The first part of this chapter, as far as the twentieth verse, belongs to the two preseding chapters, and confirms, by the words of David, the deplorable state of fallen man.
Romans 3:1-2. What advantage hath the jew? St. Paul was aware of the warm exclamations of his nation against the doctrine of the preseding chapter, that he had superseded the peculiar calling of Abraham, and all the glory it had conferred on the Israelites. The chief advantage was in making them the guardians of the holy scriptures.
To them was committed the eloquence, or the oracles of God. These are called the “lively” oracles. Acts 7:38. In them we have eternal life; yea, the presence of God in his word and ordinances, to comfort and guide his people.
Romans 3:3. What if some did not believe, si non fideles extiterunt quidam, did not continue faithful; for they all believed when passing through the sea, drinking of the rock, and eating the manna. Shall their inconstancy make God inconstant? Shall he revoke his promise to Abraham, and his oath to David? 2 Samuel 7:25. The promise to Abraham stands, though the rebels died; the oath to David is sure, though the sword departed not from his house. Covenants with men are futile, but with Christ they are sure. On this head, Paul, in a masterly style, quotes David’s own words, which are brilliantly expressed by the LXX: “That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and overcome when thou art judged.” Psalms 51:4. God is true; it is men who fluctuate and lie. St. Paul read the sacred text with enlightened regards; he sees Christ, and glory, and truth, in passages which we pass over as words of ordinary import.
Romans 3:5. But if our unrighteousness commend, or as Tyndal reads, make the righteousness of God more excellent, by introducing plenary pardon to sinners, and all the righteousness promised in the new covenant, — is not God unrighteous in being so indulgent to you christians, and so inexorable in condemning us jews, because we do not believe your gospel? God forbid. The rest of the discourse is a reply to this objection, and in fact, a full defence of the doctrines of grace developed in the gospel.
Romans 3:8. Let us do evil, that good may come. To this slander of the jews he replies at large in chap. 6. On Psalms 14. other replies occur.
Romans 3:10. There is none righteous, no, not one. The words that follow in the next eight verses, prove this assertion. What then becomes of the rabbinical boasts of keeping the law? Paul, fighting with Jehovah’s sword, always vanquished his foes.
Romans 3:11. There is none that understandeth. Ignorance and contempt of devotion are the general sources of ruin to the human kind. The flood of divine light is poured out to aid us in the conquest of vice.
Romans 3:12. They are all gone out of the way. So it was at Babel, as stated in the note on c Romans 1:23; and by Moses, Genesis 11.; and by Jeremiah 5:1. This general depravity is the harbinger of national ruin.
Romans 3:13. Their throat is an open sepulchre. “They drink iniquity like water.” Job 15:16. The selfish man swallows down riches unlawfully gained, but God will force him to vomit them up again. Job 20:15. These are the unclean things which enter the heart, and defile the man.
The poison of asps is under their lips. We do not exactly know the species of the asp referred to, but Aristotle pronounces the venom incurable. Cleopatra, queen of Egypt, finding her husband Antony dead, and her kingdom reduced to a Roman province, dispatched the man who watched her, with a letter to Augustus, then in Alexandria, praying that her body might rest with Antony. When the messenger was gone, she put on her best robes, and lay down on the royal bed. In a short time the servants found her dead. And as no wound was found on the body, much excitement was occasioned. Presently they found under her arm a small serpent, of the species of the asp, and which she had for sometime concealed in a basket of fruit. This is the reptile whose virulent poison is often used to designate sin. But if the scripture characters had taken those steps in their troubles, what had become of the glory that followed?
Romans 3:19. What things soever the law saith, it saith to them that are under the law. Therefore it is quite erroneous in thee, oh jewish teacher, to apply the above dark portrait wholly to the gentile world. Most of the words occur in other places, with the fullest sanction of revelation. Psalms 40:3. Proverbs 1:16. Therefore the words wanting in the Hebrew text, may have been collected in the Greek text as paraphrases.
Romans 3:25. Propitiation. ιλαστηριον signifies mercy-seat. ιλασμος, propitiation. The whole Hebrew ritual prohibited an approach to God without the shedding of blood. The question is, how the Hebrew christians would understand this phrase. Their current language would be, “We have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus.” Hebrews 10:19. It was by the sprinkling of blood, that is, his own blood, by which he sanctifies his people. Hebrews 12:24; Hebrews 13:12. The forgiveness of sins is twice connected with redemption in his blood. Ephesians 1:7. Colossians 1:14.
Romans 3:29-31. Is he the God of the jews only? If that opinion be true, then he is partial in his administration, and has abandoned his care over the gentiles. Then he is regardless of his covenant and promise to Abraham, that in his Seed, the Messiah, all the families, the nations, of the earth should be blessed. Conformably to that covenant, He who saves the jew by the faith of Abraham, justifies the gentile through the same faith. Say not then that we make void the law through faith, but rather that we perfect the law, which is spiritual, by loving God with an undivided heart.
The doctrine of justification by faith only, when first preached to the jews and the gentiles, was thought to be quite a new and a daring extent of grace. It required to be clearly stated and well understood, to draw men from their dependence on legal righteousness. Let us pray that the Lord would give us a clear idea of this doctrine, so essential to peace of conscience, which many have long been studying under great mistakes, because of their attachment to their own works.
The first grand point to learn is, that both jew and gentile are all convicted at the divine tribunal; every mouth is stopped, and all the world are found guilty before God. This St. Paul has proved beyond all controversy in this epistle: he has supported his doctrine by the awful portrait in the fourteenth psalm, and made it the foundation of his system.
The second grand proposition in the doctrine of justification is, that men cannot obtain righteousness by legal obedience. The law can do nothing for the guilty, being weak through the flesh: Romans 8:3. The law was originally adapted to the nature of man; and in paradise it was as easy for him to keep it as for the eye to see, or the ear to hear. This law, like its author, is still the same, but man is not the same. The law is still perfect, man is not perfect; the law is still holy, man is not holy. His whole nature is depraved; there is no good in him but what comes from covenanted mercy. Therefore, by the deeds of the law shall no flesh living be justified. This is the axe laid at the root of all human righteousness, and it should warn the sinner to seek the righteousness that cometh from God only. But what is meant by the law? — The whole Hebrew code, moral, political, and ceremonial; but sometimes the apostle has the moral law, and sometimes the ceremonial principally in view. Good sense, and a comparison with other texts, will mostly determine that point. The sinner cannot regain original righteousness by any kind of suffering for his sins. His life is forfeited, his nature is impure: what merit then can there be in his sufferings, and what proportion do they bear to the glory of the offended God? The whole ritual code is in its own nature weak, imperfect, and insufficient.
When man has neither help nor hope, and while his mouth is stopped at the great tribunal, God is pleased to set forth his son Jesus Christ to be a propitiation for sin, through faith in his blood. Jesus suffered the just for the unjust, to bring us to God. He bare our sins in his own body on the tree. He was, like the atoning victims, made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. Here christianity has but to display its beauty, and the blood of bulls and goats is coveted no more. The altars are forsaken, mythology is confounded, and the hoary temples fall into decay.
When once the glory of Christ is presented to the mind, it is gained and captivated; and the wounded conscience asks no balm but the merits of the Saviour. This is the righteousness God has provided, which constitutes the sinner righteous in his sight. This is the everlasting righteousness brought in, being witnessed by the law in all its sin-offerings, and by the prophets in all their promises of pardon. Psalms 32:1-2. Isaiah 45:24-25. Micah 7:18. The reader will here most emphatically remark, that the pardon promised in the old testament is everywhere in the new testament ascribed to the blood of Christ. Romans 3:23; Romans 3:26. Ephesians 1:7. Colossians 2:14. Thus the church of Christ, and the church of God which he hath purchased with his own blood, are synonimous phrases.
This mode of conferring pardon and privilege on believing sinners, most eminently declares the righteousness of God. No one can say that the altar raised by the gospel is a licentious refuge of guilt, alluring men to destruction by unqualified promises of pardon. God spared not his own Son. He bruised him, and put him to grief. He made his soul an offering for sin. On the high altar of the cross, God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself. The sufferings of a world of wicked men could not express the divine abhorrence of guilt so strongly, as is done by the sufferings of the only-begotten of the Father. The gospel therefore can boldly meet every human system, and every objection against its incomparable promises of pardon, by magnifying its author as a just God, and yet the justifier of him that believeth. What regenerate heart can sin against so much love; and what enlightened mind will dare to insult that justice which spared not the beloved of the Father?
This pardon, this redemption, this righteousness, is conferred by faith only, as the sole condition of our justification. The sinner is poor, and can find no price to purchase it; hence the scriptures say, buy wine and milk without money and without price. The sinner is stung with sin, as the Israelites with the serpents; hence it is said, Look unto me and be ye saved, all ye ends of the earth. The general body of our reformers were therefore right in defining faith to be an assent to God’s word, and a reception of Christ in his person and offices. But this is only the first act of faith: the full act of justifying faith is, according to bishop Jewel in the homily, “A sure trust and confidence in God, that my sins are forgiven through the merits of Christ.” Saurin in his catechism defines it as a power to say that Christ has loved me, and given himself for me.
This is a sort of standard definition of justifying faith, and it has been adopted by the venerable John Wesley. Let every seeker of salvation pray for it, and let him use the weak faith which God has already given him; and as the little child tries to walk till he can go alone, so he shall soon believe with the heart unto righteousness and life. This mode of justifying sinners excludes boasting. The pharisee must kneel at the same bar with the prodigal. Not unto us, oh Lord, not unto us, but to thy name be all the glory.
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Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Romans 3". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany