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Bible Commentaries

Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT

Romans 3

Verse 1

The sense is this: But you of the Jews will object and say, "If outward circumcision avails nothing, but the inward circumcision is all in all; and if the uncircumcised person, keeping the law, is to be reckoned as circumcised, what advantage then hath the Jew above the Gentile, or what profit is there of the circumcision above uncircumcision? He answers it, Romans 3:2 saying, The advantage is much every way; but chiefly because unto them were committed the oracles of God: That is, the holy scriptures contained in the Old Testament, that sacraments and seals of the covenant, the prophecies and promises of the Messiah, and the whole revelation of the word and will of God, were then found with them, and in their hands only.

Hence learn, 1. Great is that people's privilege and mercy, who enjoy the word of God, the audible word in the holy scriptures, the visible word in the holy sacraments. This enlighteneth the eyes, rejoiceth the heart, quickeneth the soul. This is compared to gold for profit, to honey for sweetness, to milk for nourishing, to food for strengthening.

Oh how many souls are blessing God eternally for the benefit and blessing of divine revelation!

The Jews had this special favour, to them were committed the Oracles of God; that is, the writings of Moses and the prophets.

But we Christians have a privilege beyond them, the doctrine of Jesus delivered to us by evangelists and apostles; not like the killing letter of the law, but a gospel, bringing life and immortality to light.

Observe, 2. The title which St. Paul gives to the holy scriptures; he calls them the oracles of God. St. Stephen calls them, the lively oracles, Acts 7:38 partly because delivered by a lively voice from God, partly because they should be to us as oracles; that is, consulted with upon all occasions, for resolving all doubts, determining all controversies. Had the church of Rome consulted these oracles more, and councils, &c. less, she had kept the doctrine of faith much freer from corruption than she has done.

Observe lastly, That the original word, here rendered oracles, is the same which profane wretches made use of for the dark and doubtful oracles of the devil: Nevertheless, the Holy Ghost doth not disdain, nor decline, to make use of this word, as he also doth several others, though abused to heathenish superstition; which may serve to rectify their mistake, who scruple to make use of words, much more of some things which have been abused to superstition. Verily, there may be superstition in avoiding superstition; and though we cannot be too circumspect in our words and actions, yet we may be too nice and precise in both.

Yet note, That though the same word, logos, signifies God's oracles and Satan's, yet these oracles were not delivered in the same manner: Satan delivered his oracles ambiguously and doubtfully, keeping his dark and blind votaries as much as might be in the dark; what he said might bear several constructions, that so, whatever the event or issue prove to be, he, the father of lies, might have the reputation of speaking truth: But God's oracles are plain and clear, free from ambiguity and darkness; the scriptures are not dark, though some places are difficult, and that proceeds from the sublimity of the matter, not from the intention of the writer.

Verse 3

Here follows a second objection: Some might say, "True, the Jews had the oracles of God, but some of them never believed them, nor gave any credit to the promise of the Messias contained in them; therefore, they had no advantage by them." Be it so, saith the apostle: yet shall the unbelief of some make the faith or fidelity of God in his promises, of no effect to others?

God forbid! that such a thought should enter into our hearts: But, on the contrary, let God be acknowledged true and faithful to his word, though all men should prove liars.

Learn hence, 1. That whether we believe the fidelity of the promises, or assent to the veracity of God in his threatenings, or not; his word standeth fast forever. The promise shall be fulfilled, the threatening executed; only with this difference, we cannot personally find the comfort of the promise without faith, but we shall experimentally feel the terror of the threatening whether we believe it or no.

Learn, 2. The wonderful condescending grace of God towards those who have any measures of true faith , though with great mixtures of unbelief.

Oh how faithful is God to us (if in truth believers) in the midst of our unfaithfulness to him! the unbelief of men shall not make fidelity or faith of God of no effect.

Learn, 3. That as God is a God of truth, so all men are false and liars, compared with God: As God cannot lie, neither deceive, nor be deceived, so every man is fallible and false; that is, under a possibility of deceiving, and being deceived. Let God be true, but every man a liar.

Learn, 4. That a good man under afflictions, if very careful to justify and clear God from dealing unjustly with him in any of his severest dispensations towards him. The apostle here quotes That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and clear when thou art judged Psalms 51:4. As if David had said, "I know the men of the world, when they see me afflicted, will be ready to judge hardly of God for it; therefore, to stop their mouths, to clear the justice of God, that he may overcome, when he is judged for dealing rigorously with me, I do freely confess my sin unto him, with all the aggravating circumstances of it, that all the world may justify him, how great soever my sufferings may be from him." A child of God, under the rod of God, desires nothing more than to justify him in all his severest dealings with, and dispensations towards him.

Verse 5

A third objection here followeth, namely, "That if the unrighteousness of men, that is, both of Jews and Gentiles, tends so visibly to commend, that is, to illustrate and recommend the righteousness of God, namely, his wisdom, grace, and favour, in appointing this way of justification by faith in Christ; how can it be right in God to punish them for this unrighteousness, which tends so highly to illustrate the glory of his gospel-grace?" The apostle tells us, that in making this objection, he spake as a man, that is, as natural and carnal men are ready to think and speak: But, says he, God forbid that we should entertain such a thought, as if God either were, or could be unrighteous; for then how shall God judge the world, for their unrighteousness?

Learn hence, 1. That although the unrighteousness and wickedness of men be over-ruled by God, to subserve the purposes of his glory; yet is God just in punishing all unrighteousness and wickedness whatsoever. God is never intentionally, but is sometimes accidentally glorified by the sin of man. There never was such an hellish wickedness committed, as crucifying Christ; nothing, by which God ever reaped greater glory, than by the death of his Son: Yet is the wrath of God come upon the Jews to the utmost, and that most justly, for their committing of that wickedness.

Learn, 2. That the righteous God neither doth, nor can do any iniquity or unrighteousness whatsoever; Is God unrighteous? How then shall God judge the world? God is judge of all the world, and cannot but do right; because the universality of his power puts him above all possibility of error in the exercise of his power. The very reason why God cannot exercise his power beyond the limits of justice, is because his power is altogether unlimited; he can do whatsoever he will do; and whatsoever he will do, is for that reason just: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?

Verse 7

We must by no means understand these words as spoken by the apostle himself in his own name, as if he had told lies for upholding of the truth; and that the truth of God had abounded to the glory of God through his lies; but he speaks in the person of a profane objector. Thus some man (as if the aposlte had said) may possibly plead for his sin: "The truth of God hath gained by my lie, the faithfulness of God is made more manifest by the unfaithfulness of men; therefore, why should I be judged and condemned as a sinner, when the glory of God will shine more bright upon the occasion of my sin?

The free grace of God discovered in the gospel, will be manifested, say some and magnified in the pardoning of our sin; let us therefore sin our fill, that the immeasurableness of divine goodness may appear, and the abundance of pardoning mercy may abound." The apostle rejects this doctrine and practice, of doing evil that good may come, with the greatest abhorrency and utmost detestation, affirming, that their damnation is just, who either fasten this doctrine upon the apostles, or affirm it themselves.

Learn hence, That no person must venture to do the least of evils; no, not for the sake of the greatest good. True, Almighty God can bring good out of evil, by the same word of his power, by which he brought light out of darkness, and something out of nothing; but to do anything really evil for obtaining the greatest good, is dangerous and damnable. Sin, or that which is sinful, ought not to be chosen, whatever we chuse.

Learn, 2. That nothing is more just and righteous than their damnation, who will adventure to do evil, that good may come: A good intention will not excuse, never justify a bad action in the sight of God: He will condemn evil-doers, though they do evil, that good may come.

Learn, 3. That the apostle pronounces their damnation just, who laid these slanders to the apostles charge, as if their doctrine did allow of this damnable practice, to do evil that good might come: Their damnation is just, who thus slanderously report and affirm, that we say, Let us do evil, that good may come.

Whence note, That it is a just thing with God to damn those men that raise or spread abroad reparts of his ministers doctrine, as giving liberty to licentious practices: Verily, the slander of a minister's regular doctrine is more than ordinary slander. The original word here rendered slander, signifies blasphemy; the word which God makes use of to set forth his own reproaches by. Behold God's resentment of his minister's wrongs. The slander and contempt cast upon our office and doctrine, is esteemed blasphemy in God's account: As we be slanderously reported or blasphemed; and as some affirm that we say, Let us do evil, that good may come: whose damnation is just.

Verse 9

Here the apostle starts another objection in the name of the Jews: Some of them might say, "Are we not better than the Gentiles? Do we not excel them in outward privileges? Is not the knowledge of the law found with us, and the oracles of God committed to us?" True, says the apostle, the Jews are better than the Gentiles in respect of outward dispensations, but not in respect of inward qualifications. Jews and Gentiles are alike by natural corruption; alike under sin by actual transgression, and so stand in need both alike of justification by faith; and the gospel righteousness is no less necessary for the one, than for the other.

To prove what he had said, namely, That the whole race of mankind, both Jew and Gentile, were under sin, and void of all true righteousness and goodness, and consequently standing in need equally of justification by Christ; the apostle produces several texts out of the Old Testament, and particularly out of the Psalms 14 . which speaks fully of the original corruption, and universal depravation of all mankind, in the following words: Romans 3:10-18.

Verse 10

Observe here, How the apostle proves his assertion; namely, That both Jew and Gentile were under the guilt both of original and actual transgression, from the testimony of David, Psalms 14 where the state of corrupt nature is described, and the natural condition of all men declared, till they are either restrained or renewed by the grace of God: There is none righteous, no not one. Which words are true in several respects:

1. There is none originally righteous, no not one; none righteous in their first plantation in the world, until they are transplanted into the body of Christ, wrought and fashioned by his Holy Spirit.

2. There is none efficiently righteous, no not one: None have a righteousness of their own making, but of God's. The righteousness of justification and sanctification both are from Christ, not from ourselves; we are his workmanship, not our own.

3. There is none meritoriously righteous, no not one; none that can deserve or demand anything as a due debt at God's hand; but the most rigorous and holy saints are but unprofitable servants.

4. There is none perfectly and completely righteous, no not one; but inchoatively only: None righteous in a strict and legal sense, but in a gospel and qualified sense only: He that doeth righteousness is righteous, in the account of God; and, as such, shall be accepted and rewarded by him.

Observe, 2. How the apostle proves the corruption of mankind in general, by an induction of particulars. He surveys him in all the principal faculties of his soul, and members of his body; his understanding, will and affections; his eye, hand, tongue, and feet all corrupted and depraved: Their mouth is full or cursing, and bitter speeches: Their heart an open sepulchre, gaping after, and devouring the good name of their neighbours, and belching out filthy, ill scented, and unsavoury words against them. They seek not God in anything they do, and there is no fear of God, no respect of God before their eyes.

The apostle suts up all with this, because want of the fear of God before our eyes, is the fountain from which all other evils do proceed and flow. The fear of God is the bridle and curb which restrains from sin; where that is wanting, all iniquity abounds; where that is present and prevalent, it keeps the soul close to God, I will put my fear in their hearts, and they shall not depart from me. Jeremiah 32:32

We usually depart far, yea, run fast from those we fear; but the true fear of God will make us cleave close unto him, because love is intermixed with it, and renders it a delightful fear.

Verse 19

Observe here, Lest the Jews should think to elude or evade the force of the foregoing testimonies concerning man's corruption and depravation, as not belonging to them, but to the Gentiles only; he tells them, that what the law, that is, the books of the Old Testament, do thus say, it says to those that are under the law; that is, to those that are subjects of it, and obliged by it; to such as are under the instruction and direction of it, as the Jews are known to be; and if so, then every mouth must be stopped; Jew and Gentile both must own themselves before God, obnoxious to his wrath, without being able to say anything for themselves.

Learn hence, that the holy law of God brings such plain evidence and conviction with it, that no man can have a word to speak against it: When God spreads before men the purity of his laws, and the impiety of their own lives, every man must sit down silent, and lay his hand upon his mouth, not having one word to object why sentence should not be executed, because they have all transgressed.

Verse 20

Here we have St. Paul's conclusion drawn from all the foregoing premises: "Seeing all mankind, since the fall, are disabled, by their innate corruption, and actual transgression, to fulfil the law, either natural or written; it must necessarily follow, that by the works of the law can no flesh, that is, no person, either Jew or Gentile, be justified before God, all the efficacy which the law has, being to discover sin, and condemn for sinning: By the law is the knowledge of sin. By the law we apprehend our malady, but by the gospel we understand our remedy."

