This Chapter May Be Divided Into Three Parts. The First Contains A Brief Statement And Refutation Of The Jewish Objections To The Apostle's Reasoning Vers. 1-8. The Second A Confirmation Of His Doctrine From The Testimony Of Scripture; And A Formal Drawing Out And Declaration Of His Conclusions That By The Works Of The Law No Flesh Living Can Be Justified Before God, Vers. 9-20. The Third, An Exposition Of The Gospel Method Of Justification Vers. 21-31
THE first objection to Paul's reasoning here presented is, that according to his doctrine the Jew has no advantage over the Gentile, ver. 1. The apostle denies the correctness of this inference from what he had said, and admits that the Jews have great advantages over all other people, ver. 2. The second objection is, that God having promised to be the God of the Jews, their unfaithfulness, even if admitted, does not release him from his engagements, or make his promise of no effect, ver. 3. Paul, in answer, admits that the faithfulness of God must not be called in question, let what will happen, vers. 4, 5; but he shows that the principle on which the Jews expected exemption from punishment, viz., because their unrighteousness commended the righteousness of God, was false. This he proves by showing first, that if their principle was correct, God could not punish any one, Gentile or Jew, vers. 5-7; and secondly, that it would lead to this absurdity, that it is right to do evil that good may come, ver. 8.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
VERSE 1. What then is the advantage of the Jew? The conclusion at which the apostle had arrived at the end of the preceding chapter was, that the Jews, no less than the Gentiles, are to be judged according to their works, and by their knowledge of the divine will; and that being thus judged, they are exposed to condemnation, notwithstanding their circumcision and all their other advantages. The most obvious objection in the mind of a Jew to this conclusion must have been, that it was inconsistent with the acknowledged privileges and superiority of his nation. This objection the apostle here presents; the answer follows in the next verse: Περισσός, over and above, abundant; and in a comparative sense better, and substantively, as in the present instance, excellence, pre-eminence. What is the pre-eminence or superiority of the Jew? Comp. Ecclesiastics 6:11, τί περισσὸν τῷ ἀνθρώπῳ; what advantage has man? The second question in this verse, what is the benefit of circumcision? is by some considered as a repetition of the first; circumcision being taken as the mere sign of Judaism. 'What is the advantage of the Jew? or what is the benefit of Judaism?' But circumcision as a rite was so important in the estimation of the Jews, and is made so prominent by the apostle in the preceding context, that it is better to consider the second question as referring to the rite itself.
VERSE 2. Much, in every way. The answer to the objection implied in the preceding verse, is a denial of its correctness as an inference from the apostle's reasoning. It does not follow, because the Jews are to be judged according to their works, that there is no advantage in being the peculiar people of God, having a divine revelation, etc. Πρῶτον μὲν γάρ. These words are rendered by Beza, primarium enim (illud est); comp. Luke 19:47; Acts 25:2. Calvin says,
"πρῶτον significat praecipue vel praesertim, hoc sensu, Etsi unum istud esset, quod habent Dei oracula sibi commissa, satis valere debet ad eorum dignitatem."
Our translators adopt the same view. But to both of the interpretations the particle γάρ furnishes an objection. The third and simplest view is, that the words in question mean first, in the first place, as in 1 Corinthians 11:18; γάρ is then namely, for example. That the enumeration is not carried on, is no serious objection to this explanation, as we have other examples of the same kind. See Romans 1:8. Because they were entrusted with the oracles of God. The subject of ἐπιστεύθησαν, viz. ᾿Ιουδαῖοι is implied by the connection; τὰ λόγια is the accusative; comp. Galatians 2:7; πεπίστευμαι τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, 1 Corinthians 9:17; 1 Thessalonians 2. Some, as Theodoret, Beza, etc., understand by τὰ λόγια τοῦ Θεοῦ, the law; others, as Grotius, Tholuck, etc., the Messianic promises; others, as Calvin, Etosenmuller, De Wette, the whole Scriptures. In favor of this last is the usage of the phrase which in the Old Testament is used for the revelation of God in general, and in the New Testament, for any divine communication. Hebrews 5:12; 1 Peter 4:11. The words therefore are general in their meaning, and there is nothing in the context to limit them; for the apostle is speaking of the treasure committed to the safe custody of the Jews; that deposit of divine knowledge by which they were distinguished from all other nations. Here, as in innumerable other places, the sacred writers of the New Testament use forms of expression which clearly imply that they regarded the sacred writings of the Jews as really the word of God.
VERSE 3. Τί γάρ; What then? See Philippians 1:18—a formula used to introduce an explanation, confirmation, or vindication of a preceding assertion; or to start an objection for the purpose of answering it. In the present instance it is agreed that the apostle designs to vindicate what he had previously taught; but whether ver. 3 refers to ver. 2, or to the conclusion that the Jews were as much exposed to condemnation as the Gentiles, is not so plain. According to the former view, the design of this verse is to confirm what is said in ver. 2: 'To the Jews were committed the promises of God, or oracles of God. This is a great advantage; for if some of them disbelieve those promises, and reject the Messiah, God remains faithful, and will accomplish all his gracious purposes.' Thus substantially, Calvin, Beza, Tholuck, Fritzsche, Rückert, Meyer, and many others. According to the other view, the apostle here presents and answers another objection to his previous reasoning: 'What if we are unfaithful,' says the Jew, 'does that invalidate the faithfulness of God? Has he not promised to be a God to Abraham and to his seed? Has he not entered into a solemn covenant to grant his people all the benefits of the Messiah's kingdom? This covenant is not suspended on our moral character. If we adhere to the covenant by being circumcised and observing the law, the fidelity of God is pledged for our salvation. We may therefore be as wicked as you would make us out to be; that does not prove that we shall be treated as heathen.' For the latter view it may be urged,
1. That it is better suited to the context. It is plain that the whole of the first part of this chapter is an answer to the objections of the Jews to the apostle's doctrine that they were exposed to condemnation. This is clear as to the first verse, and to the fifth and those that follow it. It is, therefore, more consistent with the design of the passage, to make this verse an answer to the main objection of the Jews, than to consider it a mere confirmation of what is said in ver. 2. This consideration has the more force, since, on the other view of the passage, the principal ground of confidence of the Jews, viz., their peculiar relation to God, is left unnoticed. Their great objection to Paul's applying his general principles of justice to their case was that their situation was peculiar: 'God has chosen us as his people in Abraham. If we retain our relation to him by circumcision and the observance of the law, we shall never be treated or condemned as the Gentiles.' Traces of this opinion abound in the New Testament, and it is openly avowed by the Jewish writers. "Think not," says the Baptist, "to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father," Matthew 3:9. "We be Abraham's seed," John 8:33. Comp. Romans 2:17; 9:6, and other passages, in which Paul argues to prove that being the natural descendants of Abraham is not enough to secure the favor of God. That such was the doctrine of the Jews is shown by numerous passages from their writings.
"If a Jew commit all manner of sins," says Abarbanel, "he is indeed of the number of sinning Israelites, and will be punished according to his sins; but he has, notwithstanding, a portion in eternal life."
The same sentiment is expressed in the book Torath Adam, fol. 100, in nearly the same words, and the reason assigned for it, "That all Israel has a portion in eternal life." This is a favorite phrase with the Rabbins, and frequently occurs in their writings. Justin Martyr, as quoted by Grotius on Romans 2:13, attributes this doctrine to the Jews of his day: "They suppose that to them universally, who are of the seed of Abraham, no matter how sinful and disobedient to God they may be, the eternal kingdom shall be given." This interpretation, therefore, makes the verse in question present the objection which the Jews would be most likely to urge.
2. A second consideration in its favor is, that it best satisfies the meaning of the words. The other view makes Paul say that the unfaithfulness of some of the Jews, some here and there, could not render the promise of no effect. It would be natural for the Jews thus to soften down the statement of the case. But Paul had not said that some of the Jews were unfaithful, but that they were all under condemnation; that as to this point there was no difference between them and the Gentiles, since all had sinned and come short of the glory of God.
It cannot escape notice how completely the doctrine of the Jews has been transferred by ritualists to Christianity. They held that if a man was circumcised and remained within the Theocracy, he might be punished for his sins, but he would ultimately be saved. So ritualists hold that all who are baptized and remain within the pale of the true Church, though they may suffer for their sins here or hereafter (in purgatory) are certain to be finally saved.
If some did not believe? The word ἠπίστησαν may mean disbelieved, or were unfaithful. Tholuck, Fritzsche, Rückert (2nd edition) Meyer, say the former, and explain the passage thus: 'The promises (τὰ λόγια) committed to the Jews are a great distinction; and though some of the Jews have not believed those promises, nor received the Messiah, still God is faithful.' The great majority of commentators say the latter, and consider the apostle as stating the want of fidelity of the Jews to the trust committed to them, i.e., to the covenant made with their fathers, as no reason for assuming a want of fidelity on the part of God. That ἀπιστεῖν may have the sense here assigned to it is plain from 2 Timothy 2:13: and from the sense of τία in Hebrews 3:12, 19, and of ἄπιστος in Luke 12:46; Revelation 21:8. To understand the passage as referring to want of faith in Christ, seems inconsistent with the whole context. The apostle has not come to the exposition of the gospel; he is still engaged in the preliminary discussion designed to show that the Jews and Gentiles are under sin, and exposed to condemnation; an exposure from which no peculiar privileges of the former, and no promise of God to their nation, could protect them.
VERSE 4. Let it not be; the frequently recurring formula to express strong aversion or denial. The objection presented in the preceding verse is, that the apostle's doctrine as to the condemnation of the Jews is inconsistent with the faithfulness of God. Is the faith of God without effect? asks the objector. By no means, answers the apostle; that is no fair inference from my doctrine. There is no breach of the promises of God involved in the condemnation of wicked Jews. How the condemnation of the Jews is consistent with the promises of God, he shows in a subsequent part of his epistle, chaps. 9-11; here he merely asserts the fact, and shows that the opposite assumption leads to an absurdity.
Let God be true, but every man a liar. That is, the truth and fidelity of God must be acknowledged, whatever be the consequence. This is said to express the strongest aversion to the consequence charged on his doctrine. Γινέσθω has its proper sense, fiat, let him become, i.e., be seen and acknowledged as true. This disposition to justify God under all circumstances, the apostle illustrates by the conduct and language of David, who acknowledged the justice of God even in his own condemnation, and said, "Against thee only have I sinned; that thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and overcome when thou art judged;" i.e., that thy rectitude, under all circumstances, might be seen and acknowledged. In the Hebrew, the last verb of the verse is active, when thou judgest; in the Septuagint, a passive form is used, when thou art judged. This latter Paul follows, because the sentiment in either case is the same. God is seen and acknowledged to be just. The sacred writers of the New Testament often depart from the words of the Old Testament in their citations, being careful only to give the mind of the Spirit.
"Scimus," says Calvin, "apostolos in recitandis Scripturae verbis saepe esse liberiores; quia satis habebant si ad rem apposite citarent; quare non tanta illis fuit verborum religio."
VERSE 5. But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall he then say? ᾿Αδικία is not to be taken in the restricted sense of injustice, nor as equivalent to ἀπιστία in the preceding verse, but in the comprehensive sense of unrighteousness, wickedness. It is the opposite of δικαιοσύνη, rectitude, righteousness, which includes all moral excellence. The righteousness of God is here, not his goodness, which the context does not require, and usage does not authorize, but rectitude, that attribute which is manifested in doing right. Συνίστημι in the New Testament, is to place with or before any one; and hence either to commend, to recommend, Romans 16:1; 2 Corinthians 3:1; 5:12; or to set forth, to render conspicuous; see Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 6:4. The latter is obviously the sense required in the present instance. That this verse is in answer to an objection is obvious; but that objection is not derived from the language of ver. 4. Paul had said nothing there to give any color to the suggestion, that he himself held that it would be unrighteous in God to punish the wicked. He had simply said, that the truth of God was to be admitted and acknowledged, though all men were liars. From this it could not be made an inference that we may do evil that good may come. It is not a false inference from ver. 4, but a new objection to his general conclusion that he is here answering: 'Not only is God's fidelity pledged to our salvation, but the very fact of our being unrighteous will render his righteousness the more conspicuous; and consequently it would be unjust in him to punish us for what glorifies himself.' This is the thought; the form in which it is presented is determined by the fact that the apostle does not introduce the person of the objector, but states the objection in his own person, in the form of a question. It is plain, however, that the point of the argument is that God cannot consistently punish those whose unrighteousness serves to display his own rectitude; and this is supposed to be urged to show that the Jews, notwithstanding their sins, were not exposed to condemnation. If our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God is the suggestion; the inference, which the Jews were disposed to draw, and which Paul asks, whether they would venture to make, is that God is unjust who taketh vengeance: ὁ Θεὸς ὁ ἐπιφέρων τὴν ὀργήν, God the taker of vengeance; he whose prerogative it is to inflict the punishment due to sin. That the apostle is not in this verse expressing his own sentiments, he intimates by saying, κατὰ ἄνθρωπον λέγω,
I speak as a man. This formula, which is of frequent occurrence, means to speak as men are accustomed to speak; and as men are in general wicked, to speak or act after the manner of men, is to speak or act wickedly. It depends, however, entirely on the context whether this idea is implied. When Paul asks, "Are ye not carnal, and walk as men?" 1 Corinthians 3:3, the case is plain. But when in Galatians 3:15, he says, "Brethren, I speak as a man," he means merely to appeal to what is commonly acknowledged as true among men. See also 1 Corinthians 9:8. When in Romans 6:19, he says ἀνθρώπινον λέγω, it is plain from the context that he means, in a manner adapted to the comprehension of men. And in the present case, where he is not expressing his own sentiments, κατὰ ἄνθρωπον λέγω is designed to declare that he is not speaking in his character of an apostle or Christian, but speaking as others speak, expressing their thoughts, not his own.
VERSE 6. In answer to the question whether God is unjust in punishing those whose unrighteousness renders his own righteousness the more conspicuous, he says, By no means, since in that case how can God judge the world? There is here an answer to the question, and a proof of the correctness of that answer, There are three views which may be taken of the nature of this proof. The first supposes κόσμος; to mean the Gentiles as distinguished from the Jews. The sense then is: If God cannot punish sin under the circumstances supposed, he cannot even punish the heathen, for their unrighteousness serves to commend his righteousness. This view is clear and satisfactory as far as the argument is concerned, and is adopted by Koppe, Reiche, Olshausen, etc. Besides the pertinency of the argument as thus explained, this interpretation is supported by the frequent use of κόσμος to designate the world in distinction from the Theocracy, or the Church. 1 Corinthians 6:9; 11:32; Romans 11:12; John 12:31; 1 John 4:17, etc. The principal objection to it arises from the difficulties in which it involves the explanation of the following verse. The second view of the passage supposes the argument to rest on the admitted fact that God is the judge of all the earth; if so, he must be just. It is impossible that God should be unjust, if he is to judge the world; but he is to judge the world, therefore he is not unjust.
"Sumit argumentum ab ipsius Dei officio," says Calvin, "quo probet id esse impossibile; judicabit Deus hunc mundum, ergo injustus esse non potest."
To the same purpose Grotius says:
"Nullo modo possumns Deum injustum imaginari quem cum Abrahamo judicem mundi agnoscimus."
This view is given also by Tholuck, De Wette, Rückert, Kollner and Meyer. The obvious objection to it is, that it makes the apostle assume the thing to be proved. He says, 'God cannot be unjust, because he is the judge of the world, and the judge of the world must be just.' But it is no more certain that the judge of the world must be just, than that God is just, which is the point to be established. Rückert, in his characteristic assumption of superiority to the apostle, admits that the argument is "weak, very weak;" but he not the less confidently ascribes it to the apostle. The misapprehension of the argument in this verse arises out of a misapprehension of the previous reasoning, and of the precise point of the objection which is here answered. Paul is not guarding against any false inference from his own reasoning; he is not teaching that though God is seen to be just when he speaks, and clear when he judges, we must not hence infer that he is unjust in punishing the sin which commends his own righteousness, which would be indeed "eine erbärmliche Einwendung," (a pitiable subterfuge), as Reiche calls it; but he is answering the objections of the Jews to his doctrine, not their false inferences. To the declaration that they were exposed to condemnation, the Jews pleaded the promise of God, which their unfaithfulness could not render of no effect, and the less so because their unrighteousness would serve to render the righteousness of God the more conspicuous. Paul says on this principle God cannot judge the world. The ground assumed by the Jews might be assumed by all mankind, and if valid in the one case it must be in all. In this view the answer is complete and satisfactory; it is a reductio ad absurdum. The correctness of this explanation is confirmed by what follows.
VERSES 7, 8. These verses are the amplification and confirmation of the answer given in the sixth to the objection of the Jews. These verses are designed to show that if the ground assumed by them was valid, not only may every sinner claim exemption, but it would follow that it is right to do evil that good may come. The connection by γάρ is therefore with the sixth verse: 'God could not judge the world, for any sinner may say, If the truth of God more abounds through my lie, to his glory, why am I yet judged as a sinner?'
The truth of God. As ἀλήθεια is not unfrequently opposed to ἀδικία, it may have here the sense of δικαιοσύνη, and designate the divine excellence; then ψεῦσμα, in the following clause, must mean falsehood towards God, wickedness: 'If the excellence of God is rendered more conspicuous by my wickedness.' But as it was on the truth or veracity of God, his adherence to his promises, that the false confidence of the Jews was placed, it is probable that the apostle intended the words to be taken in their more limited sense.
Hath more abounded unto his glory. Περισσεύειν, to be abundant, rich, or great; and by implication, in a comparative sense, to be more abundant, or conspicuous, Matthew 5:20; 1 Corinthians 15:58. The latter is the sense here, 'If the truth of God has been made the more conspicuous;' εἰς τὴν δόξαν αὐτοῦ, so that he is glorified.
Why am I also still judged as a sinner? κᾀγώ, either even I, or I also; I as well as others; or even I, a Jew; or, according to another view of the context, even I a Gentile: ἔτι, yet, i.e. notwithstanding my falsehood is the means of displaying the glory of God. According to the view now given, the use of the first person is sufficiently explained by saying, as has often been done, "suam personam ponit pro quâvis aliâ."
I, therefore, stands for any one: 'Any one may say, Why am I also judged as a sinner?' Those however who understand κόσμος, in the preceding verse, to mean the Gentiles, suppose that the apostle here personates a heathen, who is made to ask, 'If the divine majesty is the more displayed by my idolatry, why am even I judged as a sinner?' This interpretation gives a very good sense, because the Jews readily admitted that the Gentiles were exposed to condemnation, and therefore any principle which was shown to exculpate them, the Jews must acknowledge to be false. The objections to this view of the passage are the unnecessary limitation which it imposes on the word κόσμος, ver. 6, and the unusual, if not unauthorized sense, which it requires to be given to the words ἀλήθεια and ψεῦσμα the latter not being elsewhere used for idolatry, and the former, in this connection at least, not admitting of the version, truth concerning God; i.e.., the true God.
VERSE 8. Almost all the modern commentators are agreed in considering this verse as a continuation of the question commenced in the seventh, and in assuming an irregularity in the construction, arising from the introduction of the parenthetical clause in the middle of the verse: 'If your principle is correct, why am I judged as a sinner; and why not let us do evil, that good may come?' Having commenced the question, he interrupts himself to notice the slanderous imputation of this doctrine to himself—as we are slandered, and as some affirm we say, that we should do evil that good may come. Ποιήσωμεν, therefore, instead of being connected with the (τί) μή at the beginning of the verse is connected by οτί with the immediately preceding verb, See Winer, § 66.
Whose condemnation is just. Paul thus expresses his abhorrence of the principle that we may do evil that good may come. Tholuck and others refer ων to the βλασφημοῦντες, to the slanderers of the apostle; but that clause is virtually parenthetical, and it is not blaspheming the apostle, but teaching a doctrine subversive of all morality, that is here condemned. Calvin unites, in a measure, both views of the passage:
"Duplici autem nomine damnabilis fuit eorum perversitas; primum quibus venire haec impietas in mentem potuerit usque ad ipsum assensum, deinde qui traducendo evangelio calumniam inde instruere ausi fuerint."
Such is the apostle's argument against the grounds of confidence on which the Jews rested their hope of exemption from condemnation. 'Our unfaithfulness serves to commend the faithfulness of God, therefore we ought not to be punished.' According to this reasoning, says Paul, the worse we are, the better: for the more wicked we are, the more conspicuous will be the mercy of God in our pardon; we may therefore do evil that good may come.' By reducing the reasoning of the Jews to a conclusion shocking to the moral sense, he thereby refutes it. The apostle often thus recognizes the authority of the intuitive moral judgments of our nature, and thus teaches us that those truths which are believed on their own evidence, as soon as presented to the mind, should be regarded as fixed points in all reasonings; and that to attempt to go beyond these intuitive judgments, is to unsettle the foundation of all faith and knowledge, and to open the door to universal skepticism. Any doctrine, therefore, which is immoral in its tendency, or which conflicts with the first principles of morals, must be false, no matter how plausible may be the arguments in its favor.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
1. The advantages of membership in the external Church, and of a participation of its ordinances, are very numerous and great, vers. 1, 2.
2. The great advantage of the Christian over the heathen world, and of the members of a visible ecclesiastical body over others not so situated, is the greater amount of divine truth presented to their understandings and hearts, ver. 2.
3. All the writings which the Jews, at the time of Christ and his apostles, regarded as inspired, are really the word of God, ver. 2.
4. No promise or covenant of God can ever be rightfully urged in favor of exemption from the punishment of sin, or of impunity to those who live in it. God is faithful to his promises, but he never promises to pardon the impenitently guilty, vers. 3, 4.
5. God will make the wrath of men to praise him. Their unrighteousness will commend his righteousness, without, on that account, making its condemnation less certain or less severe, vers. 5, 6.
6. Any doctrine inconsistent with the first principles of morals must be false, no matter how plausible the metaphysical argument in its favor. And that mode of reasoning is correct, which refutes such doctrines by showing their inconsistency with moral truth, ver. 8.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
1. We should feel the peculiar responsibilities which rest upon us as the inhabitants of a Christian country, as members of the Christian Church, and possessors of the word of God; as such, we enjoy advantages for which we shall have to render a strict account, vers. 1, 2.
2. It is a mark of genuine piety, to be disposed always to justify God, and to condemn ourselves. On the other hand, a disposition to self-justification and the extenuation of our sins, however secret, is an indication of the want of a proper sense of our own unworthiness and of the divine excellence, vers. 4, 5.
3. Beware of any refuge from the fear of future punishment, founded upon the hope that God will clear the guilty, or that he will not judge the world and take vengeance for our sins, vers. 6, 7.
4. There is no better evidence against the truth of any doctrine, than that its tendency is immoral. And there is no greater proof that a man is wicked, that his condemnation is just, than that he does evil that good may come. There is commonly, in such cases, not only the evil of the act committed, but that of hypocrisy and duplicity also, ver. 8.
5. Speculative and moral truths, which are believed on their own evidence as soon as they are presented to the mind, should be regarded as authoritative, and as fixed points in all reasonings. When men deny such first principles, or attempt to push beyond them to a deeper foundation of truth, there is no end to the obscurity, uncertainty, and absurdity of their speculations. What God forces us, from the very constitution of our nature, to believe, as, for example, the existence of the external world, our own personal identity, the difference between good and evil, etc., it is at once a violation of his will and of the dictates of reason to deny or to question. Paul assumed, as an ultimate fact, that it is wrong to do evil that good may come, ver. 8.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
The apostle having demonstrated that the Jews cannot expect exemption from condemnation, on the ground of their being the peculiar people of God, except on principles incompatible with the government of the world, and inconsistent with the plainest moral truths, draws, in ver. 9, the conclusion, that the Jew, as to the matter of justification before God, has no preeminence over the Gentile. He confirms his doctrine of the universal sinfulness of men by numerous quotations from the Scriptures. These passages speak of men in general as depraved, vers. 10-12; and then of the special manifestations of that depravity in sins of the tongue, vers. 13, 14; and in sins of violence, vers. 15-18. The inference from all his reasoning, from Romans 1:18, derived from consciousness, experience, and Scripture is, that "the whole world is guilty before God," ver 19; and that "no flesh can be justified by the deeds of the law," ver. 20.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
VERSE 9. What then? do we excel? What then? i.e., what is the conclusion from the preceding discussion? are we Jews better off than the Gentiles? Wahl points the passage thus: Τί οὖν προεχόμεθα; What then do we, or can we pretend or present as an excuse? Then, however, as Rückert and others remark, the answer should be, οὐδέν, nothing, and not οὐ πάντως. The principal difficulty in this verse is to determine the meaning of προεχόμεθα. The most commonly received and the most satisfactory explanation assumes that the middle form has here the sense of the active. Προέχειν means to hold before, or intransitively and topically, to have before another, to excel. In the middle voice, the verb means to hold before oneself, as a shield, or figuratively, to use as a pretext. Though the middle does not elsewhere occur in the sense of the active, its use in the present instance in that sense, may be justified either by the remark, that the later writers often use the middle form where the earlier authors employ the active, (Tholuck); or by assuming the sense of the active to be here somewhat modified, since the apostle is speaking of a superiority which the Jews attributed to themselves, so that the strict sense is: "Licetne nobis tribuere majorem dignitatem?" Bretschneider. The context suits the sense commonly attributed to the word. The whole discussion has brought the apostle to the conclusion, that the Jews as sinners have no advantage over the Gentiles, and this is the conclusion which he here confirms. If the middle force of the verb be retained, then the sense is, as given by Meyer: 'What then? Have we protection or defense?' That is, are we Jews and Gentiles, men as sinners, protected from the justice of God? The answer is, By no means. But this does not so well suit the context or the form of the answer to the question presented. The verb προεχόμεθα should, as Rückert says, in that case have an accusative, designating the excuse or pretext: 'Have we anything for a pretext?' And the answer would be, Nothing. The passive sense, Are we excelled? adopted by Wetstein and others, is still less suited to the context. For whether the Gentiles or the Jews be supposed to ask the question, there is nothing to account for it, or to suggest it. Paul had given no reason to either to ask, Are we excelled? He had not proved that the Gentiles were worse off than the Jews, or the Jews than the Gentiles, but that both were alike under condemnation. The question, therefore, Do we excel? are we Jews better off than the Gentiles? is the only one which the occasion calls for, or that the answer suits. This is the view given by Theophylact, who says, δείκνυσι μηδὲν αὐτούς ἔχειν περισσόν, ὅσον ἐκ τῶν οἰκείων πράξεων; and which is adopted by Calvin, Beza, Grotius and the modern commentators, Tholuck, Rückert (2nd edition), Reiche, and De Wette.
Not at all, not in the least, (οὐ πάντως) the πάντως strengthening the negation. Grotius, Wetstein, and Köllner translate, not altogether, not in all respects. But the former version is shown by Winer, § 61, to be consistent with usage, and is much better suited to the context; for it is the obvious design of the apostle to show that, as to the point in hand, the Jews did not at all excel the Gentiles. This strong negation the following clause confirms. The Jews are not better off; for we have before charged both Jews and Gentiles with being under sin. Αἰτιᾶσθαι is properly, to accuse, here as in other cases followed by an accusative and infinitive. Our version, we have before proved, though it may be justified by implication, is not in strict accordance with the meaning of the words. The same sense, however, is expressed by Erasmus, "ante causis redditis ostendimus," and is adopted by Reiche and others. There is force in the remark of Calvin:
"Verbum Graecum αἰτιᾶσθαι proprie est judiciale: ideoque reddere placuit constituimus. Dicitur enim crimen in actione constituere accusator, quod testimoniis ac probationibus aliis convincere paratus. Citavit autem apostolus universum hominum genus ad Dei tribunal, ut totum sub unam damnationem includeret."
To be under sin means to be under the power of sin, to be sinners, whether the idea of guilt, just exposure to condemnation, or of pollution, or both, be conveyed by the expression depends on the context. Comp. 1 Corinthians 15:17; Galatians 3:10, 22; John 15:22. Here both ideas are to be included. Paul had arraigned all men as sinners, as the transgressors of the law, and therefore exposed to condemnation.
Verses 10-18, contain the confirmation of the doctrine of the universal sinfulness of men by the testimony of the Scriptures. These passages are not found consecutively in any one place in the Old Testament. Verses 10-12 are from Psalms 14 and 53; ver. 13 is from Psalm 5:9; ver. 14 is from Psalm 10:7; vers. 15-17 are from Isaiah 59:7, 8; and ver. 18 is from Psalm 36:1. These passages, it will be observed, are of two different classes; the one descriptive of the general character of men; the other referring to particular sinful acts, on the principle "by their fruits ye shall know them." This method of reasoning is common and legitimate. The national character of a people may be proved by the prevalence of certain acts by which it is manifested. The prevalence of crime among men is a legitimate proof that the race is apostate, though every man is not a shedder of blood, or guilty of robbery or violence.
VERSE 10. There is none righteous, no not one. Psalm 14:1, in the Hebrew is, "there is none doing good;" in the Septuagint it is ποιῶν χρηστότητα; Paul has, οὐκ ἔστι δίκαιος, there is none righteous. The sense is the same. Paul probably uses δίκαιος, righteous, because the question which he is discussing is whether men are righteous, or can be justified on the ground of their own righteousness in the sight of God. This is a declaration of the universal sinfulness of men. The two ideas included in the negation of righteousness, want of piety and want of rectitude, are expressed in the following verses.
VERSE 11.There is none who understands, there is none who seeks after God. In the Psalms it is said: "God looked down from heaven upon the sons of men, to see if there was one wise, seeking after God." Here again the apostle gives the thought, and not the precise words. Instead of "if there was one wise," he gives the idea in a negative form, "There is none who understands," οὐκ ἔστιν ὁ συνιῶν. The participle ὁ συνιῶν, der verständige, the wise, is stronger than the verb, who understands; as the former expresses a permanent characteristic, the latter properly only an act. The words συνίημι and σύνεσις are frequently used in the New Testament to express the right apprehension of divine truth. See Matthew 13:15; Acts 7:25; Ephesians 3:4; 5:17; Colossians 1:9; 2:2. In this case, συνιῶν (συνίων Winer, 14, § 3), answers to מַשְׂכִיל, a word often used in a religious sense, as in the Scriptures, wisdom and religion are convertible terms. This right apprehension or spiritual discernment of divine things is always attended with right affections and right conduct—he that understands seeks after God—which latter expression includes all those exercises of desire, worship, and obedience, which are consequent on this spiritual discernment.
VERSE 12. They are all gone out of the way. Blinded by sin to the perfections and loveliness of God and truth, they have turned from the way which he has prescribed and which leads to himself, and have made choice of another way and of another portion. Here, as in the first chapter, the loss of the knowledge of God is represented as followed by spiritual blindness, and spiritual blindness by moral degradation. Men do not understand, i.e., have no right apprehension of God; then they turn away from him, then they become altogether unprofitable, ἠχρειώθησαν, worthless, morally corrupt. This depravity is universal, for there is none that doeth good, no not one. The words οὐκ ἕως ἐνός, not so much as one, are a Hebrewism for οὐδέ εἷς. This passage is taken from the Septuagint translation of Psalm 14:3.
VERSES 13, 14. These verses relate to the sins of the tongue. The passages quoted are from Psalm 5:9; 140:3; and 10:7. Their throat is an open sepulchre. The point of comparison may be the offensive and pestiferous character of the exhalations of an open grave. This is forcible, and suited to the context. Or the idea is, that as the grave is rapacious and insatiable, so the wicked are disposed to do all the injury with their tongues which they can accomplish. In Jeremiah 5:16, it is said of the Chaldeans, "Their quiver is as an open sepulchre," i.e., destructive. But as in the following verses sins of violence are brought distinctly into view, the former explanation is to be preferred. What issues from the mouths of the wicked is offensive and pestiferous.
With their tongues they have used deceit. The word ἐδολιοῦσαν is in the imperfect, for ἐδολιοῦν, implying continuous action. In the Hebrew it is, "They make smooth their tongue," i.e. they flatter. The LXX., and Vulgate give the version which the apostle adopts.
The poison of asps is under their lips. This is the highest expression of malignity. The bite of the adder causes the severest pain, as well as produces death. To inflict suffering is a delight to the malignant. This is a revelation of a nature truly diabolical.
Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. The Hebrew in Psalm 10:7, is, "His mouth is full of deceit and violence;" the Septuagint, "His mouth is full of cursing, bitterness, and deceit." The Vulgate follows the LXX.; Paul condenses the idea.
VERSES 15-17. These verses adduce the sins of violence common among men, in proof of the general depravity of the race. Their feet are swift to shed blood. That is, on the slightest provocation they commit murder. The life of their fellow-men is as nothing in their estimation, in comparison with the gratification of their pride or malice. The words are quoted from Isaiah 59:7: "Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood." Here the Septuagint agrees with the Hebrew, and Paul again condenses the sense.
Destruction and misery are in their ways. Their path through life is marked not only with blood, but with the ruin and desolation which they spread around them. In Isaiah the passage runs, "Their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths."
The way of peace they have not known. "The way of peace" is the way that leads to peace, or pacific ways. "They have not known," means they have not approved or frequented. The idea is to be taken in its most comprehensive form, as the apostle designs to prove, not from any specific form of violence, but from the general prevalence of sins of violence among men, that human nature is depraved. The tree which produces such fruit so abundantly must be evil.
VERSE 18. There is no fear of God before their eyes. This is taken from Psalm 36:1: "The dictum of depravity concerning the wicked man in my heart is, There is no fear of God before his eyes." That is, his depravity proves or reveals to me that he does not fear God. See Alexander on the Psalms, who proposes this with other versions of the passage. However the previous part of the verse may he understood, the clause quoted by the apostle is plain. The course of wicked men, as previously described, is proof that they are destitute of the fear of God. And by "the fear of God" we may understand, according to Scripture usage, reverence for God, piety towards him; or fear, in the more restricted sense, dread of his wrath. In either way, the reckless wickedness of men proves that they are destitute of all proper regard of God. They act as if there were no God, no Being to whom they are responsible for their conduct, and who has the purpose and power to punish them for their iniquity.
VERSE 19. Now we know; it is a thing plain in itself, and universally conceded, that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them that are under the law. The word νόμος means that which binds, that to which we are bound to be conformed. It is that which binds the reason, the conscience, the heart, and the life, whether it be revealed in the constitution of our nature, or in the decalogue, or in the law of Moses, or in the Scriptures. It is the word or revelation of the will of God, considered as the norm or rule to which men are to conform their faith and practice. It depends on the context, under what aspect this rule is in any particular case contemplated. It may be the rule as written on the heart, Romans 2:14, or the law of Moses, or the whole Scriptures, as John 10:34. In this passage it obviously means the whole Old Testament, for the quotations given above are taken from the Psalms and the Prophets. In every instance the principle applies, that what the law says it says to those who have the law. Those to whom any revelation of the divine will is made are bound to be conformed to it. What the law written in the heart say, it says to those who have that law; and what the law as written in the Scripture says, it says to those who have the Scriptures. The declarations therefore contained in the Old Testament, which was the revelation of God's will made to the Jews, were the norm or rule to which they were obliged to conform their judgments and conduct. If the Old Testament declared that all men are under sin, that there is none righteous, no not one, the Jews could not deny the truth of this universal declaration in its application to themselves. These passages speak not of heathen as heathen, but of fallen men as such, and therefore are to be understood of all men, of the Jews as well as of the Gentiles.
That every mouth may be stopped. The word is ἵνα in order that. That is, the design of God in these general declarations was, that every mouth should be stopped; that all men should be reduced to silence under the conviction that they had nothing to say against the charge of sin. This idea is expressed in another form in the following clause:
That the whole world (πᾶς ὀ κόσμος), all mankind, Jews and Gentiles, should become (γένηται), in their own conviction, guilty before God. That is, that all men should be convinced of guilt. Guilt here, as always in theological language, means liability or exposure to punishment on account of sin. It is not to be confounded either with moral pollution or with mere demerit. It may exist where neither pollution nor personal demerit is to be found. And it may be removed where both remain. Christ is said to have born the guilt of our sins, although immaculate and without personal demerit; and justification removes the guilt (or just exposure to punishment) of the sinner, but it does not change his inward character. This is the proper meaning of ὑπόδικος; (ἔνοχοςδίκης), guilty, satisfactionem alteri debens, obnoxious to punishment.
Before God, τῷ Θεῷ, in relation to God, as it is to him that satisfaction for sin is due. It is he whom we have offended, and under whose sentence we lie. There are three things involved in the consciousness of sin; sense of moral turpitude, sense of demerit or of ill-desert, and the conviction that we ought to be punished. This last element is often most clearly revealed; so that a criminal often voluntarily gives himself up to justice. It is this that is denominated guilt, the obligation to suffer punishment; so that the guilty are not merely those who may be punished, but those whom justice (or moral rectitude) demands should be punished. It is this that stops the sinner's mouth; and it is this which is met by satisfaction, so that although in the justified believer a sense of pollution and of ill-desert remains, there is no longer this dreadful conviction that God is bound to punish him. The conclusion to which the apostle's argument, from experience and Scripture, has thus far led is, that all men are guilty in the sight of God; and if guilty, they cannot be justified on the ground of their personal character or conduct. To justify is to declare not guilty; and therefore the guilty cannot, on the ground of character, be justified.
VERSE 20. Therefore by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight. Therefore. The particle is διότι which is equivalent to δἰ ὅ τι, on account of which thing, wherefore. In this sense it indicates a conclusion from preceding premises. This would suit this connection, as ver. 20 is a fair conclusion from what is said in ver. 19: 'All the world is guilty before God, wherefore, hence it follows that, no one can be justified by works.' This is the conclusion which the apostle has had in view from the beginning of his argument. His whole design is to prove that men cannot be justified by their own righteousness, in order to prepare them to receive the righteousness of God. This view of the connection is assumed in our version by Beza, Turrettin, Rosenmüller, and others. But in the New Testament, διότι is almost uniformly, perhaps in every case, used in the sense of διὰ τοῦτο ὅτι, on this account that, or of the simple ὅτι that. The great majority of commentators therefore render it here, because, as in 1:19; 8:7, etc. Verse 20 then assigns the reason of what is said in ver. 19: 'Every mouth must be stopped, because no flesh can be justified by works.' This view is to be preferred, not because more suitable, but because more consistent with the common use of the particle in question.
No flesh. When men are called flesh in the Bible, there was originally a reference to their weakness and faults, as the flesh is earthly and perishable. But in many cases there is no such implication; "no flesh" is simply equivalent to no man. The Greek is here πᾶσα σὰρξ οὐ κ. τ. λ, every flesh shall not; according to the familiar Hebraism, no flesh shall. The future is used not in reference to the day of final judgment, for the act of justification takes place in this life. It expresses the certainty of the thing affirmed:
No flesh shall ever be (i.e. ever can be) justified. The apostle seems evidently to have had in his mind the passage in Psalm 143:2: "Enter not into judgment with thy servant; for in thy sight shall no man living be justified." Δικαιόω, to justify, is not simply to pardon. A condemned criminal, in whose favor the executive exercises his prerogative of mercy, is never said to be justified; he is simply pardoned. Nor is it to pardon and to restore to favor. When a king pardons a rebellious subject, and restores him to his former standing, he does not justify him. Nor is it to make just inwardly. When a man accused of a crime is acquitted or declared just in the eye of the law, his moral character is not changed.
To justify is a forensic term; that is, it expresses the act of a judge. Justification is a judicial act. It is a declaration that the party arraigned is δίκαιος just; and δίκαιος means right, conformed to the law, To justify, therefore, is to declare that the party implicated is rectus in foro judicii; that δίκη, justice, does not condemn, but pronounces him just, declares herself satisfied. This is the uniform meaning of the word, not only in Scripture, but also in ordinary life. We never confound justification with pardon, or with sanctification. It is always used in the sense antithetical to condemnation. To condemn is not merely to punish, but to declare the accused guilty or worthy of punishment; and justification is not merely to remit that punishment, but to declare that punishment cannot be justly inflicted. Much less does to condemn mean to render wicked, and therefore neither does to justify mean to render good. When we justify God, we declare him to be just; and when God justifies the sinner, he declares him to be just. In both cases the idea is, that there is no ground for condemnation; or that the demands of justice are satisfied. Hence the terms and expressions used in Scripture, convertibly with the word to justify, all express the same idea. Thus, in Romans 2:13, it is said: "Not the hearers of the law are just before God (δίκαιοι παρὰ τῷ Θεῷ,) but the doers of the law shall be justified (δικαιωθήσονται.)" Here, to be just before God, (in his sight or estimation,) and to be justified, mean the same thing. It is clearly impossible that the apostle should mean that the doers of the law shall be pardoned. What should they be pardoned for? Doing the law does not call for pardon: it is declared to be the ground of justification. Pardon and justification therefore are essentially distinct. The one is the remission of punishment, the other is a declaration that no ground for the infliction of punishment exists. Quite as evident is it that the apostle does not mean, in the passage referred to, to say that the doers of the law shall be made holy. To justify, therefore, cannot mean to make inherently just or good. In Romans 4:6, he speaks of the "blessedness of the man to whom the Lord imputeth righteousness without works." To impute righteousness is to justify. To impute is to ascribe to, to reckon to one's account. But when we pardon a man, we do not ascribe righteousness to him; and therefore, again, justification is seen to be different from pardon. It is quite as clear, that to impute righteousness cannot mean to render holy; and therefore to justify, which is to impute righteousness, cannot mean to make good. In Romans 8:1, the apostle says, "there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus." Not to condemn is neither to pardon nor to sanctify, but is to pronounce just. Nothing can be clearer as a question of exegesis, than that the word δικαιόω (to justify) expresses a judicial, as opposed to an executive, and also to an efficient act. This indeed is plain from the very form of the statement in this and other passages. It would be utterly unmeaning to say that "no flesh shall be pardoned by the works of the law," or that "no man shall be sanctified by the deeds of the law." In the fifth chapter of this epistle, Paul uses the phrase "sentence unto condemnation" (κρίμα εἰς κατάκριμα,) in antithesis to "sentence unto justification" (κρίμα εἰς δικαίωσιν.) Justification therefore is as much a sentence, κρίμα a judgment, a declarative act, as condemnation. It need not be remarked the question which of all others most immediately concerns our eternal interests. The answer which Pelagians and Remonstrants give to this question is, that to justify is simply to pardon and to restore to divine favor. The Romanists say, that it is to render inwardly pure or good, so that God accepts as righteous only those who are inwardly conformed to the law, and because of that conformity. Protestants say, that to justify is to declare just; to pronounce, on the ground of the satisfaction of justice, that there is no ground of condemnation in the sinner; or that he has a righteousness which meets the demands of the law. The Romish doctrine of subjective justification, against which the Protestants contended as for the life of the Church, has in our day been revived in different forms. The speculative and mystic theologians of Germany all repudiate the doctrine of objective justification; they all teach in some way, that to justify is to make just; to restore the ruined nature of man to its original state of purity or conformity to the law of God. They are all disposed to say, with Olshausen: "Von Gott kann nie etwas als gerecht anerkannt oder dafür erklärt werden, was es nicht ist;" i.e., God can never acknowledge or declare that just, which is not so in itself. This is said to prove that God cannot pronounce the sinner just, unless he is inherently righteous. If this is so, then no flesh living can be justified; for no human being in this life, whether under the law or the Gospel, is inherently just, or inwardly conformed to the law of God. The conscience of the holiest man on earth condemns him, and God is greater than our hearts, and knoweth all things. If not righteous in our own eyes, how can we be righteous in the sight of omniscient and infinite holiness? Agreeably to the principle just stated, Olshausen defines δικαιοσύνη, conformity to law, so that "not only the outward act, but the inward feeling and disposition answer to the divine law;" and δικαιόω is said to express "die göttliche Thätigkeit des Hervorrufens der δικαιοσύνη welches natürlich das Anerkennen derselben als solcher in sich schliesst." That is, to justify is to produce moral rectitude, and to acknowledge it as such. See Olshausen's Commentary, Romans 3:21. Justification therefore includes two things; first, making a man inwardly just; and secondly, acknowledging him to be so. No man therefore can be justified who is not inwardly conformed to the perfect law of God. This is a sentence of eternal condemnation on all mankind; for there is none righteous, no not one; neither by works nor by faith, neither by nature nor by grace. Blessed be God, this is not the doctrine of the Bible. God justifies the ungodly; that is, he pronounces just those who, personally considered, are unjust. He imputes righteousness to those without works; that is, to those who are in themselves unrighteous. In no instance in the Scriptures has δικαιόω the sense of producing δικαιοσύνη. We do not make God holy when we justify him; the unrighteous judge does not make the wicked holy when he justifies him for a reward, Isaiah 5:23. He surely is not an abomination to the Lord, who makes the unrighteous good; but he is declared to be such an abomination, who either justifies the wicked or condemns the just, Proverbs 17:15. This doctrine is not less inconsistent with the faith of the Church than it is with the plain meaning of the Scriptures. The people of God of every denomination are led as by instinct to renounce all dependence upon anything done by them or wrought in them, and to cast themselves, for acceptance before God, on what Christ has done for them. Their trust is in him, and not on their own inward conformity to the law. No previous training, and no trammels of false doctrine can prevent these who are truly under the guidance of the Spirit of God from thus renouncing their own inward righteousness, and trusting to the righteousness of the Son of God.
To justify, then, is not merely to pardon and restore to favor; nor is it to make inwardly just or holy, but it is to declare or pronounce just; that is, judicially to declare that the demands of justice are satisfied, or that there is no just ground for condemnation. The apostle here as everywhere teaches that no human being can be thus pronounced just on the ground of his personal character or conduct, because all have sinned and are guilty before God. This is here expressed by saying, that no flesh can be justified by works of the law. By works of the law are not meant works produced or called forth by the law as a mere objective rule of duty, as opposed to works produced by an inward principle of faith, but works which the law prescribes. It is not by obedience to the law, by doing the works which the law enjoins, that any man can be justified. As to the nature of the works which are thus expressly declared not to be the ground of justification, there are different opinions arising out of the different views taken of the plan of salvation revealed in the Scriptures.
1. The Pelagian doctrine, that the works intended are the ceremonial works prescribed by the Mosaic law. The doctrine assumed to he taught by the apostle is, that men are not justified by external rites, such as circumcision and sacrifice, but by works morally good.
2. The Romish doctrine, that the works of the law are works performed under the stress of natural conscience. The Romish theory is, that works done before regeneration have only the merit of condignity; but those done after regeneration, and therefore from a principle of grace, have the merit of condignity, and are the ground of acceptance with God.
3. The Remonstrant or Arminian doctrine is, that by the works of the law is to be understood the perfect legal obedience enjoined on Adam as the condition of eternal life. Under the gospel, such perfect obedience is not required, God for Christ's sake being willing to accept of imperfect obedience. Men therefore are not justified by the works of the law, but by the works of the gospel, which requires only a fides obsequiosa.
4. The modern doctrine already referred to is only a philosophical statement of the Romish theory. Olshausen, Neander, and the school to which they belong, teach that the law as an objective rule of duty cannot produce real inward conformity to the will of God, but only an outward obedience, and therefore there is need of a new inward principle which produces true holiness in heart and life.
"Das Gesetz," says Olshausen, "konnte es nicht über eine äussere Legalität hinausbringen, durch die Wiedergeburt wird aber durch Gnade ein innerer Zustand, die δικαιοσύνη Θεοῦ, im Glaubigen geschaffen, der den höchsten Forderungen etltspricht" (see his Comment on 1:17).
"The law can only effect an external legal obedience; but by regeneration, an inward state, the δικαιοσύνη Θεοῦ, is produced by grace, which meets the highest demands." The works of the law, therefore, according to this view, the δικαιοσύνη τοῦ νόμου, or ἐκ νόμου, or δικαιοσύνη ἰδία, are those works or that righteousness which men by their own power, without the cooperation of divine grace, can effect;
("der Mensch sie gleichsam mit seinen eignen nach dem Fall ihm gebliebenen sittlichen Kräften, ohne Wirkung der Gnade, za Stande bringt.")
Such works or such righteousness cannot justify; but the inward righteousness produced by the grace of God, and therefore called the δικαιοσύνη Θεοῦ or ἐκ πίστεως, meets the demands of the law, is true ground of justification. Olshausen, 3, 21. See also Neander's Geschichte der Pflanzung, pp. 503-510. The doctrine of the divines of the school of Schleiermacher, presented in formulas more or less mystic and transcendental is, that as we derive corrupt nature from Adam, and on the ground of that nature are condemned, so we derive a holy nature from Christ, and on the ground of that nature are justified.
5. In opposition to all these views, which place the ground of justification, so far as it is a declarative act, in man's own inward character or state, Protestants with one heart and one voice teach that by the works of the law, which are excluded from the ground of justification, are meant not only ceremonial works, not merely the works of the unregenerate done without grace, not only the perfect obedience required by the law originally given to Adam, but works of all kinds, everything either done by us or wrought in us.
In proof of this, it may be urged:
1. That the law of which the apostle speaks, is the law which binds all mankind. It is the law, the violation of which renders all men guilty before God, as stated in ver. 19. The whole of the preceding argument is designed to show that both Jews and Gentiles, viewed as to their personal character, are under sin and incapable of justification on the ground of their own character or conduct.
2. This law which thus binds all men, demands the highest kind of moral obedience. It is spiritual, extending not merely to the external act, but to the secret motives. It says, "thou shalt not covet;" thus condemning all irregular or inordinate desires. It is holy, just, and good. It requires us to love God with all the heart, and our neighbor as ourselves. There can therefore be no form or kind of righteousness, whether natural or gracious, higher than that which the law demands, and which is comprehended in the works of the law.
3. The contrast or opposition is never between one kind of works and another. Paul does not teach that we cannot be justified by ceremonial works, but are justified by good works; he does not exclude merely opera ex solis naturae viribus, i.e. works of the unregenerate, and assert that works flowing from a principle of grace are the ground of justification; he does not contrast imperfect obedience under the gospel with the perfect obedience required of Adam; but the opposition is always between works in general, all works, and faith.
4. The works rejected as inadequate are called "works of righteousness," Titus 3:5; that is, works of the highest order, for there is no designation of excellence of higher import than that.
5. The works intended are such as Abraham, the father of the faithful, whose obedience is held up as a model to all generations, performed.
6. Whenever the ground of our justification is affirmatively stated, it is declared to be the obedience, the death, the blood or work of Christ.
7. The objection to the apostle's doctrine, which he answers at length in chap. 6, supposes that good works of every kind are excluded from the ground of our justification. That objection is, that if works are not the ground of justification, then we may live in sin. There could be no room for such an objection, had the apostle taught that we are not justified by mere ceremonial or moral works, but by works of a higher order of merit. It was his rejecting all works, every kind and degree of personal excellence, and making something external to ourselves, something done for us as opposed to everything wrought in us, the ground of our acceptance with God, that called forth the objection in question. And this objection has been urged against Paul's doctrine from that day to this.
8. Appeal may safely be made on this subject to the testimony of the Church or the experience of the people of God of every age and nation. They with one accord, at least in their prayers and praises, renounce all dependence on their own inward excellence, and cast themselves on the work or merit of Christ. In reference to this cardinal doctrine, Calvin says:
"Neque vero me latet, Augustinum secus exponere; justitiam enim Dei esse putat regenerationis gratiam; et hanc gratuitam esse fatetur, quia Dominus immerentes Spiritu suo nos renovat. Ab hac autem opera legis excludit, hoc est quibus homines a seipsis citra renovationem conantur Deum promereri. Mihi etiam plus satis notum est, quosdam novos speculatores hoc dogma superciliose proferre quasi hodie sibi revelatum. Sed apostolum omnia sine exceptione opera complecti etiam quae Dominus in suis efficit, ex contextu planum fiet. Nam certe regeneratus erat Abraham, et Spiritu Dei agebatur quo tempore justificatum fuisse operibus negat. Ergo a justificatione hominis non opera tantum moraliter bona (ut vulgo appellant) et quae fiunt naturae instinctu excludit, sed quaecunque etiam fideles habere possunt. Deinde si illa est justitiae fidei definitio, Beati quorum remissae sunt iniquitates, Psalm 32:1; non disputatur de hoc vel illo genere operum; sed abolito operum merito sola peccatorum remissio justitiae causa statuitur. Putant haec duo optime convenire, fide justificari hominem per Christi gratiam; et tamen operibus justificari, quae ex regeneratione spirituali proveniant; quia et gratuito nos Deus renovat, et ejus donum fide percipimus. At Paulus longe aliud principium sumit: nunquam scilicet tranquillas fore conscientias, donec in solam Dei misericordiam recumbant; ideo alibi postquam docuit Deum fuisse in Christo, ut homines justificaret, modum simul exprimit, non imputando illis peccata."
For by the law is the knowledge of sin. No flesh can be justified by the law, for by the law we are convinced of sin. The law condemns by bringing sin clearly to our knowledge as deserving the wrath of God, which is revealed against all sin, and therefore it cannot justify. "Ex eadem scatebra," says Calvin, "non prodeunt vita, et mors." ᾿Επίγνωσις (full or accurate knowledge) is stronger than the simple word γνῶσις (knowledge.) When the object of knowledge is something in our own consciousness, as in the case of sin, knowledge involves a recognition of the true nature of that object, and a corresponding experience. The knowledge of sin is therefore not a mere intellectual cognition, but an inward conviction, including both an intellectual apprehension and a due sense of its turpitude and guilt. This is the office of the law. It was not designed to give life, but so to convince of sin that men may be led to renounce their own righteousness and trust in the righteousness of Christ as the only and all-sufficient ground of their acceptance with God.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
1. However men may differ among themselves as to individual character, as to outward circumstances, religious or social, when they appear at the bar of God, all appear on the same level. All are sinners, and being sinners, are exposed to condemnation, ver. 9.
2. The general declarations of the Scriptures, descriptive of the character of men before the advent of Christ, are applicable to men in all ages of the world, because they describe human nature. They declare what fallen man is. As we recognize the descriptions of the human heart given by profane writers a thousand years ago, as suited to its present character, so the inspired description suits us as well as those for whom it was originally intended, vs. 10-18.
3. Piety and morality cannot be separated. If men do not understand, if they have no fear of God before their eyes, they become altogether unprofitable, there is none that doeth good, vs. 10-12.
4. The office of the law is neither to justify nor to sanctify. It convinces and condemns. All efforts to secure the favor of God, therefore, by legal obedience must be vain, ver. 20.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
1. As God regards the moral character in men, and as we are all sinners, no one has any reason to exalt himself over another. With our hands upon our mouth, and our mouth in the dust, we must all appear as guilty before God, ver. 9.
2. The Scriptures are the message of God to all to whom they come. They speak general truths, which are intended to apply to all to whom they are applicable. What they say of sinners, as such, they say of all sinners; what they promise to believers, they promise to all believers. They should, therefore, ever be read with a spirit of self-application, vers. 10-18.
3. To be prepared for the reception of the gospel, we must be convinced of sin, humbled under a sense of its turpitude, silenced under a conviction of its condemning power, and prostrated at the footstool of mercy, under a feeling that we cannot satisfy the demands of the law, that if ever saved, it must be by other merit and other power than our own, ver. 20.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
Having proved that justification, on the ground of legal obedience or personal merit, is for all men impossible, Paul proceeds to unfold the method of salvation presented in the gospel. With regard to this method, he here teaches,
1. Its nature.
2. The ground on which the offer of justification is made.
3. Its object.
4. Its results.
1. As to its nature, he teaches,
1. That the righteousness which it proposes is not attainable by works, but by faith, vers. 21, 22.
2. That it is adapted to all men, Jews as well as Gentiles, since there is no difference as to their moral state, vers. 22, 23.
3. It is entirely gratuitous, ver. 24.
2. As to its ground, it is the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, or Jesus Christ as a propitiatory sacrifice, vers. 24, 25.
3. Its object is the display of the divine perfections, and the reconciliation of the justice of God with the exhibition of mercy to the sinner, ver. 26.
4. Its results.
1. It humbles man by excluding all ground of boasting, vers. 27, 28.
2. It presents God in his true character as the God and father of all men, of the Gentile no less than of the Jews. vers. 29, 30.
3. It confirms the law, ver. 31.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
VERSE 21. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, etc. Having demonstrated that no flesh can be justified by the deeds of the law in the sight of God, the apostle proceeds to show how the sinner can be justified. With regard to this point, he teaches, in this verse,
1. That the righteousness which is acceptable to God is not a legal righteousness; and,
2. That it had been taught already in the Old Testament.
The words but now may be regarded as merely marking the transition from one paragraph to another, or as a designation of time, now, i.e. under the gospel dispensation. In favor of this view is the phrase, "to declare, at this time, his righteousness," in ver. 26; compare also Romans 1:17.
Is manifested, i.e. clearly made known, equivalent to the phrase is revealed, as used in Romans 1:17. The words righteousness of God, are subjected here to the same diversity of interpretation that was noticed in the passage just cited, where they first occur. They may mean,
1. A divine attribute, the justice, mercy, or general rectitude of God.
2. That righteousness which is acceptable to God, which is such in his estimation.
3. God's method of justification; compare Romans 1:17.
The last interpretation gives here a very good sense, and is one very commonly adopted. 'The method of justification by works being impossible, God has revealed another, already taught indeed, both in the law and prophets, a method which is not legal (without law), i.e. not on the condition of obedience to the law, but on the condition of faith, which is applicable to all men, and perfectly gratuitous,' vers. 21-24. But for the reason stated above, in the remarks on Romans 1:17, the interpretation which best suits both the force of the words and Paul's usage is, 'The righteousness of which God is the author, which comes from him, which he gives, and which consequently is acceptable in his sight.' The word righteousness is employed to designate that excellence which the law demands, or which constitutes a man δίκαιος; (righteous) in the sight of the law, and the genitive (τοῦ Θεοῦ) of God, indicates the source or author of that righteousness. As men therefore cannot attain such righteousness by the deeds of the law, God has revealed in the gospel another righteousness, which is not legal, but is attained or received by faith, and is offered to all men, whether Jews or Gentiles, as a free gift. The words χωρὶς νόμου, without law, may qualify the word righteousness. It is a righteousness without law, or with which the law has nothing to do. It is not a product of the law, and does not consist in our inward conformity to its precepts; so that χωρὶς νόμου is equivalent to χωρὶς ἔργων νόμου, Galatians 2:16. The connection however may be with the verb: 'Without the law (i.e. without the cooperation of the law) the righteousness of God is revealed.' But the whole context treats of justification without works, and therefore the interpretation which makes the apostle say that a righteousness without the works of the law is made known in the gospel, is more suited to the connection. The perfect πεφανέρωται has its appropriate force. The revelation has been made and still continues. This righteousness, which, so to speak, had long been buried under the types and indistinct utterances of the old dispensation, has now in the gospel been made (φανερά) clear and apparent. The apostle therefore adds, being testified by the law and the prophets. The word is, μαρτυρουμένη, being testified to; the present is used because the testimony of the Old Testament to the gospel was still continued. The Jews were accustomed to divide the Scriptures into two parts—the Law including the five books of Moses, and the Prophets including all the other books. The word prophet means one who speaks for God. All inspired men are prophets, and therefore the designation applies to the historical, as well as to the books which we are accustomed, in a more restricted sense of the word, to call prophetical. The Law and the Prophets therefore mean the Old Testament Scriptures. Matthew 5:17, 7:12, Luke 16:31, Acts 13:15, etc. The words designated a well known volume, and had to the minds of the Jews as definite a meaning as the word Bible has with us. The constant recognition of that volume in the New Testament as of divine authority, relieves us of the necessity of proving separately the inspiration of its several books. In sanctioning the volume as the word of God, Christ and his apostles gave their sanction to the divine authority of all that the volume contains. That the Old Testament does teach the doctrine of "a righteousness without works," Paul proves in the next chapter, from the case of Abraham, and from the declarations of David.
VERSE 22. Even the righteousness of God. The repetition of the subject from the preceding verse; δέ is therefore not adversative, but is properly rendered even. This righteousness, of which God is the author, and which is available before him, and which is now revealed, is more particularly described as a (δικαιοσύνη (οὐσα) διὰ πίστεως) righteousness which is of faith, i.e. by means of faith, not διὰ πίστιν, on account of faith. Faith is not the ground of our justification; it is not the righteousness which makes us righteous before God, (it is not itself the δικαιοσύνη τοῦ Θεοῦ,) nor is it even represented as the inward principle whence that righteousness proceeds. It is indeed the principle of evangelical obedience, the source of holiness in heart and life; but such obedience or holiness is not our justifying righteousness. Holiness is the consequence and not the cause of our justification, as the apostle proves at length in the subsequent parts of this epistle. This righteousness is through faith, as it is received and appropriated by faith. It is, moreover, not faith in general, not mere confidence in God, not simply a belief in the Scriptures as the word of God, much less a recognition of the truth of the spiritual and invisible, but it is faith of Christ; that is, faith of which Christ is the object. A man may believe what else he may; unless he receives and rests on Christ alone for salvation, receives him as the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us, he has not the faith of which the apostle here speaks as the indispensable condition of salvation. This important doctrine is not only clearly but frequently brought into view in the New Testament. What our Lord constantly demanded was not merely religious faith in general, but specifically faith in himself as the Son of God and Savior of the world. It is only faith in Christ, not faith as such, which makes a man a Christian. "If ye believe not that I am he," saith our Lord, "ye shall die in your sins," John 8:24. "As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name," John 1:12. "That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life," John 3:15, 16. "Whosoever believeth on him, shall not be confounded," Romans 9:33. "How shall they call on him in whom they have not believed," 10:14. Such passages are almost innumerable. So when the object of saving faith is designated, it is said to be not truth in general, but Christ himself. See verse 25 (through faith in his blood), Galatians 2:16, 20; 3:24; Ephesians 3:19, etc. The act, therefore, which the sinner is required to perform, in order to be made a partaker of the righteousness of God, is to believe on Christ; that is, to receive him as he is revealed in the gospel as the eternal Son of God, clothed in our nature, loving us and giving himself as a propitiation for our sins. As there is no verb in the text, of which δικαιοσύνη (righteousness) is the nominative, we must either borrow the verb πεφανέρωται from verse 21, "the righteousness of God is manifested unto all;" or what better suits what follows, supply ἔρχεται, comes (or simply ἐστί, is) unto all and upon all. The καὶ ἐπὶ πάντας; (and upon all) are omitted in the MSS. A. C. 20. 31. 47. 66. 67; in the Coptic and Ethiopic versions; and by several of the Fathers. Griesbach and Lachmann leave them out of the text; most modern critical editions retain them, both on external and internal grounds. This righteousness is εἰς πάντας, extending unto all, καὶ ἐπὶ πάντας, and over all, as covering them or overflowing them.
"Eine Gnadenfluth," says Olshausen, "die an alle herandringt und sogar über alle hinüberströmt."
There is no distinction between Jew and Gentile recognized in this method of salvation. The question is not as to whether men are of this or that race, or of one or another rank in life, or in the Church visible or out of it. This righteousness is unto all who believe. Faith is all that is demanded. The reason why the same method of salvation is suited to all men is given in the following clause: For there is no difference among men as to their moral state or relation to God, or as to their need of salvation, or as to what is necessary to that end. What one man needs all require, and what is suited to one is suited to and sufficient for all. The characteristics, therefore, of the plan of salvation presented in this verse are:
1. That the righteousness of God which is revealed in the gospel is to be attained by faith, not by works, not by birth, not by any external rite, not by union with any visible Church, but simply and only by believing on Christ, receiving and resting upon him.
2. That this righteousness is suited to and sufficient for all men; not only for all classes, but for all numerically; so that no one can perish for the want of a righteousness suitable and sufficient, clearly revealed and freely offered.
VERSE 23. For all have sinned. This is the reason why there is no difference as to the condition of men. All are sinners. The apostle uses the aorist ἥμαρτον, sinned, and not the perfect, have sinned. Rückert says this is an inaccuracy; Bengel explains it by assuming that the original act in paradise, and the sinful disposition, and also the acts of transgression flowing from it, are all denoted. Olshausen says that the reference is mainly to original sin; for where there are no peccata actualia, there is still need of redemption. Dr. Wordsworth, Canon of Westminster, gives the same explanation: "All men sinned in Adam, all fell in him." Meyer says, "The sinning of each man is presented as an historical fact of the past." The idea that all men now stand in the posture of sinners before God might be expressed either by saying, All have sinned (and are sinners), or all sinned. The latter is the form adopted by the apostle.
And come short, ὑστεροῦνται, in the present tense. The sinning is represented as past; the present and abiding consequence of sin is the want of the glory of God. By δόξα τοῦ Θεοῦ is most naturally understood the approbation of God, the δόξα which comes from God; comp. John 12:43, "They loved the praise of men rather than the praise (δόξαν) of God." Calvin explains it as the glory quae coram Deo locum habet, glory before God, i.e., in estimation, as he explains δικαιοσύνη Θεοῦ to be righteousness in his sight, what he regards as such. This is against the natural force of the genitive. Others understand δόξα in the sense of glorying, non habet, unds coram Deo glorientur, Estius; so also Luther, Tholuck, (who refers to John 5:44, δόξαν παρὰ τοῦ Θεοῦ,) and others. This idea would be expressed by the word καύχησις verse 27, or καύχημα, 4:2; 1 Corinthians 5:6; 9:16, etc. Others again say that the glory of God here means that glory which God promises to the righteous, as in 5:2. So Beza, who says, "δόξα est meta ad quam contendimus, id est, vita aeterna, quae in gloria Dei participatione consistit." Rückert and Olshausen say it means the image of God; "Men are sinners, and are destitute of the image of God." But this is not the sense of the words; "the glory of God" does not mean a glory like to that of God. The first interpretation, which is the simplest, is perfectly suited to the context. All men are sinners and under the disapprobation of God. In this respect there is no difference between them; and therefore all need a righteousness not their own, in order to their justification before God.
VERSE 24. Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. The apostle continues his exhibition of the method of salvation by using the participle "being justified," instead of the verb "we are justified," agreeably to a mode of construction not unusual in the Greek, though much more frequent in the Hebrew. Δικαιούμενοι therefore depends on ὑστεροῦνται, "all come short of the favor of God, being justified freely." That is, since justification is gratuitous, the subjects of it are in themselves unworthy; they do not merit God's favor. Justification is as to us δωρεάν, a matter of gift; on the part of God it is an act of grace; we are justified τῇ αὐτοῦ χάριτι by his grace. The act, so far as we are concerned, is altogether gratuitous. We have not the slightest degree of merit to offer as the ground of our acceptance. This is the third characteristic of the method of justification which is by the righteousness of God. Though it is so entirely gratuitous as regards the sinner, yet it is in a way perfectly consistent with the justice of God. It is through "the redemption that is in Christ Jesus," that is, of which he is the author.
The word ἀπολύτρωσις, redemption, has two senses in the New Testament.
1. It means properly 'a deliverance effected by the payment of a ransom.' This is its primary etymological meaning.
2. It means deliverance simply, without any reference to the mode of its accomplishment, whether by power or wisdom. Luke 21:28, "The day of redemption (i.e. of deliverance) draweth nigh;" Hebrews 9:15, and perhaps Romans 8:23; compare Isaiah 1:2, "Is my hand shortened at all, that it cannot redeem?" etc.
When applied to the work of Christ, as affecting our deliverance from the punishment of sin, it is always taken in its proper sense, deliverance effected by the payment of a ransom. This is evident,
1. Because in no case where it is thus used, is anything said of the precepts, doctrines, or power of Christ, as the means by which the deliverance is effected; but uniformly his sufferings are mentioned as the ground of deliverance. Ephesians 1:7, "In whom we have redemption through his blood;" Hebrews 9:15, "By means of death, for the redemption of transgressions," Colossians 1:14.
2. In this passage the nature of this redemption is explained by the following verse: it is not by truth, nor the exhibition of excellence, but through Christ 'as a propitiatory sacrifice, through faith in his blood.'
3. Equivalent expressions fix the meaning of the term beyond doubt. 1 Timothy 2:6, "Who gave himself as a ransom for all;" Matthew 20:28, "The Son of man came to give his life as a ransom for many;" 1 Peter 1:18, "Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ," etc. Accordingly Christ is presented as a Redeemer, not in the character of a teacher or witness, but of a priest, a sacrifice, a propitiation, etc. That from which we are redeemed is the wrath of God; the price of our redemption is the blood of Christ.
That is in Christ Jesus. This may mean by him, ἐν having its instrumental force, as in Acts 17:31, (ἐν ἀνδρὶ ῷ,) by the man. As this use of the preposition with names of persons is infrequent, others retain its usual force, in. Compare Ephesians 1:7, "In whom (ἐν ᾧ) we have redemption," etc.; and Colossians 1:14. 'We are justified by means (διά) of the redemption which we have in virtue of union to Christ.'
VERSE 25. Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, etc. This clause contains the ground of our deliverance from the curse of the law, and of our acceptance with God, and constitutes therefore the second step in the apostle's exhibition of the plan of salvation. He had already taught that justification was not by works, but by faith, and entirely gratuitous; he now comes to show how it is that this exercise of mercy to the sinner can be reconciled with the justice of God and the demands of his law. The word προέθετο hath set forth, also signifies to purpose, to determine, Romans 1:13; compare Romans 8:28. If this sense be adopted here, the meaning would be, 'whom God hath purposed or decreed to be a propitiation.' But the context refers to a fact rather than a purpose; and the words εἰς ἔνδειξιν (for the manifestation), as expressing the design of the manifestation of Christ, is decidedly in favor of the common interpretation. There are three interpretations of the word ἱλαστήριον (propitiation), which are worthy of attention. It was understood by many of the Fathers, and after them by Luther, Calvin, Grotius, Olshausen, and others, to mean the propitiatory, or mercy-seat, over the ark of the covenant, on which the high priest, on the great day of atonement, sprinkled the blood of the sacrifices. Here it was that God was propitiated, and manifested himself as reconciled to his people. The ground of this interpretation is, that the original word here used is employed in the Septuagint as the designation of the mercy-seat, Exodus 25:18-20; and often elsewhere. The meaning would then be, 'that God had set forth Jesus Christ as a mercy-seat, as the place in which, or the person in whom he was propitiated, and ready to forgive and accept the sinner.' But the objections to this interpretation are serious.
1. The use of the word by the Greek translators of the Old Testament, probably arose from a mistake of the proper meaning of the Hebrew term. The Hebrew word means properly a cover; but as the verb whence it comes means literally, to cover; and metaphorically, to atone for, to propitiate, the Greek translators incorrectly rendered the noun ἱλαστήριον, the Latin propitiatorium, and our translators, the mercy-seat, a sense which כּפֹּרֶת never has. It is, therefore, in itself a wrong use of the Greek word.
2. This interpretation is not consistent with the analogy of Scripture. The sacred writers are not accustomed to compare the Savior to the cover of the ark, nor to illustrate his work by such a reference. This passage, if thus interpreted, would stand alone in this respect.
3. According to this view, there is an obvious incongruity in the figure. It is common to speak of the blood of a sacrifice, but not of the blood of the mercy-seat. Besides, Paul in this very clause speaks of "his blood." See Deylingii Observationes, Part 2, sect. 41, and Krebs's New Testament, illustrated from the writings of Josephus.
The second interpretation supposes that the word θῦμα (sacrifice) is to be supplied: 'Whom he has set forth as a propitiatory sacrifice.'
1. In favor of this interpretation is the etymology of the word. It is derived from ἱλάσκομυαι, to appease, to conciliate. Hence ἱλαστήριος, as an adjective, is applied to anything designed to propitiate; as in the expressions "propitiatory monument," "propitiatory death." (Josephus Ant. 16. 7. 1 Lib. de Macc., sect. 17. See Krebs on this verse.)
2. The use of analogous terms in reference to the sacrificial services under the old dispensation, as σωτήριον, sacrificium pro salute, Exodus 20:24; 28:29, for which we have in Exodus 24:5, θυσίασωτηρίου; so χαριστήρια, thank-offerings, τὸ καθάρσιον the offering for purification. In keeping with all these terms is the use of ἱλαστήριον (θῦμα) in the sense of propitiatory sacrifice.
3. The whole context favors this explanation, inasmuch as the apostle immediately speaks of the blood of this sacrifice, and as his design is to show how the gratuitous justification of men can be reconciled with the justice of God. It is only a modification of this interpretation, if ἱλαστήριον be taken substantively and rendered propitiation, as is done in the Vulgate and by Beza.
The third interpretation assumes that ἱλαστήριον is here used in the masculine gender, and means propitiator. This is the explanation given by Semler and Wahl; but this is contrary to the usage of the word and inconsistent with the context. The obvious meaning, therefore, of this important passage is, that God has publicly set forth the Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of the intelligent universe, as a propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of men. It is the essential idea of such a sacrifice, that it is a satisfaction to justice. It terminates on God. Its primary design is not to produce any subjective change in the offerer, but to appease God. Such is the meaning of the word, from which we have no right to depart. Such also is the idea which it of necessity would convey to every Gentile and every Jewish reader, and therefore such was the idea which the apostle intended to express. For if we are not to understand the language of the Bible in its historical sense, that is, in the sense in which the sacred writers knew it would be understood by those to whom they wrote, it ceases to have any determinate meaning whatever, and may be explained according to the private opinion of every interpreter. But if such be the meaning of these words, then they conclusively teach that the ground of our justification is no subjective change in us, but the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ. Olshausen, who elsewhere plainly teaches the doctrine of subjective justification, in his comment on this verse, admits the common Church doctrine. He denies that the work of Christ terminates on the sinner.
"Every sacrifice," he says, "proposed to expiate the guilt of man, and to appease the wrath of God, consequently the sacrifice of all sacrifices, in which alone all others have any truth, must accomplish that which they only symbolized."
The doctrine of the Scotists, he adds, of gratuita acceptatio, refutes itself, because God can never take a thing for what it is not, and therefore cannot accept as a satisfaction what is no satisfaction. Grotius's view of an acceptilatio, which amounts to the same thing with the doctrine of Scotus, and resolves the atonement into a mere governmental display, (a popular theory reproduced as a novelty in the American Churches,) he also rejects. He says,
"So there remains nothing but the acute theory of Anselm, properly understood, of a satisfactio vicaria, which completely agrees with the teachings of Scripture, and meets the demands of science."
According to Olshausen, therefore, ("die tiefste Erorterungen,") the profoundest disclosures of modern science have at last led back to the simple old doctrine of a real vicarious satisfaction to the justice of God, as the ground of the sinner's justification.
Through faith. These words, διὰ πίστεως, may be connected with δικαιούμενοι as coordinate with διὰ απολυτρώσεως: 'Being justified through the redemption, that is, being justified through faith.' But this breaks the connection between προέθετο and εἰς ἔνδειξιν. Meyer connects both διὰ πίστεως and ἐν τῷ αἵματι with προέθετο: 'God hath, by means of faith, by his blood, set forth Christ as a propitiation.' But the faith of man is not the means by which God set forth Christ. The most natural connection is with ἱλαστήριον, 'a propitiation through faith,' i.e. which is received or appropriated through faith. It is a more doubtful question how the words in his blood are to be connected. The most obvious construction is that adopted in our version, as well as in the Vulgate, and by Luther, Calvin, Olshausen, and many others, 'Through faith in his blood;' so that the blood of Christ, as a propitiatory sacrifice, is the ground of the confidence expressed in πίστις, "in Christi sanguine repositam habemus fiduciam." Calvin. To this it is objected, that the construction of πίστις; with ἐν is altogether unauthorized. But there are so many cases in the New Testament in which this construction must be admitted, unless violence be resorted to, that this objection cannot be allowed much weight. See Galatians 3:26; Ephesians 1:15; Colossians 1:4; 1 Timothy 3:13; 2 Timothy 3:15. Others connect both διὰ πίστεως; and ἐν τῷ αἵματι as distinctly qualifying clauses with ἰλαστήριον; the former, as De Wette says, expressing the means of the subjective appropriation, the other the means of the objective exhibition. That is, 'God has set forth Christ as a propitiation, which is available through faith, and he is a propitiation by his blood. Still another method is to connect ἐν τῷ αἵματι with ὅν: 'Whom God has set forth in his blood as a propitiation.' The construction first mentioned, and sanctioned by the translators of the English Bible, gives a perfectly good sense, and is most agreeable to the collocation of the words.
The blood of Christ is an expression used in obvious reference to the sacrificial character of his death. It was not his death as a witness or as an example, but as a sacrifice, that expiates sin. And by his blood, is not to be understood simply his death, but his whole work for our redemption, especially all his expiatory sufferings from the beginning to the end of his life.
This whole passage, which Olshausen happily calls the "Acropolis of the Christian faith," is of special importance. It teaches that we are justified in a manner which is entirely of grace, without any merit of our own; through, or by means of faith, and on the ground of the propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It is evident from this statement, that Paul intended to exclude from all participation in the meritorious ground of our acceptance with God, not only those works performed in obedience to the law, and with a legal spirit, but those which flow from faith and a renewed heart. The part assigned to faith in the work of our reconciliation to God is that of an instrument; it apprehends or appropriates the meritorious ground of our acceptance, the work or righteousness of Christ. It is not itself that ground, nor the means of attaining an inherent righteousness acceptable to God. This is obvious,
1. Because our justification would not then be gratuitous, or without works. Paul would then teach the very reverse of the doctrine which he has been laboring to establish, viz., that it is not on account of works of righteousness, i.e. works of the highest order of excellence, that we are accepted, since these works would then be the real ground of our acceptance.
2. Because we are said to be justified by faith, of which Christ is the object, by faith in his blood, by faith in him as a sacrifice. These expressions cannot possibly mean, that faith in Christ is, or produces, a state of mind which is acceptable to God.
Faith in a sacrifice is, by the very force of the terms, reliance on a sacrifice. It would be to contradict the sentiment of the whole ancient and Jewish world, to make the design of a sacrifice the production of a state of mind acceptable to the Being worshipped, which moral state was to be the ground of acceptance. There is no more pointed way of denying that we are justified on account of the state of our own hearts, or the character of our own acts, than by saying that we are justified by a propitiatory sacrifice. This latter declaration places of necessity the ground of acceptance out of ourselves; it is something done for us, not something experienced, or produced in us, or performed by us. There is no rule of interpretation more obvious and more important than that which requires us to understand the language of a writer in the sense in which he knew he would be understood by the persons to whom he wrote. To explain, therefore, the language of the apostle in reference to the sacrifice of Christ, and the mode of our acceptance with God, otherwise, than in accordance with the universally prevalent opinions on the nature of sacrifices, is to substitute our philosophy of religion for the inspired teachings of the sacred writers.
To declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God. Having stated the nature and ground of the gospel method of justification, Paul comes, in this clause, to state its object: 'God has set forth Christ, as a propitiatory sacrifice, to declare his righteousness.' It should be remembered that the object of the death of Christ, being very comprehensive, is variously presented in the word of God. In other words, the death of Christ answers a great number of infinitely important ends in the government of God. It displays "his manifold wisdom," Ephesians 3:10, 11; it was designed "to purify unto himself a people zealous of good works," Titus 2:14; to break down the distinction between the Jews and Gentiles, Ephesians 2:15; to effect the reconciliation of both Jews and Gentiles unto God, Ephesians 2:16; "to deliver us from this present evil world," Galatians 1:4; to secure the forgiveness of sins, Ephesians 1:7; to vindicate his ways to men, in so long passing by or remitting their sins, Romans 3:25; to reconcile the exercise of mercy with the requirements of justice, ver. 26, etc. These ends are not inconsistent, but perfectly harmonious. The end here specially mentioned is, to declare his righteousness. These words here, as elsewhere, are variously explained.
1. They are understood of some one of the moral attributes of God, as his veracity, by Locke; or his mercy, by Grotius, Koppe, and many of the moderns. Both of these interpretations are forced, because they assign very unusual meanings to the word righteousness, and meanings little suited to the context.
2. Most commentators, who render the phrase 'righteousness, or justification of God,' in Romans 1:17, 3:21, God's method of justification, adopt that sense here. The meaning would then be, that 'God had set forth Christ as a propitiation, to exhibit his method of justification, both in reference to the sins committed under the old dispensation, and those committed under the new.' But this is inconsistent with the meaning of δικαιοσύνη, which never has the sense of "method of justification," and is unsuited to the context.
3. The great majority of commentators understand the δικαιοσύνη Θεοῦ here spoken of to be the justice of God. This is the proper meaning of the terms, and this the context demands. Justice is the attribute with which the remission, or passing by, of sins without punishment, seemed to be in conflict, and which therefore required vindication.
It was necessary that the justice of God should be publicly exhibited, because he forgave sin. Besides, the apostle himself explains what he means by δικαιοσύνη when he adds that God set forth Christ as a propitiation, in order that he might be just, and yet justify the ungodly. The satisfaction of justice therefore was the immediate and specific end of the death of Christ. This was indeed a means to a higher end. Justice was satisfied, in order that men might be sanctified and saved; and men are sanctified and saved, in order that might be known, in the ages to come, the exceeding riches of the grace of God.
For the remission of sins, διὰ τήν πάρεσιν κ. τ. λ. This admits of different explanations.
1. Some give διὰ with the accusative the same force as with the genitive; through the forgiveness of sins. That is, the righteousness of God was manifested by means of remitting sins. This is contrary to the proper meaning of the words, and supposes that δικαιοσὺνη means goodness. Beza, however, adopts this view, and renders the words, per remissionem; so also Reiche, Koppe, and others.
2. It is taken to mean, as to, as it regards. This gives a good sense, 'To declare his righteousness, as to, or as it regards the remission of sins.' So Raphelius (Observationes, etc., p. 241,) who quotes Polybius, Lib. 5, ch. 24, p. 517, in support of this interpretation. This view is given by Professor Stuart. But the preposition in question very rarely if ever has this force. No such meaning is assigned to it by Wahl, Bretschneider, or Winer.
3. The common force of the preposition is retained, on account of. This clause would then assign the ground or reason of the exhibition of the righteousness of God. It became necessary that there should be this exhibition, because God had overlooked or pardoned sin from the beginning. This is the most natural and satisfactory interpretation of the passage. So the Vulgate, propter remissionem, and almost all the moderns.
4. Others again make the preposition express the final cause or object, 'To declare his righteousness for the sake of the remission of sins,' i.e., that sins might be remitted.
So Calvin, who says,
"Tantundem valet praepositio causalis, acsi dixisset, remissionis ergo, vel in hunc finem ut peccata deleret. Atque haec definitio vel exegesis rursus confirmat quod jam aliquoties monui, non justificari homines, quia re ipsa tales sint, sed imputatione."
But this is a very questionable force of the preposition: See Winer's Gram., § 49, c. The third interpretation, therefore, just mentioned, is to be preferred. The word πάρεσις, remission, more strictly means pretermission, a passing by, or overlooking. Paul repeatedly uses the proper term for remission (ἄφεσις) as in Ephesians 1:7, Hebrews 9:22, etc.; but the word here used occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. Many, therefore, consider the selection of this particular term as designed to express the idea, that sins committed before the advent of Christ might more properly be said to be overlooked, than actually pardoned, until the sacrifice of the Redeemer had been completed; see Wolf's Curae. Reference is made to Acts 17:30, where God is said to have overlooked the times of ignorance. But as the word used by the apostle is actually used to express the idea of remission, in Greek writers (see Elsner) the majority of commentators adopt that meaning here. The words πάρεσις and ἄφεσις express the same thing, but under different aspects. They differ only as not punishing, and pardoning. To say that God did not punish sins under the old dispensation, is only a different way of saying that he pardoned them. So "not to impute iniquity," is the negative statement of justification. This passage, however, is one of the few which the Romanists quote in support of their doctrine that there was no real pardon, justification, or salvation, before the advent of Christ. The ancient believers at death, according to their doctrine, did not pass into heaven, but into the limbus patrum, where they continued in a semi-conscious state until Christ's descensus ad inferos for their deliverance. The modern transcendental theologians of Germany, who approach Romanism in so many other points, agree with the Papists also here. Thus Olshausen says, "Under the Old Testament there was no real, but only a symbolical forgiveness of sins." Our Lord, however, speaks of Abraham as in heaven; and the Psalms are filled with petitions and thanksgiving for God's pardoning mercy.
The words, that are past, seem distinctly to refer to the times before the advent of Christ. This is plain from their opposition to the expression, at this time, in the next verse, and from a comparison with the parallel passage in Hebrews 9:16, "He is the Mediator for the redemption of sins that were under the first testament." The words ἐν τῇ ἀνοχῇ, rendered through the forbearance of God, admit of different explanations.
1. They may be connected with the words just mentioned, and the meaning be, 'Sins that are past, or, which were committed during the forbearance of God;' see Acts 17:30, where the times before the advent are described in much the same manner.
2. Or they may be taken, as by our translators, as giving the cause of the remission of these sins, 'They were remitted, or overlooked through the divine forbearance or mercy.'
Forgiveness however is always referred to grace, not to forbearance. The former interpretation is also better suited to the context. The meaning of the whole verse therefore is, 'God has set forth Jesus Christ as a propitiatory sacrifice, to vindicate his righteousness or justice, on account of the remission of the sins committed under the former dispensation;' and not under the former dispensation only, but also in the remission of sins at the present time, as the apostle immediately adds. The interpretation of the latter part of this verse, given above, according to which τὰ προγεγονότα ἁμαρτήματα, (the sins before committed,) mean the sins committed before the coming of Christ, is that which both the context and the analogy of Scripture demand. In the early Church, however, there were some who held that there is no forgiveness for post-baptismal sins—a doctrine recently reproduced in England by the Rev. Dr. Pusey. The advocates of this doctrine make this passage teach that Christ was set forth as a propitiation for the forgiveness of sins committed before baptism, that is, before conversion or the professed adoption of the gospel. Rückert and Reiche, among the recent German writers, give the same interpretation. This would alter the whole character of the gospel. There could be no salvation for any human being; for all men sin hourly, after as well as before baptism or conversion. No man at any moment of his life is perfectly conformed to the law of God. Conscience always pronounces sentence against us. There could be no peace in believing, no imputation or possession of righteousness. We should not now be under grace, but under law, as completely as though Christ had never died.
VERSE 26. To declare, I say, his righteousness, etc. This clause is a resumption of what was said before, πρὸς ἔνδειξιν being coordinate with the foregoing εἰς ἔνδειξιν, both depending upon προέθετο: 'He set him forth εἰς and—πρός.' The two prepositions have the same sense, as both express the design or object for which anything is done: 'Christ was set forth as a sacrifice for the manifestation of the righteousness of God, on account of the remission of the sins of old—for the manifestation of his righteousness at this time.' There were two purposes to be answered; the vindication of the character of God in passing by former sins, and in passing them by now. The words ἐν τῷ νῦν καιρῷ, (at this time,) therefore stand opposed to ἐν τῇ ἀνοχῇ, (during the forbearance.) The death of Christ vindicated the justice of God in forgiving sin in all ages of the world, as those sins were by the righteous God as Olshausen says, "punished in Christ."
That he might be just, etc., εἰς τὸ εἶναι αὐτὸν δίκαιον, in order that, as expressing the design, and not merely the result of the exhibition of Christ as a propitiatory sacrifice. This clause therefore expresses more definitely what is meant by εἰς ἔνδειξιν δικαιοσύνης. Christ was set forth as a sacrifice for the manifestation of the righteousness or justice of God, that is, that he might be just, although the justifier of the ungodly. The word just expresses the idea of uprightness generally, of being or doing what the nature of the case demands. But when spoken of the conduct of a judge, and in reference to his treatment of sin, it must mean more specifically that modification of general rectitude, which requires that sin should be treated according to its true nature, that the demands of law or justice should not be disregarded. A judge is unjust when he allows a criminal to be pronounced righteous, and treated accordingly. On the other hand he acts justly when he pronounces the offender guilty, and secures the infliction of the penalty which the law denounces. What the apostle means to say is, that there is no such disregard to the claims of justice in the justification of the sinner who believes in Christ. This is seen and acknowledged, when it is known that he is justified neither on account of his own acts or character, nor by a mere sovereign dispensing with the demands of the law, but on the ground of a complete satisfaction rendered by his substitute, i.e. on the ground of the obedience and death of Christ. The gratuitous nature of this justification is not at all affected by its proceeding on the ground of this perfect satisfaction. It is, to the sinner, still the most undeserved of all favors, to which he not only has not the shadow of a personal claim, but the very reverse of which he has most richly merited. It is thus that justice and mercy are harmoniously united in the sinner's justification. Justice is no less justice, although mercy has her perfect work; and mercy is no less mercy, although justice is completely satisfied.
'Just and the justifier,' etc. In the simple language of the Old Testament, propositions and statements are frequently connected by the copulative conjunction whose logical relation would be more definitely expressed by various particles in other languages; as Malachi 2:14, "Against whom thou hast dealt treacherously, and she was thy companion," i.e. although she was thy companion. "They spake in my name, and (although) I sent them not;" see Gesenius's Lexicon. In like manner the corresponding particle in the Greek Testament is used with scarcely less latitude. Matthew 12:5, "The priests profane the Sabbath, and (and yet) are blameless;" Romans 1:13, "I purposed to come unto you, and (but) was let hitherto;" Hebrews 3:9, "Proved me and (although they) saw my works;" see Whal's Lex. and Winer's Gram., § 53. So in the present instance it may be rendered, "That God might be just, and yet, or although the justifier," etc.
Him which believeth in Jesus, literally, 'Him who is of the faith of Jesus;' so Galatians 3:7, "They which are of faith," for believers; Galatians 2:12, "They of the circumcision," i.e. the circumcised; see Romans 2:8; 4:12, etc. Faith of Jesus, faith of which Jesus is the object; see ver. 22. Our version therefore expresses the sense accurately. He whom God is just in justifying, is the man who relies on Jesus as a propitiatory sacrifice. That justification is a forensic act, is of necessity implied in this passage. If to justify was to make subjectively just or righteous, what necessity was there for the sacrifice of Christ? Why should he die, in order that it might be just in God to render men holy? It were an act of mercy to make the vilest malefactor good; but to justify such a malefactor would be to trample justice under foot. The doctrine therefore of subjective justification perverts the whole gospel. It is worthy of remark, that the orthodox interpretation of the meaning of this whole paragraph is acknowledged to be correct, even by those who cannot themselves receive the doctrine which it teaches. Thus Köllner, one of the latest and most candid of the German commentators, says: "It is clear that the true sense of this passage entirely agrees with the doctrine of the Church concerning, vicarious satisfaction, as unfolded in the Lutheran symbols. Nevertheless, although it is certain that Paul intended to teach the doctrine of vicarious satisfaction, not merely as a figure, (or in the way of accommodation,) but as a matter of full personal conviction; yet it is easy to see how he was necessarily led to adopt this view, from the current opinions of the age in which he lived." He proceeds to show that as the idea of vicarious punishment was incorporated in the Jewish theology, the guilt of the offender being laid upon the head of the victim offered in sacrifice, Paul was unavoidably led to conceive of the work of Christ under this form. As, however, this theory according to Köllner, arose out of a false view of the nature of God, and of his relation to the world, he cannot regard it as a divine revelation. He proceeds to unfold what he supposes to be the eternal truth contained under these Jewish ideas, (unter der Hülle der Zeitvorstellungen,) and presents very much the governmental view of the atonement introduced by Grotius, and reproduced in this country by the younger Edwards and his followers.
