THIS chapter consists of three parts. The first part extends to the 8th verse inclusively, and is designed to answer and remove some objections to the doctrine previously advanced by the Apostle. In the second part, from the 9th to the 20th verses, it is proved, by the testimonies of various scriptures, that the Jews, as well as the Gentiles, are involved in sin and guilt, and consequently that none can be justified by the law. The third part commences at verse 21, where the Apostle reverts to the declaration, ch. 1:17, with which his discussion commenced, and exhibits the true and only way of justification for all men, by the righteousness of God imputed through faith in Jesus Christ.
What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision?
If the preceding doctrine be true, it may be asked, What advantage hath the Jew over the Gentile; and what profit is there in circumcision, if it does not save from sin? If, on the contrary, the Jews, on account of their superior privileges, will be held more culpable before the tribunal of Divine justice, as the Apostle had just shown, it appears obviously improper to allege that God has favored them more than the Gentiles. This objection it was necessary to obviate, not only because it is specious, but because it is important, and might, in regard to the Jews, arrest the course of the Gospel. It is specious; for if, in truth, the advantages of the Jews, so far from justifying them, contribute nothing to cause the balance of Divine judgment to preponderate in their favor if their advantages rather enhance their condemnation does it not appear that they are not only useless, but positively pernicious? In these advantages, then, it is impossible to repose confidence. But the objection is also important; for it would be difficult to imagine that all God had done for the Jews His care of them so peculiar, and His love of them so great, in short, all the privileges which Moses exalts so highly were lavished on them in vain, or turned to their disadvantage. The previous statement of the Apostle might then be injurious to the doctrine of the Gospel, by rendering him more odious in the eyes of his countrymen, and therefore he had good reasons for fully encountering and answering this objection. In a similar way, it is still asked by carnal professors of Christianity, Of what use is obedience to the law of God or the observance of His ordinances, if they do not save the soul, or contribute somewhat to this end?
Much every way; chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.
Paul here repels the foregoing objection as false and unfounded. Although the privileges of the Jews cannot come into consideration for their justification before the judgment-seat of God, it does not follow that they were as nothing, or of no advantage; on the contrary, they were marks of the peculiar care of God for that people, while He had, as it were, abandoned all the other nations. They were as aids, too, which God had given to deliver them from the impiety and depravity of the Gentiles; and, by the accompanying influences of His Spirit, they were made effectual to the salvation of many of them. Finally, the revelation made to the Jews contained not only figures and shadows of the Gospel, but also preparations for the new covenant. God had bestowed nothing similar on the Gentiles: the advantage, then, of the Jews was great.
Much every way. — This does not mean, in every sense; for the Apostle does not retract what he had said in the preceding chapter, namely, that their advantages were of no avail for justification to the Jews continuing to be sinners, — for, on the contrary, in that case they only enhanced their condemnation; but this expression signifies that their advantages were very great, and very considerable.
Chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God. — The original denotes primarily , which is not a priority of order, but a priority in dignity and advantage; that is to say, that of all the advantages God had vouchsafed to them, the most estimable and most excellent was that of having entrusted to them His oracles. The word here used for oracles signifies the responses or answers given by an oracle; and when the Scriptures are so designated, it implies that they are altogether, in word, as well as in sense, the communications of God. By these oracles we must understand, in general, all the Scriptures of the Old Testament, especially as they regarded the Messiah; and, in particular, the prophecies which predicted His advent. They were oracles, inasmuch as they were the words from the mouth of God Himself, in opposition to the revelation of nature, which was common to Jews and Gentiles; and they were promises in respect to their matter, because they contained the great promise of sending Jesus Christ into the world. God had entrusted these oracles to the Jews, who had been constituted their guardians and depositories till the time of their fulfillment, when they were to be communicated to all, Isaiah 2:3; and through them possessed the high character of the witnesses of God, Isaiah 43:10, 44:8, even till the time of their execution, when they were commanded to be communicated to the whole world, according to what Isaiah 2:3, had said, — ’For out of Sin shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. These oracles had not, however, been entrusted to the Jews simply as good things for the benefit of others, but also for their own advantage, that they might themselves make use of them; for in the oracles the Messiah — who was to be born among them, and among them to accomplish the work of redemption — was declared to be the proper object of their confidence, and through them they had the means of becoming acquainted with the way of salvation.
But why were these oracles given so long before the coming of the Messiah? It was for three principal reasons: — First, To serve as a testimony that, notwithstanding man’s apostasy, God had not abandoned the earth, but had always reserved for Himself a people; and it was by these great and Divine promises that He had preserved His elect in all ages.
Secondly, These oracles were to characterize and designate the Messiah when He should come, in order that He might be known and distinguished; for they pointed Him out in such a manner that He could be certainly recognized when He appeared. On this account Philip said to Nathaniel, John 1:45, ‘We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and the Prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph’ Thirdly, They were to serve as a proof of the Divine origin of the Christian religion; for the admirable correspondence between the Old Testament and the New is a clear and palpable demonstration of its divinity. It is, moreover, to be observed that this favor of having been constituted the depositories of the sacred oracles was peculiar to the Jews, and one in which the Gentiles did not at all participate. This is what the Apostle here expressly teaches, since he considers it as an illustrious distinction conferred upon his nation, a pre-eminence over all the kingdoms of the world.
But why, again, does the Apostle account the possession of these oracles their greatest advantage? Might not other privileges have been considered as equal, or even preferable, such as the glorious miracles which God had wrought for the deliverance of the Israelites; His causing them to pass through the Red Sea, in the face of all the pride and power of their haughty oppressor; His guiding them through the sandy desert by a pillar of fire by night, and of cloud by day; His causing them to hear His voice out of the fire, when He descended in awful majesty upon Sinai; or, finally, His giving them His law, written with His own finger, on tables of stone? It is replied, the promises respecting the Messiah, and His coming to redeem men, were much greater than all the others. Apart from these, all the other advantages would not only have been useless, but fatal to the Jews; for, being sinners, they could only have served to overwhelm them with despair, in discovering, on the one hand, their corruption, unmitigated by the kindness of Jehovah, and, on the other, the avenging justice of God. In these circumstances, they would have been left under the awful impossibility of finding any expiation for their sins. If, then, God had not added the promises concerning the Messiah, all the rest would have been death to them, and therefore the oracles which contained these promises were the first and chief of their privileges.
For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?
This is not the objection of a Jew, but, as it might readily occur, is supposed by the Apostle. It is not ‘But what,’ as Dr. Macknight translates the first words, it is ‘For that.’ The Apostle answers the objection in stating it. ‘For what if some have not believed;’ that is, ‘the unbelief of some is no objection to my doctrine.’ ‘Will their unbelief destroy the faithfulness of God?’ This repels, and does not, as Dr. Macknight understands it, assert the supposition. The meaning is, that the unbelief of the Jews did not make void God’s faithfulness with respect to the covenant with Abraham. Though the mass of his descendants were unbelievers at this time, yet many of them, both then, as the Apostle asserts, ch. 11:2, and at all other times, were saved in virtue of that covenant. Paul, then, here anticipates and meets an objection which might be urged against his assertion of the pre-eminence of the Jews over the Gentiles, testified by the fact that to them God had confided His oracles.
The objection is this, that since they had not believed in the Messiah, whom these oracles promised, this advantage must not only be reckoned of little value, but, on the contrary, prejudicial.
In reply to this objection, the Apostle, in the first place, intimates that their unbelief had not been universal, which is tacitly understood in his only attributing unbelief to some; for when it is said that some have not believed, it is plainly intimated that some have believed. It does not, indeed, appear that it would have been worthy of the Divine wisdom to have given to one nation, in preference to all others, so excellent and glorious an economy as that of the Old Testament, to have chosen them above all others of His free love and good pleasure, and to have revealed to them the mysteries respecting the Messiah, while, at the same time, none of them should have responded to all this by a true faith. There is too much glory and too much majesty in the person of Jesus Christ, and in His work of redemption, to allow it to be supposed that He should be revealed only externally by the word, without profit to some, Isaiah 55:10,11.
In all ages, before as well as since the coming of the Messiah, although in a different measure, the Gospel has been the ministration of the Spirit. It was fitting, then, that the ancient promises, which were in substance the Gospel, should be accompanied with a measure of that Divine Spirit who imprints them in the hearts of men, and that, as the Spirit was to be poured out on all flesh, the nation of the Jews should not be absolutely deprived of this blessing. This was the first answer, namely, that unbelief had not been so general, but that many had profited by the Divine oracles; and consequently, in respect to them at least, the advantage to the Jews had been great. But the Apostle goes farther; for, in the second place, he admits that many had fallen in incredulity, but denies that their incredulity impeached the faithfulness of God. Here it may be asked whether the Apostle refers to the Jews under the legal economy who did not believe the Scriptures, or to those only who, at the appearing of the Messiah, rejected the Gospel? The reference, it may be answered, is both to the one and the other.
But it may be said, How could unbelief respecting these oracles be ascribed to the Jews, when they had only rejected the person of Jesus Christ? For they did not doubt the truth of the oracles; on the contrary, they expected with confidence their accomplishment; they only denied that Jesus was the predicted Messiah. It is replied, that to reject, as they did, the person of Jesus Christ, was the same as if they had formally rejected the oracles themselves, since all that was contained in them could only unite and be accomplished in His person. The Jews, therefore, in reality rejected the oracles; and so much the more was their guilt aggravated, inasmuch as it was their prejudices, and their carnal and unauthorized anticipations of a temporal Messiah, which caused their rejection of Jesus Christ. Thus it was a real disbelief of the oracles themselves; for all who reject the true meaning of the Scriptures, and attach to them another sense, do in reality disbelieve them, and set up in their stead a phantom of their own imagination, even while they profess to believe the truth of what the Scriptures contain. The Apostle, then, had good reason to attribute unbelief to the Jews respecting the oracles, but he denies that their unbelief can make void the faith, or rather destroy the faithfulness, of God.
By the faithfulness of God some understand the constancy and faithfulness of His love to the Jews; and they suppose that the meaning is, that while the Jews have at present fallen into unbelief, God will not, however, fail to recall them, as is fully taught in the eleventh chapter. But the question here is not respecting the recall of the Jews, or the constancy of God’s love to them, but respecting their condemnation before His tribunal of strict justice, which they attempted to elude by producing these advantages, and in maintaining that if these advantages only led to their condemnation, as the Apostle had said, it was not in sincerity that God had conferred them. ‘This objection alone the Apostle here refutes. The term, then, faith of God, signifies His sincerity or faithfulness, according to which He had given to the Jews these oracles; and the Apostle’s meaning is, that the incredulity of the Jews did not impeach that sincerity and faithfulness, whence it followed that it drew down on them a more just condemnation, as he had shown in the preceding chapter.
God forbid: yea, let and be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, that Thou might be justified in Thy sayings, and might overcome when Thou art judged.
God forbid. — Literally, let it not be, or far be it, a denial frequently made by the Apostle in the same way in this Epistle. It intimates two things, namely, the rejecting of that which the objection would infer, not only as what is false, but even impious; for it is an affront to God to make His faithfulness dependent on the depravity of man, and His favor on our corruption. Though the privileges of the Jew, and the good which God had done for him, terminated only in his condemnation, by reason of his unbelief, it would be derogatory to the Almighty to question His faithfulness, because of the fault of the unprincipled objects of these privileges. The Apostle also wished to clear his doctrine from this calumny, that God was unfaithful in His promises, and insincere in His proceedings. Let God be true, but every man a liar. — The calling of men, inasmuch as it is of God, is faithful and sincere; but the fact that it produces a result contrary to its nature and tendency, is to he attributed to man, who is always deceitful and vain. If the Jews had not been corrupted by their perversity, their calling would have issued in salvation; if it has turned to their condemnation, this is to be attributed to their own unbelief.
We must therefore always distinguish between what comes from God and what proceeds from man: that which is from God is good, and right, and true; that which is from man is evil, and false, and deceitful. Mr. Tholuck grievously errs in his Neological supposition, that this inspired Apostle ‘utters, in the warmth of his discourse, the wish that all mankind might prove covenant-breakers, as this would only tend to glorify God the more, by being the occasion of manifesting how great is His fidelity.’ This would be a bad wish; it would be desiring evil that good might come. It is not a wish. Paul states a truth. God in every instance is to be believed, although this should imply that every man on earth is to be condemned as a liar. As it is written, That thou mightest be justified in Thy sayings, and mightest overcome when Thou art judged. — This passage may be taken either in a passive signification, when Thou shalt be judged, or in an active signification, when Thou shalt judge. In this latter sense, according to the translation in Psalm 51:4, the meaning will be clear, if we have recourse to the history referred to in the Second Book of Samuel, ch. 12:7, 11, where it is said that Nathan was sent from God to David. In that address, God assumed two characters, the one, of the party complaining and accusing David as an ungrateful man, who had abused the favors he had received, and who had offended his benefactor; the other, of the judge who pronounces in his own cause, according to his own accusation. It is to this David answers, in the 4th verse of the Psalm: — ’Against thee, Thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight, that Thou mightest be justified when thou speakest.’ As if he had said, Thou hast good cause to decide against me; I have offended Thee; I am ungrateful; Thou hast reason to complain and to accuse me; Thou hast truth and justice in the words which Thy prophet has spoken from Thee. He adds, that Thou mightest be clear when Thou judgest; that is to say, as my accuser Thou wilt obtain the victory over me, before Thy tribunal, when Thou pronouncest Thy sentence. In one word, it signifies that whether in regard to the found of that sentence or its form, David had nothing to allege against the judgment which God had pronounced in His own cause, and that he fully acknowledged the truth and justice of God. Hence it clearly follow that when God pleads against us, and sets before us His goodness to us, and, on the other hand, the evil return we have made, it is always found that God is sincere and true towards us, but that we have been deceivers and unbelieving in regard to Him, and therefore that our condemnation is just. This is precisely what the Apostle proposed to conclude against the Jews.
God had extended to them His favors, and they had requited them only by their sins, and by a base incredulity. When, therefore, He shall bring them to answer before His judgment-seat, God will decide that He had been sincere in respect to them, and that they, on the contrary, had been wicked, whence will follow their awful but just condemnation. Paul could not have adduced anything more to the purpose than the example and words of David on a subject altogether similar, nor more solidly have replied to the objection supposed.
The answer of the Apostle will lead to the same conclusion, if the passive sense be taken, Thou shalt be judged. Though so eminent a servant of God, David had been permitted to fall into his foul transgressions, that God might be justified in the declarations of His word, which assert that all men are evil, guilty and polluted by nature, and that in themselves there is no difference. Had all the eminent saints whose lives are recorded in Scripture, been preserved blameless, the world would have supposed that such men were an exception to the character given of man in the word of God. They would have concluded that human nature is better than it is. But when Abraham and Jacob, David and Solomon, and Peter and many others, were permitted to manifest what is in human nature, God’s word is justified in its description of man. God ‘overcomes when He is judged;’ that is, such examples as that of the fall of David prove that man is what God declares him to be. Wicked men are not afraid to bring God to their bar, and impeach His veracity, by denying that man is as bad as He declares. But by such examples God is justified. The passive sense, then, of the word ‘judge’ is a good and appropriate meaning; and the phrase acquitting, or clearing, or overcoming may be applicable, not to the person who judges God, but to God who is judged. This meaning is also entirely to the Apostle’s purpose. Let all men be accounted liars, rather than impugn the veracity of God, because, in reality, all men are in themselves such.
Whenever, then, the Divine testimony is contradicted by human testimony, let man be accounted a liar.
But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man)
Out of the answer to the question in the first verse of this chapter, another objection might arise, which is here supposed. It is such as a Jew would make, but is proposed by the Apostle classing himself with the Jews, as is intimated when he says, I speak as a man, just as any writer is in the habit of stating objections in order to obviate them. The objection is this: if, then, it be so that the righteousness of God, — that righteousness which is revealed in the Gospel, ch. 1:17, by the imputation of which men are justified, — if that righteousness which God has provided is more illustriously manifested by our sin, showing how suitable and efficacious it is to us as sinners, shall it not be said that God is unjust in punishing the sin that has this effect? What shall we say? or what answer can be made to such an objection? Is God, or rather, is not God unjust, who in this case taketh vengeance? This is a sort of insult against the doctrine of the Gospel, as if the objection was so strong and well founded that no reply could be made to it.
I speak as a man. — That is to say, in the way that the impiety of men, and their want of reverence for God, leads them to speak. The above was, in effect, a manner of reasoning common among the Jews and other enemies of the Gospel. It is, indeed, such language as is often heard, that if such doctrines as those of election and special grace be true, men are not to be blamed who reject the Gospel.
God forbid; for then how shall God judge the world?
Far be it. — Paul thus at once rejects such a consequence, and so perverse a manner of reasoning, as altogether inadmissible, and proceeds to answer it by showing to what it would lead, if admitted.
For then how shall God judge the world? — If the objection were well founded, it would entirely divest God of the character of judge of the world. The reason of this is manifest, for there is no sin that any man can commit which does not exalt some perfection of God, in the way of contrast. If, then, it be concluded that because unrighteousness in man illustrates the righteousness of God, God is unrighteous when He taketh vengeance, it must be further said, that there is no sin that God can justly punish; whence it follows that God can no longer be judge of the world. But this would subvert all order and all religion. The objection, then, is such that, were it admitted, all the religion in the world would at once be annihilated. For those sins, for which men will be everlastingly punished, will no doubt be made to manifest God’s glory. Such is the force of the Apostle’s reply.
For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto His glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner?
This verse is generally supposed to contain the objection here reiterated, which was before stated in the 5th verse. It would appear strange, however, that the Apostle should in this manner repeat an objection — in a way, too, in which it is not strengthened — which he had effectually removed, and that after proposing it a second time he should add nothing to his preceding reply, further than denouncing it. It is not, then, a repetition of the same objection, but a second way in which Paul replies to what had been advanced in the 5th verse. In the preceding verse he had, in his usual brief but energetic manner, first repudiated the consequence alleged in the 5th verse, and had next replied to it by a particular reference, which proved that it was inadmissible. Here, by the word for, he introduces another consideration, and proceeds to set aside the objection, by exposing the inconsistency of those by whom it was preferred. The expression kajgw> I also, shows that Paul speaks here in his own person, and not in that of an opponent, for otherwise he would not have said, I also, which marks an application to a particular individual. His reply, then, here to the objection is this: If, according to those by whom it is supposed and brought forward, it would be unrighteous in God to punish any action which redounds to His own glory, Paul would in like manner say that if his lie — his false doctrine, as his adversaries stigmatized it — commended the truth of God, they, according to their own principle, were unjust, because on this account they persecuted him as a sinner. In this manner he makes their objection reach upon those by whom it was advanced, and refutes them by referring to their own conduct towards him, so that they could have nothing to reply. For it could not be denied that the doctrine which Paul taught respecting the justification of sinners solely by the righteousness of God, whether true or false, ascribed all the glory of their salvation to God.
And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil that good may come; whose damnation is just.
This is the third thing which the Apostle advances against the objection of his adversaries, and is in substance, that they established as a good and just principle what they ascribed to him as a crime, namely, that men might do evil that good may come. They calumniously imputed to Paul and his fellow-laborers this impious maxim, in order to render them odious, while it was they themselves who maintained it. For if, according to them, God was unrighteous in punishing the unrighteousness of men when their unrighteousness redounded to His glory, it followed that the Apostles might without blame do evil, provided that out of it good should arise. Their own objection, then, proved them guilty of maintaining that same hateful doctrine which they so falsely laid to his charge.
As we slanderously reported. — Here Paul satisfies himself with stigmatizing as a slanderous imputation this vile calumny, from which the doctrine he taught was altogether clear.
Whose damnation is just. — This indignant manner of cutting short the matter by simply affirming the righteous condemnation of his adversaries, was the more proper, not only as they were calumniators, but also because the principle of doing evil that good might come, was avowed by them in extenuation of sin and unbelief. It was fitting, then, that an expression of abhorrence, containing a solemn denunciation of the vengeance of God, on account of such a complication of perversity and falsehood, should for ever close the subject. On these verses we may observe, that men often adduce specious reasonings to contradict the decisions of the Divine word; but Christians ought upon every subject implicitly to credit the testimony of God, though many subtle and plausible objections should present themselves, which they are unable to answer.
What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jew and Gentiles, that they are all under sin.
Here commences the second part of the chapter, in which, having proposed and replied to the above objections to his doctrine, Paul now resumes the thread of his discourse. In the two preceding chapters he had asserted the guilt of the Gentiles and of the Jews separately; in what follows he takes them together, and proves by express testimonies from Scripture that all men are sinners, and that there is none righteous, no, not one. In this manner he follows up and completes his argument to support the conclusion at which he is about to arrive in the 20th verse, which all along he had in view, namely, that by works of law no man can be justified, and with the purpose of fully unfolding, in verses 21, 22, 23, and 24, the means that God has provided for our justification, which he had briefly announced, ch. 1:17. In the verse before us he shows that, although he has admitted that the advantages of the Jews over the Gentiles are great, it must not thence be concluded that the Jews are better than they. When he says ‘are we better,’ he classes himself with the Jews, to whom he was evidently referring; but when, in the last clause of the verse, he employs the same term ‘we,’ he evidently speaks in his own person, although, as in some other places, in the plural number.
What then? are we better than they? — The common translation here is juster than Mr. Stuart’s, which is, ‘have we any preference?’ The Jews had a preference. The Apostle allows that they had many advantages, and that they had a preference over the Gentiles; but he denies that they were better.
Not at all. — By no means. This is a strong denial of what is the subject of the question. Then he gives the reason of the denial, namely, that he had before proved both Jews and Gentiles that they are all under sin. All not only signifies that there were sinners among both Jews and Gentiles, for the Jews did not deny this; on this point there was no difference between them and the Apostle; but he includes them all singly, without one exception. It is in this sense of universality that what he has hitherto said, both of Jews and Gentiles, must be taken. Of all that multitude of men there was not found one who had not wandered from the right way. One alone, Jesus Christ, was without sin, and it is on this account that the Scriptures call Him the ‘Just or Righteous One,’ to distinguish Him by this singular character from the rest of men.
Under sin . — That is to say, guilty; for it is in relation to the tribunal of Divine justice that the Apostle here considers sin, in the same way as he says, Galatians 3:22, ‘The Scripture hath concluded (shut up) all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.’ That it is in this sense we must understand the expression under sin and not, as Roman Catholic commentators explain it, as under the dominion of sin, evidently appears, — 1st, Because in this discussion, to be under sin is opposed to being under grace. Now, to be under grace, Romans 6:14,15, signifies to be in a state of justification before God, our sins being pardoned. To be under sin, then, signifies to be guilty in the eye of justice. 2nd, It is in reference to the tribunal of Divine justice, and in the view of condemnation, that Paul has all along been considering sin, both in respect to Jews and Gentiles. To be under sin, then, can only signify to be guilty, since he here repeats in summary all that he had before advanced. Finally, he explains his meaning clearly when he says, in verse 19, ‘that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.’
As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one.
After having proceeded in his discussion, appealing to the natural sentiments of conscience and undeniable fact, Paul now employs the authority of Scripture, and alleges several passages drawn from the books of the Old Testament, written at different times, more clearly to establish the universal guilt both of Jews and Gentiles, in order that he might prove them all under condemnation before the tribunal of God.
There is none righteous. — This passage may be regarded as the leading proposition, the truth of which the Apostle is about to establish by the following quotations. None could be more appropriate or better adapted to his purpose, which was to show that every man is in himself entirely divested of righteousness. There is none righteous, no, not one. Not one possessed of a righteousness that can meet the demands of God’s holy law. The words in this verse, and those contained in verses 11 and 12, are taken from Psalms 14: and 53, which are the same as to the sense, although they do not follow the exact expressions. But does it seem proper that Paul should draw a consequence in relation to all, from what David has only said of the wicked of his time? The answer is, That the terms which David employs are too strong not to contemplate the universal sinfulness of the human race. ‘The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside; they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.’ This notifies universal depravity, so that, according to the Prophet, the application is just. It is not that David denies that God had sanctified some men by His Spirit; for, on the contrary, in the same Psalm, he speaks of the afflicted, of whom God is the refuge; but the intention is to say that, in their natural condition, without the grace of regeneration, which God vouchsafes only to His people, who are a small number, the whole human race is in a state of universal guilt and condemnation. This is also what is meant by Paul, and it is the use, as is clear from the context, that he designed to make of this passage of David, according to which none are excepted in such a way as that, if God examined them by their obedience to the law, they could stand before Him; and, besides this, whatever holiness is found in any man, it is not by the efficacy of the law, but by that of the Gospel, and if they are now sanctified, they were formerly under sin as well as others; so that it remains a truth, that all who are under the law, to which the Apostle is exclusively referring, are under sin that is, guilty before God. Through the whole of this discussion, it is to be observed that the Apostle makes no reference to the doctrine of sanctification. It is to the law exclusively that he refers, and here, without qualification, he asserts it as a universal truth that there is none righteous — not one who possesses righteousness, that is, in perfect conformity to the law; and his sole object is to prove the necessity of receiving the righteousness of God in order to be delivered from condemnation. The passage, then, here adduced by Paul, is strictly applicable to his design.
Dr. Macknight supposes that this expression, ‘There is none righteous,’ applies to the Jewish common people, and is an Eastern expression, which means that comparatively very few are excepted. There is not the shadow of ground for such a supposition. It is evident that both the passages quoted, and the Apostle’s argument, require that every individual of the human race be included. And on what pretense can it be restricted to ‘the Jewish common people’? Whether were they or their leaders the objects of the severest reprehensions of our Lord during His ministry? Did not Jesus pronounce the heaviest woes on the scribes and Pharisees? Matthew 23:15. Did He not tell the chief priests and elders that the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of heaven before them? Matthew 21:31.
Mr. Stuart also supposes that the charge is not unlimited, and justifies this by alleging that the believing Jews must be excepted. But it is clear that the believing Jews are not excepted. For though they are now delivered, yet they were by nature under sin as well as others; and that all men are so, is what Paul is teaching, without having the smallest reference to the Gospel or its effects. In this manner Dr. Macknight and Mr. Stuart, entirely mistaking the meaning of the Apostle and the whole drift of his argument, remove the foundation of the proofs he adduces that all men are sinners.
Mr. Stuart also appears to limit the charges to the Jews, and in support of this refers to the 9th and 19th verses. The 9th verse speaks of both Jews and Gentiles; and the purpose of the 19th evidently is to prove that the Jews are not excepted; while the 20th clearly shows that the whole race of mankind are included, it being the general conclusion which the Apostle draws from all he had said, from the 18th verse of the first chapter, respecting both Jews and Gentiles, of whom he affirms in the 9th verse that they were all under sin. And is it not strictly true, in the fullest import of the term, that there is none righteous in himself, no, not one? Is not righteousness the fulfilling of the law? ‘And do not the Scriptures testify and everywhere show that ‘there is no man that sinneth not’? Kings 8:46. ‘Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?’ Proverbs 20:9. ‘For there is not a just man upon earth; that doeth good and sinneth not,’ Ecclesiastes 7:20. And the Apostle James, including himself as well as his brethren to whom he wrote, declares, ‘In many things we all offend’. 15
Like Mr. Stuart, Taylor of Norwich in his Commentary, supposes that in this and the following verses to the 19th, the Apostle means no universality at all, but only the far greater part, and that they refer to bodies of people, of Jews and Gentiles in a collective sense, and not to particular persons. To this President Edwards, in his treatise On Original Sin , p. 245, replies, ‘If the words which the Apostle uses do not most fully and determinably signify a universality, no words ever used in the Bible are sufficient to do it. I might challenge any man to produce any one paragraph in the Scripture, from the beginning to the end, where there is such a repetition and accumulation of terms, so strongly and emphatically, and carefully, to express the most perfect and absolute universality, or any place to be compared to it. What instance is there in the scripture, or indeed any other writing, when the meaning is only the much greater part, where this meaning is signified in such a manner by repeating such expressions, They are all — they are all — they are all — together one — all the world, joined to multiplied negative terms, to show the universality to be without exception, saying, There is no flesh — there is none — there is none — there is none — there is none four times over, besides the addition of no, not one — no, not one, once and again! When the Apostle says, ‘That every mouth may be stopped, must we suppose that he speaks only of those two great collective bodies, figuratively ascribing to each of them a mouth, and means that those two mouths are stopped?’ Again, p. 241, ‘Here the thing which I would prove, viz., that mankind, in their first state, before they are interested in the benefits of Christ redemption, are universally wicked, is declared with the utmost possible fullness and precision. So that, if here this matter be not set forth plainly, expressly, and fully, it must be because no words can do it; and it is not in the power of language, or any manner of terms or phrases, however contrived and heaped one upon another, determinably to signify any such thing.’
15: ‘Here a question,’ it is observed in the Presbyterian Review, ‘arises, which materially affects the interpretation of the next two verses, — “whether Paul continues to devote himself to the inculcation of the Jews only, or of all mankind.” It is natural, of course, to refer the quotations from the Old Testament to the sentiment which is nearest them, that all, whether Jews or Gentiles, are under sin; and it is right to do so, unless some strong reason can be shown to the contrary. Mr. Stuart imagines he has discovered such a reason, in the aged fact that “in the Old Testament, in the connection in which they stand, some of the passages have not an unlimited signification.” But this argument, if of any weight at all, proves a great deal too much. For, if their original meaning was so specific as not to comprehend all the world, it was likewise so specific as not to comprehend all the Jews. On Mr. Stuart’s supposition, most of them refer primarily to the “impious part of the Jewish nation.” Would, then, those who made their boast of God submit to be marked as of this fraternity? No, not one of them would identify himself with the impious; and the arrows which the Apostle designed to pierce their hearts, would prove either pointless or misdirected. If, therefore, we must restrict the signification of these verses, according to our previous views of their force in the passages whence they have been transplanted, let us do so consistently, and affirm at once that the Apostle, wishing to bring home guilt to the Jewish people (for we go on Mr. Stuart’s own supposition), adduced authorities which bear only upon part of them, and were of no efficacy for the conviction of the whole. But if this is too appalling for our acceptance, let us renounce the argument which involves it; let us learn from Paul himself the object of his own citations, connect them (as is most natural) with the nearest context, and understand them as expressive of the most perfect and absolute universality.’
There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.
Paul here applies equally to Jews and Gentiles that which he charges upon the Gentiles, Ephesians 4:18, ‘Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them because of the blindness (or hardness) of their hearts.’ This is true of every individual of the human race naturally. ‘The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him.’ In the parable of the sower, the radical distinction between those who finally reject, and those who receive the word and bring forth fruit, is, that they who were fruitful ‘understood’ the word, while the others understood it not, Matthew 13:19-23, and the new man, he who is born again, is said to be renewed in knowledge, after the image of Him that created him. The assertion, then, in this passage, requires no limitation with respect to those who are now believers, for they were originally like others. All men are naturally ignorant of God, and by neglecting the one thing needful, show no understanding. They act more irrationally than the beasts.
Now that seeketh after God. — To seek God is an expression frequently used in Scripture to denote the acts of religion and piety. It supposes the need all men have to go out of themselves to seek elsewhere their support, their life, and happiness, and the distance at which naturally we are from God, and God from us, — we by our perversity, and He by His just wrath. It teaches how great is the blindness of those who seek anything else but God, in order to be happy, since true wisdom consists in seeking God for this, for He alone is the sovereign good to man. It also teaches us that during the whole course of our life God proposes Himself as the object that men are to seek, Isaiah 55:6, for the present is the time of His calling them, and if they do not find Him, it is owing to their perversity, which causes them to flee from Him, or to seek Him in a wrong way. To seek God is, in general, to answer to all His relative perfections; that is to say, to respect and adore His sovereign majesty, to instruct ourselves in His word as the primary truth, to obey His commandments as the commandments of the sovereign Legislator of men, to have recourse to Him by prayer as the origin of all things. In particular, it is to have recourse to His mercy by repentance; it is to place our confidence in Him; it is to ask for his Holy Spirit to support us, and to implore His protection and blessing; and all this through Him who is the way to the Father, and who declares that no man cometh to the Father but by Him.
They areall gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
Sin is a wandering or departure from the right way; that is to say, out of the way of duty and obligation, out of the way of the means which conduct to felicity. These are the ways open before the eyes of men to walk in them; he who turns from there wanders out of the way. The Prophet here teaches what is the nature of sin; he also shows us what are its consequences; for as the man who loses his way cannot have any rest in his mind, nor any security, it is the same with the sinner; and as a wanderer cannot restore himself to the right way without the help of a guide, in the same manner the sinner cannot restore himself, if the Holy Spirit comes not to his aid.
They are together become unprofitable. — They have become corrupted, or have rendered themselves useless; for everything that is corrupted loses its use. They are become unfit for that for which God made them; unprofitable to God, to themselves, and to their neighbor.
There is none that doeth good, no, not one — not one who cometh up to the requirements of the law of God. This is the same as is said above, there is none righteous, and both the Prophet and the Apostle make use of this repetition to enhance the greatness and the extent of human corruption.
Their throat is an open sepulcher; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips.
What the Apostle had said in the preceding verses was general; he now descends to something more particular, both respecting words and actions, and in this manner follows up his assertion, that there is none that doeth good, by showing that all men are engaged in doing evil. As to their words, he marks in this and the following verse, all the organs of speech, the throat, the tongue, the lips, the mouth. All this tends to aggravate the depravity of which he speaks. The first part of this verse is taken from Psalm 5:9, and the last from Psalm 140:3.
Open sepulcher. — This figure graphically portrays the filthy conversation of the wicked. Nothing can be more abominable to the senses than an open sepulcher, where a dead body beginning to putrefy steams forth its tainted exhalations. What proceeds out of their mouth is infected and putrid; and as the exhalation from a sepulcher proves the corruption within, so it is with the corrupt conversation of sinners.
With their tongues they have used deceit — used them to deceive their neighbor, or they have flattered with the tongue, and this flattery is joined with the intention to deceive. This also characterizes in a striking manner the way in which men employ speech to deceive each other, in bargains, and in everything in which their interest is concerned.
The poison of asps is under their lips. — This denotes the mortal poison, such as that of vipers or asps, that lies concealed under the lips, and is emitted in poisoned words. As these venomous creatures kill with their poisonous sting, so slanderers and evil-minded persons destroy the characters of their neighbors. ‘Death and life,’ it is said in the Book of Proverbs, ‘are in the power of the tongue.’
Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.
This is taken from Psalm 10:7. Paul describes in this and the foregoing verse the four principal vices of the tongue, filthy and infected discourse; deceitful flatteries; subtle and piercing evil-speaking; finally, outrageous and open malediction. This last relates to the extraordinary propensity of men to utter imprecations against one another, proceeding from their being hateful and hating one another. Bitterness applies to the bitterness of spirit to which men give vent by bitter words. All deceit and fraud is bitter in the end, that is to say, desolating and afflicting. They bend their bows to shoot their arrows, even bitter words. Their teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword, Psalm 64:3, 57:4. The tongue, says the Apostle James, is set on fire of hell.
Their feet are swift to shed blood.
After having spoken of mens sinfulness, as shown by their words, the Apostle comes to that of actions, which he describes in this and the two following verses. This passage is taken from Isaiah 59:7, and from Proverbs 1:16, which describe the general sinfulness of men; the injustice and violence committed among them, and how ready they are to shed blood when not restrained either by the consideration of the good of society, or by fear of the laws. Every page of history attests the truth of this awful charge.
Destruction and misery are in their ways.
This declaration, taken also from Isaiah 59:7, must be understood in an active sense, that is to say, men labor to destroy and to ruin one another; proceeding in their perverse ways, they cause destruction and misery.
Andthe way of peace have they not known.
They have not known peace to follow and approve of it; and are not acquainted with its ways, in which they do not walk in order to procure the good of their neighbor, for peace imports prosperity, or the way to maintain concord and friendship. Such is a just description of mans ferocity, which fills the world with animosities, quarrels, hatred in the private connections of families and neighborhoods; and with revolutions, and wars, and murders, among nations. The most savage animals do not destroy so many of their own species to appease their hunger, as man destroys of his fellows; to satiate his ambition, his revenge, or cupidity.
There is no fear of and before their eyes.
This is taken from Psalm 36:1. After having followed up the general charge, that there is none righteous, no, not one, by producing the preceding awful descriptions of human depravity, and having begun with the declaration of mans want of understanding and his alienation from God, the Apostle here refers to the primary source of all these evils, with which he sums them up. There is no fear of God before their eyes. They have not that reverential fear of Him which is the beginning of wisdom, which is connected with departing from evil, and honoring and obeying Him, and is often spoken of in Scripture as the sum of all practical religion; on the contrary, they are regardless of His majesty and authority, His precepts and His threatenings. It is astonishing that men, while they acknowledge that there is a God, should act without any fear of His displeasure. Yet this is their character. They fear a worm of the dust like themselves, but disregard the Most-High, Isaiah 51:12,18. They are more afraid of man than of God of his anger, his contempt, or ridicule.
The fear of man prevents them from doing many things from which they are not restrained by the fear of God. That God will put His fear in the hearts of His people, is one of the distinguishing promises of the new covenant, which shows that proof to this it is not found there.
The Apostle could have collected a much greater number of passages from the law and the Prophets to prove what he intended, for there is nothing more frequent in the Old Testament than the reproaches of God against the Israelites, and all men, on account of their abandoning themselves to sin; but these form a very complete description of the reign of sin among men. The first of them, ver. 10, prefers the general charge of unrighteousness; the second, vers. 11, 12, marks the internal character or disorders of the heart; the third, vers. 13, 14, those of the words; the fourth, vers. 15, 16, 17, those of the actions; and the last, ver. 18, declares the cause of the whole. In the first and second, we see the greatness of the corruption, and its universality: its greatness, in the extinction of all righteousness, of all wisdom, of all religion, of all rectitude, of all that is proper, and, in one word, of all that is good; its universality, in that it has seized upon the whole man, without leaving anything that is sound or entire. In the third, we observe the four vices of the tongue, which have been already pointed out, namely corrupt conversation, flattery and deceit, envenomed slander, outrageous malediction. In the fourth, justice violated in what is most sacred the life of man; charity subverted, in doing the evil which it prohibits; and that which is most fundamental and most necessary peace destroyed. And in the last, what is most essential entirely cast off, which is the fear of God. In this manner, having commenced his enumeration of the evils to which men are addicted, by pointing out their want of understanding and desire to seek Gods the Apostle terminates his description by exposing the source from whence they all show, which is, that men are destitute of the fear of God; His fear is not before their eyes to restrain them from evil. They love not His character, not rendering to it that veneration which is due; they respect not His authority. Such is the state of human nature while the heart is unchanged. From all this a faint idea may be formed of what will be the future state of those who shall perish, from whom the Gospel has been hid, of those whose minds the God of this world has blinded, lest the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine into them. Then the various restraints which in this life operate so powerfully, so extensively, and so constantly, will be taken off, and the natural depravity of fallen man will burst forth in all its unbridled and horrible wickedness.
Nowwe know that whatsoever thing the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law; that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
The article is in this verse prefixed to the term law, while it is wanting in the following verse. This shows that here the reference is to the legal dispensation, and applies in the first clause specially to the Jews; while, in the law clause, the expression ‘all the world,’ and, in the following verse, the term ‘law,’ without the article, refers to all mankind.
Paul here anticipates two general answers which might be made to those passages which he had just quoted, to convict the Jews, as well as all other men, of sin. First, that they are applicable not to the Jews but to the Gentiles, and that, therefore, it is improper to employ them against the Jews. Second, that even if they referred to the Jews they could only be applied to some wicked persons among them, and not to the whole nation; so that what he intended to prove could not thence be concluded, namely, that no man can be justified before God by the law. In opposition to these two objections, he says, that when the law speaks, it speaks to those who are under it, — to the Jews therefore; and that it does so in order that the mouths of all, without distinction, may be stopped. If God should try the Jews according to the law, they could not stand before His strict justice, as David said, ‘If Thou, Lord, shouldst mark iniquity, O Lord, who shall stand?’ Psalm 130:3. And, in addition to this, whatever there was of piety and holiness in some it was not by the efficacy of the law, but by that of the Gospel — not by the spirit of bondage, but by the spirit of adoption; so that it remains true that all those who are under the law are under sin. That, or in order that. — This must be taken in three senses. 1st, The law brought against the Jews those accusations and reproaches of which Paul had produced a specimen in the passages quoted, in order that every mouth may be stopped; this is the end which the law proposed. 2nd, This was also the object of God, when He gave the law, for He purposed to make manifest the iniquity of man, and the rights of justice, Romans 5:20. 3rd, It was likewise the result of the legal economy.
Every mouth may be stopped. — This expression should be carefully remarked. For if a man had fulfilled the law, he would have something to allege before the Divine tribunal, to answer to the demands of justice; but when convicted as a sinner, he can only be silent — he can have nothing to answer to the accusations against him; he must remain convicted. This silence, then, is a silence of confession, of astonishment, and of conviction. This is what is elsewhere expressed by confusion of face. ‘O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto Thee; but unto us, confusion of faces,’ Daniel 9:7.
And all the world. — That is to say, both Jews and Gentiles. The first clause of this verse, though specially applicable to the Jews, proves that since they, who enjoyed such peculiar privileges, were chargeable with those things of which the law accused them, the rest of mankind, whom the Apostle here includes under the term ‘all the world,’ must also be under the same condemnation. The law of nature, written on their consciences, sufficiently convicts the Gentile’s; and as to the Jews who try to stifle the conviction of their consciences by abusing the advantages of the law, that law itself, while it accuses, convicts then; also. This expression, then, must include the whole human race. It applies to all men, of every age and every nation. None of all the children of Adam are excepted. Words cannot more clearly include, in one general condemnation, the whole human race. Who can be excepted? Not the Gentiles, since they have all been destitute of the knowledge of the true God. Not the Jews, for them the law itself accuses. Not believers, for they are only such through their acknowledgment of their sins, since grace is the remedy to which they have resorted to be freed from condemnation. All the world, then, signifies all men universally.
May become guilty. — That is, be compelled to acknowledge themselves guilty. The term guilty signifies subject to condemnation, and respects the Divine judgment. It denotes the state of a man justly charged with a crime, and is used both in the sense of legal responsibility and of blame worthiness. This manifestly proves that in all this discussion the Apostle considers sin in relation to the condemnation which it deserves.
Before God — When the question respects appearing before men, people find many ways of escape, either by concealing their actions, by disguising facts, or by disputing what is right. And even when men pass in review before themselves, self-love finds excuses, and various shifts are resorted to, and false reasonings, which deceive. But nothing of this sort can have place before God. For although the Jews flattered themselves in the confidence of their own righteousness, and on this point all men try to deceive themselves, it will be entirely different in the day when they shall appear before the tribunal of God; for then there will be no more illusions of conscience, no more excuses, no way to escape condemnation. His knowledge is infinite, His hand is omnipotent, His justice is incorruptible, and from Him nothing can be concealed. Before Him, therefore, every mouth will be stopped, and all the world must confess themselves guilty.
Therefore by the deeds of law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight; for by law is the knowledge of sin.
This is the final conclusion drawn from the whole of the preceding discussion, beginning at verse 18th of chapter first. The Apostle had shown that both the Gentiles and the Jews are under sin; that is, they have brought down upon themselves the just condemnation of God. He had proved the same thing in the preceding verse, according to the scriptures before quoted.
Therefore. — The conclusion, then, from the whole, as containing in this verse, is evident.
By the deeds of the law, or, as in the original, of law. — The reference here is to every law that God has given to man, whether expressed in words, or imprinted in the heart. It is that law which the Gentiles have transgressed, which they have naturally inscribed in their hearts. It is that law which the Jews have violated, when they committed theft, adulteries, and sacrileges, and which convicted them of impiety, of evil-speaking, of calumny, of murder, of injustice. In one word, it is that law which shuts the mouth of the whole world, as had been said in the preceding verse, and brings in all men guilty before God.
The deeds, or works of law. — When it is said, by works of law no flesh shall be justified, it is not meant that the law, whether natural or written, was not capable of justifying. Neither is it meant that the righteousness thus resulting from man’s fulfillment of all its demands would not be a true righteousness, but that no man being able to plead this fulfillment of the law before the tribunal of God — that perfect obedience which it requires — no man can receive by the law a sentence pronouncing him to be righteous. To say that the works of the law, if performed, are not good and acceptable, and would not form a true righteousness, would contradict what had been affirmed in the preceding chapter, verse 13, that the doers of the law shall be justified. The Apostle, then, does not propose here to show either the want of power of the law in itself, or of the insufficiency of its works for justification, but solely to prove that no man fulfills the law, that both Gentiles and Jews are under sin, and that all the world is guilty before God.
No flesh — This reference appears to be to Psalm 143 David there says, ‘no man living.’ Paul says, ‘no flesh.’ The one is a term which marks a certain dignity, the other denotes meanness. The one imports that whatever excellence there might be supposed to be in man, he could not be justified before God; and the other, that being only flesh, — that is to say, corruption and weakness, — he ought not to pretend to justification by himself. Thus, on whatever side man regards himself, he is far from being able to stand before the strict judgment of God.
Shall be justified in His sight. — The meaning of the term justified, as used by the Apostle in the whole of this discussion, is evident by the different expressions in this verse. It appears by the therefore, with which the verse begins, that it is a conclusion which the Apostle draws from the whole of the foregoing discussion. Now, all this discussion has been intended to show that neither Gentiles nor Jews could elude the condemnation of the Divine judgment. The conclusion, then, that no flesh shall be justified in the sight of God by the works of law, can only signify that no man can be regarded as righteous, or obtain by means of his works a favorable sentence from Divine justice. It is in this sense that David has taken the term justify in Psalms 143, to which the Apostle had reference, Enter not unto judgment with Thy servant; for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified. The terms in His sight testify the same thing, for they accommodate themselves to the idea of a tribunal before which men must appear to be judged. It is the same with regard to the other terms, by the deeds of law; for if we understand a justification of judgment, the sense is plain: no one can plead before the tribunal of God a perfect and complete fulfillment of the law, such as strict and exact justice demands; no one, therefore, can in that way obtain justification. In justifying men, God does all, and men receiving justification, contribute nothing towards it. This is in opposition to the justification proposed by the law by means of obedience, in which way a man would be justified by his own righteousness, and not by the righteousness which God has provided and bestows.
For by law is the knowledge of sin. — Paul does not here intend simply to say that the law makes known in general the nature of sin, inasmuch as it discovers what is acceptable or displeasing to God, what He commands, and what He forbids; but he means to affirm that the law convicts men of being sinners. For his words refer to what he had just before said in the preceding verse, that all that the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law; that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God, which marks a conviction of sin. But how, it may be said, does the law give that knowledge or that conviction of sin? It does so in two ways. By the application of its commandments, and its prohibitions in the present state in which man is placed, for it excites and awakens the conscience, and gives birth to accusing thoughts. This is common both to the written law and the law of nature. It does this, secondly, by the declaration of punishments and rewards which it sets before its transgressors and observers, and as it excites the conscience, and gives rise to fear and agitation, thus bringing before the eyes of men the dreadful evil of sin. This also is alike common to the law of nature and the written law.
Here it is important to remark that God, having purposed to establish but one way of justification for all men, has permitted, in His providence, that all should be guilty. For if there had been any excepted, there would have been two different methods of justification, and consequently two true religions, and two true churches, and believers would not have had that oneness of communion which grace produces. It was necessary, then, that all should become guilty. The Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe, Galatians 3:22; Romans 11 32.
AT the opening of his discussion, ch. 1:16, 17, Paul had announced that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth, because therein is the righteousness of God revealed. He had said that the righteous by faith shall live, intimating that there is no other way of obtaining life. In proof of this, he had declared that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, and had shown at large that both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin, and that, therefore, by obedience to law no flesh shall be justified. He now proceeds to speak more particularly of the righteousness of God provided for man’s justification, describing the manner in which it is conferred, and the character of those by whom it is received. To this subject, therefore, he here reverts.
But now the righteousness of God without law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets.
Now, — that is to say, under the preaching of the Gospel — in the period of the revelation of the Messiah; for it denotes the time present, in opposition to that time when God appeared not to take notice of the state of the Gentile nations as it is said, Acts 17:30, ‘The times of this ignorance God winked at, but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent.’ And also in opposition to the legal economy respecting the Jews, as again it is said, John 1:17, ‘The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.’ This is what the Scriptures call ‘ the fullness of times,’ Ephesians 1:10; Galatians 4:4. ‘The last days,’ Isaiah 2:2; Hebrews 1:2; Acts 2:17; 1 John 2:18. ‘The acceptable year of the Lord,’ Isaiah 61:2. ‘Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation,’ 2 Corinthians 6:2. The day of the Savior that Abraham saw, John 8:56.
The righteousness of God. — This is one of the most important expressions in the Scriptures. It frequently occurs both in the Old Testament and the New; it stands connected with the argument of the whole of the first five chapters of this Epistle, and signifies that fulfillment of the law which God has provided, by the imputation of which sinners are saved. Although perfectly clear in itself, its meaning has been involved in much obscurity by the learned labors of some who know not the truth, and by the perversions of others by whom it has been greatly corrupted.
By many it has been misunderstood, and has in general been very slightly noticed even by those whose views on the subject are correct and scriptural. To consider its real signification is the more necessary, as it does not appear always to receive that attention from Christians which its importance demands. When the question is put, why is the Gospel the power of God unto salvation? how few give the clear and unfaltering answer of the Apostle, Because therein is THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD revealed. Before attending to the true import of this phrase, it is proper to advert to some of the significations erroneously attached to it. Of these I shall select only a few examples from many that might be furnished.
Origin understood by this righteousness God’s attribute of justice, while Chrysostom explained it as Divine clemency.
According to Dr. Campbell of Aberdeen, the righteousness of God consists in man’s conformity to the declared will of God. In his note on Matthew 6:33, he says, ‘The righteousness of God, in our idiom, can mean only the justice or moral rectitude of the Divine nature, which it were absurd in us to seek, it being, as all God’s attributes are, inseparable from His essence. But in the Hebrew idiom, that righteousness, which consists in a conformity to the declared will of God, is called His righteousness. In this way the phrase is used by Paul, Romans 3:21,22; 10:3, where the righteousness of God is opposed by the Apostle to that of the unconverted Jews; and their own righteousness, which he tells us they went about to establish, does not appear to signify their personal righteousness, any more than the righteousness of God signifies His personal righteousness. The word righteousness, as I conceive, denotes there what we should call a system of morality or righteousness, which he denominates their own, because fabricated by themselves, founded partly on the letter of the law, partly on tradition, and consisting mostly in ceremonies and mere externals. ‘This creature of their own imaginations they had cherished, to the neglect of that purer scheme of morality which was truly of God, which they might have learned even formerly from the law and the Prophets, properly understood, but now more explicitly from the doctrine of Christ.’
Such is the explanation by this learned critic of that leading phrase, ‘the righteousness of God,’ according to which, the reason why the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation, is, because therein a pure schemes of morality is revealed. Were this explanation just, so far from being the reason why the Gospel should be the means of salvation to sinners, it would be the cause of their universal and hopeless condemnation.
Dr. Macknight supposes that the righteousness of God signifies a righteousness belonging to faith itself, and not the righteousness conveyed and received by faith. ‘Righteousness by faith,’ he says, on Romans 3:22, ‘is called the righteousness of God, — 1st, Because God hath enjoined faith as the righteousness which He will count to sinners, and hath declared that He will accept and reward it as righteousness; 2nd, Because it stands in opposition to the righteousness of men, which consists in a sinless obedience to the law of God.’ Thus, while Dr. Macknight differs from Dr. Campbell in the meaning of the expression, the righteousness of God, he so far coincides with him in his radical error as to suppose that it does not signify the righteousness which God provides for the salvation of sinners, but the righteousness which He requires them to perform. The explanations of both of these writers are destructive of the Scripture doctrine of justification, opposed to the justice of God, subversive of the plan of salvation, and render the whole train of the Apostle’s reasoning, from Romans 1:16 to the end of the fifth chapter, inconclusive and self contradictory.
Archbishop Newcombe, whose translations are so much eulogized by Socinians, together with many who have followed him, translates this phrase, ‘God’s method of justification.’ What the Apostle has declared in precise terms, is thus converted into a general and indefinite annunciation, pointing to a different sense. In the Socinian version, as might be anticipated, it is also translated, ‘God’s method of justification.’ ‘The righteousness of God’ cannot mean God’s method of justification nor the justification which God bestows, because the word translated righteousness does not signify justification. Righteousness and justification are two things quite different. God’s righteousness is revealed in the Gospel, just as God Himself is said to be revealed. To reveal God is not to reveal a method of God’s acting, and to reveal God’s righteousness is not to reveal a method of God’s making sinners righteous, but to reveal the righteousness itself. This righteousness is also said to be of God by faith, that is, sinners become partakers of it by faith. The righteousness of God, then, is not a method of justification, but the thing itself which God has provided, and which He confers through faith. Nor can the expression, ‘the righteousness of God,’ in the tenth chapter, signify God’s method of justification. It is true the Jews were ignorant of God’s method of justification, but that is not the thing which is there asserted. They were ignorant of the righteousness which God had provided for the guilty, and, in consequence, went about to establish their own righteousness. What is there meant by God’s righteousness, is seen by the contrast. It is opposed to their own righteousness. Now, it was not a method of justification that the Jews went about to establish, but it was their own righteousness which they endeavored to establish — a righteousness in which they trusted, of their own working. If so, the righteousness of God contrasted with this must be, not a method of justification, but the righteousness which God confers on His people through faith. To establish a man’s righteousness is not to establish a method with respect to this, but to establish the thing itself.
To say that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation, because that in it is revealed a divine method of justification, or the justification which God bestows, leaves the great question which immediately presents itself utterly without an answer. It gives no light to the reader as to what the Gospel reveals. It is only in general a Divine scheme of justification. But the language itself, Romans 1:17, leaves no such uncertainty. It shows that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation, because it reveals God’s righteousness, — that righteousness which fulfills the demands of His law, which His justice will accept, and which is upon all them that believe.
Mr. Tholuck explains the phrase, the righteousness of God, thus: — ’The Gospel makes known a way to that perfect fulfillment of the law which is required by God.’ What is the meaning of this exposition? It does not give the true meaning, and may have a most erroneous import. The best that can be said for it is, that it is so dark, and vague, and equivocal, that it may elude condemnation on the principle of its not having any one definite meaning. It is more ambiguous than the answer of an oracle that has only two meanings, for it may have several. Does it mean that the Gospel reveals a way by which man may himself fulfill the law, so as to be perfectly righteous? If Mr. Tholuck does not mean this, the expression might mean it. Does it mean that the law is not yet fulfilled, but that the Gospel reveals a way in which it may be fulfilled? This is the most obvious sense. Does it mean that the Gospel reveals a way in which men perfectly fulfill the law by faith? This is evidently false, even according to Mr. Tholuck’s sentiments; for though faith were, as held forth by him, ‘the most excellent of virtues,’ he could not admit that it fulfills the law.
After this dark and vague account of the term righteousness we need not wonder at that most erroneous meaning which he affixes to it in chapter 4:3. 16 Mr. Stuart, in his translation of the Epistle, renders this phrase, in Romans 1:17, and 3:21, ‘The justification which is of God,’ and in His explanation of it, the justification which God bestows, or the justification of which God is the author.’ He observes that this ‘is a phrase among the most important which the New Testament contains, and fundamental in the right interpretation of the Epistle before us.’ This is true; and the effect of his misunderstanding the proper signification of the original word in these passages, and rendering it justification instead of righteousness , appears most prominently in several of his subsequent interpretations especially as shall afterwards be pointed out in the beginning of the fourth chapter, where, like Mr. Tholuck, he entirely misrepresents the doctrine of justification. His translation he endeavors to defend at some length; but none of his allegations support his conclusion.
The proper meaning of the original word in ch. 1:17, and 3:21, which he makes justification, is righteousness; and this meaning will apply in the other passages where it is found. In the New Testament it occurs ninety-two times, and, in the common version, is uniformly rendered righteousness. It occurs thirty-six times in the Epistle to the Romans, in which Mr. Stuart has sixteen times translated it righteousness. But he appears to have been led to adopt the translation he has given in the above verses from the supposed necessity of the case; and, indeed, this was necessary for Mr. Stuart, who not only denies expressly the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity, but also the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to believers. This should put Christians on their guard against a translation founded on the denial that Christ’s righteousness is placed to their account for salvation, a doctrine which Dr. Macknight most ignorantly maintains is not to be found in the Bible.
Mr. Stuart observes that there are three expressions, viz., δικαιοσύνη, δικαίωμα, and δικαίωσις, all employed occasionally in the very same sense, viz., that of justification, i.e., acquittal, pardon, freeing from condemnation, accepting and treating as righteous.’ There may be situations in which the one might supply the place of the other, but they have a clear characteristic difference. ‘The difference appears to be this: δικαιοσύνη, the original word in the verse before us, is not justification; it signifies justice or righteousness in the abstract; that is, the quality of righteousness. It signifies also complete conformity or obedience to the law; for if there be any breach of the law, there is no righteousness. Δικαίωμα, as distinguished from this, signifies an act of righteousness, or some righteous deed. It is accordingly used for the ordinances of God, because they are His righteous appointments, and perhaps because they typically refer to the true ‘righteousness of God.’ In a few places it may be an equivalent to δικαιοσύνη. Δικαίωσις, is neither the one nor the other of the above. It is the act of being justified by this righteousness when on trial. Obedience to law is a different thing from being cleared, or acquitted, or justified, when tried by law. A man is justified on the ground of righteousness. There is the same difference between δικαιοσύνη, and δικαίωσις, that there is in English between righteousness and justification.
In support of his explanation of the phrase, ‘the righteousness of God,’ namely, that it is the justification which God bestows, Mr. Stuart, in the following observations, shows a wonderful misapprehension of the doctrine of those who oppose the view of it which he adopts. On verse he says, ‘What that δικαιοσύνη δὲ θεοῦ (righteousness of God) is, which is cwri>v no>mou (without law), the Apostle next proceeds explicitly to develop. Δικαιοσύνη δε... Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, the justification which is of God by faith in Jesus Christ. This explanation makes it clear as the noonday sun that δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ (righteousness of God), in this connection, does not mean righteousness, or the love of justice, as an attribute of God. For in what possible sense can it be said that God’s righteousness or justice (as an essential attribute) is by faith in Christ?
Does He possess or exercise this attribute, or reveal it, by faith in Christ?
The answer is so plain; that it cannot be mistaken,’ p. 157. Why does Mr. Stuart labor to prove that the phrase in question cannot here mean the justice of God, or a Divine attribute? Does any man suppose that it has here such a sense? We do not understand it of a Divine attribute, but of conformity to law by a Divine work. This righteousness is God’s righteousness, not because it is an attribute of His nature, but because it is the righteousness which God has provided and effected for His people, through the obedience unto death of His own Son. The word δικαιοσύνη, indeed, always signifies righteousness; but it may mean either a personal attribute, or conformity to law. Does not Mr. Stuart himself afterwards explain the phrase in this latter sense? Why, then, does he take it for granted that if it does not signify justification, as he makes it here, it must signify a personal attribute of God? In ch. 4:3, 6, and elsewhere, he admits that the word δικαιοσύνη (righteousness) cannot signify justification, but must be understood as denoting righteousness. ‘To say,’ he observes (p. 177), ‘was counted for justification would make no tolerable sense.’ But nothing can be more obvious than that the Apostle is in the fourth chapter treating of the same thing of which he is treating in this chapter, from the 21st verse. In all this connection he is still speaking of this δικαιοσύνη (righteousness) in the same view. Having here spoken of God’s righteousness, he goes on to show that it was through this very righteousness that Abraham was justified The justification of Abraham, instead of being an exception to what he had been teaching, as if it had been on the ground of Abraham’s own obedience to law, is appealed to by the Apostle as a proof, as well as an illustration and example, of justification by God’s righteousness received by faith.
It makes nothing in favor of Mr. Stuart that there may be instances in which the word δικαιοσύνη (righteousness) may be interpreted by the word justification, so as to make sense. There is no signification that may not be ascribed to any word upon this principle. A word may make sense in a passage, when it is explained in a meaning directly the opposite of its true meaning. This principle the reader may see fully established in the writings of Dr. Carson. Several instances have been alleged from the Septuagint, in which it is asserted that δικαιοσύνη (has the meaning of goodness, etc.; but there is no instance there in which the word may not have its true meaning, and it is only ignorance of the import of the phrase, ‘righteousness of God,’ that has induced writers to give the term a different meaning. For instance, nothing at first sight appears more to countenance the idea that δικαιοσύνη (righteousness) expresses mercy than Psalm 51:14. How could David speak of righteousness, if God would deliver him from blood-guiltiness? He might well speak of goodness or compassion, but would not righteousness in God prevent him from being acquitted? Not so. The righteousness of God was what David looked to, — the same righteousness that is more clearly revealed by Paul in this Epistle. And well might David speak of that righteousness, when by it he was cleared from all the guilt of his enormous wickedness.
The word rendered ‘righteousness,’ Romans 1:17, and in the verse before us, signifies both justice and righteousness; that is to say, conformity to the law. But while both of these expressions denote this conformity, there is an essential difference between them. Justice imports conformity to the law in executing its sentence; righteousness, conformity in obeying its precepts, and this is the meaning of the word here. If these ideas be interchanged or confounded, as they often are, the whole scope of the Apostle’s reasoning will be misunderstood.
In various parts of Scripture this phrase, ‘the righteousness of God,’ signifies either that holiness and rectitude of character which is the attribute of God, or that distributive justice by which He maintains the authority of His law; but where it refers to man’s salvation, and is not merely a personal attribute of Deity, it signifies, as in the passage before us, ver. 21, that fulfillment of the law, or perfect conformity to it in all its demands, which, consistently with His justice, God has appointed and provided for the salvation of sinners. This implies that the infinite justice of His character requires what is provided, and also that it is approved and accepted; for if it be God’s righteousness, it must be required, and must be accepted by the justice of God. The righteousness of God, which is received by faith, denotes something that becomes the property of the believer. It cannot, then, be here the Divine attribute of justice, but the Divine work which God has wrought through His Son. This, therefore, determines the phrase in this place as referring immediately not to the Divine attribute, but to the Divine work. The former never can become ours. This also is decisive against explaining the phrase as signifying a Divine method of justification. The righteousness of God is contrasted with the righteousness of man; and as Israel’s own righteousness, which they went about to establish, was the righteousness of their works, not their method of justification, so God’s righteousness, as opposed to this, Romans 10:3, must be a righteousness wrought by Jehovah. As in Corinthians 5:21, the imputation of sin to Christ is contrasted with our becoming the righteousness of God in Him, the latter cannot be a method of justification, but must intimate our becoming perfectly righteous by possessing Christ’s righteousness, which is provided by God for us, and is perfectly commensurate with the Divine justice.
No explanation of the expression, ‘the righteousness of God,’ will at once suit the phrase and the situation in which it is found in the passage before us, but that which makes it that righteousness, or obedience to the law, both in its penalty and requirements, which has been yielded to it by our Lord Jesus Christ. This is indeed the righteousness of God, for it has been provided by God, and from first to last has been effected by His Son Jesus Christ, who is the mighty God and the Father of eternity. Everything that draws it off from this signification tends to darken the Scriptures, to cloud the apprehension of the truth in the children of God, and to corrupt the simplicity that is in Christ. To that righteousness is the eye of the believer ever to be directed; on that righteousness must he rest; on that righteousness must he live; on that righteousness must he die; in that righteousness must he appear before the judgment-seat; in that righteousness must he stand for ever in the presence of a righteous God. ‘I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall be joyful in my God: for He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness,’ Isaiah 61:10.
The righteousness of God provided for the salvation of sinners, like that salvation itself, differs essentially from all other righteousness that ever was or can ever be performed. It differs entirely from the righteousness of men and angels in its AUTHOR, for it is the righteousness not of creatures but of the Creator. ‘I the Lord have created it, ’ Isaiah 45:8. It is a Divine and infinitely perfect righteousness, wrought out by Jehovah Himself, which in the salvation of man preserves all His attributes inviolate. It is the righteousness of God, as of the Godhead, without respect to distinction of personality, and strictly so in that sense in which the world is the work of God. The Father created it by the Son, in the same way as by the Son He created the world: and if the Father effected this righteousness because His Son effected it, then His Son must be one with Himself. Peter, in his Second Epistle, ch. 1:1, according to the literal rendering of the passage, calls this righteousness the righteousness of Jesus Christ. ‘Simon Peter, a servant and an Apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us, in the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.’ Most of the places in which the righteousness of God is spoken of, refer to it as the righteousness of the Fatherly as in 2 Corinthians 5:21, where the Father is distinguished from the Son; but in this passage of Peter it is explicitly declared to be the righteousness of the Son, where He is expressly called God. As it would be a palpable contradiction to assert that the work of creation could be executed by any creature, for He that built all things must be God, so the righteousness of God could not be ascribed to Jesus Christ unless He had been in the beginning, ‘God,’ ‘with God,’ and ‘over all, God blessed for ever.’
It was dueling His incarnation that the Son of God wrought out this righteousness. Before He came into the world, He was not a member or subject of the kingdom of heaven, — He was its Head. He then acted in the form of God, — that is to say, as the Creator and Sovereign of the world, — but afterwards in the form of a servant. Before that period He was perfectly holy, but that holiness could not be called obedience. It might rather be said that the law was conformed to Him, than that He was conformed to the law. His holiness was exercised in making the law, and by it governing the world. But in His latter condition it was that law by which He Himself was governed. His righteousness or obedience, then, was that of infinitely the most glorious person that could be subjected to the law. It was the righteousness of Emmanuel, God with us; and this obedience of the Son of God in our nature conferred more honor on the law than the obedience of all intelligent creatures. He gave to every commandment of the law, and to every duty it enjoined, more honor that it had received of dishonor from all the transgressors that have been in the world. When others obey the law, they derive from that obedience honor to themselves; but on the occasion now referred to, it was the law that was honored by the obedience of its Sovereign. ‘The Lord,’ says the Prophet, ‘is well pleased for His righteousness’ sake; He will magnify the law, and make it honorable,’ Isaiah 42:21.
The obedience of Jesus Christ magnified the law, because it was rendered by Divine appointment. He was chosen of God, and anointed for this end.
He was Jehovah, whom Jehovah sent. ‘Lo, I come, and I will dwell in the midst of thee, saith Jehovah; and thou shalt know that Jehovah of Hosts hath sent Me unto thee,’ Zechariah 2:10,11. And when it is considered that the most astonishing work of God which can be conceived is the incarnation of His Son, and His sojourning in the world, and that these wonders were performed in order to magnify the law, it necessarily follows that it is impossible to entertain too exalted an idea of the regard which God has for the character of His holy law. In its AUTHOR, then, this righteousness is immeasurably distinguished from any other righteousness.
And not Only does it differ in its AUTHOR it differs also in its NATURE, in its EXTENT, in its DURATION, and in its INFLUENCE, from all other righteousness that ever was or ever can be performed.
In its NATURE this righteousness is twofold, fulfilling both the precept of the law and its penalty. This, by any creature the most exalted, is absolutely impossible. The fulfillment of the law, in its precepts, is all that could be required of creatures in their original sinless condition. Such was at the beginning the state of all the angels, and of the first man. But the state of the Second Man, the Lord from heaven, when He came into the world, was essentially different. Christ was made under the law, but it was a BROKEN LAW; and consequently He was made under its curse. This is not only implied when it is said, He was ‘made of a woman,’ who was a transgressor, but it is also expressly asserted that He was ‘made a curse for us,’ Galatians 3:13. Justice therefore required that He should fulfill not only the precept, but also the penalty of the law, — all that it threatens, as well as all that it commands.
A mere creature may obey the precept of the law, or suffer the penalty it denounces, but he cannot do both. If he be a transgressor, he may be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord; and God, whose vengeance he is suffering, being to him an object of unmingled hatred and abhorrence, there can be no place for his repentance, his love, or obedience. But Jesus Christ was capable at the same moment of suffering at the hand of God and of obeying the precept to love God. This was made manifest during the whole period of His incarnation, as well as by the memorable words which He uttered on the cross, ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’ We are here taught that the prediction by the Prophet, ‘Awake, O sword, against the man that is My fellow,’ was at that moment receiving its accomplishment. The sword of Divine justice, according to the prophetic declarations contained in the 22nd Psalm, was then piercing His in most soul, but still He addressed God as His God.
From this it is evident that, while suffering under the full weight of His Father’s wrath against the sins of His people, which He had taken upon Him, all the feedings both of love and confidence also expressed in the same Psalm were at that moment in full exercise. His righteousness, therefore, or conformity to the law, was at once a conformity in two respects, which could not have been exemplified but by Himself throughout the whole universe.
By the sufferings of Jesus Christ, the execution of the law was complete; while no punishment which creatures could suffer can be thus designated.
The law was fully executed when all the threatenings it contained were carried into effect. Those who are consigned to everlasting punishment will never be able to say, as our blessed Lord said on the cross, ‘It is finished.’
It is He only who could put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself By enduring the threatened punishment, He fully satisfied justice. In token of having received a full discharge, He came forth from the grave; and when He shall appear the second time, it shall be without sin, — the sin which He had taken upon Him, and all its effects, being for ever done away.
This fulfillment of the law, in its penalty, by the Son of God, is an end which cannot otherwise than through eternity be attained by the punishment of mere creatures. Sin, as committed against God, is an infinite evil, and request an infinite punishment, which cannot be borne in any limited time by those who are not capable of suffering punishment in an infinite degree. But the sufferings, as well as the obedience, in time, of Him who is infinite, are equivalent to the eternal obedience and sufferings of those who are finite.
The doctrine that sin is an infinite evil, and requires an infinite punishment, is objected to by the Socinians. They say that if each sin we commit merits eternal death — in other words, an infinite punishment — and since there are almost an infinite number of sins committed by men, then it must be said that they merit an almost infinite number of punishments, and consequently that they cannot be expiated but by a like number of infinite satisfactions. It is replied, that the infinite value of the death of the Redeemer equals an infinite number of infinite punishments.
For such is the nature of infinitude, that it admits of no degrees; it knows nothing of more or less; it cannot be measured; it cannot be augmented; so that ten thousand infinities are still only one infinite. And if Jesus Christ had suffered death as many times as the number of the sins of the redeemed, His satisfaction would not have been greater or more complete than by the one death which He suffered.
The death of the Son of God serves to magnify the law, by demonstrating the certainty of that eternal punishment, which, if broken, it denounces as its penalty. There are no limits to eternity; but when the Son of God bore what was equivalent to the eternal punishment of those who had sinned, He furnished a visible demonstration of the eternal punishment of sin.
But if nothing beyond the suffering of the penalty of the law had taken place, men would only have been released from the punishment due to sin.
If they were to obtain the reward of obedience, its precepts must also be obeyed; and this was accomplished to the utmost by Jesus Christ. Every command it enjoins, as well as every prohibition it contains, were in all respects fully honored by Him. In this manner, and by His sufferings, He fulfilled all righteousness The righteousness, therefore, of our God and Savior Jesus Christ is infinitely glorious. It is the righteousness of the Lawgiver; and, being in its character twofold, it differs entirely in itspar NATURE from all other righteousness, and is of an order infinitely higher than ever was or can be exemplified by any or all of the orders of intelligent creatures.
This righteousness differs also from all other righteousness in its EXTENT.
Every creature is bound for himself to all that obedience to his Creator of which he is capable. He is under the obligation to love God with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his strength, and beyond this he cannot advance. It is evident, therefore, that he can have no superabounding righteousness to be placed in the way of merit to the account of another.
And, besides this, if he has sinned, he is bound to suffer for himself the whole penalty annexed to disobedience, no part of which, consequently, can be borne by him to satisfy for the transgression of others. He is not in possession of a life at his own disposal to lay down for them; and if he had laid it down, it being in that case forfeited for ever, he could not take it again. But the obedience of Jesus Christ, who is Himself infinite, as well as the punishment He suffered, being in themselves of infinite value, are capable of being transferred in their effects without any diminution in their respective values. His life, too, was His own; and as He suffered voluntarily, His obedience and sufferings, which were infinitely meritorious, might, with the most perfect regard to justice, be imputed to as many of those of whose nature He partook, as to the Supreme Ruler shall seem good.
This righteousness likewise differs from all other righteousness in itspar DURATION. The righteousness of Adam or of angels could only be available while it continued to be performed. The law was binding on them in every instant of their existence. The moment, therefore, in which they transgressed, the advantages derived from all their previous obedience ceased. But the righteousness of God, brought in by His Son, is an ‘everlasting righteousness,’ Daniel 9:24. It was performed within a limited period of time, but in its effects it can never terminate. ‘Lift up your eyes to heaven, and look upon the earth beneath; for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but My salvation shall be for ever, and My righteousness shall not be abolished — My righteousness shall before ever,’ Isaiah 51:6,8. ‘Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness,’ <19B9142> Psalm 119:142. ‘By one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified,’ Hebrews 10:14. ‘By His own blood He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption,’ Hebrews 9:12. In respect to its duration, then, this righteousness reaches back to the period of man’s fall, and forward through the endless ages of eternity.
The paramount INFLUENCE of this righteousness is also gloriously conspicuous. It is the sole ground of the reconciliation of sinners with God, and their justification before Him, and also of intercession with Him before the throne. ‘If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, ’ 1 John 2:1. It is the price paid for those new heavens and that new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness; for that kingdom prepared for those who are clothed with righteousness — a kingdom commensurate with the dignity of Him for whom it was provided. The paradise in which Adam was placed at his creation was a paradise on earth. It might be corrupted, it might be defiled, and it might fade away, all of which accordingly took place. But the paradise which, in virtue of the righteousness of God, is provided, and to the hope of which, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, His people are begotten, is an inheritance which is incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven. This righteousness, then, is the ransom by which men are delivered from going down to the pit of everlasting destruction, and the price of heavenly and eternal glory. It is the fine linen, clean and white, in which the bride, the Lamb’s wife, shall be arrayed, ‘for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.’ Man was made lower than the angels, but this righteousness exalts him above them. The redeemed people of God stand nearest to the throne, while the angels stand ‘round about’ them. They enter heaven clothed with a righteousness infinitely better than that which angels possess, or in which Adam was created.
The idea which some entertain, that the loss incurred by the fall is only compensated by what is obtained through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, is so far from being just, that the super abounding of the gain is unspeakable and immense. By the disobedience of the first Adam, the righteousness with which he was originally invested was lost for himself and all his posterity, and the sin which he had committed was laid to their charge. By the obedience of the second Adam, not only the guilt of that one offense is removed, but pardon also is procured for all the personal transgressions of the children of God; while the righteousness, infinitely glorious, which He wrought, is placed to their account. By the entrance of sin and death, the inheritance on earth was forfeited. By the gift of the everlasting righteousness, their title to eternal glory in heaven is secured. And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offenses unto justification.
For if by one man’s offense death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ, ch. v. 16, 17.
The evidence of the truth of Christianity might be rested on this one point —THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD provided for the salvation of sinners.
How could such an idea as that of a vicarious everlasting righteousness, to meet all the demands of a BROKEN LAW, have ever entered into the conception of men and angels? If it could have suggested itself to the highest created intelligence, and had the question been asked of all the host of heaven standing around the throne of God, ‘on His right hand and His left,’ Who shall work this righteousness? what answer could have been given? what expedient for its accomplishment could have been proposed by one or all of them together? All must have stood silent before their Maker. As no one in heaven, nor on earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book with the seven seals, neither to look thereon, — which was a subject of such bitter lamentation to the beloved disciple, — so no one, neither man nor angel, nor all the elect angels together, could have wrought the righteousness necessary for the justification of a sinner.
He alone who is Emmanuel, God with us, who alone could open that book and loose the seals thereof, could ‘bring in this everlasting righteousness,’ of which it may be truly said that eye had not seen it, nor ear heard it, neither had it entered into the heart of man, till God revealed it by His Spirit. Without law. — This righteousness is ‘the righteousness of God,’ and altogether independent of any obedience of man to law, more or less. As the righteousness of God is the perfect fulfillment which the law demands, it is evidently impossible that any other righteousness or obedience can be added to it or mixed with it. On the cross, Jesus Christ said, It is finished, — that is, it is perfected. To exhibit this PERFECTION, this fulfillment of the law, this grand consummation, is the great object of the Apostle in the Epistle to the Hebrews, ch. 6:1. And Christ, it is said, Romans 10:4, is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. In each of these passages the word used for ‘perfection,’ 17 or ‘end,’ is, in the original, the same as the word ‘finished,’ used on the cross. And those persons are described as ignorant of God’s righteousness who go about to establish their own righteousness, and have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God. ‘Without law,’ then, signifies, not without perfect obedience, but without any regard whatever to the obedience of man to the law. The obedience which the believer is enabled to render to the law has no part in his justification, nor could it justify, being always imperfect. The Apostle had, in the foregoing verse, affirmed that by his obedience to the law no man could be justified. He establishes the same truth in the 28th verse of this chapter, and in the fifth verse of the fourth chapter, in a manner so explicit, as to place his meaning beyond all question. In the same sense he declares, Galatians 3:21, that ‘if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.’ And again, he affirms, Galatians 2:21, ‘If righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.’ It is needless here to dispute, as many do, about what law the Apostle alludes to, whether moral or ceremonial. It is to the law of God, whether written or unwritten, — whatever is sanctioned by His authority, whether ceremonial or moral, — all of which have been fulfilled by the righteousness of God, Matthew 3:15.
The righteousness of God is now manifested, — that is, clearly discovered, or made fully evident. It was darkly revealed in the shadows of the law, and more clearly in the writings of the Prophets; but now it is revealed in its accomplishment. It was manifested in the life and death of Jesus Christ, and was, by His resurrection from the dead, openly declared on the part of God. By Him, who was God manifest in the flesh, it was wrought out while He was on earth. He fulfilled all righteousness; not one jot of the law, either in its precepts or threatenings, passed from it; but all was accomplished; and of this righteousness the Holy Spirit, when He came, was to convince the world, John 16:8.
This righteousness is manifested in the doctrine of the Apostles. Besides being introduced so frequently in this Epistle to the Romans, it is often referred to and exhibited in the other apostolical Epistles. To the Apostles was committed the ministration of the new dispensation characterized as the ‘ministration of righteousness,’ 2 Corinthians 3:9. By that dispensation, and not by the law, righteousness is come, Galatians 2:21.
In writing to the Philippians, Paul calls it ‘the righteousness which is of God by faith, ’ and contrasts it with his own righteousness, which is of the law, Philippians 3:9. Peter addresses his Second Epistle to those who had obtained precious faith in the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ, 2 Peter 1:1. In one word, besides expressly naming it in many places under the designation of righteousness, the grand theme of the writings of the Apostles, as well as of their preaching, was the obedience and sufferings even unto death of the Lord Jesus Christ. Him they declared to be ‘the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth; ‘while they exposed the error of such as went about to establish their own righteousness, and did not submit themselves to the righteousness of God.
Being witnessed by the law. — In the first part of this verse, ‘without law,’ where the article is wanting, signifies law indefinitely, — whatever has been delivered to man by God as His law, and in whatever way; but here, with the article, it refers to the five books of Moses, thus distinguished from the writings of the Prophets, according to the usual division of the Old Testament Scriptures, and adopted by our Lord, Luke 24:44. This righteousness was obscurely testified in the first promise respecting the bruising of the serpent’s head. It was expressly named in the declaration of the manner of Abraham’s justification, where it is recorded that he believed in the Lord, and He counted it to him for righteousness, Genesis 15:6; as also in the covenant which God made with him, of which the sign — that is, circumcision — was a seal or pledge of the righteousness which is by faith; and when it was promised that the blessing of Abraham, which is this righteousness, was to come on all nations; Genesis 12:3. It was intimated in the writings of Moses, in every declaration of the forgiveness of sin, and every call to repentance.
All the declarations of mercy that are to be found in the law of Moses belong to the Gospel. They are all founded on the Messiah and His righteousness, and are made in consequence of God’s purpose to send His Son in the fullness of time into the world, and of the first promise respecting the seed of the woman.
The righteousness of God was witnessed not only in all the declarations of mercy and calls to repentance, but also by the whole economy of the law of which Moses was the mediator. Abraham was chosen, his posterity collected into a nation, and a country appropriated to them, that from the midst of them, according to His promise, God might raise up a Prophet, who, like unto Moses, was to be a Lawgiver and Mediator, to whom, turning from Moses, they should listen so soon as He appeared, Deuteronomy 18:15,19. The law of everlasting obligation was given to that nation, and renewed after it had been broken by them, and then solemnly deposited in the ark of the testimony, in token that it should be preserved entire, and in due time fulfilled by him of whom the ark was a type.
The sacrifices offered by the patriarchs, and the whole of the ceremonial law in all its typical ordinances and observances, bear their direct though shadowy testimony to the righteousness of God, of which Noah was alike a preacher and an heir, 2 Peter 2:5; Hebrews 11:7.
The righteousness of God was witnessed by the Prophets. Of their testimonies to it the following are a few examples from the Psalms: — ’Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, Thou God of my salvation; and my tongue shall sing aloud of Thy righteousness.’ Psalm 51:14. ‘My mouth shall show forth Thy righteousness and Thy salvation all the day; for I know not the numbers thereof. I will go in the strength of the Lord God; I will make mention of Thy righteousness, even of Thine only. Thy righteousness, also, O God, is very high. My tongue also shall talk of Thy righteousness all the day long,’ Psalm 71:15,16,19,24. ‘Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven. Righteousness shall go before Him, and shall set us in the way of His steps,’ Psalm 85:10,13. ‘In Thy name shall they rejoice all the day; and in Thy righteousness shall they be exalted,’ Psalm 89:16. ‘Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness,’ <19B901> Psalm 119, 142. ‘They shall abundantly utter the memory of Thy great goodness, and shall sing of Thy righteousness,’ <19E507> Psalm 145:7.