Learn hence, That no son of Adam, since the breach of the law, can stand justified before God by his best obedience to the commands of the law: By being justified, understand that gracious act in God, whereby we are acquitted, and finally discharged from the guilt and punishment of all our sins.

By the law here, and by the deeds of the law, we are to understand ceremonial and moral law both, especially the latter; for by the moral law, is the knowledge of sin: 'Tis the moral law that forbids theft, adultery, &c. Besides, it is evident that the antithetis, or opposition, runs all along, not between ceremonial works and moral works, but between works in general, and faith: The law of works, and the law of faith are opposed to each other, Romans 3:27.

But why can no flesh, that is, no person, be justified by the deeds of the law?

Ans. 1. Because he is flesh, that is, depraved by original corruption, and obnoxious to the curse of the law, by actual transgression. Now, that which condemns, cannot justify: An after-obedience to the law, can never atone for a former disobedience.

2. Because the best obedience we can perform to the law, is imperfect. Now, he that mixes but one sin with a thousand good works, can never be justified by his works. He that would be justified by his works, must not have one bad work amongst all his works; for that one will lay him under the curse and condemnatory sentence of the the law: Galatians 3 . Cursed is everyone the continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.

Nothing that is imperfect can be a ground of justification before God, because the design of God is to exalt his justice, as well as his mercy, in the justification of a sinner.

Again, 3. No flesh can be justified by the works of the law, because all that we do, or can do, is a due debt which we owe to the law: We owe all possible obedience to the law as creatures; and by performing our obligation as creatures, we can never pay our debts as transgressors.

But now, our surety, Christ Jesus, who has given satisfaction for our violation of the law, was under no obligation to the law, but what he voluntarily laid himself under upon our account. And if so, let us eternally bless God with the highest elevation of soul for the gospel-revelation, for sending his own son to justify and save us, by working out a complete and everlasting righteousness for us: And let us plead with him incessantly for the grace of justifying faith, which is as necessary in its place as the death of Christ. One renders God reconcilable unto poor sinners, the other actually reconciled.

Verse 21

Our apostle having proved negatively, that by the works of the law righteousness and justification is not to be had for any person, be he Jew or Gentile: He comes now to prove the affirmative part of his assertion; namely, that the God hath manifested another way of justification in the gospel, to wit, by faith in Jesus Christ. "For, saith he, now, that is, since the coming of Christ, since the dispensation of the gospel; the righteousness of God, that is, the righteousness which God appoints, approves, and accepts for a sinner's justification, is without the law, that is, without performing the works of the law, either natural, ceremonial, or moral; and is manifested to be the righteousness which is by faith in Christ; which all that believe and obey the gospel, shall be admitted to the participation of, both Jew and Gentile; for there is no difference; that is, no difference between Jew and Gentile, as to the way and means of their justification." And the reason assigned by the apostle, why there is, and can be, no other way of justification but this, we have in the next verse, namely, because all have sinned, the whole race of mankind , not one mere man excepted; and so will fall short of obtaining the glory of God and eternal life, if they seek it not in this way.

Learn hence, 1. That there is no standing or appearing before God for any creature, in a creature's righteousness. There is much unrighteousness in our righteousness, and therefore we cannot stand justified before God in it. Besides, the wisdom of God has appointed another righteousness, or the righteousness of another, even the righteousness of Jesus Christ, to stand before him in: But now the righteousness of God is manifested, even the righteousness of God which is by faith in Jesus Christ.

Learn, 2. The necessity and excellency of faith; the righteousness of God is unto all, and upon all that believe: Faith is the bond of union, the instrument of our justification, the spring of our consolation: Being justified by faith, we have peace with God, Romans 5:1. Render we then unto faith the things which are faith's, as well as unto Christ the things that are Christ's.

Learn, 3. That in reference to, or in respect of, our justification before God, there is no differnece among believers, For there is no difference Romans 3:22; that is, no difference as to the way of justification, between Jew and Gentile, male and female, bond and free; but all, without the righteousness of faith in Christ, must die, and be damned to all eternity.

