corner graphic   Hi,    
ver. 2.0.19.10.16
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to classic.studylight.org/

Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae
Romans 3

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1-2

DISCOURSE: 1828

CHRISTIANS’ ADVANTAGES ABOVE HEATHENS

Romans 3:1-2. What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way.

IT is not easy to form a just estimate of the privileges attached to the profession of Christianity: we are ready either, on the one hand, to rate them too high, or, on the other, to undervalue and despise them. The Jews laid so great a stress on their relation to Abraham, that they could scarcely conceive it possible for them to perish: they concluded, that because they bore in their flesh the external seal of God’s covenant, they must of necessity be partakers of its spiritual blessings: and when St. Paul shewed them their error, they indignantly replied, “What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision?” Thus many amongst ourselves are apt to imagine, that their having been admitted by baptism into the Christian covenant will secure them an admission into heaven: and, when they are warned against this sad delusion, they are ready to say, that the heathen are in a happier state than they. In opposition to this, we propose to shew,

I. What advantages we, as Christians, have above the heathen—

The Apostle intimates, that the Jews, merely as Jews, possessed “every way much” advantage above the heathen: but, instead of descending to particulars, he contents himself with specifying one, which, as it was the greatest, so in fact it included all the rest, namely, that “to them were committed the Oracles of God.” What he has stated thus comprehensively, we shall enter into more minutely.

We say then, that as Christians, we have many things to which the heathen are utter stangers: we have,

1. A guide for our faith—

[The oracles which the heathen consulted, were altogether unworthy of credit. Their answers were purposely given with such ambiguity, that they might appear to correspond with the event, whatever the event might be [Note: A famous instance of this is mentioned by Herodotus, B. i.—Cyrop ζdia, B. vii. Cr œsus, king of Lydia, inquired of his gods, Whether he should make war against Cyrus? The Oracles answered, That he was then only to think himself in danger, when a mule should reign over the Medes; and that, on his passing over the river Halys, he should destroy a powerful kingdom. Relying on these answers as predicting success, he commenced the war, which speedily terminated in the ruin of himself and his whole kingdom: and when he complained that he had been deceived by the Oracles, he was told, That Cyrus was that mule (being a Persian by his father’s side, and a Mede by his mother’s); and that the kingdom which he was to destroy, was his own. See the account given in Prideaux’s Connection of the Old and New Testament History.]. But our oracles have no such subterfuges: nor can we possibly err in giving to them the most implicit confidence. They declare to us the nature and perfections of God—the way which he has appointed for our reconciliation with him—the eternal state of those who shall embrace his proffered mercy, and of those who shall reject it. Of these things the heathen were wholly ignorant; nor could their oracles afford them any instruction on which they could rely.

What an amazing advantage then has the meanest Christian above the greatest of the heathen philosophers! The little volume which he has in his hand, sets before him innumerable truths, which reason never could explore; it reveals them to him so plainly, that he who runs may read and understand them: and, instead of deceiving him to his ruin, it will “make him wise unto everlasting salvation.”]

2. A warrant for his hope—

[The oracles which could declare nothing with certainty, could afford to their votaries no solid ground of hope. But the Christian who believes the oracles of God, has an “anchor for his soul so sure and steadfast,” that not all the storms or tempests which either men or devils can raise, shall ever drive him from the station where he is moored. Suppose his discouragements to be as great as the most gloomy imagination can paint them; he has reasons in plenty to assign for his hope. The sovereignty of God—the sufficiency of Christ—the freeness and extent of the promises—the immutability of Jehovah, who has confirmed his promises with an oath—these, and many other things which are revealed in the sacred volume, may enable the person who relies upon them to go to the very throne of God himself, and to plead for acceptance with him: and, in proportion as he relies upon them, he has within his own bosom a pledge, that he shall never be ashamed.

What an advantage is this to the man that is hoping for eternal happiness! Surely “blessed are the eyes which see the things that we see, and hear the things which we hear.”]

3. A rule for his conduct—

[The wise men of antiquity could not so much as devise what constituted the chief good of man; much less could they invent rules which should be universally applicable for the direction of their followers: and the rules which they did prescribe, were in many respects subversive both of individual and public happiness. But the oracles of God are proper to direct us in every particular. We may indeed in some more intricate cases err in the application of them, (else we should be infallible; which is not the lot of man upon earth;) but in all important points the path we are to follow is made as clear to us as the racer’s course: yea, the word is not only a general “light to our feet, but a lantern to our steps:” so that what was obscure at a distance, is discovered to us on our nearer approach, and a direction is given us, “This is the way; walk ye in it.” The whole circle of moral and religious duty is thus accurately drawn. The poor man who is conversant with his Bible, needs not to go to the philosopher, and consult with him; nor need he regard the maxims current in the world. With the Scriptures as his guide, and the Holy Spirit as his instructor, he needs no casuist, but an upright heart; no director, but a mind bent upon doing the will of God. If he derive assistance from any, it is from those only who are more fraught with divine knowledge, and whose superior illumination has qualified them to instruct others. But they are no farther to be regarded, than as they speak according to the written word.

Compare now the illiterate Christian with the most learned pagan, and see how greatly he is benefited in this respect also by the light of revelation. If indeed he rest in his admission into the Christian covenant, and look no further than to a mere profession of Christianity, he may easily overrate his privileges: but if he consider them means to an end, and improve them in that view, he can never be sufficiently thankful, that he was early received into the bosom of the Church, and initiated by baptism into a profession of Christ’s religion.]

Having stated our advantages, we proceed to notice,

II. The improvement we should make of them—

If the possession of the sacred oracles constitute our chief advantage, doubtless we should,

1. Study them—

[“Search the Scriptures,” says our Lord, “for in them ye think ye have eternal life.” If we neglect the word of God, we lose the very advantage which God in his mercy has vouchsafed to give us, and reduce ourselves, as much as lieth in us, to the state of heathens. If then we shudder at the thought of reverting to heathenism, let us, not on some occasions only, like the heathen, but on all occasions, consult the oracles, whereby we profess to be directed. “Let our meditation be in them day and night;” and let them be “our delight and our counsellors [Note: See Deuteronomy 6:6-9 and Psalms 1:2 and Proverbs 2:1-6.]” — — —]

2. Conform ourselves to them—

[The end of studying the sacred oracles is not to obtain a speculative knowledge, but to have our whole souls cast, as it were, into the mould which is formed therein. By them we must regulate both our principles and our practice. We must not presume to dispute against them, because they are not agreeable to our pre-conceived opinions; we must not complain that this is too humiliating, and that is too strict; but must receive with submission all which the Scriptures reveal, believing implicitly whatever they declare, and executing unreservedly whatever they enjoin — — — If we do not thus obey the truth, we shall indeed be in a worse state than the heathens; our baptism will be no baptism; and the unbaptized pagans, who walk according to the light they have, will rise up in judgment against us for abusing the privileges which they perhaps would have improved with joy and gratitude [Note: Romans 2:25-27.].]

3. Promote the knowledge of them in the world—

[If God had imparted to us a secret whereby we could heal all manner of diseases; and our own interest, as well as that of others, would he greatly promoted by disclosing it to the whole world; should we not gladly made it known? Shall we then withhold from the Gentile world the advantages we enjoy; more especially when God has commanded us to communicate as freely as we have received? Should we not contribute, by pecuniary aid, or by our prayers at least, to send the Gospel to the heathen, that they may be partakers with us in all the blessings of salvation?

But there are, alas! heathens, baptized heathens, at home also; and to those we should labour to make known the Gospel of Christ. We should bring them under the sound of the Gospel—we should disperse among them books suited to their states and capacities—we should provide instruction for the rising generation—we should especially teach our own children and servants—and labour, “by turning men from darkness unto light, to turn them also from the power of Satan unto God.”]


Verse 3-4

DISCOURSE: 1829

THE FOLLY OF UNBELIEF

Romans 3:3-4. What if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar.

IN every age of the world man has been prone to disbelieve the testimony of God: our first parents fell by questioning the prohibition which God had given them, and doubting the penalty with which it was enforced. Their posterity, born in their fallen image, have but too faithfully copied their example. By unbelief, the antediluvian world were overwhelmed: by unbelief, God’s chosen people the Jews have been despoiled of all their privileges. The same malignant principle pervades also the Christian church. We profess indeed, like the Jews of old, to venerate the sacred oracles; but there is scarcely a truth contained in them, which is not practically, and almost, universally, denied. Yet is this no reason for questioning their divine authority: for God is as immutable in his word, as he is in his nature; and, as his existence would not be affected, though the whole world should be atheists, so neither will one jot or tittle of his word fail, though the world should be infidels. This is the very point on which St. Paul is insisting in the passage before us. Having observed that the Jews were highly privileged in having the oracles of God committed to them, he anticipates the objection which might be urged against him from their unbelief; and allowing the truth of the fact, That they were very generally disbelieved, he denies and refutes the inference that might be drawn from it, by declaring, That their unbelief, however general it might be, could never invalidate the truth of God.