The righteousness of the Messiah, as connected with salvation, is the constant theme of the Prophets, especially of Isaiah. ‘The Lord is well pleased for His righteousness’ sake; He will magnify the law, and make it honorable,’ Isaiah 42:21. ‘Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness; let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together; I the Lord have created it,’ Isaiah 45:8. The heavens were to drop down this righteousness, and the skies were to pour it down, while men’s hearts, barren like the earth without rain, were to be opened to receive it by faith, having no part in doing anything to procure the gift. ‘Surely, shall one say, In the Lord have I righteousness and strength: In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory,’ Isaiah 45:24,25. ‘I bring near My righteousness; it shall not be far off, and My salvation shall not tarry; and I will place salvation in Zion for Israel My glory,’ Isaiah 46:13. ‘My righteousness is near; My salvation is gone forth — My salvation shall be for ever, and My righteousness shall not be abolished. Hearken unto Me, ye that know righteousness, ’ Isaiah 51:5,7. ‘By His knowledge shall My righteous servant justify many,’ Isaiah 61:11. ‘This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of Me, saith the Lord,’ Isaiah 54:17. ‘Thus saith the Lord, Keep ye judgment, and do justice: for My salvation is near to come, and My righteousness to be revealed,’ Isaiah 56:1. ‘For as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations,’ Isaiah 61:11. ‘For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth And the Gentiles shall see Thy righteousness, and all kings Thy glory,’ Isaiah 62:1,2. ‘Behold the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In His days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely; and this is His name whereby He shall be called, JEHOVAH OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS,’ Jeremiah 23:5. ‘Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people, and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteous, ’ Daniel 9:24. ‘It is time to seek the Lord, till He come and rain righteousness upon you,’ Hosea 10:12. ‘But unto you that fear My name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in His wings,’ Malachi 4:2. To Balaam, who beheld the Savior at a distance, He appeared as a star; ‘ There shall come a Star out of Jacob,’ Numbers 24:17; while to Malachi, the last of the Prophets, on His nearer approach, He appeared as the sun.
16: Not only has Mr. Tholuck failed in giving any distinct explanation of the term ‘the righteousness of God,’ he has, besides, entirely mistaken the meanest of that other great leading expression, ch. 6:2, ‘dead to sin.’ The former of these terms is laid as the foundation of the doctrine of justification, the latter of that of sanctification. After such interpretations as Mr. Tholuck has given of these declarations which form the groundwork of the grand subjects of discussion in this Epistle, is it surprising that he should so often mistake the meaning of the Apostle, and the train of his argument, or in points of high importance directly contradict him? What has been affirmed of the Commentary of Professor Stuart on this Epistle, applies with equal truth to that of Professor Tholuck. ‘The technicalities of his discussions are a very inadequate compensation for the errors he has broached; and the truth he has elicited may be put in a nutshell. The useful illustrations in his work on the Romans bear no proportion to his pernicious errors.’
17: The import of this word perfection ( Hebrews 6:1), which is the leading expression in the Epistle to the Hebrews, and the key to the whole of it, Mr. Stuart has entirely misunderstood in his Commentary on that Epistle, as he has misunderstood the meaning of the phrase, the righteousness of God, the leading expression in this Epistle to the Romans. For the signification of the word perfection, which so often occurs in the Epistle to the Hebrews, and is also misunderstood by the other commentators, I refer to my Evidences, vol. 1: p. 438, third edition.
When the righteousness of and, which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all their that believe.
This righteousness of God, to which the law and the Prophets render their testimony, and which is now manifested in the Gospel, whereby man is justified, is not imputed to him on account of any work of his own in obedience to the law, but is received, as the Apostle had already declared in the 17th verse of chapter first, by faith alone. Faith is no part of that righteousness; but it is through faith that it is received, and becomes available for salvation. Faith is the belief of the Divine testimony concerning that righteousness, and trust in Him who is its Author. Faith perceives and acknowledges the excellency and suitableness of God’s righteousness, and cordially embraces it. ‘Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen;’ because, though we do not yet possess what God has promised, and do not yet see it accomplished in ourselves, we see it accomplished in Jesus Christ, in whom what we hope for really exists. In respect to the promises not yet fulfilled, believers are now in the same situation as the fathers were of old respecting the unaccomplished promises in their day. Like them, they see these promises afar off, are persuaded of them, and embrace them. Believers thus flee to Christ and His righteousness as the refuge set before them in the Gospel.
By faith they receive Him as their surety, and place their trust in Him, as representing them on the cross, in His death, and in His resurrection.
Before we can have a right to anything in Christ, we must be one with Him; we must be joined with Him as our head, being dead to the law and married to Him; and as this union is accomplished through faith, His righteousness, which we receive, and which becomes ours in this way, is therefore called the righteousness which is by faith of Jesus Christ, Romans 3:22; the righteousness of faith, Romans 4:11,13; and the righteousness which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith, Philippians 3:9. It is called the righteousness of faith, because faith is the only instrument which God is pleased to employ in applying His righteousness. It is not called the righteousness of any other grace but of faith; we never read of the righteousness of repentance, of humility, of meekness, or of charity. These are of great price in the sight of God, but they have no office in justifying a sinner. This belongs solely to faith; for to him that worketh not, but believeth, is righteousness imputed; and faith is the gift of God.
This righteousness is unto all. — It is set before all, and proclaimed to all, according to the commandment of our blessed Lord, — ’ Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature.’ Upon all, is connected with the words that follow, viz., them that believe. While it is proclaimed to all men, it is actually upon believers. It is not put into them, as their sanctification is brought in the soul by the Holy Spirit; but it is placed upon them as a robe: — ’He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, ’ Isaiah 61:10. It is the white raiment given by Jesus Christ to them who hear His voice, that they may be clothed, and that the shame of their nakedness may not appear, Revelation 3:18. It is the fine linen, clean and white, with which the bride, the Lamb’s wife, is arrayed; for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints, Revelation 19:8. Thus Jesus Christ is made of God, to them that are in Him, righteousness, Corinthians 1:30.
Righteousness. — ’ This, doubtless, is meant,’ says Archbishop Leighton, in his sermon on 1 Corinthians 1:30, ‘of the righteousness by which we are justified before God; and He is made this to us, applied by faith: his righteousness becomes ours. That exchange made, our sins are laid over upon Him, and His obedience put upon us. This, the great glad tidings, that we are made righteous by Christ: It is not a righteousness wrought by us, but given to us, and put upon us. This, carnal reason cannot apprehend, and, being proud, therefore rejects and argues against it, and says, how can this thing be? But faith closes with it, and rejoices in it; without either doing or suffering, the sinner is acquitted and justified, and stands as guiltless of breach, yea, as having fulfilled the whole law. And happy they that thus fasten upon this righteousness — they may lift up their faces with gladness and boldness before God: whereas the most industrious self-saving justiciary, though in other men’s eyes, and his own, possibly, for the present, he makes a glistering show, yet when he shall come to be examined of God, and tried according to the law, he shall be covered with shame, and confounded in his folly and guiltiness. But faith triumphs over self-unworthiness, and sin, and death, and the law; shrouding the soul under the mantle of Jesus Christ; and there it is safe.
All accusations fall off, having nowhere to fasten, unless some blemish could be found in that righteousness in which faith hath wrapt itself. This is the very spring of solid peace, and fills the soul with peace and joy. But still men would have something within themselves to make out the matter, as if this robe needed any such piecing, and not finding what they desire, thence disquiet and unsettlement of mind arise! True it is that faith purifies the heart and works holiness, and all graces flow from it: But in this work of justifying the sinner it is alone, and cannot admit of any mixture.’
(For there is no difference; For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.)
The Apostle introduces this parenthesis to preclude the supposition that the receiving of the righteousness of God is not indispensably necessary to every individual of the human race in order to his salvation, and lest it should be imagined that there is any difference in the way in which, or on account of which, it is received. As there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles with respect to their character as sinners, so there is no difference with respect to them as to the receiving of Gods righteousness no difference either as to sin or salvation all of them are guilty, and salvation through faith is published to them all. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek; for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him, Romans 10:12. Before men receive this righteousness, they are all under the curse of the broken law, and in a state of condemnation. Whatever distinction there may be among them otherwise, whether moral in their conduct, good and useful members of society, discharging respectably and decently the external duties of that situation in which they are placed, or having a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge, and going about to establish their own righteousness, or whether they be immoral in their lives, entirely abandoned to every vice, they all stand equally in need of this righteousness it is equally preached to them all it is in the same manner bestowed upon all who believe. The reason of this is, that all have sinned all, without one exception, as had been proved, are under sin.
The Apostle adds, as a consequence of this, that they have come short of the glory of God. They have come short, as in running a race, having now lost all strength ( Romans 5:6) and ability in themselves to glorify God, and attain to the possession and enjoyment of His glory. In the second chapter, the Apostle, in announcing the terms of the law, had declared that the way to obtain eternal life was in seeking for glory by patient continuance in well-doing, and that to those who work good, honor and peace would be awarded. In other words, if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments; but he had afterwards proved that in this way it was altogether unattainable, since by the deeds of the law no flesh shall be justified. In this place he more briefly repeats the same truth, that all men, without exception, being sinners, have come short of this glory, while he is pointing out the way in which, through the atonement of the Savior, and faith in that atonement, believers may now rejoice in hope of the glory of God. All men, on the ground of their obedience to law, come short of glorifying God, for to glorify God is the whole of the law, even the second table is to be obeyed to glorify God, who requires it. If they come short of obeying the law, they have, as sinners, come short of that glory, and honor, and immortality, in His presence, which can only be obtained through the salvation which is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory, Timothy 2:10.
Being justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
Justified. — Justification stands opposed both to accusation and condemnation. ‘Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth?’ ‘Them whom God effectually calleth, He also freely justifieth; not by infusing righteousness into them,’ as is well expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith, ‘but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous, — not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience, to them as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.’ Or, according to Dr. Owen On Justification, ‘This imputation is an act of God, ex mera gratia , of His mere love and grace, whereby, on the consideration of the mediation of Christ, He makes an effectual grant and donation of a true, real, perfect righteousness — even that of Christ Himself — unto all that do believe, and accounting it as theirs, on His own gracious act, both absolves them from sin, and granteth them right and title unto eternal life.’
The Helvetic Confession of Faith, adopted by the church at Geneva in 1536, and by all the evangelical churches in Switzerland thirty years afterwards, explains justification as follows: — ’The word, to justify, signifies, in the writings of the Apostle St. Paul, when he speaks of justification, to pardon sins, to absolve from guilt and punishment, to receive into grace, and to declare righteous. The righteousness of Jesus Christ is imputed to believers. — Our Savior is then charged with the sins of the world, He has taken them away, He has satisfied Divine justice. It is, then, only on account of Jesus Christ, dead and risen, that God, pacified towards us, does not impute to us our sins, but that He imputes to us the righteousness of his Son, as if it were ours; so that thenceforward, we are not only cleansed from our sins, but, besides, clothed with the righteousness of Christ, and by it absolved from the punishment of sins, from death, or from condemnation, accounted righteous, and heirs of eternal life. Thus, to speak properly, it is God only who justifies us, and He justifies us solely for the sake of Jesus Christ, not imputing to us our sins, but imputing to us the righteousness of Christ.’
In the Homily of the Church of England, on ‘justification,’ it is said — ’Justification is not the office of man, but of God; for man cannot make himself righteous by his own works, neither in part nor in whole; for that were the greatest arrogancy and presumption of man that Antichrist could set up against God, to affirm that a man might, by his own works, take away and purge his own sins, and so justify himself.
But justification is the office of God only, and is not a thing which we render unto Him, but which we receive of Him; not which we give to Him, but which we take of Him by His free mercy, and by the only merits of His most dearly beloved Son, our only Redeemer, Savior, and Justifier, Jesus Christ: So that the true understanding of this doctrine, we be justified freely by faith without works, or that we be justified by Christ only, is not that this our own act to believe in Christ, or this our faith in Christ which is within us doth justify us, and deserve our justification unto us (for that were to count ourselves to be justified by some act or virtue that is within ourselves), but the true understanding and meaning thereof is, that although we hear God’s word, and believe it, although we have faith, hope, charity, repentance, dread, and fear of God within us, do never so many works thereunto; yet we must renounce the merit of all our said virtues, of faith, hope, charity, and all other virtues, which we either have done, shall do, or can do, as things that must be far too weak, and insufficient, and imperfect; to deserve remission of our sins and our justification; and therefore we must trust only in God’s mercy, and that sacrifice which our High Priest and Savior Jesus Christ, the Son of God, once offered for us on the cross.’ Again, ‘This doctrine all old and ancient authors of Christ’s Church do approve. This doctrine adorneth and setteth forth the glory of Christ, and beateth down the glory of man; this whosoever denieth, is not to be accounted for a Christian man, nor for a setter forth of Christ’s glory, but for an adversary of Christ and His Gospel, and for a setter forth of man’s vain glory.’ The above quotations are not given in the way of authority, but as expressing the truth, and evincing the unanimity of believers of different communions on this all-important point. The sum of them is, that believers are absolved from condemnation, and entitled to eternal life, by the free and sovereign favor of God as its original first moving cause, without any desert in themselves, but solely in virtue of the righteousness of Christ, which includes an infinitely valuable price of redemption, a price that was paid for them by His obedience and sufferings to death.
There is no ‘condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.’ The moment a sinner is united to Him, the sentence of condemnation under which he formerly lay, is remitted, and a sentence of justification is pronounced by God. Justification, then, is at once complete — in the imputation of a perfect righteousness, the actual pardon of all past sins, the virtual pardon of future sins, and the grant and title to the heavenly inheritance. The believer is found in Christ having the righteousness which is of God, Philippians 3:9. ‘Surely, shall one say, in the Lord have I righteousness, ’ Isaiah 45:24. He is complete in Christ, Colossians 2:10, who, by one offering, hath for ever perfected him, Hebrews 10:14.
In Him the law has been fulfilled, Romans 8:4; his sin has been made Christ’s, and the righteousness which God requireth by the law has been made his. ‘He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him,’ 2 Corinthians 5:21.
On this passage Chrysostom remarks, ‘What word, what speech is this? what mind can comprehend or express it? For He saith, He made Him who was righteous to be made a sinner, that He might make sinners righteous.
Nor yet doth He say so neither, but that which is far more sublime and excellent. For He speaks not of an inclination or affection, but expresseth the quality itself. For He says not, He made him a sinner, but sin, that we might be made not merely righteous, but righteousness — and that the righteousness of God.’ 18 When we are here said to be made the righteousness of God in Him, the meaning is, that we are made righteous in such a degree as admits of no addition. We could not be more righteous if our whole nature and constitution were made up of this one attribute, and there were nothing in us or about us but righteousness.
After the Lord Jesus Christ condescended to take on Him our sins, it would not have been just for Him not to account for them; His responsibility for them was then the same as if He had Himself sinned. On this proceeded God’s treatment of Him in hiding His face from Him, till the debt was paid. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us; that is, being cursed, as the Apostle explains it.
As the sins of Israel were all laid on the head of the scapegoat, so ‘the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.’ ‘How could He die,’ says Charnock, ‘if He was not a reputed sinner? Had He not first had a relation to our sin, He could not in justice have undergone our punishment. He must, in the order of justice, be supposed a sinner really, or by imputation. Really He was not; by imputation, then, He was.’ On the whole, believers are accounted and pronounced righteous by God; and if so accounted by Him, it is and must be true in fact that they are righteous, for righteousness is imputed to them; that is, it is placed to their account — made over to them, because really theirs — and, therefore, without the smallest deviation from truth or fact — which is impossible in the great Judge — he will, from His throne of judgment in the last day, pronounce them ‘righteous, ’ Matthew 25:37,46.
The plan of salvation through the righteousness of Jesus Christ is so deep and astonishing an instance of Divine wisdom, that while it is not at all perceived by the wisdom of the world, it even in some measure lies hid from those who are savingly enlightened by it. Many Christians are afraid to give the scriptural language on this subject the full extent of its meaning; and instead of representing themselves as being made righteous, perfectly righteous; by the righteousness of the Son of Gods they look on their justification as merely an accounting of them as righteous while they are not so in reality. They think that God mercifully looks on them in a light which is more favorable than the strictness of truth will warrant. But the Scriptures represent believers as truly righteous, possessing a righteousness fully answerable to all the demands of the law. By their union with Christ they are ‘dead to sin,’ and the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in them, ch. 8:4. They have paid its penalty and fulfilled its utmost demands, and are ‘made the righteousness of God in Him.’ God never accounts any one to be what he is not in reality; and as Christ righteousness is reckoned ours as well as Adam’s sin, believers ought to consider themselves as truly righteous in Christ as they are truly guilty in Adam. These two facts mutually reflect light on each other. Adam was the figure of Christ, and our sin in Adam is perfectly analogous to our righteousness in Christ, ‘For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous,’ ch. 5:19.
Freely by his grace. — The expression is redoubled, to show that all is of God, and that nothing in this act of justification belongs to, or proceeds from man. It is perfectly gratuitous on the part of God, both as to the mode of conveyance and the motive on which it is vouchsafed. Nothing being required of man in order to his justification, in the way of price or satisfaction, and there being no prerequisite or preparatory dispositions to merit it at the hand of God, believers are therefore said to be justified by His grace, which excludes on their part both price and merit. And lest it should be imagined that grace does not proceed in its operation, as well as in the choice of its objects, consistently with its character of sovereign and unmerited goodness, the Apostle adds the word freely; that is, without cause or motive on the part of man. The word here rendered ‘freely’ is the same as that used by our Lord when He says, they hated Me without a cause, John 15:25. ‘Freely’ (gratuitously) ye have receded, freely give, Matthew 10:8; 2 Corinthians 11:7; 2 Thessalonians 3:8; ‘For naught’ (gratis), Revelation 21:6, and 22:17; or without price, as Isaiah 55:1. This term ‘freely’ in the most absolute manner excludes all consideration of anything in man as the cause or condition of his justification. The means by which it is received is faith; and, in the commencement of the next chapter, faith is placed in opposition to all works whatever, and in verse 16th of that chapter it is said, ‘Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace.’ Faith is the constituted medium through which man receives ‘the gift of righteousness;’ because, as Paul there affirms, it interferes not with the gratuitous nature of the gift. It is impossible to express more strongly than in this place, that justification is bestowed without the smallest regard to anything done by man. It cannot be pretended that it comes in consequence of repentance, or anything good either existing or foreseen in him. God ‘justifieth the ungodly,’ Romans 4:5. It comes, then, solely by grace — free, unmerited favor. ‘And if by grace, then it is no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace,’ Romans 11:6. This is said respecting the election of believers to eternal life, and equally holds, according to the passage before us, in respect to their justification. Speaking of the advocates of human merit, ‘What can they say,’ observes Luther, in answer to Erasmus, ‘to the declaration of St. Paul? Being justified freely by His grace. Freely, what does that word mean? How are good endeavors and merit consistent with a gratuitous donation? Perhaps you do not insist on a merit of condignity, but only of congruity. Empty distinctions. How does Paul in one word confound in one mass all the assertors of every species and of every degree of merit?
All are justified freely, and without, the works of the law. He who affirms the justification of all men who are justified to be perfectly free and gratuitous, leaves no place for works, merits, or preparations of any kind — no place for works either of condignity or congruity; and thus, at one blow, he demolishes both the Pelagians with their complete merits, and our sophists with their petty performances.’
Through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. — The great blessing of justification is described above as proceeding from the free grace of God, which is the fountain from whence flow pardon, righteousness, and salvation, excluding all works, whether before or after faith. Here it is referred to the meritorious price provided by God, and that is the redemption which is in Christ Jesus For though it comes freely to man, yet it is through the redemption or purchase of the Son of God.
The word redemption signifies a buying back, and necessarily supposes an alienation of what is redeemed. In general, it imports a deliverance effected by a price, and sometimes a deliverance by power. In this last sense it is said, ‘Now these are Thy servants, and Thy people, whom Thou hast redeemed by Thy great power,’ Nehemiah 1:10. ‘I will redeem you with a stretched out arm,’ Exodus 6:6; Psalm 77:15. The resurrection of the body by an act of Divine power is called a redemption, Psalm 49:15; Romans 8:23. But, more generally, redemption signifies, in Scripture, deliverance by price, as that of slaves, or prisoners, or persons condemned, when they are delivered from slavery, captivity, or death, by means of a ransom. The word is here used in this last acceptation. Man had rebelled against God, and incurred the just condemnation of His law; but God, by His free grace, and of infinite compassion, hath substituted His own Son in the place of the guilty, and transferred from them to Him the obligation of their punishment. He hath made Him to suffer and die for their sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring them to Himself. ‘His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree,’ 1 Peter 3:18, 2:24. In this manner the Scriptures represent the blood or death of Jesus Christ as the ransom price. He came to give His life a ransom for many, Matthew 20:28; 1 Corinthians 6:20. ‘Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation, received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ,’ 1 Peter 1:18. ‘Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood,’ Revelation 5:9. ‘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; in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace, wherein He hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence,’ Ephesians 1:5-8; Colossians 1:14. If, then, we are accounted righteous before God, because redeemed with a price paid by another, we receive what is not in ourselves, or in any measure from ourselves.
In every place in Scripture where our redemption in Christ is mentioned, there is an allusion to the law of redemption among the Jews. This law is contained in the Book of Leviticus, ch. 25, where we and regulations laid down for a twofold redemption, a redemption of persons and a redemption of possessions. The redemption of possessions or inheritances is regulated, verses 23-28, and that of persons, from verse 47 to the end of the chapter. In both these cases, none had a right to redeem but either the person himself who had made the alienation, or some other that was near of kin to him. But none of Adam’s family ever was, or ever will be, able to redeem himself or others. ‘None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him; for the redemption of their soul is precious,’ Psalm 49:7. It is too precious to be accomplished by such means; and had there been no other, it would have ‘ceased for ever.’ All mankind had been engaged in a warfare against God, and, as rebels, were condemned to death. Satan had taken the whole human race captive, and employed them in the drudgery of sin. From the sentence of death and the slavery of sin, it was impossible for any of them ever to have been set free, if Christ had not paid the ransom of His blood. But He, the Son of God, having from all eternity undertaken the work of redemption of those whom God gave Him, and being substituted by the everlasting covenant which God made with Him in their place, the right of redemption was vested in Him, by virtue of His covenant relation to them. And that nothing might be wanting either to constitute Him their legal kinsman-Redeemer, or to evidence Him to be so, He took on Him their nature, and in that nature paid their ransom to the last mite. Thus He performs the part of the Redeemer of His people, redeeming them from slavery and from death, and redeeming for them that inheritance which they had forfeited, and which they could not redeem for themselves. In some cases both these sorts of redemption were conjoined, and the person redeemed was espoused to him who redeemed her; and in this manner our Lord Jesus Christ has redeemed His Church. Having redeemed the heavenly inheritance for her, He has at the same time redeemed her from her state of bondage, and has betrothed her to Himself. ‘I will betroth thee unto Me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto Me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving-kindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth thee unto Me in faithfulness; and thou shalt know the Lord,’ Hosea 2:19,20.
The Socinian talks of redemption as an act merely of God’s power, and of Christ as offering His sacrifice by presenting Himself in heaven after His death. But this is not redemption. There is not only a price paid, but that price is expressly stated. ‘In whom we have redemption through His blood.’ His blood, then, is the price by which we have redemption, ‘even the forgiveness of sins,’ Colossians 1:14. The same thing that is redemption, is in another point of view forgiveness; yet these two things in human transactions are incompatible. Where there is forgiveness, there is no price or redemption; where there is redemption there is no forgiveness. But in the salvation of the Gospel there are both. There is a price; but as God Himself has paid the price, it is forgiveness with respect to man, as much as if there had been no price. How wonderful is the wisdom of God manifested in the Gospel! Grace and justice, mercy and punishment, are blended together in the most perfect harmony.
Many seem to think that nothing can be essentially wrong in the views of those who speak of gratuitous salvation. Yet this may be most explicitly confessed, and the distinguishing features of the Gospel overlooked or even denied. Arians do not deny a gratuitous salvation. They contend that salvation is gratuitous, and boast that they are the only persons who consistently hold this doctrine. Calvinists, they say, have not a God of mercy: He gives nothing without a price. Their God they boast, is a God of mercy; for He pardons without any ransom. Now the glory of the Gospel is, that grace reigns through righteousness. Salvation is of grace; but this grace comes to us in a way of RIGHTEOUSNESS. It is grace to us; but it was brought about in such a way that all our debt was paid. This exhibits God as just, as well as merciful. Just; in requiring full compensation to justice; and merciful, because it was He, and not the sinner, who provided the ransom. He who is saved, is saved without an injury to justice. Salvation is in one point of view forgiveness, but in another it is redemption.
Still, however, it is urged, that though it is here said that God justifies man freely by His grace, yet, as a price has been paid for it, this takes away from the freeness of the gift. But He who pays the ransom is one and the same, as has just been observed, with Him who justifies; so that the freeness of the blessing on the part of God is not in the smallest degree diminished. This proves that the doctrine of a free justification, through an atonement, rests entirely on the doctrine of the deity of Jesus Christ; on which also rests the transfer of His righteousness to the guilty; for, as has already been shown, no mere creature can have the least particle of merit to transfer to another. Every creature is bound for himself to fulfill the whole law. After doing all that is possible for him in the way of obedience, he must confess himself to be an unprofitable servant, Luke 17:10.
This redemption is in, or by, Christ Jesus. — It is wholly in Him, and solely accomplished by Him. Through the period of His ministry on earth, His disciples who followed Him were not aware of the work He was accomplishing. During His agony in the garden they were asleep. When seized by His persecutors to be put to death, they all forsook Him and fled. ‘Behold,’ says He, ‘the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered every man to his own, and shall leave Me alone.’ No one participated or bore any share with Him in that great work, which, according to His appeal to His Father, on which He founded the petitions He offered for Himself and His people, He alone had consummated: ‘I have gloried Thee on the earth: I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do.’
18: To explain Christ’s being made and in this passage, with Dr. Macknight, Mr. Stuart, and others, as signifying His being made a sin-offering, ought to be most strenuously rejected. It entirely perverts the meaning of the passage, which asserts the transference of the sin of the believer to Christ, and of Christ’s righteousness to the believer. He submitted not only to be treated as a sin-offering, but to be made sin for His people. It takes away the contrast, and obscures one of the strongest expressions of the vicarious nature of Christ’s sufferings that is to be found in the Bible. In the same way, when it is said ( Hebrews 9:28), He shall ‘appear the second time without sin unto salvation,’ the true meaning of the passage is lost by changing the phrase, ‘without sin,’ as in the common version, to ‘without a sin-offering,’ according to Dr. Macknight and Mr. Stuart. When Jesus Christ first appeared, He came covered over with the sin which was imputed to Him; but when He shall come the second time, not the smallest remainder of it shall be found either upon Him or His people.
When God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.
In the end of the preceding verse, the Apostle had said that believers are justified freely by the grace of God, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. This redemption he here further explains. God hath set forth His Son to be a propitiatory sacrifice to make satisfaction to His justice.
The expression, set forth, means to exhibit to public view — to place before the eyes of men — to manifest, — according as it is said, ‘Who verily was fore-ordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifested in these last times for you,’ 1 Peter 1:20.
To be a propitiation. — Some understand this as meaning a propitiatory, signifying the mercy-seat, as the same word is translated, Hebrews 9:5; some as a propitiatory sacrifice, which is to be preferred. But it comes to the same thing, if, according to our translation, it be rendered propitiation, considering the word to be the adjective taken substantively. And this is countenanced by 1 John 2:2, and 4:10, though a different word is employed, but of the same derivation. By a propitiation is meant that which appeareth the wrath of God for sins and obtains His favor, as it is said, Hebrews 2:17, where the corresponding verb is used, to make reconciliation for (to propitiate) the sins of the people; and ‘God be merciful to me a sinner.’ He was thus pacified towards believers in Jesus Christ, and made favorable to them, the demands of His law and justice being satisfied, and every obstruction to the exercise of His mercy towards them removed. This propitiation of Christ was typified by the propitiatory sacrifices whose blood was shed, and by the mercy-seat, which was called the propitiatory, that illustrious type of Christ and His work, covering the ark in which the law to be fulfilled by Him was deposited, and on it, and before it, the blood of the sacrifices was sprinkled by the high priest.
Through faith in His blood. — This propitiation was made by blood, by which is to be understood all the sufferings of Christ, and, above all, His death, by which they were consummated. And this becomes a propitiation to us through faith in His blood, — that is, when we believe that His death is a sacrifice which make atonement for us, and when we rest on it as a sufficient answer to all accusations against us of the law of God, which in the punishment of death it demanded for sin, for ‘without shedding of blood is no remission.’
The expression, ‘through faith in His blood,’ limits to believers the effect of this propitiation. 19 God hath not only set forth His Son to be a propitiatory sacrifice, to be available through faith in His blood, but also hath done this to declare or manifest His righteousness.
Righteousness. — Some here translate this word faithfulness, or the righteousness of the character of God, or veracity; some goodness; some holiness; some pardoning mercy. But all are wrong, and such translations are opposed to the sense of the passage. It is righteousness, namely, the righteousness of God, on account of which the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation, ch. 1:17, to which the Apostle had recurred in the 21st and 22nd verses of this chapter, declaring that it is now manifested. ‘Righteousness’ in the above passages is the same as in the one before us, and in the following verse. In the 21st and 22nd verses, the expression employed is the ‘righteousness of God;’ and in this and the following verse, ‘His righteousness.’ Is it then to be supposed that, in repeating the same expression four times in the same breath, and with a view to establish the same truth, the Apostle used it in various senses, — first, as that righteousness which fulfills the law which God has provided for sinners; and then as the faithfulness, or goodness, or holiness, or mercy, or justice of God, or the righteousness of His character? — ideas entirely different from the former. That the meaning of the expression, ‘His righteousness,’ is the same in this and the following verse as that of the ‘righteousness of God’ in verses 21, 22, appears unquestionable, from the reason given in this 25th verse for setting forth Jesus Christ to be a propitiation for sin. This, as is twice repeated, first here, and then in the following verse, was for the purpose of declaring or manifesting God’s righteousness. In the 21st verse it is asserted that the righteousness of God is now manifested; and in the 25th verse it is shown in what way it is now manifested, namely, by setting forth Christ as a propitiation for sin; and in the following verse the reason is given, namely, for what purpose it is now manifested. On the whole, then, notwithstanding that a different sense is generally affixed to it by commentators, it appears clear that the signification of the expression ‘righteousness’ is the same in each of these four verses, which stand in so close a connection. This signification being the same in all the above instances, and generally in the various other places in the Epistle, in which it so often occurs, entirely corresponds with the whole tenor of the Apostle’s discourse, which is to prove that a perfect righteousness is provided by God for man, who has lost his own righteousness, and on which he had so forcibly dwelt throughout the first and second chapters, and down to the 21st verse of the chapter before us.
For the remission of sins that are past; — rather, as to, or with regard to, the passing by of sins before committed. Jesus Christ hath been set forth by God to be a propitiatory sacrifice, by which He brought in ‘everlasting righteousness,’ and by which it is now publicly manifested. On account, then, of this righteousness, even before it was introduced, God pardoned or remitted the sins of His people under the Old Testament dispensation.
These, having received the promises, although their accomplishment was yet afar off, were persuaded of them and embraced them; thus exercising faith in the blood of that great propitiatory sacrifice which was typified by the legal sacrifices, and through this faith they received the remission of their sins.
Through the forbearance of God. — It was owing to God’s forbearance that He passed by the sins of His people before the death of Christ, till which time His law was not honored, and His justice had received no satisfaction. No sufficient atonement previous to that event was made for their sins, yet, through the forbearance of God, He did not immediately proceed to punish them, but had respect to the everlasting righteousness to be brought in, in the fullness of time, Daniel 9:24, by the propitiatory sacrifice of His Son, by which their sins were to be expiated. This verse beautifully indicates the ground on which Old Testament saints were admitted into heaven before the death of Christ.
The same truth is declared in the Epistle to the Hebrews 9:15, where the Apostle refers to the inefficacy of the legal sacrifices to take away sins, and speaks of the blood of Jesus, by which He entered into the holy place, and obtained eternal redemption for His people. ‘And for this cause He is the Mediator of the New Testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called (literally the called) might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.’ All the people on whom the blood of the sacrifices was sprinkled, were sanctified to the purifying of the flesh, but those of them who were efficaciously called, and offered the sacrifices in faith of the promise of God, received a real remission of their sins. They were, like Noah, heirs of the righteousness which is by faith, and consequently partakers in its benefits. To the same purpose the Apostle speaks towards the end of that Epistle, of ‘the spirits of just men made perfect, ’ Hebrews 12:23. They had entered heaven on the pledge of that righteousness which was afterwards to be wrought; but until that took place, their title to heavenly glory had not been completed or perfected. 20 Hence the declaration at the end of the eleventh chapter of that Epistle, ‘that they without us should not be made perfect,’ that is, without the introduction of that righteousness in the days of the Gospel, the ministration of which was committed to the Apostles, 2 Corinthians 3:3.
19: This passage makes clear the meaning of 1 John 2:2: — ‘He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world,’ — for all, the Jews and Gentiles, who have faith in His blood. In the end of that Epistle, ch. 5:19, the expression ‘the whole world’ is also used in a restricted sense, being distinguished from those who are ‘of God.’ ‘And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.’
20: Mr. Stuart’s explanation is, ‘exalted to a state of final reward.’ This is not the truth here; declared. The other commentators equally mistake the meaning, explaining it to signify exalted to a state of holiness and felicity.
To declare, I say at this time His righteousness; that He might be just and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
God hath at this time also set forth His Son as a propitiatory sacrifice, in order to make manifest His righteousness, on account of which now, under the Gospel dispensation, He remits the sins of His people. He was always just in forgiving sin, but now the ground on which He forgives it is manifested, which vindicates His justice in doing so. The word here rendered just, is variously translated by those who do not understand God’s plan of salvation. Some make it to signify benevolent, kind, merciful, etc.; but it has here its own proper meaning, which it never deserts. God is just; He acts according to strict justice, as becometh His character, while He justifies, accounts, and treats as perfectly righteous all who believe in Jesus, who are thus one with Him, and consequently have His righteousness imputed to them. In all this we see the accomplishment of that prediction, ‘Mercy and truth are met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven. Yea, the Lord shall give that which is good; and our land shall yield her increase. Righteousness shall go before Him, and shall set us in the way of His steps,’ Psalm 85:10.
From the last two verses we learn that, in the continuance of the legal dispensation, not with standing the sins of men, and also in the preservation of the nations, God had suspended the immediate effects of His justice. For if He had not acted in this manner, He would at once have put an end to that dispensation and to the economy of His providence with respect to the other nations in destroying both them and the people of Israel. During all that time which preceded the coming of His Son, He appeared to have forgotten the merited punishment of men’s sins, and all the world remained under the shadow of His forbearance. But when Jesus Christ came, God did two things: the first was to continue no longer an economy of patience, or of an apparent forgetfulness of sin, bat to bring in everlasting righteousness, by which He bestowed a true justification, which the law, whether written or natural, could not do, as it left men under guilt; but Jesus Christ has brought the true grace of God. The second thing which God has done, is to manifest, in the revelation of His righteousness, His avenging justice, by the shedding of the blood of His Son upon the cross. And thus he now appears to be just in Himself as the real avenger of sins, and, at the same time, the justifier of men, granting them a real remission of their sins by the imputation of His righteousness, which answers every demand of law and justice; whereas in the period of the forbearance of God, which continued to the time of Jesus Christ, God neither appeared just nor justifying. He did not appear just, for He suspended the effects of His justice. He did not appear the justifier, for He seemed only to suspend for a time the punishment of sins, and to leave men under the obligation of that punishment. But in the economy of Jesus Christ He manifests Himself both as just and as the justifier, for He displays the awful effects of His justice in the person of His Son in the work of propitiation, in the shedding of His blood; and, at the same time, He justifies His people, granting to them a true remission of their sins.
And when the greatness of Him by whom this expiation was made is considered, the glory of the Divine justice, as exhibited in His death, is elevated in the highest possible degree.
In the propitiation, then, of Jesus Christ, the justice of God in the salvation of sinners shines conspicuously. No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son hath in His own person revealed Him. Jesus Christ was set forth to display every attribute of Godhead. The wisdom and power of God are seen in the constitution and person of Christ and His work, incomparably more fully than in the creation of the heavens and the earth. Perfect justice, mercy, and love to sinners, are beheld nowhere else. Here God is revealed as infinite in mercy ; not so the God of man’s imagination, whose mercy is a mixture of injustice and weak compassion, and extends only to those who are supposed to deserve it. But in the incarnate God infinite mercy is extended to the chief of sinners. Here is pure mercy without merit on the part of man. And where do we find the perfection of Divine justice? Not in the God of man’s imagination, where justice is tempered with mercy, and limited in a thousand ways. Not even in the eternal punishment of the wicked shall we find justice so fully displayed as in the propitiation of Jesus Christ. He gave justice all it could demand, so that it is now shown to have secured the salvation of the redeemed in every age of the world as much as mercy itself. God is shown not only to be merciful to forgive, but He is faithful and just to forgive the sinner his sins. Justice, instead of being reduced to the necessity of taking a part from the bankrupt, has received full payment, and guarantees his deliverance. Even the chief of sinners are shown, in the propitiatory sacrifice of their Surety, to be perfectly worthy of Divine love, because they are not only perfectly innocent, but have the righteousness of God He hath made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.
Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works?
Nay; but by the law of faith. Where is boasting then? — That is, according to the doctrine which the Apostle, by the Spirit of God, is teaching. There is no ground for it, or for ascribing salvation in any part or degree to the works of men. This shows that salvation was appointed to come to the redeemed through faith, for the very purpose of excluding all pretenses to allege that human merit has any share in it. This applies to all works, moral as well as ceremonial. If ceremonial works only were here meant, as many contend, and if moral works have some influence in procuring salvation, or in justification, then the Apostle could not have asked this question. Boasting would not have been excluded.
Paul had declared the only way in which a man can be ‘just with God.’ He had proved that it is not by His own righteousness, which is of the law, but by that righteousness which is received by faith. This is clear from what had been advanced in the preceding verse, from which this is an inference. If, then — as if he had said — God had purposed that men should have any group of boasting, He would not have set forth Christ to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, that thereby a way might be opened for justifying sinners, so that His justice might suffer no prejudice.
But now He has taken this course; and therefore the only way of justification precludes all boasting. ‘Paul is not here,’ says Calvin, ‘disputing merely concerning ceremonies, or any external works, but comprehends all works of every kind and degree. Boasting is excluded without all doubt, since we can produce nothing of our own that merits the approbation or commendation of God.
And here he is not speaking of limitation or diminution of merit, since he does not allow the least particle of it. Thus, if boasting of works be removed by faith, so that it takes away from man all praise, while all power and glory are ascribed to God, it follows that no works whatever contribute to the attainment of righteousness.’ By what law is boasting excluded? — It is not by that of works; for if works were admitted, in the smallest degree, to advance or aid man’s justification, he might in that proportion have ground of boasting. It is, then, by the law of faith; not by a law requiring faith, or as if the Gospel was a law, a new law, or, as it has been termed, a remedial or mitigated law; but the word law is here used in allusion to the law of works, according to a figure usual in the Scriptures. By the same figure Jesus says, ‘This is the work of God, that ye believe in Him whom He hath sent.’
Here faith is called a work, for a similar reason. Faith in the righteousness of Christ is, by the appointment of God, the medium of a sinner’s justification, without any consideration of works. This way of justification clearly shows that a man has no righteousness of his own, and that he can obtain nothing by means of conformity to the law, which can have no place, since he must admit that he is a transgressor. It impels him to flee out of himself, and to lay hold of the righteousness of another, and so leaves no room for glorying or boasting in himself, or in his own performances more or less. His justification is solely by faith; and it is clear that to believe a testimony, and rely on what has been done by another, furnish no ground for boasting. ‘Therefore it is by faith, that it might be by grace.’ The whole plan of salvation proceeds on this principle, ‘that no flesh should glory in His presence,’ but ‘that, according as it is written, he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.’ No ingenuity can ever make elevation by human merit consistent with the passage before us.
Therefore we conclude, that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
Therefore we conclude. — In the 20th verse the Apostle had arrived at the conclusion, from all he had said before, that by works of law no man shall be justified in the sight of God. He had next pointed out the way of justification by faith in the atonement; and here He comes to His second grand and final conclusion, as the sum of all He had taught in the preceding part of the Epistle.
Justified by faith. — Faith does not justify as an act of righteousness, but as the instrument by which we receive Christ and His righteousness. Believers are said to be justified by faith and of faith, and through faith, but never on account of faith. The declaration of James, that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only, is not in any respect opposed to the affirmation in the passage before us. The question with him is not how men may obtain righteousness for themselves in the presence of God, but how they are proved to be righteous; for he is refuting those who make a vain boast of having faith, when they have only what he calls a dead faith, — that is, faith only in profession, which he illustrates by a man’s having the appearance of compassion without the reality, and by referring to the body without the spirit or breath. 21
Without the deeds of the law, literally without works of law, for here, as in verse 31st, the article is wanting. — This does not signify, as Dr. Macknight understands it, that ‘perfect obedience’ to law is not necessary; it signifies that no degree of obedience to law is necessary. Good works are necessary for the believer, and are the things which accompany salvation, but they are not in any respect necessary to his justification. They have nothing to do with it. This passage asserts not merely that men are justified by faith without perfect obedience to any law, but without any obedience of their own. It may likewise be remarked, that believers will not be acquitted at the last day on account of their works, but will be judged according to their works. But God does not justify any according to their works, but freely by His grace; and not by works, or according to the works of righteousness which they have done, Titus 3:5.
21: See on this subject the author’s work on Evidences, etc., vol. 2: p. 385, third edition.
Is He the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles?
Yes, of the Gentiles also.
Rather, Is He the God of Jews only? Is He not also of Gentiles? The article before Jews and Gentiles, which is not in the original, makes the assertion respect Jews and Gentiles in general. In the sense of the passage, God is not the God either of the Jews or of the Gentiles in general; but He is the God of Jews and Gentiles indifferently, when they believe in His Son.
Seeing it is one God which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.
Seeing it is one God. — This assigns the reason why God must be the God of Gentiles as well as of Jews. If He justifies both in the same way, He must be equally the God of both. In the previous part of the discussion, Paul had shown that by works of law no flesh shall be justified, proving it first respecting Gentiles, and afterwards respecting Jews. Now he affirms that God’s method of justifying man applies equally to Jews and Gentiles.
This confirms his doctrine respecting the ruin of all men by sin, and of there being only one way of recovery by the righteousness of God received through faith. To urge this was likewise of great importance, with a view to establish the kingdom of Christ in all the earth, Romans 10:11,13. Having thus reduced the whole human race to the same level, it follows that all distinction among them must be from God, and not from themselves, — all standing on the same footing with respect to their works. There is but one God, and so but one way of becoming His people, which is by faith.
By faith, and through faith. — It is difficult to see why the prepositions here are varied. Similar variations, however, occur in other places, where there appears to be no difference of meaning, as in Galatians 2:16, where justification, as applied to the same persons, is spoken of in the same sense, ‘knowing that a man is not justified by works of law, but through the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ that we might be justified by the faith of Christ.’
Do we then make void law through faith God forbid: yea, we establish law.
From the doctrine of justification by faith alone, which the Apostle had been declaring, it might be supposed that the law of God was made void.
This consequence might be drawn from the conclusion that a man is justified by faith without any respect to his obedience to law. This the Apostle denies, and, on the contrary, asserts that by his doctrine the law is established. The article is here wanting before law, indicating that the reference is not to the legal dispensation, or to the books of Moses, as in the last clause of verse 21, but to the general law of God, whether written or unwritten.
Make void law. — ’ Bring it to naught,’ as the same word in the original is rendered, 1 Corinthians 1:28; or ‘destroy,’ Corinthians 6:13, and 15:26; ‘done away,’ 2 Corinthians 3:7-14; ‘abolished,’ Ephesians 2:15; 2 Timothy 1:10. Professors Tholuck and Stuart, not perceiving how the doctrine of the Apostle establishes the authority of the law, understand law in this place as signifying the Old Testament. This entirely destroys the meaning and use of the passage.
That the Old Testament teaches the same way of justification as that taught by the Apostles, is indeed a truth, an important truth, but not the truth here asserted. Mr. Stuart says, ‘How gratuitous justification can be said to confirm or establish the moral law (as this text has been often explained), it seems difficult to make out.’ There is not here the smallest difficulty. It is quite obvious in what way gratuitous justification by Christ establishes Law. Can there be any greater respect shown to the law, than that when God determines to save men from its curse, He makes His own Son sustain its curse in their stead, and fulfill for them all its demands? When a surety pays all that is due by a debtor, the debtor receives a gratuitous discharge: but has the debt, or the law that enforces the debt, been on that account made void? Here, as well as in so many other parts of his exposition of this Epistle, we discover the unhappy effect of this commentator’s misunderstanding the meaning of the expression at its commencement, the righteousness of God. That he should feel the difficulty he states above, is not surprising, for, according to the view he gives of justification, the law of God is completely made void.
Dr. Macknight explains establishing law to be making it ‘necessary in many respects.’ ‘The Gospel,’ he says, in his view and illustration of ch. 1:16, 17, ‘teaches, that because all have sinned, and are incapable of perfect obedience, God hath appointed, for their salvation, a righteousness without law; that is, a righteousness which does not consist in perfect obedience to any law whatever, even the righteousness of faith, 22 that being the only righteousness attainable by sinners; and at the same time declares that God will accept and reward that kind of righteousness through Christ, as if it were a perfect righteousness.’ 23 Accordingly, in this interpretation of the 21st verse of chapter 3, he says: ‘But now, under the Gospel, a righteousness appointed by God, as the means of the justification of sinners, without perfect obedience to law of any kind, is made known.’ In this manner, mistaking, like Professors Tholuck and Stuart, although in a different way, the import of the expression, ‘the righteousness of God,’ he misunderstands the whole train of the Apostle’s reasoning, from the 17th verse of the first chapter to the end of the fifth chapter, as well as its object; in this discussion on justification, and by his explanation, altogether makes void the law. Instead of making it ‘necessary in many respects,’ Dr. Macknight, as well as Dr. Stuart and Mr. Tholuck, by representing it as satisfied with an imperfect obedience, which does not meet the demands of any law, either human or Divine, makes it void in every respect. Such is the entire consistency among themselves of the doctrines of Scripture, that whenever any one of them is misunderstood, it invariably leads to the misunderstanding of the rest.
Many commentators, with more or less clearness, refer to the doctrine of sanctification, either in whole or in part, the Apostle’s denial that he makes void the law. According to them, it is not made void for this reason, because it convinces men of sin, and does not release from personal obedience to its precepts. That the doctrine of justification, by the imputation of Christs righteousness, does not release believers from obedience to the law, is a most important truth, which Paul fully establishes in the sixth chapter of this Epistle. On the contrary, it lays them under additional obligations to obey it, by furnishing additional motives to the love of God. But since their sanctification is always in this life imperfect, were there nothing else to meet the demands of the law, it would be made void — it would remain unfulfilled, both in its precept and penalty. In addition to this, the whole of the previous discussion regards the doctrine of justification, while not a word is said respecting sanctification. And it is evident that this verse is introduced to obviate an objection which might naturally present itself, namely, if man’s obedience, in order to his justification, be set aside, the law, which requires obedience, is made void.
But Paul appeals to his doctrine, and, according to his usual manner, strongly rejects such an inference. In the preceding verses, from the 20th, he had been announcing that the righteousness of God, which is the complete fulfillment of the law, is placed to the account of him who believes for his justification, whereby God, in thus justifying the sinner solely on the ground of a perfect obedience, shows Himself to be just. Do we then, he says, make void the law? This doctrine not only maintains the authority of the law of God, but also exhibits the fulfillment of all its demands. The connecting particle shows that Paul rests his proof on what had gone before, to which he appeals, and not on the ground of sanctification, to which he had been making no reference, and which, if he had referred to it, would not have borne out his assertion. ‘Think not,’ said our blessed Lord, ‘that I am come to destroy the law and the Prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in nowise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.’ It is to this fulfillment — to the righteousness of God, which in the context the Apostle had been illustrating, and which Jesus Christ brought in — that he here appeals. Do we make law void when we conclude that a man is justified by faith without doing the works of law, since we show that through his faith he receives a perfect righteousness, by which, in all its demands and all its sanction, it is fulfilled? No; it is in this very way we establish it. In this glorious establishment of the law of God, Paul, in another place, exults, when he counts all things but loss for the excellency of Christ, and desires to be found in Him, not having his own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith. While he thus tramples on his own righteousness, by which the law never could be established, he confidently appeals to the righteousness of God, now made his by faith. This is precisely in accordance with his conclusion in the 28th verse, that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of law; and afterwards, at the termination of his mortal career, in the immediate prospect of death, he triumphs in the consideration that there is laid up for him a crown of righteous — a crown, the reward of that perfect obedience by which the law is magnified and made honorable.
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Haldane, Robert. "Commentary on Romans 3". "Haldane's Exposition on the Epistle to the Romans and Hebrews". https://www.studylight.org/
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