There is now a difference amongst believers, with respect to the degrees of glory in heaven, than others; but the justification of all believers is alike.

There is the same sin in all, not for measure and degree, but in respect of guilt and obligation to punishment:

There is the same price paid, by way of satisfaction to divine justice, for all; namely, the death of Christ:

There is the same rightesouness imputed to all, the same spirit of holiness imparted amongst all, and the same mansions of glory designed for all; thus there is no difference.

And there is no difference amongst believers, in respect of truth of grace, but much in respect of strength of grace;

no difference amongst them in respect of God's promises, but much difference with respect of God's covenant, but much difference in respect of God's counsels, as also, in respect of God's dispensations;

no difference in respect of God's acceptation, but much in respect of their application;

no difference as they are a body, in respect of their head, but much difference as they are members of that head.

And if there be no difference amongst believers (as such) before God, why should there be so much difference amongst themselves, as there is oftentimes here in this world? You are all dear, truly dear to God; why should you not be so to one another? Why should not one church and one communion hold you now? Ere long, perhaps, one prison may, one heaven shall certainly hold you all.

Verse 24

Observe here, 1. A glorious privilege vouchsafed to believers, which the scriptures call justification, whereby they are judicially acquitted and discharged from the guilt and punishment of all their sins, and accounted righteous before God.

Observe, 2. The efficient cause of our justification. It is God that justifies: Who can forgive the crime, but the person against whom we have done the wrong?

Observe, 3. The moving or impulsive cause, namely, the free grace of God: Being justified freely by his grace.

Observe, 4. The meritorious cause, the blood-shedding and death of Christ; through redemption that is in Jesus Christ.

Observe, 5. The final cause; to declare his righteousness, not his clemency and mercy only, but his justice and righteousness, especially that attribute which disposes and inclines him to punish sin and sinners.

Observe, 6. The instrumental cause of justification, faith: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood &c. Some of the papists, especially Cagetan and a Lapide, do call faith causa aplicans in our justification: Verily, an unapplied Christ justifies none, being saved, he must be justified, that is, discharged of, absolved from, the guilt of all sin, upon the account of a complete satisfaction given to divine justice for sin.

Learn, 2. That not all and every sinner, but only repenting and believing sinners are justified by God.

Learn, 3. That when the Lord justifies a believing sinner, he doth it freely; being justified freely by his grace. It is an act of mere grace; there is nothing in the creature that can merit or deserve it: then it would be debt, and not grace.

Learn, 4. That God's free grace and Christ's full satisfaction were consistent, and both concurring in the believer's justification; we are justified freely by God's grace; yet, though the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Him God having set forth to be a propitiation.

The word propitiation is an illusion to the mercy seat, which covered the ark wherein the law was; this typified Christ, who fully covers our sins, the transgressions of the law, out of God's sight.

When therefore the apostle saith, that God hath set forth Christ to be a mercy seat to us, through faith in his blood; we have reason to believe the blood of Christ, as our sin offering, doth make an atonement for us, and renders God propitious to us.

Learn, 5. That Almighty God, in the justification of a believing sinner, is not only gracious and merciful, but just and righteous, in the most exalted degree: To declare his righteousness for the remission of sin.

Where note, That the design and end of God in exacting satisfaction from Christ, was to declare his righteousness in the remission of sin; but the apostle would have us take notice, that our justification is an act of justice as well as mercy, and that God, as he is a just God, cannot condemn the believer, since Christ has satisfied for his sins.

Oh blessed be God! that pardon of sin is built upon that very attribute, the justice of God, which is so affrighting and dreadful to the offending sinner. This attribute, which seemed to be the main bar against remmission, is now become the very ground and reason why God remits.

Hence saith St. John, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins: Faithful with respect to his own promise, and just with respect to his Son's satisfaction.

Who then can lay anything to the charge of God's elect, when justice itself doth justify them?

Behold here the sweet harmony of the divine attributes in justifying and pardoning the believer! One attribute is not robbed to pay another; neither is one attribute raised upon the ruit of another; but justice and mercy both triumph. And well might the justice of God triumph, for never was it thus honoured before, to have such a person as the Son of God stand honoured before, to have such a person as the Son of God stand at its bar, and such a sum as the Son's blood paid down at once, by way of satisfaction, to its due demands.

Oh glorious and all wise contrivance! whereby God made sufficient provision for the reparation of his honour, for the vindication of his holiness, and for the manifestation of his truth and faithfulness, and for the present consolation, and eternal salvation of all repenting and believing sinners, to the end of the world.

Verse 27

The apostle having laid down in the foregoing verses, the nature of justification exactly in the several and respective causes of it, declares in this verse, what is the consequence of this doctrine, namely, the excluding of all self-confidence and boasting in ourselves, or in any works done by ourselves: Where is boasting then?

Learn hence, That man is naturally a very proud creature, prone to boast of, and glory in, any excellency, either real or supposed, belonging to himself.

Learn, 2. That God has taken care to give a check to this insolent pride of man, and to cut off all occasion of boasting from him, That no flesh should glory in his sight 1 Corinthians 1:29. Whilst God intended man glory, he took a course to cut off all glorying from man.

Learn, 3. That the course which the wisdom of God has taken to hide pride from man's eyes, and to cut off all occasion of boasting from him, is by denying him justification by his own works; and ordaining, that the meritorious cause of justification should not lie in himself, but in another.

Grace must have all the glory; not the law of works, but the law of faith justifieth and saveth all believers.

Verse 28

Observe here, 1. The conclusion drawn by the apostle, from all that he had been discoursing of in the foregoing chapters: namely, that God's way of justification of a guilty sinner is not by works, done by him, but by faith in the Mediator, who hath satisfied the justice of God for him: Therfore we conclude, that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

Learn hence, That justifictation from our past sins is by faith alone, without respect to any works of ours, done either before or since conversion.

Observe, 2. How the apostle doth extend his proposition universally to all sorts of persons, Jews and Gentiles; that is, the whole race of mankind; affirming, that God will justify circumcised believers, and uncirmcumcised believers, one and the same way, even by the way of grace and faith: It is one God which justifieth the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.

Where note, The argument is drawn from the unity or oneness of God, which is not to be understood so much of the unity of his essence and nature, as of his will and purpose; yet as God is one and the same unchangeable God in his nature, so is he as immutable in his will and purpose. Having therefore determined and declared his way of justifying all sinners to be one and the same to all nations, both Jew and Gentile, even by faith alone in his Son Christ Jesus; no other way is to be expected from that God who is unchangeable in his purpose.

Learn thence, That God's way and method of justifying all sinners, Jews and Gentiles, great and small, is, and ever will be the same, namely, by faith alone, without works. What false notions soever men may entertain in their minds about it, and when the pride of men has arraigned the wisdom of God never so much, the apostle's conclusion will remain like a rock unshaken, Therefore we conclude, that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Romans 3:28

Verse 31

Observe here, The wise and holy caution which our apostle uses to take away the calumny and reproach cast upon him, by the adversaries of the doctrine of free justification by faith; as if this would render the law of God void and altogether useless: Do we then make void the law of God? As if he had said, "There may be those that will say so, but untruly; for we establish the law; because we acknowledge, that without exact obedience and conformity to the law, both in our natures and in our lives, as a rule of living, there can be no salvation."

Learn hence, That the doctrine of justification by faith alone, doth not overthrow but establish the law.

Here note, That it is the moral, not ceremonial law, which the apostle speaks of. The ceremonial law is utterly abolished by the gospel; but the moral law is not abolished, but established by the gospel; or, if abolished, it is only as a covenant, not as a rule. Christ has relaxed the law in point of danger, but not in point of duty; for the law is holy, and just, and good, and is not disannulled, but established by the gospel: Because by the gospel we obtain grace, in some measure, to fulfill the law, and yield a sincere obedience to it; which, for the sake of Christ's perfect and spotless obedience, shall find a gracious acceptance with God.

Therefore, with the highest elevation of soul, let us bless God for Jesus Christ, and for the gospel revelation, which has so fully discovered, and clearly revealed to us the only way of justification by faith in the Son of God, who hath loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood. To whom be glory and dominion forever and ever Amen.

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Bibliographical Information
Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Romans 3". Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/wbc/romans-3.html. 1700-1703.