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1. “Then what is the advantage of the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision?” This question is very pertinently asked in view of the preceding deliverances, confirmatory of the non-essentiality of carnal ordinances, church rites, and visible membership to salvation, which is purely and unequivocally the work of God alone wrought in the heart by the Holy Spirit responsive to the free will of every soul who receives Him.
2. “Much every way. For indeed in the first place because the oracles of God were committed unto them.” Of course the visible church in all ages has enjoyed the wonderful blessing of God’s revealed word, which is absolutely inestimable. But we must remember that Christ Himself is the Word (John 1:0), whose meaning is revelation, and the incarnation of Christ for the apprehension of material senses is the very summary of all possible revelation of God to man. Yet we must remember that the Holy Ghost, who is identical with the Spirit of Christ and the Father (Ch. 9), is among the heathens in all ages, revealing to them their Savior in the interior conscience of all truly humble appreciative hearts.
3. “For what if some did disbelieve? Whether shall their unbelief make void the faith of God?
4. “For it could not be so; let God be true and every man a liar; as has been written: In order that thou mayest be justified in thy words and shall prevail when thou art judged.” Here the apostle, constantly affirming the gracious possibility of universal salvation, finds the heathens not only alienated from God, first into proud rationalism, secondly into silly idolatry, and finally into revolting brutality; and the Jews, who represent the visible church in all ages, with all their munificent endowments through the wonderful light and blessing of God’s revealed Word, corroborated and symbolized by the ecclesiastical ordinances, rites and ceremonies, nevertheless en masse not only utterly destitute of God’s saving grace in the heart, but actually puffed up with spiritual pride and disgusting vanity, believing themselves to be the elect of God and looking with contempt upon the Gentiles, whereas they themselves are in the deeper and more terrible condemnation, because of grace depreciated and light not only rejected but actually metamorphosed into darkness black as the midnight of perdition. Amid this deplorable wholesale ruin appertaining both to Jews and Gentiles, i. e., to church members and outsiders, despite the universal redeeming grace of God in Christ, thus populating hell with countless millions, both church members and worldlians, yet the truth, mercy, and grace of God are in no way invalidated by this awful state of things. God is just as true amid a world of liars as if all the people on the earth were true and appreciative of His salvation. In the grand finale, when the universe faces the great white throne, every one will stand for himself and be judged according to his intrinsical spiritual, practical personality.
5. “But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? whether is God unrighteous administering wrath? I speak after the manner of a man.
6. “It could not be so; then how will God judge the world?” The apostle is answering the allegation of his opponent, who would excuse himself on the hypothesis that his failure has in no way affected the perfect purity and glory of the divine administration, since God, absolutely immutable, verifies and perfects the unimpeachable integrity, honor and majesty of His administration, despite all the irregularities and failures on the part of the world, whether religious or irreligious.
7. “But if the truth of God abounded through my life unto his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?” He here answers the argument of the fatalist: “Since the immutable God is neither changed nor in the least deflected from the perfect integrity of His administration, neither His veracity suffering the slightest impeachment by my perversity and falsehood; as I am utterly incompetent to contravene the divine purpose or tarnish the infallible glory of the Almighty, then why am I condemned as a sinner?” It is the hackneyed pleading of irresponsibility which we daily meet, offered as an apology on the part of the ungodly.
8. “And not, as we are scandalously reported, and as certain ones certify that we say, that we must do evil in order that good may come? Whose condemnation is just.” Among the two hundred millions of martyrs who sealed their faith with their blood in bygone ages, not a single one died in the capacity of a good person in the estimation of their persecutors. On the contrary, they were all slain under criminal charges. Hence this Satanic maxim on the part of our enemies has prevailed in all ages, the present day no exception. God’s people are even now calumniated as disturbers of the churches, and accused of many misdemeanors of which they are not guilty.
9. “Then what is it? Are we better than they? By no means: for we have proven that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin.” Paul uses the pronoun “we,” including himself with the Jews in this contrast with the Gentiles, thus manifesting both the sympathy and humility peculiar to a speaker, who so frequently in his phraseology identifies himself with his hearers. In this verse “Greeks” is synonymous with the whole Gentile or heathen world; while “Jews” is identical with the nominal members of the visible church in all ages. Now, do you see the force of the apostle’s conclusion? It is the simple fact that salvation is a personal and not an ecclesiastical matter so far as churchism or non-churchism is concerned; it has nothing to do with salvation and never did, but simply leaves its votaries all under condemnation, indiscriminately in the hands of the devil, “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). The several verses following this sweeping classification of both church members and outsiders in the black catalogue of sin, and under the dismal grip of Satan, vividly, lucidly and appallingly portray the horrific state of moral obliquity pertinent to all the people in all ages who have not been rescued from the above classifications by the redeeming grace of God in Christ, regenerating and sanctifying the heart. An astonishing phenomenon has frequently been noteworthy with reference to these alarming Scriptures, which draw the blackest picture this side the bottomless pit; e. g., a pastor standing in his pulpit reading them to his congregation as a refutation of the doctrine and experience of entire sanctification and a confirmation to his people of the absolute necessity that they all remain in sin down to life’s end, depending on the grim monster to deliver them from the dark grip of the soul’s destroyer. Such a procedure is simply giving his members a ticket to hell through his church. The Bible is God’s way-bill to heaven. Like all other way-bills, while it points out the right way, that the traveler may walk in it, it equally specifically designates all the wrong ways, that he may avoid them. While the Bible grandly and gloriously points out to the sinner the “highway,” and to the Christian the “holy way,” it most clearly and emphatically points out the devil’s side- tracks which lead down to hell, at the same time warning the traveler to keep out of them. Here we have a most horrific, demonstrative and terrifying presentation of Satan’s way to hell, given as a solemn warning that we may keep out of it. What is to become of the people when their own pastor points out this way and recommends it to them, which is now being done in countless instances in order to refute sanctification and defeat the Holiness Movement? The only hope in all such cases is that God will have mercy and save the people in spite of the preacher and the devil, too.
10. “As has been written, that there is none righteous, no, not one,” i. e., not a single one of the above classes, i. e., Jews and Greeks who are all under sin, i. e., all church members of all ages and nations so far as the efficacy of membership, water baptism, church rites and legal obedience are concerned. Since these things, though all right in their places, never did have any power to justify a soul; therefore they leave all their votaries in their sins both actual and original, on the same plane with the unregenerate heathen.
11. “Neither does any one understand, neither is there any one who seeketh out God,” i. e., seeketh God till he finds Him. Hence the legitimate conclusion confirmatory of the utter impossibility that any one through water baptism, sacraments, church-rites, legal obedience and ecclesiastical loyalty can possibly ever reach a personal knowledge of God in the salvation of the soul, that being a personal enterprise on the part of the human spirit and the Holy Spirit, utterly independent of clerical, ritualistical or legalistic administrations.
12. “All have gone away from him, they have all together failed; there is no one that doeth good, no, not one.” Man has been a failure in all dispensations. He failed in Eden, winding up with the fall. He failed in antediluvian times, swept away by the great flood. He failed in the patriarchal dispensation, going down into Egyptian slavery. He failed in the Jewish dispensation, culminating in the awful destruction of Jerusalem and the people by the Roman armies. He failed in the dispensation of our Savior’s ministry, winding up with the disgraceful scene of Calvary. According to the prophecies, the Gentile dispensation, amid whose fugitive retreat we now live, is, like its predecessors, destined to wind up with the horrific tragedies of the great tribulation. Is not that very discouraging? Not to me. Man was never created an independency. Hence when left alone he has always failed, and always will. This is to us a most profitable lesson. Shall we not heed the warning of our ruined predecessors and all fly to God, who is the only success? Whosoever departs from God plunges into ruin, world without end.
13. “Their throat is an open sepulcher; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips.” This is an awful description of the above who depart from God. This picture is progressive, this verse describing an advanced state of alienation from God.
14. “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” The darkness continues to intensify as we proceed away from God.
15. “Their feet are swift to shed blood.” Not only is this true of wicked worldly people who are ready to waylay and murder you, but it is equally true of the fallen churches; as we see through ages how eagerly they have rushed forth to shed innocent blood, beginning with our Savior, and continuing through the centuries, deluging the world with martyrs’ blood, and would today if they could. The Inquisition would revive this day if they had the power.
16. “Destruction and misery are in their ways.” Wicked people are total strangers to happiness; though so blinded by the devil, they think they are the best people in the world, as in the case of counterfeit professors.
17. “The way of peace they have not known.” This statement relieves this entire catalogue of the foolish interpretation which unsaved preachers frequently put on it, identifying it with Christianity, but which is true, under their bogus type, you see not really true, as these people “have not known the way of peace.” Hence they have never been Christians.
18. “The fear of God is not before their eyes.” Wickedness, like righteousness, is progressive. Here we reach the climax. They have passed the dead-line and the Spirit of conviction has been grieved away. So they are doomed. Without the fear of God there is no more hope for a sinner than a devil. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” When there is no fear there is no place to begin. The Holy Spirit abides in every land, convicting every soul, till He is grieved away. Conviction fills the soul with fear, yet there is no salvation without love, i. e., the divine love poured out in the heart by the Holy Ghost (Ch. 5:5) in regeneration. Then love and fear consist till sanctification gives perfect love, which casts out fear (1 John 4:18). The unconvicted sinner has neither fear nor love. He is like a demon. The convicted sinner has fear and no love. The converted man has love, but is not free from fear, while the sanctified has perfect love and no fear.
19. “We know that so many things as the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped and the whole world become guilty before God.” So long as Adam the First is on hand, you are under the law, because he broke it. The only way for you to be exonerated before the law is to satisfy it, which you can only do by having the man of sin executed. Then the law has no more quarrel with you. Your Christ has paid the penalty and gives you grace to live in harmony with the divine administration, after the penalty has been executed against the sin principle in your heart by exterminating it. We have now traversed the sin-side of the Pauline argument, and with the next verse enter upon the grace-side of this wonderful exposition of the redemptive scheme. You see now why Paul got a thrashing wherever he went. If he had contented himself simply to preach love and mercy, like the modern clergy, he might have saved his body from flagellations and stonings. But that is not the divine order. A man will never take bitter, caustic medicines till he finds that he is sick, and it is medicate or die. Under the delusions of Satan, none think they are sick till it is too late, unless they receive the light of the Holy Ghost in a radical conviction. This comes under the preaching of the Sinai Gospel, which uncaps hell and shakes the people over it. What an awfully unpopular introduction is this, holding all the starchy church people, as well as outsiders, right over an open hell and shaking with a strong arm, warning them that they will drop in with all their water baptism, sacraments, church rites, loyalty, and good works, if they do not come to God individually and cry for mercy till he saves them of His own free grace and power! Let a man come into a popular church and preach to them the utter futility of all their boasted righteousness, and tell them they are all on their way to hell right along with the slummites, and see how quickly they will run him out. We cry aloud to the people, holding up the panacea all in vain, because they do not think they need it. No intelligent physician ever administers medicine till he diagnoses the patient and becomes acquainted with the disease. If the preachers would begin, like Paul, on the sin-side and go down to the bottom, revealing the hidden things of darkness, holding the big church officers and the influential women out over an open hell day after day, they would raise a row just as Paul did. Sanctification thirty years ago made me a red-hot preacher of the Sinai Gospel. I have been pelted with rocks, dirt, eggs, potatoes, apples, run off frequently, hauled away, and threatened with immediate death. Why is it not so now with you? I am no longer physically equal to the evangelistic work. God is now using me as a teacher, helping the saints into better experiences and a more thorough understanding of the precious Word. If I were young again, I certainly, like Paul, would preach the Sinai Gospel more courageously than ever. Beginning with Romans 3:19, Paul evolves the longest argument in the Bible confirmatory of justification by the free grace of God in Christ, received and appropriated by faith alone without deeds of law. This wonderful and unanswerable argument runs through the remainder of chapter 3 and all of chapters 4 and 5, winding up with that grand a fortiori argument on the “much-mores.”
20. “Therefore by deeds of law shall no flesh be justified in his presence.” In vain have legalists labored to so interpret this plain passage, which occurs so frequently in the Pauline writings, as to make it exclude the New Testament ritual. It is so plain and positive as to be utterly inevasible in the positive exclusion of all deeds of all law. It simply kills the legalistic heresy outright and forever, sweeping from the field the remotest possibility of human works having anything to do with justification. “For through law is the perfect knowledge of sin.” The law is simply the light which reveals sin. The room may be much polluted with dirt, and the inmates think it is clean till the light is brought in, which reveals all of the filth, but has no power to remove it and cleanse the room. This is precisely what the law does. It reveals sin, but has no power to take it away.
21. “But now the righteousness of God is made manifest without law, being witnessed by the law and the prophets.” This righteousness of God is utterly independent of all law, because God Himself is the law-giver.
“Law” in this passage is without the article, showing that it excludes all law indiscriminately, while in the statement, “the law and the prophets,” having reference to the Mosaic law, we have the article. What is the righteousness of God? It is the righteousness (or justification, as they are synonymous) of God in Christ, i. e., the righteousness which Christ procured for us by His vicarious death. Our Savior has a righteousness peculiar to His divinity, and essential to it, which He will never give to another, but retain forever. He so has a righteousness peculiar to His humanity, and essential to it, which He will retain forever, and never give to another. Yet He has a third righteousness arising from His perfect obedience to the divine law, both keeping it actively and passively paying its penalty for us. This third righteousness, which is neither essential to His God-head nor His manhood, He procured not for Himself, as He did not need it, but for you and me. This righteousness is the only palladium that can possibly fortify us against the terrors of the violated law, and it is God’s glorious and munificent gift in Christ. Since it is a free gift, we do not have to give anything for it. The abandonment of all sin is indispensable to put us in position to receive it by simple faith, i. e., faith is the hand by which the soul receives it, i. e., the only spiritual faculty competent to receive it.
Hence, if we do not receive it by faith alone, we will never get it, and hell is our doom.
22. “The righteousness of God through faith of Jesus Christ unto all who believe, for there is no difference.” In justification, we have faith in Christ; in sanctification, we have the faith of Jesus Christ, who never had the faith of pardon, as He never had any sins to be pardoned, but He always had the faith of purity, i. e., such faith in God as all the angels and redeemed spirits in heaven and earth enjoy, i. e., identical in quality though not in quantity. We find here there is actually no difference in all the world, the church member and the heathen standing on the same broad plain of universal condemnation till saved by personal application to Christ. In the preceding exegesis, we see that he is not a Christian who is one outwardly, neither is baptism that which is outward on the flesh; but he is a Christian who is one inwardly, and baptism is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter, whose praise is not of men, but of God. Hence you see plainly the utter insignificance of all ceremonial professions without the spiritual experience; while the latter is just as valid in the sight of God without the visible ordinances as with them. The true salvation is a pure spirituality in toto. Hence there is no difference between the professor and the non-professor, the whole problem being settled on the question of possession. You can profess much and have nothing. You can have an uttermost salvation without the attestations of ecclesiastical ceremonies. Paul utterly and eternally sweeps dead ritualism from the field.
23. “For all sinned and came short of the glory of God.” “All have sinned” (E. V.) is a wrong translation, involving personality and condemning the infants. The Greek is the imperfect tense, only implying that all sinned seminally, which is true. There was but one creation, i. e., Adam; Eve being no exception, but an evolution from Adam’s rib. Hence when Adam sinned, the race sinned, and all fell together, all being in Adam seminally. Hence all the infants sinned seminally and received a corrupt nature, though they did not sin personally. Consequently they did not personally fall under condemnation. All infants are born depraved, i. e., with a sinful nature, though not actual sinners, but Christians by the redemption of Christ. They should be converted before they forfeit infantile justification by actual transgression, and then sanctified before they backslide. “Fall short” is in the present tense, stating a sad, though universally observable fact, resulting from the fall. This “falling short of the glory of God” appertains to all till this mortal shall put on immortality.
24. “Being freely justified by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” If the people could have been saved through legal obedience and good works, the Son of God might have stayed in heaven, enjoying forever the throne of his glory. Counterfeit religion, girdling the globe and deluding the people with the vain hallucination that they can be saved by priestly absolutions, church loyalty and legal obedience, hurls daily into the face of God the most abominable of all insults by actually treating with contempt the dying love and precious blood of His Son.
25. “Whom God set forth a vicarious atonement through faith in his blood.” We can only be saved from hell through the substitutionary death of Christ, who paid our penalty, dying a ransom in our room and stead, thus blockading the mouth of hell with his crucified body in order to keep us out. This is justification, i. e., negative salvation. It is not only indispensable that we be kept out of hell, but equally pertinent that we be prepared for heaven. While the negative phase of salvation through the vicarious atonement keeps us out of hell, it is equally true that the positive phase of salvation through the precious blood expurging all sin makes us holy and congenializes us to the heavenly state, thus making us forever like the unfallen angels and qualifying us to enjoy the society of angels, arch-angels and glorified spirits forever. It is bold and comprehensive, involving full salvation, both negative and positive. We have but one human condition specified, and that is that we get it all through faith “in his blood.”
Thorough repentance must put the sinner on believing ground, where he can be justified by faith; while complete consecration is indispensable to put the Christian on believing ground where he can be wholly sanctified through faith alone, precisely as he when a sinner received justification through faith alone. Satan’s preachers are always crying out “obedience.” It is a fond trick of the devil to deceive people by good things; e. g., obedience is good and commendable in its sphere. The truth of the matter is, true faith inspired by the Holy Ghost is always obedient, whether in the justification of a sinner or the sanctification of a Christian. Right here comes in the devil’s tricky delusion in fixing the eye on the obedience instead of on Christ, and thus running the poor devotee into idolatry, which is your inevitable fate if you depend upon anything but Christ to save you. It is only Satan’s counterfeit that does not obey God, the genuine being always gladly obedient to every ramification of the divine administration. “Unto the manifestation of his own righteousness, through the remission of the sins which are passed.
26. “Through the forbearance of God, unto the manifestation of his own righteousness at the present time, that he should be righteous and the one justifying him who is of the faith of Jesus.” What a burning emphasis we have here on the fact that the sinner in justification does not receive his own righteousness, the normal fruit of legal obedience, nor the absolution of an interceding priest, administering church ordinances and ritualistic obligations; but he receives the righteousness of Christ Himself, God’s own righteousness, purchased by the vicarious death of His Son, not at some future period, but now conferred on the humble, believing penitent, the very identical righteousness of Christ Himself, and appropriated through faith without works.
27. “Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what law? of works? No; but through the law of faith.
28. “For we conclude that a man is justified by faith without works of law.” How astonishing that, in the face of so much positive, clear and unequivocal inspired affirmation that justification is by faith alone without any works of any law, after all we see nominal Christianity burdened to death with human legalisms. Poor old Romanism got so heavily loaded centuries ago, that she not only got slowed down into a standstill on the track, but as the way to heaven is up-grade, and the way to hell downgrade, the tremendous gravity of her mammoth institutions reversed her wheels, so for many centuries she has been running perditionward with an appalling velocity. You have but to look around you and see the Protestant churches already burdened into a standstill, and yet competing either with other in the manufacture of ecclesiastical institutions unheard of in the Bible. The gullibility of poor, fallen humanity in religion has been proverbial in all ages, and, oh, how universally manifest at the present day, when, amid the universal fulfillment of the latter day prophecies, this old wicked world is so fast ripening for destruction, everywhere augmented and expected by fallen churchisms, furnishing a thousand substitutes for the precious blood of Jesus and the refining fire of the Holy Ghost. How triumphantly and irrefutably does this verse forever annihilate all the claims of human legalism, uncontrovertedly establishing the great fundamental Bible truth of justification for all men through the free grace of God in Christ, received and appropriated by faith without deeds of law; i. e., water baptism or anything else on the line of legal obedience.
29. “Is he the God of the Jews only? Is he not also of the Gentiles; yea, indeed of the Gentiles,
30. “Since there is one God who will justify the circumcision and the uncircumcision through faith.” We need not wonder at the amount of apparently substantial repetition in this argument proclaiming God’s great law of pardon to all the world indiscriminately, whether Pagan, Papist, Moslem, Jew, Gentile, or Protestant. It is simply by faith alone, without works wrought by yourself, a preacher, a church member, or anything else.
31. “Then do we make void the law through faith? It could not be so, but we establish the law.” Here Paul answers the silly objections which I have often heard abused by Satan’s preachers; i. e., that we who preach the utter non-essentiality of all legal obedience in order to justification, are making void the law, i. e., setting it aside and treating it with contempt. This is simply the bogus pleading of spiritually ignorant people. If we had to be justified by the law we would all be sent to hell, for the simple fact that we are all law-breakers. Hunting in the Bible for justification through legal obedience is like the criminal ransacking the statute book to find his pardon. It is not there, but on the contrary he finds his condemnation boldly written on every page. Not we, but unfallen beings, such as Adam in Eden and the angels in heaven, can possibly be justified by the law. Transgressors can receive nothing but condign punishment. Well does Paul say that instead of nullifying we establish the law, boldly affirming the impossibility of its nullification under the hypothesis of our justification by faith alone without works, from the simple fact that our faith receives and appropriates Christ, who alone in all this world has kept and verified the law, not only by His active obedience to all of its mandates, but by His passive obedience, satisfying the violated law in the vicarious atonement which He made by His substitutionary death in our room and stead. When you seek justification by works, you are depending on your own obedience, which is“filthy rags in the sight of God” a miserable and irretrievable breakdown. When we are justified by faith we lay hold of Christ, our glorious substitute, who has perfectly satisfied the law both actively and passively in every respect. Consequently we have victory over the world, the flesh, and the devil, in time and in eternity.
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Godbey, William. "Commentary on Romans 3". "Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany