested as an antithesis to the word “truth,” just used, has also a moral signification. It is the moral deflection that follows upon unbelief.

Verse 8

(8) And not rather.—And (why should we) not (say), as some persons slanderously affirm that we say, Let us do evil that good may come. Some such phrase as “Why should we say” must be supplied; “why” from the previous clause, “say” from that which follows. Or “(Why should we) not (do evil), as some persons slanderously affirm that we say, Let us do evil,” &c. The latter, perhaps, is best, as we might then suppose the word for “let us do” repeated precisely in the form in which it stands.

The Apostle does not care to answer this argument in detail; he will not dally with such a perversion of the moral sense, but simply says, “Whose condemnation is just.”

What pretext could any one possibly have for attributing such an opinion to St. Paul? The charge was no doubt utterly false as applied to him, but we know that his teaching was made an excuse for Antinomian excesses, which would not unnaturally be fastened upon the Apostle. Or, taking his teaching as it stands, we might well imagine the Jews or the Judaizing party arguing with themselves, “This man openly breaks the Law, and yet he claims to be in the right way, and that all will go well with him; is not this doing evil that good may come? Does he think to win the Messianic kingdom by the breach of the Law, and not by its observance?”

Verse 9

(9) Are we better than they?—“Can we claim a preference?” The form of the Greek verb is peculiar. It seems upon the whole best to take it as middle for active, which would be apparently unexampled, but is tenable as a question of language, and seems to be compelled by the context. There is no real opposition between the “by no means” of the reply and the “much every way” of Romans 3:2. There the reference was to external advantages, here it is to real and essential worth in the sight of God; as much as to say, “For all our advantages are we really better?”

Proved.—Adopt rather the marginal rendering, For we before charged both Jews and Gentiles with being all under sin.

The verses are a striking instance of the way in which the Apostle weaves together passages taken from different sources. It also affords an example of the corruptions in the text of the Old Testament to which this practice gave rise. The whole passage as it stands here is found in some manuscripts of the LXX. as part of Psalms 14, whence it has been copied not only into the Vulgate but also our own Prayer Book, which will be seen to differ from the Bible version.

The quotations have different degrees of appositeness, so far as they may be considered in the modern sense as probative rather than illustrative. The first, from Psalms 14, is couched in such general terms as to be directly in point; the second and third, from Psalms 5, 140, are aimed specially against the oppressors of the Psalmist; and so, too, the fourth, from Psalms 10, but in a more general and abstract form; that from Isaiah indicates the moral degradation among the prophet’s contemporaries that had led to the Captivity; while the last, from Psalms 36, is an expression applied, not to all men, but particularly to the wicked.

Verses 9-20

(9-20) Once more the argument returns to the main track, and at last the Apostle asserts distinctly and categorically what he had already proved indirectly, that the Jew is every whit as bad as the Gentile.

Verse 12

(12) They are together become unprofitable.—Here the adjective is used to express a state of moral corruption and depravity. “Together” means “altogether;” “the whole mass of mankind, with one consent, has fallen to ruin.”

Verse 13

(13) Their throat is an open sepulchre—i.e., their speech is at once corrupt and corrupting. It is compared to a “yawning grave”—not merely to a pit into which a man may fall, but to a sort of pestiferous chasm yawning and ravening, as it were, after its prey.

They have used deceit.—Strictly, they were deceiving; a continued action brought up to the present time.

Under their lips.—As the poison-bag of the serpent is directly under the kind of tooth by which its venom is discharged.

Verse 14

(14) Bitterness.—Malignity; from the notion that venom was contained in the gall. (Comp. Acts 8:23.)

Verse 18

(18) The fear of God, which is properly a subjective feeling, is here projected, as it were, and regarded as an external rule of life.

Verse 19

(19) In order to bring home this testimony of Scripture more directly to the Jews, and to prevent any subterfuge by which they might attempt to shift the reference from themselves on to the Gentiles, the Apostle calls attention to the fact that the Law—i.e., the Old Testament, from which he has been quoting—speaks especially to those to whom it was given.

Saith . . . saith.—Different words are here used in the Greek; the first is applicable as much to the matter as to the utterance of that which is spoken, the second refers specially to the outward act by which it is enunciated or promulgated; this is addressed to certain persons.

Guilty before God.—Rather, guilty to God; the dative expresses the person to whom the penalty is due.

Verse 20

(20) Therefore.—Rather, because. All mankind alike owe the penalty for their sins. Because not even the Law can protect its votaries. It has no power to justify. All it can do is to expose in its true colours the sinfulness of sin.

The proposition is thrown into a general form: not by the works of the (Jewish) Law, but by “works of law”—i.e., by any works done in obedience to any law. Law, in the abstract, as such, is unable to justify. It might perhaps, we gather from later portions of the Epistle, if men could really keep it, but no law can be kept strictly and entirely.

Knowledge of sin.—“Full and thorough knowledge.”

In the state anterior to law, man is not supposed to know what is sinful and what is not. Conscience, gradually developed, comes in to give him some insight into the distinction, but the full knowledge of right and wrong, in all its details, is reserved for the introduction of positive law. Law has, however, only this enlightening faculty; it holds the mirror up to guilt, but it cannot remove it.

Verse 21

(21) But now.—In these latter days. The Apostle conceives of the history of the world as divided into periods; the period of the Gospel succeeds that of the Law, and to it the Apostle and his readers belong. (Comp. for this conception of the gospel, as manifested at a particular epoch of time, Romans 16:25-26; Acts 17:30; Galatians 3:23; Galatians 3:25; Galatians 4:3-4; Ephesians 1:10; Ephesians 2:12-13; Colossians 1:21; Colossians 1:26; 1 Timothy 2:6; 2 Timothy 1:10; Hebrews 1:1; 1 Peter 1:20.)

The righteousness of God.—Rather, a righteousness of God—i.e., “bestowed by God,” “wrought out by Him,” as in Romans 1:17. The reference is again, here as there, to the root-conception of righteousness as at once the great object and condition of the Messianic kingdom.

Without the law.—In complete independence of any law, though borne witness to by the Law of Moses. The new system is one into which the idea of law does not enter.

Is manifested.—Hath been, and continues to be manifested. The initial moment is that of the appearance of Christ upon earth. The scheme which then began is still evolving itself.

Being witnessed.—The Apostle does not lose sight of the preparatory function of the older dispensation, and of its radical affinity to the new. (Comp. Romans 1:2; Romans 16:26; Luke 18:31; Luke 24:27; Luke 24:44; Luke 24:46; John 5:39; John 5:46; Acts 2:25; Acts 2:31; Acts 3:22; Acts 3:24; Acts 17:2-3; Acts 26:22-23; 1 Peter 1:10-11.)

Verse 21-22

(21-22) Such was the condition of the world up to the coming of Christ. But now, in contrast with the previous state of things, a new system has appeared upon the scene. In this system law is entirely put on one side, though the system itself was anticipated in and is attested by those very writings in which the Law was embodied. Law is now superseded, the great end of the Law, the introduction of righteousness, being accomplished in another way, viz., through faith in Christ, by which a state of righteousness is superinduced upon all believers.

Verses 21-26

(21-26) This then introduces the solemn enunciation, repeated more fully from Romans 1:16-17, of the great subject of the Epistle, the declaration of that new scheme by which, through Christ, God had removed the guilt which the Law (whether Jewish or any other) could not remove.

Verse 22

(22) A further definition of the nature of the righteousness so given to the Christian by God; it is a righteousness that has its root in faith, and is coextensive with faith, being present in every believer.

By faith of Jesus Christ—i.e., by faith which has Christ for its object, “faith in Christ.” “Faith” in St. Paul’s writings implies an intense attachment and devotion. It has an intellectual basis, necessarily involving a belief in the existence, and in certain attributes, of the Person for whom it is entertained; but it is moral in its operation, a recasting of the whole emotional nature in accordance with this belief, together with a consequent change in character and practice. (See Excursus B: On the Meaning of the word Faith.)

And upon all.—These words are wanting in the best MSS., and should be omitted.

For there is no difference.—The righteousness that God gives is given to all that believe, without any distinction of Jew or Gentile; for all equally need it, and it is free equally to all.

Verse 23

(23) All have sinned and come short.—Strictly, all sinned; the Apostle looking back upon an act done in past time under the old legal dispensation, without immediate reference to the present: he then goes on to say that the result of that act (as distinct from the act itself) continues on into the present. The result is that mankind, in a body, as he now sees them, and before they come within the range of the new Christian system, fall short of, miss, or fail to obtain, the glory of God.

Glory of God.—What is this glory? Probably not here, as in Romans 8:18; Romans 8:21, the glory which will be inaugurated for the saints at the Parusià, or Second Coming of the Messiah—for that is something future—but, rather, something which is capable of being conferred in the present, viz., the glory which comes from the favour and approval of God. This favour and approval Jew and Gentile alike had hitherto failed to obtain, but it was now thrown open to all who became members of the Messianic kingdom. (Comp. for the sense, Romans 2:29, and for the use of the word, as well as the sense, John 12:43, “they loved the praise [glory] of men more than the praise [glory] of God.”)

Verse 23-24


For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.—Romans 3:23-24.

1. What is the position of a sinning moral being under the government of God? It is that of guilt, which means that he both deserves and is liable to punishment. It is also that of depravity, or the polluting influence of his sin upon his own soul. The way of relief from the first of these difficulties is through the atonement of Christ. The method of relief from the second is through the regenerating and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

2. The object of the text is to explain the method of gaining relief from that element of guilt which involves liability to punishment. The question is, how shall the iron link between sin and penalty be broken and the transgressor be allowed to escape? But this is not all. Not only is it necessary that the connection between sin and penalty should be broken; but also that the connection between obedience and reward should be re-established. A real salvation involves not only release from penalty, but a title to life. Unless this title to life can be achieved, conscience cannot be quieted, nor can any reliable hope of future well-being be kindled in the heart. To accomplish both these ends, the sinner must be justified in the full sense of that term; and the most important inquiry which can be raised by the mind of man is, “How can man be just with God?”

3. Manifestly man cannot justify himself. He cannot satisfy the penalty and yet live. He can satisfy it by enduring it; but that is a supposition which implies his ruin, and his salvation on that contingency is self-contradictory and impossible; he cannot be saved and at the same time lost. He cannot fulfil the law; for his sin has so corrupted his moral nature that all the acts which flow from it are tainted, and he is unable to render that perfect obedience which the law demands, and which alone can carry its rewards. How, then, shall a transgressor of the law be justified?

4. The Gospel gives the answer to the question in the words of the text, “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Since man cannot effect his own justification, if accomplished at all it must be done for him by some one else. The Gospel answers the great question by the doctrine of a substitute for the hopeless transgressor, undertaking to do for him what it was impossible for him to do for himself; and the development of that wonderful conception constitutes the essence and the chief distinction of the Christian religion. The development of the grand thought of a substitute for the sinner embraces all the distinctive doctrines of Christianity: justification by faith, atonement, redemption, imputation, the divinity of the Redeemer, the infinitude of the Divine grace, and the absolute effectiveness of the work done for the deliverance of the transgressors of the Divine law.

The subject is Justification. The text contains—

I. The Need of Justification—“For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.”

i. Sin.

ii. All have sinned.

iii. Short of the Glory of God.

II. The Manner of Justification—“Being justified freely by his grace.”

i. Justification.

ii. Of God’s Free Grace.

III. The Means of Justification—“Through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

i. Redemption.

ii. The Redemption that is in Christ Jesus.


The Need of Justification

“All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.”

i. Sin

1. We are constantly being haunted by something we have done or have not done, because we have done it or have not done it. And this is not a characteristic of one man or another, but of all men. There are vast differences between men, ranging from the heights of sainthood to the depths of depravity, but there is this feature common to all—a sense that there is a gap between what they are and what they ought to be. There are men who are “given over to lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness”; and there are men so good that they make others feel as though they belonged to a better World; but if you could look into their hearts and listen to their confession, you would find that the best as well as the worst are conscious of this gap, this dislocation, this contrast between “ought” and “is.” There is none that doeth good, no, not one; we have all “gone out of the way,” i.e. the way of perfect, ideal goodness.

2. There are two ways of explaining this strange but universal fact in human life; and there is a third way which more or less combines the two.

(1) The first way is that which till recently was universal among Christian thinkers—that man is a being who was created not only innocent, but in a sense perfect, and that he has dropped into a lower condition which is untrue to his real nature, and which shows itself by this feeling of remorse or sorrow for what he is. Man, in other words, is a fallen creature.

(2) The second way of accounting for the fact of sin is quite a recent one, but it is held by probably the majority of thinking people now. That theory tells us that man is not a fallen being, who began his career in a better or perfect state, but one who has climbed up from a lower stage by a process of evolution. In this respect, he is not different from other creatures, who have all climbed up from some lower form of life to their present position. But he is different from all other creatures in this, that in virtue of a God-given gift, he is not the mere creature of heredity and circumstances, but has a certain power to assist or retard his own further development in every sense. He is a creature not made, but in the making; and he has been taken into partnership by his Creator, so that he can help God (or hinder Him) in the work of perfecting his own nature. In other words, there is a lower nature in him derived from his animal origin, strong and vital and full of passionate desires. There is a higher nature in him, which is weak and frail and undeveloped, but of infinite worth. There is thus a conflict ever going on within him between the lower nature and the higher, and because he is within limits free to choose between this and that, he is able to help on or to hinder his higher true self from gaining the victory over his lower.

(3) Now man is certainly a creature in process of development. He is advancing in a hundred directions; and the impulse to advance is so powerful that, though it acts fitfully and is often checked and thrown back, it never really ceases to act; so that when humanity goes back in one direction it tends to recover itself, and to realize in one way what it fails to realize in another. None the less certain is it that there is something more the matter with human nature as it is than a feeling of not having progressed fast enough. The human conscience testifies to a feeling of some moral disaster or calamity that has fallen upon it. It is haunted by a stronger feeling than that of failure to attain. Some poison has mingled with the very blood of the soul, so to speak. We come into the world weighted not only with our animal nature, but with a paralysis or sickness in our higher nature itself. We cannot call our animal desires wrong; they are healthy and good in themselves; they conduce to the continuance and vigour of our being; we cannot dispense with them. The mischief does not seem to be there, but higher up, in the will itself. Now no mere evolutionary theory can account for this fact of our nature; and it is this which the old theory of the Fall attempts to account for, and which, when broadly conceived, it does account for. At some distant period of our history as a race—perhaps at the very beginning—a wrong turn was taken, and its consequences, passed on through the mysterious law of heredity, continue to this day. Man is a rising creature, with a principle of betterment deeply implanted within his nature which has never been quite uprooted; but he is also a fallen creature, whose nature has been thrown out of gear through the effects of habitual sin, which has largely paralysed the power to rise. And so man is a distracted, struggling, tormented creature, dragged in different ways, unable on the one side to sink contentedly into evil, and to forget God and goodness in that evil, and yet on the other unable to shake off the incubus and burden of this sinful nature, which clings to him in spite of all his endeavours to free himself from it, and makes him cry out, “Who shall deliver me from this body of death?”

Any theory or teaching which in any way blurs the meaning of sin as an awful and devastating mischief, for which there can be no excuse, seems to me to cut at the very root and nerve-centre of the spiritual life. Sin is the one (and perhaps the only) thing in the universe which it is impossible to justify; it is by definition the thing that ought not to be. Once we begin to whittle away its meaning, and make it a stage in progress, a fall upward, a necessary or inevitable episode in the experience of an evolving creature, we empty it of its distinctive meaning, and strike at the very heart of every genuine moral effort. I can see that physical evil—i.e. suffering and calamity and limitation and loss—has many helpful functions to fulfil; but moral evil—sin—is the one thing that has no function to fulfil; it is a purely destructive, disintegrating force, an essential blight, a backward, downward, stumble of the soul; it ought not to be, or ever to have come into being, at any time in the life of any creature of God’s making.1 [Note: E. Griffith-Jones.]

The fact that the only perfect being, the only typical man whom the world has ever seen, was made perfect through suffering, yet without sin, shows how essentially different the problems of suffering and sin are, inextricably as they are interwoven in human experience. Suffering is one of the needful conditions of our physical life, preserving us from danger, stimulating us into a larger life in virtue of our efforts to overcome it, and sweetening our proud and self-indulgent nature by its discipline. But sin is the mortal enemy of our highest, our spiritual life; and as such alone are we justified in dealing with it. That is the Christian view from the beginning; and it is the only view that can safeguard the soul in its perilous journey through this world.1 [Note: E. Griffith-Jones.]

ii. All have sinned

1. From the first man that breathed in Eden to the last man that will look on the sun, we are one family, under the rule and protection of one Providence, borne down by the same burden und looking for the same “better land.” We are a living and unbroken unity—past, present, and to be. We are all conscious of the same bias to wrong-doing. We are all sinners. “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” It is not simply that our nature bears an inherited taint and fault, called “original sin”; but we have yielded ourselves to voluntary sinfulness. Our last condemnation comes not from our inheritance of original infirmity, but from that “personal estate” of sins we have wilfully committed. It is the presence of the individual will in sin that renders it an object of punishment. “All have sinned.”

The Apostle does not assert that there are not degrees of wickedness and lower depths of guilt; he only declares, with uncompromising assurance, that all have come short of the standard. It is one thing for human nature to possess some beautiful remainders of good; it is another question whether human nature, even at its best, has enough good to save and restore itself. A famous temple of Rome, or of Greece, or of India, lying in ruins, may have fragments of splendid sculpture buried among the rubbish; but the splendid fragments cannot build once more the splendid temple. A young woman on her death-bed may have a face as lovely as a poet’s fancy, with

The gleam

Of far-off summers in her tresses bright.

She is dying, nevertheless! The sinful heart may have tender passions and noble impulses; but they are only soiled fragments—beautiful things hiding the horror of death.2 [Note: H. E. Lewis.]

2. But how does St. Paul prove it? You will see the answer in the first two chapters of the Epistle to the Romans. He proves it, not speculatively, but historically; not by logic, but by experience; not by development of a theory, but by an appeal to fact. Mankind in his days was divided into two great sections—Jews and Gentiles—with no consciousness as yet that the middle wall of partition which separated them from each other had been finally broken down. Each section hated, each despised, the other. The Jew despised the Gentile as a shameful reprobate; the Gentile hated the Jew as a grovelling impostor. But neither realized his true condition; neither was at all awake to the fact that he had sinned.

(1) Certainly the Gentiles were not. Paul begins with them. They were, as a class, dead to all sense of sin; they were in that meridian of evil which St. Paul calls “past feeling.” A stage there may have been in the national as in the individual life, in which they felt their guiltiness; early in their career, before the love of innocence was dead, before the tenderness of conscience was seared; and later, too, the stage came to them, as it comes to all, when “the Furies took their seats upon the midnight pillow.” But from the soul of their youth the sense of wounded innocence was too often swept away like the dew from the green grass; and from the social life it vanished in universal corruption. The life of Greece, for which some writers sigh as having been so infinite in fascination, was bright, no doubt, in its first gaiety, in its ideal freshness. But when youth was gone; when strength failed; when health was shattered; when on the dead flowers of life age shed its snows; when Death came nearer and nearer with the dull monotony of his echoing footfall, and they saw no life beyond—life in Hellas was not gay then. Take her at her most brilliant period, when her most immortal temples were built, her most immortal songs written, her most immortal statues carved, and we see the seamy side and ragged edges of the life of Greece revealed in the sensual wickedness of Aristophanes; we see its fierce, untamed, soul-rending passions recorded in the stern pages of Thucydides. Her own poets, her own satirists, her own historians will teach us that to have been naked and not ashamed was to have been expelled from Paradise; to be past feeling for sin was to be removed utterly from even the possibility of blessedness. And as for the Romans—

On that hard Pagan world disgust

And secret loathing fell;

Deep weariness and sated lust

Made human life a hell.

(2) Nor was the Jew. So far from feeling himself sinful, he looked on himself alone as being the just, the upright, the chosen. He spoke with contemptuous disgust of the Gentiles as sinners and dogs and swine. Of course, in a vague general way, he assented to vague general confessions, as when the High Priest laid his hands on the head of the scapegoat, and said, “O God, the God of Israel, pardon our iniquities, our transgressions, and our sins.” But, on the whole, in the Pharisaic epoch, which began even in the days of Ezra, the Jews were infinitely satisfied with themselves. They held (as the Talmud often shows us) that no Jew could possibly be rejected; that God looked on him with absolute favouritism; that the meanest son of Israel was a prince of the kings of the earth. The pride which caused this serene unconsciousness of their own guilt—the fact that they so little recognized the plague of their own hearts, was the worst thing about them. They knew not that they were miserable, poor, blind, and naked. It was the self-induced callosity of formalism. It was the penal blindness of moral self-conceit. “Are we blind also?” asked the astonished Pharisees of Christ. And He said unto them, “If ye were blind ye would have no sin; but now you say, We see, therefore your sin remaineth.” The fact, then, that Jew and Gentile alike were ignorant of their own guilty condition was the deadliest element of their danger. For

When we in our viciousness grow hard—

O misery on’t!—the wise gods seel our eyes;

In our own filth drop our clear judgments; make us

Adore our errors; laugh at’s while we strut

To our confusion.

It seems to me that people get into the way of identifying sin with one kind of sin—the sin of the outcasts—and forget the sins of character, of the Pharisees, and of the wicked, wise conspirators against human good and happiness, who are eminently the Bible type of the sinners who have everything to fear.1 [Note: Life and Letters of Dean Church, 265.]

A soul made weak by its pathetic want

Of just the first apprenticeship to sin

Which thenceforth makes the sinning soul secure

From all foes save itself, souls’ truliest foe,—

Since egg turned snake needs fear no serpentry.2 [Note: R. Browning, The Ring and the Book.]

3. The Apostle proves that all have sinned by pointing to the facts around him. The facts of experience prove it still. Take the irreligious world—the vast masses who do not even profess religion, who never set foot in a place of worship. Take the vast army of unhappy drunkards, reeling through a miserable life to a dishonoured grave. Take the countless victims of sins of impurity. Take trade and commerce, with its adulterations, its dishonesties, its reckless greed, its internecine struggles between capital and toil. Are these mere words, or are they indisputable facts? Is there no gambling? Are there no wild, greedy, dishonest speculations? Is the common conversation of men what it should be? Is the drink trade and its consequences an honour to us? Does God look with approval on the opium traffic? Are the amusements of the nation satisfactory? Can we regard with complacency the accessories of the turf? Are the streets of London—reeking as they do with open and shameless temptation—what the streets of a Christian capital should be? Would a Paul or an Elijah have had no burning words of scathing denunciation at what the stage and the opera sometimes offer to the rich, and the music-hall and the dancing-room to the poor? How many of the rich understand what it is to be generous? How many of the poor are alive to the duty and dignity of self-respect? Are there no base and godless newspapers? Did not a great statesman write but recently about “one of the thousands of lies, invented by knaves and believed by fools”? Is the general tone of what is called society healthy—with its gossip, and its fashion, and its luxury, and its selfish acquiescence in the seething misery around?

It may seem somewhat extreme, which I will speak; therefore let every man judge of it, even as his own heart shall tell him, and no otherwise; I will but only make a demand: If God should yield to us, not as unto Abraham, if fifty, forty, thirty, twenty, yea, or if ten good persons could be found in a city, for their sakes that city should not be destroyed; but, if God should make us an offer thus large, Search all the generations of men since the fall of your father Adam, find one man that hath done any one action, which hath past from him pure, without any stain or blemish at all; and for that one man’s one only action, neither man nor angel shall feel the torments which are prepared for both: do you think that this ransom, to deliver men and angels, would be found among the sons of men?1 [Note: Hooker, Works, iii. 493.]

I shall be reminded what a tragedy of misconception and misconduct man at large presents: of organized injustice, cowardly violence, and treacherous crime; and of the damning imperfections of the best. They cannot be too darkly drawn. Man is indeed marked for failure in his efforts to do right. But where the best consistently miscarry, how tenfold more remarkable that all should continue to strive; and surely we should find it both touching and inspiriting, that in a field from which success is banished, our race should not cease to labour.2 [Note: R. L. Stevenson, Pulvis et Umbra.]

4. The sense of sin, which in previous generations was so acute and full of torment, seems to have recently lost a good deal of its edge and insistence. Men are not troubled as they used to be with a sense of the awful reality and devastating nature of the evil in their hearts. And there are teachers who defend this attitude. Sir Oliver Lodge, for instance, has said, in one of his many recent excursions into the realm of theology, that the man in the street does not trouble himself much about his sins nowadays; and he seems to justify this change of front. Another leading thinker has even more boldly said in effect that sin is only a mistaken and misleading search—as it were, in the wrong direction—for the larger life, i.e. for God; or in other words, that it is only an attempt to realize one’s possibilities on the wrong plane of effort and experience. This has shocked many people because of the blunt and vivid way it was put, and well it may. None the less it expresses the unspoken idea of a great many thinkers. The old Puritan attitude of fear and shame and sorrow at the thought of evil, the conviction that it is an offence in the sight of God, at which He is infinitely pained in His heart, and which rouses His loving but awful indignation—this has given way to the notion that sin, after all, is only an incident of development, that it is one of the necessary conditions of ethical progress, and that, this being so, God cannot be angry with us if we go wrong on our way towards getting into the right road. This attitude is combined with a theory that, since God is omnipotent, He will see to it that in the end every sinner is somehow or other brought back to Himself. Men who sin may be going out of their way to find Him, but find Him they will in the end and at last. Otherwise God can never be all in all.

As a matter of fact, the higher man of to-day is not worrying about his sins at all; … his mission, if he is good for anything, “is to be up and doing.”1 [Note: Sir Oliver Lodge, in Hibbert Journal, April 1904, 466.]

Said a woman to me last week: “I cannot feel that my heart is desperately wicked; have I to?”2 [Note: T. R. Williams.]

I knew a man once who lived a scandalously immoral life, and when he tired of it committed suicide quite deliberately. He left behind him—for he was a man of letters—a copy of verses addressed to his Father in heaven, in which he told Him that he was coming home to dwell with Him for ever. That was an extreme instance perhaps; but extreme only because this man, being well-educated and accustomed to express his thoughts in verse, was moved to put on record his absolute lack of any sense of sin.3 [Note: R. Winterbotham.]

5. A misconception as to the real nature of sin, and what it consists in, is one reason why many have little or no consciousness of it; why they are not quickened to repentance and confession; why we hear so often such statements as these, “I am no worse than others,” “I have never committed any crime,” “I do not feel that I am a miserable sinner”; or the proud thanksgiving of the Pharisee, “God, I thank thee I am not as other men are.” In all such cases God’s standard of requirement is fatally misunderstood; the length and breadth of His law are not discerned; the love and purpose of His heart are most inadequately conceived. Once let the light of heaven shine out in all its native brightness, and the darkness of earth will be revealed in striking contrast. He who has felt the love of God, and has recognized Him as a Father, must have felt also the baseness and guilt of sin—must, ere long, have said, like the Prodigal, “I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.”

I have never yet met the man who disputed the fact of his being a sinner; but I have met with many who admitted it, and yet lived on in the world as gaily as if it entailed no further consequences. When I proceed to inquire how this can possibly be, it always strikes me, as the chief reason, that men do not give themselves leisure—to reflect. All around me appear to labour under an indescribable distraction of mind. I cannot otherwise account for the decided manner in which they admit many propositions, and yet do not draw from them the conclusions that are obviously manifest. Since the hour in which I first clearly apprehended the one truth that I am a sinner—against God, I likewise perceived, as clearly, that there is no business in life so important as to recover His favour, and become His obedient child. Before that discovery, it always seemed to me as if my life had no proper aim. It was then, for the first time, that I became aware for what purpose I was living. No doubt I had a certain object, even before, but it was one of which I felt ashamed, and therefore did not acknowledge even to myself. It was, in truth, to enjoy the things of this world, and to be honoured in the eyes of men. And to thousands at my side, although they too are ashamed to confess it, this is the sole wreath for which they strive. If, however, they would take time to reflect, the mere perceptions of the understanding would show them the folly of their conduct. For, supposing our joys and hopes to have their centre in this world, what a painful thought that we are every day withdrawing further away from it! whereas, if eternity be our end and aim, how pleasing to think that to it we are every day advancing nearer!1 [Note: A. Tholuck.]

iii. St. Paul’s Definition of Sin

“All have sinned,” says St. Paul, “and fall short of the glory of God.” That seems to be his conception of sin. That is sin in its essence. And that includes all under sin, leaving no room whatever for exculpation or escape. For what is it to fall short of the glory of God?

1. The word “glory” (doxa) is used in the New Testament with two distinct meanings. It means (1) reputation, or (2) brightness, especially the brightness or splendour which radiates from the presence of God. The second must be the meaning here. It is the majesty or goodness of God as manifested to men.

The Rabbis held that Adam by the Fall lost six things, “the glory, life (immortality), his stature (which was above that of his descendants), the fruit of the field, the fruits of trees, and the light (by which the world was created, and which was withdrawn from it and reserved for the righteous in the world to come).” It is explained that “the glory” was a reflection from the Divine glory which before the Fall brightened Adam’s face (Weber, Altsyn. Theol., p. 214). Clearly St. Paul conceives of this glory as in process of being recovered: the physical sense is also enriched by its extension to attributes that are moral and spiritual.1 [Note: Sanday and Headlam, Romans, 85.]

2. What is to “fall short” of this glory?

(1) The metaphor is taken from the racecourse. To “come short” is to be left behind in the race, not to reach the goal. And the goal is “the glory of God.” We may take “the glory of God,” then, in the first place, in the widest sense. To attain to “the glory of God” is (a) to enjoy His favour, (b) to be formed in His image, (c) to live in His presence. These three together cover all that the soul of man can desire. They are the sum total of happiness. There is nothing beyond. Adam had them all in Eden before his fall. He was made in the image of God, and he enjoyed the favour and the presence of God. Sin robbed him of them all. And as sinners we by nature come short of them all. “The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7-8). Surely this is the opposite of God’s favour! Then, “They that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh” (Romans 8:5). Remember what the “works of the flesh” are, as St. Paul gives them in Galatians 5:19-21. Surely this is the opposite of the image of God! And then, “Without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). Surely this is the opposite of God’s presence!

(2) But, in the second place, we may take this definition of sin to mean that men have not lived for the glory of God. This goes deeper than acts; it reaches the motive of human action. We, who can read only what speaks to the outward senses, very naturally think most of words and actions, because they are all of which we can be certainly cognizant. And, as naturally, that great Spirit who reads thoughts as easily as He reads words, will look equally, nay, more than equally, at the inward principles, at the springs more than at the acts of the machine of life—at the sources more than at the streams of every man’s moral being. For here lies the difference—we generally think feelings important because they lead to conduct; God lays stress upon conduct because it indicates feelings. So it will be at the last great account. All the deeds and sayings of a man will then stand forth in the light—each one in its clearness. But to what purpose? That the man may be judged of those things? Certainly not. But they are witnesses, called up to give evidence before men and angels, to a certain inward invisible state of the man, by which, and according to which, every one will receive his sentence and his eternal award. The real subject-matter of inquiry in that day will not be actions, nor words, but motives.

(3) And, in the third place, the expression, “Fall short of the glory of God,” may mean—and probably in the Apostle’s mind did mean—failure to reach the moral glory of God, the inexorable perfectness of His character, with which we must correspond in order to be at peace with Him.

Let us understand well the greatness of the Divine requirement from man, for it is the measure of the Divine love. The love of God can be satisfied with nothing less than its own perfection. It is to this that He seeks to bring us. Anything less than this, any coming short of His glory, is, in His sight, sin; a missing of our true human aim; a failure to reach the stature of the perfect man—to be complete in Christ Jesus, to be washed in His blood, to be clothed with His righteousness, to be filled with His spirit.1 [Note: J. N. Bennie.]

The perfect revelation of that glory is in Jesus Christ, who is “the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image of His person.” In Him, the image of God, men were originally created; in Him they live and move and have their being. That same Divine Word and Son is the life and light of men, “the light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” So in this way we reach a true harmony between the declaration of St. Paul in the text, that a coming short of the glory of God is the universal human sin, and the witness of the Holy Spirit, who, as expressly foretold by our blessed Lord, ever since His descent on the Day of Pentecost, has been convincing the world of sin, because men believe not in Christ.1 [Note: J. N. Bennie.]

3. Notice, then, that in this statement that “all have sinned,” St. Paul is not charging every man with the commission of crime, or of open acts of wickedness such as the world condemns and the laws of men punish. But he declares that all, without exception, have missed the true aim of their being; have fallen short of the mark which they ought to have hit; have failed wilfully in attaining the end of their life. They have not entered into and fulfilled the purpose of God; they have not answered His gracious call; they have not gone forth to meet Him, or yielded themselves to the patient drawing of His love.

It is a commonplace feeling, if not an actual belief, that if men have not done any great harm they cannot be exposed to any great condemnation. But what is great harm? Is it not missing the very object you were made for? A rifle is made to shoot straight; if it will not do so, however perfect the polish of its barrel, or the finish of its lock or stock, it is useless, and you throw it on one side or break it up. The more complete it seems to your eye in all its workmanship, the more vexed you are with it for its utter failure in the one work for which you had it made.2 [Note: F. Morse.]

“Lift up your hearts.” “We lift them up.” Ah me!

I cannot, Lord, lift up my heart to Thee;

Stoop, lift it up, that where Thou art I too may be.

“Give Me thy heart.” I would not say Thee nay,

But have no power to keep or give away

My heart: stoop, Lord, and take it to Thyself to-day.

Stoop, Lord, as once before, now once anew;

Stoop, Lord, and hearken, hearken, Lord, and do,

And take my will, and take my heart, and take me too.3 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti.]


The Manner of our Justification

“Being justified freely by His grace.”

The statement brings us face to face with that word, Justification, which played so great a part in Reformation history, and which undoubtedly had so rich a content to minds like St. Paul’s, but which has tended more and more to disappear out of our religious vocabulary. As for the word, that is a small affair; but it would argue a serious loss in spiritual sensitiveness if we could endure to exist as children of God on any other terms than those implied in the old phrase—justification.

i. Justification

1. Paul’s doctrine of justification may be summed up in three propositions: (1) God reckons, or pronounces, or treats as righteous the ungodly who has no righteousness of his own to show (Romans 4:5). (2) It is his faith that is reckoned for righteousness; faith in Christ is accepted instead of personal merit gained by good works (Romans 4:5). (3) This faith has Christ as its object (Romans 3:22), especially the propitiation which is in His blood (Romans 3:25); but as such it results in a union with Christ so close that Christ’s experience of separation from sin and surrender to God is reproduced in the believer (Romans 6:1-11).

2. The use of the term “justification” in perpetual contrast with the term “condemnation,” settles the question that justification is a forensic or judicial term, carrying the notion which is in direct contrast with the notion of condemnation. “They shall justify the righteous and condemn the wicked” (Deuteronomy 25:1). “He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the Lord” (Proverbs 17:15). “It is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth?” (Romans 8:33). The last is St. Paul, who also declares that “the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification” (Romans 5:16). These terms are so clearly opposed that the meaning of the one may be determined by the other. Condemnation is a legal term expressive of a certain relation to law; it confers no personal or subjective depraving influence on the character of the condemned person. It simply declares that the law, or contract, has been violated, and formally decrees the subjection of the law-breaker to the penalties of the law, but exerts no corrupting influence on his personal character. Justification, then, can only do the same thing in the opposite direction; it determines a legal standing without exerting a personal subjective influence on the character of the justified person, making him personally holy. This personal improvement which will inevitably follow justification as one of its effects is due to sanctification; but it is not a part of justification itself. It is not allowable to confound cause and effect.

3. The doctrine has been denounced as legalistic and even immoral. What has to be carefully remembered is that Paul is not responsible for what a theological scholasticism or a popular evangelicalism may have made of his doctrine. God does not impute righteousness to the unrighteous, but He accepts instead of righteousness, instead of a perfect fulfilment of the whole law, faith. “Faith is reckoned for righteousness.” In forgiving, God’s intention is not to allow a man to feel comfortable and happy while indifferent to, and indolent in, goodness; but to give a man a fresh opportunity, a new ability to become holy and godly. Those whom God reckons righteous, He means also to make righteous; and the gradual process of sanctification can only begin with the initial act of justification. A man must be relieved of the burden of his guilt, he must be recalled from the estrangement of his sin, he must be allowed to escape from the haunting shadows of his doom, before he can with any confidence, courage, or constancy tread the upward path of goodness to God. The man who accepts God’s forgiveness in faith cannot mean to abuse it by continuance in sin, but must long for and welcome it as allowing him to make a fresh start on the new path of trustful, loyal, and devoted surrender to God. Paul, it is quite certain, knew of no saving faith that could claim justification but disown sanctification. To him faith was not only assent to what Christ had by His sacrifice done for man’s salvation, but consent, constant and complete, to all that Christ by His Spirit might do in transforming character. He knew of no purpose of grace that stopped short at reckoning men righteous, and did not go on to making them righteous.1 [Note: A. E. Garvie.]

Your little child does the wrong thing or says the false thing. Then comes sorrow, let us hope, and the resolve to do better, and the old question, “Am I good now?” And you, sitting there half glad, half fearful, know that the fault is not conquered yet, that the consequence of that slip, that fall, remains, a scar if not a wound; but you recognize, too, that the aspiration is genuinely for the right, the face set towards victory. It is not righteousness achieved, but you count the faith, the attitude of soul, for righteousness. You say, “Yes, you are good now.” The declaration is of goodness unrealized as yet; but, nevertheless, actual to the heart of grace, in hope and resolve. And with the declaration the shadow vanishes, and that confidence is restored in which lies, perhaps, the child’s chief hope of achieving the goodness.1 [Note: C. S. Horne.]

When Robert Browning sings—

’Tis not what man Does which exalts him, but what man Would do,

it may have a perilous sound. But by and by we discover that it is a profoundly true interpretation of life. It is the will outreaching towards a perfection unattained, and, perhaps, even unattainable here. It is the exaltation of the inward life; the motion of the soul towards the highest that it knows and sees. This faith counts as righteousness in the sight of God.

All I could never be,

All, men ignored in me,

This, I was worth to God.

He counted what we would fain be, but were not, unto us for righteousness. There is a book of which some of us are fond which describes the resolution of an old, old maid to adventure to Central Africa to preach to the heathen. Of course, the thing was impossible; and, of course, at last, with many tears, she discovered that she would never go. In human reckoning I suppose the will, the faith, the consecration of spirit, count for nothing. Certainly she did not go. There was no actual achievement of the heroism proposed. But I believe, with Browning, that this was her exaltation; and all she could never be she was worth to God; and that the willed deed was reckoned in His sight as a deed done. This is the point at which even the law of God is transcended by His free, matchless grace.

See the king—I would help him but cannot, the wishes fall through.

Could I wrestle to raise him from sorrow, grow poor to enrich,

To fill up his life, starve my own out, I would—knowing which,

I know that my service is perfect.2 [Note: Browning, Saul.]

4. Justification is not simply pardon, and it is not sanctification.

(1) It is not Pardon. There is something more than forgiveness here. Your little child who has done wrong pleads with you, “Am I good now?” “Yes,” you say; but the shadow has not passed from your face. And the child knows that all is not right. “Am I good now?” “Yes.” “Then why don’t you smile?” Exactly. You must get back to the old footing. Say what you like, even the sweetest tones of forgiveness do not always remove the impression of a shadow across the face of God. The old familiarity and confidence are gone. Whatever be the precise theological content of justification we all know what we mean, what we feel we want—the cloud off the sun, the doubt off the heart, the uneasy apprehension dispelled. We want to be at home again, and walk once more as children of the light. That is justification.1 [Note: C. S. Horne.]

It is unquestionably true that the real salvation of a breaker of the Divine law involves not merely an escape from the penalty of the law, but a title to its reward. He needs something that will carry not only deliverance from danger, but a security for happiness.2 [Note: C. R. Vaughan.]

(2) It is not Sanctification. The different relations to it on our part are (a) that righteousness apprehended and appropriated to ourselves by faith, in all its completeness; upon which God accepts and treats us as actually possessing it; this is what is meant by our justification, or our status of present peace and fellowship with God; and (b) that righteousness, which is Jesus Christ Himself, through the constant association and participation of faith with Him, gradually but actually imparting Himself to us so as to become to us not only a righteousness in which we believe, but one which at least we begin to possess; this is what in process or progress we call our sanctification, and when it is completed it will be our glory or glorification.

ii. Gratis and Gracious

“Being justified freely (as a gift, gratis) by his grace.” The sinner is justified as an act of God’s free grace. The act itself is the act of God in His judicial capacity, and includes in it the blotting out, the forgiving of all original and actual transgression. All is blotted out. There is not one sin left unremitted. There is a complete obliterating of all evidence of guilt against the sinner. And this act is done freely, graciously.

1. It is free on the part of God in the eternal purpose of it. For He might justly have left men to perish under the guilt of sin.

2. It is free in the means He used to effect it, in the sending of His Son. He was the free gift of His eternally free love. Nothing could have induced Him to this but His own free grace. “He so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

3. It is free in the laying of the punishment of our sins upon Him. It pleased the Father to bruise Him, to put Him to grief. This could only be an act of grace. Hence, “herein is the love of God manifested, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” This was the greatest, the highest proof God could give of His love and grace. Here He went to the utmost in loving—when for our sakes He laid the punishment of sin upon His own dear Son.

4. It is free in the covenant engagement with Christ for us. Christ stood for us, in our place and room. That was arranged in covenant. Nothing but free electing grace could account for this. “According to his mercy he saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour.” This is all of free grace, and only of free grace. It was according to free grace that He “chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love, having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.”

5. It is free also in the offer of all this to us in the Gospel. It is offered without money and without price. “Ho! every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, come buy wine and milk without money and without price.” “Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.” Nothing can be freer or more cordial than this invitation. The poorest is welcome. All are such; the feast is prepared for the poor. But the most bankrupt sinner finds himself within the folds of this invitation.

6. It is free, finally, in the actual pardon of them that believe. They have nothing, absolutely nothing, on the ground of which they can ask for this pardon. They must come absolutely bankrupt, poor and needy, that they may obtain this unspeakable privilege from God. They have made no satisfaction for former transgression. They have no penal or expiatory suffering to merit it. They can have no expectation of future recompense. Whether, then, we consider the pardoner or the pardoned, justification is equally free—on the part of God who justifies, and on the part of the sinner who is justified. They are justified freely by His grace.1 [Note: M. Macaskill.]

Rest over me in love, O piercèd One!

Smile on me sadly through my mist of sin,

Smile on me sweetly from Thy crown of thorns.

As the dawn looketh on the great dark hills,

As the hills dawn-touch’d on the great dark sea,

Dawn on my heart’s great darkness, Prince of Peace!


The Means of our Justification

“Through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

1. Redemption. The word redemption or ransom is easily understood; it means the buying back, the paying something for another. When a man had incurred a debt, and, in accordance with ancient law, had been imprisoned or sold as a slave in consequence of that debt, the payment of the debt by another constituted his redemption from slavery, his ransom from bondage. All mankind was in that condition before God, and we are in that condition; burdened with the ten thousand talents of debt which we cannot pay; in bondage to sin and Satan; sold under sin, tied and bound with the chain of our sins; our very lives justly forfeited to the majesty of violated law. And from this condition Christ delivered us. As far as the effects to us are concerned, we might say that He purchased us from this slavery, that He bought us by the price of His life and death; redeemed us with His precious blood. And the figure chiefly used is not that He pays the debt, but that He cancels it; forgives it, freely and unpaid; blots it out, tears it up, nails its no longer valid fragments to His cross.

The Authorized Version does not keep the same English equivalent for the same Greek word, and the words, “reconciliation,” “atonement,” “propitiation,” and “redemption,” seem to be used almost indiscriminately in it. But in the Greek they are always kept distinct. We have here the word “redemption,” and the Greek word is ἀπολυτρώσις. In chap. Romans 3:25 the word we have is “propitiation,” and the Greek word is ἱλαστήριον. And we have in chap. Romans 5:11 the word καταλλαγή, translated wrongly in the text as “atonement,” but rightly in the margin as “reconciliation.” Now, it is most important to keep these three things separate, because they are the work of different offices of our Lord Jesus Christ. “Redemption” is the work of the king. “Propitiation” is the work of the priest. And “reconciliation” describes the work of the prophet. And if we want an all-round view of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, we must combine the three, and then we have Christ’s work—the work of the Anointed Prophet, the work of the Anointed Priest, and the work of the Anointed King.1 [Note: E. A. Stuart.]

It is simply impossible to get rid of the conception of a ransom from the New Testament. Christian piety should surely be as willing to consider gratefully “all our redemption cost” as to recognize confidently “all our redemption won.” We need not press the metaphor of redemption to yield a theory of the atonement; but the idea of Christ’s death as a ransom expresses the necessity of that death as the condition of man’s salvation, as required not only by the moral order of the world, but also by the holy will of God, which that moral order expresses.2 [Note: A. E. Garvie.]

Alas! my Lord is going,

Oh my woe!

It will be mine undoing;

If He go,

I’ll run and overtake Him;

If He stay,

I’ll cry aloud and make Him

Look this way.

O stay, my Lord, my Love, ’tis I

Comfort me quickly, or I die.

“Cheer up thy drooping spirits;

I am here.

Mine all-sufficient merits

Shall appear

Before the throne of glory

In thy stead:

I’ll put into thy story

What I did.

Lift up thine eyes, sad soul, and see

Thy Saviour here. Lo, I am He.”

Alas! shall I present

My sinfulness

To Thee? Thou wilt resent

The loathsomeness.

“Be not afraid, I’ll take

Thy sins on Me,

And all My favour make

To shine on thee.”

Lord, what Thou’lt have me, Thou must make me.

“As I have made thee now, I take thee.”1 [Note: Christopher Harvey.]

2. The Redemption is in Christ Jesus. How has He accomplished it? Take the steps in order.

(1) Man, having broken the Divine law, is under condemnation. The Most High appears before us as the moral governor of men, presenting to them His law, with the simple requirement, Obey. Obey and you shall live—“Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth these things shall live by them.” Disobey, and you shall die—“The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” But man has transgressed the law, and thus incurred the penalty.

(2) The claims of the law have been fulfilled by the Lord Jesus Christ. He assumed man’s nature, was made under the law, and fulfilled all righteousness. “I do always those things which please the Father” was the utterance of His own consciousness; “I find no fault in Him” was the verdict of His foe; “Who did no sin,” “Jesus Christ the Righteous,” was the witness of those who knew Him best; “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” was the declaration of God. In the life of Jesus, the law found its fulfilling and complete embodiment. But though our Lord thus fulfilled the law’s claim, He suffered its penalty as though He were guilty. His death was not the necessary end of the human life which He assumed. He was wounded for transgression, He was bruised for iniquity, chastisement was upon Him, He made Him to be sin who knew no sin. He was made a curse, “for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree,” He cried that He was forsaken of God. Christ fulfilled the law perfectly, and yet suffered as though He had broken it wholly.

(3) Christ’s twofold nature made His fulfilment of the law imputable. He was Man. The law imposed on man must be fulfilled by man; it is not angelic holiness, nor heavenly holiness which is required, but human holiness. The righteousness of the Man, Christ Jesus, was of this kind, wrought out under the same limitations and conditions, and only with the same power as those under which the law was at first laid upon Adam, and by which Adam might have stood. But the Word who was made flesh was God. Thus He was under no obligation to the law, He owed it nothing on His own account. Had He been simply man, all His righteousness would have been necessary for His own justification, but He was God, everlastingly and infinitely holy, in and of Himself, and if as such He stooped to obey the law, and work out a human righteousness, He needed not that for Himself, He was righteous already, it was a righteousness extra and to spare, and the very righteousness man needs. And so of the Penalty which He paid. Since He was man, that penalty was inflicted on man’s nature, but since He kept the law, no penalty was due from Him; like His righteousness, it was something extra and to spare. But He was also God, which gives His sufferings an infinite value, and makes them constitute a price paid, a curse endured for transgression, as great as God is great. Here, then, we see in Christ a perfect obedience to the law, and the law’s penalty completely endured, and both by human nature, and the point is—Christ does not need them for Himself, He has them both to spare.

(4) God declares that He imputes the fulfilment of the law’s claims by Christ to those who accept Him as their representative. That is to say, these things which Christ has to spare are handed over to such, and regarded by God as on their behalf. That is the act of Justification by faith, the acceptance of Christ as our representative, His righteousness reckoned to us, our penalty paid in Him, God declaring that He accepts this Substitution in the case of all those who thus trust His Son. “Christ Jesus, whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness, that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”1 [Note: C. New]

Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,

Guilty of dust and sin.

But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack

From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,

If I lack’d anything.

“A guest,” I answer’d, “worthy to be here:”

Love said, “You shall be he.”

“I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,

I cannot look on Thee.”

Love took my hand, and smiling, did reply,

“Who made the eyes but I?”

“Truth, Lord, but I have marr’d them; let my shame

Go where it doth deserve.”

“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”

“My dear, then I will serve.”

“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”

So I did sit and eat.2 [Note: Christopher Harvey.]



Bennie (J. N.), The Eternal Life, 50.

Campbell (R. J.), City Temple Sermons, 13.

Farrar (F. W.), Truths to Live By, 215, 260.

Griffith-Jones (E.), Faith and Verification, 110.

Horne (C. S.), The Soul’s Awakening, 205.

Kuyper (A.), The Work of the Holy Spirit, 354, 372.

Macaskill (M.), A Highland Pulpit, 73.

New (C.), Sermons, 23.

Price (A. C.), Fifty Sermons, viii. 233.

Stuart (E. A.), Children of God, 79.

Tholuck (A.), Hours of Christian Devotion, 21.

Vaughan (C. R.), Sermons, 175.

Vaughan (J.), Sermons (Brighton Pulpit), vii. No. 673.

Williams (T. R.), The Evangel of the New Theology, 69.

Winterbotham (R.), Sermons, 110.

Christian World Pulpit, xxv. 184 (Morse); xxxi. 147 (Lewis); xlvii. 241 (Gore).

Verse 24

(24) Being justified.—We should more naturally say, “but now are justified.” The construction in the Greek is peculiar, and may be accounted for in one of two ways. Either the phrase “being justified” may be taken as corresponding to “all them that believe” in Romans 3:22, the change of case being an irregularity suggested by the form of the sentence immediately preceding; or the construction may be considered to be regular, and the participle “being justified” would then be dependent upon the last finite verb: “they come short of the glory of God, and in that very state of destitution are justified.”

Freely.—Gratuitously, without exertion or merit on their part. (Comp. Matthew 10:8; Revelation 21:6; Revelation 22:17.)

By his grace.—By His own grace. The means by which justification is wrought out is the death and atonement of Christ; its ulterior cause is the grace of God, or free readmission into His favour, which He accords to man.

Redemption.—Literally, ransoming. The notion of ransom contains in itself the triple idea of a bondage, a deliverance, and the payment of an equivalent as the means of that deliverance. The bondage is the state of sin and of guilt, with the expectation of punishment; the deliverance is the removal of this state, and the opening out, in its stead, of a prospect of eternal happiness and glory; the equivalent paid by Christ is the shedding of His own blood. This last is the pivot upon which the whole idea of redemption turned. It is therefore clear that the redemption of the sinner is an act wrought objectively, and, in the first instance, independently of any change of condition in him, though such a change is involved in the appropriation of the efficacy of that act to himself. It cannot be explained as a purely subjective process wrought in the sinner through the influence of Christ’s death. The idea of dying and reviving with Christ, though a distinct aspect of the atonement, cannot be made to cover the whole of it. There is implied, not only a change in the recipient of the atonement, but also a change wrought without his co-operation in the relations between God and man. There is, if it may be so said, in the death of Christ something which determines the will of God, as well as something which acts upon the will of man. And the particular influence which is brought to bear upon the counsels of God is represented under the figure of a ransom or payment of an equivalent. This element is too essentially a part of the metaphor, and is too clearly established by other parallel metaphors, to be explained away; though what the terms “propitiation” and “equivalent” can mean, as applied to God, we do not know, and it perhaps does not become us too curiously to inquire.

The doctrine of the atonement thus stated is not peculiar to St. Paul, and did not originate with him. It is found also in the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew 20:28 ( = Mark 10:45), “The Son of Man came to give His life a ransom for many,” and in Hebrews 9:15, “And for this cause He is the Mediator of the New Testament, that by means of death, for the redemption (ransoming) of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.” (Comp. 1 John 2:2; 1 Peter 1:18-19; 1 Peter 2:24, et al.)

Verse 25

(25) Hath set forth.—Rather, set forth, publicly exhibited, in the single act of the death upon the cross.

A propitiation.—The Greek word properly means “that which renders propitious.” Here, “that which renders God propitious.” In some way, which is not explained at all in this passage, and imperfectly explained elsewhere, the death of Christ did act so as to render God “propitious” towards men. He became more ready to pardon as they became more anxious to be pardoned.

There is a remarkable use of the same Greek word in the LXX. version of the Old Testament to express the mercy-seat, i.e., the lid or covering of the ark which was sprinkled by the high priest with the blood of the victim on the Day of Atonement. Some have thought that there is a reference to this here. Christ is the mercy-seat of the New Covenant. It is upon Him, as it were, that the divine grace, drawn forth by His own atoning blood, resides. It would hardly be a conclusive objection to this view that, according to it, Christ would be represented as at once the victim whose blood is sprinkled and the covering of the ark on which it is sprinkled; for a similar double reference certainly occurs in Hebrews 9:11-12, where Christ is typified at one and the same time both by the victim whose blood is shed and by the high priest by whom it is offered. There seem to be, however, on the whole, reasons for supplying rather the idea of “sacrifice,” which is more entirely in keeping with the context, and is especially supported by the two phrases, “whom God hath set forth (i.e., exhibited publicly, whereas the ark was confined to the secrecy of the Holy of Holies), and “in His blood.” We should translate, therefore, a propitiatory or expiatory (sacrifice).

Through faith.—Faith is the causa apprehendens by which the proffered pardon takes effect upon the soul of the believer.

In his blood.—On the whole, it seems best not to join these words with “through faith,” but to refer them to the main word of the sentence. “Whom God set forth by the shedding of His blood to be a propitiatory offering through faith.” It was in the shedding of the blood that the essence of the atonement exhibited upon the cross consisted. No doubt other portions of the life of Christ led up to this one; but this was the culminating act in it, viewed as an atonement.

Verse 25-26

(25, 26) The death of Christ had a twofold object or final cause:—(1) It was to be, like the sacrifices of the old covenant, an offering propitiatory to God, and actualised in the believer through faith. (2) It was to demonstrate the righteousness of God by showing that sin would entail punishment, though it might not be punished in the person of the sinner. The apparent absence of any adequate retribution for the sins of past ages made it necessary that by one conspicuous instance it should be shown that this was in no sense due to an ignoring of the true nature of sin. The retributive justice of God was all the time unimpaired. The death of Christ served for its vindication, at the same time that a way to escape from its consequences was opened out through the justification of the believer.

Precisely in what sense the punishment of our sins fell upon Christ, and in what sense the justice of God was vindicated by its so falling, is another point which we are not able to determine. Nothing, we may be sure, can be involved which is in ultimate conflict with morality. At the same time, we see that under the ordinary government of God, the innocent suffer for the guilty, and there may be some sort of transference of this analogy into the transcendental sphere. Both the natural and the supernatural government of God are schemes “imperfectly comprehended.” In any case, Christ was innocent, and Christ suffered. On any theory there is a connection between His death and human sin. What connection, is a question to which, perhaps, only a partial answer can be given. Some weighty remarks on this subject will be found in Butler’s Analogy of Religion, Part II., Romans 5 (latter part).

Verse 26

(26) To declare.—The second object of the death of Christ was to remove the misconceptions that might be caused by the apparent condoning of sins committed in times anterior to the Christian revelation. A special word is used to indicate that these sins were not wiped away and dismissed altogether, but rather “passed over” or “overlooked.” This was due to the forbearance of God, who, as it were, suspended the execution of His vengeance. Now the Apostle shows by the death of Christ that justice that had apparently slept was vindicated.

Thus God appeared in a double character, at once as just or righteous Himself, and as producing a state of righteousness in the believer. Under the Old Testament God had been revealed as just; but the justice or righteousness of God was not met by any corresponding righteousness on the part of man, and therefore could only issue in condemnation. Under the New Testament the justice of God remained the same, but it was met by a corresponding state of righteousness in the believer a righteousness, however, not inherent, but superinduced by God Himself through the process of justification by faith. In this way the great Messianic condition of righteousness was fulfilled.

Verse 27

(27) It is excluded.—Strictly, It was excluded—at the moment when the law of faith—i.e., the gospel—was brought in.

By what law?—Properly, By what kind of law? Is this law which gets rid of boasting one which calls for works; or is it one that calls for faith?

The law of faith.—Another name for the gospel.

Verses 27-31

(27-31) A review of the consequences of this process of justification. How does it affect the pretensions of the Jew? It shuts them out by laying stress no longer on works, which were the proper fulfilment of the first law as it stood, but upon faith. Faith is the true medium of justification. And faith belongs as much to Gentile as to Jew. For faith is the appointed means by which all mankind will be justified; and they will all be justified before the same tribunal, whether they be circumcised or not. Still this involves no abrogation of the Law, but rather a confirmation of it.

Verse 28

(28) Therefore. . . .—There is a remarkable division of some of the best authorities in this verse between “therefore” and “for.” The weight of authority seems somewhat in favour of “for,” which also makes the best sense. That boasting is excluded is much rather the consequence than the cause of the principle that man is justified by faith. This principle the Apostle regards as sufficiently proved by his previous argument.

We conclude.—This conveys too much the idea of an inference; the statement is rather made in the form of an assertion, “we consider,” or “we hold.” “For we hold that a man (any human being—whether Jew or Greek) is justified by faith, independently of any works prescribed by law.”

Verse 29

(29) Is he not also.—Insert “or.” “Or are we to suppose that God is the God of (literally, belongs to) the Jews only?”—taking up the point in the last verse, that any man, simply quâ man, and without regard to distinction of race, was capable of justification.

Verse 30

(30) Seeing it is . . .—With a slight change of reading, if at least; if, as we are sure is the case.

The argument is strictly logical. If there is to be any distinction between Jew and Gentile, this can only be upon the assumption either that there are more gods than one by whom they will be justified, or that they will be justified by some different law, in some different way. But neither of these is the case. Therefore it follows that there is no distinction.

Shall justify.—The future signifies, “throughout the Christian dispensation”—wherever the Christian system extends.

By faith.—Through faith. In the one case faith is regarded as the instrument, in the other as the means; but the two expressions come to be almost convertible. In like manner there is no essential difference indicated by the fact that the first noun has not the article, while the second has it. The former is more abstract—the quality of faith in man; the latter more concrete—faith as embodied in the gospel. The two prepositions, “by” and “through,” are in English nearly convertible, or differ from each other no more than “instrument” and “means.”

Verse 31

(31) Do we then make void the law.—In opposition to many commentators it seems right to take this as an isolated statement to be worked out afterwards (Romans 6:1 et seq.) more fully. It cannot, without straining, be connected directly with what follows. The Apostle deals with two objections to his theory of justification by faith: (1) that there ought to be a different rule for the Jew and for the Gentile; (2) that if not, the law is practically abolished. He meets this latter by a contradiction, saying that it is not abolished, but confirmed. This is, however, drawing upon the stock of conclusions in his own mind to which he had come by process of meditation; the detailed proof is reserved.

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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Romans 3". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.