From his words we shall be led to consider,

I. The prevalence of unbelief—

It is not our intention to expose the errors of infidelity, or the sophistry with which the truth of God has been assailed; but rather to point out that secret unbelief which works in the minds of all, even with respect to the most acknowledged truths. That such unbelief prevails, cannot possibly be doubted, if we observe,

1. How general is men’s neglect of the word of God—

[The sacred volume lies by us: we have it in our own language, that all may read it; and it is statedly read and explained to us in public. But how few study it! how few regard it! how few are there who do not give a decided, yea, an exclusive preference to books of human science, and even to any worthless novel, or ephemeral compilation! And what is the cause of this? Could they be thus indifferent, if they believed it to be the word of God; the word of God to them? Would any one manifest such indifference towards a will in which he was informed that great estates were bequeathed to him? or even towards a map, which would shew him his way through a trackless desert? How much less then would any disregard the Holy Scriptures, if they really believed them to be the charter of their privileges, and the only sure directory to heaven! They would rather account them more precious than gold, and esteem them more than their necessary food [Note: Psalms 119:72. Job 23:12.].]

2. What contempt men discover for the truths they do hear—

[Men hear that there is such a place as heaven, where the saints shall live in everlasting felicity; and such a place as hell, where the wicked shall lie down in everlasting burnings: yet are they neither allured, nor alarmed. When the ministers of God insist on these subjects, they are considered only as preaching “cunningly devised fables.” But could this be the case, if men believed the testimony of God? Do men feel no emotion at the news of some unexpected benefit arising to them, or some unforeseen calamity impending over them? Do men treat with contempt a sentence of condemnation, or a notice of reprieve? How then could men so disregard the things revealed in the Gospel, if they believed them to be the very truths of God?]

3. How men expect things in direct opposition to the word of God—

[Unconverted men will as confidently expect to go to heaven, as if the word of God were altogether on their side. The drunkard, the swearer, the sabbath-breaker, the whore-monger, are as persuaded that they shall never come into condemnation, as if there were not one word in all the book of God that declared the contrary. They will never believe that the wrath of God is revealed against such sins as theirs, notwithstanding God so positively declares, that “the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:9.].” They do not indeed imagine that any will be finally lost. They can hear of thousands slain in battle, and yet extend their thoughts no further than the grave. The idea that multitudes of them may possibly have died in their sins, and been consigned over to endless misery, seems so harsh, that they cannot harbour it in their minds one moment, notwithstanding God expressly says, that “the wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God [Note: Psalms 9:17.].” Could all this be so, if they believed the word of God? Would not their sentiments then be more conformed to it? Would they not be assured, that, however “it should be well with the righteous,” it must and should “go ill with the wicked [Note: Isaiah 3:10-11.]?”]

4. How little men are influenced by the things they profess most to believe—

[They profess to believe that there is a God: yet they do not love him, or fear him, or trust in him, or regard him, any more than if there were no such Being. They profess to believe that they have an immortal soul; yet they pay no more attention to its interests, than if it were not to survive the body. They profess to believe that there will be a day of judgment, wherein they shall give account of themselves to God: yet they are not at all solicitous to know how their account stands; they bestow no pains in preparing for that day; they presume that others are happy, and that they shall fare as well as those who have gone before them; and thus they hazard their eternal welfare on a mere groundless surmise. They profess to believe that death will put a period to their day of grace, and that it may snatch them away suddenly, and unawares: yet they live as securely, as if they could call days and years their own: “Soul, take thine ease,” is the constant language of their hearts. Now, whence is all this? Will any one say, that these men are thoroughly persuaded even of the things which they profess most to believe? they certainly are not: they give a general assent to them, because they have been educated in these particular sentiments, and because their reason cannot but acquiesce in them as true: but as for the faith which realizes invisible things, which is “the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen,” they have no portion of it; they are shut up altogether in unbelief.]

The prevalence of unbelief being thus unquestionably proved, we proceed to point out,

II. The folly of it—

A just view of this subject will soon convince us, that the very men who glory in their unbelief, and say, “Wisdom shall die with us [Note: Job 12:2.],” are indeed influenced by the most foolish and fatal of all principles: for, with respect to unbelief,

1. It cannot avert the evils which it affects to despise—

[Unbelief can never make void the truth of God. It did not in the days of old. When Satan said to our first parents, “Ye shall not surely die,” and they credited his testimony in preference to God’s, did their unbelief avail them? was the threatening less certain? Did God forbear to inflict it? Did not their souls die that very day, being instantly separated from God, which constitutes spiritual death, and becoming obnoxious to his wrath, the chief ingredient of eternal death? Did not their bodies also, though, for the peopling of the earth, and for other gracious purposes, they were suffered to continue awhile, become impregnated with the seeds of death, whereby they were in due time reduced again to their native dust?

When the unbelieving Jews rejected their Messiah, were the purposes of God at all frustrated? Yea, were they not rather furthered and accomplished by their unbelief? and were not the whole nation, except a little remnant, broken off from their stock, and the Gentiles, whom they regarded as accursed, engrafted on it?

So we may now ask of unbelieving sinners, “What if ye do not believe? shall your unbelief make the faith of God without effect?” Will God cease to he an holy, sin-hating, sin-avenging God, because ye presume to think him even such an one as yourselves? Shall sin no longer be debasing, defiling, damning, because ye choose to esteem it light and venial? Shall death wait your pleasure, because ye think ye have made a covenant with it, and put it far from you? shall the judgment-day lose its solemnity, and the account you are to give be made less strict, because you take it for granted, that all shall then be well with you? Shall hell be divested of its horrors, because you will not believe that there is any such place, or because you are averse to hear of it? Shall the nature and blessedness of heaven be altogether changed, in order that it may, according to your conceits, be the residence of the wicked as well as of the righteous? In short, is it reasonable, is it probable, is it possible, that the truth of God should be made void, merely because you do not choose to believe it?]

2. It enhances and insures the evils, whose very existence it presumes to deny—

[The Apostle tells us what should be the fixed principle of our minds, “Let God be true; but every man a liar.” But unbelief reverses this; and gives, not only to the testimony of man, but even to his most groundless conjectures, a greater weight than to the most solemn declarations of Jehovah. What an affront is this to the Majesty of heaven! Is there a man on earth that would not take offence at such an indignity, especially if it were offered to him by those whom he had never deceived, and for whose sake alone he had spoken? Let it not then be thought, that, to treat God as though he had no veracity, is a light matter; for surely it must greatly provoke the eyes of his glory.

Besides, unbelief, while it thus incenses God against us, rejects the only possible means of reconciliation with him; and consequently rivets all our guilt upon us — — — Judge then whether they, who yield themselves up to its influence, be not “blinded by Satan,” and victims to their own delusions [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:4. Isaiah 66:4.]?]

By way of improvement, let me commend to your attention the grand object of a Christian’s faith—

[It is to little purpose to have general notions of the prevalence and folly of unbelief, if we do not apply them particularly to that fundamental doctrine of Scripture, That we are to be justified solely by faith in the Lord Jesus. This is that, which is emphatically called, The Gospel; concerning the necessity of believing which, nothing more need be urged, than that assertion of our Lord, “He that believeth shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned [Note: Mark 16:16.].” The point for us now to determine, is, Do we indeed believe in Christ for the justification of our souls? We are continually apt to mistake the nature of saving faith; and, for want of right views of that, we put away from ourselves all that is spoken respecting unbelief, as though we had no experience of it, no concern about it. But it has been already abundantly shewn, that if we believe only in the manner that the generality of Christians do, we have no true faith at all. Examine then, Have you clear and lively views of Christ as the Saviour of sinners? Are you deeply convinced of your own sinfulness, and your consequent need of mercy? Have you renounced every other hope? and do you rely simply and solely on Christ’s atonement? Finally, are you deriving virtue from him for the healing of your corruptions, and for the bringing forth of all the fruits of righteousness to his praise and glory? This, and this alone, is saving faith; and he, who thus believes, shall be saved; and he, who does not thus believe, shall be damned. Let not any object, and say, “What is there in this faith that should save us, or in the want of it that should condemn us?” Our only inquiry must be, Has God suspended our salvation on the exercise of a living faith, or not? If he has, we have no more to say, than, “Let God be true: but every man a liar.” To dispute against him is to dispute against the wind. The wind will not stop its course for us: yet sooner should that be done, yea, “sooner should heaven and earth pass away, than one jot or tittle of his word should fail.” If then no objections of our’s can ever disprove the truth of God’s word, or prevent the execution of it on our own souls, let us guard against that principle of unbelief, which operates so powerfully, so fatally, within us. Let us remember where our danger lies: it is not in giving too much weight to the declarations of God: but in softening them down, and accommodating them to our vain wishes or carnal apprehensions. Let then the fore-mentioned record abide upon our minds. Let us be persuaded that he, whom God blesses, shall be blessed; and he, whom God curses, shall be cursed. In other words, Let us rest assured, that life is to be found in Christ alone; and that “he who hath the Son, hath life; and he who hath not the Son of God, hath not life [Note: 1 John 5:11-12.].”]


Verses 10-20

DISCOURSE: 1830

THE EXTENT OF MAN’S DEPRAVITY

Romans 3:10-20. It is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is un open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: their feet are swift to shed blood: destruction and misery are in their ways: and the way of peace have they not known: there is no fear of God before their eyes. Now we know that what things soever 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. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight.

THE Scriptures are the only and infallible source of divine knowledge. To them the Apostles continually refer in support of their doctrines. No subject is capable of more ample proof from them than that before us. St. Paul is shewing that all mankind are guilty and depraved. In confirmation of this he cites many passages from the Old Testament [Note: See Psalms 14:1-3. Proverbs 1:16; Proverbs 1:18. Isaiah 59:7-8.]. From these, as stated and improved in the text, we are led to consider,

I. The representation which the Scripture gives of our state—

The testimonies here adduced, declare, that the most lamentable depravity pervades,

1. All ranks and orders of men—

“There is none righteous, no, not one [Note: The Apostle has so arranged his quotations as to form a beautiful climax, every subsequent passage affirming more than that which precedes it.]”—

[Righteousness is a conformity of heart and life to the law of God. Where is the man on earth that possesses it by nature? Where is the man whose deviations from this standard have not been innumerable?]

“There is none that understandeth”—

[The natural man has no discernment of spiritual things [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:14.]: his practical judgment is in favour of sin and the world.]

“There is none that seeketh after God”—

[The things of time and sense are diligently pursued; but who ever cultivates divine knowledge, or seriously inquires after God [Note: Job 35:10.]?]

“All are gone out of the way”—

[Men universally prefer the way of self-righteousness to that of faith in Christ, and that of sin and self-indulgence to holiness and self-denial. No one that sees them would imagine that they really intended to tread in the steps of Christ and his Apostles.]

“They are together become unprofitable”—

[God has formed us for his own glory, and each other’s good: but unregenerate men never attempt to answer these ends of their creation [Note: They may do good to the bodies of men; but never shew any real solicitude about their souls. Indeed, how should they, when they care not for their own souls?]: hence they are justly compared to things worthless and vile [Note: Luke 14:34-35 and John 15:6.].]

“There is none that doeth good, no, not one”—

[Nothing is really good, which is not so in its principle, rule, and end [Note: The fear and love of God are the principle, the Scriptures the rule, and God’s glory the end of Christian obedience, 1 Corinthians 10:31.]. But where is the action of any natural man that will stand this test?]

2. All the faculties and powers of men—

[Nothing is more offensive than an open sepulchre [Note: Matthew 23:27.]; or more venomous than an asp; yet both the one and the other fitly represent the effusions of a carnal heart: “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth will speak:” deceit, calumny, invective, yea, in many instances, the most horrible oaths and execrations will proceed from it [Note: No less than four expressions, and those exceeding strong, are sued to declare the evils of the tongue.]. Hence that awful description of the human tongue [Note: James 3:6.]— From words we are ready also to proceed to actions, yea, even the most cruel and atrocious. Who that sees with what readiness nations engage in war, will question the declaration in the text? Hazael revolted at the idea of murder, when warned of his readiness to commit it; yet notwithstanding his present feelings, how “swift were his feet to shed blood [Note: 2 Kings 8:12-13. with ib. ver. 15 and 13:7.]!” How many at this day are impelled by shame even to destroy their own offspring! How frequently do men engage in duels on account of the slightest injury or insult! And in how many instances might we ourselves, when irritated and inflamed, have committed murder in an unguarded moment, exactly as others have done, who in a cooler hour would have shuddered at the thought! The instance of David, who, though “a man after God’s own heart,” murdered Uriah, and many others with him, to conceal his shame, is sufficient of itself to shew us what the best of men might commit, if left to themselves [Note: 2 Samuel 11:14-17.]. Well we may apply to this subject that humiliating language of the prophet [Note: Isaiah 1:5-6.]— Thus, God himself being witness, instead of walking in “paths of peace” and safety, we all by nature prefer the “ways which bring destruction and misery” both on ourselves and all around us [Note: Psalms 36:1.]. The whole of our state is properly summed up in this, that “there is no fear of God before our eyes;” so entirely are our understandings blinded, and our hearts alienated from him, by means of our innate depravity [Note: ver. 16 and 17. relate primarily to the evil which men do to others, though they may include what they do to themselves. See Isaiah 59:7-8.].]

This humiliating view of our state should lead us to consider,

II. The inferences to be deduced from it—

Those which the Apostle suggests in the text will suffice for our attention at this time:

1. We are all “guilty before God”—

[It seems inconceivable to many, that they should really be obnoxious to everlasting misery in hell: and they will plead their own cause with zeal and eloquence: if they concede it with respect to some more heinous transgressors, they will deny it in reference to themselves. But God has taken care that “every mouth should be stopped.” It is not possible to express the universality of men’s wickedness more strongly than it is expressed in the words before us [Note: “None, no, not one;” “none; none; none, no, not one;” “all; all together;” “every mouth;” even “all the world.” Can any, after this, fancy himself an exception?]. All then must “become guilty before God,” and acknowledge their desert of his wrath and indignation; they must feel their desert of condemnation, as much as a man that has been condemned for parricide feels the justice of the sentence which is pronounced against him. O that we might all be brought to such unfeigned contrition! We should then be “not far from the kingdom of God [Note: Psalms 51:17.].”]

2. We can never be justified by any works of our own—

[“We know that what the law saith, it saith unto them that are under the law.” Now the law saith, “Do this and live: transgress it and thou shall die [Note: Romans 10:5. Galatians 3:10.];” but it speaks not one word about mitigating its demands to the weak, however weak, or its penalties to the guilty, however small the measure of their guilt. How then can any man “be justified by the works of the law?” Can a man be guilty, and not guilty? or can he be condemned by the law, and yet justified by it at the same time, and in the same respects? Let all hope then, and all thought, of justification by the law be put away from for us ever. God has provided a better way for our justification, namely, through the blood and righteousness of his dear Son [Note: Romans 3:21-22.]: and to lead us into that way was the intention of the Apostle in citing the passages that have already been considered. Let us improve his humiliating representation for this salutary end; so shall we be “justified freely by grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus [Note: Romans 3:24.].”]


Verse 20

DISCOURSE: 1831

OUR VIOLATIONS OF EVERY COMMANDMENT

Romans 3:20. By the law is the knowledge of sin.

OUR lost estate, and our consequent need of a Saviour, can never be truly known, unless we compare our lives with that universal rule of duty, the law of God. St. Paul took this method of proving that both Jews and Gentiles were under sin: in all the preceding part of this epistle he sets forth their transgressions against the law; and having confirmed his assertions by many passages out of the old Testament, he says in the verse before my text, “We know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them that are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God.” From hence it is evident that the law of which he is speaking, is the moral law, that same law which was originally engraven in the heart of Adam, and was afterwards published to the world on Mount Sinai: for the Gentiles having never been subject to the ceremonial or judicial law, it can be no other than the moral law, which shuts their mouth and brings them in guilty before God. The principal ends for which he referred them to this law were these; first, to convince them that they could not be justified by their obedience to it (and therefore in the words immediately preceding our text, he says, that by the law shall no flesh be justified;) and secondly, to shew them their undone condition by the law; and therefore he adds, in the words of our text, “by the law is the knowledge of sin.”

From these words we shall take occasion to compare our lives with the law of God, that so we may obtain the knowledge of our sins: and while we are thus bringing our iniquities to remembrance, may the Spirit of God come down upon us, to convince us all of sin, and to reveal unto us that only Deliverer from sin, the Lord Jesus Christ!

The law was delivered to Moses upon two tables of stone, and comprised in ten commandments.

The first of the commandments respects the object of our worship, “Thou shalt have none other gods but me.” In this we are required to believe in God, to love him, and to serve him with all our hearts, and minds, and souls, and strength: and if we examine ourselves by it, we shall see that our transgressions are neither few nor small: for instead of believing in him at all times, how rarely have we either trembled at his threatenings or confided in his promises! Instead of loving him supremely, have we not set our affections on the things of time and sense? Instead of fearing him above all, have we not been swayed rather by the fear of man, or a regard to our worldly interests? Instead of relying on him in all difficulties, have we not rather “leaned to our own understanding, and trusted in an arm of flesh?” and instead of making it our meat and drink to do his will, have we not lived to ourselves, seeking our own pleasure, and following our own ways? Surely if we seriously inquire into our past conduct, we shall find that throughout our whole lives “other lords have had dominion over us,” the world has been our idol, and self has usurped the throne of God. If therefore we were to be tried by this commandment only, our offences would appear exceeding numerous, more than the hairs of our head, more than the sands upon the sea shore.

The second commandment respects the nature of worship: “Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image.” God is a Spirit, and therefore is not to be addressed by the medium of any sensible object, but is to be “worshipped in spirit and in truth.” Yet, whenever we have presented ourselves before him, we have scarcely paid him more respect, yea frequently much less, than the heathens manifest towards their gods of wood and stone. Let us only consider what has been the frame of our minds when we have approached the throne of grace; how little have we stood in awe of his Majesty! How unaffecting has been our sense either of our wants, or of his power

and readiness to help us! And if we look at the prayers which we have offered, we shall see cause to acknowledge that they have been dull, formal, and hypocritical. Our confessions have neither been attended with humility nor followed by amendment: our petitions have been without faith and without fervour: and our thanksgivings, which should have been the warm effusions of a grateful heart, have frozen on our very lips. Indeed secret prayer is by the generality either wholly omitted, or performed as a task or drudgery: as for family devotions they are wholly, and almost universally, neglected: and in the public assemblies, instead of breathing out our hearts before God, our thoughts are wandering to the ends of the earth, or, as the Scripture has said, “we draw nigh unto God with our mouth, but our heart is far from him.” Let us all therefore consult the records of our own consciences, that we may judge ourselves with respect to these things; nor let us forget that every such omission and every such defect has swelled the number of our transgressions, and greatly aggravated our guilt and misery.

The third commandment respects the manner of worship; “Thou shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” The name of God is never to be uttered by us but with awe and reverence. But, not to mention the stupid indifference with which it is often repeated in prayer, how generally, how daringly is it profaned in common conversation, so generally, that no age, sex, or quality is exempt from this impious custom; and so daringly, that it is even vindicated: the thoughtless manner in which that sacred name is used, is often urged as an excuse for the profanation of it; when it is that very thoughtlessness which constitutes the profanation. But instead of extenuating the guilt of this sin, we shall do well to consider what God has said respecting it, “The Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.”

The fourth commandment respects the time of worship; “Remember the sabbath-day to keep it holy.” In what manner we are to keep it holy, the Prophet Isaiah teaches us [Note: Isaiah 58:13.]; “Turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day, and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words.” But how has this day been regarded by us? Have we conscientiously devoted it to God, and spent those sacred hours in reading, meditation and prayer? Have we, as well by example as by precept, inculcated on our dependants a regard for the sabbath? and have we improved it for the welfare of their souls as well as of our own? alas! have not those blessed seasons been rather wasted in worldly business, worldly company, and worldly pleasures? Yes, it is to be feared that however we may have kept up a mere formal attendance on the external services of the Church, we have not any of us accounted our sabbaths a delight, or spent them in devout and holy exercises. We may rest assured however, that of every such abuse of the sabbath we shall give a strict account; for if God has so solemnly warned us to “remember that we keep the sabbath holy,” no doubt he himself will remember what regard we payed to it.

Here end the commandments of the first table, which relate to God, as those of the second table relate more especially to our neighbour; yet not so entirely as to exclude ourselves. We proceed therefore with them:—

The fifth commandment, “Honour thy father and thy mother,” requires a becoming deportment not only towards our own immediate parents, but towards all mankind, however related to us; our superiors, equals, and inferiors: to the first of these we owe submission; to the two last, love and condescension. But how often have we affected independence, and refused submission to lawful authority! How often have we envied the advancement of our equals, or exalted ourselves above them! How often have we treated our inferiors with haughtiness and severity! Even our natural parents we have by no means honoured as we ought, nor sustained any relation in life as God has required us to do. In all these respects therefore we have sinned before God, and “treasured up wrath for ourselves against the day of wrath.”

Thus far many will readily acknowledge themselves guilty. But so ignorant are mankind in general of the spirituality and extent of God’s law, that they account themselves blameless with respect to all the other commandments: if they have not literally, and in the grossest sense, committed murder, adultery, theft, or perjury, they have no conception how they can have transgressed the laws which forbid these things. But let us calmly and dispassionately examine this matter; bearing this in mind, that it is our interest to know our sins; because by knowing them, we shall be stirred up to seek the forgiveness of them through the Saviour’s blood; whereas, if we remain ignorant of our sins, we shall not feel our need of a Saviour, and shall consequently die without an interest in him.

The sixth commandment then respects our own and our neighbour’s life; “Thou shalt do no murder.” We take for granted that none of us have imbrued our hands in human blood: yet this by no means exempts us from the charge of murder. Our Lord, in that justly admired Sermon on the Mount, has given us the clew, whereby we may be led to a true exposition of this and of all the other commandments; “Ye have heard,” says he, “that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill, and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment; but I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment, and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” By this comment of our Lord’s, we are assured that causeless anger and passion are esteemed by him as violations of this commandment. And St. John in the third chapter of his first epistle confirms this by saying, “He that loveth not his brother abideth in death; whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer; and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” From this additional testimony therefore we see that the hating of any person, or the not truly loving him, is a species of murder in the sight of God. Who then is innocent? Who has been free from passion? Who has not often conceived anger and hatred against his neighbour? And shall it be thought unreasonable to call this murder? Look at the effects of anger; how often has it terminated in murder, when the perpetrators of the act little supposed themselves capable of such an atrocious crime! and if we have been irritated and provoked by small occasions, who can tell what our anger might have effected if the occasion had been increased, and the preventing grace of God withdrawn? And what is that which the world has falsely called a sense of honour? ’tis revenge, ’tis murder; murder in the heart, as it often proves murder in the act. But there are other ways of committing murder: if we have wished a rival dead, in order that we might be advanced; if we have wished an enemy dead, because of our aversion to him; if we have wished a relation or any other person dead, in order that we might succeed to his fortune or preferment, or if we have rejoiced in the death of another on any of these accounts, we have manifested that same principle in our hearts, which, if kindled by temptation and favoured by opportunity, would have produced the most fatal effects. Nor is this all: we are no less guilty in the sight of God, if we do what tends to the destruction of our own life, than if we seek the destruction of our neighbour’s life. Not to mention therefore the too common act of suicide, how many bring upon themselves pain, sickness, and disease, I may add too, an early and premature death, by means of debauchery and excess. Let not any one therefore imagine himself innocent even in respect of murder: for in every instance of anger, impatience, or intemperance, yea, whenever we have wished for, or rejoiced in another’s dissolution, we have violated this commandment.

The seventh commandment respects our own and our neighbour’s chastity: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Fornication and adultery are by many practised without remorse, and recorded without shame. But to such we may well address the words of Solomon: “Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth, and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart and in the sight of thine eyes; but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.” Nor will it avail any thing to say, that we committed these sins only in our youth; and that now we have left them off; for sin is sin, whensoever and by whomsoever committed; and however it may have escaped our memory, it is not therefore erased from the book of God’s remembrance; nor however partial the world may be in its judgment respecting it, will it escape due notice at another tribunal; for we are assured by the Apostle, that “whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.”

But this commandment extends much further than to the outward act: it reaches to the inmost thoughts and desires of the heart. Let us hear an infallible expositor; let us hear what our Lord himself says in his Sermon on the Mount: “Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: but I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” By this commandment therefore is forbidden all indulgence of unclean thoughts, and consequently all immodest words, all obscene allusions, all wanton looks, all impure desires and affections. Who then will say, I am pure? Who will take up a stone to cast at another?

The eighth commandment respects our neighbour’s goods; “Thou shalt not steal.” Theft is universally branded with disgrace: and it may be hoped that we, who have been so far out of the reach of want, have never been reduced to so infamous a practice. Yet how many are guilty of practices equally repugnant to the spirit of this commandment! How many defraud the government by withholding or evading the legal imposts! How many defraud the public by circulating coin which they know to be either base or defective! How many defraud those with whom they transact business, by taking undue advantage of their ease, their ignorance, or their necessities! How many defraud their creditors by neglecting to pay their debts! And how many defraud the poor by not giving to them what the Great Proprietor of all hath made their due! If indeed we regard only these effects of dishonesty, they will probably appear to us light and insignificant; but if we look to the principle which gives birth to these things, it will be found no less corrupt than that which manifests itself in theft and robbery. Odious therefore as the imputation of fraud may justly be considered, there is not one who has not at some time or other been guilty of it: so that this commandment as well as all that have preceded it, will accuse us before God.

The ninth commandment respects our neighbour’s reputation; “Thou shall not bear false witness.” We offend against this law, not only when we perjure ourselves before a magistrate, but whenever we misrepresent the conduct of others, or pass hasty and ungrounded censures upon them. All whisperers therefore and backbiters, and all who circulate reports injurious to their neighbour, are condemned by it: nor does it forbid such falsehoods only as are pernicious, but such also as are jocular, marvellous, or exculpative: for, as to the morality of the act, it matters little whether we falsify to our neighbour, or against him. Who then has not been often guilty in these respects? Who does not feel the force of the Psalmist’s observation, that “as soon as we are born we go astray, speaking lies?” Nor let any think lightly of this sin: for so detestable is it in the sight of God, that he has given us this solemn warning, “All liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

The tenth commandment, “Thou shall not covet,” is perhaps the most extensive of any; because while the others forbid the indulgence of any sinful act, this forbids the first risings of desire after any sinful object: it utterly condemns the least motions of discontent at our own lot, or of envy at the lot of others. It was this commandment which first wounded the conscience of the Apostle Paul; he was in all points relating to the ceremonial law, and according to the letter of the moral law, blameless; and he conceived that he must therefore of necessity be in a state of salvation: but this good opinion of his state arose from his ignorance of the spirituality and extent of the law: and when his eyes were once opened to see that the law condemned him for the first risings of evil as well as for the actual commission of it, he became guilty in his own sight, and acknowledged the justice of his condemnation. Thus he says of himself; “I had not known sin but by the law; for I had not known lust (i. e. the evil and danger of it) unless the law had said, Thou shall not covet: for I was alive without the law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died.” The plain meaning of which is this: before he understood the spiritualily of the law he thought himself safe; but when that was revealed to him, he saw himself justly condemned for his offences against it. May that same, that salutary, conviction be wrought also in our hearts! for our Lord has told us, that “the whole need not a physician, but they that are sick;” plainly intimating thereby, that we must feel our need of him, before we shall be willing to receive his saving benefits. Though therefore we may think as highly of our state as the Apostle did of his, yet if we feel not our condemnation by the law, we shall but deceive ourselves; and though we be possessed of his knowledge, zeal, and holiness, yet shall we, like him, be “dead in trespasses and sins:” for till we be indeed weary and heavy laden with a sense of sin, we never shall, nor ever can, come unto Christ for rest.

To conclude—

If, while we have been surveying the duties of the first table, we have called to mind our low esteem for God, together with the unnumbered instances wherein we have neglected his worship, misemployed his sabbaths, and profaned his name; if in examining the duties of the second table, we have remembered our several violations of them, both generally, by misconduct in the different relations of life, and particularly, by anger and intemperance, by actual or mental impurity, by dishonesty or want of liberality, by wilful and allowed falsehood, by discontent with our own lot, or coveting of another’s, surely we shall confess with the Psalmist, that “our iniquities are grown up unto heaven, they are a sore burthen too heavy for us to bear.” We shall see also with how great propriety the compilers of our Liturgy have directed us to cry after every commandment, “Lord, have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law.”

To make us thus cry out for mercy is the proper use of the law; for the Apostle says, “The law is our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ.” And if we once obtain this view of the law, and by it the knowledge of our sins, we shall then have the best preservative against errors: for instead of making the divinity of Christ and his atonement a matter of mere speculative inquiry, we shall see that we have no safety but in his blood, no acceptance but in his righteousness. We shall then “count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ,” and shall each of us be like-minded with that great Apostle who said, “I desire to be found in Christ, not having mine own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.”


Verse 21-22

DISCOURSE: 1832

THE BELIEVER’S RIGHTEOUSNESS

Romans 3:21-22. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe.

IT is justly observed by our Lord, that “they that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.” Persons never value a remedy till they are aware of their disease: they must know their condemnation and misery by the Law, before they will receive with gratitude the glad tidings of the Gospel. On this account St. Paul labours through the whole preceding part of this epistle, and especially in the ten verses before the text, to prove all, both Jews and Gentiles, guilty before God; and to shew that they need a better righteousness than any which they themselves can work out. Then he introduces that righteousness which is exhibited in the Gospel, and is offered to every repenting and believing sinner.

To elucidate the subject before us, we propose to shew,

I. What is that righteousness whereby we are to be saved—

The Apostle’s description of it is as clear and comprehensive as we can possibly desire:

1. It is “the righteousness of God”—

[Twice is it called “the righteousness of God;” by which expression we are to understand that it is a righteousness provided by God for sinful man, wrought out by God himself in the midst of us, and accepted of God on our behalf.

When we were destitute of any righteousness of our own, and incapable of establishing one that should be sufficient for us, God, in his infinite mercy determined to provide one for us, that should be commensurate with the demands of law and justice, and fully adequate to our wants. For this end he sent his co-equal, co-eternal Son to fulfil the precepts of the law which we had broken, and to endure its penalties which we had incurred. The Lord Jesus came into the world and executed his high commission; and thus, as the Prophet Daniel expresses it, “brought in an everlasting righteousness [Note: Daniel 9:24.].” He being “Emmanuel, God with us,” his righteousness is truly and properly the righteousness of God. This righteousness God accepts for us as though it were our own. In consideration of what Jesus suffered, he remits our punishment; and in consideration of Christ’s meritorious obedience, he bestows on us the reward of eternal life. Hence, from beginning to end, this is distinguished from the righteousness of man; seeing that it was provided by God the Father, wrought out by God the Son, and shall be accepted both by the Father and the Son on our behalf.]

2. It is a righteousness “without the law”—

[By this expression the Apostle distinguishes it from any righteousness arising from our obedience to the law; and intimates, that it is totally independent of any works of ours, past, present, or future. No works of ours can add to it in the smallest degree, or render it either more satisfactory to God, or more sufficient for us. On the contrary, if we were to attempt to unite any thing of our own with it, instead of rendering it more firm, we should utterly make it void; and instead of securing to ourselves an interest in it, we should cut off ourselves from all hope of acceptance by it [Note: Galatians 5:2; Galatians 5:4.]. We must not be understood to say, that this righteousness supersedes the practice of good works, (for it lays us under tenfold obligation to perform them [Note: Titus 2:11-12.]) but that it excludes all reliance on our own works, and will on no account admit a creature’s righteousness to participate the honour of justifying us before God.]

3. It is a righteousness “by faith of Jesus Christ”—

[As in the foregoing expressions this righteousness is declared to be God’s, exclusive of any works of man, so here we are told how it becomes ours. But this part of the subject will be more fully considered under the third head of our discourse; I will therefore only observe at present, that we must obtain an interest in this righteousness, not by working, but by believing in Christ. We must no more attempt to purchase it by our works, than to add to it by our works; or, if we will purchase it, we must “buy it without money and without price [Note: Isaiah 55:1.].”]

To confirm the Apostle’s description, we shall proceed to shew,

II. What evidence we have that this is the only justifying righteousness—

There will be no room left to doubt respecting it, if we consider, that,

1. It was “manifested” to be so by the Gospel—

[This truth had been obscurely intimated under the law; but “now” it was fully “manifested” by the Gospel. When Christ was just entering on his ministry, John Baptist pointed him out as “the Lamb of God that should take away the sins of the world [Note: John 1:29.].” Christ himself declared that he was about to “give his life a ransom for many [Note: Matthew 20:28.],” and that they were to receive the remission of sins as purchased by his blood [Note: Matthew 26:28.]. St. Peter in his very first sermon exhorted the people to believe in Christ for the remission of their sins, and declared to them that there was no other name whereby they could be saved [Note: Acts 2:38; Acts 4:11-12.]. St. Paul in numberless places insists upon our seeking justification solely by faith in Christ, without the smallest mixture of dependence on our own works [Note: Romans 4:3-5; Romans 4:14; Romans 5:9; Romans 5:15-18.]: and when St. Peter, through fear of the Jews, had given some reason to think that an obedience to the Mosaic ritual ought to be, or at least might be, added to the righteousness of Christ in order to render it more effectual, St. Paul reproved him publicly before all the Church, and reminded him that all, not excepting the Apostles themselves, must be justified solely by the righteousness of Christ, without any works of the law [Note: Galatians 2:14-16.]. Is not this a strong confirmation of the point before us?]

2. It was “witnessed by the law and the prophets”—

[The moral law may in some sense be considered as bearing testimony to the righteousness of Christ: for though it makes no express mention of it, yet, by condemning all without exception, it “shuts men up to the faith of Christ,” and serves as “a schoolmaster to bring them to Christ [Note: Galatians 3:22-24.].” The ceremonial law in all its ordinances pointed directly to Christ. It is not possible to contemplate the Paschal lamb, or the scape-goat, or indeed any of the sacrifices or ablutions, without seeing Christ prefigured by them, and confessing him to be “the end of the law for righteousness” to believing sinners [Note: Romans 10:4.].

If we consult the prophets, they are unanimous in directing us to Christ. The prophecies that preceded Moses, represent Christ as the one conqueror of the serpent [Note: Genesis 3:15.], and the one source of blessedness to man [Note: Genesis 12:3; Genesis 15:6.]. Moses himself spake of him as the prophet, to whom all must look for instruction and salvation [Note: Acts 3:22-23.]. Jeremiah calls him by name, “The Lord our righteousness [Note: Jeremiah 23:6.]:” and Isaiah represents every child of God as saying with exultation, “In the Lord have I righteousness and strength [Note: Isaiah 45:24-25.].” To adduce more proofs is unnecessary, since we are assured by St. Peter, that all the prophets unite their testimonies to the same effect [Note: Acts 3:24; Acts 10:43.]. What stronger evidence than this can any man desire?]

But we have further to inquire,

III. How this righteousness becomes ours—

Faith is the means whereby alone we obtain an interest in it—

[This also is twice intimated in the text: nor can it be too often repeated, or too strongly insisted on. We must come to Christ as perishing sinners; and, without attempting to establish, in whole or in part, our own righteousness, we must submit to be saved by his alone [Note: Romans 10:3.]. We must be contented to have his “righteousness imputed to us without works [Note: Romans 4:6.],” and to make his obedience the one ground of our hope [Note: Romans 5:19.]. They alone who thus regard Christ, can properly be said to believe in him; and it is only when we thus believe, that “he is made of God righteousness unto us [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:30.].”]

On our believing, it is instantly put to our account—

[This righteousness is bestowed upon us freely by God himself; it is not only given “unto” us as a portion, but is put “upon” us as a garment. In this light it is spoken of by our Lord himself, who counsels us to “buy it of him that we may be clothed, and that the shame of our nakedness may not appear [Note: Revelation 3:18.].” Without this, we are despoiled of our innocence, and exposed to shame, as our first parents were upon the introduction of sin: but as they were covered by the skins of their sacrifices according to the direction which God himself had given them [Note: Genesis 3:7; Genesis 3:21.], so are we by “putting on the Lord Jesus [Note: Romans 13:14.]:” nor, when clothed with his righteousness, can even God himself behold a spot or blemish in us [Note: Ephesians 5:27.]. Hence the Church rejoices with joy unspeakable [Note: Isaiah 61:10.], and is rendered meet for the presence of her heavenly bridegroom [Note: Revelation 19:8.].]

Application—

Must not the self-righteous moralist then stand confounded before God?

[Surely it is no light matter to pour contempt on the righteousness of God, as though it were insufficient for us without “the filthy rags of our righteousness [Note: Isaiah 64:6.].” It is no light matter to reject the united testimony of the law and the prophets, of Christ and his Apostles. And as the guilt of such conduct is great, so is also the danger: and whosoever persists in it must irremediably perish [Note: Romans 9:30-32.].]

On the other hand, should not the self-condemning sinner receive encouragement from this subject?

[It is well to condemn ourselves, but not to despond. Twice is it declared in the text, that this righteousness is for “all” who will believe in Christ [Note: Compare Acts 13:38-39. with Isaiah 1:18 and Romans 5:20-21.]. And is it not sufficient for all? Let all then “set to their seal that God is true.” Let them honour the righteousness of Christ by their affiance in it; and it shall be “manifested” to their consciences, no less than in the Scriptures themselves, that it is complete in itself, adequate to our necessities, and effectual for all who rely upon it.]


Verses 24-26

DISCOURSE: 1833

THE JUSTICE OF GOD IN JUSTIFYING SINNERS

Romans 3:24-26. Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom 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; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

THE whole plan of the Gospel takes for granted that we are in a lost and helpless condition. Its provisions are suited to such, and to such only. Hence the Apostle proves at large that “we all have sinned and come short of the glory of God;” and then he states, in the plainest and strongest manner, the method which God has proposed for our restoration to his favour.

The words of the text will lead us to shew,

I. The way of a sinner’s justification before God—

The manner of our justification is here plainly declared—

[There seems indeed a senseless tautology in the expressions of the text; but the words “freely,” and “by grace,” are of very different import, and are necessary to convey the full meaning of the Apostle.

We are justified “freely,” that is, without any cause for it in ourselves [Note: δωρεάν. See John 15:25. in the Greek. And for the truth of the assertion, see Titus 3:5.]: no works before our justification, no repentance or reformation at the time of our justification, no evangelical obedience after our justification, are at all taken into the account. There is no merit whatever in any thing we ever have done, or in any thing we ever can do. Our justification is as independent of any merit in us, as was the gift of that Saviour through whom we are justified.

Our justification also springs from no motive in God, except his own boundless “grace” and mercy. When speaking merely after the manner of men, we say, that God consults his own glory: but, strictly speaking, if the whole human race were punished after the example of the fallen angels, he would be as happy and as glorious as he is at present: just as the sun in the firmament would shine equally bright, if this globe that is illuminated by it were annihilated. We can neither add to, nor detract from, God’s happiness or glory in the smallest possible degree. His mercy to us therefore is mere grace, for grace sake.]

Yet it is of great importance to notice also the means by which we are justified—

[Though our justification is a free gift as it respects us, yet it was dearly purchased by our blessed Lord, who “laid down his own life a ransom for us.” There was a necessity on the part of God, as the moral Governor of the world, that his justice should be satisfied for our violations of his law. This was done through the atoning blood of Jesus; on which account we are said to be “justified by his blood,” and to he “redeemed to God by his blood.” The Father’s grace is the source from whence our justification flows; and “the redemption that is in Christ” is the means, by which God is enabled to bestow it consistently with his own honour.

In this view the text informs us, that “God hath set forth his Son to be a propitiation, or mercy-seat [Note: ἱλαστήριον. See Hebrews 9:5. the Greek.], through faith in his blood.” The mercy-seat was the place where God visibly resided, and from whence he dispensed mercy to the people, as soon as ever the blood of the sacrifices was sprinkled before him [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:19.].” But that typical mercy-seat is accessible no more: Christ is now the true mercy-seat, where God resides, and from whence he dispenses all his favours of grace and peace. God requires, however, that we should come with the blood of our Great Sacrifice, and sprinkle it, as it were, before him, in token of our affiance in it, and as an acknowledgment, that we hope for mercy only through the blood of atonement.]

But in our contemplation of this subject, we are more particularly called upon to shew,

II. The justice of God as displayed in it—

God had exercised “forbearance” and forgiveness towards sinners for the space of four thousand years; and was now, in the Apostle’s days, dispensing pardon to thousands and to myriads. That, in so doing, God acted consistently with his own justice, the Apostle here labours to establish: he repeats it no less than thrice in the short space of our text. We shall therefore shew distinctly, how the justice of God is displayed,

1. In the appointment of Christ to be our propitiation—

[If God had forgiven sins without any atonement, his justice, to say the least, would have lain concealed: perhaps we may say, would have been greatly dishonoured. But when, in order to satisfy the demands of justice, God sends, not an angel or archangel, but his only dear Son, and lays on him our iniquities, and exacts of him the utmost farthing of our debt, then indeed the justice of God is “declared,” yea, is exhibited in the most awful colours. The condemnation of the fallen angels was indeed a terrible display of this attribute: yet was it no proof of justice in comparison of that more conspicuous demonstration which was given of it in the death of God’s co-equal, co-eternal Son.]

2. In requiring us to believe in him as our propitiation—

[God wills that every one should come to “Christ” as a propitiation through faith in his blood, or, in other words, should express his dependence on that blood that satisfied divine justice. As the offender under the law, when he put his hand upon the head of his sacrifice, confessed his own desert of death; and as the high-priest, when he sprinkled the blood of the sacrifices before the mercy-seat, confessed that the hope of all Israel was derived from that blood [Note: Leviticus 16:2; Leviticus 16:14.]; so when we look to Christ as our sacrifice, or approach him as our mercy-seat, we must carry, as it were, his blood with us, and sprinkle it on our consciences before him, as an acknowledgment that by the justice of God we were deservedly condemned, and that we have no hope of mercy except in such a way as will consist with the immutable rights of justice. Thus it is not sufficient for Christ to have honoured divine justice once by enduring its penalties; but every individual sinner must also honour it for himself by an explicit acknowledgment, that its demands must be satisfied.]