"Did Paul," says Köllner, "merely teach that God made a symbolical exhibition of justice in the sufferings of Christ, we might acquiesce in his teaching, but he says more; he constantly asserts that men are justified or constituted righteous through the blood of Christ, Romans 3:21; 5:19; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14."
Such writers are at least free from the guilt of perverting the word of God. They allow the Bible to mean what it says, although they refuse to submit to its teaching. This is better than not only refusing to submit, but forcing the Scriptures to teach our own foregone conclusions. In Germany, the subjection of the Bible to philosophy has come to an end. In this country, it is still struggling for liberty. It is desirable that the separation should here, as there, be made complete, between those who bow to the authority of the word of God, and those who acknowledge some higher rule of faith. Then both parties can agree as to what the Bible really teaches.
VERSE 27. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay; but by the law of faith. In this and the following verses the apostle presents the tendency and results of the glorious plan of salvation, which he had just unfolded. It excludes boasting, verse 27. It presents God in his true character, as the God and Father of the Gentiles as well as of the Jews, vers, 29, 30; and it establishes the law, ver. 31. The word καύχησις (boasting), is used to express the idea of self-gratulation with or without sufficient reason. In the former case, it is properly rendered rejoicing, as when Paul speaks of the Thessalonians being his "crown of rejoicing." In the latter, the word boasting is the correct version. The word properly means the act of boasting or rejoicing; at times, by metonymy, the ground or reason of boasting, as in Romans 15:17. Either sense suits this passage. The article ἡ καύχησις, the boasting, may have its appropriate force. The reference, however, is not specially to ver. 1 of this chapter, the boasting of the Jews over the Gentiles, but the boasting of the sinner before God. The latter, however, includes the former. A plan of salvation which strips every man of merit, and places all sinners on the same level before God, of course cuts off all assumption of superiority of one class over another. Paul means to say that the result of the gospel plan of salvation is to prevent all self-approbation, self-gratulation, and exaltation on the part of the sinner. He is presented as despoiled of all merit, and as deserving the displeasure of God. He can attribute, in no degree, his deliverance from this displeasure to himself, and he cannot exalt himself either in the presence of God, or in comparison with his fellow-sinners. As sin is odious in the sight of God, it is essential, in any scheme of mercy, that the sinner should be made to feel this, and that nothing done by or for him should in any measure diminish his sense of personal ill-desert on account of his transgressions. This result obviously could not follow from any plan of justification that placed the ground of the sinner's acceptance in himself, or his peculiar advantages of birth or ecclesiastical connection; but it is effectually secured by that plan of justification which not only places the ground of his acceptance entirely out of himself, but which also requires, as the very condition of that acceptance, an act involving a penitent acknowledgment of personal ill-desert, and exclusive dependence on the merit of another. In this connection, the phrases "by what law," "the law of works," and "the law of faith," are peculiar, as the word νόμος (law) is not used in its ordinary sense. The general idea, however, of a rule of action is retained. "By what rule? By that which requires works? Nay; by that which requires faith:" By the "law of faith," therefore, is obviously meant the gospel. Compare Romans 9:31.
VERSE 28. Therefore we conclude, etc. The common text has οὖν, therefore, giving this verse the character of a conclusion from the preceding argument. The great majority, however, of the best manuscripts, the Vulgate and Coptic versions, and many of the Fathers, have γάρ, which almost all the modern editors adopt. This verse, then, is a confirmation of what is said before: "Boasting is excluded, λογιζόμθα γάρ, for we think, i.e., are sure," etc. See Romans 2:3; 8:18; 2 Corinthians 11:5, for a similar use of the word λογίζομαι.
That a man is justified by faith. If by faith, it is not of works; and if not of works, there can be no room for boasting, for boasting is the assertion of personal merit. From the nature of the case, if justification is by faith, it must be by faith alone. Luther's version, therefore, allein durch den glauben, is fully justified by the context. The Romanists, indeed, made a great outcry against that version as a gross perversion of Scripture, although Catholic translators before the time of Luther had given the same translation. So in the Nuremberg Bible, 1483, "Nur durch den glauben." And the Italian Bibles of Geneva, 1476, and of Venice, 1538, per sola fede. The Fathers also often use the expression, "man is justified by faith alone;" so that Erasmus, De Ratione Concionandi, Lib. 3., says,
"Vox sola, tot clamoribus lapidata hoc saeculo in Luthero, reverenter in Patribus auditur."
See Koppe and Tholuck on this verse.
Without works of the law. To be justified without works, is to be justified without anything in ourselves to merit justification. The works of the law must be the works of the moral law, because the proposition is general, embracing Gentiles as well as Jews. And as our Savior teaches that the sum of the moral law is that we should love God with all the heart, mind, and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves, and as no higher form of excellence than supreme love to God is possible or conceivable, in excluding works of the law, the apostle excludes everything subjective. He places the ground of justification out of ourselves. Olshausen, on this verse, reverts to his Romish idea of subjective justification, and explains works of the law to mean works produced by the moral law, which he says spring only from ourselves, and are perishable, whereas "the works of faith are imperishable as the principle whence they spring." That is, we are not justified by works performed from a principle of natural conscience, but by those which are the fruits of a renewed nature. How utterly subversive this is of the gospel, has already been remarked. The works of the law are not works which the law produces, but works which the law demands, and the law demands all that the Spirit of God effects, even in the just made perfect. And therefore spiritual as well as legal works are excluded. The contrast is not between works produced by the law and works produced by faith, but between works and faith, between what is done by us (whether in a state of nature or a state of grace) and what Christ has done for us.
VERSES 29, 30. Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also; seeing it is one God who shall justify, etc. We have here the second result of the gospel method of justification; it presents God as equally the God of the Gentiles and of the Jews. He is such, because 'it is one God who justifies the circumcision by faith, and the uncircumcision through faith.' He deals with both classes on precisely the same principles; he pursues, with regard to both, the same plan, and offers salvation to both on exactly the same terms. There is, therefore, in this doctrine, the foundation laid for a universal religion, which may be preached to every creature under heaven; which need not, as was the case with the Jewish system, be confined to any one sect or nation. This is the only doctrine which suits the character of God, and his relation to all his intelligent creatures upon earth God is a universal, and not a national God; and this is a method of salvation universally applicable. These sublime truths are so familiar to our minds that they have, in a measure, lost their power; but as to the Jew, enthralled all his life in his narrow national and religious prejudices, they must have expanded his whole soul with unwonted emotions of wonder, gratitude, and joy. We Gentiles may now look up to heaven, and confidently say, "Thou art our Father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and though Israel acknowledge us not."
Paul here, as in ver. 20, uses the future δικαιώσει, will justify, not for the present, nor in reference to the final judgment, but as expressing a permanent purpose. There is no distinction as to the meaning to be sought between ἐκ πίστεως (by faith) and διὰ πίστεως (through faith,) as Paul uses both forms indiscriminately; ἐκ, for example, in 1:17; 3:20; 4:16, etc., and διὰ in 3:22, 25; Galatians 2:16; and sometimes first the one, and then the other, in the same connection. There is no greater difference between the Greek prepositions, as here used, than between the English by and through.
VERSE 31. Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law. This verse states the third result of this method of salvation; instead of invalidating, it establishes the law. As Paul uses the word law in so many senses, it is doubtful which one of them is here principally intended. In every sense, however, the declaration is true. If the law means the Old Testament generally, then it is true; for the gospel method of justification contradicts no one of its statements, is inconsistent with no one of its doctrines, and invalidates no one of its promises, but is harmonious with all, and confirmatory of the whole. If it means the Mosaic institutions specially, these were shadows of which Christ is the substance. That law is abolished, not by being pronounced spurious or invalid, but by having met its accomplishment, and answered its design in the gospel. What it taught and promised, the gospel also teaches and promises, only in clearer and fuller measure. If it means the moral law, which no doubt was prominently intended, still it is not invalidated, but established. No moral obligation is weakened, no penal sanction disregarded. The precepts are enforced by new and stronger motives, and the penalty is answered in Him who bore our sins in his own body on the tree.
"Ubi vero ad Christum ventum est," says Calvin, "primum in eo invenitur exacta Legis justitia, qua per imputationem etiam nostra fit. Deinde sanctificatio, qua formantur corda nostra ad Legis observationem, imperfectam quidem illam, sed ad scopum collimat."
Instead of making ver. 31 the close of the third chapter, many commentators regard it as more properly the beginning of the fourth. The proposition that the gospel, instead of invalidating, establishes the law, they say is too important to be dismissed with a mere categorical assertion. This, however, is Paul's method. After showing that the law cannot save, that both justification and sanctification are by the gospel, he is wont to state in a sentence what is the true end of the law, or that the law and the gospel being both from God, but designed for different ends, are not in conflict. See above, ver. 20; Galatians 3:1 9, 20. If this verse, however, be made the beginning of the exhibition contained in the following chapter, then by law must be understood the Old Testament, and the confirmation of the law by the gospel consists in the fact that the latter teaches the same doctrine as the former. 'Do we make void the law by teaching that justification is by faith? By no means: we establish the law; for the Old Testament itself teaches that Abraham and David were justified gratuitously by faith, and without works.' Although the sense is thus good, there does not appear to be any sufficient reason for departing from the common division of the chapters. The next chapter is not connected with this verse by γάρ, which the sense would demand if the connection was what Meyer, De Wette, and others would make it: 'We establish the law when we teach faith, for Abraham was justified by faith.' The connecting particle is simply οὖν, then, and gives a very different sense. Besides it is a very subordinate object with the apostle to prove that the law and the gospel agree. His design is to teach the true method of justification. The cases of Abraham and David are referred to, to prove his doctrine on that point, and not merely the agreement between the old dispensation and the new.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
1. The evangelical doctrine of justification by faith is the doctrine of the Old, no less than of the New Testament, ver. 21.
2. Justification is pronouncing one to be just, and treating him accordingly, on the ground that the demands of the law have been satisfied concerning him, vers. 24-26.
3. The ground of justification is not our own merit, nor faith, nor evangelical obedience; not the work of Christ in us, but his work for us, i.e. his obedience unto death, ver. 25.
4. An act may be perfectly gratuitous as regards its object, and at the same time proceed on the ground of a complete satisfaction to the demands of the law. Thus justification is gratuitons, not because those demands are unsatisfied, but because it is granted to those who have no personal ground of recommendation, vers. 24, 26.
5. God is the ultimate end of all his own acts. To declare his glory is the highest and best end which he can propose for himself or his creatures, ver. 25.
6. The atonement does not consist in a display to others of the divine justice. This is one of its designs and results; but it is such a display only by being a satisfaction to the justice of God. It is not a symbol or illustration, but a satisfaction, ver. 26.
7. All true doctrine tends to humble men, and to exalt God; and all true religion is characterized by humility and reverence, ver. 27.
8. God is a universal Father, and all men are brethren, vers. 29, 30.
9. The law of God is immutable. Its precepts are always binding, and its penalty must be inflicted either on the sinner or his substitute. When, however, it is said that the penalty of the law is inflicted on the Redeemer, as the sinner's substitute, or, in the language of Scripture, that "he was made a curse for us," it cannot be imagined that he suffered the same kind of evils (as remorse, &c) which the sinner would have suffered. The law threatens no specific kind of evil as its penalty. The term death, in Scripture, designates any or all of the evils inflicted in punishment of sin. And the penalty, or curse of the law, (in the language of the Bible,) is any evil judicially inflicted in satisfaction of the demands of justice. To say, therefore, that Christ suffered to satisfy the law, to declare the righteousness of God, or that he might be just in justifying him that believes in Jesus, and to say that he bore the penalty of the law, are equivalent expressions, ver. 31.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
1. As the cardinal doctrine of the Bible is justification by faith, so the turning point in the soul's history, the saving act, is the reception of Jesus Christ as the propitiation for our sins, ver. 25.
2. All modes of preaching must be erroneous, which do not lead sinners to feel that the great thing to be done, and done first, is to receive the Lord Jesus Christ, and to turn unto God through him. And all religious experience must be defective, which does not embrace distinctly a sense of the justice of our condemnation, and a conviction of the sufficiency of the work of Christ, and an exclusive reliance upon it as such, ver. 25.
3. As God purposes his own glory as the end of all that he does, so ought we to have that glory as the constant and commanding object of pursuit, ver. 25.
4. The doctrine of atonement produces in us its proper effect, when it leads us to see and feel that God is just; that he is infinitely gracious; that we are deprived of all ground of boasting; that the way of salvation, which is open for us, is open for all men; and that the motives to all duty, instead of being weakened, are enforced and multiplied, vers. 25-31.
5. In the gospel all is harmonious: justice and mercy, as it regards God; freedom from the law, and the strongest obligations to obedience, as it regards men, vers. 25, 31.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans