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Where observe, 1. The mighty concern which the apostle had for the eternal salvation of his countrymen the Jews, who sought his destruction; their salvation lay very near his heart, and he was afraid they should miss it by taking the wrong way for obtaining it, by building all their hopes of salvation upon such a bottom as would never bear the fabric, but utterly fail them; namely, justification by works.
Observe, 2. What it was that made the apostle so concerned for the Jews. It was not upon the account of their wicked lives and scandalous immoralities, but for their bad principles and fundamental errors. They opposed the honour of God to the Son of God, and the observation of the law to the faith of Christ.
From whence learn, That we ought to be concerned for those who lie under damnable errors, although they be men of good carriage and commendable conversation. Not only the vicious and ungodly, but the erroneous and unsound, are to be the objects of our pity and prayer; for error is as damnable as vice; the one is an open road, the other a by-path, to hell and destruction; and, accordingly, he that has a due care of his soul's salvation will be as much afraid of erroneous principles as of debauched practices.
As if the apostle had said, "I can bear them witness that many, very many, of the Jews, have a zealous desire in their way to please God, and do what is acceptable in his sight; but though it be a warm, it is but a blind zeal, and not according to right knowledge."
Here observe, 1. The apostle is desirous to say the best he could of his countrymen the Jews; he commends the good meaning of their zeal, but blames the ill conduct of it. It was a misguided and mistaken zeal, and not directed as it ought. Zeal is either one of the best or worst of things in the world. It is a good thing when it is right in its object, right in the measure and degree, and pursued by right means. As to the object of our zeal, it must be that which is certainly and considerably good: certainly good, or else we are zealous for we know not what; and considerably good, or else it doth not deserve our zeal. To be zealous, and that beyond all due measure, for the observation so a ceremony or custom, as some in the Christian church were of old about the observation of Easter, is certainly a zeal not according to knowledge.
Again, zeal must be prosecuted by lawful and warrantable means; we must not from a principle of zeal do any evil, that good may come. But there is a zeal amongst the church of Rome, which I am sure cannot be according to knowledge, and that is a zeal for ignorance. This is a zeal peculiar to themselves; they will not allow the people to understand what they do in the service of God; they require them to pray, but will not let them know what they pray for; and all this under a pretence that ignorance, which makes a man a block, is the mother of devotion. As if the less men understand the service of God, the better he was pleased with it, and the more they were edified by it.
That is, the Jews being ignorant of God's way of justification by faith in Christ discovered in the gospel, and relying upon and trusting to their own works, their obedience to the ceremonial and moral law, to justify and save them, they have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God; that is, to the way and method which the wisdom of God has discovered for the justification of a sinner by the blood of his Son.
Observe here, 1. That by God's righteousness, we are to understand that righteousness which Christ has wrought for us, which God bestows upon us, and the gospel reveals unto us; by establishing their own righteousness, is to be understood their resolution and endeavour to depend upon their own works; their obedience to the law for their justification before God, in opposition against and in contradiction to, that way of justification which God has declared; namely, by faith in Christ Jesus, the one and only Mediator.
Observe, 2. That upon the first opening of the gospel, no evangelical doctrine was more disrelished by the Jews than justification by the righteousness of Christ. They were possessed with this principle then, that eternal life was attainable only by the works of the law: and according to the example of the Jews at the beginning, persons ever since, even to this very day, are fond of that way of justification.
The natural man is a proud man, he likes to live upon his own stock, he cannot stoop to a sincere and universal renunciation of his own righteousness, and to depend wholly upon that of another. 'Tis natural to a man to choose rather to eat a brown crust, or wear a coarse garment, which he can call his own, than to feed upon the richest dainties, or wear the costliest robes, which he must receive as an alms from another.
Lord! how hard is it to subdue this pride of spirit, and to be thoroughly convinced of the absolute necessity of another and a better righteousness than our own to constitute us righteous in the sight of God!
From the whole learn, 1. How dark-sighted the wisest men are by nature in God's way of justifying and saving sinners: Ignorant of God's righteousness, that is, of the way which the wisdom of God has discovered for justifying guilty sinners by faith in his son.
This is known only by divine revelation: The righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. Romans 1:17. It is purely an object of faith, and hangs all upon divine revelation, both as to the righteousness itself, and the manner of imparting it.
Learn, 2. How absurd is the attempt, and how injurious the design, to set up and establish a righteousness of our own, either in opposition to, or in conjunction with, the righteousness of God.
Alas! we fulfil the law only in sincerity, we cannot fulfil it to perfection; and if it be not to perfection, it cannot be to justification.
Therefore to trust to any righteousness of our own for justification before God, which is imperfect and polluted, is both sinful and unsafe. Sinful, because it is confronting the plain declarations of the gospel; and unsafe, because it evacuates Christ: for Christ is of no effect unto us: whosoever are justified by the law, are fallen from grace, Galatians 5:4.
Learn, 3. What an hinderance is pride to the salvation of men! it stiffens the will, that it won't stoop to God's terms: they will not have justification in God's way, and they shall not have it in their own. Here it stuck with the Jews; they would not submit to the righteousness of God: and here it sticks with too many at this day.
Learn, 4. Not to count a righteousness of your own needless to be possessed of, because you want of righteousness of another to confide and trust in. We plead the meritorious righteousness of Christ, to answer the demands of the law; but contend for a personal righteousness of our own, to answer the commands of the gospel.
Christ doth indeed ease us of the load of our sins, but not discharge us from the care of our duty. Our being in Christ frees us indeed from condemnation, but then that in-being must be proved by our holy walking; not after the flesh, but after the Spirit, Romans 5:1.
Learn, 5. To submit to the righteousness of God, as ever you would enjoy peace with God. The more holy we are, and the more sanctified we grow, the meaner opinion we shall have of ourselves, and the more need of a Saviour, and of justification by him; and shall bless God for the gospel, in which the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; and shall dread it as hell to be found amongst the number of those who, though they be not ignorant of God's righteousness, yet will go about to establish their own righteousness, refusing to submit to the righteousness of God.
There was a threefold law of God, which Christ may be said to be the end of; namely, judicial, ceremonial, and moral.
1. The judicial law was that which God by Moses delivered to the Jews, containing directions for administration of their civil government. Now Christ was the end of the law, as he has abolished it: for the Jewish polity was to continue till the coming of the Messiah, and no longer, Genesis 49:10 ; Daniel 9:25.
2. The ceremonial law was that which did prescribe certain sacred rites and ceremonies to be observed in the external worship of God by the people of Israel. The former law had relation to them as a nation, this as they were a church. Now Christ is the end of this law, as he has abrogated it. All the ceremonies of that law were shadows and types of Christ; now the shadows were to cease, when once the substance was come.
3. The moral law is that holy and eternal rule of righteousness given by God to men, for the right ordering of their thoughts, words, and actions, towards God, their neighbour, and themselves. This law is summarily comprehended in the ten commandments, and is called the law of righteousness and the royal law, Romans 9:31 ; James 2:1.
1. Now Christ may be said to be the end of this law,
1. As he is the scope of it.
2. As he is the accomplishment of it. The precepts of the law point at Christ, as he by whom they are accomplished; the promises of the law point at him as he by whom they are ratified; and the threatenings of the law may be said to point at him, as he by whom they are escaped. Christ was the sum of the law, as well as the substance of the gospel.
In a word, 3. Christ is the end of the law for righteousness, to be imputed to every one that believeth in him, the law being our school-master to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith, Galatians 3:25
As if the apostle had said, "Righteousness by faith can never be obtained by the works of the law, because Moses describeth the righteousness of the law thus, That the man that doeth these things, shall live by them; that is, a prosperous and happy life in the land of Canaan, say some; and eternal life in heaven, say others." But then the law must be understood the moral, not the ceremonial law, according to that of our Saviour, If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments; that is, the moral law. This do, and thou shalt live.
Where note, That such as seek justification and salvation by the works of the law, must keep the moral law perfectly and exactly; which being impossible to man in his fallen estate, Christ has obtained of his Father, that, for the sake of his righteousness, our sincere, though imperfect obedience, should find acceptance with God, and be available to salvation.
In which words the apostle seems to set forth the great anxiety and trouble of mind which is found with an awakened sinner; he is at a loss to find out the way how he shall stand justified in the sight of God. The law propounds to him life, but it is upon an impossible condition; but the gospel clearly reveals to him, that Christ has performed what is necessary for his justification, and that by a practical and lively faith he shall have an interest in it.
We need not therefore say, Who shall ascend into heaven for us? for Christ being ascended, hath given us a convincing proof that the propitiation for our sins is perfect; for otherwise our Surety had not been received into God's sanctuary: therefore to be under perplexities how we may be justified, is to deny the value of his righteousness and the truth of his ascension. And say not, Who shall descend into the deep? that is, to bear the torments of hell, and expiate sin; for this is to deny the virtue of his death, whereby he appeased God and redeemed us from wrath to come.
In the law, the condemning righteousness of God is made visible: in the gospel, his justifying righteousness is revealed from faith to faith. Eternally maginifed be omnipotent Love, that the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ has graciously discovered how God may show mercy to repenting and returning sinners, without any prejudice or injury done to his justice. Hereby the soul is at once freed from the fear of God's wrath and anger, and has a lively hope of his love and favour.
Lord! what sins are there, which so entire a satisfaction doth not expiate? What torments can they deserve, which his wounds and stripes have not removed! God is just as well as merciful, in justifying him that believeth on Jesus.
From the whole note, That the way of acceptance with God is so clearly stated and discovered in the gospel, that we need not be in any doubtful suspense where to find it, or seek other satisfaction than God has given us in his word. The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thine heart; that word of faith which we preach.
Observe here, The two great and principal things which the gospel requires, in order to our justification and salvation.
The first is, Confession of Christ with our mouth; that is, in all times of danger, particularly in a time of persecution, to own Christ Jesus our Lord, and to declare that we will serve him, and adhere to him, be ruled of him, and expect only to be saved by him.
The second is, To believe in our hearts, that God hath raised Christ from the dead.
But why is the article of Christ's resurrection only named, seeing faith respects his birth, life, and death, &c.
Answer Because this article of the resurrection presupposeth all the rest of the antecedents to it, and consequences of it; as namely, his incarnation, death, and passion, ascension and intercession.
This article therefore of the resurrection is put for all the rest, and includes all the rest: for as he could not have risen, had he not first died, so his death had availed us nothing, unless he had risen again.
Learn hence, 1. That all those who would be accepted with God unto righteousness and life, must be such as do believe in Christ with the heart, and openly confess with the mouth, that he is the Son of God, and the Saviour of the world. If thou confess and believe, thou shalt be saved.
Learn, 2. That the principal seat and subject of faith is not in the understanding barely, but in the will, called here the heart: With the heart man believeth unto righteousness: not the head.
Although knowledge is so necessary to faith, that it is sometimes put for faith, By his knowledge, or by the knowledge of him, shall my righteous servant justify many, Isaiah 53:11; yet there may be much light in the understanding, where there is no life in the will, much knowledge in the head, where there is no faith in the heart, nor obedience in the life. Therefore says the apostle here, With the heart man believeth, &c.
Observe here, How the apostle proclaims Jesus Christ a common and universal Saviour of all mankind who believe in him: without any discrimination or difference between Jew and Gentile. Whosoever believeth on him, shall not be ashamed, whosoever shall call upon his name, shall be saved.
Where by believing on him, and calling upon him, must be understood such a faith in him as is the parent and principle of obedience to him. For the devil himself may as sell pass for a believer, as a disobedient soul. If our works be no better than theirs neither, in the account of God. He believes so as not to be ashamed, who lives as he doth believe. In vain is it to expect salvation by Christ, if we do not yield subjection to him.
Lord! how many are there that desire thou shouldst suffer for their sins, so they may have the satisfaction to commit them; content that thou shouldst bear the blame, so they may have their liberty to commit the faults! If they may but live in their sins, they take it kindly, that Christ will die for them; but the design of Christ's death was to deliver us not only from the danger, but from the dominion of our sins; to free us not only from the wrath of God, but from the rage of our lusts.
The scope of the apostle in these words is to prove, that these words is to prove, that there was a necessity of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, as well as to the Jews, in order to their believing on Christ; and his way of arguing is very forcible, demonstrative, and convincing. Thus, "God has by the prophets promised salvation to the Gentiles; but without calling on him there is no salvation; and without faith there is no calling upon him by prayer; and without hearing there is no faith; and without a preacher there is no hearing; and without solemn mission, or sending by Christ and his ministers, there can be no preacher."
And the apostle's manner of speaking is by way ofinterrogation, which is equivalent to a negation: How shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?
That is, it is impossible to do it, and it would be impious and wicked to do it. None must be the object of our prayers, but he that is the object of our faith and trust: now it is God alone that is the object of our faith and trust; therefore he alone must be prayed unto.
And if so, then the practice of the Papists in praying to angels and saints departed, is very blame-worthy and abominable in the sight of God. How can they pray unto them, unless they believe in them and trust in them? And if they trust in them that curse falls upon them, Cursed is that man that trusteth in man; that is, in any creature.
The truth is, if Christ himself were a mere man, and not God as well as man, we should sin by worshipping of him; but it is one good argument to prove the divinity of Christ, that the scripture represents him as the object of faith, and religious invocation.
From the whole observe, That the only way to heaven is by Christ, the only way to Christ is by faith, the only way to faith is by the word, it cometh by hearing; the only way, that is, the only ordinary way.
What becomes of those that never heard of Christ in the preaching of the gospel, God only is fit to judge. This is certain, that all men at the great day shall be judged according to the law that they were under, and obliged by, and no other. Now promulgation being the essence of a law, the gospel cannot be a law to them to whom it was not promulgated and made known; but a practical belief of the gospel is indispensably necessary to the salvation of them to whom it is revealed.
Observe further, The great reverence and high esteem which is due and payable to the preachers of the gospel, and that by the approbation of God himself. He commands us to admire the very feet of them that preach the gospel of his Son unto us, and bring glad tidings of good things: How beautiful are the feet of them, &c.
And for great reason should it be thus, because the ministers of the gospel are the messengers of Christ; they receive both their mission and commission from him; they are instructed by him, they negotiate for him, they speak in his name, they act in his stead; and whatsoever they either promise or threaten in God's name, he stands ready and resolved to perform it, He confirmeth the words of his servants, and performeth the counsel of his messengers. Isaiah 44:26.
Lord! how beautiful and blessed are the feet of thy messengers and ministers in thy account! Let them be so in thy people's estimation also.
Learn hence, That nothing ought to be so welcome to us, and so joyfully entertained by us, as the preaching and preachers of the gospel. How beautiful are the feet of them, &c.
Here an objection is tacitly implied and answered: some might say, "If the gospel be thus excellent, and the feet of them that preach it is so beautiful, whence was it that the Jews, to whom it was first preached, did not receive and yield obedience to it?"
The apostle answers, that this infidelity and obstinacy of the Jews was foretold by the prophets of old, particularly by Isaiah, who complains, Lord, who hath believed our report? Isaiah 53:1
Learn hence, 1. That the faith of the gospel is not common to all that hear the gospel. True, the hearing of the word is necessary unto faith, but faith doth not necessarily follow the hearing of the word.
Learn, 2. That the prophets of God did foresee, and by the spirit of prophesy foretold, what small success the preaching of the gospel would have to and amongst the Jews.
Learn, 3. That yet the prophets' prediction was not the cause, but the consequence, of the Jews' rejection of the gospel. It was not because the prophet said so, that they did not believe; but because they believed not, therefore the prophet said so, They have not obeyed the gospel: for so Isaiah saith of them.
As if the apostle had said, "It is very evident, and these testimonies show, that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the preaching of the word of God." The grace of faith is wrought by the Spirit in the act of hearing: and the matter heard by which this faith is wrought, is the word of God preached. Persons must hear, that they may believe; and God's word must be preached, that they may hear. A non-preaching minister then is no minister; he is like a bell without a clapper, or a crier without a voice; he neither answers the design of his commission, nor the end of the gospel's institution, which was to be the instrumental mean of faith. Faith cometh by hearing.
It was no less than a miracle that the gospel, in the space of a few years, should be preached to all nations, and planted in the remotest parts of the world; and yet thus it was; which makes St. Paul here apply that to the preaching of the apostles, which David applies to the preaching of the heavens, Psalms 19:4.
The gospel of Christ, like the sun in the firmament, casts its beautiful and glorious beams all the world over. For upon the commission given out by Christ to his apostles, to go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature, the apostles divided themselves into the several quarters of the world, for the speedy performance of this service, namely, the carrying of the gospel, as the sun doth his light, unto all the nations of the earth. As if St. Paul had here said, "Like as the voice of the heavens are gone through the world, so is the voice of Christ and the light of his gospel, which doth much more declare the glory of God than the sun and the moon in the heavens can do."
Some observe, that there was hardly any one considerable nation in the world, but within forty years after Christ's ascension had the glad tidings of the gospel preached to it.
Hence the apostle tells us, That the grace of God which bringeth salvation, hath appeared unto all men: Titus 2:11; that is, the gospel, without restriction was tendered to all nations, Jew and Gentile; to all persons, bond and free, honourable and ignoble.
Behold the goodness and mercy of God in enlightening the dark corners of the world with this glorious light from heaven!
Behold the great power and efficacy of the word, under the quickening influences of the Holy Spirit!
Behold an example of laborious diligence and industry in ministerial service!
what pains did the apostles take!
what hazards did they run!
what journeys did they undertake, to preach Jesus Christ, to plant and propagate the everlasting gospel!
Shall not we attend our flock, and travel from house to house to visit our charge, which falls within the compass of a few miles, when the apostles compassed sea and land, travelled far and near, laboured night and day, to transmit the gospel to the ends of the world?
Lord! how does their indefatigable diligence shame our supine negligence!
Did not Israel know, that is, of the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles, and of their own infidelity in rejecting it? This they might have known both from the testimony of Moses and Esaias.
First, from Moses' testimony, who says, I will provoke you (Jews refusing to believe) unto jealousy by them that are (yet) no people (of God); and by a foolish nation (so the Gentiles were accounted by the conceited Jews) I will anger you. Deuteronomy 32:21.
When God preferred the Gentiles before the Jews, the hearts of the latter were vexed with jealousy and anger, to behold all their privileges taken from them, and given to the former, whom they accounted a people most vile and despicable.
The second testimony is that of Esaias, who the apostle says was very bold; that is, very plain and express, in foretelling God's calling of the Gentiles and rejecting of the Jews: calling the Gentiles by his free grace, and seeking them that first sought him not; and casting off the Jews, who, after all his forbearance and long suffering, did continue obstinately to reject the offers of his grace and the tenders of his mercy.
Here note, 1. The holy courage of this evangelic prophet Isaiah, in the discharge of his office: with great boldness and freedom he foretells the calling of the Gentiles and casting off the Jews, although it cost him dear, even his life, being sawn asunder with a wooden saw, as some affirm. There ought to meet in the ministers and messengers of God both courage and impartiality; courage in fearing no faces, impartiality in sparing no crimes.
Note, 2. What little cause or reason the ministers of God have to sit down in despondency, after so many unwearied attempts made in vain to reclaim sinners from their wicked ways; when they consider the infinite patience of God towards them, who stretches forth his hands all the day long to a disobedient and gainsaying people; that is, patiently contends with their obstinacy and perverseness!
Lord! why should we, that are sinners ourselves, think much to bear with sinners? Let us rather imitate thy example in waiting upon them with the offers of grace and mercy, and follow them with our melting entreaties and passionate importunities, till we either overcome their obstinacy, or leave them totally inexcusable.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Romans 10". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25