3. In pardoning sinners out of respect to this propitiation—

[That sinners are justified through Christ, may well appear an act of transcendent mercy: but it is also an act of justice; and the justice of God is as much displayed in it, as it would be in consigning sinners over to everlasting perdition. It is not an act of mercy, but of justice, to liberate a man whose debt has been discharged by a surety. But when Christ has paid our debt, and we, in consequence of that payment, claim our discharge, we may expect it even on the footing of justice itself. And whereas it is found, that no living creature ever applied to God in vain, when he pleaded Christ’s vicarious sacrifice, it is manifest, that God has been jealous of his own honour, and has been as anxious to pay to us what Christ has purchased for us, as to exact of him what he undertook to pay on our behalf: so that his justice is as conspicuous in pardoniny us, as it has been in punishing him.]

Infer—

1. How certain is the salvation of believers!

[That which principally alarms those who stand before a human tribunal, is an apprehension that justice may declare against them. But there is no such cause for alarm on the part of a believer, seeing that justice is no less on his side than mercy. Let all then look to Christ as their all-sufficient propitiation, and to God as both “a just God and a Saviour.” Then shall they find “that God is faithful and just to forgive them their sins [Note: 1 John 1:9.],” yea, is “just in justifying all that believe.”]

2. How awful will be the condemnation of unbelievers!

[While they slight the united overtures of mercy and justice, what do they but arm both these attributes against them? Now, if they would seek for mercy, justice, instead of impeding, would aid, their suit. At the last day, how will matters be reversed! When justice demands the execution of the law, mercy will have not one word to say in arrest of judgment, but will rather increase the vengeance by its accusations and complaints. Let this be duly considered by us, that we may actively glorify God as monuments of his saving grace, and not passively glorify him as objects of his righteous indignation.]


Verse 27-28

DISCOURSE: 1834

JUSTIFICATION WITHOUT BOASTING

Romans 3:27-28. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

IT may well be supposed, that any revelation, purporting to be from God, should, in addition to all external evidences, have internal proofs also of its divine original. Accordingly, if God should reveal a way of salvation to fallen creatures, we should of course expect it to be such a way., as should display the riches of his own grace, and secure all the glory of it to himself. Now when we look into the Gospel, we find precisely such a method of salvation revealed to us. And herein it differs from all the methods that ever have been devised by man: for they uniformly reserve a share of the glory, at least, to the creature: whereas the Gospel gives all the glory to God alone.

St. Paul, having opened throughout the whole preceding part of this epistle the state of fallen man, and the way prescribed for his acceptance with God, puts this question, “Where is boasting then?” And having told us, that it is, and must for ever be, “excluded by the law of faith,” he repeats his former conclusion, and represents it as confirmed by this additional evidence of its truth; “Therefore we conclude,” &c.

In discoursing on these words, we shall shew,

I. That the way of salvation (whatever it may be) must exclude boasting—

This will appear undeniably true, if we consider,

1. The avowed design of God in the revelation he has given us—

[St. Paul speaking on this subject, repeats even to tautology, that God designed from the beginning to exalt his own grace, and had so planned the way of salvation, as that every part of it might redound to his own honour [Note: Ephesians 1:5-7; Ephesians 1:9; Ephesians 1:11-12; Ephesians 1:14; Ephesians 2:4-5; Ephesians 2:7-9, especially ver. 7.]. All possibility of glorying was studiously cut off from man. With this view the knowledge of this salvation was imparted to the poor and ignorant in preference to the wise and noble [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:26-29.]; and every person that embraced it was necessitated to seek every thing in and through Christ, that “the loftiness of man might be laid low, and that God alone might be exalted [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:30-31. with Isaiah 2:17.].”]

2. The disposition and conduct of all that have ever embraced it—

[Abraham, the father of the faithful, accounted himself only “dust and ashes [Note: Genesis 18:27.]:” “nor had he any thing whereof to glory before God [Note: Romans 4:2.].” Job, “a perfect and upright man, so that none was like him upon earth,” yet spake with the utmost abhorrence of justifying himself before God [Note: Job 9:2-3; Job 9:20-21; Job 9:30-31; Job 42:6.]. David, “a man after God’s own heart,” cries, “Enter not into judgment with thy servant, O Lord, for in thy sight shall no flesh living be justified [Note: Psalms 143:2.].” Isaiah, that most distinguished prophet, lamented that he was vile as a leper [Note: Isaiah 6:5. with Leviticus 13:45.]; and confessed that his righteousnesses were as “filthy rags [Note: Isaiah 64:6.].” St. Paul, who was “not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles,” yea, “laboured more abundantly than they all,” acknowledges himself the very “chief of sinners [Note: 1 Timothy 1:15.],” desires to be found in Christ, not having his own righteousness [Note: Philippians 3:8-9.], and boils with indignation at the thought of glorying in any thing but the “cross of Christ [Note: Galatians 6:14.].”

If any might glory in themselves, we might suppose that the glorified saints and angels would have liberty to do so: but among them there is one only theme, “Worthy is the Lamb [Note: Revelation 5:11; Revelation 5:13.].”

Now if the way of salvation (whatever it may be) correspond with God’s design in revealing it, or with the dispositions of those who have been the most distinguished ornaments of it, then it must of necessity cut off from man all occasion of glorying in himself. We may say therefore with the Apostle, “Where is boasting then? It is excluded.”]

Having determined this point, let us proceed to inquire,

II. What is that way of salvation which alone does exclude boasting—

There are but two possible ways in which any man can be saved, namely, by works, or by faith. Many indeed have attempted to unite them; but that is impossible, seeing that they are distinct from, and directly opposed to each other [Note: Romans 11:6.]. Let us then inquire which of the two excludes boasting?

1. Does the law of works?

[The law of works says, “Do this, and live.” Now suppose a man to be saved by his own obedience to this law; will he not have to boast? May he not say to a perishing fellow-creature, “I made myself to differ from you?” May he not justly take credit to himself for his own superior goodness? yea, even in heaven, may he not unite his own praises with those of his Maker, and ascribe salvation partly to himself?

It is of no use to say, that our works are only in part the ground of our acceptance; and that even for them we are indebted to the operation of Divine grace: for, works are works, by whomsoever they are wrought in us; and, as being wrought in and by us, they are our works; and in whatever degree they form the ground of our justification before God, in that degree (be it little or great) they give us a ground of glorying: and to deny this, is to confound grace and works, which are as distinct, and as irreconcileable with each other, as light and darkness [Note: Romans 11:6.].]

2. Does the law of faith?

[This says, “Believe and be saved.” By this law we are constrained to receive every thing out of the Redeemer’s fulness, and to acknowledge him as our “all in all.” Nothing is left for us to ascribe to ourselves. The planning of salvation was the work of God the Father: the procuring of it was the work of God the Son: the imparting, continuing, and perfecting of it is the work of God the Holy Ghost. We cannot glory over a fellow-sinner, and say, “God had respect to my good qualities, (either seen or foreseen) and on account of them distinguished me from you:” no room is left but for shame to ourselves, and gratitude to God.

Here then we may boldly say with the Apostle, “By what law is boasting excluded? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.”]

It remains then for us to inquire,

III. What conclusion we are to draw from these premises—

Nothing can be more express than the conclusion drawn by the Apostle—

[We have seen that the way of salvation (whatever it be) excludes boasting; and that salvation by faith is the only way that does exclude boasting: from hence therefore the conclusion is plain, that salvation must be by faith and not by works.

But there is an emphasis in the Apostle’s words which deserves particular attention. He does not merely affirm that salvation is by faith rather than by works, but by faith exclusive of works. No “deeds of the law” are to be added to faith in order to render it effectual: we must be saved by faith simply, by faith solely. If any work whatever be added to our faith as a joint ground of our hope, or as a motive to induce God to justify us, or as a price whereby we are to obtain an interest in Christ, “faith will be made void, and the promise will be of none effect [Note: Romans 4:14.].” We must not trust any more in our good works than in our vilest sins: for the very instant that the smallest stress whatever is laid on our good works as procuring our justification before God, boasting is introduced, and all hope of salvation is annihilated. Not even faith itself saves us as a work, but solely as uniting us to Christ, by whose righteousness we are justified.]

Nor can any thing be more certain than the conclusion drawn by the Apostle—

[When men argue, even from the clearest premises, we must be cautious in admitting their conclusions; because they frequently put more into their conclusions than their premises will bear. Indeed, it is necessary to watch every step of their arguments, because of the fallacies which often escape their own observation, and would, if unguardedly acceded to, mislead our judgment also. But no suspicion need be entertained respecting the point before us, since the premises are stated, and the conclusion is drawn, by God himself. If we will dispute about the one or the other, we must debate the matter with God; for it is to God’s arguments, and not to man’s, that our assent is now required.]

Before we conclude, we will consider some objections that may be urged against the foregoing statement. It may be said that,

1. It contradicts many positive assertions of Holy Scripture—

[Our Lord does, in answer to the young man’s inquiry, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” say, “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments [Note: Matthew 19:16-17.].” But our Lord did not mean to say, that he, a fallen creature, could keep the commandments, so as to obtain eternal life by them: his answer was intended to shew him, that he must not seek for life in such a way: and, to convince him that he had not kept the commandments so perfectly as he supposed, our Lord put him to the test; and gave him thereby a very convincing proof, that he must seek salvation in another way, namely, by becoming his disciple, and embracing his salvation.

There are many other passages that speak of our works being rewarded: and it is true, that works done in faith, will receive a reward of grace. But is there no difference between a sinner’s being justified by the merit of his works, and a justified person’s receiving a reward of grace on account of his works? In the one case a man may boast, that he has, in part at least, purchased heaven: in the other case, he must acknowledge his justification to be altogether of grace; and his increased weight of glory to be from the superabounding riches of divine grace, proportioned to his services, but not founded on his merits.

But this matter is beyond a doubt: for we are told, that there could not be a law given that should give life to fallen man: and that that was the very reason why a different way of salvation was prescribed to him [Note: Galatians 3:21-22.]. So that whatever is said in the Scriptures respecting the reward which God will give to our works, we may be sure they never can be rewarded on the ground of merit, nor can we ever obtain life by the performance of them.]

2. It encourages people to disregard good works—

[If this objection were founded in truth, we should think it sufficient to invalidate all that the Apostle himself could say in confirmation of the text: for we may be well assured, that God can reveal nothing, that in its consequences is destructive of morality. But why should it be thought injurious to good works, to affirm, that they cannot justify us before God? Is there no other end for which they should be performed, than to purchase heaven by them? Are they not necessary to prove the sincerity of our faith? Do they not honour God, and benefit our fellow-creatures, and strengthen the religious principle within us, and tend to make us meet for heaven, yea, and (as has been observed above) increase our happiness in heaven? If we affirm that food is of no use to clothe us, or that clothes are of no use to feed us, do we teach men to despise food and clothing, merely because we deny their utility for purposes for which they never were designed? Surely there are motives enough to the practice of good works, without urging one, which, if entertained in the mind, would at once destroy all their value in the sight of God.

But let us see whether experience gives any countenance to this objection. Were Abraham, David, Paul, regardless of good works, because they believed that they must be justified by faith without works? Were those who are so justly celebrated for their faith in the eleventh chapter to the Hebrews, inattentive to good works, when they chose the most cruel torments, and even death itself, in preference to an accusing conscience? We may even appeal to you respecting those of our own day; who are they that are condemned for their strictness and sanctity? they who exalt the merit of good works, or those who maintain justification by faith alone?

See then how little reason there is for this objection.]

In fine, we shall address a few words,

1. To those who are yet cleaving to the law of works—

[None but they who are taught of God, can conceive how prone we are to self-righteousness, or how subtle are its workings in the heart. We may accede to every idea that has been suggested, and yet be secretly founding our hopes on something that we have done, or that we intend to do; or, which is the same in effect, seeking to recommend ourselves to Christ, that he may become our Saviour.

We entreat you, brethren, to he on your guard, lest, after all your good wishes and desires, you be proved to have built upon a foundation of sand, and be left to inherit your own deserts.]

2. To those who embrace the law of faith—

[Much depends on your conduct: the eyes of the world are upon you; and they will be ready to spy out every blemish in you, in order to justify their rejection of your sentiments. Others may commit a thousand sins, and escape censure: but, if you be guilty of any thing amiss, all mouths are open, not against you only, but against your principles, and against all who maintain them. We say then, with the Apostle, “Let them that have believed, be careful to maintain good works.” Be much on your guard, that you “give no occasion to the enemies to speak reproachfully:” but rather endeavour to “put to silence the ignorance of foolish men by well-doing.” Thus will you “adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour,” and give a practical refutation of the calumnies that are circulated respecting you.]


Verse 31

DISCOURSE: 1835

FAITH ESTABLISHES THE LAW

Romans 3:31. Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.

A GENERAL prejudice obtains against the way of salvation by faith: but it prevailed equally even in the apostolic age. Paul himself saw that his statement of the Gospel did not escape censure. He perceived that it was deemed injurious to the interests of morality; he therefore anticipated and answered this objection.

To bring the subject fully before you, I will propose for your consideration three things—the objection made—the objection obviated—the objection retorted.

I. The objection made—

People suppose we make void the law through faith; but the truth, however clearly we may state it is, for the most part, misapprehended. In explaining salvation by faith we affirm two things concerning the law:

1. That it has no power either to condemn or to justify a believer—

[It cannot condemn him, because Christ has redeemed him from its curse [Note: Galatians 3:13.]. It cannot justify him, because he has transgressed it, and its demands of perfect obedience are unalterably the same. Faith in Christ delivers him from the penal sanctions of the law, but does not in any respect lower its demands.]

2. That his obedience to it makes no part of his justifying righteousness—

[Faith and works, as grounds of justification, are opposite to each other [Note: Romans 11:6.]. If our works had any share in our justification we should have a ground of boasting; which is utterly to be excluded [Note: Romans 3:27.]. The smallest reliance on our works makes void all hope by the Gospel [Note: Galatians 5:2; Galatians 5:4.]. All dependence therefore on the works of the law must be entirely renounced.]

These affirmations evidently exclude morality from the office of justifying. They are therefore supposed to discountenance all practical religion; but this mistake originates in the ignorance of the objectors themselves.

This will be seen, whilst we notice,

II. The objection obviated—

The believer, so far from making void the law, establishes it. The power of the law is twofold; to command obedience, and to condemn for disobedience. The believer establishes the law in each of these respects:

1. In its commanding power:

[He owns its absolute authority over him as God’s creature; all his hope is in the perfect obedience which Christ paid to it for him; he looks upon his obligations to obey it as increased, rather than vacated, by the death of Christ; he actually desires to obey it as much as if he were to be justified by his obedience to it.]

2. In its condemning power:

[He acknowledges himself justly condemned by it: he founds his hope in Christ as having borne its curse for him: his own conscience cannot be pacified but by that atonement which satisfied the demands of the law: bereft of a hope in the atonement, he would utterly despair: he flees to Christ continually “to bear the iniquity of his holiest actions.”]

Thus he magnifies the law, while the objector himself, as I will now prove, makes it void.

To see this more fully, consider,

III. The objection retorted—

The person who objects to salvation by faith alone, is in reality the one who makes void the law. Objections against the doctrine of faith are raised from a pretended regard for the law; but the person who blends faith and works effectually undermines the whole authority of the law. He undermines,

1. Its commanding power—

[He is striving to do something which may serve in part as a ground of his justification; but he can do nothing which is not imperfect; therefore he shews that he considers the law as less rigorous in its demands than it really is: consequently he robs it in a measure of its commanding power.]

2. Its condemning power—

[He never thoroughly feels himself a lost sinner; he does not freely acknowledge that he might he justly cursed even for his most holy actions; he even looks for justification on account of that which in itself deserves nothing but condemnation: and what is this but to lower its condemning power?]

Thus the advocates for the law are, in fact, its greatest enemies; whereas the advocates for the Gospel are the truest friends to the law also—

Infer—

1. How absurd is it for persons to decide on religion without ever having studied its doctrines!

[In human sciences men forbear to lay down their dogmas without some previous knowledge of the points on which they decide; but in theology, all, however ignorant, think themselves competent to judge. They indeed, who are taught of God, can judge; but unenlightened reason does not qualify us to determine. Let us beware of indulging prejudices against the truth. Let us seek to be “guided into all truth by the Holy Spirit.”]

2. How excellent is the salvation revealed to us in the Gospel!

[Salvation by faith is exactly suited to man’s necessities. It is also admirably calculated to advance the honour of God. Every man that is saved magnifies the law, and consequently the lawgiver. The commanding and condemning power of the law are equally glorified by the sinner’s dependence on the obedience and sufferings of Christ: but in those who are condemned, its sanctions only are honoured. Thus is the law more honoured in the salvation of one, than in the destruction of the whole human race. Let all then admire and embrace this glorious salvation.]

 


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Romans 3:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/romans-3.html. 1832.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
ADVERTISEMENT
Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
ADVERTISEMENT
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology